Back Issues [Sci-Fi Sunday]: Marvel Super-Heroes! #18

January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I’ll be spending every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.

Story Title: “Guardians of the Galaxy! Earth Shall Overcome!”
Published: January 1969
Writer: Arnold Drake
Artist: Gene Colan

The Background:
Nowadays, Marvel Comics’ Guardians of the Galaxy are quite a well-known team of reprobates thanks to their inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); when Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) was produced, it’s fair to say that the team (and the concept) was relatively obscure compared to other Marvel heavy-hitters like the Avengers and Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Fans of the films and the MCU may be surprised to learn that the cosmic team was quite different when they first debuted in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes!, a Marvel spin-off title that told standalone side-stories and was responsible for debuting many of the publications supporting characters. The concept began life as an idea by writer and editor Roy Thomas about super-guerrillas fighting against Russians and Red Chinese that was altered into an interplanetary situation by writer Arnold Drake and the legendary Stan Lee. Despite strong sales of the team’s debut issue, the Guardians of the Galaxy remained dormant for about five years; eventually, though, the team earned their own solo series and underwent numerous alterations over the years before evolving into something resembling the team dynamic reflected in the MCU and it all began with this bizarre space adventure about a team of misfits from the year 3007.

The Review:
As mentioned at the end there, our story opens in the far-off future of 3007 to find the Earth, and dozens of other planets, united as the United Lands of Earth Federation (U.L.E.). However, conflict is still rife throughout the various star systems of the galaxy and it is into this squall that we are introduced to Charlie-27, a stout, semi-cybernetic inhabitant of Jupiter who is finally returning home after six months of “solitary space-militia duty”. Expecting a big parade for returning as a conquering hero, Charlie-27 is confused to find the immediate area deserted and lifeless except for a contingent of the nefarious Badoon, a reptilian race of warmongers who have overrun the entire planet and captured its inhabitants, including Charlie-27’s father. After disposing of a couple of Badoon using his massive bulk, Charlie-27 follows a prison transport and finds his fellow Jovians are being forced to mine “high-intensity Harkovite”, a substance that will cause them all to die of radiation poisoning within five days.

The crystal-bodied Martinex helps Charlie-27 escapes the Badoon forces who have over-run Pluto.

Realising that it is suicide to take on the invading Badoon forces alone, Charlie-27 desperately dives into a teleporter and randomly arrives on Pluto hoping to recruit an army to aid his cause and finding the ice-planet equally empty of life an, d overrun by the Badoon. Set upon by a Saturn Hound-Hawk, Charlie-27 is rescued by Martinex, a Pluvian man comprised entirely of a crystal-like substance. Though Maritinex harbours resentment to people like Charlie-27, who refer to him and his kind by the derogatory term “Rock Head” despite both races being descended from Earthman, Martinex catches the Jovian up with event son Pluto and uses a radio transmitter to cause a distraction that allows them to take a Tele-Train to Earth. Like Jupiter and Pluto, however, Earth has been enslaved by the Badoon; Drang, the Badoon supreme commander, is overjoyed to find his men has captured Major Vance Astro, the so-called “Thousand-Year-Old Man” who was the first Earthman to visit the stars. Curious to learn his story, Drang subjects Astro to a painful Memory Probe that quickly recaps how he came to be in the year 3007: back in 1988, Earth had established a small Moon colony and had started making excursions to Mars and Vance volunteered to be cryogenically frozen for a thousand years in a bid to explore beyond the reach of Earth’s solar system. Awakening a thousand years later, Vance was forced to remain forever garbed in a copper foil wrapping lest his centuries of slumber catch up to him and found his trip was ultimately futile as humanity learned to travel faster than light in the intervening years.

After a brief misunderstanding, the four misfits join forces against the Badoon as the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Thanks to his unique knowledge and experiences, Vance is spared the Badoon’s usual slave disk and seemingly agrees to aid Drang’s dreams of conquest. However, when Drang puts Vance’s loyalty to the test by having him execute his comrade, Yondu Udonta, Vance reveals it was all a ploy to reunite his blue-skinned friend with his special bow-and-arrow, which Yondu is able to control using whistles to take out Drang’s forces and allow them to escape. Vance and Yondu immediately run into Charlie-27 and Martinex, with each duo mistaking the other for an enemy; a fight between the two teams breaks out, in which Martinex showcases his ability to freeze air molecules and Vance reveals that he has (somehow…) acquired psychic powers, but they are soon interrupted by their actual enemy, the Badoon. United against a common foe, the group dispatch the Badoon guards and teleport themselves to New New York, determined to find the rumoured free colony and free the Earth from Badoon enslavement as the Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Summary:
When I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, I was intrigued by the presentation of the film, which gave off vibes of Firefly (2002)/Serenity (Whedon, 2005) and the J. J. Abrams Star Trek films (2009; 2013), I knew absolutely nothing about the characters, the team, or the concept beyond a very rudimentary familiarity with the likes of Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, and Nebula thanks to having read The Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991). No doubt to capitalise on the release and success of the first film, Marvel released a collection of Guardians of the Galaxy stories as part of their “Marvel Platinum” range of graphic novels and this is primarily where my experience of the comic book versions of the team comes from. Reading the Guardians’ debut issue is a bit jarring for anyone who is a fan of their MCU counterparts; the only character that carries over to the films is Yondu, here characterised as little more than a simpleton rather than the leader of a band of space pirates. There’s no Peter Quill/Star-Lord, no Drax, Rocket Raccoon, or Groot and rather than being a band of well-meaning reprobates, the original Guardians of the Galaxy are a rag-tag collection of oddballs united by a common cause.

This is a very different team of Guardians than you may be used to…

Each of the Guardians is the last of their kind either due to slavery or the slow passage of time and are very bold, independent characters…with the exception of Yondu, who is denied any kind of in-depth backstory and whose character is reduced to a couple of throw-away lines from Vance. Aesthetically, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy! Earth Shall Overcome!” is a bit of a mess; taking place in the far future, we find that colonisation has extended far into our solar system and rendered even gas giants like Jupiter entirely habitable but evolution has also caused Earthlings to adapt in radical ways to survive in their new environments. A lot of the backgrounds and the comic’s more cosmic-trappings are very reminiscent of the works of Jack Kirby but, while this is very fitting, it does make for quite a cluttered and messy presentation. The issue has its work cut out for it by introducing four brand-new characters in about thirty pages of story, something I find early Marvel Comics often struggled with, and while there are some interesting elements to each character (Charlie-27 seems to be going for a self-entitled righteousness, Martinex hints at possibly being racially targeted, Yondu is a monosyllabic grunt, and Vance has his whole, very rushed, “man out of time” thing going on), I can’t really say that I was massively blown away by either their characterisation or their abilities (which are, for the most part, vaguely defined).

The Badoon are a major invasion force for the fledgling Guardians to unite against.

I’m not massively familiar with the Badoon; from what I can tell, this story wasn’t their first appearance but they really don’t seem to be that much different from other monstrous, semi-humanoid galactic conquers like the Free and the Skrull (despite, obviously not having shape-shifting powers). As a villainous force to unite against, they’re relatively unremarkable; while we can assume that they’re a formidable force since they have completely enslaved Jupiter, Pluto, and the Earth, Drang’s forces crumble like paper whenever they engage with the Guardians. Still, they have the numbers advantage, which is a great way to show that even a veteran like Charlie-27 knows when to fight and when to flee, and it’s pretty clear that the main aim of this issue was to bring together these misfits to continue telling stories of their struggle against the Badoon in subsequent issues. Still, as interesting as it is to see how the Guardians first came about the Yondu’s wildly different initial characterisation, there’s not really a whole hell of a lot to really say about this first Guardians tale; this isn’t the team that’s been popularised in the decades since, inevitably the writing and presentation is a product of its time, and the art isn’t particularly engaging or eye-catching (or even good, at times) so this is more of a quaint look at the Guardians’ humble beginnings rather than a bombastic showcase of what the team is truly capable of and probably has more appeal to die-hard fans of Marvel’s cosmic stories than the more casual Guardians readers like myself.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read the Guardians of the Galaxy’s debut story? If so, what did you think to it, especially compared to the various interactions of the team that have come since? What did you think to the idea of setting the story in the year 3007 and of the Badoon having conquered the solar system? Which of the original four characters was your favourite? Which version of the team is your favourite and why? Are you a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics and, if so, did you like the MCU’s interpretations of the characters and concepts? Would you like to see the original team get a larger focus in the MCU someday? Share your thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comments below and check in again next Sunday for more sci-fi content.

Back Issues: Tales of Suspense (Featuring the Power of Iron Man) #57

Story Title: “Hawkeye, The Marksman!”
1 September 1964
Writers: Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Artists: Don Heck and Larry Lieber

The Background:
In November 1941, Mort Weisinger and George Papp introduced readers to Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, a crimefighting archer heavily influenced not just by Robin Hood and The Green Archer (Horne, 1940) but who also borrowed more than a few inspirations from Bruce/Wayne/Batman. In perhaps one of the more blatant borrowings from their competitor, Marvel Comics later introduced an archer of their own, Clint Barton/Hawkeye. Created by Stan Lee and Don Heck, Hawkeye was initially portrayed as a villainous character but would soon repent his mercenary ways and go on to not just be a member of the Avengers, but even lead his own off-shoot, the West Coast Avengers. Despite sharing a similar gimmick, Green Arrow and Hawkeye couldn’t be more different in terms of their personalities and status; indeed, while Hawkeye may have been a D-list hero in the grand scheme of Marvel Comics, he was involved in some of their most prominent storylines and became a household name thanks to Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consequently, for many, the character is one of Marvel’s most relatable and inspirational heroes since he lacks any kind of superpowers and he’s even become a symbol of representation for the deaf community in recent years, and it all started here with his first appearance as an antagonist for ol’ shellhead himself, Tony Stark/Iron Man.

The Review:
It’s hard to say definitively, but I’m fairly certain that I’m far more familiar with the exploits of Green Arrow than Hawkeye. To be fair, it’s probably about 50/50; maybe weighted a little more towards Hawkeye as he tends to show up in the Avengers stories I’ve read. I mostly know Hawkeye from his appearances in the first season of the under-rated Iron Man cartoon (1994 to 1996) and from being a playable character in Captain America and the Avengers (Data East, 1991), both of which were firm staples of my childhood. I’m also relatively familiar with his background and characteristics, but have always been somewhat…meh about him. I don’t really care that he’s an archer or that he doesn’t have any superpowers, as plenty of superheroes get by just being regular people with extraordinary gifts, and I’ve never really questioned his capability as an Avenger, I’ve just never had much of an inclination to seek out any of his stories even though I’m a fan of Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thus, I went into “Hawkeye, The Marksman!” without any real expectations and with an open mind, ready to see how Marvel handled his debut story, which opens with Iron Man heroically saving a factory worker from being doused by molten steel. This story is set during the time when the official line was that Iron Man was Tony Stark’s personal bodyguard, so no one really questions what ol’ shellhead is doing flying about one of Stark’s weapons facilities, but this also means that Harold “Happy” Hogan has no idea that he’s pouring his heart out to Stark himself when he asks Iron Man to grease the wheels with Stark’s secretary, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, to get him a date.

Hawkeye is so jealous of Iron Man that he crafts a costumed identity to earn the respect of the public.

While Stark now has a reputation as a womaniser, at this point he’s reluctant to get serious with any female since he’s entirely dependent on the transistor-powered device permanently grafted to his chest to keep him alive from the deadly shrapnel lodged dangerously close to his heart, and yet he longs for a more intimate relationship with Pepper and can’t help but feel jealous at Happy’s advances towards her. However, when Stark attempts to raise the subject with Pepper, he makes a poor attempt at it and she immediately assumes that he’s asking her out so she readily accepts, much to the heartache of Stark’s faithful footman. Rather than try and explain things to Pepper, or give her the brush off, Stark decides to take her on a date but not to a fancy theatre show or to dinner; instead, he takes her to Coney Island, where an archer known as Hawkeye fails to impress the sceptical crowd with his perfect marksmanship. While Stark is desperately hoping that Pepper doesn’t suggest riding the Tunnel of Love or moving on to a more intimate setting, fate intervenes (as it so often does in Marvel tales) when the Flying Pinwheel suddenly goes out of control, endangering the lives of its passengers. Seeing the crisis, Stark excuses himself with a paper-thin white lie (“I’ve got to call the factory!!”) so he can clamber into his Iron Man suit (which he generally carries around in a briefcase, though the artwork doesn’t show him holding it here…) and save the day, much to the adulation of the crowd. One man who’s not so impressed, however, is Hawkeye; annoyed that the audience dismisses him in favour of Iron Man, he sulks off to a “basement workshop” to put together a garish outfit for himself in order to emulate the Golden Avenger’s reverence as a costumed adventurer. Armed with little more than a quiver full of specially-made arrows and his unmatched marksmanship skills, Hawkeye vows to show up every other masked hero out there even without any superpowers and immediately feels the thrill of swinging across rooftops using his roped arrows and stopping a jewel thief with a perfect shot.

Assumed a thief, Hawkeye falls under Black Widow’s spell and is soon going up against Iron Man.

Unfortunately, Hawkeye’s decision not to deliver a fatal shot to the thief results in the crook getting away and, as the archer is investigating the loot of precious stones the man stole, he’s discovered by the cops and immediately pegged as the perpetrator. Choosing to run rather than waste time explaining himself, Hawkeye is randomly picked up by none other than alluring Russian superspy Natalia Romanova/Black Widow, herself also a recurring femme fatale for Iron Man during this time. Instantly smitten by the captivating spy, Hawkeye willing allows himself to be taken to her luxurious estate, where Black Widow is easily able to charm him into going up against Iron Man in exchange for upgrading his arsenal and the implied promise of winning her over if she’s able to defeat the Avenger. Speaking of whom, Stark’s personal life continues its drama as, when he goes to apologise to Pepper for leaving her high and dry, he finds that she’s soured on him and has finally agreed to date Happy (although she does this purely to make Stark jealous. Poor Happy!) To lure out his foe, Hawkeye easily sneaks into one of Stark’s factories and causes an explosion with one of his trick arrows; sure enough, the Avenger flies in to investigate and is startled when Hawkeye fires at him with arrows laced with a rust-inducing chemical. Realising that the substance is quickly hardening, Iron Man swiftly takes cover and removes his boots and gauntlets (and, as ever, I remain in awe of just how cloth-like Iron Man’s “armour” is). Hawkeye discovers the discarded pieces of Iron Man’s armour and is elated, hoping that analysing them will allow him to learn the Avenger’s secrets and increase his threat ten-fold; while he’s able to escape from the factory unopposed as Stark is frantically (and literally) re-arming himself with spare parts from the facility, it’s not long before Iron Man has tracked the archer down and run him off the road with a blast from his “Power Ray”.

After injuring Black Widow, Hawkeye’s forced to retreat and Iron Man is unable to pursue them.

Since he’s run out of his special rusting arrows, Hawkeye is forced to rely on the rest of his quiver, which Iron Man is easily able to deflect with his magnetic Repulsor Beams. However, realising that his transistors can’t power his weapons forever, Iron Man tries to swoop down and subdue Hawekeye and ends up ensnared in nylon rope strands that restrain him for all of one panel. By the next panel, Iron Man is not only free but crashing into a wooden pier and flinging Hawkeye into the water, which effectively renders the archer unconscious. As the Black Widow looks on with unimpressed disgust, Hawkeye tries one last trick to complete his mission and win over the gratitude of the gorgeous Russian spy: a “Demolition Blast” arrow that he hopes will conquer the Armoured Avenger once and for all. Unfortunately, the arrow simply ricochets off Iron Man’s armoured hide and the resulting energy blast injures the Black Widow with a glancing blow. Grief stricken and aghast at having injured the “only one [he’s] ever loved”, Hawkeye ignores the stunned Iron Man in favour of spiriting the hurt spy to safety on her nearby boat. Thanks to a convenient fog descending, and the fly zone of La Guardia airport, Iron Man is unable to pursue the two and is forced to return to his factory to brood over his complicated social/love life and to wonder where and when his next threat will arise.

The Summary:
“Hawkeye, The Marksman!” actually ended up being a pretty decent little Iron Man story. I should also point out that I’m not massively familiar with Iron Man’s comics either, though I’ve read a decent amount thanks to the various Marvel Platinum complications that Marvel have published. Consequently, it was interesting to see Stark portrayed as a conflicted and lovelorn man who desperately wants to confess his love of Pepper but dare not because of his dependence upon his armour to stay alive. It was also interesting seeing him torn between his feelings for her and his loyalty towards Happy; he wants to do the right thing by his friend, however difficult and tragic that is for him personally, but at the same time he willingly takes Pepper to Coney Island on what she naturally assumes is a date since she’s also besotted by him. This paints Stark as a morally grey individual since he could have easily just given Pepper the brush-off, but he’s got eyes for her so of course he wants to spend time with her, though he also doesn’t want to step on his friend’s toes (even though he already did…) so he takes her to the least romantic place he can think of. If anyone looks really bad in all this, though, it’s Pepper; she’s infused with that besotted obsession that was all-too prevalent in comic books of this era so she naturally jumps at the chance to date Stark and then only agrees to go out with Happy because she wants to make Tony jealous.

Although he’s got no superpowers and is easily led astray, Hawkeye proves to be a formidable foe.

Thankfully, all of this is just a brief distraction from the main focus of the narrative, which is the introduction of Hawkeye. Here portrayed as a talented but underappreciated circus marksman, Hawkeye provides an interesting and little-seen glimpse into another side of Marvel’s fictional world. In Marvel Comics, the public are generally very fickle, easily forgetful and emotionally chaotic people who will laud the accolades of the Avengers one minute while hating and fearing Mutants and the likes of Peter Parker/Spider-Man the next while also tuning on them in either positive or negative ways on the flip of a coin. In a world so readily populated by super-powered individuals, what chance does a simple archer have of impressing the crowd? Thus, it’s no surprise that Hawkeye should feel jealous that Iron Man stole his thunder, consciously or not, and it’s somewhat understandable that he chooses to craft a brightly-coloured outfit for himself in order to share in some of the glory afforded to other costumed heroes. Unfortunately, his first tentative attempt at masked heroics ends with him being labelled a thief and then being manipulated by Black Widow; it really doesn’t take much more than a sultry glance and some irresistible charm from Madame Natasha for him to not only join her cause but to fall in love with her at first sight and, very quickly, Hawkeye’s initial plan to usurp his peers has been twisted into battling Iron Man on the urging of his newfound partner. The result is a surprisingly layered character; we don’t learn much about Hawkeye (his name and full origins are a mystery here) except that he craves acknowledgement of his unparalleled skills and is easily manipulated by a pretty face, and yet I find myself completely relating to his plight. While you could argue that he’s a naïve buffoon who allows himself to be manipulated, I see him as angry and misguided and trying to do the right thing but unable to resist the allure of the gorgeous Black Widow. Even more amusing his how completely clueless Iron Man is to all of this; he doesn’t even realise Black Widow is involved in the plot, treats Hawkeye as a mere annoyance, and is more concerned about his personal troubles than the archer’s threat. In the end, this was an entertaining introduction to Marvel’s most famous archer, who would go on to show additional layers to his personality and motivations in subsequent appearances, and I think the main takeaway from this was the tragedy that Hawkeye wished to be a celebrated hero like Iron Man and was quickly and easily led down a darker path mere moments into his debut as a costumed avenger.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you read “Hawkeye, The Marksman!” when it was first published? If so, what did you think to it at the time and what were your thoughts on Hawkeye? Did you enjoy his portrayal as a spurned archer looking for adulation or did you find him perhaps a bit corny? What did you think to Stark’s personal drama and did you enjoy Black Widow’s repeated attempts to defeat Iron Man during this time? What are some of your favourite Hawkeye stories and moments? Do you think he’s earned his place as an Avenger or do you find him to be a bit pointless? Whatever your thoughts on Hawkeye, feel free to sign up and leave them below or drop a comment on my social media, and check out my review of his Disney+ series.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fant4stic

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’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.

Released: 7 August 2015
Director: Josh Trank
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 155 million
Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, and Tim Blake Nelson

The Plot:
Genius scientist Reed Richards’ (Teller) research into teleportation attracts the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Cathey), who invites him to help complete Victor Von Doom’s (Kebbell) “Quantum Gate”, which he recklessly travels through to a parallel dimension alongside his co-workers. Though they are transformed by their exposure, Doom is stranded and Reed becomes a fugitive, but he is forced to repair his fractured relationships when Doom plots to harness the dimension’s  power for his own nefarious ends.

The Background:
Considering that there is some controversy surrounding the creation of Marvel’s First Family of superheroes, perhaps it’s fitting that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s dysfunctional family of intrepid adventurers has had a rocky road towards a big-budget, live-action adaptation. Although German producer Bernd Eichinger’s attempts to get a film off the ground resulted in the production being shut down and the negatives being confiscated to keep it from seeing the light of day, director Tim Story’s efforts at least resulted in actual movies being released. While the films were both modest successes at the box office, they were met with mixed reviews, despite praise for some of their performances, and plans for further movies and spin-offs were cancelled because of this mediocre reception. 20th Century Fox first announced their intentions to reboot the franchise in 2009; the initial script included another interpretation of Galactus but, when director Josh Trank signed on to the film, he immediately set about reworking the script into something more grounded and realistic.

Attempts to kick off a live-action Fantastic Four franchise continuously stalled and failed to impress.

While Trank sought to evoke a specific tone and atmosphere with his new take on the Fantastic Four’s origin, other creators and producers offered contradictory statements regarding the reboot’s connection to Fox’s X-Men franchise (Various, 2000 to 2020), and the film attracted controversy by casting up-and-coming actor Michael B. Jordan in the role of Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, a character traditionally depicted as white (though Trank later revealed that he planned to make the entire Storm family black to create more diversity within the team). Additional problems occurred when 20th Century Fox ordered a number of reshoots after being dissatisfied with Trank’s efforts, and the film was further cut up and changed from Trank’s original vision in the editing room. The result was one of the most ridiculed superhero films ever made; Fant4stic’s underwhelming $167.9 million gross made it a box office flop and critics universally panned it, with even Trank actively distancing himself from the finished product. Although 20th Century Fox initially planned to produce a sequel, the film was quietly removed from their production slate; the characters subsequently became the property of Marvel Studios when Disney purchased 20th Century Fox in 2017 and another reboot was soon announced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Review:
While Tim Story’s Fantastic 4 movies may not have bee the greatest superhero or science-fiction tales ever produced, they were decent enough in their own right and seemed to be heading in the right direction with the second film; a third movie, and a spin-off, seemed likely and I have to say that I was a little let down that we never got to see another entry in that series of films. When I first heard that 20th Century Fox were producing a reboot, I was sceptical until I saw the first few trailers; the movie seemed to be advertised as a cross between Interstellar (Nolan, 2014) and easily Trank’s most notable film, the excellent Chronicle (Trank, 2012), with its darker, gritter approach and focusing more on the scientific aspects of the team. I was actually okay with this, and some of the casting changes, and barring one exception everything seemed to be shaping up okay…until I started hearing that it really wasn’t very good and saw how poorly it performed. When I first saw it, I remember actually thinking it wasn’t that bad, but it’s true that it’s probably my least-watched of the three commercially released movies.

Reed and Ben’s prototype for a teleporter eventually catches the attention of Franklin Storm.

Fant4stic separates itself from its predecessors by beginning in 2007 to show us Reed’s childhood as a child genius (Owen Judge) who has aspirations of building a teleportation device; although he is mocked by students and even his teacher, Mr. Kenny (Dan Castellaneta), for his claims to already be building the device, he catches the eye of young Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann). While Reed is unfazed by the mockery he receives, Ben comes from a rough neighbourhood and an even rougher home where he is continuously abused by his brutish older brother, Jimmy (Chat Hanks), and forms a fast friendship with Reed when he sees first-hand that the boy’s prototype (powered by a number of Nintendo 64’s and materials scrounged from Ben’s family junkyard) is able to transport matter to an unknown dimension (though it also causes a massive blackout in the process). Seven years later, the now grown-up friends confidently display their newest prototype at their high school’s science fair (despite clearly being in their mid-thirties rather than around seventeen/eighteen); although Reed’s device is still a little wonky and destructive, it nevertheless works but, oddly, Mr. Kenny continues to be unimpressed (labelling it as a magic trick), and Reed is left dejected at the response to his lifelong project.

Doom agrees to work with the team despite his distrust of the suits overseeing the project.

His sprits soon turn, however, when Dr. Storm and his daughter, Sue (Mara), approach him, seeing the potential in Reed’s research and impressed by his progress; Storm has been working on a similar project but has been unable to retrieve matter from the source dimension, and immediately offers Reed a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation so that he can help them finalise an interdimensional transporter. Reed jumps at the chance to move to the city and be appreciated for his intellect for a change and, though it means being separated from his childhood friend, Ben fully supports his academic endeavours. Reed awkwardly tries to strike up a conversation with Sue, an intelligent young woman in her own right who uses music to help her concentrate on her work and specialises in “pattern recognition”. Still, Storm’s project attracts scrutiny from Doctor Harvey Allen (Nelson), who doesn’t subscribe to Storm’s claims of alternative dimensions, or his tendency to recruit children from science fairs or unpredictable wild cards like Victor Von Doom. Reimagined as a reclusive, unappreciated genius, Victor distrusts the military and governmental officials behind the Baxter Foundation but agrees to return to the project out of his affection and trust for Sue. Initially, Victor is so paranoid that he believes that Reed stole his research, but despite being critical of Reed’s childish drawings, is nevertheless impressed with his efforts; although he has little faith in the future of humanity or Storm’s dreams of using the Quantum Gate to repair the environmental damage done to the world, he’s willing to work alongside Sue and Reed on the proviso that they get to be the first ones through the gate to explore this mysterious other dimension.

The team is joined by Johnny and forever transformed by Planet Zero’s wild energies.

To complete the project, Storm drafts in his outspoken, hotshot son Johnny (Jordan), a rebellious youngster who’s more interested in street racing than putting his incredible engineering talents to good use alongside his father. Resentful of his father’s work, which has left him feeling undervalued, Johnny is forced to join the project after smashing up his car, but forms a fast friendship with Reed after he actually speaks to and treats him with some respect on a peer-to-peer level. In time, the four complete the Quantum Gate and successfully transport a chimp to this other dimension, dubbed “Planet Zero”, a primordial world of chaos that Storm believes holds the key to understanding human evolution and providing clean, renewable energy sources for the entire planet. However, the team is distraught and angered when Allen refuses to allow the four to be the first to travel to Planet Zero, resulting in them deciding the make the trip against orders after getting half-cut on alcohol. Intoxicated, Reed calls Ben and insists that he join them in making the trip, and in a bizarre turn of events Ben is transported alongside Reed, Johnny, and Victor while Sue…stays behind in the control room and wasn’t even asked to be a part of the experiment. In fact, she only finds out that they’re using the machine when her computer alerts her, meaning that she misses out on visiting the new world, which turns out to be an extremely hostile environment and home to a protoplasmic substance. However, when a series of eruptions force them back into the Quantum Gate, Victor is left stranded and the three are bombarded with the strange energy of the planet, which fundamentally alters their genetic structure to bond them with the four elements of the planet (with Sue being caught by a burst of energy from the returning gate).

The four’s powers are presented as monstrous, painful, and unstable genetic abnormalities to be feared.

Unlike in the 1994 movie and Tim Story’s first film, the four are immediately and horrifically changed by this process; Johnny is left a burning body, Ben is buried under a pile of alien rocks, Sue flickers in and out of sight, and Reed’s limbs are left strewn around the ruined laboratory. Following this, the four are subjected to a series of studies and tests by governmental officials as their powers rage out of control. Interestingly, in this version of the story, neither Ben or Johnny can control their powers; Johnny requires a specially-modified suit to regulate his flames, and even Reed struggles to concentrate on keeping himself in proportion, making the four’s abilities far more monstrous and dangerous as a result. Since she wasn’t at ground zero like the others, Sue’s powers are far more stable and, in time and with training, she’s able to control them, but Ben is left in constant pain and horrified by his rock-like appearance. Terrified and guilt-ridden, Reed flees the facility and goes on the run in a desperate attempt to stabilise his condition and find a cure for Ben’s hideous affliction, however this results in Allen manipulating Ben into becoming a weapon for the government and preparing Johnny for the same fate. After a year in hiding, Reed is finally tracked down by Sue, brought in by the enraged Ben, and agrees to complete a new Quantum Gate in return for the resources to cure his friends, and himself, of their dangerous powers, only to find that Victor also survived and has been irrevocably and dangerously altered by Planet Zero.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I mentioned above that Fant4stic is far more focused on the scientific content of the film, and that’s true; once Reed arrives at the Baxter Foundation, he is awestruck by the scope, resources, and technology offered by the facility and much of the film’s first act is devoted entirely to the fledgling team and Victor’s efforts to finalise the Quantum Gate. This involves a hefty montage of such science stuff involving Reed and Victor scribbling on a whiteboard, Sue creating the team’s protective suits, and the construction of the Quantum Gate itself. This is juxtaposed with the four slowly bonding over time, sharing meals and a real enthusiasm for the work they’re doing, though Ben is noticeably absent from the entire team-building process as Reed never once thinks to bring him in on the project.

The government takes an immediate interest in the military applications of the four’s powers.

Once the team returns from Planet Zero, the film takes a dark and dramatic turn; as a stereotypical governmental sleazeball, Allen is determined to not only take advantage of Ben, Johnny, and Sue to sell them as assets to the military, but to also mine the transformative properties of Planet Zero for similar uses. While Johnny is all for using his powers for something worthwhile, and pushing them (and himself) to the limit, Sue is determined to not be used as some tool for the government like Ben, who has become a despondent and stoic killing machine in Reed’s absence. While I question the casting of Jamie Bell in the role of Ben since he lacks the physicality and stature typically associated with the character, he does a pretty good job at portraying a loyal friend to Reed and the Thing’s torment at the emotional and physical pained caused by his grotesque transformation. Kate Mara is a much better fit for Susan Storm compared to Jessica Alba since she’s not some glamorous supermodel cosplaying as the Invisible Girl; instead, she’s a smart and slightly quirky scientist in her own right and has far better chemistry with Reed and Johnny than Alba’s version of the character. All I ever hear is people banging on about the reshoots and Mara’s wig but I can’t say it really bothered me that much or was even something I noticed; similarly, I really enjoyed Teller’s version of Reed as an awkward but likeable young man who is incredibly smart but still very relatable, and Michael B. Jordan delivered a great performance as the Human Torch thanks to his boundless charisma. The only real criticism I had about the casting was to do with some of the script and narrative choices; leaving Ben out of the team means that we don’t really get to see the same rapport between him and Johnny as in the previous movies and comics (Johnny generally directs his snark towards Victor instead), but otherwise this was a really strong cast.

CGI is used to bring the four to life, and for the most part it holds up pretty well and does a decent job.

One area where Fant4stic excels above its predecessors is in the CGI and special effects used to bring the titular heroes to life; while I have to say that I do prefer a practical suit to be used for the Thing, the CGI employed here goes a long way to emphasising just how monstrous and fearsome this version of the character is. A hulking, destructive being of superhuman strength and durability, the tragedy of the Thing is only heightened by his grotesque appearance and his being turned into a weapon by Allen. Similarly, the fire effects used to render the Human Torch are worlds better than in the previous film and probably some of the best fire effects I’ve ever seen, resulting in him being a fittingly blazing inferno. Sue’s invisibility is about the same, though there’s more of a blue tint to her forcefields and such; generally, her powers are used more to protect the others from harm and to allow the Thing to get the drop on Doom in the finale, meaning the vast potential of her abilities is again set aside in favour of trying to highlight each member of the time. Finally, there’s Reed; while he looks a little plasticy when he’s all stretched out following his return to Earth, his elasticity mostly looks much better (while his cobbled together suit isn’t massively comic accurate, it seems more suited to the CGI than the blue used in the last films) and we even get a scene that better showcases his ability to disguise his features.

Doom ends up being a raggedy, obsessive ass who wants to reshape the world in his image.

Rather than being a despicable monarch or a sleazy corporate scumbag, this version of Victor Von Doom is an arrogant, cynical slimeball who believes himself to be the most intelligent person in any room and who is obsessed with Sue (why that has to keep happening in these films is beyond me). Determined that the world will remember his name for his contributions to science, he refuses to be forgotten in favour of some hot-shot astronaut and his obsessions lead to him blundering into Planet Zero’s protoplasmic substance without thought for the consequences, causing the planet to erupt around them, granting the four their powers, and leaving him stranded on Planet Zero, where he is consumed by its strange energies. Infused with his suit and with a mysterious, otherworldly power coursing through his veins, Victor is transformed into a monstrous and vicious being who exhibits deadly telekinetic powers that he uses to explode people’s heads, repel bullets, and lay waste to the facility in order to return to Planet Zero. Driven mad by his powers and time in isolation, Victor takes the name “Doom” and plans to turn the destructive energies of Planet Zero against the Earth in order to forever transform it, reshaping it in his own image in order to avenge himself on those who have wronged him, killing both Allen and Storm in the process and refusing to listen to reason. To put an end to Doom’s plot to destroy the world using a black hole, the four travel to Planet Zero, where they find themselves overwhelmed by Doom’s command of the landscape; when their individual efforts to stop Doom are met with failure, the four set aside their differences in order to work together to defeat him. Following a co-ordinated assault using all of their powers in unison, the four are able to set Doom up so that the Thing can smash him into his own energy beam, disintegrating him and sparing the Earth (though the immediate area is left devastated). In the aftermath, the four are commended by the United States government and enter into an agreement where they are afforded the freedom to operate independently in return for lending their services for the good of the world as a superpowered team.

The Summary:
I’m a bit torn, to be honest; I feel there’s a lot of potential in Fant4stic, especially in the cast and the general direction that the film took. Focusing on the science and being this more gritty, grim retelling of the team’s origin was a good way to separate it from what had come before (which, to be fair, is essential for a good reboot), but I can see why this would have put off long-term or even casual Fantastic Four fans. There are some stumbles in the story that I seriously doubt even a director’s cut could fix; not having Ben be part of the Quantum Gate team until the machine is complete being chief among them, as is Sue not accompanying the team to Planet Zero, both of which were very strange choices to make. I liked that the film tied the team’s origin in with an adaptation of the Negative Zone to help mix things up, and having the Thing be tormented by physical pain and turned into a tool for the military was an interesting wrinkle to add to the story, as was the focus on the government desiring to harness and manipulate the team’s powers and those of Planet Zero. As ever, it’s the depiction of Doom where the film falters; had the script stuck to the original idea of him being a herald for Galactus, this may have helped with this new depiction of the character, but this is still a far cry from the maniacal despot of the comics and I almost feel like it would’ve been better to leave Doom’s fate unresolved and have the team battle a Planet Zero native, someone like Annihilus maybe, and tie up Doom’s loose end in the sequel. But, then again, I doubt even that change would have helped a sequel being produced, and that’s a real shame as I feel like a follow-up could have really improved upon the missed potential of this film and given everyone a bit more time to shine. Overall, I find myself actually enjoying this more than I expected, but it’s maybe a little too far away from the source material and the core of what makes these characters work, though I don’t actually think it deserves as much hate as it often gets.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Fant4stic? Were you a fan of the new cast and their depictions of the characters and what did you think to Johnny Storm being race swapped? Were you disappointed that Ben wasn’t a part of the machine’s construction and that Sue didn’t travel to Planet Zero? What did you think to the depiction of Victor Von Doom this time around? Do you think CGI is a better way to bring the Thing to life or did you prefer the practical suits of the previous films? Would you have liked to see a sequel to this film, or an extended director’s cut release someday? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever your thoughts on Fant4stic, you can sign up to leave a comment below or let me know on my social media.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

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’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.

Released: 15 June 2007
Director: Tim Story
20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 130 million
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, and Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne

The Plot:
Now regarded as popular celebrities, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (Gruffudd) and Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl (Alba) find their attempts to get married constantly interrupted by a media circus. Just as they are about to tie the knot, an extraterrestrial dubbed the “Silver Surfer” (Jones/Fishburne) arrives, causing havoc with the team’s powers and catching Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom’s (McMahon) attention as it prepares the world for consumption by a cosmic being known only as “Galactus”.

The Background:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s family of dysfunctional superheroes have had quite the chaotic journey to the big screen; their 1994 movie was never released and the eventual big-budget adaptation was met with mixed reviews after being in Development Hell for around ten years. Still, Fantastic 4s (Story, 2005) modest box office success of $333.5 million saw not only the release of an Extended Edition but also the return of director Tim Story and the entire cast for a sequel. Screenwriters Mark Frost and Don Payne came onboard to pen the screenplay and the duo drew significant inspiration from both the original “Galactus Trilogy” (Lee, et al, 1966) and an altered version of that same story seen in Ultimate Marvel (Ellis, et al, 2004 to 2006). The duo aimed to focus more on the enigmatic Silver Surfer than the Devourer of Worlds and there was a lot of speculation and anticipation surrounding the design of Galactus. Much of the film’s promotion was also focused around fan-favourite elements from the original Marvel Comics, such as the Fantasti-Car and the wedding between Reed and Sue, and practical elements such as Ben Grimm/The Thing’s suit were redesigned to allow actor Michael Chiklis to slip it off between takes. The titular Silver Surfer’s digital effects were the work of Weta Digital, who not only completely replaced stuntman Doug Jones with a sleek CGI model but also contributed to the design of Galactus. Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer made about $32 million less than its predecessor, coming in with a box office of $301.9 million; though the film’s average review score is higher than the first film, it was also met with mostly mixed reviews, although the general consensus was that it was at least more entertaining than the first film. Plans for a sequel and a spin-off for the Silver Surfer were eventually quashed due to the overall lacklustre response to Story’s films and 20th Century Fox made the disastrous decision to reboot the franchise some eight years later.

The Review:
Fantastic 4 wasn’t really a bad film, really, just quite underwhelming considering some of the outlandish cosmic adventures Marvel’s First Family often get up to. Do I expect them to battle the likes of Galactus and Kang the Conqueror in their first movie? No, of course not, but maybe exploring the Negative Zone and encountering someone like Annihilus could have been possible with a script re-write (Reed discovers the Negative Zone and that’s where they get their powers from, rather than them going to space) while building towards a showdown with Dr. Doom for the sequel (since he was so underutilised and bland in the first film) and maybe, maybe Galactus for the third and final movie. I can’t, however, say that I’m too surprised that Fantastic 4 got a sequel; back then, mediocre movies were getting sequels all the time and it just seemed natural to do, though I definitely am not a fan of the overly long and wordy “Rise of…” title (Fantastic Four: Doomsday would’ve been better in my opinion, but what the hell do I know, right?)

Reed and Sue’s wedding is disrupted by the arrival of the Silver Surfer, who causes global havoc.

Since the end of the last film, the Fantastic Four have become wildly beloved, popular, and successful superheroes; while Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Evans) continues to revel in their celebrity status and indulge himself with merchandising and sponsorship deals, Sue is troubled by the constant media storm that surrounds their lives. It’s bad enough that the interference of the press has caused Reed and Sue to continuously postpone their wedding, but Sue worries about what sort of impact the attention they bring and the circus of their day-to-day lives will have on any children she and Reed may have in the future. Sue’s characterisation seems to have taken a bit of a step back in this regard; she actually seems to think it’s acceptable to prioritise her wedding day over the fate of the world, arguably costing Reed valuable time in finding a way to track the entity causing worldwide havoc, and while Alba seems more comfortable in the role of the team’s matriarch, something seems a bit…off about her this time around (I think it’s her dazzling contact lenses). The world is thrown into chaos when the mysterious entity known as the Silver Surfer arrives; wielding the same cosmic powers that gifted the Fantastic Four and Doom with their abilities (a neat little wrinkle that I actually really enjoyed), the Silver Surfer is able to dramatically affect weather patterns across the globe, drying up lakes, bring snowstorms to deserts, and disrupting electrical devices the world over.

General Hager isn’t impressed with Reed, or the four, whom he views as freaks.

Reed is troubled by the disruptions; despite promising Sue that he is going to focus on the wedding, he can’t help but investigate the disturbances and is intrigued to find a link between the cosmic radiation and their powers. Johnny is able to turn Reed’s fascination with the ongoing global disturbances to his advantage and blackmail Reed into having a bachelor party, and though Reed adamantly turns down General Hager’s (Andre Braugher) request that he and the four lend their expertise in solving the global crisis, he ultimately goes back on his word and develops a way of tracking the anomalies out of his desire to help and sheer scientific curiosity. Obviously, Sue is angered by this as she’s obsessed with having that one perfect day even if the entire world is being thrown into chaos around them; Reed is trying to please everyone, as always, but ultimately chooses to stand up to Hager’s abrasive nature and demand a little respect for him and his team if the military actually want them to help. When he sees how upset Sue gets by the whole media circus, however, Reed proposes that they leave it all behind after the wedding, but ultimately they’re both able to come to terms with their crazy lives by the conclusion of the film. The Thing, easily the heart of the team, is in a far better place this time around; having taken to wearing an array of clothes and noticeably much more comfortable with himself and being out in public, he’s developed a brotherly relationship with Johnny and has absolute faith in Reed, even when he predicts the end of the world and suggests the team go their separate ways.

Doom is still somewhat underutilised but comes across a bit better in this film.

Although Reed discovers that the Silver Surfer has been preparing worlds for their eventual destruction all across the universe, the entity’s arrival has a more direct impact on the team when it passes over Latveria and awakens Victor Von Doom. A scarred and ruined mess of a man, Doom begins the film in a much more fitting place than he left it (holed up in a grand castle, glaring at an array of monitors, filled with egotistical mania, and fully embracing his role as a scheming and bitter supervillain). After encountering the Silver Surfer, though, Doom’s appearance is sadly restored by the Surfer’s cosmic powers, ruining any menace he may have had in his armoured guise, and he goes right back to being a sleazy, suit-wearing scumbag. Doom even weasels his way into studying the Silver Surfer further by sharing his data with Hager, who orders him to work alongside the Fantastic Four, much to their chagrin. Of course, Doom’s intentions are far from virtuous; realising that the Silver Surfer draws his powers from his “board”, Doom seeks to separate the silver-hued entity from it, depowering the once-might Sentinel of the Spaceways, so that he can claim it for himself. This allows Doom to briefly come close to matching the formidable threat he poses in the comics, and even don a far more impressive and visually interesting set of armour and spit his famous “Richards!” line, but once again it’s too little too late and Doom gets far too little time in the spotlight.

Contact with the Silver Surfer causes Johnny to swap powers with his teammates.

Instead, much of the film is focused on exploring the impact that the Silver Surfer has on the Human Torch; although he seems perfectly happy living a shallow life of materialism and still likes to crack jokes at both Reed and the Thing’s expense as often as possible, Johnny doesn’t hesitate to take off after the Silver Surfer when he disrupts Reed and Sue’s wedding and finds himself changed as a result of physical contact with the entity. Consequently, Johnny switches powers whenever he touches his teammates, which allows the Thing a brief return to his human form (something that never comes up again, despite Ben’s promise) also causes chaos when the Fantastic Four try to intercept the Silver Surfer in London. Feeling isolated because of the danger he now poses to the team, Johnny is distraught to learn that Reed and Sue are willing to break up the band so that they can lead “normal” lives and is forced to learn to set aside his ego and put the team before himself. This all culminates in him absorbing the powers of the entire team in order to match Doom’s stolen cosmic powers in the finale, basically transforming him into a version of Kl’rt/Super-Skrull and kind of negating his character arc since it takes one individual with all of the team’s powers to defeat Doom rather than the combined efforts of the team proper.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Strangely, considering that Rise of the Silver Surfer essentially deals with the impending destruction of the entire world, the film’s tone is as light and whimsical as the last film, for the most part, but the comedy definitely lands a lot better this time around. Johnny’s wisecrack about the Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), potentially dying in a rockslide is hilarious, as is Sue using her powers to force Reed to listen to her, her “I’m on fire!” exchange with Reed, and Johnny’s all-too-brief transformation into a Thing-like creature. Having lived and operated together for some time now, the team has settled into their dysfunctional family dynamic quite nicely; out in the field, they tend to quarrel and discuss their personal dramas, which angers Hager, who sees them as freaks who can’t take threats seriously as they’re too busy bickering with each other. This leads to an impressive moment for Reed as he finally stands up for himself, and his team; in fact, Reed has adjusted to his role as the team’s leader extremely well compared to his characterisation in the first film. He’s still an easily distracted and awkward nerd, but he’s much more confidant in directing the team and keeping them focused in the field, at least until Johnny’s new powers cause disruption amongst the team.

The Silver Surfer prepares the world for this master’s arrival, who he dare not defy.

Sue ends up playing a pivotal role in humanising and characterising the mysterious Silver Surfer; a stoic and wholly alien lifeform, the entity is like living liquid metal, reflecting everything around him in his silvery skin and slicing through the air and even the vastness of space with a fluid-like ease. Impossibly fast and incredibly powerful, the Silver Surfer can not only cause chaotic events to happen all over the world and create ominous craters in the planet’s very crust, he’s also easily able to shrug off Doom’s electrical bolt, out-pace and exhaust Johnny in the upper atmosphere, and pass through Sue’s invisible barrier. Fascinated and intrigued by the Silver Surfer’s beauty, Sue questions the entity as to his motivations, which causes enough of a distraction to separate the Silver Surfer from his board and allow him to be captured by Doom and Hager. While the Silver Surfer has never exhibited such an obvious weakness in the comics, as far as I am aware, it’s necessary to render him vulnerable and exposit key information about the Silver Surfer’s master, the malevolent Galactus. Helpless and powerless without his board, the Silver Surfer reveals to Sue that he was once known as Norrin Radd and is bound to lead the entity to worlds for it to devour in order to spare his own, but takes no pleasure in this fact and finds himself besotted by Sue as she reminds him of his lost love. The Silver Surfer also reveals that his board draws Galactus closer, but initially refuses to use its power to repel his master since he dare not defy the World Devourer.

Some big set pieces and special effects keep things interesting, with the Silver Surfer being the highlight.

Surprisingly, the Fantastic Four’s costumes haven’t really been changed all that much from the last film; they seem a little darker, and maybe a little more refined here and there, but mostly appear to be identical, which is very unusual as superhero sequels usually always introduce new costumes for the characters. Thankfully, Doom definitely looks much better this time around; I could have done without seeing him return to normal in the middle there, but he definitely makes up for it in the finale with his more regal and detailed armour. The four have firmly established themselves in the Baxter Building and no longer have any money troubles; instead, they have all the resources they could ask for thanks to Reed’s patents and Johnny’s endorsement deals to franchise the team out to anyone and everyone. Reed’s focus is still on the science, and using his genius and the team’s abilities to help others, but he’s not above creating new toys for the team to use, such as the futuristic and criminally underused Fantasti-Car. While the Thing looks just as good as ever thanks to the impressive practical suit, some of the CGI and special effects have taken a bit of a hit, most notably Reed’s stretching powers (though this could just be because they’re showcased more often here). Still, the film has some impressive action set pieces on offer, such as the team’s efforts to repair the damaged London Eye, and the effects used to bring the Silver Surfer to life are absolutely top-notch. The Silver Surfer appears unsettlingly alien and unnaturally fluid; the chase between him and Johnny is quite exhilarating and the way he just kind of hovers and slips into frame is incredibly unnerving, and I think it was a wise move to spend more of the film focusing on the Silver Surfer as an antagonistic and mysterious force rather than the Devourer of Worlds.

Galactus may have just been a disappointing cosmic cloud but at least they tried to bring him to life.

Speaking of which, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning Galactus; one of Marvel’s most iconic and destructive cosmic entities, Galactus gained notoriety for being represented as a gigantic, abstract space cloud. I can understand the backlash about this as Galactus represents one of the most morally grey entities in the Marvel universe (he has to “eat” worlds in order to satisfy his great hunger, and does so not out of malice or evil but simply because he has to in order to survive and his existence is part of the cosmic balance of death and rebirth) and reducing him to a swirling, indistinct mass of cosmic energy is quite an insult to die-hard comic book fans. I can also understand the apprehension; these Fantastic Four movies are clearly drawing inspiration from Fox’s original X-Men trilogy (Various, 2000 to 2006) and going for a more grounded take on the comic’s more fantastical elements and the filmmakers definitely seem to have thought that a gigantic humanoid clad in purple armour stomping around New York City was probably a step too far. I, however, disagree and think these films (and any future Fantastic Four films) should totally embrace the more bonkers aspects of the source material, but I do have to applaud the filmmakers for even using Galactus in the first place. They didn’t have to do that and it’s pretty ballsy to jump into the character for the team’s second movie as how the hell do you top a world-devouring entity? Also, they seem to have pulled inspiration from “Gah Lak Tus”, the Ultimate version of the character that was a swarm of robotic drones rather than one massive being; the shadow and fiery silhouette of Galactus and his ship can also be briefly seen, hinting that the cloud is masking the being’s true form, and the proposed Silver Surfer spin-off was also supposed to reveal the character in full. Additionally, seeing  Galactus’ smoky tendrils devour that world at the start, watching it ominously advance through the galaxy and learning about its destructive history, and the shot of it preparing to swallow the Earth whole are all really effective at building a sense of awe and dread around the entity. I can definitely see that the filmmakers had some good intentions with the character but the execution does fall a bit flat; I think maybe it would have sufficed to see a gigantic hand reaching out from the cloud, or see hints of Galactus’ helmet poking through the storm and maybe his eyes glistening, but, again, I admire that they even tried to use the character, if nothing else.

After repelling Galactus, Reed and Sue finally marry and the Silver Surfer is freed from his master.

Despite the threat of Armageddon looming ever closer, Doom manipulates events to get his hands on the Silver Surfer’s board; conveniently cobbling together a wrist-mounted device that somehow allows him to assume control of the board, and thus the Surfer’s Power Cosmic, Doom kills Hager in spectacular fashion and refuses to give up his newfound power even in the face of worldwide destruction. In the process, Doom kills Sue when she takes a shot to protect the Silver Surfer, which finally convinces him to rebel against Galactus. After Johnny absorbs the abilities of his teammates in order to separate Doom from the board in an all-too-brief fist fight, thus restoring the Silver Surfer to full strength, the Silver Surfer uses the Power Cosmic to resurrect Sue and heads up into the atmosphere to confront Galactus as the titanic cloud prepares to drain all life and energy from the planet. There, in the centre of the swirling, chaotic mess of cosmic energy, he renounces his service and uses all of the board’s power to dissipate Galactus in a very obvious Christ metaphor, presumably transporting it away or destroying it outright, and is assumed dead from the exertion. In the aftermath, Johnny is returned to normal (though I think it would have been a nice touch to allow Ben to change to and from the Thing at will as a result of contact with the Silver Surfer), Reed and Sue finally marry in a small ceremony away from prying eyes, and the team resolves to stick together, even with the chaos of the superhero fame, while the Silver Surfer is revealed to have survived in the depths of space.

The Summary:
Well, this was certainly a step up from the last film; the cast, dialogue, and world definitely all seems to feel a lot more comfortable and work a lot better, and overall Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer feels like a much more enjoyable movie since it doesn’t have to be bogged down with an origin story or explaining and exploring the team’s powers. The characters all seem very familiar with each other and gel as a dysfunctional family, operating as a cohesive team in the field while still bickering and having interpersonal dramas regarding their superhero celebrity status. The banter between Ben and Johnny remains the clear highlight of the four, though I much preferred Reed this time around (leadership definitely suits him), with Sue remaining the weak link for me just because of the way Jessica Alba is presented and the fact that she’s so woefully miscast as the Invisible Girl. Doom looked and acted a bit more like his boastful comic book counterpart, but was again way too underutilised for a villain of his stature, but thankfully the film does a brilliant job of bringing the Silver Surfer to life. Mysterious, powerful, and inhuman, the Silver Surfer is also vulnerable and tragic and a true visual marvel. Yes, it’s massively disappointing that one of Marvel’s most enigmatic and iconic entities is reduced to a mere cloud, but I do admire the filmmakers for daring to even utilise Galactus and it’s clear that they had plans to do him justice in a later film, but again I feel like if you’re going to go big like that just go all-in and leave it all on the table.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer? Did you feel it was an improvement over the last film or were you just as disappointed with this effort? What did you think to the sub-plot of Johnny being able to absorb the team’s powers? Did you like the depiction and characterisation of the Silver Surfer or do you feel he was a little underpowered compared to the source material? What was your reaction when Galactus appeared as a giant cloud and would you like to see the character done justice in the Marvel Cinematic Universe some day? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Sign up to share your thoughts on Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer in the comments below, or drop your thoughts on my social media, and check back in next Friday for one last Fantastic Four review.

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.

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.

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.

Back Issues: Werewolf by Night #32/33

Writer: Doug Moench – Artist: Don Perlin

Story Title: “..The Stalker Called Moon Knight”
27 May 1975 (cover-dated August 1975)

Story Title: “Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight”
24 June 1975 (cover-dated September 1975)

The Background:
In February 1972, Roy Thomas, Jeanie Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Mike Ploog came together under the watchful eye of the legendary Stan Lee to bring Jack Russell/Werewolf by Night to readers in the pages of Marvel Spotlight. After years of being banned from publishing stories involving werewolves and other supernatural creatures, the writers enjoyed exploring these elements with characters like Werewolf by Night, who graduated to his own self-titled series in 1972. Jack Russell came from a long line of lycanthropes thanks to a complex history involving Count Dracula and a cursed tome known as the Darkhold; under the light of a full moon, Jack would become a feral, bloodthirsty beast who attracted the attention of a nefarious cabal known as the Committee. It was the Committee who were responsible for Moon Knight’s first appearance in Marvel Comics, though the silver-clad mercenary was created by Doug Moench, Don Perlin, and Al Milgrom. Inspired by pulp heroes from the 1930s like Lamont Cranston/The Shadow, Moon Knight was initially the alias of Mark Spector, a cloaked hired gun who sported weaponry in the shape of crescent moons, but his personality and background was later greatly expanded upon by the likes of Bill Mantlo, Gregg Hurwitz, and Warren Ellis. One of Marvel’s more obscure superheroes, Moon Knight has often been unfairly compared to the likes of Bruce Wayne/Batman but is actually one of their more complex and adaptable characters thanks to him suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, which means he exhibits a range of different, often conflicting, personality traits that lend the character towards constant reinvention. Given the darker nature of the character, and the success of his Disney+ show in 2022, and the recent live-action debut of the Werewolf, this seemed like a good time to take a look at his debut appearance and help bring the character into the spotlight a little more.

The Review:
“..The Stalker Called Moon Knight” opens with a suitably dramatic full-page spread of the titular Werewolf by Night being smashed in the face by a double-handed uppercut from the mysterious Moon Knight. I’ve never read or even encountered anything with Werewolf by Night in it before so it’s refreshing to see Jack’s internal monologue is very different from the usual diatribe from Marvel Comics; Jack speaks in conjunctions, is quite lazy with his terminology, and has a twang to his language that conjures up a Brooklyn accent. It also turns out that he’s more of a man-wolf than literally transforming into a four-legged fiend; in this regard, he’s visually more akin to Lawrence “Larry” Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) from The Wolf Man (Waggner, 1941) than David Kessler (David Naughton) from An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981). However, while Jack is able to provide coherent narration while in his feral state, when transformed into a werewolf he seems to be incapable of speech, understanding complex sentences, or any intelligence at all beyond savage instinct. Of course, anyone who’s familiar with the character probably already knows all this (and more) but this is literally the first time I’m encountering him so it’s interesting to me to understand the mechanics of his transformation. As vicious as Werewolf by Night can be when transformed, all his ferocity and augmented strength is meaningless against Moon Knight since the cloaked mercenary is garbed head-to-toe in a silver outfit that burns the Werewolf on contact (and the beast is also struggling with a broken hand when the story opens). Though enraged by Moon Knight’s tone, the Werewolf only receives further punishment when he takes a blow from the merc’s spiked gauntlet, which drives silver right into the beast’s face. Moon Knight expresses disgust and hatred towards the ferocious Werewolf, easily putting him down with a “savate kick” and then riddling his chest with silver, moon-shaped blades, and Werewolf by Night is left a beaten, confused creature unable to fight back against Moon Knight’s silver tricks or physical prowess and feeling betrayed that an emissary of the same Moon that grants him his powers should be beating him so thoroughly.

Already reeling from attacking his best friend, Jack is attacked by a ruthless, silver-clad mercenary.

So, right away Moon Knight makes an immediate impression; he’s an uncompromisingly brutal foe who attacks Werewolf by Night without mercy or hesitation. He regards the beast as nothing more than a bloodthirsty freak and his sheer merciless assault of the creature earns him the awe of the terrified onlookers (who see nothing more than another garishly-garbed vigilante attacking a fierce man-wolf) and even the begrudging kudos of Jack, who has little choice but to acknowledge Moon Knight’s skill and prowess. Hurt and struggling against his pitiless silver foe, Jack’s mind wanders back to the previous issue and the recent events that lead him to the dingy alley where he’s currently getting his furry ass kicked. Out in a blizzard in Northern California, the Werewolf had been stopped from murdering a young child by his best friend, Buck Cowan. Unfortunately, while this spared the girl, Buck was severely mauled by the Werewolf, who then reverted back to his human form after sheltering from the snowstorm. Retrieving his clothes and stumbling his way back home, Jack is distraught by his actions, which have left Buck in a coma from which he may never awaken, and he angrily lashes out at a wall (breaking his hand in the process) in shame and anguish. Tormented by the curse that transforms him into a primal beast under the light of the Moon and causes him to be a threat to friends and loved ones and innocent lives everywhere, Jack vows that his days of living as a ravenous werewolf are over but is stunned when he returns home to find Moon Knight there, ready and waiting to deliver Werewolf by Night to the malevolent Committee.

The Werewolf and Moon Knight’s brutal conflict takes them up into the sky and across the pier.

Moon Knight reveals to Jack that he is Mark Spector, a veteran of numerous conflicts, former prize-fighter and a Marine commando who now works as a soldier of fortune and mercenary. Interestingly, in Moon Knight’s recounting of the job offer from the Committee, his face is left in shadow and it’s the Committee who provide him with his trademark outfit and Moon Knight moniker (a codename Spector admits is “pretty stupid”). The Committee furnished Spector with everything he needed to subdue Werewolf by Night and promised to pay him ten-thousand dollary-doos on receipt of the Werewolf’s beaten (but still living) form. Thanks to Jack’s father holding Moon Knight off, Jack was able to beat a hasty retreat, but Moon Knight easily tracked him down using his friend Frenchie’s helicopter, which led to the brawl between Spector and the freshly-transformed Werewolf by Night in a nearby alley. The startled onlookers eventually snap out of their fugue state long enough to alert the cops, and the Werewolf finally manages to grit through his pain to land a stunning blow to his attacker; however, Spector’s assault has left the creature wounded and unable to capitalise on this brief advantage, which allows Moon Knight to bludgeon the Werewolf with a silver baton and finally knock the beast unconscious just as Frenchie hovers overhead for the pick-up (with Jack’s friend, Topaz, and sister, Lissa, as hostages for good measure). The second part of the story, “Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight”, picks up with Moon Knight escaping from the cops with Werewolf by Night’s prone body by use of a ladder dangling from the chopper; an errant shot from the cops wounds Spector’s shoulder, but Frenchie’s able to get them away from the gunfire and the startled crowds. Unfortunately for Moon Knight, the Werewolf regains consciousness just over the city pier and attacks Spector in a blind rage, causing them to plummet five-hundred feet to the water below. Hurt and frustrated by the Werewolf’s tenacity and refusal to go quietly, Moon Knight doubles down on his attack, landing huge haymakers to the beast’s jaw and wrestling with the lycanthrope in and out of the water.

Moon Knight is so stunned by Jack’s predicament that he has a change of heart and sets the beast free!

Eventually, however, the strain of the fight begins to take its toll and Spector starts to tire but, just as the Werewolf is about to land a killing blow, the first light of dawn hits and he painfully reverts back to his human form right before Moon Knight’s startled eyes. Moon Knight wastes no time in taking advantage of this and knocks Jack out with a boot to the face, before removing his crescent darts from the cursed man’s body and airlifting him away to his promised payday. However, despite delivering Jack, Lissa, and Topaz to the Committee, Spector is infuriated when the organisation’s head honcho insists that they wait for the next full moon to verify that Spector’s quarry is actually legitimate. When he awakens, Jack is equally incensed to find he’s been caged like an animal and that his loved ones are being held hostage by the Committee’s “emetic” head man, who reveals that he went to all this trouble to use the Werewolf’s feral nature for his own nefarious ends like a pet. Jack delivers an impassioned condemnation of all of them, especially Moon Knight, for treating him like some wild animal that needs to be locked up and vows to make them all pay right before transforming into the Werewolf, much to the glee of the Committee. Their leader finally gives Moon Knight his cash reward, much to the scathing disgust of Lissa, and everything Spector has seen and heard has been enough for him to have a change of heart. He releases Werewolf by Night from his cage and joins the beast in attacking the Committee; Moon Knight frees Topax and Lissa and then tosses the Committee’s head man to the Werewolf to get his brutal comeuppance. With all of the Committee members present presumably slaughtered and Jack’s loved ones free, Moon Knight makes a swift exit when the feral beast turns on him. However, as the Werewolf by Night stalks into the darkness once more, forever doomed to his cursed fate, Moon Knight watches on with a newfound respect for Jack and his torment and wishes his newfound (if tentative) ally well.

The Summary:
I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, to be honest. With absolutely no idea who either Werewolf by Night or Moon Knight are, I really wasn’t sure what to expect; in many ways, the Werewolf has a similar situation to Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk in that he is powerless to resist transforming into a ravenous beast under certain conditions, but Jack’s curse is also notably different as he only undergoes the transformation when there’s a full moon and the Werewolf exhibits absolutely no intelligence beyond basic, primal instinct. Similarly, while I’ve briefly researched Moon Knight here and there, his characterisation was nothing like I expected and his first appearance paints him as more of a highly skilled and enthusiastic mercenary and, in that regard, his debut is very much in the same vein as the likes of Frank Castle/The Punisher and even Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool in that he shows up with an awesome look, spouts some witty barbs and absolutely wrecks a formidable character, but is revealed to have a strong moral code by the conclusion of the story. For those who are more familiar with the show or Moon Knight’s more recent portrayals, there are no hints towards his multiple personalities or ties to Egyptian deities; instead, he’s just a very dangerous mercenary who’s asked to don a garish costume to give him the edge against a supernatural foe. Moon Knight’s debut is at its best when the character is on the page, and especially when he’s throwing down with Werewolf by Night. This brutal clash is, unfortunately, interrupted with side stories regarding the Werewolf’s supporting cast, which is fine and I’m sure all part of a bigger pay-off for the character in the overall context of his ongoing comics, but, for me, this got in the way of the main appeal of the story. This isn’t an uncommon trick in comics books from this era (and before, and even now, to be fair) but I felt like it’s worth pointing out as both Moon Knight and the Werewolf made a visual impression on me and I was just naturally more interested to see what they were up to rather than the Raymond Coker and Victor Northrup side stories.

While depicting Jack as a tortured character, the story is at its best when the two are going at it!

Moon Knight is quite the physically gifted foe; he’s an expert in multiple martial arts and more than capable of matching the Werewolf’s feral strength blow-for-blow. Thanks to the hooded silver costume furnished by the Committee, he’s ideally placed to subdue the Werewolf, who is consistently unable to really deal much damage to Spector as just touching him causes him agonising pain, to say nothing of Moon Knight’s spiked gauntlets and crescent darts. In fairness, the core narrative on show here is nothing we haven’t seen before in multiple Hulk stories (and one I’m gonna assume crops up a lot in the pages of Werewolf by Night), which is the cliché one-two-punch of a clandestine organisation wanted to exploit a mindless creature for their own ends and a cursed individual being prejudiced against because of his monstrous alter ego. The execution is a little different, however, as, while Moon Knight is stunned to find that the Werewolf is actually a man afflicted by a devastating curse, he delivers his quarry to his employees regardless since his primary motivation is to get his ten-grand payday. It’s pretty clear, even without seeing Spector’s face, that Moon Knight is rattled by this revelation, though, and his stoic silence during Jack’s tirade against the Committee and their leader’s shameful disregard for human lives speaks volumes considering Moon Knight hasn’t been able to keep his trap shut up until that point. Ultimately, it would’ve been easy for Spector to take the money and go, or free the Werewolf and then get out of there, but he chooses not only to free the beast but also to cut Topaz and Lissa loose and then join the Werewolf in brutalising the Committee to somewhat make amends for his misguided actions. Even better, Spector keeps the blood money he earned from the Committee (which I find hilarious, for some reason), and also ends the story far more comfortable with his newfound persona as Moon Knight. Overall, this was a fun, action-packed two-part tale that cast Jack as a sympathetic figure tormented by his bestial alter ego; he’s a man who has no control over that side of himself and who just wishes to be free from his curse, but won’t back down from a fight when forced into a corner. The story also gets high praise for its fantastic introduction of a visually unique and complex new character to comicdom in Moon Knight; seeing him absolutely dominate the Werewolf in all of their encounters was a great way to sell Spector as a force to be reckoned with and depicting him as both a ruthless mercenary and a man of honour really helped to make him make an impression beyond his striking costume.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Moon Knight’s debut in the pages of Werewolf by Night? Are you a fan of the titular Werewolf or, like me, did you only recently become fully aware of him because of Moon Knight’s live-action debut? What did you think to Moon Knight’s depiction here, his costume and gadgets and characterisation? Are you a fan of the character and, if so, what are some of your favourite Moon Knight stories and moments? Whatever you think about Moon Knight, feel free to sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check out my review of his Disney+ show!