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Posts Tagged ‘Fantastic Four

In 1977, Marvel came up with a pretty fantastical (and most likely drug-induced) idea. Comic books are always talking about their multiverses, where somebody at some point did something drastically different and changed that universe’s reality forever. Essentially, the writers wanted to nerd out and ask the big, cringe-worthy-fan-fiction-inducing question: “What if?”

With Uatu the Watcher playing narrator, the writers told tales of what might have been which, considering the breadth of what could be asked with this concept, had a tone that ranged anywhere from goddamn ridiculous to downright grim. Even so, it seems like a huge chunk of issues were dedicated to what would happen if Character X had/had not killed Character Y. Over the years there have been  two regular volumes (followed by many, many series of one-shots, most being event tie-ins), a parody series titled What the–?!, and (although they’d probably deny it outright) inspired the DC Comics Elseworlds imprint.

Considering the almost 200 issues of the series, most of which are pretty terrible (I think there’s a reason nobody who wrote any of the 90’s What If? issues were ever heard from again), it’s hard to figure out what’s actually decent. Man, good thing you got me here to force my opinion on you. TOP FIVE TIME, Y’ALL.

7. What If? Vol 1 #10 (…Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?) – Originally, in Journey Into Mystery #83 Donald Blake went on vacation to Norway by himself. Here, he instead takes Jane Foster and she’s with him when he gets attacked by those weird aliens from Saturn. She beats him to finding Mjolnir and transforms into Thordis (which, considering that who Donald Blake is has no bearing on who Thor is, makes no sense). She goes around fighting Loki and more aliens in typical Thor fashion. While Thordis is off creating the Avengers, Blake saves the drowning Sif and falls in love with her. Odin realizes that this is all wrong and gives Mjolnir it to Donald, turning him into Thor. And then this gets all daytime soap opera on us. Poor Jane is now crazy-bummed, losing both the powers of Mjolnir and the man she loves to the Asgardians. Odin decides to fix this by granting Jane goddess status and marrying her, making Jane Foster the stepmother to the man she used to love (seriously, that’s like Lois Lane ending up boning Pa Kent). Yeah, gross.

6. What If? Vol 1 #13 (…Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?) – Okay, I’ll admit that the only stuff I know about Robert E. Howard’s Conan franchise I learned from that movie where he punches a camel in the face (in other words, I don’t know jack shit). There are three things that make this issue of What If? great to me. First, Roy Thomas and John Buscema, the regular writer and artist on the more mature Savage Sword of Conan title, handle this issue. Second, everybody in the present either mistakes Conan for Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger (a full four years before the movie, mind you). And lastly, Conan spends his one day in the present beating the shit out of a lady cab driver’s car with his sword, immediately going back to her apartment and fucking her, and foiling an art heist at the Guggenheim. That’s one hell of a day, Conan.

5. What If? Vol 2 #24 (…Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires?) – Most of the second volume of What If? is just so terribly, terribly 90’s. Every issue seems to either deal with Wolverine or the Punisher and, well, this issue is pretty much about both of ’em. During the fight with Count Dracula from Uncanny X-Men #159, Dracula ends up biting Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus who go out and start turning all of the heroes and villains into vampires. Realizing that Doctor Strange is the only one who has the power to stop his horde, Wolverine sets out to kill him and succeeds. Apparently death doesn’t really stall Strange, whose spirit launches Plan B: possessing Frank Castle, giving him the Eye of Agamotto and Cloak of Levitation, and going crazy with garlic grenades and a Super Soaker full of Holy Water. To top off the ridiculousness, this issue got it’s own What If? treatment 13 issues later in the story “…Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires During Inferno?”

4. What If? Vol 1 #26 (…Captain America Had Been Elected President?) – In Captain America #250, the New Populist Party offered Cap the chance to run for president as a third party candidate and he declined. But what if he’d have run against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election and won?  After Cap reveals his secret identity to the world, President Rogers spearheads a massive movement to replace America’s dependency on foreign oil with solar power. He then supplies solar powered weapons to the some revolutionaries in the South American country of San Pedro, hoping to free them from some oppression or whatever. After accepting an invitation by the revolutionaries, it is revealed that their leader is actually Red Skull, who has hacked into the solar energy collecting satellites and turned them into giant laser beams. Cap manages to smash the Red Skull’s controls causing the laser beams to blow them both to bits. Okay, yeah, Captain America’s dead, but look on the bright side! In this reality there was never a President Reagan!

3. What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers? #1 – Now, this one is just terribly depressing. With Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the men behind ALIAS, handling this issue you know it’s gonna be good. Following her horrific eight months as a slave to the Purple Man, Jessica Jones is asked to join the Avengers, to which she agrees. Rather than working for The Daily Bugle and having a child out of wedlock with Luke Cage, Jessica winds up marrying Captain America and bringing Wanda’s mental breakdown to light before House of M can ever happen. However, what really makes this story great is that instead of being narrated by Uatu, those duties are given to Bendis himself, drawn conversing with a random patron at a diner in New York City while a forlorn looking Jessica Jones dines behind them.

2. What If? Vol 1 #14 (…Sgt. Fury Fought World War Two in Outer Space?) – In this dimension, it turns out that Leonardo DaVinci’s flying machine actually worked and, therefore, humans were waaay more advanced in the field of flight by the time 1941 rolled around. December 7, 1941, Space Station Pearl is attacked by a bunch of kamikaze lizard men. Later on, Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan host a conference in the Space Station Midway where it turns out that Baron Strucker has been the admiral of the fleet of space stations the whole time, trying to promote Space Nazism while working with the lizard men. It’s cool though, because Sgt. Fury gets rid of Strucker the same way every badguy in any fight on a spaceship has died: getting flushed out of an airlock. The best part of the story has to be the tagline on the cover: “First Star Wars— Then Battlestar Galactica— And now!!!”

1. What If? Vol 1 #11 (…The Original Marvel Bullpen Had Become the Fantastic Four?) – This is by far one of the goofiest issues of any comic I’ve ever seen, made even stranger considering it was written and drawn by Jack Kirby. A mysterious box shows up at the door of Marvel HQ and is opened by Stan Lee, believing it to be a box of cigars. Instead, it’s a small gamma bomb that douses the whole of the staff with radiation, giving Stan super-stretchy powers, Kirby the rocky skin of the Thing, Sol Brodsky the ability to control fire and fly, and Flo Steinberg (at the time Stan Lee’s secretary, later publisher of Big Apple Comix) the powers of invisiblity. After finding another of the boxes, the foursome meets Namor and discover that the boxes were planted by the Skrulls who plan to take over the world from their new undersea base. Kirby and Namor punch a hole in the base’s hull, defeat the Skrulls, and THE END. So, I guess the big question is how the hell did Jack Kirby draw this with those new big, orange sausage-fingers of his?

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So, we all know how much I love the old Silver Age Fantastic Four books (or, well, anything Silver Age, really). It’s no surprise, then, that I got ridiculously excited when I discovered that in the mid-70s there was a short lived radio serial based on several of the Lee/Kirby issues of Fantastic Four.

The brainchild of Ann Robinson (yes, the same one who wrote that Spider-Man/Planned Parenthood PSA comic) and Richard Clorfene and Peter B. Lewis, a couple of New York City radio DJs,the Fantastic Four Radio Show came about after the two DJs realized that a Silver Surfer radio show would kinda suck. Ann talked to Stan Lee and got the rights to about a dozen characters while Lewis turned 13 issues of comics into 600+ pages of script (most of which copied the dialogue from the comic verbatim).

He managed to get Stan Lee to do all of the narrating for the series and got together a team of voice actors for the series including Bob Maxwell as Reed Richards, Cynthia Adler as Sue Storm, Jim Pappas as Ben Grimm, and Bill Murray as Johnny Storm (which is goddamn surreal to listen to). Unfortunately, Lewis decided to cancel the series after the thirteenth episode was produced, citing the fact that the only funding they got was $25,000 from Ann’s husband’s production company (and that Marvel had kinda stopped answering his phone calls).

Although never commercially released, bootleg copies of Fantastic Four Radio Show are out there. What the hel, I’ll save you a couple eBay bucks and just upload the damn thing for you. Enjoy!

1. “Fantastic Four Meets the Moleman” (Fantastic Four #1)

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2. “Menace of the Miracle Man”(Fantastic Four #3)

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3.”Coming of the Submariner” (Fantastic Four #4)

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4. “Fantastic Four Meet Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #5)

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5. “Prisoners of the Puppet-Master” (Fantastic Four #8)

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6. “Fantastic Four Meet the Incredible Hulk” (Fantastic Four #13)

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7. “Spell of the Hate Monger” (Fantastic Four #21)

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8. “Return of Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #16)

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9. “Fantastic Four in the Clutches of Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #17)

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10. “A Super-Skrull Walks Among Us” (Fantastic Four #18)

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11. “At the Mercy of Rama-Tut” (Fantastic Four #19)

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12. “The Menace of the Red Ghost” (Fantastic Four #13)

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13. “The Submariner Strikes” (Fantastic Four #14)

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For writing extensively about the Silver Age, it’s a wonder I’ve had yet to touch upon anything Marvel, specifically any of the bajillion collaborations between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. These two are responsible for the X-Men, Thor, Hercules, Hulk, Iron Man, and Nick Fury. I mean, come on, if that ain’t prolific, nothing is. And, while most of their books seemed to be somewhat more serious than DC’s books from the same era, Lee and Kirby seemed to write another of their creations, the Fantastic Four, as a bit more fantastical (hence the name, I guess). Let’s take a look at January 1963’s The Fantastic Four #10.

The issue starts out with Mr. Fantastic using his patented vibra-light process in his radioactive x-ray camera to try and help Sue control her invisibility. By the way, it’s worth noting that, while Star Trek may have perfected it, the Fantastic Four more or less invented bullshit technobabble (which this issue is full of). Anyways, he manages to take a picture of her while she’s invisible which I guess is good news or something. Before they can explain how that even begins to make sense, Johnny Storm spots the emergency signal flare out the window! To the Fantasti-Car!

Except it turns out that Reed’s nuclear lock is stuck and they can’t get into the garage. We are then treated to a full page of Reed stretching his arm under the door, trying to feel around for the Fantasti-Car. He fails, but Johnny discovers that he can “concentrate his flame so much that it burns without heat” (um, what?) and pops open the lock. For some inexplicable reason, Reed then decides that it’d be faster to walk anyways, rendering that entire sequence completely pointless. After Sue almost gets killed crossing the street and Reed almost gets his clothes ripped off by insane fans, they show up at Alicia Masters’ doorstep to discover that the Thing just wanted to show them Alica’s sculptures of various supervillains.

Meanwhile, across town, Doctor Doom shows up at the office of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Feel free to take a few seconds and let that last sentence really sink in. Turns out that Earth-616’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are BFFs with all the heroes. Anyways, Doom demands that Stan call up Mr. Fantastic and somehow get him to the office. Reed suits up and heads on over, where Doctor Doom hits him with some sleeping gas and teleports away with an unconscious Reed.

Later, Reed awakens in Doom’s secret lab, completely unrestrained. He just stands there while Doom talks about how he survived being shot into space on a meteor by being picked up by some weird aliens called Ovoids who taught him how to swap bodies with somebody. After he finishes his story, Doom reveals that while Reed was just kinda hanging out and listening, he’d used telepathy to switch their bodies. Doom-in-Reed then proceeds to beat the shit out of Reed-in-Doom before the rest of the Fantastic Four shows up and finishes the job. After they talk about whether or not they should bury him alive in the desert (holy fuck, that’s an option?), they decide to lock him in a plexi-glass prison in his own lab. Ben is super concerned that Reed-in-Doom will run out of air, but Doom-in-Reed convinces him that there’s tons of air in there and he’ll be fine. After they leave he then pretty much says, “Just kidding, there’s only an hour of air. See ya!”

Back at the Baxter Building, the team is shocked when they open Reed’s lab and a ton of tiny-sized animals run out. Ben notices that that day’s headline reads “Zoo Animals Missing.” Gasp! The gang rushes in to confront Doom-in-Reed but he contests that he was doing it for them, merely testing out his new reduction ray to help increase the group’s powers! This is immediately followed by the greatest example of sequential art (laced with more technobabble) I have ever seen.

Roughly the same size as this vagina.

Doom-in-Reed explains that the reason dinosaurs went extinct is that while their bodies grew larger and larger, their brains did not (bullshit). But what if they got smaller? With their brains being so large compared to their tiny bodies, those dinosaurs would be scientific geniuses and rule the world (bullshit)! Doom-in-Reed hypothesizes that if he uses his Shrinky Dink laser beam on the group, their powers will retain their intensity, yet grow when they are un-shrunk (such bullshit!). He tells them that Johnny could fly faster than a jet, Sue could turn parts of herself invisible at will, and Ben will be able to turn human again. Rather than question the logic behind any of that crap, the gang starts arguing over who’s going to get shot by the laser gun first. Doom-in-Reed tells them to come back in a few hours and, as soon as they’re gone, starts giving exposition to the empty room. Basically, he’s just gonna shrink the Fantastic Four out of existence. Surprise, surprise.

Back at Doctor Doom’s secret lab, Reed-in-Doom escapes his plexi-glass prison by blowing up the rest of his oxygen tanks. He immediately runs over to Alica’s house to get her help convincing the others that he is actually Reed. Before he can get a word in, an invisible Sue beats him over the head with a vase, knocking him out. Ben and Johnny run in and get ready to beat the shit out of an unconscious Reed-in-Doom  but Ben realizes that, for some reason, he can’t bring himself to punch him. Confused, they take him back to the Baxter Building.

Doom-in-Reed (seriously, all they have to do is look at his new evil Peter Lorre eyebrows) ties up Reed-in-Doom and tells the rest of the Fantastic Four that the ray is read to shrink them. They eagerly stand in front of it, but a desperate Reed-in-Doom runs around screaming that everybody is dumb for not listening to him. Johnny decides to test this out by using a heat mirage to make it look like there’s a stick of dynamite in the room. While Doom-in-Reed freaks out and climbs up a pipe to escape, Reed-in-Doom tries to remove the fuse. Doom and Reed suddenly switch bodies back to normal and a fight ensues. Sort of. Doctor Doom just throws himself in front of the reduction ray and starts screaming for somebody to turn it off. They don’t, he shrinks into nothingness, the end.

So, yeah. While Lee and Kirby’s other books like X-Men and Hulk were way more dramatic, Fantastic Four is anything but (pretty much til the Silver Surfer shows up). I mean, hell, this issue alone had aliens, cameos from the creators, and technobabble out the ass. Oh. And dinosaurs in spacesuits. Shit, did I forget to mention the dinosaurs are in spacesuits?

BEST. PANEL. EVER.


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