PREVIOUSLY, ON THE WAIT, WHAT? ROUNDTABLE: We started talking about Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1, the return of the alternate future world that Frank Miller first sold the world back in 1986. While Jeff and Graeme found themselves surprised by how much they liked it — in large part because neither had really been expecting anything from it — Matt was more dismissive, claiming that there was no reason for it to feel like anything other than another alternate future Batman story. Something that Jeff wasn’t convinced by, as you’re about to learn…
Hello, Whatnauts. Graeme here, introducing you to the second Wait, What? roundtable. Yes, we had so much fun with the first one that we thought we’d do it again, but this time, we’re changing our focus somewhat. Last time, we looked at four different first isues from four different publishers, but this time it’s just one first issue that we’re talking about — but it’s a big one: DC’s Dark Knight III: The Master Race. (Yes, I know that Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Klaus Janson and Andy Kubert are involved, but I feel okay attributing this one to the publisher.)
If you caught Jeff in the New York Times this weekend, you kind of know what Jeff thinks of the whole enterprise, but what about Matt or myself…? Keep reading, but be warned. There’s a minor spoiler in here, and even though it’s a spoiler that’s already been revealed by DC’s own press for the second issue, it’s still something that you might not want to know ahead of reading the book itself.
Previously on Baxter Building: As the legendary run of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby winds to a close, the quality of Fantastic Four begins to suffer, settling into a particular groove that’s less inventive than before, but not necessarily less enjoyable, as the next few issues are going to display.
0:00:00-0:10:03: Fresh from one of our more embarrassing cold opens yet — this is really what happens before we start recording each episodes, Whatnauts. Sorry — we launch straight into a discussion about the way that the issues we’re covering in this episode (Fantastic Four #88-94) are definitely a step down from earlier in the Lee and Kirby run, but nonetheless echo what we’ve already read, whether in terms of the pacing or the silliness. (Also, I should warn you now: there’s some Skype weirdness in this episode, so I tend to get quiet at random moments for no obvious reason. Sorry!)
0:10:04-0:41:54: Fantastic Four #88 opens with some great family moments, thanks to some amazing Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott artwork (despite Reed having two left hands on the splash page), before diving into something genuinely rare in a Fantastic Four comic: actual foreshadowing. Don’t worry, though; the issue still has some impressively nonsensical moments in terms of plotting, showing that Lee and Kirby haven’t completely gotten their act together just yet: Why would Reed move into a house that makes him sick, aside from plot dynamics? Don’t ask — just buy it! As Jeff points out, though, there’s perhaps some autobiography going on here on Kirby’s part than Stan Lee just can’t contend with. Plus: The worst eye doctor in comics! Classic misogyny in the Sixties Stan Lee fashion! And double-page splashes like this:
0:41:55-1:02:07: “Let’s move onto issue 89, Graeme,” says a Jeff who’s more interested in skipping past pointless Bullpen Bulletins than I am, apparently. We open with an amazing action sequence which features characters knowing things that they really, really shouldn’t know (Blindness apparently means something different in the Marvel Universe; suddenly, Alicia Masters’ career is explained). Thanks to Reed Richards’ by-now-traditional shittiness, we stumble onto the idea of a Reed Richards presidential run (No, wait, stay with us — especially by the time we start to brainstorm potential campaign ads), wonder about the debt this story owes to The Day of the Triffids, remark on the return of the Lee/Kirby not-really-following-each-other’s-lead dynamic, and talk about the strange subtext of nerd bullying that accompanies the Mole Man, especially in these earliest appearances. But all is not lost, because we get pages like this along the way:
1:02:08-1:14:44: “This is the issue you were complaining about,” I say to Jeff, and there’s a lot to complain about in Fantastic Four #90: The odd pacing? The ridiculous plot that sees? The fact that Jack Kirby creates awkward FaceTime calls four decades early? All of the above! When we end up talking about Burt Bacharach songs, you can tell that we’re particularly interested in what is essentially the same kind of transitionary issue as #50 — which we loved, back in the day — only without much to offer beyond an amazingly slight plot. What happens in this issue? The Thing gets kidnapped. That’s it. No wonder that we move pretty quickly onto…
1:14:45-1:38:05: Hey! Have you ever seen the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action”? You have? Then you’ve read Fantastic Four #91! As Jeff points out, after a period where Kirby didn’t really seem to be having fun with the FF, this storyline quickly transforms into him embracing his comfort zone, with 1920s gangsters and sci-fi colliding in what is essentially a Thing solo story. That doesn’t stop us from getting into a blabbing quagmire talking about the problems with slavery narratives in science fiction. But, thanks to the wonder of this episode having been available on the RSS feed for a few hours, here’s a great counter to our discussion from Whatnaut Bruce Baugh:
I think you guys are overlooking something important about the use of slavery in FF (and Star Trek, and other places). You refer to the creators as “white guys”, without ever touching on how many of them were Jewish guys. Industrial slavery was not an abstract thing for Kurtzberg and Leiber, or for David Gerrold and Leonard Nimoy, and a bunch of others. It was a thing that happened in their own lifetimes, in Germany and the Soviet Union, sometimes to relatives, and was a continuing reality in their community life.
They all knew the extent to which their being allowed to be successes as a contingent thing. David Gerrold’s written about this some. Star Trek was less than a decade from when John F. Kennedy had to jump through a lot of hoops to provide that he was sufficiently distanced from Roman Catholic institutions to be acceptable as a president, and rampant vocal anti-Semitism was very much a part of public life then.
Now, yes, a bunch of them were really missing the boat on the civil rights (and other) needs of African-Americans and other people of color. Some of the survivors, like David Gerrold, are quite comfortable admitting how much they missed. But they really weren’t looking at it from the point of view of people fully and comfortably assimilated into the white mainstream.
Which is to say: Bruce is bringing a far smarter point of view to this than either Jeff or myself, I think. We also talk about this being essentially a Thing solo story, and the ways in which it kind of proves that Ben Grimm is the strongest character in the series in more than just physical strength.
1:38:06-1:52:24: FF #92 introduces the sensational character find of 1969: Magno-Man, an alien who has far too many abs, and a magnet through his head. Literally: a magnet just sticking through the middle of his head. Oh, and we get to see Reed Richards proving that he is the most forward thinking superhero of the 1960s in terms of gender politics… oh, wait, no, I mean the exact opposite of that.
Meantime, Jeff and I obsess about page 14 of the issue, because it looks like this:
Prime Kirby in the middle of an era where Kirby feels particularly disinterested? Yes, indeed, and we fall into a discussion of Kirby as Outsider Artist and KirbyWorld as a narrative concept. (For those hoping for a surprise comparison between Kirby and Francis Ford Coppola, stay tuned.) Oh, and because I specifically mention the panels where the games are being announced, here they are…
1:52:25-2:10:04: Sadly, Joe Sinnott isn’t inking Fantastic Four #93, and his absence is felt, despite some great inks in places from Frank Giacoia — in particular, this panel on page 2 is amazing:
It’s a shame that Sinnott’s gone, because his inks could at least have added some sheen to a particularly strange, disappointing issue where the pacing is off, the characters are off, and the climax of the entire four-part arc is both rushed and confused, with Stan and Jack seemingly playing against other in even more interesting ways than usual. (For those who enjoy Jeff’s alternate takes on what could have happened, he has a very good idea of how this story could have happened.) “It’s a very, very strange issue,” I say, and I stand by that — and it’s not helped by inks like this:
Oh, Frank. But the moral of this story? Don’t invite the Fantastic Four to your local uprising (and don’t expect Stan to have something worthwhile to say at the end of a story about slavery, apparently.)
2:10:05-2:22:26: “Oh, man. I loved this issue,” I say about FF #94, and I quickly run through the reasons why: It’s Kirby doing the kind of supernatural comedy that he’d do a lot more of at DC, especially in Mister Miracle and The Demon, and there’s a lovely amount of sentimental soap opera as Franklin finally gets a name, and Ben Grimm gets all verklempt, even though Jeff would rather think he was a monster for some unknown reason. And that’s not even mentioning the first appearance of Agatha Harkness and maybe the most Saturday morning cartoon villainish version of the Frightful Four yet, and that’s exactly the level of respect that they deserve. (We also get an introduction to the perpetual notion that the Frightful Four will now be made up of the Wizard, the Sandman, the Trapster and someone who will betray them, for reasons.) Jeff isn’t so on board, for completely valid reasons: it’s fun, but maybe it’s not a Fantastic Four story, per se.
2:22:27-end: And that, dear listeners, is your lot. Next time, we’re going for broke as we hope to tackle #95-102, AKA the final Kirby issues. Trying to get through that many issues in one episode may be a crazy idea, but wouldn’t it be great if we could manage to do the entire Kirby run in the first year…? Come back next month to see if we’re successful — and in the meantime, look for us on Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon, as well as this very site for those who’re looking for some Frank Miller Dark Knight commentary over the next few days. Thanks, as always, for listening and reading, and may you all have a great Thanksgiving, whether or not you’re American and celebrate it in the first place.
First, if you are coming to the site for the first time thanks to the link in The New York Times: welcome! Please feel free to poke around, dig into the tags, check out some posts or fire up some podcast episodes. Kick up your virtual feet and stay awhile.
Second, if you are coming to the site for the first time to see if we have more things to say about Dark Knight 3: The Master Race #1: stay tuned! As you can see from the image above, Graeme, Matt, and I will have many things to say, and we’ll start saying ’em…Tuesday?
Third, if this isn’t your first time visiting the site: Hey, Jeff’s in The New York Times talking about DK3! And probably more pertinent to your interests, Baxter Building Ep. 11 is already live on the RSS feed and the show notes will be rolling along mid-Monday afternoon or so.
So…that’s a thing we’re going to go back to preparing, okay? Okay!
Okay, guys. I’ve been doing this for a little while now and everyone’s been very kind, so I’m going to let you all in on one of my darkest secrets.
Lean close, because I don’t want to say this too loud:
<whisper>I kinda enjoy Mark Millar comics.</whisper>
Wait, wait! Let me explain!
Programming Note: If you haven’t listened to the latest Wait, What? episode, stop reading this right now, scroll down and do so. It’s our Secret Convergence on Infinite Podcasts episode, and it’s pretty damn amazing.
I’ve been reading a lot of Legion of Super-Heroes lately, in part because of a stray thought last week where I was surprised that, considering the avalanche of titles All-New All-Different Marvel is bringing and Marvel’s love of tweaking DC, we haven’t seen an announcement for an ongoing Imperial Guard series yet. The Imperial Guard, for those unfamiliar with the X-Men supporting characters, were the Legion to the Squadron Supreme’s Avengers; a group of thinly-veiled analogs to the DC characters that took on a life of their own within the larger Marvel mythology. (That the Imperial Guard were designed by Dave Cockrum, an artist who’d previously drawn a bunch of Legion strips, should be noted.) Continue reading
00:00-9:21: Hello, hello, hello! Today you’re in for something out of the ordinary, as Gary Lactus (from Silence!), Chico Leo (of Fan Bros), and Paul O’Brien of House To Astonish join Jeff Lester on Battlepod for an infinite secret podcast crossover! Yes, Graeme was whisked away by the Beyonder to another part of the strange dimension known as Battlepod, leaving me to fend for myself against three of the sharpest knives in the comic book podcasting drawer. First up are speedy introductions to one another—punctuated by a lot of “Fer Sure! Fer Sure!” in what is a sudden thickening of my native Californian accent—and then more formal introductions of each of our esteemed guests so you know who they are, where they’re from, and why they’re awesome.
It’s kind of a drag Matt can beat me at my own game but, let’s face it, not entirely surprising, either. Fortunately there’s not a huge amount of overlap between what the stuff he so incisively reviewed and the stuff I’m going to fumble about. But there will be a bit so…more fool me, I guess?
Anyway, after the jump: Secret Wars #7, Ultimates #1, Radioactive Spider-Gwen #2, and, of course. Mystic Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1!
Usually when there’s one of these huge weeks of comics, I do a bit where I’m like “Whoa, hey, this was a great week of comics! Wow!” Then I write about, like, some random Impulse issue from 1998.
But the haul this week was substantial enough that even I am not going to ignore it. Here, then, are capsule reviews of a few of the notable books this week–first issues, key issues, and, of course, Batman & Robin Eternal. God forbid I not keep everyone apprised of how I’m feeling about that one.
Every few months here in Portland, there’s something called Frankenstein’s Comic Swap. I might have written about this before; it’s a swap meet for comic dealers, essentially, a small room filled with longboxes and cheap comics where you can pick up random shit for relatively cheap. This weekend, I made out pretty good — I got the three-issue Martian Manhunter: American Secrets by Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto, the four-issue Machine Man mini-series from the ’80s by Tom DeFalco, Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith (I didn’t remember Windsor-Smith took over art entirely in the last issue, co-plotting it, too, but he does), some Marvel Age and Micronaut back issues and a twelve-issue series I have become increasingly more fascinated in in recent years: DC Challenge, from 1985-1986. (For an idea of how cheap Frankenstein’s Comic Swap is, I got all of that for less than $20.)
This was a series I remembered from my childhood, even though I’d never read an issue before. There were full page ads for the series throughout DC books before it launched, explaining the premise with preview art showing characters I’d never heard of, and it all sounded so alien and exciting to the 10-year-old me I was at the time. For those who’ve never heard of DC Challenge, it’s Exquisite Corpse: The Comic. Each issue was by a different creative team, who’d have to resolve cliffhangers left by the previous team, set up cliffhangers for the next team, push the overarching story of the series forward and stay away from characters they were regularly working on at the time. Fun, right? Well, as I bought the issues, the dealer said, “Yeah, this was a mess.” Continue reading