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…)
Previously on Baxter Building: Walter Simonson took on Marvel’s first family, and Jeff was… not impressed. Worse, after re-reading the issues through eyes that were more critical than nostalgic, neither was I. And those were the good issues…!
0:00:00-0:05:17: We open with a brief introduction about the issues we’re covering this episode, as well as the strong response to the last episode and whether or not Jeff is gaslighting me. I am blinking noticeably, please tell me you can see this.
0:05:18-0:18:01: How much do we love Fantastic Four #342? Perhaps the answer is obvious from the amount of time we spend on it, although the 13 minutes is actually significantly longer than this bizarre fill-in deserves, as might be obvious when you realize it’s basically a cover version of the John Byrne Secret Wars II crossover about the little kid who sets himself on fire, but with more super villainy and a guest-starring role from Rusty Collins, the character no-one liked from X-Factor (or, in Jeff’s mind, an obscure sex act). Really, it’s kind of a surprise we managed that long, really.
0:18:02-0:46:26: Walt Simonson returns for FF #343-344, aka, “Nukebusters!!!” and “Nukebusters II,” which Jeff recaps with impressive brevity, even if I think he’s being far too harsh about the comics themselves. We talk about the unbearable lightness of plotting, DC’s Challengers of the Unknown and whether or not Simonson would rather be writing that book — as well as whether or not that would’ve made Jeff like these comics more — and the most pressing question of all: What is with Simonson’s interest in Sue’s middle and using that as a foreground object in panel layout? Plus! We discuss Art Thibert’s inking, and I keep saying his name as if it was Thilbert, with an L. There is no L. I am an idiot.
0:46:27-1:13:11: Discussion of Fantastic Four #345-346 follows, and if I disagreed with Jeff’s complaints about the writing of the previous two issues, I couldn’t here; there are amazingly slight, speedy reads where the biggest stumbling point is the utter mischaracterization of Shary, although Jeff has an interesting take on just why she suddenly wants to stay human instead of a Thing, despite what Steve Englehart spent a long time telling us. But what about the dinosaurs, I hear you ask? It’s a Walt Simonson comic with dinosaurs! Doesn’t that alone make it particularly excellent…? Well, maybe…? Yet, somehow, Jeff and I were more impressed with the sight of Reed Richards shooting a gun. Maybe we’re doing this wrong.
1:13:12-1:38:59: Talking about doing it wrong, FF #347-349 is the fan-favorite “New Fantastic Four” storyline that sees Art Adams come in as guest artist, and Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and the Hulk come in as a guest Fantastic Four, and it leaves us pretty cold. There’s a story that doesn’t really make that much sense, repeats plot points that have literally happened less than a year before, and seems the work of a particularly disengaged Simonson, while I make my attempt to steal Jeff’s title of Most Hated Whatnaut by admitting that Adams’ art makes for some bad comics. I’m very sorry. (Not really.)
1:39:00-1:53:11: We segue into looking back at the eight issues we covered — really, just the Simonson-written ones — and talk about, basically, why they’re not working for us. Does Simonson not have the humility or the interest for the series? Has he forgotten that it’s a team book about multiple characters? Could he simply be — gasp! — not a great writer? (The problem obviously isn’t his artwork; he’s Walter fucking Simonson. I think we’ve talked more about the art in this series since he started than since Kirby was on the book.)
1:53:12-end: We wrap things up talking about what we’re going to be reading for the next Baxter Building (#350-356) and being very vague about when the next Wait, What? is; it’s actually going to be next week, unless disaster strikes. Until then, you can find us, as usual, on Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon. Apologies for the lateness of the show notes — a combination of me being later than I wanted and then the site being down because of reasons I don’t fully understand, to be honest — and thank you, as ever, for reading and listening.
Faithful Whatnauts might have noticed an unexpected lack of episodes for the last couple of weeks, and also might be wondering what’s behind the sudden disappearance, and relative radio silence about it beyond a brief couple of tweets last week. The reasons for our disappearance come down to what I’m sure everyone expected: Real life intruded, and we had to take a step back for a second. On a mundane level, I was dealing with a sick dog and a sick wife simultaneously, but far more importantly, Jeff’s dad was very sick and passed away this weekend. We went back and forth about whether or not we’d try and do an episode last week, as much from the “Maybe a distraction would be good” angle as anything, but circumstances conspired against that happening.
As things currently stand right now, we’re planning to try and record again this week with the intent of having a new episode next weekend, but as I’m sure you can all understand, this is a tentative plan that might change. Both Jeff and I have been really grateful for your patience and understanding during the break, as well as feeling (unreasonably, on Jeff’s part) guilty about not updating everyone on the situation sooner, but I hope you can forgive our uncertainty and nervousness about sharing details earlier. We hope to be back soon, with something resembling our traditional snark and perhaps kinder words to say about Walt Simonson’s Fantastic Four; until then, really, thank you all for sticking around even while we’re not saying anything.
Previously on Baxter Building: It’s an all-new beginning once more, as the Steve Englehart era is behind us, and the Fantastic Four — really, five, because Ben Grimm is still part of the team despite being de-powered — is ready for some old-school adventures freed of the meta-textual war between writer and editorial that has marked the last year or so of the series. Can incoming creator Walt Simonson right a ship that’s been enjoyable, if somewhat listing, for quite some time…?
0:00:00-0:06:29: In a surprise move, we open our first episode of the Simonson era by examining Jeff’s relationship with Simonson’s work, and the fact that — gasp — he’s not really a fan! Well, it’s more complicated than that; he loves the artwork, but doesn’t love the writing. Get your disbelief out the way now, because he might end up converting you by episode’s end.
0:06:30-0:39:29: Instead of going issue-by-issue, we somehow fall into an en-masse discussion of Fantastic Four #334-336, which Jeff keeps calling the “Dark Congress” issues. (We’re unusually bad with issue titles this episode, so I’ll put them here: #334 is “Shadows of Alarm,” #335 is “Death by Debate,” and #336 is, indeed, “Dark Congress!”) I think the issues, drawn by Walt Simonson with art by Rich Buckler and Ron Lim, are “enjoyable in a way that the book hasn’t been in years,” and are gentle — if not particularly funny — comedy, but Jeff doesn’t agree in the slightest, because he sees a more sinister motive behind making fun of silly villains. We talk Mark Gruenwald, Steve Gerber, John Byrne, and then slip very much into talking about the next few issues early, in trying to talk about why these issues disappointed Jeff so much. The short version? Simonson’s writing really needs Simonson’s artwork in order to fully function.
0:39:30-0:53:31: “Once you get to the double page spread on pages 2 and 3, the scope of the book is bigger,” I enthuse as we get to the All-Simonson Fantastic Four #337, although we go back and forth about whether the writing lives up to the artwork here. (Spoiler: It doesn’t, but we’ll get to the reasons why soon enough.) Jeff can’t help but see the specter of John Byrne in these pages, although I think it’s more a shared devotion to the same source Lee/Kirby material. That said, one of Jeff’s reasons for the Byrne comparison is worth its weight in rhetorical gold all by itself.
0:53:32-1:08:51: Discussion on FF #338 opens with the idea of Simonson’s art taking the book back to its sci-fi roots, before Jeff brings up a point of continuity that I hadn’t even considered (or remembered, for that matter), and we talk about the way in which the Fantastic Four comic has somehow stopped being about the Fantastic Four, somehow. What is the central idea behind the Fantastic Four, and how much does the team called the Fantastic Four have to be part of it…? All this, and Jeff’s dislike for Death’s Head, an unnecessary Kieron Gillen slam — those two things aren’t unrelated — and our shared enjoyment for Simonson’s language, if not necessarily his plotting.
1:08:52-1:26:42: Fantastic Four #339 continues to dazzle with the visuals, with a three-page opening sequence that Jeff and I can’t help but pull apart. I said I’d share all three pages, so…
…Really. How amazing is that? (Especially knowing that the final page is a page turn from the all-black panel page.) Meanwhile, I arguably give Simonson far too much credit for giving the readers credit, before complaining that the plot for this issue comes out of nowhere and seems like a waste of time. Jeff describes it as “weirdly half-assed,” and honestly, he’s not wrong. We puzzle through the plan being enacted in this issue as we explain the plot, and it’s not as if we come to any kind of conclusion.
1:26:43-1:40:47: FF #340 opens with me riffing on where Simonson’s head is at as a writer, and what that means for the storyline going on right now. Jeff isn’t happy with this issue’s plot, and tries to argue that this is the biggest waste of time in the entire storyline because of yet another side quest that adds little to the overall story. I’m not convinced, because (a) monsters, (b) Reed’s suicide run, which leads is prompted by some clearly false jeopardy (Not one reader of the comic at this point seriously believes Sue is going to die), but does result in some amazing art, which once again gets dissected. Is this the most we’ve ever talked about the art in a Baxter Building? Possibly, or at least since the Kirby days. Perhaps that’s a clue as to where the strength of these stories lies…
1:40:48-1:56:27: Does the opening narration of Fantastic Four #341 suggest that even those responsible think that the last issue was filler? Maybe, but this issue really tries to make up for it by packing in a whole bunch of plot in an attempt to wrap everything up and destroy all of reality in the process. Well, if you’re going to go out on a story like this, I guess you’re going out with a bang — and we try to live up to what’s going on with some singing, some art appreciation, and wondering why the surprise reveal that sets up the conclusion works the way it does. (Even though Jeff calls it a cheat; I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, but Simonson is certainly playing with reader expectation in a way that both works and disappoints.)
1:56:28-end: We speed towards the end of the episode with a little piece of continuity minutiae — the villain of this entire arc wasn’t actually who she appeared to be, thanks to an after-the-fact retcon — and then a reminder that you can find us all over the internet, especially at our Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon accounts. Next time around: I hopefully won’t be sick so we won’t have to wait a week to record the next episode, and we’ll be going through Fantastic Four #342-349. As always, thank you for listening and reading along.
I wound up on Marvel Day At Sea almost by accident. Our friends went on a Disney Cruise a couple of years ago and loved it, and suggested that we might want to come along on the next one. The booking time was chosen more than a year out based on work busy seasons and cruise pricing, not the the theme day. If we had gone a week earlier, it would’ve been Star Wars, which my wife and daughter and I would’ve loved but my son would’ve been indifferent to; instead we got Marvel which has something for all of us.
I had never done a cruise before, so literally everything about the experience was new (and slightly baffling) to me. For those of you in the same boat (LOL BOAT JOKES!), our five day cruise worked basically like this: Day 1 was at sea, travelling to Day 2’s stop; Day 3 was Marvel Day at Sea while travelling to Day 4’s stop; Day 5 is very short and you leave the boat.
While you’re on the boat, you can participate in any number of activities, scheduled (shows, classes, contests, etc.) and free-form (pools, spa stuff, pictures with Disney characters, stuffing your face, etc.). It’s like a large, floating hotel/mall combo, almost entirely tilted toward Disney-owned IP. I saw The Last Jedi three more times while on the cruise. The stateroom TVs have channels including “Pixar Movies,” “Marvel Movies,” and “Disney Classics”. That kinda thing.
On Marvel Day at Sea, all of those things still happen, but with Marvel branding. And, I will tell you, it is a sight to behold. Here, for example, is a long line of people wrapping around the boat to get a picture with Loki. Not the actual Norse god Loki, of course, and not noted Taylor Swift ex-“boyfriend” (and Loki actor) Tom Hiddleston, either. Just a pleasant, official, onboard Loki.