Friday Funny Pages: This Is Why The Fantastic Four Movies Sucked

 

Answers at last to the nagging question of why the Fantastic Four movie and it’s sequel were train wrecks.  Namor the Sub-Mariner of course!  That dastardly demon of the deep was plotting yet another vile scheme!  This time his plan was to ensnare our heroes in a shitty movie deal, and keep them locked in so that they would be unable to rejoin the their friends in the unified Marvel Movie Universe, thus determining that they would never appear in a half way decent superhero movie!  But alas Prince Namor of Atlantis has not only struck this blow against the FF, but simultaneously trapped his rival, and occasional ally, Dr. Doom in this motion picture hell the likes of which is on par with that of Mephisto’s Realm!  Oh the horror!  The shame!  Is there nothing the Fantastic Four can do to escape this unspeakable prison?!?

Nope.  Probably not, there are hints of a Fox launched Fantastic Four reboot in the works, which means that Fox studios would be able to retain the FF rights for another decade or so.  By that time the chance for an FF flick from Marvel Studios and Disney may have come and gone, as much as I hate to say it the superhero movie craze can’t last forever and it might already be too late for Reed Richards and his cohorts.  Looks like we just have to chalk this one up to Namor, well played you water logged louse!

This panel of course comes from the earliest days of the Fantastic Four and was from one of their first few encounters with Namor the Sub-Mariner.  This issue was put together by the “My Two Dads” of many of Marvel’s characters, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  It’s funny to think that at the time of this issues writing the idea of a Fantastic Four movie was a gag, but now that it has become a reality it is even more of a gag.  Oh well, my motto is let’s see what the next one turns out like!  (Or something along those lines.)

That is all!

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Friday Funny Pages: Has Anyone Seen Dr. Doom?

This has been a busy week for me, well I guess I should say it’s been a busy/lazy week for me.  My wife has been out of town the past few days so when I haven’t been busy doing something, I’ve made sure to be busy doing nothing at all.  I have sat in front of the television this week longer than I have in a very long time.  I’ve taken this opportunity to rewatch some Babylon 5, perhaps the best run of the show, the third season.  I’ve been alternating B5 DVDs with those of the the show Extras, starring Ricky Gervais.  It’s been a nice mix of dramatic sci-fi and uncomfortable humor.  All that being said I’ve been a bit lax on my blog posts this week, but fear not!  As you can see of course I did not forget about the Friday Funny Pages, and I already have a few blog ideas lined up for next week and, spoiler alert, I’ve been working on the last phase of the Terrordrome Renovation project!  So fear not loyal readers (reader), you’ll get your Wits fix, as I like to call it.

Anyway onto this panel from the classic Silver Age pages of the Fantastic Four.  Continuing our Dr. Doom theme this week brings us one of the earliest days of the bad doctor.  This of course is brought to us from the Mega Marvel Masters themselves Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  I really enjoy this panel because it encapsulates so much of Dr. Doom’s personality in one little rectangle.  First off whenever Dr. Doom is looming around in an open doorway you know nothing good will come of it.  Many a brave soul have met there end after laying their eyes on such a scene.  Also I just really like his line here, “Did someone mention my name?”, every good villain has that line at some point and it shows how self centered they are and just how bloated their maniacal egos have become.  When not planning revenge based plots, or building evil robots Dr. Doom keeps an ear out for people talking about him.  Classic.  I love it.

This panel comes from an issue that is full of zany goof, Fantastic Four #10, The Return of Doctor Doom.  In the issue the story stops mid-way to cut to a scene of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby themselves, suffering from a bout of writer’s/artist’s block.  In a very meta-before-there-was-meta, style the two comic book creators are feeling somewhat at a lose chronicling the adventures of the Fantastic Four because several issues back Dr. Doom seemingly was launched into space and lost to the infinite void.  Recognizing Doom’s grand style of villainy Lee and Kirby feel there’s nothing exciting left for the FF to undertake and doubtlessly worry about sales dropping as the Fantastic Four fall into a peaceful life free of Dr. Doom.

Too bad that Doctor Doom was lost in space!”  Says Stan ‘the Man.’  “He was possibly the greatest villain of all!

Next to Stan Lee Jack Kirby ruefully sits at his drawing table, his face buried in his palms.

Yeah!”  Kirby adds.  “We sure can’t come up with a menace like him everyday!

And then, it happened!

That of course leads to Doom’s appearance.  Dr. Doom, under threat of death, forces Stan Lee to call Mr. Fantastic on the phone and ask him to come over to their studio to supposedly work out some plot details for an upcoming issue.  Of course when Reed Richards arrives, Dr. Doom is waiting for him with a gas gun of some kind and the whole plot of the issue takes off again.  Long story short Dr. Doom somehow joins the FF and Mr. Fantastic is the villain of the issue.  But what I really like about this issue is that within the universe, of the Marvel Universe Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are big enough properties that Dr. Doom would think to work them into his plans and Mr. Fantastic apparently drops whatever he’s working on to come over when they call.  Those guys are big shots!

Anyway, I need some coffee and a few more episodes of Babylon 5!

That is all!

Here's a little bonus for you, from the first appearance of Lee and Kirby! This issue is worth a fortune! A fortune I tells ya!

Some Thing Old, Some Thing New.


     Today I had the chance to rewatch John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s been several years since I’ve seen the movie and I was pleasantly surprised how well it still holds up. I know there are a great many people out there who hold The Thing to be the pinnacle of sci-fi horror movies. There are certainly plenty of reasons for someone to think that, and I won’t argue. Though I don’t think it is my personal favorite, it certainly is a quality flick. One comment I regularly hear that I have a small problem with however is that John Carpenter’s The Thing is far superior to the original. I’ve read that folks don’t believe it should even be called a remake, and that the 1982 version is such a completely different, better type of movie that the two are incomparable. As much as I have to admit that the newer movie is a much scarier movie with truly superior effects I think there are really far more similarities between them then most people want to admit. This is not at all to detract from Carpenter’s movie, in fact if anything it should add to his praises for such a boffo adaptation! John Carpenter’s The Thing should really be a guide for making any type of “reboot” especially in this day and age when it seems every movie is a remake. (And there is actually a remake of this movie coming out this year some time . . . )

     Both of these movies were a part of my childhood in different ways. My dad is older than most dads in my age range, and as such always watched the classic movie channels. Turner Classic Movies seemed to constantly be on one TV or another in my house growing up. The original 1951 The Thing From Another World also just happens to be one of my father’s favorite horror movies and since it was one of the few horror movies to be regularly shown on TCM I was exposed to that movie on a regular basis. Of course what youth doesn’t rebel somewhat against their elders? Though my parents loved TCM I was not a fan as a kid. I turned my sights to basic cable and the wonders of the late night movie. By the time I was old enough to be sneaking downstairs to watch late night TV John Carpenter’s The Thing was hitting the airwaves of basic cable and even that edited for TV version was enough to make me piss a little.  Needless to say it left an impression, and brought to mind the phrase “This isn’t your fathers Thing.”   (Which is just creepy when you read it.)

     Before going into the similarities of the 1951 and 1982 versions let me state one difference I really enjoy about the movies. The beginning. At the start of the original movie the arctic base camp investigates and subsequently discovers the crashed UFO and the frozen space man. That scene is one of the most iconic and chilling of old school horror. The music along with the camera pulling up to reveal all the men standing at arms length forming the perimeter of the massive ship encased under the ice still has an impact. Thinking about how movies were made back in the fifties it even adds something more to the effect of the shot when you wonder where and how they actually got that shot of that icy plain and the huge dark disc embedded within it. They of course take photos, then cut around the frozen alien and haul the block back to base where it thaws and mayhem ensues.
     That type of beginning really works for the time period. However I really like the first few scenes of Carpenter’s version. It opens with a helicopter flying over the snow as a gunner onboard tries to shoot a running husky down below. Already you know something is wrong. The copter pursues this seemingly innocent animal across the snow until they reach an American research base at which point the helicopter lands and the gunner in a frenzy continues to try and kill the dog. Grenades are tossed, bullets are fired, the new arrival’s helicopter is blown up, and the American research team doesn’t know what the hell is going on. Already they are in the middle of the mayhem, they just don’t know it yet. I always like those types of stories. Of course it all becomes clear later when they travel to the neighboring base where they find everyone dead and records full of exposition relating the modern details of this alien reimagining.

Now onto the heart of this tirade! Why you should love both versions of The Thing, and perhaps appreciate even more the work of Carpenter’s Thing.

-Setting
     An obvious one. Both movies are set in the Antarctic in a U.S. scientific base. This is an important element because this means that the characters are not only fighting some creature, they’re fighting the elements as well. A small group, fending for themselves, in the most secluded place on earth. I can’t think of anything more terrifying.

-Suspense Is Key
     Though both versions of the movie have their scary moments, what really draws you in is the suspense, an element both films make use of almost as soon as the movies start. In the original the main driving force for the suspense are the teams hand-held Geiger Counters which they use to track the alien through the base. Because of the time period the alien is obliged to be radioactive, and the gradually quickening pings of the Geiger Counters warn the men when the beast is approaching. This makes for some great moments as one of the men stares transfixed on the flashing screen while the others tensely check their surroundings waiting for the monster to come crashing through the wall at any moment. The ’82 version masterfully twists this intense suspense and mixes it with suspicion when they discover that their Thing can get inside of other living creatures, imitating and absorbing them devouring them on a cellular level. This creates fear among the men as they realize that some of them are not who they appear to be.

Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Carrington

-Crazy Scientists
     Both movies have one wacky scientist who thinks he’s so much smarter than everyone else and thinks he has all the answers if everyone else would just shut up and listen to him! In the original that scientist is Dr. Carrington played by the eerie Robert Cornthwaite, who could be Dr. Quest’s evil twin. In the remake the “mad scientist” is Dr. Blaire, played by the one and only Wilford Brimley. 1951 – Carrington thinks he can reason with the alien, it is an intelligent being from a highly advanced society surely it will be open to rational discussion. He is wrong, The Thing kills him. 1982 – Dr. Blaire realizes fairly quickly that this alien is a high risk to not only their safety but the security of the entire world. In an attempt to isolate it Blaire tries to destroy all the radio equipment and their various modes of transportation. He is right. Unfortunately everyone else just thinks he’s lost it and attempts to stops him. The first movie was telling us not to listen to those God hating, free thinking, science commies. The other was saying, maybe we should have listened to the scientist, before it was too late. Very topical for their times.

Wilford Brimley as Dr. Blaire

-Creative Aliens in Cinema
     The two Things are quite different in each movie but they are both quite groundbreaking for their time. In 1951 any alien in a movie that wasn’t a martian or some kind of lizard was pretty unique. This alien evolved from plants and sought blood for its nutrients, a sensational idea at the time I’m sure. Though they don’t go into great detail about the Carpenter alien, there wasn’t any need to, it just sort of spoke for itself. That Thing was an effects masterpiece that tore into, digested, gored, and ripped its way across the screen and was groundbreaking in its style.

-Badass Leads
     Kurt Russell was just great in the 1982 movie, and it made me think about how many awesome movies he has been in. Does he intentionally pick cool, sci-fi, movie geek roles? Or has he just been typecast into those parts? Either way I’m not complaining. The ’51 version starred Kenneth Tobey an all-american military hero type who smoked cigarettes, barked orders, and killed ugly alien bastards. Both guys are badasses, though Kurt Russel is more of the Wolverine badass while Tobey was more of the Captain America badass.

-Dog Mutilation
     Kill all the scientists and military researchers you want, but when you kill an animal that’s when it really hits home with the audience. Both movies feature, pretty early on, some dogs getting eaten by hungry aliens.

-Fire Bad!
     Both versions make it clear that this particular brand of alien has no weakness for cold, it can stay frozen for thousands of years if need be. So if you want to kill The Thing, you’d better have some high voltage wires or a couple of flame throwers. This also creates a great dynamic between the setting and the action. There are several scenes in both movies where you have someone engulfed in flames stumbling through the blizzard conditions of an Antarctic storm.

-Memorable Endings
     Both movies have unique endings that leave the viewer with something to think about in terms of whether the threat is really over or not. In the original we are left with the now famous line “Watch the skies!” which is modern sci-fi legend. In the ’82 version we are left with an uneasy feeling due to the ambiguous nature of that films end. The final scenes of both Things leave the audience with some lingering questions and a few worries.

     So I guess what this has all been about is just me trying to tell you to love all Things equally. The 1951 The Thing From Another World and the 1982 The Thing have equal merits for different eras of filmmaking. John Carpenter clearly has a love for the original movie, as well as the original book “Who Goes There?” which both are based on. It is said that Carpenter based his take more on the book, than the movie however. I agree that John Carpenter really did a stellar job adapting the movie, and it isn’t simply some knock off attempt. I just hope that some of you also go back and take another look at the old The Thing and try to appreciate it for what it was at the time, and not simply as some old horror movie with bad special effects!  Oh and if this new remake/reboot/whatever is any good than perhaps I’ll have another post about it as well.

James Arness as The Thing (1951)

My Pop Culture Ups and Downs

So as I sit here today miserable from my stochastic allergies which have decided to strike, I think about some of the current trends in some of my favorite realms of geekdom, namely the Star Wars universe and Marvel comics.  There are some great things happening, which I am very excited about, as well as some things that I’m not at all happy about and which in fact slightly infuriate me.

First let’s talk about the good.  Star Wars.  My favorite sci-fi universe in film, television, and comics.  I can not get enough Star Wars, and thankfully things are on a major upswing for us loyal Lucasites.  There of course was a great deal of grumbling during the prequel years, some of it justified I will admit.  However one thing I will argue is that Uncle George is not the money hungry tyrant some fans make him out to be.  From everything I can tell he is an excitable story-teller who has a plethora of yarns to spin in the epic universe he has created, and he enjoys pushing the boundaries of film making especially in the special effects department.  Has George Lucas in the past pushed progress too much to the overall detriment of story?  Perhaps.  But that’s not what I’m getting at, the point I am making is that I believe George Lucas’ true strong suit lies in the production aspects of his projects, not in the directing chair.  His ability to guide the design and art teams that bring his projects to life is phenomenal, he has a vision and he is able to get that across.  He puts out great ideas and places the right people in charge to bring it about, with a guiding hand that does far more good from a distance, with all due respect to him. 

Well anyway such is the case with The Clone Wars series.  This show has been very surprising, and continues to bring out the best of the Star Wars universe even as it continues to expand the epic sci-fi landscape.  Initially I was rather upset by the continued riffing on the whole Clone Wars aspect of the movies.  I thought the Tartakovsky Clone Wars was great, and was a little peeved they were going to more or less do away with the events of that series in order to create this CGI weekly cartoon.  I was also a little annoyed that Lucas wasn’t focusing on the long-awaited live action Star Wars show which is to take place between Episode III and IV.  All that being said the Clone Wars is awesome.  Not only have the storylines continued to evolve and experiment with different genres and aspects of the Star Wars universe, but the animation and art of the show has really grown more detailed.  The characters have evolved and have gradually come closer to their appearances in Revenge of the Sith.  And of course everyone is interested to know just what will become of young Ahsoka Tano, apprentice of Anakin Skywalker.  Surely there isn’t enough time between Episodes II and III to fully train the padawan into a full Jedi Knight?  Mysteries abound.

At the same time however mysteries are being revealed.  In the second half of this third season of the Clone Wars (which I have yet to see any episodes of, I’m waiting for the DVDs) we will get two cameos from two major Star Wars personalities.  First in an upcoming two-part storyline we will run into Captain Tarkin, yes that Tarkin, future Grand Moff and head of the Death Star, Wilhuff Tarkin.  Then in the multi part season finale Ahsoka runs into everyones favorite wookiee, Chewbacca.  Frankly I think Chewie’s uncanny ability to have run-ins with major players in the galaxy at key moments is a bit overplayed, and though I am more eagerly anticipating the added screen time of Tarkin, this wookiee cameo is also a welcome one.  Anything that ties the prequels closer together with the original movies is ok in my eyes.  The love and breadth of understanding director Dave Filoni and his team have for the Star Wars universe is immense and I have respected their ability to interpret the galaxy far, far, away as they tell their new and exciting stories.

Captain Tarkin as he appears in the Clone Wars

 

Now onto the bad . . . .

Marvel comics, my first loyalty when it comes to comic books, seems to be losing some of their foresight when it comes to storytelling and strategizing for future book sales.  They recently snuffed the Human Torch, bringing the Fantastic Four down to three.  This attracted a small amount of media attention, but nowhere near the amount when Captain America was killed off.  Without pause I thought this was a stunt, pure and simple.  Captain America’s death was something special, quite epic, and with a great amount of expert buildup to the event as executed by the awesome Ed Brubaker.  I couldn’t even tell you who’s witting FF at the moment.  Granted I have been out of comics for a while, due to monetary restraints, but the point is this came out of left field.  There was no previous buzz about the current Fantastic Four story arc, no tremendous waves of fans flocking to the series like Brubaker brought back to Cap.  A stunt pure and simple.  Now I know that these stunts are expected regular occurences in comics, I get it, and some times they even work and make for a good superhero tale, but I think not here.  Here’s how I see it.  FF sales were slumping.  Sue Storm died in a one-shot alternate universe issue recently, so can’t kill her, too expected.  Thing died in the Straczynski run of FF, so can’t kill him again.  No one cares enough about Mr. Fantastic (except me, love that character), so “Hey!  Let’s kill the Human Torch!  Ok sure.”  Blamo, team shattering event that will change the FF forever (aka sell a few books.)  But wait that’s not all!  What do we do when a new book is introduced OR when an old book is slumping?  That’s right send in Spider-Man!  Just a few days after Johnny’s death Marvel announced Spider-Man would be rounding out the FF (which now stands for “Future Foundation?”)

Now Marvel tells us this death will bring about some good, exciting new storylines dealing with the ramifications of the Human Torches death.  They try to convince us this isn’t a stunt, but rather a needed sacrifice in order to tell great stories.  Ah, bullshit.  Stunt!  Stunt I say!  And here’s the proof!

    http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/GulfCoastAvengers/news/?a=29976

Yeah that’s right Marvel clearly and loudly declares that they intend to kill more major characters in the coming months, all in the name of sales . . . . er, I mean, story telling and the creative process!  

Things like this work for creating storylines in team books like the X-Men.  When Jean Grey died there was a great deal to write about with that scenario.  But unlike the X-Men, the Fantastic Four is not a team, they are a family.  The comic is based on a static roster of four characters who the readers have come to enjoy and expect to see when you read the Fantastic Four.  Characters in team books, come and go all the time.  The Avengers are always knighting new members into their ranks, Chuck Xavier is replacing X-Men left and right.  The Fantastic Four however, is the Fantastic Four, and is not the same without the Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, and the Human Torch.  The Fantastic Four don’t need stunts, they need good stories, and good adventures.  When I see something along these lines happen to a book such as this, I simply shake my head and think “Lazy writing.”  It’s always easier to take a chainsaw to a piece of wood then a pocket knife, but with the knife you can take your time and carve something cool to look at.

And PS they have just shown the first pictures of the FF + Spider-Man’s new costumes.  Awful.  That is all!

Ugh . . . .