Saturday, September 24, 2016


Number 910 in my comic collection, as randomly picked by my loyal blogling who goes by various aliases involving Dominic O'Brien's internal organs, is the first issue of the 1986-87 limited series "Fantastic Four versus the X-Men". (The cover says February 1987, it was actually published in late 1986; this is how comics work in America) Funnily enough, that makes two comics in a row involving team-ups of two superhero groups, and a whole lot of heroes crammed into one comic. To be fair, I like groups much more than I like solo heroes, so my comic collection is a bit biased that way anyway...

 Okay, this is a good one. After a not-all-that-special issue of Alpha Flight from the first random choice, we get something really quite cool here. Just look at this atmospheric, eerie opening page and that unmistakably Chris Claremont narration!
 So, this series is written by Chris Claremont, who at this point had been chronicling the adventures of the X-Men for more than a decade, and in that time had taken them from fringe characters in the Marvel universe up to the point where they were the most popular superhero comic in the world. Actually, this crossover series came out just at the point that modern fans, with hindsight, have pinpointed as the moment when "Marvel screwed up the X-Men" - just starting to cash in on their huge popularity with spin-off series, which was followed by insisting the writers give prominent roles to the 'cool' characters, and then there was a huge surge of popularity of certain artists, so they were given a bigger say in what happened, and eventually Claremont quit, and so on and so forth. But that was 1990, we're just at the start of the buildup to that here, and everything's going swimmingly. (Frankly, the fans who say things like that are a bit on the weird side, anyway)

Art is by Jon Bogdanove, who was young and still new to comic work at this time, and he does a wonderful job. He quite nicely emulates the look of John Byrne, the artist legendary for his work on both X-Men and Fantastic Four, and captures really well the haunting dream sequences, domestic life scenes and action moments that Claremont's script demands of him. It's a great comic to look at. Terry Austin's inks probably help a lot - he was a regular inker for Byrne. Tom Orzechowski is the letterer, Glynis Oliver the colourist, and there's a surprising number of editors. Ann Nocenti was the regular editor of X-Men, Don Daley was the editor of Fantastic Four, so it makes sense that he'd be a consulting editor. I've been searching the internet to try and find what Mike Carlin was doing at that time and why he was involved in this one too, but to no avail. Jim Shooter is the editor-in-chief.

The first five pages consist of a nightmare suffered by Franklin Richards, the young son of Reed and Sue, Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, who form half of the Fantastic Four. Franklin is a somewhat troublesome character. For one thing, the problem of superheroes not aging (because nobody wants to read about a 70-year-old Spider-Man, do they?) come across much more strongly in him than in anyone else - his age has boomeranged inconsistently backwards and forwards over the years; he's around five years old here, which is his sort of default status. But more importantly, writers have tended to give him infuriatingly omnipotent universe-altering powers, to the extent that it became really easy to justify anything people want to happen in any Marvel comic by saying "Franklin Richards did it". On the other hand, Chris Claremont always liked him, and he's used well in this series - his powers here just involve prophetic dreams and astral projection, which isn't so bad.

In the dream, Franklin sees his father carrying his mother's corpse and tearfully demands to know why. "It was logical, Franklin. It was necessary," says Reed, adding that he's always certain, because he's a scientist. The bodies of the rest of the Fantastic Four - the Thing, the Human Torch and even the She-Hulk (who had filled in for the Thing a little while ago) are lying around too, and looking pretty gruesome. Along comes Wolverine, carrying the dead Shadowcat in his arms, and points out that Reed has killed the X-Men, too - they're all impaled through the chest on dead trees. The X-Men line-up here is Havok, Psylocke, Storm, Longshot, Rogue, Magneto and Dazzler. Ignoring Franklin's begging, Wolverine lunges at Reed, then drops dead. Reed, callously dismissing his son, ascends a flight of stairs and opens a book, "Reed Richards - Journal - State University" and although Franklin implores him not to, turns into Doctor Doom. It's great stuff, it really is.

Franklin wakes up, and in a nice touch his bedroom is decorated with a poster of the Thing, a photo of the FF during the She-Hulk era, a photo of the Power family (with whom Franklin has adventures in the much-better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be Power Pack comic about a family of child superheroes), a photo of the Avengers' butler Jarvis who usually ends up babysitting Franklin whenever the heroes are busy, and Franklin's own drawings of Kofi and Friday, from Power Pack. He goes to find his father, who (typically) is busy working on scientific stuff, with his trademark pipe in his mouth, and hasn't time to listen to Franklin, calling Sue on the video screen and asking her to deal with the child. Sue (a spotted kerchief on her head, just to show she's busy with housework - the Richards family really do live in the 1950s) does so, creating an invisible forcefield to bring Franklin to her. She comforts him with a hug, and gets on with what she was doing - unpacking some old boxes she's recently found. In one of them, naturally, is Reed's State University journal! Franklin is terrified and urges Sue to throw it away!

Then we cut to the X-Men, currently hanging out in their friend Moira McTaggert's lab on an island off the coast of Scotland (Chris Claremont is one of those unfortunate Americans who think Britain, and especially Scotland, is really really neat-o). We're filled-in on their current situation; with Nightcrawler and Colossus comatose and Shadowcat reduced to an intangible collection of molecules gradually drifting apart in a tube, they've roped in new members Havok (who, as he protests to Rogue in a scene that takes up a whole page but has no other bearing on what happens in this comic, was an X-Man in the old days before any of the others and feels he should be treated with more respect), Psylocke, Dazzler and Longshot. Their old leader, Professor X, also isn't around at this point - he's living up in space right now - and their arch-enemy Magneto, the former evil villain, is now on their side. He has been looking into ways to save Shadowcat's life, and found out about a device of Reed Richards's - he tells Storm he intends to contact Reed, even though the Fantastic Four still consider him to be an evil villain.

Dazzler and Longshot are out on a boat, and Longshot rescues a strangely sinister drowning fisherman, to take him back to Muir Isle. This is just something to remember if you read the rest of the series, nobody mentions it again in this issue.

Sue, back in New York (the narrator, with unusual accuracy for this kind of comic, points out that it's still night there, though it's dawn in Scotland), furiously confronts Reed with the journal! She's found out that it contains horrible revelations! "Especially the pages relating to the rocket flight that transformed you, me, Ben and Johnny into the Fantastic Four!" Franklin, in his astral form (wearing his Power Pack uniform, in another nice touch for regular readers) is horrified!

Elsewhere, the She-Hulk (who has the honour of being the only hero to appear in both of the comics I've reviewed here so far!) is busy researching; she's going to go back to her previous lawyer career for the sake of "a weird sort of fund-raiser" in which the trial of Magneto is re-staged. She's the defence counsel. The Thing also happens to be in the library (reading a book of Federal Aviation Regulations, just to remind us of his previous pilot career), and the two chat for a while before being interrupted by a series of massive explosions at a construction site. The comic gives no suggestion whatsoever of what's caused these explosions - the Thing and She-Hulk, being both defined as "the big, strong one", just get to work preventing the building from completely falling down and harming anyone. They're soon joined by Magneto, who helps out with his magnetic powers, despite the Thing not unreasonably suggesting "creep probably blew this place up inna first place!" and the Human Torch, whose impromptu welding comes in handy too.

Once that's dealt with, they all go back to the FF's headquarters, Four Freedoms Plaza, where Magneto (sealed in one of Sue's forcefields to stop him causing trouble) explains the situation. Reed apologises to Sue, but says he has to go and help. She stays at home while the others jet away - She-Hulk too, taking the time to change into her old FF uniform (do they keep it at the base?) for the occasion. On the way across the Atlantic, Reed asks Ben "Am I ruthless?", to which Ben replies that Reed is always certain in his convictions, and pretty much always right to be - with the exception of that rocket flight, when he didn't account for those cosmic rays...

They arrive at Muir Isle, with Reed now racked with indecision, thinking to himself that having made that significant mistake in the past, maybe he's wrong here too? With Franklin's astral form still watching, he decides not to use his device on Shadowcat. It might go wrong. The X-Men are not happy, and Wolverine attacks Reed - save her, or you die! To be continued!

It's a great story, it really is. Classic X-Men stuff from the late Claremont era, with a nice take on the Fantastic Four too (although it feels much more like an X-Men story, as is only natural). The whole limited series is really hugely worth reading and highly recommended! I leave you with the kind of thing that would give anyone nightmares:

Next up, we have number 2, selected by an anonymouse, which (in my sort-of-alphabetical but also category-based list) gives us 1602 #1, from 2003! If you want to see another random comic from my collection here, just give me a number between 2 and 3333!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Red Dwarf returns!

Having watched the first two episodes (which is totally not a breach of my who-wants-to-watch-live-TV-nowadays-anyway rule because I watched them on catch-up internet stuff and not quite immediately as soon as they became available), I have to say it's not as funny as it used to be. And after getting used to Kryten's new make-up and considering why, it seems to be a deliberate choice - the actors are playing the parts now as if they're in a serious science-fiction show, rather than a comedy. Did someone tell them to do that, or are they just too old to tell jokes these days?

Look at the scene in the latest episode when Kryten illustrates a point by strangling Lister - afterwards, he says "Thanks for the demonstration, Kryten!" in a seriously underplayed way. Compare it to the similar scene in "Justice", many years ago, when Rimmer does the same kind of thing, and Lister reacts with overblown sarcastic outrage, and the audience howls with laughter! All through this episode, in fact (which is quite up-front about re-using old ideas, and there's really nothing wrong with that unless the writer pretends they're not), Lister especially delivers lines so flatly, when he used to be so much more exaggerated in the way he said things. The other three are all more subdued than they once were, too, it really jumps out at me when I think about it. I should probably stop thinking about it...