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.)
Hey, everyone! Jeff here with a *huge* apology. I knew this weekend was going to be busy because the missus and I were going to have a sleepover with the nieces, but boy howdy, did it eat up the time! And energy. Oh god, the energy! They’re little adorable vampires, those two.
Anyway, so even though Graeme and I have a pretty thorough discussion of SDCC 2018, the news and the installations and the spectacle while also managing to have a far-ranging discussion of other matters…I did a terrible job capturing it in these show notes. I do have some quality links, but maybe not as many as we discussed.
So: my sincere apologies. I hope you still give the episode a listen, and give me another chance next episode…which will be just next week!
Previously on Baxter Building: The beginning of the Tom DeFalco/Paul Ryan run took Jeff and I by surprise by being… not absolutely terrible…? By far the most traditional* take on the team in quite some time, it also wasn’t afraid to shake up the status quo, which it managed by revealing that Johnny’s wife was — gasp — a stinkin’ Skrull, and then she was killed. Oh, and we had shitty Venom, too. No, not regular Venom, who is shitty; an alternate version of Venom who may have actually been shittier, somehow.
0:00:00-0:06:48: As we open — with a tease about what the post-Baxter Building world will look like — we discover that Jeff is mad at me for making him read these issues. Which, you know; fair. Somehow, we also skip ahead to talking about the second storyline we cover in the episode when we ask: Was Tom DeFalco just giving the audience what they want, and in a smarter way than it appears at first glance? (Surely I’m not the only one surprised by how much DeFalco is getting a relative pass in this episode…?)
0:06:49-0:21:40: Despite looking as if we’re about to talk about Fantastic Four #362, we get distracted and talk about one of the reasons why these issues don’t work as well as they should, especially considering our enjoyment of the first DeFalco/Ryan issues last time. The answer…? Perhaps it’s artist Paul Ryan, who gets compared to both Silver Age DC and Don Heck, but not in particularly flattering ways on either occasion. Also discussed: The importance of Joe Sinnott, and the shifting landscape of what a Fantastic Four comic “should” look like.
0:21:41-0:44:42: By the time we get to talking about FF #362, we’re ready to talk about the important stuff: How underwhelming a wooden door can be, interns going above and beyond when it comes to inserting text into a panel, the horror of the Spider-Taint, how science works in the Marvel Universe — spoilers, it involves hot dogs and a curious lack of planning — and just how DeFalco and Ryan recreate the magic of those early Fantastic Four issues by reviving the days when the writer apparently didn’t particularly care to follow what the art was clearly showing if it made one of the heroes look bad. It’s the classic formula from the House of Ideas!
0:44:42-1:00:44: If you’ve ever thought to yourself, I wish a Marvel comic would rip off the design of the Khunds from DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, and then apply it to a character that Jeff and Graeme would call Fucking Dull Darkseid, then, good news! Fantastic Four #363 is definitely the comic for you! But that’s not the only joy — or, perhaps, “uh, joy?” — to be found in this issue. There’s also the FF’s new vests! The complete lack of awareness that DeFalco and Ryan had accidentally created an alien world based on video games! Jeff’s somewhat disturbing suggestion that, maybe, Reed Richards deserves a dead son. (Although the fake-out of Franklin maybe being dead is really, really unconvincing.) And, best of all, the worst example of Chekhov’s Gun ever seen.
1:00:45-1:08:44: Perhaps you can tell how disinterested both of us were in FF #364 by the fact that we get through it in just eight minutes, and most of that is spent complaining that it basically repeats the same cliffhanger as the previous issue. Sure, part of it is that I skip over the origin story of the planet — really, nobody cares, not even Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan — but, really: Eight minutes is roughly six more than this issue deserved, and most of the extra is taken up by complaining that Franklin isn’t even in peril this time around.
1:08:45-1:25:10: Even ignoring the fact that the title of Fantastic Four #365 is an outright lie (Really; if your comic is called “With Defeat Comes Death,” it’s only polite to kill someone off), it’s safe to say that the denouement of this storyline isn’t something that we’re enamored with, thanks to Reed Richards’ inability to tell his wife the plan despite having countless opportunities to, a lack of impressive fight sequences and a general air of everything being almost impressively underwhelming. Is this the new norm in terms of quality for the book going forward, or — as Jeff puts it — Paul Ryan simply not having the chops to pull off the fantasy epic that he’d likely been dreaming of since high school, while Tom DeFalco simply didn’t care enough to try hard? We also briefly compare these past four issues to what lies in wait, because we’re definitely on different sides of a divide over the quality of these two stories. (Or, more honestly, which one of two bad stories that we personally find more palatable.)
1:25:11-1:53:15: We end up handling all of Fantastic Four #s 366-370 in one messy bundle, in part because of my distaste for the five-part Infinity War crossover and in part because they’re essentially a collection of somewhat repetitive cut scenes from Jim Starlin’s comic as opposed to something that necessarily would’ve held up to an issue-by-issue synopsis. (In a surprise move, Jeff is less than impressed by Infinity War, which he read because he was inspired by these issues.) While I find the issues incomplete and, in one case, somewhat offensive, Jeff has a good couple of arguments in his favor as he talks about what works about them, whether it’s the metatext that Tom DeFalco is bringing to proceedings, or the Jungian aspect under exploration. “I’m saying, these issues… get a pass because I was interested,” Jeff argues at one point, saying at another, “It’s semi-sort-of organic.” He’s wrong on that last point, but I can’t stay mad at him when he also takes a moment to point out the wonderful sexual innuendo in dialogue that I entirely missed the first time around.
1:53:16-end: As we round towards the end of the show, Jeff brings up sales figures, I get the date of the beginning of Marvel’s sales collapse wrong, and we look ahead to what issues we’re reading next. (#371-381, for those following along at home.) If you’re looking to kill time between now and then, may I recommend our Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Patreon? As always, thank you for listening and reading along with these show notes, and feel unafraid to leave comments below.