Previously on Baxter Building: Technically, last time we covered a few years’ worth of annuals, but in terms of the monthly comic book, John Byrne has settled into a comfortable rut of retro attitude and safe, if enjoyable, storytelling. Anyone expecting that to change this time out will be disappointed. Just saying.
0:00:00-0:07:12: Welcome back to the show that never ends, dear Whatnauts. (Or, at least, won’t end until we’ve reached the final issue of this volume, and that’s aways away yet.) This time around, we’re covering Fantastic Four #s 271-277, a run of issues that prompts Jeff to consider just what writer/artist John Byrne is trying to do with the series, and why it isn’t better than it actually is. Is it a failure of ambition, talent, or both?
0:07:13-0:23:58: From there, we jump straight into FF #271 and the horror of Sue’s mullet, which Jeff believes fails to conform to the truest definition of the mullet form. Thankfully, there are other things to distract us from the follicle horror, including the undiscovered secret of Johnny Storm’s powers, the unknown wealth in Reed Richards’ family, and how much fun it can be to see Byrne channel 1950s monster comics in a flashback. All this, and a revelation about Reed Richards’ health that will… not be followed up on in future issues! Truly, this is the age of Mighty Marvel Forgetfulness!
0:23:59-0:40:27: Fantastic Four #272 causes a schism as Jeff is left utterly cold and I am, well, warmer than lukewarm, at least. (I actually like the issue a bunch.) We talk about the ways in which Byrne is an unapologetic thief of other people’s ideas, iconography and images, as well as the strange mix of disappointment and potential that is Nathaniel Richards, and what that means for the parentage of the Fantastic Four as a whole. (Oh, and we digress a little about Byrne as artist, inspired by a note he writes to the readers warning that he’s about to start experimenting with his pencils. Spoilers: He doesn’t really.) Despite all of this, Jeff is adamant on the fact that the comic isn’t fun, because he likes, like, good comics or something.
0:40:28-1:00:58: You know what isn’t a good comic? That would be FF #273, which closes out this trilogy with an especially subpar issue. What’s the blame? Maybe it’s the terrible lettering, provided by Byrne himself, although it’s far more likely to be the fact that even John Byrne can’t seem to bring himself to be interested in the story he’s telling here. “It’s amazing how much Byrne stops giving a shit,” Jeff says, and he’s not wrong. Nonetheless, we give some conversation the old college try, with Byrne’s potential desire to be a “fun cartoonist” and the actual, real history of the world. Oh, and this comes up, as unlikely as it seems:
All this, and a return of Jeff’s “shadow self” theory, but this time it’s not about Reed. Will wonders never cease? Actually, just wait until the next issue.
1:00:59-1:10:39: You can tell how interested Jeff and I are about Fantastic Four #274 — which I call “what can only be described as John Byrne’s weird attempt to try and raise sales of The Thing” — by the fact that we barely actually talk about the comic, which is to all intents and purposes a Thing story in the wrong title, instead spending time on Thing continuity around this time in general. But at least Jeff likes the art — this is the first of two issues inked by Al Gordon — even though I am unconvinced by his Barry Windsor-Smith comparison.
1:10:40-1:28:03: The infamous FF #275 sees the true, as Jeff puts it, Victorian nature of John Byrne come out: not only is this the “She-Hulk photographed topless on the roof of the Baxter Building” issue — a plot that is, to be kind, more than a little flimsy and tripped up by Byrne’s own objectification of She-Hulk — it’s also the issue where the true horror of Alicia’s Cursed Vagina of Shame is revealed, as Johnny and Alicia talk about their night before in an especially cringeworthy scene. There’s much discussion over the Alicia/Johnny pairing, and whether or not we buy it. Spoilers: we don’t.
1:28:04-1:39:20: Running out of steam, we tackle Fantastic Four #s 276 and 277 pretty much together, which is mostly all that they deserve. Ostensibly a two-parter, there’s a lot of strange going on here, including the fact that the Thing’s return to Earth is covered in half of one issue that also happens to be a crossover with ROM Spaceknight (“Who gives a shit?” asks Jeff, which surely prompts at least one ROM fan to declare, “I do!”), and a Reed and Sue plot that goes nowhere not particularly entertainingly despite a Doctor Strange cameo. It’s not all bad, though; there’s a fun bunch of newspaper strip cameos, and the arrival of Jerry Ordway on inks is something that both Jeff and I find a great boon to the book’s look in general. Overall, though, things have been so much better. Is this the shape of things to come…?
1:39:21-end: We wrap things up by looking ahead to what we’ll be covering next episode — FF #278-284 — and, en route to wrapping things up, take an entirely unexpected detour to discussing the roll-out of the first series of X-Factor and the way it was promoted. Quite how that happened, I have no idea. As you try to work that out, think about visiting our Tumblr, Twitter and Patreon, and know that you have our thanks, as ever, for listening and reading. Next week: Back to normal with a regular Wait, What?!
In the latest sign that you’re totally old, no matter how fresh of a hoodie you’re rocking with your beaten-up jeans, the “new” superheroes that were spawned (sorry) when Marvel’s top artists bolted for greener, creator-owned pastures in 1992 have been around longer now than The Vision had when they were created. To celebrate that fact, Todd McFarlane has released a “Director’s Cut” of Spawn #1, featuring the “original” art pages in black and white, and commentary from writer/artist/creator McFarlane himself.
That seemed like a Roundtable-worthy occasion, but Jeff is out of commission. So Graeme and Matt decided to have a two-person Roundtable (also known as “a table”) on this momentous occasion.
Time for a Roundtable celebrating 25 YEARS OF SPAWWWWWWWWWWNNNNNNNNNN! [metal guitar lick]
MATT: I remember biking to the comic store and buying Spawn #1 off the shelf–yes, honest, swear-to-god-it’s-not-Spielberg bicycling, as my driver’s license was still a few months away, and they had just punched through a gorgeous, clean stretch of jet-black asphalt connecting my neighborhood to the nearest commercial strip. I didn’t love the story–more on this later, I’m sure–but was of exactly the right age to love McFarlane’s kinetic, twisty expansion on Michael Golden’s gorgeously cartoony art style.
I stuck with it through the first year or so (that’s where I first found the more commercially accessible incarnations of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman) and then moved on to other things for a couple of years. (Turns out that when you start driving, there are other places to go besides the nearby comic store.) I never really returned to the character longterm, dipping in occasionally when a guest creator did something with the line (Moore’s weird fixation on the Violator family of characters, his Days of Future Past riff in a WildC.A.T.S. crossover, Grant Morrison’s two-issue stint, Gaiman’s Angela miniseries, etc.), but this Director’s Cut was a powerful nostalgia punch for me.
But Graeme, you come at this thing very differently, yeah?
So Marvel’s Secret Empire event chugs along, amidst what is–based on my Twitter timeline, anyway–a shocking lack of the internet pearl-clutching that they’re clearly trying to create
You might recall that my previous comments on this event have included such searing insight as “Well, it’s kinda dull but really not that big of a deal” and “It’s all kinda familiar, isn’t it,” but until these two issues I would’ve characterized it as a competent if uninspiring superhero event. Now…well, it’s still uninspiring, I guess.
There are, to me, three major problems with the series as it winds through its second issue and its Free Comic Book Day episode, which I’ll enumerate after the jump. Fair warning, though–this one includes pretty direct SPOILERS for events in those issues, especially issue #2, including screenshots of theoretically exciting moments.
Previously on Baxter Building: Actually, forget any previouslies — while the last episode saw us get into the midway point of John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four, we’re skipping out of continuity this time around to read some Fantastic Four Annuals. All you need to know is that the Fantastic Four exists, but the 1970s wasn’t the best decade for them.
0:00:00-0:11:06: We get into things pretty quickly, with the introduction about the fact that we’ll be covering Fantastic Four Annual #14-18 and What If? #36 turning into a brief discussion about the eternal disappointment of annuals in general: the possibility they offer and the way they almost never live up to that.
0:11:07-0:24:06: That brings us to Annual #14, in which Salem’s Seven returns, Agatha Harkness suggests the world’s worst vacation, and neither Jeff nor myself are particularly interested in a plot resolution that can be summed up as “Franklin Richards can love everyone so hard it stops the bad guys.” But we are slightly more impressed by the comic’s surprising Nighthawk representation, Iron Man’s sick burn, and Nick Scratch’s resurrection as Flaming Wario. Take the pleasures of life where you can get them, dear readers.
0:24:07-0:46:01: How much did we love Fantastic Four Annual #15? “If we only had done a Baxter Building where we were just discussing Annuals #14 and 15, you me and every one of our listeners would kill ourselves before the end of the episode,” Jeff says, and that’s about it. Because the meat of the comic is lackluster, we find ourselves discussing how disappointing Skrulls are in general, the specific disappointment of 2008 crossover Secret Invasion (and its similarities of DC’s Millennium) and the bargain basement Philip K. Dickness that writer Doug Moench brings to proceedings in this annual. But we did enjoy the back-up strip a lot more, which I then liken to the Return of Superman story from the 1990s. No, really.
0:47:02-1:08:00: This brings us to Annual #16, which bears the shame of being the only annual in this run not on Marvel Unlimited… although, when you read the issue, you’ll understand why Marvel is happy to leave this in the virtual vaults. The powerhouse creative of team of Ed Hannigan and Steve Ditko deliver the Dragon Lord, AKA the sensational character find of 1981! “Jeff! Do you like this one? “It is migraine storytelling.” So, that’s a no? “I remember getting two-third of the way through this book and thinking, there’s fucking more?” Okay, then.
(We also discuss Jeff’s love of Avatar, my own Avatar PR experience, this annual’s similarities to Ditko’s Shade the Changing Man, and Jeff’s idea of how fathers and sons relate to each other. And then we read ads.) Jeff, one more time, how do you feel about this issue? “Depending on what your tastes are, FF [Annual] #16 is either a can’t miss, or a dear god, please miss.”
1:08:01-1:19:06: From the ridiculous to the… dull? Who could have suspected that John Byrne of all people would turn out to be too pedantic to fully take advantage of the “What If?” concept? What If #36 sees Byrne answer the question “What if the Fantastic Four had not gained their powers?” by writing the story, “Oh, they’d become a boring version of the Challengers of the Unknown.” I call it “an interesting oddity, but not an exciting one,” which on reflection might be far too generous.
1:19:07-1:32:27: By far the best issue of this episode, Fantastic Four Annual #17 sees John Byrne succeed in large part by completely ditching the eponymous heroes for half the issue and creating a surprisingly tense horror story in the process. I mean, sure, things fall apart when the F.F. do show up, bringing with them Byrne’s larger problems when it comes to the series, but still; the first half of this issue really is pretty great. Of course, because this is one of the most digression-y episodes in some time, we also manage to work in talk of both Skrull Kill Krew and the median age of Americans. Why wouldn’t we?
1:32:28-1:50:32: Finally, we arrive at Annual #18, which sees two great ideas brought together for one very mediocre comic book. Thankfully, we find better things to talk about, including the idea of Reed Richards as Marvel’s Great Cosmic Un-Fixer, Jeff’s amazing “Sad John Byrne” theory, and Grant Morrison showing up in (and being killed in) Suicide Squad. I said this was the most digression-y episode, right…?
1:50:33-end: As we wrap things up by badmouthing that which came before, Jeff reveals that I am Darth Vader to his Luke Skywalker and I get confused about just when the next episode is. We also wrap things up by reminding you to check out our Tumblr, Twitter and Patreon, and thank you for sticking with us. Also, Jeff really was remarkably sick while recording this, so let’s thank Jeff for sterling work, as well. A well-deserved round of applause for everyone, I think.
0:00-12:06: Greetings! Greetings and a long, perhaps too-detailed story about Jeff’s niece’s walkathon. So we discuss physical fitness for kids today, and what it was like back when we were kids. SPOILERS: Graeme’s story is a lot like this:
After reading Secret Empire #1–after all the tumult and fanfare and Wagnerian bombast of the run-up to the event–I found myself not only non-enraged, but mildly bored. This is, it seemed to me, writer Nick Spencer’s take on exactly the same event Marvel has done at least half a dozen times before: [BAD GUY] has successfully taken over [AMERICA] and now our heroes are down to their last-ditch hope to turn things around. Ultron, Doom, Apocalypse, Sentinels, Doom again, and now Hydra–the details change, but the feel of the whole story stays depressingly the same.
And I don’t like being depressed! I’m a cheerful, upbeat guy! I like liking things!
So I decided that the only logical thing to do was create a positive, happy review of the book–but, to be true to the spirit of this issue– to cobble it together entirely of text from reviews of 2013’2 Age of Ultron #1. I changed character and creator names and the occasional pronoun (in [BRACKETS]) but left everything else intact. The numbers in parentheses link back to the original source texts, and the list of references directly follows. So, without further ado, [MY] happy review of [SECRET EMPIRE] #1.