Back Issues: Fantastic Four #52/53

Writers: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby – Artist: Jack Kirby

Story Title: “The Black Panther!”
12 April 1966 (cover-dated July 1966)

Story Title: “The Way It Began…!”
10 May 1966 (cover-dated August 1966)

The Background:
The popular story behind the Fantastic Four is that Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman wanted then-editor Stan Lee to create a superhero team in response to DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Lee used the opportunity to create stories and characters that appealed to him and drafted a quick synopsis of a dysfunctional superhero family for legendary Jack Kirby to work on, thus creating the “Marvel Method” of writer/artist collaboration. While Kirby disputed this story, the two are credited as co-creators of Marvel’s First Family – Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl, and her brother Johnny, the Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/The Thing – whose comic books eventually introduced characters and concepts that would forever impact Marvel Comics. One such character was T’Challa, the Black Panther, whose name and appearance actually predate the Black Panther Party in a strange coincidence; initially dubbed the Coal Tiger in Kirby’s concept art and briefly flirting with the name Black Leopard, the Black Panther is notable for being the first-ever black superpowered character in comic books. Like the Fantastic Four, Lee and Kirby disputed which of them came up with the character and concept of the Black Panther, though both claimed to have created the character out of a desire to include more racial diversity in their publications. Soon after his debut appearance, the Black Panther made several guest appearances in numerous Marvel Comics before hits first critically acclaimed series and graduating to a short-lived solo title in 1977. The Black Panther became a pretty consistent presence in Marvel’s line-up, building his own supporting cast, joining the Avengers, forming the super secret superhuman cabal known as the Illuminati, and featuring in a number of pivotal Marvel events and politically charged storylines. The Black Panther is also no stranger to adaptation, featuring in the 1994 Fantastic Four cartoon, getting his own Marvel Knights motion comic series, and being brought to life in live-action by the late Chadwick Boseman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) proved to be a spectacular critical and commercial success and, as the sequel is due out this Friday, this seems like a great excuse to revisit his debut story arc.

The Review:
“The Black Panther!” opens with three of the Fantastic Four (Reed, Sue, and Ben) flying through the skies of New York City in a fancy, high-tech craft unexpectedly gifted to Reed by a mysterious African chieftain known only as the Black Panther. Powered by magnetic waves, the ship is extremely nimble and manoeuvrable, but Ben is less than thrilled by the experience, which makes him more than a little air sick (to the surprise of even Sue, since Ben is an ex-air force pilot). After concluding their little joyride, the three land on the roof of the Baxter Building to chat with the Black Panther’s emissary; the enigmatic robed ambassador allows them to keep the futuristic craft if they accept an invitation to join the Black Panther (who goes unnamed beyond this throughout the arc) as honoured guests in the kingdom of Wakanda, where “the greatest hunt of all time” will be held in honour of their visit. Marvelling at the Wakandan’s clearly advanced technology and eager to see more, and noting that the team could do with a vacation, Reed accepts to invitation and the emissary sends word back to his nation using a peculiar communication device that uses “Cosmic Channel Waves” to instantaneously send messages across the globe. In the faraway jungle city of Wakanda, the chieftain rejoices at having correctly guessed that his invitation would be accepted and enters a vast, highly advanced bunker held within a colossal stone statue of a panther where he garbs the sleek, form-fitting “stalking costume” of the Black Panther to prepare for the team’s arrival.

The cunning Black Panther catches the Fantastic Four completely off guard.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the story switches over to Johnny Storm, who’s stressing over his recent exams when his teammates literally drop in on him to bring him along on their trip. Unfortunately for me (but not, as we’ll see, the team or the plot), Johnny asks to bring his roommate, college athlete Wyatt Wingfoot (one of comic’s most boring and unnecessary characters) along as well. Johnny is grateful for the distraction, however, as it keeps him from pining over Crystalia Amaquelin, a beautiful Inhuman girl he recently met who’s currently trapped (alongside the rest of her race) behind an impenetrable barrier (the story even briefly cuts away to show that all of the Inhumans’ incredible powers are as nothing compared to the “Negative Zone” shell that the mad Inhuman, Maximus Boltagon, has sealed them within). Once the team enter Wakanda, they’re both in awe, and suspicious, of the lush, verdant jungle that greets them. Although Wakanda shows no signs of industrialism or human pollution, it is merely a façade for the sprawling, technical jungle made up of a veritable chaos of computer dynamos, mechanical apparatus, and elaborate tubes and wires. Naturally, Reed is enthralled at the scientific wonders on display, but he tempers this with caution, which is only ignited when their guide suddenly spirits away to an elevator. Unimpressed with the wonderous technology surrounding them and suspecting a double-cross, the Thing leaps into action without hesitation and suffers a massive electric shock that leaves him “as weak as a blamed Yancy Streeter” (because we had to constantly have those Yancy Street references in Ben’s dialogue back then) and thus vulnerable when the Black Panther suddenly strikes to begin the great hunt…with the Fantastic Four as the prey! The Black Panther easily dodges Mr. Fantastic’s elongated fist, and just as easily tricks the Human Torch into flying into a fireproof trap that subdues him with an asbestos lining and powerful vacuum blasts. While the Black Panther watches them from the shadows, the Thing recuperates his strength and Wyatt and Reed stress that they need to think ahead as they have no idea what other boobytraps await them. In an effort to be useful and put his Native American ancestry to good use, Wyatt runs off to scout the area, meaning he’s not around when Wakandan soldiers suddenly rush in and blast Reed, Sue, and Ben with “magnetic polarity guns” that cause them to violently repel off each other like human pinballs.

After overcoming the Black Panther’s assault, the Fantastic Four learn his tragic origin.

Though the Invisible Girl tries to outwit their pursuer by turning invisible, the Black Panther’s keen senses easily lead him to her and he’s so fast that he’s able to leap inside of her forcefield as she’s raising it and render her unconscious with a blast of sleep gas. Rather than heed Wyatt and Reed’s suggestion, the Thing stops for a drink of water and finds his strength sapped once more, allowing the Black Panther (who boasts of being the continent’s boxing champion) to go toe-to-toe with him. In the end, though, it’s Ben’s impulsive nature that is his undoing as he blindly charges into a refrigeration unit and ends up frozen solid! Somehow, Wyatt stumbles across a hidden observation post and makes short work of those stationed there (though, realistically, you’d think Wakanda’s soldiers would stand more of a chance against some roided-up football star…), trashing the equipment to disrupt the Black Panther’s communications, but it’s of little consequence to the chieftain’s battle with Mr. Fantastic. Plunging the room into complete darkness, the Black Panther easily out-fights the elasticated scientist and successfully completes his hunt by trapping Reed in titanium cuffs. However, the Back Panther’s hard-fought victory is short lived as Wyatt frees Johnny from his trap, catching him completely off-guard; he’s even more off balanced when the entire team regroups around him, their strength restored and free from their confinement thanks to Wyatt and Johnny. Outnumbered and humbled in defeat, the Black Panther unmasks with the promise of revealing his motives and explaining his tragic origin story; this is related in “The Way It Began…!”, which finds the five being treated to a traditional Wakandan ceremony of friendship. Again, while the others are in awe of Wakanda’s technology and self-sufficient, primitive ways, the Thing is unimpressed and rudely dismissive of the Black Panther’s origin story since he’s seen it a hundred times in films and books about Tarzan. While casually lighting up a cigarette, the Black Panther regales them with the story of his warrior king father, T’Chaka, who pledged his life to defending the people’s virtually inexhaustible supply of super rare, super expensive, super absorbent “Vibranium”. However, when the unscrupulous mercenary known as Klaw, Master of Sound, led heavily armed goons into Wakanda to steal the Vibranium and power his “sound transformer” (which would let him change sound waves into any living form he can conceive), T’Chaka was brutally gunned down for opposing him. Despite the Wakandan’s advanced technology and tribal lifestyle, they are a largely peaceful nation and had no defence against Klaw’s machine guns and T’Chaka’s entourage are mercilessly gunned down, leaving only the young prince to stand against them.

The Fantastic Four hold back Klaw’s sound creatures while the Black Panther avenges his father.

As Klaw and his men burned down the village and slaughtered everyone, the grief-stricken youth turned Klaw’s sound blaster against him, destroying their weapons, damaging Klaw’s hand, and finally driving him from their lands in humiliation and defeat. Now, ten years later, the Black Panther has amassed a vast fortune from selling Vibranium to “various scientific foundations”, constructed his elaborate mechanised jungle “for a lark” to test his skills, and relates that his incredible superhuman abilities and senses come from special herbs and rigorous secret rituals. After a lifetime of preparation, he decided to hone all of his skills against the “supreme test”, the Fantastic Four, so that he’d know that he was truly ready to battle Klaw once more. Although the Black Panther knew that Klaw was planning to return at some point, the so-called Master of Sound conveniently makes his return in suitably dramatic fashion right as this origin story is wrapped up with a massive red gorilla made entirely of sound waves. Despite Wakanda’s best efforts, the beast absorbs any attack and hurls it back as a pure, devastating rush of destructive sound waves. Now that they’re all on the same page, the Fantastic Four (and Wyatt…) leap into action alongside the Black Panther to combat the beast, which shows no fear of the Human Torch’s flames and blasts the Thing aside with a sonic boom, completely invulnerable to conventional attack as it’s comprised of living sound and simply strikes back with a magnified version of whatever force is thrown at it. Rather than attack the creature head-on, the Black Panther goes directly to the most likely source of its creation, a large cave kitted out with more of Kirby’s bizarre mechanical art. There, he finds Klaw, now sporting a “force glove” in place of his shattered hand and the final version of his diabolical master conversion system, which allows him to sic a panther of pure sound energy onto his foe! Although the Thing is unable to triumph over another of Klaw’s creatures, this one a massive elephant, the Black Panther actually battles the panther to a standstill, much to Klaw’s shock. However, Klaw’s attempt to blast the Black Panther with his force glove results only in his beloved machine being destroyed, taking the entire cave and all his creatures with it. Finding solace in the defeat of his father’s killer, the Black Panther is encouraged to use his fortune and abilities to serve all of humanity rather than give up his crusade for justice. And what of Klaw? Defeated, humiliated, and desperate for revenge, he plunges into the master convertor and willingly transforms himself into a being of pure sound so that he may avenge himself on the Black Panther another day.

The Summary:  
This two-issue story arc did a decent job of introducing readers to this striking new character; clad all in black and sporting a superhuman agility and intelligence that is a cut above most Marvel characters, the Black Panther certainly makes an impression even beyond his race. Most prominently, he’s smart and capable enough to lure in the Fantastic Four (which includes one of Marvel’s smartest characters and is easily one of their most powerful and tightly-knit groups) and subdue them with relative ease thanks to his abilities and extensive research into the group. What better way to introduce a new character than by having him best the Fantastic Four, and not just through convenient or overpowered means but by using his wiles? Indeed, while the Black Panther’s abilities are somewhat vague (he boasts of his boxing prowess, agility, and keen senses but they’re not as dramatically on show as you might think) and Wakanda’s technology is seen as wonderous and almost magical, neither of these are explored in much detail so the Black Panther’s accomplishments seem more like skill than him being unnecessarily overpowered. Interestingly, there’s very little social commentary on the Black Panther’s race; Reed and the others are awestruck by Wakanda’s wealth and power and the mixture of traditions and technology, but never does anyone express incredulity that a Black man or a race of Black people could be powerful adversaries or allies. Even the Thing’s unimpressed demeanour is based more on his familiarity with pulp media rather than a disbelief in a Black man’s capabilities, and the entire experience is seen as an eye opening excursion for the team, who are completely caught off guard by how prosperous and dangerous such an out of the way nation is. Similarly, unlike many Black characters (and other characters at this time, particularly women and teenagers), the Black Panther and his cohorts never speak in some stereotypically contrived fashion; there’s no jive talk, no street slang, and no creole to depict them as being “lesser” or one-dimensional clichés and, instead, Wakanda is depicted as a place of very sacred traditions and an almost fantastical place with its mixture of technology and tribal customs.

While the Black Panther and Wakanda impressed, I wasn’t as taken by Wyatt Wingfoot or Klaw.

Although it seems like there’s a strange juxtaposition with this as Wakanda is comprised of a warrior race who wield both spears and special weapons and fully capable of creating these amazing technological wonders, but they’re easily gunned down by Klaw’s assault rifles and weapons, it’s clear that Wakanda has only fortified their defences and technology in the ten years since T’Challa’s death and that things were considerably less advanced before the chieftain’s son began accumulating his wealth and knowledge. There was a lot to like here; the action was fun, particularly in the Black Panther’s methods in subduing the Fantastic Four, and, while Sue often spouts some air-headed dialogue, it’s nowhere near as bad as the blatantly sexist and dismissive shit she normally says. If there are downsides, it’s Kirby’s surreal art (I’m not really a big fan of his overly elaborate and incomprehensible backgrounds) and the presence of Wyatt Wingfoot, who sticks out like a sore thumb and has no place running around with the Fantastic Four. He offers absolutely nothing to the story and he’s really just there to rescue the four after they’re subdued by the Black Panther, which seems incredibly lazy to me and completely unnecessary as the Black Panther later reveals that he had no evil intentions towards the team and probably would’ve set them free anyway. Klaw is also a pretty uninspiring and unnecessarily grandiose villain who basically amounts to a glorified ivory trader. He easily guns down T’Challa’s forces with his automatic weapons and the Black Panther’s entire mission is based on wanting to avenge his father’s death at the mercenary’s hands, but he doesn’t really have a visually interesting look (even after acquiring his metal hand…weapon…thing) and his sound creatures seemed overly cartoony. He’s basically just there to give the Black Panther and the Fantastic Four someone to fight against, spawning unbeatable sound creatures, and allowing the Black Panther to end the threat and thus further paint him as a formidable force. It’s a great cathartic moment for the new hero, for sure, but not a particularly interesting villain to pit him against and Klaw’s aspirations are ended pretty easily. These criticisms aside, the two issues are very enjoyable and it’s easy to see readers being interested to learn more about the Black Panther (whose true name we never learn) and Wakanda (whose society and traditions and technology are just barely touched upon), and I liked seeing the team completely overwhelmed by first his abilities and then Klaw’s sound monsters. For all their smarts and bluster, the Fantastic Four were very much on the back foot here, allowing the Black Panther to take the spotlight, and it went a long way to humbling the team and debuting this visually interesting character in a dynamic way.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to the Black Panther’s debut story arc? Did you enjoy seeing him running circles around the Fantastic Four or do you think he was a little too good in his first appearance? What did you think to Wakanda and Jack Kirby’s artwork? Are you a fan of Klaw or do you agree that he’s quite an underwhelming villain? What are your thoughts on Wyatt Wingfoot and the Inhumans sub-plot that both appeared in the comics at the time? What are some of your favourite Black Panther stories or moments? Whatever your thoughts on Black Panther, sign up to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Fantastic Four and Black Panther content throughout November.

Author’s Spotlight: Mark Towse and Chisto Healy Interview

Mark Towse and Chisto Healy, authors of The Bucket List

1. First, introduce yourselves a bit. What is your name (or pen name) and where are you from?

M: Hi. I’m Mark. I’m an Englishman living in Australia.

C: And I’m Chisto, an American living in America.

2. Next, tell us a bit about your most recent work. Is this your first published book? What is it about and what genre would you classify it as?

M: Our book is called The Bucket List. We’ve done a lot of solo stuff but this is our first together. It’s a horror comedy, emphasis on the horror.

C: What he said.

3. Tell us a bit about your main character; what are they like, how did they come about, and what are some of their strengths and weaknesses?

M: Our main characters are Marge and Alby. They’re old, and off, and dangerous. Their strengths and weaknesses? Wow. Um.. I guess it’s their love and devotion to each other vs their recklessness.

C: Yeah. They’re strength is also their knowledge, I think. They’ve been doing this a long time. As for how they came about, they were destined for each other, soul mates, love brought them together.

M: Do you mean how did we come up with them? They just happened. I think they found us.

C: Yeah, this book was begging to be written. It all just came. None of it needed to be found.

4. What was your hardest scene to write in this (or any) book?

M: None of it was hard to write. I mean I’m claustrophobic so some of that hit home but I enjoy exploring those things.

C: Same actually, though the early bit about Alby’s testicles brought back some childhood trauma for me.

M: As for us, we’re really in tune with each other. Writing together was seamless and easy.

C: He was dominant, and I was submissive. That’s why it was easy. Haha. No we really do work together well.

5. Did you go the traditional route when publishing your book or did you choose to self-publish?

M: We definitely made plans and shopped it around. We were really excited to land with Evil Cookie Publishing.

C: It was a really cool thing because we had both been rejected by them on our own and together we made it. It was a testament to the fact that we bring out the best in each other.

6. What would you say is the most difficult part of your writing journey and what advice would you give to other writers?

M: The marketing. I’m an introvert. It’s really difficult to be a sales person and promoter.

C: Absolutely what Mark said. I have terrible anxiety and all the non-writing stuff that comes with writing is really overwhelming honestly.

7. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

M: It’s pretty open. We wanted to make this a one shot but if people are into it we’ll give the people what they want.

C: We definitely fell in love with the characters so there could be a prequel in the works if people want it.

M: Really, there’s so much we could do if we wanted to continue it. We could do a book for every decade of Marge and Alby’s crazy marriage.

C: Like I said earlier, they’ve been doing this a long time. There’s bound to be a lot of stories to tell.

8. Who are some of your favourite authors, what are some of your favourite books, and what inspired you to become a writer in the first place?

M: The easy answer would be Stephen King but really it was my wife. She saw how stressed I was and said I needed an outlet and I should write. I did, and never looked back.

C: There are writers who inspired me when I was young and made me want to do this like Dean Koontz and Simon Clark. I’ve been writing since childhood, but it took a health scare and a pandemic for me to really apply myself to it. Sometimes good comes from bad I suppose.

9. What would you say has been the best way to market your books?

M: Instagram is a really useful tool, and getting interviews. I think we’re still learning though. We’re both dinosaurs.

C: Seriously. Not tech savvy guys here. If we figure out the best way to market, we’ll let you know haha.

10. Are there any tropes, clichés, or writing styles that you dislike and, if so, what are they and why?

M: I’m really not into splatter but there’s definitely a place for it. People love it.

C: For me, I love the tropes and cliche’s and seeing what new spin people can put on them. I don’t like overly detailed writing styles. I want to know how the characters think and feel not read three paragraphs about the stain on the wall.

M: Oh, me too, actually. I agree with that one. Definitely.

11. Do you read reviews of your book and, if so, how do you handle negative feedback?

M: We read all our reviews and share them with each other. Negative feedback? I don’t handle it well. Haha. No. I don’t know. If you get a one star review but you’ve had ten five stars before it then ten out of eleven people loved it so I think that’s what you need to focus on.

C: I only had an issue with negative feedback when it felt personal, but honestly, I know it wasn’t and it’s just my RSD, rejection sensitive dysphoria, but I didn’t know I had that at the time. Understanding that it’s my own brain sabotaging me actually makes it easier somehow.

12. What are some of your quirks as a writer? Do you like to plot everything out or do you prefer to just “wing it” and see where the story takes you? Do you listen to music when writing and, if so, what do you listen to?

M: We’re actually completely different in this. I like to breathe life into the characters and then see where that life takes them.

C: And I like to have the ending planned so I know the destination and then just wing the journey to get there so if it goes off course I know how to steer it back.

M: The listening to music part of the question is a no. I need to be in my head without distraction. I will actually play storm sounds and write to that.

C: I don’t listen to music as much as watch TV. I put on a movie that is on theme with what I’m writing to set an atmosphere and help create ambiance. It helps me get in the zone.

13. What is the best advice you’ve ever had when it comes to writing and what advice would you give to new writers?

M: I don’t like advice. I want to figure this out on my own. The discovery and journey is part of the fun.

C: Simon Clark told me I was doing everything right and I need to account for the luck factor because it’s real. I think that’s great advice because it takes a lot of the pressure off and allows you to work on your craft and do what you love.

M: Advice I would give? I guess it would be that even if it takes you out of your comfort zone, you need to do the sales and promoting. You gotta do it.

C: Yeah, and write. Write, write, write. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write.

14. What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any new books or stories?

M: We’re both doing a lot. We’re workaholics and people call us prolific. I have 3 novellas and a novel on the way currently.

C: And I have two novels and more in the works and we both write creepy pastas for youtube shows. We’re always doing something.

M: Maybe if we get enough fans we’ll be writing Marge and Alby’s next story.

C: Let’s manifest that and change if to when

M: Deal.

15. Finally, feel free to plug your social media, website, and links to Amazon, GoodReads, and other relevant sites below, and detail any current offers available for your book/s:

Mark Towse:

Chisto Healy:

If you’d like to be featured in an interview, please check out the interview submissions page to submit your answers.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fantastic 4: Extended Edition

In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be bathed in mysterious cosmic rays and forever changed. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’m dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.

Extended Edition

Released: 8 July 2005
Director: Tim Story
20th Century Fox
Budget: $87.5 to 100 million
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, and Julian McMahon

The Plot:
Doctor Reed Richards (Gruffudd), a genius but timid and bankrupt physicist, is forced to turn to the unscrupulous and wealthy Victor Von Doom (McMahon) to fund an expedition to a space station to study cosmic energy, though a miscalculation sees them bathed in cosmic rays and transformed into superpowered beings. While Reed works to find a cure for their condition, Doom becomes consumed by his powers, forcing the dysfunctional group to set aside their differences and join forces as a superhero team.

The Background:
While I wasn’t really a fan of the Fantastic Four’s debut issue, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s the concept of a dysfunctional family of superheroes went on the be a cornerstone of Marvel Comics, and even saw a decent amount of success in cartoon adventures outside of the comics. Their first effort at a live-action movie, however, didn’t exactly go as smoothly; not only was it hampered by a shoestring budget but the film never saw the light of day as Marvel executive Avi Arad shut down the production and confiscated the film’s negatives to avoid the film’s release tarnishing their brand. German producer Bernd Eichinger still held the rights to the characters, however, and the 1994 film’s universal derision and rushed production didn’t preclude him from continuing to push for a big-budget adaptation of Marvel’s First Family.

Producers continued to pursue a Fantastic Four movie even after the ’94 film got shelved.

With Arad now onboard as a producer, Chris Columbus was initially signed on to write and direct a new film the following year; however, writers and directors continued to join and drop out of the project over the course of around ten years. Eventually, Tim Story, a fan of the comics, signed on for the job and production began in earnest in April of 2004. Star Michael Chiklis lobbied hard for the role of Ben Grimm/The Thing and to don a practical suit to bring the character to life, though the film underwent significant rewrites after the release of The Incredibles (Bird, 2004), which was arguably the best Fantastic Four movie not titled Fantastic Four. Although the film’s $333.5 million box office meant that Fantastic 4 was a decent box office success, the film was met with mixed to mediocre reviews (although the chemistry between Chiklis and co-star Chris Evans was highly praised). To build anticipation for the upcoming sequel, this Extended Edition of the film was released on home media that restored several deleted scenes (including a longer opening title sequence and a strange cameo by Hugh Jackman) to the film, and that will be the version I look at today.

The Review:
Rather than dwelling on the past of its core characters, Fantastic 4 focuses on the present, which is great for getting things going but leaves a few questions unanswered; at the start of the film, Reed and his best friend, former pilot and astronaut Ben Grimm (Chiklis), are presenting to Victor Von Doom the opportunity to study a vast cosmic cloud that hopes to uncover the secrets of life and cure diseases. However, this isn’t the first time Reed’s made this presentation; having been turned down by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and with time and money running out, the two are forced to turn to the “larger than life” Doom for help as they’re in financial ruin. Reed’s finances are in such dire straights that he is forced to sign over 75% of the proceeds and all of the patents to the research to Doom just to get the project off the ground. Reed is even further dumbstruck to find his former flame, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), working as Doom’s Director of Genetic Research, but sets aside any grievances he has literally because he has no other choice and is determined to help people with his research.

Desperate for funding, Reed and Ben turn to the egotistical Victor Von Doom.

While Ben and Sue get along amicably enough and embrace each other as old friends, there are clearly some lingering issues between Reed and Sue; here, they were college sweethearts who dated pretty seriously for a time, but the relationship fell apart after Sue proposed them moving in together and Reed couldn’t quite take that next step. Indeed, Reed’s major character arc is balancing his obvious genius with his awkward social skills; his focus is always on the maths, the research, and the science, to the point where he is more interested in the uniforms made from “unstable molecules” than he is in how hot Sue looks in them (or anything for that matter). Sue is frosty towards Reed at the start of the film, but her icy demeanour soon melts as she sees his genius in action; it’s obvious that she’s still attracted to him, but she wants him to be proactive, take charge of his life, and be a little bold rather than always being so timid and clinical. While Doom believes that he has a chance with Sue, and can turn her head with money and wild gestures, she’s not interested in him beyond a professional relationship; something of a scientist herself, Sue is perfectly capable at holding her own when it comes to the science, which allows her to be so much more capable and world’s beyond the blond bimbo she was characterised as in the last film and the early comics. Sadly, though, as attractive as Jessica Alba is, I can’t help but feel like Sue was miscast; there’s a reason why Sue ends up in her underwear, after all, and it’s got nothing to do with how smart she is.

Conflict brews between the arrogant, hot-headed Human Torch and the gruff, tragic Thing.

Easily the standout characters in the film are Ben and Sue’s hotshot younger brother, Johnny Storm (Evans); while Ben is as gruff and grim as his namesake, he’s a consummate professional when it comes to his job and a stern military man, which is the perfect foil for Johnny’s brash arrogance. Relishing the opportunity to be his former commanding officer’s superior, Johnny takes every chance to wind Ben up and get under his skin; a show-off and an adrenaline junkie, Johnny cares more about the limelight and the attention than any kind of moral or scientific implications and prefers to flirt and hook up with as many attractive young women as he can rather than stay devoted to one, like Ben. Consequently, Johnny is the first and only one of the four to actually enjoy his newfound powers, which he immediately sets out to showcase and use for personal gain; his showboating only further aggravates Ben, whose monstrous appearance causes him to be shunned and feared by all, including his fiancé, and Sue’s efforts to curb Johnny’s behaviour do little to spare Ben’s pain.

Doom, a corporate scumbag, gains electrical powers and organic metal skin that send him into a frenzy!

Undeniably, the most altered character from the comic books is Victor Von Doom; rather than being a bombastic, egotistical monarch with a penchant for monologing and dark magic, this version of Doom is my absolute least favourite type of villain: a sleazy corporate slimeball dressed in a suit. Wealthy beyond measure, and chairman of Von Doom Enterprises, Doom has accumulated a vast amount of money and power and established a foothold in a number of scientific endeavours, not the least being his orbiting space station. However, he’s greedy and lustful and always wants more, especially that which he cannot have; despite his lofty stature, he delights in watching Reed squirm when he comes asking to use the space station and in lording himself over Reed’s genius, and he goes to any lengths, including referring to a proposal as a “promotion”, to try and woo Sue away from Reed and into his arms. Since his ties to Latveria are only vaguely hinted at (he doesn’t even have an accent or appear to be of gypsy descent), just about the only personality aspects Doom shares with his comic book counterpart are his hatred of Reed and his egomania. Doom is frustrated at having received a small facial scar from his time on the space station since it blights his perfect façade, but ironically only ruins his appearance further by indulging in his newfound powers, which escalates the organic metal infection to the point where he’s forced to hide behind an iron mask.

The team have plenty of time to interact and build their dysfunctional family dynamic.

Much of the film revolves around the four discovering their awesome new powers and trying to figure out how to first control, and ultimately cure, them; gifted to them by a mysterious cosmic storm, all five gain abilities that link their personality quirks with the elements (Reed’s “always stretching” so becomes fluid, Johnny’s a hot-head, Sue feels invisible around Reed, Ben is rough and rocky, and Victor is vain and cold), but Ben is permanently affected as he was outside of the space station’s protective shields, which is a nice way to address that lingering plot hole. Like in the 1994 film, Ben’s transformation takes some time to take effect, which is used largely for a genuinely hilarious wind-up on Johnny’s part, and Reed is somehow able to recoup finances enough to move them all into the Baxter Building to conduct tests on their newfound powers. Determined to restore Ben to normal, Reed works around the clock to try and recreate the cosmic storm, but Ben allows his frustration and despair to get the better of him and comes to blows with his friend, which also makes him easily manipulated by Doom. Although he tries to hide his transformation, Doom soon comes to enjoy the destructive potential of his powers, and embarks on a vendetta against Reed, whom he blames for costing him his good looks and his company. To that end, Doom takes the Thing out of the equation by curing him, freezes Reed with liquid nitrogen, tries to kill the Human Torch with a heat-seeking missile, and doesn’t hesitate to turn his devastating electrical blasts against the Invisible Girl in order to overpower them individually, and it’s only by putting their differences aside and coming together as a team that the four are able to overcome their foe.  

The Nitty-Gritty:
Released at a time when superhero films were still struggling to break into consistent, mainstream box office success, Fantastic 4 falters a little when it comes to its tone and direction; clearly, it’s straddling a fine line between a fun family adventure and a slightly campy kids’ movie, which is fine as the concept is quite whimsical and the four are known for having very fantastical adventures, but the film also wants to keep things grounded like X-Men (Singer, 2000) and Spider-Man (Raimi, 2002), so it never pushes the concept as far as it could possibly go. After the four’s big debut on the Brooklyn Bridge, they become instant celebrities (despite the Thing causing the accident…) but then withdraw from the public eye so that Reed can run his tests, which is largely where the film flounders; the four don’t really do anything of interest in that time, beyond Johnny’s motorcycle stunt show, which isn’t too great in terms of exciting or engaging the audience.

Distraught at his monstrous appearance, the Thing eventually grows tired of waiting for Reed’s cure.

However, in those moments, the film does do a far better job of developing and highlighting the unique dysfunctional family mechanic of the Fantastic Four. Sue struggles to maintain order as the default matriarch of the team and to keep the “kids”, Johnny and Ben, from arguing and getting under each other’s skin, and to help Reed better balance his time between work and relaxation. Guilt-ridden at the pain and trauma he has caused his friend, Reed works tirelessly to cobble together a suitably Jack Kirby-esque machine that he hopes will revert the Thing to normal, and Reed is so distraught by his friend’s outburst that he tests it on himself and nearly kills himself in the process. Annoyed at the constant criticism and lack of appreciation for their superpowers shown by his new teammates, Johnny revels in showing off his new abilities for the world to see, which only exacerbates the conflict between him and the others, especially Ben. Distraught at his grotesque appearance, Ben is only further dejected when his fiancé walks away from him and to find that his new rocky body is cumbersome, awkward, and hideous to others. While he finds momentary reprieve in using his newfound strength to put right the accident he unwittingly causes on the Brooklyn Bridge, he allows Doom to get in his head and is enraged to find Reed cosying up to Sue rather than making good on his promise to help, despite the fact that Reed has clearly been dedicating his every moment to fixing Ben’s predicament.

A combination of CGI and practical effects do a decent job of bringing the Fantastic Four to life.

Undeniably, the Thing’s practical suit is the film’s most impressive visual effect; due to being augmented by rocky sound effects and subtle CGI, there’s a real weight and physicality to the Thing thanks to the suit, which keeps him from appearing cartoony and out of place like some CGI characters from that time, such as such as Doctor Henry Jekyll/Mister Edward Hyde (Jason Flemyng) from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Norrington, 2003). The Fantastic Four’s suits are also nicely translated to the screen; while they lean a little more towards the sexy onesie look than being realistically practical, the texture and colour look good and they’re a decent bridge between the bright, colourful costumes of the comics and the film’s more grounded direction. Doom eventually takes on an extremely faithful comic accurate look as well; however, it comes very late in the film and I feel his hood and outfit lacks detail in some areas, making him a far cry from the imposing despot who is one of Marvel’s most ruthless and formidable villains. Obviously, the CGI and special effects are going to be of a higher quality than the 1994 film, and for the most part the hold up pretty well (thanks, largely, to the film utilising practical effects, sets, and stunts that are merely augmented by CGI); the Human Torch’s flames look pretty good, though his flaming body effects can still be a little cartoony, and Reed’s elasticity is rendered quite well but again suffers from there being few instances where it can actually be of practical use. Sure, he rescues a man from falling off a bridge, ties Ben up, and helpfully directs a water hydrant in the finale, but Mister Fantastic never seems to get as many chances to shine through his powers as the others; the focus is always more on his genius, which is fine, but it can make for quite a bland character (in many of the promotional materials, for example, he’s just…standing there…). Sue’s powers extend beyond simple invisibility; she’s able to project invisible forcefields, which helps here to contain fire, form protective shields, and blast foes away, making her one of the most versatile in the team.

After some additional scenes, the four triumph over Doom and bask in their newfound glory.

This Extended Edition of the film also includes a number of new, extended, or alternate scenes; the first of these is seen right at the beginning where the film is proceeded by an animated set of credits showcasing the film’s key characters, followed by a couple of additional quick shots in the foyer of Von Doom Industries that establish what Doom’s company does and that it’s a bit of a snobby place to be. While some alterations are quite minor (such as Reed and Sue having a moment in his supply room, Johnny increasing the temperature in the lift to get women all hot and bothered, and Sue reading fan letters sent to the team), others are more poignant and add some punch to the film (like the Thing having additional interactions with blind artist Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), Doom blasting a hole through one of his shareholders rather than simply electrocuting him, Victor trying to tempt Johnny away from the team with women and merchandising offers, and him being humbled while showing off). Of course, the most noticeable addition is a brief cameo by Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine, which makes for quite an awkward scene as it’s basically a repetition of one that came right before it and the effect is more of a cheap CGI wash than Reed actually transforming his features. Still, the crux of the film remains unchanged; separately, the four are capable of great things but, together, they form an almost unbeatable team that is the perfect balance of power, intelligence, and charisma, though they struggle to build that rapport throughout the movie. Once Ben sees how vital his abilities as the Thing are to stopping Doom, he willingly subjects himself to the cosmic rays once more to battle Doom and free Reed, bringing the team together for a brief scuffle with Doom on the city streets that involves a lot standing around, exchanging blows and cliché lines from Doom, before Reed and the Thing knock their enemy off balance a bit so that the Invisible Girl and the Human Torch can superheat him and turn him into a living statue. In the aftermath, the four embrace their newfound powers and celebrity status as superheroes, with Reed and Sue rekindling their romance, the Thing accepting his new status quo, and Johnny reveling in their fame as Doom, who still shows signs of life, is shipped back to Latveria…

The Summary:
It’s not that Fantastic 4 is a bad film, it’s just that it’s a bit underwhelming considering the concept; I think it definitely played things a little too safe by leaning into that grounded sci-fi aesthetic of X-Men and could have benefitted from being a little more over the top and adventurous in its scope. As a fun, family movie, it works very well and I’m sure there’s a lot here for kids to enjoy, and there are a lot of positives to the film: the effects and presentation are really good, and Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are fantastic in their roles. Of all the actors in the film, they perfectly capture their characters; Ben’s anguish is as much a highlight of the film as his rapport with Johnny, which basically saves it complete mediocrity. It’s a shame that they’re not in a better movie, to be honest, as they were perfectly cast and did a great job; Ioan Gruffudd is okay as Reed, if a little bland and wooden, and I like Jessica Alba but she really wasn’t right for this character. Of all the cast, though, Julian McMahon is the biggest misstep; I almost feel like it might have been better to save Dr. Doom for the sequel as he’s so neutered and lacklustre compared to the maniacal despot seen in the comics. Some decent comedy and fun action scenes help keep the film interesting, and it’s a reasonable first attempt at a big-budget adaptation of the team that’s bolstered a little further by the additions seen in this Extended Cut, but you’re not really missing much anything if you skip it, if I’m being brutally honest. I get that it’s a difficult and expensive concept to bring to life, but the Fantastic Four should be this wacky hybrid of science-fiction and fantasy, not a middling affair that plays it safe simply because grounded, semi-fantastical superhero films were the norm.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Were you a fan of Fantastic 4? Which of the cast and characters was your favourite and what did you think to the relationship between Johnny and Ben? What did you think to the film’s portrayal of Dr. Doom and do you think that the character got shafted a little here? Were you a fan of the direction the film took or do you think it played things a little too safe? How are you celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever you think about Fantastic 4, let me know on my social media or sign up to leave a comment below, and check back next Friday for more Fantastic Four content.

Game Corner [Wolvie Wednesday]: X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Editon (Xbox 360)

When readers were first introduced to the character of James Howlett, better known by the names “Logan” and “Wolverine”, it was in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. From his first full debut in issue 181 all the way back in November 1974 to him officially joining the X-Men in 1975, the character has become one of Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and enduring superheroes, regularly featuring in solo and team comics, cartoons, movies, videogames, and countless other merchandise.

Uncaged Edition

Released:  May 2009
Developer: Raven Software
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2 PlayStation 3 PlayStation Portable

The Background:
20th Century Fox profited greatly after acquiring the X-Men movie rights from Marvel Comics. Under their banner, the first three X-Men movies (Various, 2000 to 2006) made over $600 million and, eager to capitalise on that financial success and the popularity of their star, Hugh Jackman, they quickly began production of a spin-off film focusing solely on breakout star Wolverine. While X-Men: Origins Wolverine (Hood, 2009) proved a financial success, reviews ranged from mixed to scathing (unfairly, in my opinion) but the same couldn’t be said about the obligatory tie-in videogame. Developed by Raven Software, the game was a violent hack-and-slash adventure that expanded upon the film’s storyline using elements from the comic books and emphasised frenetic, gory violence very much like the God of War videogames (Santa Monica Studio/Various, 2005 to present). X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Edition was highly regarded by critics and fans alike as one of the most enjoyable and entertaining videogame adaptations ever made.

The Plot:
Decades before he joined the X-Men, Logan (a Mutant with retractable bone claws, a superhuman healing factor, and heightened senses) was a part of William Stryker’s Team X and operated under the codename Wolverine. After many years working alongside his half-brother, Victor Creed, Logan walked away from his violent life only to be forced back into the fight (and to undergo a radical procedure to bond indestructible Adamantium to his skeleton) when Victor killed his lover.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a hack-and-slash action brawler with very light platforming and puzzle elements that sees you cast into the role of the titular Mutant, who has the voice and likeness of X-Men star Huge Jacked-Man Hugh Jackman. The story can largely be summarised as taking “inspiration” from the movie, as the narrative constantly switches back to Africa to follow Wolverine’s final mission with Team X, and to the present day of the mid-1980s in a truncated and decidedly different, if similar, version of the events from the film. The gameplay is primarily geared towards slicing and dicing enemies with Wolverine’s bone or Adamantium claws in a variety of gruesome ways: Wolverine can attack with quick, light strikes with X, heavier attacks with Y (which can also be charged by holding the button), and string together successive presses of X and Y to pull off devastating combos (which you can review at any time from the pause menu) that turn Wolverine into a whirling dervish.

Lunge at enemies, unleash your Fury Attacks, and use Feral Senses spot environmental kill spots.

Wolverine can also jump with A, cling to ledges and climb certain walls, block, reflect, or counter incoming attacks with the Left Trigger, and grab enemies with B. Once grabbed, you can mash X to pummel them or toss them at other enemies (or into instant death environmental traps), or charge Y to perform a “Quick Kill”. Wolverine can also dash ahead with the Left Bumper but I found that this was a bit clunky and awkward as there is a delay between Wolverine stopping at the end of the dash and returning to a run, so it’s far better to press the Right Bumper and LB to perform a rolling dodge instead. One of Wolverine’s most useful skills, though, is his lunge attack. By holding RB to target enemies, you can then press LB to leap towards your target and attack them with X, B, or Y to quickly pounce across gaps and from target to target, which is endlessly satisfying when overrun by enemies. As you progress through the game, you’ll also unlock four Fury Attacks that can be unleashed when your Rage Meter is full and by pressing the Right Trigger and either A, B, X, or Y. Each of these can also be upgraded further and will see Wolverine fly into a berserker rage and becoming a spinning whirlwind of claws and death as you mash buttons to extend the duration of his onslaught. Wolverine also has the benefit of his heightened senses; by pressing up on the directional pad (D-pad), you’ll see the body heat of nearby enemies, climbable ledges and surfaces, footprints when tracking targets, and an ethereal blue light that points you in the right direction in a mechanic very similar to the Detective Vision from the Batman: Arkham games (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015), though much more basic.

Puzzles are pretty simple and amount to little more than button mashing or powering up consoles.

While the environments you find yourself in are quite linear, they are also made up of a lot of dark, grey corridors, so Wolverine’s Feral Senses are helpful for keeping you on track and spotting opportunities to instantly kill your opponents. I’m not sure why but the developers also allowed you to sheath and unsheathe your claws by pressing down on the D-pad; this doesn’t really seem to do anything but I guess it adds to the immersion of being Wolverine and, very rarely, you’ll be able to instantly kill enemies by sneaking up behind him and pressing either B or X. A good 90% of the game is made up of mindless hack-and-slash combat, usually restricting you to a set area and fending off waves of enemies who can seem never-ending at times. Other times, though, you’ll need to pull off some tricky jumps and awkward platforming; mostly, this isn’t a problem, but that are times when you have to jump from platforms and ledges or ropes and it can be very difficult to make even simple jumps thanks to the dodgy camera and invisible barriers nudging you to your death. Wolverine will also have to zip down wires to cross gaps, precariously walk across balance beams and girders, and occasionally pull or push large objects (usually crates or jeeps) by holding B. Other times, you’ll need to mash A to turn a wheel to open a door or find a crank or power source and carry it to a power node by picking it up with B. It’s all very simple and puzzles generally don’t become more taxing than that, standing on pressure pads, or scaling towers. Given his Mutant abilities, Wolverine is extremely durable, able to sustain prolonged gunfire and attacks and continue fighting. Your health bar will automatically regenerate if you avoid attacks for a few seconds but you can still be “captured” if your bar is completely drained and your vital organs are damaged so, while you can largely leap head-first into situations and groups of enemies, it’s best to keep an eye out from spiked traps and avoid being set on fire or pummelled by larger enemies.

Gameplay is mixed up a bit by a few different sections and mechanics, some more welcome than others.

Wolverine’s biggest danger in this regard is falling while trying to jump or navigating across bottomless pits or large chasms; if you fall, you’ll have to restart from your last checkpoint but, thankfully, checkpoints are quite numerous and generally always come right before a tricky situation. Gameplay is further mixed up by a few quick-time events (QTEs), mainly when opening doors, and slightly different camera angles and chase sequences, such as when Wolverine has to race down the spill well of the Alkali Lake facility and leap from jeep to jeep, dispatching enemies as a wall of water comes inexorably after him. Other times, helicopters will fire at you relentlessly and you’ll have to dart between platforms and cover to avoid fire or frantically run and jump across surfaces that crumble beneath your feet. In another mission, you have to lunge at enemies on speedboats down a racing river; if you fall in the water, you’ll have to restart but you eventually commandeer a machine gun turret and can fire wildly at your pursuers by holding RT. One particularly annoying mission has you dodging between metal shields as automatic turrets fire at you; you’ll need to activate a console to put the shields in place to stave off the heavy ordinance and use similar consoles to position teleporters around the sentinel facility.

Graphics and Sound:
Generally speaking, X-Men Origins: Wolverine looks pretty good; environments can be a bit bland and drab at times but you’re constantly hopping back to the jungles of Africa, which helps add a bit of visual variety to the game even if the environments remain quite linear and have very few opportunities for you to explore in a meaningful way. Character models are decent enough but the developers clearly put the most time and effort into the titular character; no other character from the movie save Victor Creed bares the voice or likeness of their actor, which is disappointing, and most of the enemies you encounter are largely generic soldiers with little to really make them stand out. As mentioned, Wolverine spends a lot of his time flashing back to Africa; here; you’ll run through the ruin-strewn jungle and encounter a number of machete-wielding natives and ancient booby traps and such. It’s a stark contrast to the boring, grey corridors of Alkali Lake (a location I could live with never having to see again) but the game claws back (no pun intended) some visual variety in the Sentinel facility and the casino where you pursue and battle Remy Lebeau/Gambit. These locations are much more interesting to look at, being a vast technological complex full of intricate machinery and Sentinel parts and a neon-drenched skyscraper that sees you climbing horizontally and vertically, respectively.

Environments can be dark, drab, and bland but some manage to stand out regardless.

It’s a shame, then, that the game doesn’t change the location of its finale, which sees you back in dull, concrete surroundings on Three Mile Island, but I did enjoy the visual of battling Wade Wilson/Weapon XI/Deadpool atop the cooling tower like in the movie. The game’s story is largely told during gameplay using the in-game graphics, often with Wolverine conversing with his superiors or allies via an earpiece (again, very similar to the Batman: Arkham games). There are some CG cutscenes here, though, which are quite blurry and muddy as you might expect from an Xbox 360 title. Similarly, the music isn’t really anything to shout about; it’s not exactly memorable or catchy and the only thing really salvaging the audio presentation is Jackman’s unparalleled work as the titular character. There was, however, quite a bit of slowdown whenever there was a lot happening onscreen and the game doesn’t do a very good job of masking its loading times; often, the game stops completely and you’re left with a “Streaming…” message while it loads the next area, which interrupted the flow of the game considerably at times. You’ll find some interesting audio logs and references to (and cameos from) some recognisable X-Men characters, though, and the final cutscene even places Wolverine in the “Days of Future Past” (Claremont, et al, 1981) timeline.

The game’s biggest appeal is in its graphic violence and gore in depicting Wolverine’s brutal nature.

Where the game excels, though, is in its unrelenting gore and violence; ironically, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is more violent and uncompromising than the film it’s based on, meaning that kids who enjoyed the film probably weren’t old enough to play the game at the time! As Wolverine takes damage, his skin and clothing is torn and shredded, revealing his Adamantium skeleton, which is both gruesome and fantastic to see. The wounds heal up over time but you’ll often be running around with a fully metallic arm or half a metal skull, which is something we really haven’t seen in the films yet. When attacking enemies, Wolverine can slice off limbs, impale them on the environment, and set them alight or electrocute them with environmental hazards and you’ll often see dismembered bodies writhing on the floor in agony and heads flying from their shoulders. One of the most brutal kills in the game comes when Wolverine rips a helicopter pilot out of his cockpit and forces him head-first into the blades! There’s no nonsensical censoring in this game; it’s bloody, violent action all the way through and this really helps to make the repetitive hack-and-slash gameplay more interesting and entertaining.

Enemies and Bosses:
As mentioned previously, the majority of the enemies you’ll encounter in the game are machine gun-toting soldiers; when in Africa, you’ll fight wild natives who wield machetes but you’ll also battle some rather generic-looking robots when breaching the Sentinel facility. It doesn’t take long for you to encounter more formidable variants of these enemies, such as the Machete Champion (who can set you ablaze), shield carrying soldiers (whose guard you must break with a charged heavy attack), soldiers packing grenade launchers (whose projectiles you must reflect back), and even invisible enemies (“Ghosts”) who carry shotguns and are be dispatched by grabbing them and tapping Y to blow their heads off. You’ll also come up against more monstrous enemies such as the lava-and-rock-covered Leviathan and the Weaponized Experiment Neurodindritic Incident Gamma Zero (W.E.N.D.I.G.O.) prototypes; these are best attacked with your Fury Attacks as they charge at you, deliver big damage with their swings, and can catch you in mid-air as you lunge if you don’t get around behind them. As you damage the Leviathan, it’ll protect itself with tougher rock and start tossing and smashing boulders at you so you’ll have to lunge at it whenever possible and you’ll soon be faced with two to four of these enemies at a time so it’s best to get a rhythm on.

You’ll be leaping at a lot of helicopters but especially to bring down the sharp-shooting Agent Zero.

You’ll also have to fight “Jungle Mutants” like Shifter, a blue energy being who teleports about the place, traps you in electrical prisms of light, and can duplicate itself (but is, thankfully, easily dispatched with environmental kills). The first time you encounter these enemies, they act as sub-bosses but quickly become regular enemies and you’ll often be faced with a variety of different opponents and forced to adapt to each on the fly. A recurring element in the game are the helicopters that are sent to bring you down; at least three times you’ll have to outrun these pursuers and then lunge at them, moving the left analogue stick to avoid being shot at and smashing your way into the cockpit with X or Y to bring them down. There’s a particularly gruelling battle that has you dodging helicopter fire as four W.E.N.D.I.G.O.s attack you at once but, thankfully, enemies can damage each other so you can position the beasts into each other’s attacks and the bullets from the helicopter. Prior to this battle, you’ll also have to contend with a pretty unique switch in perspective as David Nord/Agent Zero takes shots at you with his sniper rifle and you control Wolverine from the perspective of Nord’s sniper scope.

Creed is a far less pivotal or threatening figure in the game despite being fought twice.

The first real boss you’ll battle is Victor, Logan’s stepbrother (though this plot point, like a lot of plot points from the film, is nowhere near as relevant or emphasised as in the movie). You’ll fight Victor twice throughout the game, with the first bout taking place in and outside of a bar and the second inside of Stryker’s island base, just like in the film. Victor mirrors many of your own abilities and can lunge, swipe, and claw at you; he can also grab you to deliver combos and you’re in just as much danger of being impaled on the environment throughout the game as he and your other enemies are. Still, Victor isn’t much of a threat; although he boasts the same healing factor as Wolverine, I never actually noticed his health regenerating in either fight and it’s pretty simple to lunge at him, block and counter his attacks, and either use the environment or your Fury Attacks to whittle his health down and defeat him in both battles.

The Sentinel poses a formidable threat and must be attacked both on the ground and in mid-air!

As you might expect given that you end up in a Sentinel facility, you’ll have to battle with a Sentinel prototype as well. The first time you encounter the Sentinel, it’s in pieces and you have to solve a bit of a track puzzle to position its hand in place to attack its head but, despite your efforts, Bolivar Trask activates the prototype and you have to fight it outside the facility. The Sentinel is suitably massive and stomps around the place, leaps at you to cause shockwaves, fires laser blasts from its hand, and grabs you to blast you with its eyebeams in a homage to that iconic “Days of Future Past” cover art. To battle the Sentinel, you need to attack its feet and hands; this is best done by luring it towards the electrified panels on the floor, which will stun it for longer (though it’s difficult to tell that you’re actually dealing damage to it because of its high health bar). Once you damage it enough, it’ll take off and you’ll have to freefall down to it, dodging or ploughing through debris and guiding Wolverine to its thrusters. Eventually, you’ll do enough damage that Wolverine targets its main power source, which requires you to mash B to rip open its chest plate before it can blast you.

While the Blob is simple, Gambit leads you on an elaborate chase and is the game’s most frustrating boss.

Immediately after felling the Sentinel, you’ll fight with Fred Dukes/The Blob; unlike in the movie, this fight takes place in a supermarket full of destructible elements. The Blob is very similar to the Leviathan and W.E.N.D.I.G.O. enemies and will charge at you and repel your lunges with his drum-like belly. Once you damage him enough, though, he’ll try to squash you with a belly flop, which stuns him long enough for you to lunge or mount him and claw at him and force him into walls to bring him down. Immediately after that fight, you’ll have to battle what was, for me, the most annoying, frustrating, and long-winded boss of the entire game: Gambit. Gambit attacks with his staff and kinetically-charged playing cards, which must be countered and reflected back, respectively, to stun him. What makes this boss so annoying, though, is that you fight him a whole bunch of times and are forced to chase through up and through a skyscraper. Eventually, you battle him on giant neon letters, lunging at him when he charges and destroys them and mashing A when he tosses you over the edge. This was, honestly, the most exasperating part of the entire game as each fight with Gambit just went on and on and it seemed never-ending; of all the characters and Mutants in the game, I never would have expected Gambit to be so versatile, resilient, and challenging!

Deadpool will push your button mashing skills to breaking point!

After the finale battle with Victor, you are forced to battle Deadpool at Three Mile Island. If you haven’t seen the film, you might be a bit confused about who Deadpool is since he barely appears at all in the game’s story but he’s a pretty formidable boss in his own right. Fighting him is, essentially, the same as fighting Victor except that you’ll damn near break your wrist trying to mash A following a counter of his blades and it’s a two-stage boss fight. In the first, you fight him in an ordinary area of the island, avoiding his spinning blades and jumping attacks and whittling his health down with your Fury Attacks but, in the second, you battle him atop a cooling tower. Here, he demonstrates his ability to teleport and will blast at you with optic blasts that can destroy parts of the environment. Still, he’s pretty easy to defeat; you simply block his attacks, unleash your Fury Attacks, and lunge at him after he fires his eye beams. When you’ve dealt enough damage, the QTE becomes easier to pull off and is a great way to deal additional damage; while Deadpool’s health doesn’t regenerate during the fight, it will fill up at least once, which can make this rather long-winded and frustrating but it’s nothing compared to fighting Gambit!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you battle enemies and destroy crates, you’ll earn red Rage Orbs to fill up your Rage Meter and experience points (XP) that will see you level-up in time. Levelling up increases your health meter and earns you Skill Points, which you can spend in the “Character” sub-menu. Here, you can increase your maximum health, Rage Meter, and the damage and duration and effectiveness of your Fury Attacks. Each one will cost you more Skill Points as you upgrade them, though, so it’s best to either stock up or focus on one attribute to upgrade at a time. You can also boost your health and earn additional Skill Points by finding power-ups hidden in each environment, generally just off to one side or the opposite way from where you’re being directed to go. Every time you fight and defeat enemies, you’ll also fill up a “Reflex” meter in the Character sub-menu; when each of these is mastered, you’ll find that you deal more damage to, and have a greater defence against, the game’s enemies, which adds an extra incentive to combat. Finally, you’ll also find “Mutagens” hidden throughout the game; up to three of these can eventually be equipped and each one can also by upgraded further to increase you damage, Fury Attacks, or regenerative capabilities as well as boosting the speed which you build up your Reflexes.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements for you to earn throughout the game, the majority of which you’ll get just by playing through the story mode. You get Achievements for killing up to 2000 enemies, performing lunges and Quick Kills, tossing enemies from high ledges, and clearing each chapter of the main story. As you explore your environment, you’ll also find dead bodies and acquire Dog Tags for XP and which count towards Achievements and you’ll need to venture off the beaten path a little bit or attack enemies and bosses in specific ways to get some of the more obscure Achievements but you can track your progress towards them at any time from the “Statistics” menu. When you first start the game, you can select to play on “Easy” or “Normal” difficulty; you may as well pick “Easy” as the only difficulty-based Achievement comes after you clear the game and unlock “Hard” mode. Once you beat the game, though, you can replay any mission you like and pick a costume to wear beforehand but you’ll lose all of your saved progress and upgrades if you want to get the “Walking Death” Achievement so I’d recommend clearing the game and mopping up any Achievements you’ve missed tied to kills and Dog Tags and such before playing on Hard.

Unlock some cool classic costumes and beat the game to access a harder difficulty mode.

Also hidden throughout the game are a number of different Wolverine action figures; finding enough of these will unlock a special challenge from the main menu. Here, you’re pitted against three different Wolverines and, when you defeat them, you’ll unlock a new costume to wear including Wolverine’s classic brown-and-tan outfit, his yellow-and-blue spandex, and his awesome black-and-grey X-Force outfit. There are actually more action figures than you need but collecting them only awards you an XP boost rather than the likes of Wolverine’s Weapon-X outfit or movie costume, and there is a fourth challenge available but it seems that this was a Gamestop exclusive unlockable that would give you access to the X-Men’s Danger Room and it doesn’t appear to be accessible now. Sadly, that’s about it as far as bonus content goes; you can enter some codes to make the game easier but you won’t be able to get Achievements with these activated and it’s a shame that there aren’t more costumes to unlock.

The Summary:
I was very much looking forward to playing X-Men Origins: Wolverine; I’d heard time and time again that it was one of the best licensed videogames out there and actually better than the movie (which I have always considered to be pretty enjoyable and under-rated). However, I was surprised to find that all of the praise I had heard about the game didn’t relate to it doing a very good job of recreating the events of the movie. To be fair, a lot of licensed videogames falter a bit in this regard but X-Men Origins: Wolverine does a pretty lacklustre job of rushing through the film’s story, glossing over Team X and Wolverine’s relationship with the team and his brother, and simultaneously paying lip service to the film’s narrative while also awkwardly staying beholden to it in other ways. The game excels when it veers from the film’s plot, to be honest, and I can’t help but think it would have been better for it to act as a prequel and sequel to the movie rather than actually including events from the film. The sections in Africa are much more visually interesting than those in Alkali Lake (even though the developers tried to mix things up a bit by stripping you of your powers here) and I’d rather infiltrate a Sentinel production plant than visit Stryker’s bland island. This would also have given the developers the opportunity to include more characters, enemies, and elements from the comic books; they hint at this with the final cutscene but fall back on disposable grunts and characters from the movie rather than the likes of Mister Sinister or Omega Red. Thanks to its gore, violence, and frenetic gameplay, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is definitely a fun, if monotonous, experience; it’s probably the best and most accurate videogame portrayal of Wolverine ever made and is worth a play if only to see him hack up enemies and be stripped to his metal skeleton but there’s not a lot in terms of replayability and will probably be a mediocre distraction for fans of the hack-and-slash genre.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of the videogame adaptation of X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Did you prefer it to the movie? How do you feel it compares to other hack-and-slash videogames? Were you a fan of the gratuitous violence and gore? What did you think to the game’s interpretation of the film’s plot; were you also a bit perturbed by the truncated narrative or did you prefer the alterations presented in the game? Which of the bosses was your favourite or most frustrating? Which of Wolverine’s costumes was your default? Which X-Men or Wolverine videogame is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Wolverine’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or Wolverine and the X-Men in general, drop a comment down below.

Back Issues: Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1

Story Title: “Here Is the Sub-Mariner!” (or possibly just “The Sub-Mariner”)
April 1939
Writer and Artist: Bill Everett

The Background:
The brainchild of writer/artist Bill Everett and billed as Marvel’s first Mutant, Prince Namor McKenzie/The Sub-Mariner owes his creation to Carl Bugos’s Jim Hammond/The Human Torch. Since the Human Torch could manipulate fire, and given Everett’s keen interest in anything nautical, the writer/artist desired to create an antithesis to the flaming android who could live on land and in the sea and possessed incredible superhuman strength. Initially slated to appear in this giveaway comic, only a handful of copies of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly were produced and, when the deal fell through, Everett took the character and his story to Timely Comics, the predecessor to what we now know as Marvel Comics. Over the years, Namor has made quite the splash (pun intended) in Marvel; he’s been both a defender of and aggressor towards humanity, serving on teams such as the Invaders and the Illuminati, and had run-ins and dealings with some of Marvel’s biggest heavy-hitters, such as the Fantastic Four, with whom he has a longstanding contentious relationship with. Namor has also made appearances in Marvel’s animated ventures, generally being involved with the Fantastic Four, and, while development of a solo movie for the character has often been fraught with issues, he’s due to make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Coogler, 2022).

The Review:
The story of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, the “ultra-man of the deep” begins with a salvage ship, the aptly named S.S. Recovery, out at sea and investigating a wrecked ship under the ocean. Deepsea diver Rod nelson comes up from the depths and, after recovering in the decompression chamber, relates that the safe he was sent down to recover had been opened, and recently, too. As they’ve been out there for a week and seen no signs of any other ships, and there’s been no reports of any other ships in the area for three weeks, the captain has Nelson and Carley head back down there to try and figure out what, exactly, has happened, Carley goes on ahead and notices that the ship’s side hatch has been opened and, when he’s joined by Nelson, the two are stunned to spot slim, youthful swimmer in short-shorts mingling through the wreckage, apparently unfazed by the incredible pressure of the need for oxygen! The swimmer, the titular Sub-Mariner, is confused by the divers’ appearances; since they’re clad in heavy diving suits and equipment, he doesn’t recognise them as men or fish and assumes them to be some kind of hostile robot due to their vaguely mechanical appearance, the “control wires” running to their suits, and the “fire-weapon” (actually an acetylene torch to allow them to se in the murky depths) they hold. Consequently, the Sub-Mariner severs the wires, cutting Nelson and Carley off from their communications and oxygen supply, and then attacks them mercilessly, stabbing on with his knife and crushing the other’s head with his bare hands! Worried for the safety of his men, the captain sends another diver, Anderson, down to investigate but, when he gets down there, he frantically rushes to the surface upon seeing his crew mates’ bodies, unaware that he’s drawn the Sub-Mariner right to the S.S. Recovery!

Namor learns that he’s destined to led a war against all humankind!

When Anderson relates his story, the ship makes a hasty exit but the Sub-Mariner effortlessly twists its rudder and stops its propeller with his incredible strength (said to be that of “a thousand men”). Panicked, the captain desperately tries to steer the out of control ship but, unfortunately for the lives left aboard the S.S. Recovery, the Sub-Mariner forces it to crash and split in two on some rocks. Pleased with himself, the Sub-Mariner grabs Nelson and Carley’s dead bodies and speeds away to a secluded grotto by way of his winged feet. He brings his victims to a vast, chapel-like chamber where he’s met by a curious, robed, fish-like priest and boasts of his great victory over the mechanical, alien lifeforms. However, the Sub-Mariner (identified by the holy fish-thing as “Namor”) is shocked to find that his prey weren’t alien invaders or robots, but actually “Earth-men”. His mother, however, is more than pleased by his efforts; she commends him for striking a blow in the war against humans and even demands that the bodies at strewn up as an example. When Namor questions why she hates humans so much, especially as his father was an Earth-man, she relates that, while his father was a “fine man”, human beings are cruel and dangerous and almost drove their entire race to extinction. Back in 1920, Namor’s father, Commander Leonard McKenzie, led a scientific expedition out at sea and ended up unknowingly obliterating their society with depth charges and explosives. With the death toll climbing faster and faster, the elders sent Namor’s mother, Fen, to infiltrate the “white monsters” and bring an end to their actions since she most closely resembled a human. Leonard took pity on her, tried to feed and clothe her, without realising he was making her sick or that she couldn’t understand him. In time, though, she learned the language of men, and the two fell in love, all without the humans ever suspecting that she was returning to the water to stay alive and ferry back information to her people. Despite her warnings, her fellow Sub-Mariners tried to strike back and were no match for man’s weaponry, and Fen has spent the last twenty years preparing Namor, a being born of both worlds, to avenge his race on the world of man using his superhuman strength and in the name of his unduly oppressed people.

The Summary:
Jeez, well, okay…I can’t say I was expecting that! I’ve had some limited experience with Namor before; I know he’s a proud man and that he walks the line between hero and villain, someone who’s just as likely to sink half a continent as he is to save the world, but I never expected his debut story to involve him brutally murdering people and smiling about it! I have to address right off the bat that I couldn’t really find any decent scans of this issue, so the image quality probably isn’t all that great, but the artwork is actually pretty good for the time. It’s a bit crude and simple in places but it reminds me of pulp novels and comic books in its dark, subdued aesthetic; panels showing Namor underwater are really well done, with lots of blues and greens and murkiness to cast him as a frightening figure, and I really like the way Bill Everett conveys Namor’s hair when underwater and the simple, but effective, depictions of his incredible strength and speed.

Namor’s certainly formidable, but is he being manipulated by his vengeful mother…?

As for Namor himself…well, we don’t really learn too much about him in terms o his character, but there’s quite a bit related to us and that we can intuit. Interestingly, the opening dialogue box describes him as “a youth of dynamic personality…quick thought and fast action” and that’s certainly true as he doesn’t even stop to consider that the divers might be men rather than robots and just murders them without a second’s thought. We’re also told, by the narrator and by Fen, that he’s able to live on land and under the sea, fly through the air and swim rapidly through the water, and we see some pretty fantastic and startling examples of how powerful he is. He can crush a man’s skull with ease and it’s nothing for him to manhandle an entire ship and cause it to explode in spectacular fashion, to say nothing of how nimble he is underwater. At first, he seems aghast and confused as to why men are deemed his enemy, but he seems perfectly willing to carry out his mother’s wishes by the final panel after hearing how destructive humans were towards his race. It’s a bit odd, though; Fen claims Leonard was a kind man and it seems she really loved him, yet at no point did she try to get him to stop his destructive bombardment of her people. I guess having it be so that Leonard captured, tortured, and raped her would be a little too dark for this already pretty damn dark story but it definitely feels like something’s off about Fen’s story, and the narrative ends with Namor apparently ready and able to strike swift and unrelenting vengeance upon humanity, which is a daunting prospect given the glimpse we’ve seen of his power.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Namor’s debut story? Were you impressed with his brutality and power? What did you think to the backstory presented here and do you think there’s more to Fen’s tale? What are some of your favourite Sub-Mariner moments and stories from the comics? Are you excited for his live-action debut? Whatever you think about the Sub-Mariner, feel free to share it in the comments or on my social media.

Author’s Spotlight: Orca

Author: Mariëtte Whitcomb
Genre: Thriller
Publication Date: 24 November 2020
Pages: 218
Available As: Paperback and e-book

The Synopsis:
War didn’t change me… Four months as the enemy’s captive did. I returned home broken, scarred, the call to combat echoing in my soul. Haunted by the deaths of my squad, a darkness festers inside me, set on vengeance.

Seven little girls died at the hands of the Angel Taker. He thinks himself invincible, taunting the police and the families of his victims with letters. If the police can’t stop him, I will. I’m not bound by man-made laws. Starting with the Angel Taker, I will hunt him and every other vile predator down. The dark web won’t keep them safe; I’m not afraid of the abyss.

I don’t care if this path destroys me, or the police realise a woman is responsible for the bodies found hanging across the city. The victims deserve freedom, and their deaths avenged.

Soon I find myself in the crosshairs of the Marcel Sniper. The worst he does – kiss me. As sure as my name is Finley D. Williams, that kiss is the best I’ve ever had.

Perhaps I’m not alone in this fight after all…

The Review:
Orca is the first book in Mariëtte Whitcomb’s Finley series of thrillers. The story is told entirely through the first-person perspective of its main character, Finley Duncan Williams, a highly-trained and semi-empathetic soldier who has the uncanny ability to get into the headspace of violent killers, rapists, and sadists in order to figure out how they think, their patterns, and where they might strike next. Before joining the army, Finley strongly considered becoming a profiler and many characters, such as her Uncle Tom, a prominent member of the police department, praise her fantastic ability to see what their fully trained and highly experienced detectives and profilers miss. Crucially, Finley is also the survivor of a brutal bout of torture; captured, beaten, raped, and scarred by her tormentors, she was finally rescued and returned home to her sister, Elizabeth (affectionately known as Lizzie), only to find her parents had died and her home life had changed forever thanks to a slew of perverse criminals targeting random innocents but, especially, women.

I feel it’s important to establish some of this groundwork before delving into a review of Orca as the author certainly isn’t pulling any punches here; she describes, in graphic and repeated detail, Finley’s anger and disgust at these individuals, who she refers to impassively as “id”. Haunted by recurring dreams of the victims, Finley is unable to stop herself from trying to figure out the likes of the “Angel Taker” and the “Marcel Sniper” and, against her uncle’s wishes, quickly “goes rogue” and conducts her own investigation, immediately finding leads and gaining an insight into these killers and rapists far faster than the police. There’s a clear sense of purpose behind the author’s writing here; while Finley is relatively respectful to her uncle, she doesn’t take any crap and has no time for the red tape and procedure hampering the cops. Before long, Tom is openly discussing cases with her and allowing her access to the case files so she can continue her unique line of inquiry and, although he and many in the police department are aware that she’s assisting and actively getting involved in these cases, no repercussions are ever brought against her because she conveniently always ends up either being framed as a victim or acting in self-defence. And boy, you better believe that Finley knows how to defend herself! Not only does she rediscover her passion for Krav Maga (igniting a different kind of passion along the way), but she’s keen-eyed, is always aware of her surroundings, has exceptional stamina, durability, and hand-to-hand combat skills, and she is almost obsessed with guns. Handy with a variety of firearms, Finley always has a gun on her and isn’t shy about whipping it out at the slightest provocation or using it to defend herself; it gets a little extreme at some points in this regard as she constantly talks about how much she values a gun at her side, almost as much as she gushes over her beloved Johnnie Walker and her fancy cars.

Thanks to a generous inheritance and Lizzie’s running of the family business, Finley wants for nothing; she has all the money she needs to buy properties, turn them into safehouses for victims of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, and to kit out her home into a veritable torture chamber for her victims. With an understated ease, Finley trawls the “dark web” using a variety of assumed names, learning the depravity of her targets, and lures a number of perverted sadists to their doom. Thanks to her training, and her own personal experiences, Finley is horrifyingly adept at conjuring and crafting horrendous tortures for her victims, leaving them for days on end to suffer for their injustices until they’re begging to confess and for their deaths. Finley then offers them a choice between a slower, more painful death and a faster but no less agonising end, with her victims always opting for the former; she then spends many a paragraph justifying that she’s different from her victims, and not a killer, because she technically doesn’t kill these creeps herself. But forcing someone to kill themselves is the same as murder in my book, so often Finley came across as a bit of a deluded hypocrite, but this does occasionally tie into the narrative; Finley begins to fear her dark side, and even her family and lover are perturbed when they see how adept she is at assuming the role of a stalker and vigilante. Finley sees herself as an alpha predator, styling herself as an orca swimming among sharks, and delights in teasing them, seducing them, and dragging out their suffering; there’s no doubt that all of her victims were vicious deviants who had committed or wished to commit unspeakable crimes upon others (again, especially women) but there’s never a question that Finley has targeted the wrong person, or is going too far. Instead, she’s almost superhumanly meticulous and consistently able to predict her target’s movements; even when she’s caught off guard, she fights like a wild animal and it’s only after her actions finally catch up to her that she begins to rethink her vendetta, and even then her recovery time is largely glossed.

Finley is surrounded by some interesting characters; Lizzie is much more outspoken and outgoing, to her detriment it turns out, and is the more stereotypically “girly” of the two, encouraging Finley to dress up nice and get laid and to enjoy her life, especially after everything she suffered. Her bubbly naivety contrasts nicely with Finley’s colder, more pragmatic and weathered personality, but even this cold-blooded avenger can’t help but be swayed by her sister’s enthusiasm and enjoy a nice tight dress and a few social events. Her uncle, Tom, is the closest thing either of them have to a father and there’s a huge amount of respect between them; he admires her passion, fortitude, and incredible intuitive abilities and, while he discourages her from putting herself in harm’s way, he can’t help but rely on her as he’s at his wit’s end with the many shocking crimes sweeping the town. Finley has her fair share of passionate trysts throughout Orca; those she falls for are always ex-army, fit and field trained to be her equal. For me, there was a little too much wish fulfilment in these parts; the men she goes for almost too good to be true and that often took me out of the story a bit. Generally, Finley has a fear of commitment due to her dark side; even when she opens up to those she considers her equal, she keeps them at arm’s length and it’s not until a life-changing experience that she starts to consider settling down. Amidst this, she feels a strange and incredibly awkward lust towards the Marcel Sniper, even sharing a passionate kiss with him, all of which were elements that didn’t land for me because they didn’t really paint Finley in the best light.

However, it appears to be the author’s intention to suggest that Finley is damaged. She’s a survivor, for sure, and is written to be the most capable female protagonist ever, rarely coming up short and always bouncing back from adversity, but it’s obvious that her experiences have changed her. Although she initially fights against it, Finley comes to embrace her role as a “protector”; she sees the women under her care as in need of direction, the strength of will to fight back, and stops at nothing to target and end those who have harmed them, or others. She’s ridiculously successful in her ventures, working out her damage on numerous sickos while caught in a crossroads between becoming a full-blown killer of killers and settling down into something resembling a “normal” life. It was pretty clear to me within a few chapters that I am not the intended audience for Orca or this series; there’s an agenda behind Orca that some may find uncomfortable, but there’s also a stark truth laid bare that we live in times that are not especially safe for women. I think others, especially survivors of abuse, will find a stronger connection to Finley, her vendetta, and Orca’s themes; it might be traumatic for them to relive their suffering, but Finley offers a fantastical catharsis through having the uncanny means to track down, brutalise, and dispatch the men who would harm others. Similarly, those who enjoy a bit of whirlwind smut and seeing a bad-ass female protagonist go wherever she likes, say whatever she likes, and do whatever she likes with few repercussions may also enjoy Orca; the only thing stopping Finley is the time it takes her to find, lure, and ensnare her victims but there’s never a question of her being unsuccessful in these ventures and she’s just as driven when it comes to bedding her impossibly buff lovers. Finally, there’s a fair amount to enjoy here for those who are into violence; the torture Finley inflicts on her victims is graphic and brutal and the author doesn’t pull any punches when depicting violence. So, while it didn’t really click with me and I had some issues with the narrative, I’m sure there’s an audience for Orca and I hope that those who read it come away focusing on a positive message; that they’re not alone, there is help and support and life after abuse, and they’re fully capable of finding ways to come back stronger from even the darkest times.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

If you’re interested in checking out Orca, and to learn more about Mariëtte Whitcomb and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.

Game Corner: Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! (Xbox Series X)

Released: 25 November 2021
Developer: Mr Nutz Studio
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
Less than ten years after debuting in the pages of Pilote, the first Asterix book was adapted into a feature-length animation and animated and live-action Asterix films have been pretty consistent ever since. Similarly, we’ve seen a number of Asterix videogames, with the first being released for the Atari 2600 in 1983 and a large part of my childhood spent playing Astérix (SEGA, 1991) on the Master System as opposed to its flawed Mega Drive counterpart. Although Asterix dabbled in all sorts of genres, from real-time strategies to action/platformers and mini game collections, perhaps the most suitable format has always been the classic sidescrolling beat-‘em-up. Sadly, while Konami’s 1992 arcade title looked and played really well, it was unnecessarily restrictive, and was never ported to home console ports, a flaw this spiritual sequel somewhat rectified despite physical versions of the game being difficult to come by. Sporting hand-drawn graphics and gameplay specifically designed to evoke the arcade games of old and the original comics, Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! was met with generally positive reviews, which praised the visual style and fidelity to the source material, though the tedious combat and lack of content was criticised despite the short, sharp fun offered by the game’s emphasis on action.

The Plot:
The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans save for one village of indomitable Gauls, who fend off the invaders using their magic potion, which gives them superhuman strength. With the Romans expanding their campaign across the ancient world, Gaul’s greatest warriors, Asterix and Obelix, embark on a globe-trotting adventure to fight them off wherever they may be.

Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that emulates the classic arcade brawlers of yesteryear. Players can choose to go it alone as either Asterix or Obelix, or team up with a friend for some couch co-op action, which sees them bashing Roans and other baddies across the ancient world in six chapters (referred to as “Acts”) Fundamentally, Asterix and Obelix have the same range of motion and attack options available to them, but there are a couple of differences. Both can jump with A and attack enemies with X; successive presses of X will see each of them pull off a combo, building up you “Slap” counter and allowing you to amass greater and greater combo strings, and you can perform a jumping attack by pressing X in mid-air (though this can be a little inaccurate against smaller foes). You can block incoming attacks with the Right Bumper, dash across the screen and clear away enemies by double tapping the direction you’re facing, press B to pick up health items or grab enemies, and Y pulls off a special attack. This is one area where ethe characters differ: if you hold Y as Asterix, he’ll pull off a spinning top-like attack for a bit and pressing Y in mid-air will see him performing a jumping variation of this move. Obelix, however, can pull off a slower, far more powerful combo of punches by pressing Y and stun enemies with a huge butt stomp with A and Y. All of these special attacks, blocking, and even dashing consume energy, represented by lightning bolts under your health meter. Energy automatically refills as you attack and defeat enemies, however, but you still need to be careful about how and when you pull off your special attacks. Pressing up and Y or down and Y will see both characters uppercut their enemies or slam the ground, respectively, and each has different options for grabbing and throwing: pressing A and Y together allows Asterix to swing enemies over his head and tapping B sees him fire them across the screen, while Obelix can tap X to slap them about, tap Y to slam them on the ground, or launch them across the screen with B.

Pummel enemies, race through barricades, and smash everything in this mindless brawler.

You can switch between Asterix and Obelix at any time with the Left Bumper, however there is a short delay as each character performs an intro animation, which can leave you vulnerable to attack, and there’s distinct differences between the two: Asterix is smaller, more agile, and a little weaker whereas Obelix is stronger but slower and a far bigger target. Those playing with a friend will be disappointed to learn that there are no team moves in this game, though there’s no friendly fire option either; the game also lacks a timer, but the life system is a little wonky. The mission ends if either Asterix or Obelix’s health is drained, meaning you’ll need to restart from the beginning of the stage; there are no checkpoints, no revive system, and you can’t simply continue on as the other character, meaning it’s best to play through the majority of the stage as one and switch to the other when it’s safe, making sure to swap to whoever needs any health pick-ups you find. Pretty much the whole game is a simple beat-‘em-up; you start on the left side of the screen and travel to the right, bashing any enemies that cross your path. It quickly becomes very tedious, especially as the game’s Acts are proceeded by brief interludes where you’re in the forest, storming a Roman camp, or battling pirates on their ship in environments that change very little as the game progresses. Occasionally, you can explore other paths for goodies and barricades, rocks, or catapults to smash for extra points; you’re also tasked with climbing ladders, cliff faces, and vines as well as smashing down doors on a handful of missions. Gameplay is broken up a little bit by a couple of different racing sections; one has you rapidly tapping A to beat your friend or Roman gladiator Gluteus Maximus in a foot race, and the other sees you holding X as you automatically race through the forest hunting boar and smashing through barricades, barrels, and Romans. One mission gives you sixty seconds to destroy all the barrels in the pirates’ cargo hold; you get another timed mission in Act VI, where you’re given one minute and forty seconds to destroy all the catapults and barrels across the Roman landscape. Finally, you’ll be tasked with fighting your way to, into, and through various Roman camps between Acts; these mostly all amount to the same thing, however, though there are a couple of occasions where you’re placed on a static screen and asked to fend off waves of enemies as they try to storm the village or other allied settlement.

Graphics and Sound:  
If there’s one thing Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! has going for it, it’s the game’s graphics; sporting a beautiful hand drawn style that perfectly captures the spirit of the comic books and apes the look of the feature-length animations, the game is lovely to look at. Asterix and Obelix are full of life; each has idle animations, different walk cycles, and a range of reactions and animations when attacking or being hurt. They’ll both drop a few quips and lines here and there as you plough through enemies (oddly, they seem to have British accents, which is strangely common in Asterix adaptations), though voice acting is restricted to a few clips and a very brief bit of narration between Acts. The game’s music is equally forgettable; there’s some jaunty, fitting tunes but nothing massively spectacular, which is a shame as it would’ve been nice to have some memorable music to hum along to as you’re bashing through countless enemies. Comic book sound effects punctuate the action, which absolutely nails the slapstick violence of the source material; you can uppercut Romans out of their sandals with a loud PAF!, charge through them at superhuman speeds and send their shields flying, and some enemies have fun defeat animations where their weapons break over their heads or their pants fall down. Just about the only complaint I have about the sprites is that they get very repetitive very quickly; there are a few different types of enemies, but you’ll have encountered the majority of them within the first few missions and the game doesn’t always take advantage of its globe-trotting narrative to deliver new enemy types (there are no unique enemies in Corisa or Egypt, for example).

As beautiful as the game is, environments and enemies repeat far too often, offering little visual variety.

This is true of the environments as well; while they’re equally beautifully and are also ripped straight from the source material, there’s only so many times you can fight through the same forest, ship, and beach before things start to get a little tedious. In this regard, the original arcade title does a far better job of keeping things visually interesting because it simply dropped you in a new area that altered as you fought through it; here, the Acts are broken down into missions, so you have to traverse a forest, then cross a stone pathway or bridge, then fight on a ship, then across a beach, then maybe up some cliffs (which may or may not have some mist effects), and into a Roman camp in practically every single mission. It smacks of padding, unfortunately, and it takes too long for the game to mix things up by spiriting you away to Egypt, where you’ll fight through pyramid construction sites and dark tombs. To be fair, some of these areas do get a bit of a visual change up; you’ll battle on different ships and different times of day, forests and rural landscapes are eventually interspersed with Roman trappings like roads, villas, and columns, and you’ll find yourself fighting through jails and in the sands of the arena in due time…it just takes a while to get there. The game’s cutscenes are a mixture of static images and written dialogue, animated sequences with a bit of voice acting, and motion comic-like sequences; they’re okay and they tell truncated versions of some classic Asterix stories, but I think I would’ve preferred more sprite-based cutscenes just so we could’ve had a little more visual variety in the onscreen characters.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you might expect from an Asterix videogame, your primary enemies will be the Roman forces that have swept across ancient Europe. Romans came in all shapes and sizes, from smaller legionnaires to plumper ones with swords and gaunt variants who annoyingly toss spears at you from a distance or perform a melee attack up close. Eventually, the Romans try and get a little clever and hide in bushes and tree stumps, jabbing at you with swords and spears from each, and bring in a bigger brute who can block your attacks and cannot be thrown but their greatest asset is their sheer numbers. Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! certainly doesn’t shy away from filling the screen with enemies for you to plough through and, if you’re not quick enough, it’s easy for your enemies to whittle your health down and force a restart. I was surprised, and disappointed, that the game didn’t include the chunkier gold-armoured Roman commander, any Roman formations, or enemies on horseback (though you do have to dodge speeding chariots and bulls on a couple of occasions). Other enemies include a persistent gang of pirates and brigands; the former sport more elaborate weapons, such as axes and nunchakus, while the latter are capable of charging across the screen with their fists thrashing in an unblockable attack that also damages other enemies. Much later into the game, you’ll also encounter armoured and armed gladiators in the game’s fighting arenas who also race across the screen and attack you with tridents, and even lions, though you’ll only encounter the hulking Normans in Act II and they all unfortunately look the same.

Sadly, you’ll be facing these same bosses over and over, with little to differentiate them.

Bosses are few and far between and easily one of the game’s biggest let downs as the game reuses and recycles five of the bosses over and over, with little variation between them. The first boss you’ll fight is a Roman Centurion who pretty much sets the standard for all of the game’s bosses; they’re too big to grab or throw, often block your attacks, sport a health bar, and are accompanied by endless reinforcements, the remainder of which you must take out to complete the mission. The Centurion is fought five times throughout the game, usually inside of or outside of the Roman camps, with Act III and Act IV forcing you to battle two at once, but again I would’ve liked to see them be more visually distinct. Additionally, they’re not too difficult to defeat; they attack with a sword combo and can defend against your attacks, but they’re a pretty big target and easy to just spam a combo on over and over until they’re bested. You’ll also fight the pirate captain, Redbeard, a bunch of times; he’s a little bit more formidable as he performs a wake-up attack every time you knock him down, so you need to remember to jump out of the way after you’ve sent him flying. This fight is changed up a little on two occasions; one where there isn’t any health pick-ups on the ship and another where you fight him on a beach instead of that same damn ship. Another boss you’ll encounter a couple of times is Gluteus Maximus; this proud gladiator challenges you to a race on two occasions and then engages you in hand-to-hand combat alongside other bosses on two others. In a fist fight, Gluteus is actually pretty tough; he has a good block and a fast punching combo, so it’s better to use jump attacks, your special attacks, and stay on the move when fighting him.

Unique bosses are in short supply as the game prefers to just throw more of the same at you.

Thankfully, there are some visually unique bosses to fight, though you can pretty much use the same tactics you use against all of the others to best them. Olaf Timandahaf might look intimidating but he’s no different from the Centurion except he uses a sword (which can get stuck in the ground) and performs a rhino-like charge. Similarly, the Auroch you fight in Act III is probably the easiest boss battle as there aren’t any other enemies to distract you and you simply jump over it when it charges and pummel it at every opportunity. Pugnatius, a man mountain of a Roman enforcer, pops ups in Act V; though he sports a clubbing punch and a double-handed clap attack, he’s very slow and a massive target so he only really becomes a threat when he teams up with Gluteus as the final bosses of the game. Before you reach that point, though, you need to fight through a whole bunch of gladiators, lions, brutish Romans, and the sadly underutilised Insalubrius, a whip-wielding gladiator who pummels you with punches if you get too close. Pugnatius and Gluteus form quite the formidable duo for the finale, especially as they’re backed up by other large enemies, but it’s not a massive stretch of your skill to isolate one or even attack both with a combo and I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a more visually distinct enemy to face in the end. The lack of a chariot race and other recognisable Asterix baddies bad the game’s bosses needlessly repetitive; I don’t expect to go one-on-one with Julius Caesar, but I was a little disappointed that the game didn’t crib more enemy types from the various Asterix comic books.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you battle through the game’s environments, you’ll come across a number of barrels that can be smashed apart to yield coins; coins and bags of sestertii also drop from enemies and all add to your score, though there’s very little incentive to collect these beyond earning an Achievement. Smashing barrels also uncovers apples, legs of meat, and roast boar to refill your health but there are no other power-ups to find here. There’s no invincibility, no allies to call in, no temporary buffs to your strength or defence, and no weapons to pick up; Obelix doesn’t even use his trademark menhir and the only way you’ll drink magic potion is by switching to Asterix, who automatically swigs from a gourd before a fight.

Additional Features:
There are thirty Achievements up for grabs here, with six automatically being awarded after clearing each Act and four given for besting the game on the different difficulty settings. There are four difficulty settings (Easy, Medium, Hard, and Hardest), but you’ll be swamped by enemies on even the “Medium” difficulty mode, which makes for a very chaotic an action-packed experience. If you’re struggling, the game allows you to lower the difficulty whenever you like, but the majority of its Achievements are earned by playing on at least “Medium”. You’ll get an Achievement for clearing a mission with each character, performing all of the duo’s attacks in a single mission, and for starting a mission in co-op (but, oddly, not for clearing the game in co-op). If you get the combo counter over six-hundred you’ll snag some G too; other Achievements pop from landing forty hits with Asterix’s spinning attack, destroying objects within a time limit, knocking over or uppercutting a certain number of enemies, and clearing a mission without being hit. Mostly, they’re all pretty do-able but, again, it feels like there could’ve been more done here, such as scattering pick-ups throughout the game or allowing you to spend your coins on concept art or alternate costumes or something. Instead, the only think you unlock by beating the game’s story is a freeplay mode that lets you replay any mission; there’s no gallery, no concept art, and no other unlockables on offer. This is a shame as a boss rush, some kind of endless arena mode, or even a versus mode where you replay the races or fight with a friend would’ve been nice but the only incentive to replay the game is to beat your high score or clear the game on the harder difficulty settings.

The Summary:
I was really excited, and surprised, when I learned of Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All!, which just kind of came out of nowhere as I hadn’t heard anything about it or seen any advertising or anything. As a massive fan of the franchise, the arcade game, and classic arcade beat-‘em-ups, I was equally taken by the game’s artistic style and direction. Certainly, this is probably the most faithful Asterix game I’ve ever played; the format really lends itself to a brawler like this and it’s definitely fun ploughing through endless waves of Romans and pulling off the duo’s iconic moves. I liked how the game adapted a bunch of classic Asterix stories, but I question the inclusion of some; there’s very little to distinguish Corsica from Spain, for example, so it would’ve been nice to journey to America or India to mix things up a bit. Equally, I was surprised by the length of the game; I expected it to be a short beat-‘em-up but the game is unnecessarily padded with its rural jaunts, pirate ships, and the storing of Roman camps. This wouldn’t be so bad if they were changed up a little, with other Gauls aiding you or a stronger visual identity to each camp, but they’re basically the same environments with the same enemies and bosses. By the time this game came out, there were thirty-nine Asterix stories to pull from, with numerous visually interesting and distinct enemies to use as inspiration, but Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! plays things way too safe in this regard. It plays well, for the most part, but combat and gameplay quickly becomes very repetitive as there’s nothing to collect or unlock, little incentive to explore, and you’re just bashing up the same enemies over and over again. It’s a shame as the game really does look beautiful and perfectly captures the slapstick violence and humour of the source material, but the original arcade game, for all its faults, offered a lot more variety and was way less monotonous. Similarly, there are other arcade-style beat-‘em-ups out there for modern consoles that offer more incentive to play through additional characters, modes, and unlocks, meaning Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! comes across like an ambitious, but limited, budget title (and it’s not even that, as they’re charging over £30 for this as a digital title and nearly £40 for a physical copy!)

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you played Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All!? If so, what did you think to it and which of the two characters was your favourite to play was? Did you enjoy the game’s visual presentation and combat? What did you think to the more repetitive aspects, such as the recycled enemies, locations, and bosses? Were there and character or stories you would’ve liked to see included in the game? What is your favourite Asterix videogame, story, or adaptation? Whatever your thoughts on Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All!, or Asterix in general, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: The Fantastic Four

In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be forever changed by mysterious cosmic rays. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’m dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.

Released: Never (initially scheduled for 19 January 1994)
Director: Oley Sassone
New Horizons Pictures
Budget: $1 million
Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood, Michael Bailey Smith/Carl Ciarfalio, and Joseph Culp

The Plot:
While in college, genius scientist Reed Richards (Hyde-White) experiments on a passing comet but a mishap results in the apparent death of his friend, Victor Von Doom (Culp). Years later, Reed recruits Benjamin Grimm (Smith), Susan Storm (Staab), and her hot-shot younger brother Johnny (Underwood) to continue the experiment using a space shuttle. However, the four are bombarded with cosmic rays and gain extraordinary abilities in the process, which they must then put to the test when Victor returns bent on revenge as the maniacal Doctor Doom.

The Background:
Although the process behind the creation of the Fantastic Four is a little more confusing the most other comic book heroes (they were either the result of Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman tasking Stan Lee to create a team of superheroes to rival DC Comics’ Justice League of America or Jack Kirby came up with the concept himself, basing them on his Challengers of the Unknown), both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby undoubtedly created Marvel’s First Family. Unlike other superhero teams, the Fantastic Four aimed to be more relatable by leaning towards a family dynamic that caused them to bicker with each other as much as their enemies no matter how wacky their adventures got. Although I didn’t care much for their debut issue, the Fantastic Four have been a consistent staple of Marvel Comics ever since their introduction and have featured prominently in cartoons, but it was German producer Bernd Eichinger who first set in motion plans for a live-action adaptation.

Sadly, the Fantastic Four’s comic and cartoon success wasn’t enough to release the movie.

Although Eichinger was able to acquire the rights for a “not enormous” amount since Marvel’s lawyers practically gave away the license, budget problems hit the production almost immediately. Desperate, he turned to notorious low-budget producer Roger Corman, who arranged a pitiful $1 million for the film. Within less than a month, the film was cast, shot, and completed, resulting in a number of rushed and subpar special effects but also a legitimately impressive practical suit for the Thing. However, as soon as the film was finished, Marvel executive Avi Arad shut the production down, paid back the money spent, and confiscated the film’s negatives to avoid the brand being diluted and cheapened by the film’s release. Although Eichinger would go on to eventually produce live-action versions of the comic book characters that actually saw the light of day, the closest that The Fantastic Four has come to being released is through bootlegs and a documentary detailing the strange events surrounding the film. Those that have seen the film generally report it being pretty terrible, though others enjoy film’s the B-movie appeal and even consider it a surprisingly faithful attempt at an adaptation considering the budget and effects of the time.

The Review:
I’m gonna kick this off with a quick disclaimer that should probably be obvious, but I think it’s worth saying: the video quality of this film sucks, quite frankly. Because it never got an official release, we never even got a VHS release of the film let alone a 8K, HD Blu-ray digital transfer so I don’t exactly have much choice but to pull pictures from very low quality bootleg versions of the film. Secondly, there’s no official way of seeing this; it can be watched online for free on many streaming and video platforms but I’m not going to include any links to that. I honestly would love to see the film be dusted off and officially released some day; I find it just astounding that it’s never happened, especially as we’ve seen official releases of other, equally awful Marvel movies from the nineties but, until that happens, this is the best version that I could find to view so we’re all just gonna have to deal with it.

After his initial experiment results in Victor’s death, Reed assembles a rag-tag crew for a space mission.

The film begins with Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, and Victor Von Doom as college students, where they learn of an incoming comet, dubbed “Colossus”, that promises to unlock the mysteries of faster-than-light travel. Reed and Victor have spent the last four years been working on a machine to run experiments on this comet, though Reed is concerned that Victor’s calculations fail to consider velocity variations that could jeopardise the entire project. Although Reed insists on running a simulation to ensure everything goes safely, Victor pushes the experiment forward due to the limited window they have to observe Colossus, and his arrogance and recklessness cause their machine to overload and strike Victor with bolts of electricity that, despite Ben’s best efforts, apparently leave Victor dead. By the time Colossus rolls around ten years later, Reed has finalised the construction of an experimental spacecraft that Ben is all-too eager to pilot. Reed first met Sue (Mercedes McNab) and Johnny (Phillip Van Dyke) when they were children at the boarding house he stayed at in college; even though she was little more than a pre-teen, Sue had a major crush on Reed, which makes it frankly a little disturbing that they develop a mutual attraction when they reunite some ten years later when she’s all grown up. However, the oddities don’t end there as Ben makes the decision to draft the grown-up Sue and Johnny to fill out the crew of Reed’s spacecraft despite the fact that the Storms are not trained, qualified, or in any way suitable to undertake such a mission (Hell, I’d argue that Reed isn’t qualified to go into space based on what we’ve seen so far). Even Reed points out what a daft decision this is but Ben insists on bringing them along simply because of their familiarity with the project, and Reed’s doubts are apparently immediately quashed as soon as he sees how grown-up Sue has become, and the group are subsequently dubbed the Fantastic Four by the Storm’s matriarch, May (Annie Gagen). Reed feels a tremendous amount of guilt over Victor’s death and wishes to see their research come to fruition to honour his friend’s memory, which is all the motivation the others need to sign on to the mission.

The four gain fantastic powers and catch the attention of the bombastic Dr. Doom.

However, disaster strikes when the four are on the mission and, though they survive, they are forever changed by strange and powerful cosmic rays; these changes are gradual and reveal themselves shortly after the four inexplicably survive their shuttle crashing back to Earth and are rendered in the most underwhelming and preposterous way imaginable. Johnny discovers his flame power by sneezing, Sue is initially entirely invisible, and Reed find that he can stretch a bit when he saves her from impaling herself on a piece of the space shuttle. For some reason, Ben’s more gruesome and noticeable mutation doesn’t occur until later that evening, and of course sees him transformed into a rock-like creature. While Reed is insistent that he can find a scientific explanation for their predicament, and both Sue and Johnny react in fear and disbelief at their newfound powers, poor Ben is left distraught by his monstrous appearance. The four are taken into military custody and, in scenes that I guess could be best described as “amusing”, quickly learn control over their abilities (in this iteration, Johnny literally activates his flame by saying “Flame on!” rather than this simply being his catchphrase), and quickly realise that they’re being detained by an unknown party posing as the military. Of course, this turns out to be Victor, who it turns out, actually survived his ordeal, albeit with horrific burns. After being spirited to safety back to Latveria by his fellow countrymen and donning ceremonial armour, Dr. Doom spents the next ten years establishing himself as Latveria’s ruling despot and sets his sights on acquiring the diamond that is so crucial to Reed’s experiments, which he plans to use to power a laser cannon capable of destroying New York City. For much of the film, Dr. Doom remains elusive, ominous, and cloaked in shadow, and primarily operates through two Latverian henchmen, and he watches with glee as the four are left to die in space after his inaction sees their mission compromised. Although initially angered to find that they have survived, he arranges for his men to capture the group under the guise of he military in order to learn more about their powers, and theorises that the cosmic energy of Colossus could bestow similar superhuman abilities to himself.

The Jeweler takes a shine to Alicia, but she only has eyes for Ben no matter his appearance.

While you’d think that Dr. Doom would be enough of a threat for the Fantastic Four, the film also includes an additional villain, the Jeweler (Ian Trigger), a troll-like man who lives in the sewers and underground tunnels of the city and steals the gem to gift to blind artist Alicia Masters (Kat Green) in a desperate bid to win her over. Ben had (literally) bumped into Alicia before his ill-fated space excursion and became immediately infatuated, and comes across her again after she has been kidnapped by the bizarre, Leprechaun-like creature and Ben has fallen among the Jeweler’s kind after being left despondent by his new rocky disposition. The Jeweler actually proves pivotal to the film’s plot since he steals Reed’s diamond and replaces it with a fake, which is influential in causing the group being bombarded by cosmic rays and gaining their powers, but honestly could have easily been dropped from the film entirely as Dr. Doom could have been the one to swap out the diamond and more time could have then been devoted to building a more natural a poignant romance between Alicia and the Thing rather than them suddenly declaring their love for each other and wasting time on a nonsensical twist where Ben reverts to his human form for absolutely no reason at all.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s hard to really tell what The Fantastic Four is going for in terms of its tone; Reed is the straight man, mostly serious and taking the scientific route, which makes perfect sense and is generally conveyed quite well, but the remainder of the film has this odd, camp tone that makes it more cartoony than even the group’s animated endeavours. If I had to make a comparison to another art form, I would say the closest parallel is a pantomime; nowhere is this more evident than in Dr. Doom’s bombastic and over the top line delivery. Joseph Culp massively exaggerates every movement, no matter how small, and seems to be basing his portrayal of the character more on Dark Helmet (Ric Moranis) than Darth Vader (David Prose/James Earl Jones), resulting in a maniacal and overstated performance that would be out of place even on a stage.

While the team’s costumes are incredibly accurate, their personalities are a bit hit and miss.

Although Reed postulates a link between their powers and their personality quirks (Reed’s always stretching himself too thin, Sue gets shy around him, Johnny (apparently) as a fiery temperament, and Ben’s always favoured brute strength over his mind), and Reed and Ben are generally pretty close approximations of their comic book characters, Sue and Johnny leave a lot to be desired. Sue’s personality seems to be based more on her earlier, less progressive characterisation; she’s infatuated with Reed and a bit bossy towards Johnny, but is far from the capable and independent matriarch of the group that I prefer to see. Similarly, while Johnny is a bit temperamental and impulsive, he’s world’s away from the arrogant little brat of the comic books and has virtually none of the usual banter you’d expect with Ben and the others, coming across more like a shadow of his egotistical and conceited comic book counterpart. However, considering the extremely low budget of the film, it’s impressive that the filmmakers went out of their way to faithfully recreate the blue-and-white spandex costumes from the comics; however, in the context of the film, it really doesn’t make all that much sense for them to even wear the outfits. It’s not like they’re modified versions of their spacesuits or anything; Sue simply designs them their costumes so that they can live up to their “Fantastic Four” moniker and put their powers to use as superheroes.

With the exception of the Thing, all of the film’s special effects are atrociously low budget.

It’s a shame, then, that the special effects are so hokey; even the bolts of lightning that strike Victor are cartoonish and amateurish, and the film makes heavy use of stock footage and interior shots to mask the shuttle’s launch (and doesn’t even show its return to Earth, to say nothing of the ridiculous and obscure lightshow used to simulate the cosmic storm and the cheap-ass edits employed to save money on filming actual fight scenes). Sue’s invisibility is realised using age-old camera tricks that were pioneered in The Invisible Man (Whale, 1933) and, apparently, the filmmakers were incapable of improving up in the forty-odd-years since that film’s release, Reed’s elasticity is ludicrously rendered using floppy and awkward appendages and poorly-concealed camera trickery, and Johnny’s flame powers are generally brought to life using obvious animation techniques. While this does eventually result in an ambitious fully animated rendition of the Human Torch, it also has the effect of turning the film into a 1930s cartoon for the finale, and it’s astounding to me that the filmmakers were able to do such a great job on the Thing’s suit and yet make such a hack job of the Human Torch. Brought to life through an impressive practical suit and animatronic head, the Thing genuinely looks of the same quality as the efforts of Jim Henson and his studio around the same time and, sure, he might look a little rubbery and awkward at times, but it’s clearly the best and most impressive aspect of this mess of a film. Unfortunately, the same really can’t be said for Dr. Doom; while I can’t fault the accuracy and fidelity of Doom’s armour and overall appearance, he appears more plasticky and clunky than metallic and menacing.

After defeating Dr. Doom and saving New York, Reed and Sue marry so this mess can finally end.

Although Ben sees himself as a grotesque freak of nature, he quickly overcomes his self-loathing after Alicia declares her love for him and he rejoins the team just in time for them to take the hastily-introduced Fantasi-Car back to Dr. Doom’s castle to put a stop to his plot. When Reed found the time to build this vehicle is beyond me, and seeing it struggle to life as an obvious model effect that would make Gerry Anderson blush is almost as absurd as the clumsy fight between the Thing and Dr. Doom in the finale. After the four throw every cheap, Halloween-store effect in the book at Dr. Doom’s disposable forces, and with the Human Torch out matching cartoon blasts with Dr. Doom’s laser in space (because he can totally breathe in space, apparently…), Reed confronts his old friend and goads him into a final confrontation. However, this is far from the epic showdown you might expect; rather than being a technologically gifted sorcerer, Dr. Doom is just an egomaniac in a suit of plastic armour, so he has none of the magical abilities and weaponry that make him such a formidable foe. Plus, Reed easily overpowers him with Dr. Doom’s greatest and most persistent weakness…really obvious, weak-ass stretchy punches to the face. This results in Dr. Doom taking a tumble over the castle wall and, despite Reed’s best efforts, falling to his apparent death, only for his severed gauntlet to inexplicably come to life to hilariously sow the seeds for a sequel! In the aftermath of the team’s victory, the Fantastic Four become celebrities, and Reed and Sue consummate their inappropriate and unsettling romance by hastening into marriage and driving off to a happy ending with Reed’s ludicrous stretchy arm waving goodbye to their guests to finally bring this car crash to an end.

The Summary:
I mean, what can you say about The Fantastic Four? I like to think I’m generally quite positive and forgiving in my reviews and always try to look for something constructive to say, but it’s not that easy with this mess of a film. I guess you could say that it was an ambitious project given how miniscule the budget was; the Fantastic Four is, by its very nature, a difficult property to bring to life in live-action even in modern times and needs a sizeable budget to do it justice, and $1 million was never going to cut it. You know it’s bad when The Punisher (Goldblatt, 1989) had more money behind it than Marvel’s premier superhero team, and it definitely shows in the presentation, direction, and acting displayed here. The whole film feels cheap and hokey, with the filmmakers apparently leaning into the campier aspects of the source material and having everyone act either too subdued or massively over the top, making for quite an inconsistent watch. Obviously, the special effects are a constant source of derision and ridicule, and rightfully so. However, it is impressive that they were able to cobble together such a remarkable Thing suit and produce comic accurate looks for the team and their main adversary….it’s just a shame that the rest of the effects can’t live up to these “standards” (and I use the word very loosely). Honestly, I don’t think that a bigger budget would have really helped this film all that much as the actors and script are incredible lacklustre; Dr. Doom is often a megalomaniacal and over the top villain, of course, and the Thing is probably the best and most accurate interpretation of his comic book counterpart, but everything feels so dumbed down and the line deliveries are so foolish that it’s not hard to see why this film got canned. Having said that, though, I still feel an official release is long overdue as they could make some money off a home media release rather than nothing at all by leaving it to gather dust. But, there again, maybe that’s for the best.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.


Have you ever watched this unreleased film? Would you like to see this film get an official release some day? What did you think to the Thing’s practical suit and the other special effects in the film? Did you also find the Reed/Sue romance a little unsettling in this version of the story? What did you think to Dr. Doom’s portrayal and appearance? What are some of your favourite stories involving the team? How are you celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever you think about the Fantastic Four, sign up to leave a comment down below or let me know on my social media, and check back in next Friday for more Fantastic Four content.

Talking Movies [Godzilla Day]: Shin Godzilla

Toho’s famous atomic beast, and easily the most recognisable kaiju in the entire world, Gojira first emerged from the waters of outside of Japan to wreck the city of Tokyo on this day all the way back in 1954. In 2016, the day was declared “Godzilla Day” and, as a result, I am also appropriating November 3rd to shine a spotlight on the undisputed King of the Monsters.

Talking Movies

Released: 25 July 2016
Director: Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Distributor: Toho Pictures
Budget: $15 million
Stars: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Mikako Ichikawa, Ren Ôsugi, and Mansai Nomura

The Plot:
When a gigantic, hitherto-unknown atomically-charged creature (Nomura) suddenly comes ashore and wrecks the Kamata district of Tokyo, the Japanese government, military, and scientific communities debate endlessly about how best to contain and combat the creature. Their procrastination costs countless lives and their efforts prove futile when the creature spontaneously evolves the ability to stand upright and begins remorselessly destroying its surroundings, threatening the existence of not just Japan but the entire world if left unchecked.

The Background:
When Gojira (more popularly known worldwide as Godzilla) made its big-screen debut in Godzilla (Honda, 1954), it represented very real lingering fears regarding the threat and consequences of nuclear war. Since then, the titanic monster has appeared in numerous films and been depicted as both a saviour and destroyer of Japan, a protector and an unrelenting force of nature that has become an iconic figure in pop culture over its many decades of cinema. While Godzilla’s first big-budget American debut didn’t quite land as well as producers Toho had expected, the success of the 2014 version inspired the studio to resurrect their famous monster after some twelve years in hibernation. Unrelated to the many Godzilla movies that had come before it, and the ongoing Legendary Pictures films, the film redesigned Godzilla into a terrifying new form, one that would dwarf all previous iterations of the character, and sought to use the creature as a terrifying allegory not just to the threat of nuclear disaster but also natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes while at the same time providing a realistic critique on the ineffectiveness of governments to respond to such devastation events.

The Review:
I am a pretty big fan of the Godzilla franchise; thanks to a massive marathon that was on television years ago when I was a kid, I can comfortably say that I have seen pretty much every single one of Godzilla’s big screen ventures with the exception of maybe a handful of the early ones. One thing I’ve learned about watching Godzilla films is that they are just as much about procrastination and long-winded side plots as they are about massive kaiju levelling cities and kicking seven bells out of each other. Usually, Godzilla movies involve a side plot revolving around a plucky Japanese report (or two) and/or military figures and scientists; sometimes, they even involve bizarre concepts like time travel and aliens but no matter what type of side plot they choose to employ it all comes down to one word: filler.

A very different Godzilla takes everybody by surprise when it suddenly rampages through Tokyo.

Shin Godzilla is rather unique in its use of filler in that the vast majority of its runtime is devoted not to the titular creature but to the seemingly endless debates and meetings within the Japanese governmental body. Prime Minister Seiji Okochi (Ôsugi) and his cabinet are understandably caught completely off-guard when what appears to be an underwater volcano or similar, relatively simple natural disaster floods the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line turns out to be a gigantic quadrupedal creature that flops and flails its way through the Kamata district of Tokyo, leaving buildings destroyed and countless people homeless, injured, or dead, before promptly disappearing back to the sea. Initially, Okochi’s closest advisors and endless swarm of fellow politicians and officials are dismissively of young Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi’s (Hasegawa) instance that the initial phenomena could be a giant creature and that ignorance costs them precious response time and the lives of many. To solve the problem, the government decides to debate the matter, jumping from political opinions, to military options, to the baffled assumptions and confusion of scientists in a desperate bid to agree upon the correct and most appropriate course of action.

The governmental bodies are startlingly inefficient and eat up a lot of screen time.

Eventually, the United States begins to show an interest when the creature’s radioactivity is discovered to be a very real threat and sends Kayoko Ann Patterson (Ishihara) as their representative to help aid the Japanese government in discovering the creature’s origins. This, of course, leads to yet more debate and procrastination; there was seriously an extended sequence in the film’s first ten minutes or so that saw the P.M. ferried from one meeting to the next and to the next as meetings were organised and adjourned faster than any military action could be agreed upon, and these debates were focused on (almost to the point of parody) at the expense of any other onscreen action. I get it; the idea is to convey that the government is absolutely ineffectual, powerless, and ignorant when it comes to massive disasters. They would rather debate the matter in a committee, lying to the public to calm any discontent and lingering fear over organising any kind of actual military action to avoid causing unnecessary collateral damage. Placing a destructive force like Godzilla into the modern world, where policy and procedure and semantics are often more important than any actual action, makes for a startlingly effective allegory for the ineptitude of the world’s governmental bodies (and politics in general) but it doesn’t necessarily equate to a particularly exciting or engaging Godzilla movie. Characters appear and disappear on a whim and it doesn’t help that very few of them have a chance to stand out thanks to Japan’s strict code of honour and professionalism meaning that people spend more time changing into appropriate outfits, being respectful, and mulling over treaties and documents than actually showcasing any real personality.

Thanks to the chaos, destruction, and death, Yaguchi steps into the role of a leader and commander.

The P.M. is hesitant to make any rash decisions out of fear of injuring innocents or causing undue damage, which costs the military perhaps their best chance at destroying the creature before it evolves into its bipedal form and, ultimately, his procrastination and hesitancy costs him his own life and those of his closest advisors. This allows for Yaguchi to eventually step into the role of the lead character after he manages to formulate one last desperate bid to subdue the creature with a coagulating agent. He is able to reach this conclusion thanks to intelligence provided by Patterson, a smarmy and self-aggrandising character with aspirations on becoming the President of the United States. When the many older interchangeable politicians eventually fail to agree on a viable plan of action (or die thanks to their incompetence), the film’s focus falls back onto these younger characters and a gaggle of misfits and scientists, a handful of whom are able to showcase a little more personality beyond spouting nonsense, such as Hiromi Ogashira (Ichikawa), whose pragmatic nature helps her to stand out in a sea of stuffy politicians.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Amidst all of this pointless, senseless, endless political debate, there actually is a few appearances of Godzilla to be found here and in forms that we haven’t really ever seen before. Sadly, though, there’s a strange hypocritical attitude towards Godzilla in this film; on the one hand, it’s clearly this unstoppable force of nature that threatens Japan and is apparently resistant to all forms of military reprisal and, on the other, the film mocks its name and even the very idea of it as a creature. Sure, a kaiju wrecking downtown Tokyo is an outlandish concept and one that is laughable in its ridiculousness, but in the context of the film it’s actually happening so it kind of feels like mocking the word “tsunami” after the weather formation has decimated an entire city. When it first emerges on land, Godzilla is this strange, floppy beast that lumbers around on four rudimentary flipper-like legs. Though the effects look really good, especially compared to the suits worn in some of the early films (which, to be fair, have their charm and the model and design work used to realise them is admirable), this first form looks really weird and it’s mainly because of Godzilla’s weird, floppy head and unblinking, gawping eyes.

Godzilla appears in many different forms, each one bigger and more menacing than the last!

Biologically, it makes a lot of sense of Godzilla to begin in this form, which is much more marine-like and hampered by an overactive metabolism that causes it to soon overheat and retreat to the sea but, in execution, it just looks very goofy and unsettling and I’m not entirely certain why the filmmakers chose to not have the creature blink. Godzilla’s big thing in this film is its ability to evolve; soon into its crawling rampage, it attempts to transform into a bipedal form and, when it finally re-emerges from the sea, it has assumed an upright form that is largely familiar to any Godzilla fan…but dramatically larger and far more menacing than any other Godzilla seen before it. With rudimentary dinosaur-like arms (which are weaker and more useless than any previous Godzilla, being little more than static claw-like appendages for the most part), massive chunky legs, and an ostentatiously-large tail, this Godzilla sports jagged teeth, a rock-like hide, and small, piercing eyes (that still don’t blink; I’m sorry to harp on about it but I don’t really get that choice) in addition to his iconic roar.

Godzilla displays more destructive and versatile attacks than ever to lay waste to Tokyo and the military.

Completely resistant to all forms of attack, this Godzilla also boasts the most powerful and destructive version of its atomic breath yet; beginning as a plume of fire, it quickly becomes a devastating purple ray of death that fires from the creature’s gruesome split-jaw. Later, when the American’s actually manage to damage the creature, it starts spewing lasers from its back/fins and even from its tail, making it probably the most diverse and powerful of any Godzilla before despite the fact that it likes to just stand around as still as a statue or plodding slowly forwards with little to no purpose. Eventually, when all other conventional weapons have failed, Yaguchi spearheads a ludicrous plan to stave off an impending nuclear assault by launching a focused and co-ordinated attack on the creature’s head and legs and bury it under collapsing skyscrapers so a series of cranes can inject a coagulating agent into its mouth that, after the deaths of many and even more destruction, eventually manages to literally freeze Godzilla in place. Luckily, its radioactive half-life is conveniently discovered to be surprisingly short, meaning Tokyo can be reconstructed without fear of millions dying from radiation sickness. I find this extremely unlikely and actually quite odd; I would have expected Godzilla’s radioactivity to have been far more devastating in this film considering the climate at the time) but, instead, the creature is anti-climactically stopped just as its rampage was kicking up a notch and the film abruptly ends having wasted far too much of its run time on pointless and frankly boring political discussions.

The Summary:
One of the issues I had with Godzilla (Edwards, 2014) was that the film spent way too much of its time teasing the titular creature and cutting away from Godzilla’s rampage; I got why, as it was a great way to introduce new audiences to the character and to build suspense but, for those of us who are big Godzilla fans, we want to see the actual creature in action not spend all of our time with the human characters. This is, however, the price one must pay for being a Godzilla fan; human characters and side plots always exist in these films and distract from the kaiju action. It makes sense as you want to have characters you can relate to and root for and it helps put the film’s devastation and themes into context but it doesn’t change the fact that the kaiju action is what makes these films so enjoyable. And, in that respect, Shin Godzilla fails quite spectacularly; Godzilla has never looked more terrifying or displayed such incredible power and yet it’s largely just a massive, shambling slab of meat that barely moves and reacts to being attacked not because it’s in pain or enraged but more because that’s what the plot expects it to do. The film just spends way too much time focusing on its critique of government, politics, and red tape than it does actually focusing on Godzilla’s presence and threat, which is a shame as there was so much potential for a big-budget, traditional kaiju film but Shin Godzilla doesn’t really impress much beyond its commendable effects.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think of Shin Godzilla? How did you feel about its pacing and focus? Did you like Godzilla’s redesign or do you feel it strayed a bit too far from its traditional appearance? Were you also disappointed by the film’s lack of focus on Godzilla and commentary on politics or do you feel it did a good job of shaking up the traditional Godzilla formula? What is your favourite Godzilla movie and why? How are you celebrating Godzilla Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla and kaiju films in general, feel free to leave a comment below.

Whispers from the Black

There is darkness in the world, darkness in our hearts, and darkness lurking at the very edge of the imagination.

But what if that darkness were somehow alive?

What if, from this twisted Black, came the faintest call?

And what if we could hear those WHISPERS FROM THE BLACK?

A collection of five short horror tales from the mind of DR. STUART KNOTT, step into the fetid darkness and bear witness to:

Tess is devastated when her brother, Theo, apparently takes his own life, but she’s horrified when his diaries describe debauchery, sex, alternate realities … and a strange, wish-granting fox with nine tails whose offered generosity came with a heavy cost…

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A university student awakens to a bloodbath and soon finds himself and his friends stalked by an axe-wielding maniac across campus!

Can these terrified teens survive long enough to escape or will they too fall victim to the killer’s bloodied axe?

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Victor is a simple man who loves his wife and child, but his impatience with a careless driver sees him wracked with guilt and forced to face the consequences of his actions when a sinister curse befalls his beloved daughter…

Exclusive to the Collected Edition

Cat’s Eye
Dani and Anna are overjoyed to have adorable kitty Bert in their lives.

However, after malevolent disturbances drive Bert into a frenzy, Dani and Anna are faced a malicious entity looking to take everything and everyone they hold dear…

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The Peak
Four adventure-seekers try to rekindle their fractured friendship by conquering the frozen landscape of Mount Goemon, whose desolate peaks are home to a malicious curse that spells doom for all who set foot on the mountain…

First Published in The Summoning
Also exclusive to the Collected Edition

The Collected Edition
Available as both a physical paperback and an e-Book, the entire Whispers from the Black collection brings together all five of these short stories, with one only being available in this format!

Coming Soon (Physical and Digital)