New Guardians #1
Uncanny X-Men #185
Or Else #2
Mister Miracle #10 (King/Gerads version)
Flex Mentallo #4
Previously on Baxter Building: It’s all been leading to this — literally; we’re at the final episode of the series, and have made it through 405 issues (and 27 annuals, and 4 Giant-Size special issues) to get here. All you really need to know, though, is that the current incarnation of the team is an untraditional one, because the Human Torch is off running Fantastic Force and Reed Richards is dead. (Spoilers: As you’ll see momentarily, he’s not.) So, right now, the team is Sue Richards, Ben Grimm, Kristoff the kid adopted and brainwashed by Doctor Doom, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. No, really.
0:00:00-0:08:16: We introduce this episode, in which we cover Fantastic Four #s 406-416, with a shocking reveal: We liked these issues far more than we expected. I think I probably liked them more than Jeff, but considering how much both of us have grown to dislike earlier DeFalco/Ryan issues, this is nonetheless cause for celebration and then some. Or should we be concerned about the problem of Stockholm syndrome?
0:08:17-0:30:17: “There’s a wonderfully, like, strange self-conscious or self-aware energy” about Fantastic Four #406, which helps wins us over immediately; Doctor Doom returns, the book gains a pep in its step — and a sense of humor — that it’s been missing for a long time, we discuss what may (or may not) be Paul Ryan’s best character design in the entire series, and Jeff shares a very sound theory about Tom DeFalco’s approach to character development that includes a get-out clause if people don’t happen to enjoy the change. (Also, catch Jeff’s burp that I forgot to edit out. Oops.)
0:30:18-0:57:02: Barbarians are a letdown in FF #407, but there’s a lot to enjoy in this issue nonetheless, not least of which is the series’ new-found brevity and some subtle character work that may or may not actually exist and perhaps we were just reading far too much into it. More importantly, though, Reed Richards returns, in what is probably the least shocking plot development this series has ever seen; this has been coming for, what, two years plus at this point…? Even more importantly than that, in our final Baxter Building, Jeff finally decodes what Fantastic Four actually is as a series. Or, as I complain in the episode, “it takes us fifty months to realize that FF is a romance book.”
0:57:03-1:11:47: The fact that Fantastic Four #408 features the first full teaming of the original Fantastic Four in… two years or so… comes as a surprise to both of us, and part of that is the surprise that they’d let the team be apart for that long. Meanwhile, Reed continues to be traumatized — but there’s a surprisingly good moment when he snaps when you least expect it. Oh, and we get an explanation for the powers of the new big bad, and Jeff snaps back into Tom DeFalco’s Science Isn’t As Bad As It Sounds mode. Are we… are we actually genuinely digging these issues…?
1:11:48-1:25:18: …Okay, perhaps not. The fourth and the final part of the storyline that brings Reed and Doom back pretty much falls apart thanks to an end that makes absolutely no sense, but that’s not to say that there’s no fun to be found in FF #409, especially when it comes to how wonderfully complicated Reed’s return is because he doesn’t fit in with things anymore. Do we just love dysfunction? Perhaps, but I feel that’s not a bad thing when it comes to this series. Oh, and there’s a brief Kristoff/Cassie scene, which will always recharge the batteries of one Mr. Jeff Lester, especially when he describes one character as looking like “a fetus with pants.”
1:25:19-1:33:31: If we’ve decided that we can’t get enough soap opera, then good news: Fantastic Four #410 forgets that it’s a superhero comic altogether and just gets with the soap operatics. There’s a love triangle between Ben, Lyja and Johnny! Kristoff can’t play soccer! And we uncover the previously unknown link between 1980s pop sensations the New Kids on the Block and the Fantastic Four! (Sad but true: I honestly thought the New Kids were a ‘90s band and then I looked them up and now I feel old. Thanks, Tom DeFalco.)
1:33:32-1:37:46: After a run of fun to genuinely great issues — albeit in reverse — FF #411 proves that DeFalco, Ryan and Marvel are true believers in the idea that you can have too much of a good thing, which is the only possible explanation for this stinker about Black Bolt going insane because his forehead antenna was damaged. Oh, I only wish I was joking. “What the hell is happening here? I don’t understand,” I say, and I think that’s entirely appropriate.
1:37:47-1:44:50: I have to say that there is a very good case to be made for [Fantastic Four] #412 being a mistake,” Jeff says, and he’s entirely right. Or perhaps you’re someone who thinks that it’s time for a showdown between Reed and Namor over who objectifies Sue more that ends up being a feint on the part of Namor because it’s the only way to un-traumatize Reed. If you are that person, please no. Jeff, at least, has a reason for this being a disaster beyond the toxic masculinity of it all, and it’s because it undercuts a story two issues from now. So, you know; all told, it’s a mess.
1:44:51-1:55:00: But… is it as much of a mess as FF #413 is? That’s a good question, because at least the previous issue didn’t have to deal with an inexplicable, narratively pointless guest shot by Doom 2099, which happens because… it’s a crossover with that book? Maybe? This issue does provide the chance for Jeff to resurrect his theory of the Negative Zone as a metaphor for the Shadow Self, even if — as has become traditional by this point — I am unconvinced that the Silver Surfer is anyone’s shadow self. Nevertheless, I’m genuinely glad we got to go back there in our final episode…!
1:55:01-2:07:56: It’s clear, from quite how packed Fantastic Four #414 is, that Tom DeFalco knew that cancellation was around the corner, which would explain this busy final chapter to the Uber-story he’s been telling, on and off, for the past 40 issues or so. Who is Hyperstorm, the new bad guy behind everything? What role did Nathan play in everything? What the hell is Reed’s plan supposed to be, anyway? We ask the questions that matter, and only get slightly perturbed that some of the answers make no sense at all.
2:07:57-2:30:23: There’s no way to get around it; FF #415 and #416 are terrible ways to say goodbye to Marvel’s onetime flagship book. Gone is Paul Ryan, as well as any notion that this is actually a Fantastic Four series, because these are Onslaught crossover issues, and that means we’re reading comics that are literally designed to be middle chapters in a story about the X-Men and maybe the Avengers, at a stretch; the FF don’t get much of a look in, despite a game — if, as Jeff points out, potentially sneakily surly — Tom DeFalco, and a final issue that has both cameos from dream versions of the FF’s rogues gallery and a back-up story that is… well, just very strange and unnecessary altogether. As ways to go out, they’re shockingly underwhelming.
2:30:24-end: As we approach the end, we pivot to what we’ll take from the DeFalco/Ryan run, and then the Fantastic Four comic as a whole. Who was our favorite member? Our favorite writer? And will we miss the comic now that it’s done? (Clearly not enough to do the other volumes, at least, not immediately; we have a different plan, which we pointedly don’t tease nearly enough, in retrospect.) As we close up shop on the Baxter Building, it’s time to thank you all for paying attention, listening and reading along with us. As always, there’s a Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Patreon, but the real message for all of us is this: How the hell did both Jeff and I wish there was a Lyja and Kristoff spin-off book at the end of all of this?!? Happy holidays, all. We’ll be back in 2019 with more Wait, What?s and… something else.
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…!)