Previously on Baxter Building: When we last saw the FF — ignoring a fill-in by Al Milgrom — they’d just returned from a time-traveling adventure that returned the team to the classic line-up for the first time since… when, the Roger Stern run back around #304? If that seemed like a retro move, don’t worry — we’ve reached the arrival of Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, which might be the most purposeful retro run of the entire series, so looking backwards is where it’s at.
0:00:00-0:10:31:19: We start off looking ahead at the entire DeFalco/Ryan run, and marveling at the fact that it’s one of the three longest runs by a creative team on the Fantastic Four series — at least the first volume — with Lee/Kirby and Byrne as the other longterm creators. We also touch on the new run’s complete lack of Sharon Ventura, at least to start with, with the character written out between issues. Alas, poor Shary…!
0:10:13:20-0:44:36: Fantastic Four #356 sets the tone for what’s to come, with an opening sequence that lets you know just what to expect from DeFalco and Ryan run as a whole — something that Jeff likens to “brain damage comics,” although he’s not quite sure who’s actually suffering the damage. We talk about all manner of things, including a fight that seems far too violent for its own good, the disconnect between dialogue and visual actions on the page, Johnny’s unfortunate sexy talk and the way it breaks Jeff’s brain —
— the overachieving nature of the Puppet Master, and why Reed Richards’ faith in the youth is misplaced. All this, plus the New Warriors, too! (And, yes; they have a lot to do with why faith in the kids is a bad idea. Sorry, New Warriors fans.)
0:44:37-1:25:16: The discussion of FF #357 starts with addressing the really dull elephant in the room: How boring Paul Ryan’s artwork is. But is the problem Ryan or inker Danny Buladani? Also, we dig into what the hell is going on with Johnny’s marriage — especially in light of what’s going to happen in the very next issue. (The problem might be Johnny’s understanding of how marriages work, as we learn in a conversation with Sue.) Meanwhile, Tom DeFalco manages to step on his own tension by oversharing with the reader, the Fantastic Four don’t understand how sandwiches work, and oh my God, Alicia is a what?!?
1:25:17-1:59:15: Not only is Fantastic Four #358 a triple-sized 30th anniversary spectacular, not only does it include the debut of Paibok the Power Skrull, not only is there the reveal of the Mad Thinker’s great revenge (Spoilers: He gets out-thought), not only is there a discussion of the etiquette of Skrull Deep Cover, but the issue brings perhaps the most surprising shocker of them all: Jeff and I both kind of dig the Alicia Was A Skrull retcon! So much so, in fact, that we argue in favor of it and ignore the fact that the pin-ups mentioned in passing are by Mike Mignola, and barely talk about Art Adams’ artwork for the Doctor Doom back-up. (We do, however, get into a disagreement over the subtext of the back-up, because of course we do.) Really, the takeaway from this issue might be that we talk briefly in two different contexts about how subtle Tom DeFalco’s writing can be when you least expect it. Yes, really!
1:59:16-2:10:05: Realizing that we’ve already spent two hours talking about just three issues of a comic, we try to speed through FF #359, in which the FF are rescued in space by Brainiac. No, wait, I mean a very boring Predator rip-off, as Jeff points out. Or maybe neither, because Tom DeFalco just offers up a generic villain in terms of dialogue and really, who cares? At least we learn why Reed Richards likes animals, kind of.
2:10:06-2:17:49: Sure, “Dreadface” might be the worst name for a Venom rip-off, yet I can’t deny that Fantastic Four #360 is actually kind of a great little comic because it’s wonderfully, shamelessly trashy. We rush through this one very quickly, ensuring that we quickly arrive at…
2:17:50-2:27:42: …FF #361, which might be one of the strangest and, let’s be honest, worst Christmas comics ever. As I lose my shit over the utterly unnecessary introduction of a Yancy Street Gang that is, too all intents and purposes, a great rip-off of the Newsboy Legion — no, really, they’re wonderful — Jeff points out that the story of this Christmas issue is that Doctor Doom has decided that he’s not going to solve drug addiction after all, because happy Christmas! Still at least we manage to drop a reference in to Marvel Two-in-One, a comic that — in case everyone’s forgotten — Tom DeFalco used to write. No wonder his Thing is so on-brand.
2:27:43-end: We wrap things up quickly, talking about the issues we’ll be reading next episode — #362-370 — and the fact that, in addition to the Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon, we now have an Instagram. We leave things a little vague about when the next Wait, What? is, because we actually hadn’t figured that out before recording, but it’ll be in two weeks time, so now you know. Until then, thank you as always for listening and reading. Who knew the first issues of the DeFalco/Ryan run would be so enjoyable…?
First and foremost, a very big *thank you* to superhero Graeme McMillan, for throwing together the edit for this show after recording it in his house. It’s like he gave me two vacations!
Second (and eightmost? Am I understanding the progression correctly?), I’m going to ride that vacation out to the very end, so the shownotes are complete but a bit truncated! Nonetheless, all the questions are there in the right place, so you can skip to where you want as you choose or even listen to the full thing, if you like!
I am in awe—literal, no-lie awe—of the wild disparity between Marvel Studios and Marvel Comics. While Marvel Comics flails around and tries one desperate rebooting after another so that a hypothetical new reader won’t be “lost” or have to know a bunch of convoluted continuity, the movie side of the house basically says “Screw you, if you want to fully enjoy this year’s summer tentpole you have to have watched—and paid attention to—eighteen previous movies that would take up nearly two full days of your life. And while Marvel Comics continues to shrivel up into itself, Marvel Studios turned a nearly three-hour movie starring nineteen major movie stars WITHOUT AN ENDING into one of the biggest films of all time.
It’s become clear that, every step of the way, the comics side of the house CANNOT figure out what makes the movies successful, and it’s become equally clear that they’re gonna keep trying. Case(s) in point: this year’s two main Free Comic Book Day offerings. (SPOILERS for both books follow after the jump.)
Previously on Baxter Building: Forget about your previouslys, because this episode we’re jumping through the years to cover four different annuals we’ve left untouched until now, from 1985 through 1991. What is time, anyway…?
0:00:00-0:07:17: In an attempt to catch up on the backlog of ignored annuals — and also try to put off the start of the Tom DeFalco/Paul Ryan run just that little bit longer — we’re covering Fantastic Four Annual #s 19, 22, 23 and 24 this time around. (We covered Annuals 20 and 21 in episodes 34 and 35, for those wondering, because they tied in directly to the Steve Englehart run in the regular series.) Given the quality of these comics, that may have been a bad idea, but before we get there, we talk briefly about annuals and what they used to mean for the Marvel line.
0:07:18-0:36:40: We begin with a blast from the past — and I’m not talking about the quasi-return for the Enfant Terrible. Fantastic Four Annual #19 is an all-John Byrne issue — with Joe Sinnott inks, to boot — and that means that we get a refresher course in all his particular quirks. (Those of you who like the hyper-competent, impossibly-correct Reed Richards, prepare to get excited.) Under discussion: John Byrne’s painfully slow pacing, the unexpected choices of Skrull shapechangers, differences in inking between Kyle Baker and Joe Sinnott, and why this comic is just like a movie by M. Night Shyamalan.
0:36:41-0:54:04: If 1985’s annual left us unimpressed, it seems like Lee and Kirby compared with Annual #22. The final chapter of the 14-part Atlantis Attacks is no-one’s finest hour, and barely a Fantastic Four comic at all, but it does feature some almost impressively heavy exposition and unsubtle dialogue as the idea of characterization is seemingly abandoned in the name of just getting to the end of the story at any cost. (Of particular concern, Dr. Strange and Reed Richards, as we go into.) Compared with this, the back-up strips shine, but Jeff doesn’t know that because, inexplicably, neither of the FF-related back-up shorts are included in the Marvel Unlimited version of the issue, meaning that I have to give a brief plot summary of both to explain why they’re worth hunting down. (Hilary Barta alone should get people excited, I think.)
0:54:05-1:22:48: There’s a lot that’s wrong with Fantastic Four Annual #23, not least of which being the fact that it’s pretty much a bad X-Men comic that just happens to star the Fantastic Four. This brings Jeff to the conclusion that the first chapter of “Days of Future Present” is, in fact, a meta-textual “Days of Future Past” that reveals the post-Chris Claremont era of Marvel’s X-Men line a year before it arrives. Considering that X-Men editor Bob Harras scripted the main story in the issue — a fact actually hidden away on page 23 of the story, amazingly — this might not be a coincidence, admittedly. If the primary story doesn’t impress us, there’s a pleasant surprise in the back-ups, as James Brock’s Volcana strip feels like a solid first issue of a mid-range comic, while Jeff is far more taken with the cosmic travelogue offered by Kubik and Kosmos than I am. I blame his long-standing fondness for Jim Starlin comics. (Also, in explaining away the end of “Days of Future Present,” I accidentally say that Franklin has ghost powers; I meant to say he has dream powers, and that Adult Franklin is hijacking them. My mistake, by which I mean, oh God, these comics are so bad.)
1:22:49-1:49:01: By the time we get to Annual #24, both Jeff and I are pretty exhausted by the crappiness of what we’ve been reading, but not to worry; there’s the first chapter of an entirely unnecessary sequel to the Avengers storyline “The Korvac Saga,” which is not only written, but also pencilled and inked by Al Milgrom. (As we say, he tries to channel Simonson in scenes featuring the Time Variance Authority; Jeff thinks he nails it and I most certainly do not, but look up and you tell us.) Continuing the theme, this isn’t really a comic about the Fantastic Four, but when I tell Jeff the way the storyline ends in another comic, it’s fair to say that he couldn’t care no matter who it’s about. Luckily, there are back-ups, including a second (admittedly lesser) Volcana strip and a Super Skrull short that gets us all bothered about why it even exists and who it’s intended for. Are we too grumpy? Don’t blame us; these are very bad comics.
1:49:02-2:12:59: In fact, they’re so bad that Jeff returns to his comment from a couple of episodes ago about whether or not he even likes the Fantastic Four, and turns it on its head: Do these comics prove that Marvel doesn’t like the Fantastic Four? Or, at least, that it doesn’t know what to do with them? We talk about the lack of Fantastic Four in these comics compared with the Steve Englehart Annuals we covered earlier, and also about the lack of focus on the characters even when they do appear. Is this a sign of the Image-ization of Marvel that was happening at the time, or something else? (And, in a tease of what’s to come, I bring up the idea that the Fantastic Four comic’s specific response to Image is what forever doomed the book to be seen as a retro title, but the proof of that pudding is yet to come.)
2:13:00-end: We wrap things up with promising a new Wait, What? in two weeks and invite everyone to send questions for a special Q&A episode. Send us or tweet at us; you can also send us a message through Patreon if you’re a Patreon Patron and that’s your speed. As ever, we also remind people about the Twitter, Patreon and the Tumblr, and then Jeff’s ever-friendly tones walk us out. Thank you, always, for reading and listening. Now, send us questions!
Previously on Baxter Building: As Walt Simonson’s run on Fantastic Four continued, Jeff and I continued to get disillusioned with Walt Simonson’s run on Fantastic Four. Or, at least, I did; Jeff was never particularly illusioned to begin with. It’s very possible that the teenage me who first read these comics was easily distracted by (admittedly amazing) artwork.
0:00:00-0:04:23: And so we return and begin again, introducing the issues we’re talking about this episode — Fantastic Four #350-355, AKA the final Simonson issues and two fill-ins — and once again, fail to get quite as excited about them as Whatnauts would like us to be. (I’m sorry. Honest.)
0:04:24-0:40:39: Fantastic Four #350 resolves a plot line that many had probably forgotten about — which Doom will rule Latveria? — in a manner that’s at once bold, exciting and endlessly frustrating, sending Jeff and I off on a discussion about what might be one of the most annoying issues of the entire Simonson run, on a number of levels. What price continuity? What price not putting in passive aggressive digs at other creators? We get into both questions, as well as quite how cool new Doctor Doom is, and quite how dumb this issue turned out to be. The discussion also includes, unexpectedly, towards Simonson’s weakness when it comes to drawing Sue Richards, but there are things that we like about it too, really. Also included: Is Baxter Building formally unkind to writers coming in and trying something new?
0:40:40-0:54:57: The clash between Doom and the FF continues in Fantastic Four #352 — we’ll get to #351 eventually, it’s a fill-in — and the formal play of the time-traveling issue manages to win us over for a while, even if I remain hung up on the portrayal of certain characters. But formalist play in such a heavy dose? No wonder Jeff says that it’s a “stunning issue” with complete reverence. Is this the first Simonson issue that passes the Lester test?!?
0:54:58-1:10:09: The discussion strays into an area of how I respond to these issues now, compared with when I first read them, and how strongly nostalgia plays into the appeal of them in general… which itself leads into a conversation about whether the Simonson run really counts as one of the top Fantastic Four eras, and if so, what that says about the series — and the concept — as a whole. (Spoilers: Not good things, really.)
1:10:10-1:23:23: We get back on track by going through FF #353, in which Mark Gruenwald stands revealed as the villain behind the entire thing and Jeff and I struggle with whether or not formal playfulness and nice artwork can make up for shoddy writing, and consider whether or not this storyline was an inspiration for Alan Moore, of all people. But at least things end with a cliffhanger that isn’t even convincing for a second. It really does look great, though, especially the new new look Thing.
1:23:24-1:37:37: Fantastic Four #354 brings the end of the Walter Simonson era, and he goes out with a whimper that references Back to the Future Part III and has Jeff and I wondering if an alien is D.R., Quinch or Bug from Micronauts. Also, is there a not-so-hidden Excalibur reference in here, and what the hell is going on with the FF stripping down at the end of the issue? It’s… definitely an end to Simonson’s run, at least.
1:37:38-1:49:19: A brief look back at Simonson’s run brings up my (mistaken?) belief that these comics somehow predict Grant Morrison’s JLA a handful of years later, and we compare the two, with Jeff unpicking my thought process and coming up with better reasons for it to make sense — as much as it makes sense — and ways in which the comparison falls down. We also, very briefly, touch on whether Simonson’s Fantastic Four has made us want to (re-)read his Thor any more or less.
1:49:20-2:03:09: After exhausting ourselves on almost two hours’ worth of conversation about four comics — I don’t even think we talked about Lee and Kirby issues to this length — we gloss over Fantastic Four #s 351 and 355, both fill-in issues and both lacking even by the standards of what’s surrounding them, although Jeff and I surprised ourselves with a newfound appreciation of the artwork of Al Milgrom in #355, accompanying a story that is genuinely incredible, and not in a good way.
2:03:10-end: We wrap things up by announcing what we’re reading next — Fantastic Four Annual #s 19, 22-24 — and reminding everyone about the Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon of it all. As always, thank you for listening, and as with the last few episodes, we’re sorry we didn’t like Simonson as much as either of us wanted. (Although, judging by Jeff’s “I told you so”s this episode, maybe Jeff’s not that sorry…)