Baxter Building Ep. 47: “Concentrate! Concentrate! Concentrate!”

October 15, 2018

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…!)

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13 comments on “Baxter Building Ep. 47: “Concentrate! Concentrate! Concentrate!”

  1. Voord 99 Oct 15, 2018

    I think there might be something to Jeff Lester’s theory about these comics making you a worse reader, because I didn’t find them as bad with this batch. Not that I actually thought they were good, but I’m achieving a sort of serene Zen=like acceptance that this is what they are.

    So a couple of small comments. There are two things that I don’t think the writers (covering myself, because I know that Tom DeFalco didn’t dialogue every one of these, and I can’t remember where that applies) don’t know about.

    One is the potential financial rewards of a career in archaeology. Because everything is fine with the depiction of the Arrogant Professor right up until the point at which he thinks discovering the totem is going to make him rich.

    The other think that DeFalco (I’m pretty sure for this issue) doesn’t seem to know about is maybe less forgivable, given his profession. Has he ever read a comic with Wolverine in it? Because the one thing you can’t say about Wolverine is that he doesn’t have a recognizable and distinctive voice that everyone knows. This is a quite astonishingly un-Wolverine sounding Wolverine.

  2. Matthew Oct 15, 2018

    Did I miss it or did Jeff never follow up and tell us what in these issues was the absolute worst creative decision a Fantastic Four creative team has ever made? (something he mentions early in the podcast)

  3. Matthew M Oct 15, 2018

    I haven’t listened to the episode yet, but do people think that The Thing is supposed to be way more scarred than the art/colouring shows? Maybe it’s a comic code thing.

    Anyway, here’s an image from 395 that I quickly recoloured. Original on the left: https://imgur.com/fmDuu35.png

  4. David M Oct 16, 2018

    Oh boy! Anyway, thoughts on these issues. Alicia is stripped of all agency in a story called ‘Choices’- the choices will be made by the guys and all she gets is a single tear. This story also made me think about the Puppet Master’s arc, from a man who would be king to a parent making misguided and futile efforts to save his step-daughter from pain. There’s so much of this story we don’t know, what were Alicia’s mum and dad like? Was Philip okay before Alicia’s mum died, or did he manipulate her into marriage? More stuff lying around unconsidered.
    Graeme talking about Sue hurting her hand slapping Nathaniel made me realise I’d like to see Sue fight sort of armor-style, maybe making it look like she had Luke Cage type skin, in disguise.
    The appropriation issue is plausibly on-theme…archaeology is literally about digging up the past. Of course, nothing effective is done with it.

    • Voord 99 Oct 17, 2018

      Yes, and this was a time when the specific issues surrounding excavation of Native American sites were coming to the forefront in US archaeology. Native Americans were protesting things like the removal and display of their ancestors’ remains in museums, and archaeologists were quite capable of simply dismissing those protests with “Knowledge belongs to everyone, etc.” in a way that (I hope) no-one would do today.

      It would have improved this story quite a bit if the Arrogant Professor had had a dash of that in his characterization, instead of the odd belief that he’s going to be able to cash in, big-time.

      • David M Oct 20, 2018

        In the Marvel Universe many academic archaeologists would be rich. There it is all ancient aliens, demon cults, lost continents and hidden kingdoms. I can see no reason fictional professors there couldn’t aspire to be absolute rockstars.

        • Voord 99 Oct 20, 2018

          If you make an actual story about it, OK. That counts as exploring the premise.

          But otherwise, I think that has to be filed under things like, “A society that had Reed Richards and Tony Stark – and all the rest – inventing all these scientifically impossible things would have changed much more radically from ours than the MU has, but somehow hasn’t.” The MU is supposed to be essentially like our world with respect to normal things, even if it “shouldn’t” be. If one is going to rethink archaeologists, why isn’t one rethinking everything else?

          I actually would quite like a miniseries that took the Marvel Universe, starting with the creation of the Human Torch in the ‘40s, and imagined how the world would “really” have diverged with all the various inventions, contact with alien life, awareness that magic is real, that reliable mind-reading is possible, etc. I think the implications of the last alone produce a world that is culturally quite alien to ours, quite quickly.

          • Matt for Hire Oct 22, 2018

            There is one! At least kinda. A little ’90s mini by Englehart called Fantastic Four: Big Town, that was purportedly about how Reed’s & Tony Stark’s inventions would have changed the Marvel Universe if it were all being done in real time.

          • David M Oct 26, 2018

            Alas! Despite it’s shallow draught my ship of facetiousness founders again on the rock of someone having a think…

  5. Bengt Oct 16, 2018

    I was also thinking about having Lyja as a recurring stalker when I read these issues. Just to think about her getting close to Johnny again and again, each time it blows up in a different way, with Johnny become increasingly paranoid. It could have been great! 🙂
    I never got a romantic vibe from Franklin and Huntara in her earliest appearances though, the lines about their previous association felt vague enough to have been anything.

  6. Matthew M Oct 21, 2018

    While listening to this episode I realized that Nathaniel Richards is basically Rick from Rick and Morty. Imagining him in the role makes the comics more entertaining (and, to be honest, kind of make more sense.)

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