Baxter Building Ep. 17: “Those Sure Were The Good Old Days!”

May 23, 2016

Previously on Baxter Building: The old order changeth! Sue Richards has left the team — and her husband! (Feminism is to blame, and certainly not Reed Richards’ offensively paternal attitude, oh no.) She’s been replaced by Medusa, because one of the rules of the FF is that, when Sue goes, an Inhuman has to take her place. Meanwhile, Johnny Storm is reconsidering his life choices after breaking up with Crystal, Reed Richards is sinking into as much of a depression as superheroes could in comics from 1973, and Ben Grimm is… well, just being Ben Grimm. The world’s greatest comic magazine? More like the world’s soapiest soap opera, am I right?
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0:00:00-0:11:36: “Jeff is much more positive than either of us feel about these issues,” I say about Fantastic Four #134-146, issues I describe by saying “some of these are just not very good comic books,” even though Jeff says that some of his favorite comics are in these batch (He’s talking about #136-137, as you’ll find out). Is that because he grew up reading them? We discuss, with references to Steve Englehart’s Avengers, Gerry Conway’s Amazing Spider-Man and how children are willing to accept bad writing as genuine emotional content because they don’t know better. Also, what is “Star Trek Syndrome”? Jeff explains!
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0:11:37-0:28:29: Fantastic Four #134-135 launch the awkward nostalgiafest that is Gerry Conway’s run as writer (Yes, he scripted the previous issue, but that was from a Roy Thomas plot; this is Conway flying solo for the first time). Marvel at my ability to accidentally mash-up Fantastic Four and Scott Pilgrim, which is arguably more entertaining than the two issues that make up this storyline because who wanted to see Gregory Gideon and Dragon Man again? We talk about bad nostalgia, and the way that that nostalgia is almost subverted by good character work on Conway’s behalf — except where Franklin Richards is concerned. But, oh, that Johnny scene with Dorrie…
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0:28:30-0:51:15: According to Jeff, FF #136-137 are “practically Grant Morrison levels of insanity,” although he then corrects himself by saying that maybe he means Mark Millar. The esteemed Mr. Lester attempts to summarize “Rock Around The Cosmos!” but we immediately sidetrack ourselves in a discussion about the portrayal of Medusa versus Crystal or Sue Storm, the potential for this storyline being a Venture Bros. episode and Jeff’s unexpected — even by him — fandom for the Shaper of Worlds, and the metatext that he gives this particular era of Fantastic Four. (How self-aware is Roy Thomas, anyway?) Oh, but that’s before we even get to the exciting, surreal antagonists of this storyline, who look like this:
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Oh, yes. And that’s before we get to the wonderfully racist anti-racism message and the possibility of one of Oakland’s favorite sons showing up as the villain of the story. All this, plus a panel that might predict Tarantino’s Kill Bill and the surprising creepiness of the cliffhanger of #136.
0:51:16-1:10:58: Help us, Whatnauts: is this opening page of #137 a reference to something that neither of us recognized? Both Jeff and I are sure that it is, purely because of the rendering used, but we couldn’t even guess at what beyond Jeff’s EC suggestion.
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Meanwhile, the FF are at war with each other thanks to some brainwashing, but that only lasts until the introduction of Warhead, whom Jeff recognizes as Robot Monster, which… can we talk about Robot Monster for a second? Look at this:

That is amazing. I mean, amazing — and, yes, the monster really is Warhead in this story, weirdly. I guess it’s period specific…? But we shouldn’t get too distracted by that because there’s some well-meaning racism at play because it’s the 1970s, ya dig? Sorry, there I go with the slang of the sixties again…! Face it, buster. It really is the most Star Trek issue of Fantastic Four yet, and that’s including those late Kirby ones which literally rip off the plot from “A Piece of the Action.” But does it actually work?
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1:10:59-1:27:55: Hey, everyone! Fantastic Four #138-139 brings back Wyatt Wingfoot, even if he’s more of a background player than ever before. But he’s back nonetheless! He’s back to graduate from college and act as a living Macguffin to bring the Miracle Man back into the lives of the Fantastic Four, which is… well, we all could have done without this. Also discussed: Flame toupees! More well-meaning racism! Jeff accidentally conjuring the idea of Ben Grimm as Donald Trump!
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1:27:56-1:46:41: All things Franklin come to a head with FF #140-141, the latter of which proclaims “The End of the Fantastic Four!” But before we get there, we get the return of Annihilus — disappointing to Jeff, even though we get his origin as a nerd alien insect who was bullied by the jock alien insect — and the chance to talk about how John Buscema’s art has changed for the better across his Fantastic Four run (These are his last issues for awhile). Also, what gets Jeff going? Apparently the sight of Reed Richards shooting his kid with a massive gun. No, really: “It’s kind of great, you get to see Reed Richards shoot his kid with a big gun,” he says. Who knew that would be Jeff’s thing? Still, it does lead to some good character work, which really is Conway’s strength in these issues, so let’s just accept it all and move on.
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1:46:42-2:16:36: We move straight into Fantastic Four #142-144, which sees Rich Buckler arrive on art and bring a less subtle, and definitely more Kirby-inspired look to the book. (Really, #143 is filled with Kirby swipes.) It also sees the return of Doctor Doom, the arrival of Darkoth the Death Demon — who, as Jeff points out, feels like a strange dry-run for Deathlok in some ways — and the idea of curing Alicia’s blindness. We end up talking briefly about why the latter bothers me both as a general concept and specifically when it comes to Alicia, and also about the Medusa/Reed relationship both as it appears in the text and in the subtext of the issue, and how it affects the general reading of Medusa in these stories. Also! Is Johnny losing it? Does Gerry Conway really, really have issues about being bullied at schools? What happened to Darkoth’s tail? And what the hell happened to the pacing in this storyline? Oh, and this panel:
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Really, no-one thought they should perhaps redraw that panel?
2:16:37-2:26:53: Jeff calls FF #145-146 “somehow a fill-in issue that became two fill-in issues,” and he’s not wrong; not only does it feature guest art by Ross Andru (again, not being served to well by Joe Sinnott’s inks) but it feels very disconnected from everything else that’s been going on in this run to date, being essentially a Johnny/Medusa issue of Marvel Team-Up that ended up in FF because of an extended Thing cameo. On the plus side, we do get to talk about Marvel’s institutional love of all Asian men being wise old ancient ones in their own right, so there’s that. (There’s honestly not much else going for these issues, sorry.)
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2:26:54-end: We wrap things up looking back over these 13 issues and wondering what the reason was for the swing towards nostalgia, while also planning our next adventure into this part of the Marvel Universe: next time out, we’ll be covering Fantastic Four #147-159, wrapping up the current era of the book — finally, we’ll get to a conclusion of the Sue/Reed split plot! — and trying to do so in a slightly shorter time frame than this episode. Maybe. Possibly. For those who want to find us elsewhere, we remain available on Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon, and otherwise, we beseech you to return in one month for more Baxter Building or just one week for more Wait, What?. Thank you, as ever, for listening and reading.


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16 comments on “Baxter Building Ep. 17: “Those Sure Were The Good Old Days!”

  1. It seems like the supervillain coming back for revenge was Gerry Conway’s go-to plot, even a couple of decades later. There was a point in the early nineties where he was writing two of the three non-reprint Spider-books and revenge plots became a sort of unconscious standard for the line. Check out this “ha ha, whoops” Marvel editorial response from a letters page during that period:

    (A couple of months later, Conway left Marvel to go and write the Father Dowling tv show on ABC. I haven’t seen those episodes but if they’re not about Tom Bosley fighting off a vengeful Stegron the Dinosaur Man I’m going to be pretty disappointed.)

  2. LAndrew May 23, 2016

    Darkoth is one of my favourite FF villians because they just relentlessly pile up things on him until his whole mien is utterly, hopelessly, insanely, complicated.

    You compared him to Deathlok, but I’d say he’s more like a big purple Cable.

    • Jeff Lester May 24, 2016

      Unfortunately, from what I recall, you’re right. That’s probably a more apt comparison.

  3. It’s funny. I recently finished my Amazing Spider-Man collection (1-700, sick brag, I know) and as a sort of celebration I’ve been recording videos where I talk about my collection and what the comics meant to me, either the stories or my experiences procuring the physical issues. Last night I recorded a video for ASM 101-150, the Gerry Conway stuff (well, mostly). I was struck listening to Baxter Building today how closely Jeff’s comments mirrored my own, re: Peter and Mary Jane, the airport scene, Gerry Conway’s insane plotting, etc.

    I’ve not read Conway’s FF, but it strikes me that one reason why his stuff might work better for Spider-Man is that the protagonists in Fantastic Four are much older than Conway (only 20 years old himself), perhaps making it harder for him to find their voices. One of the things I talk about in my review is that the things coming out of people’s mouths in Spider-Man become a million times more reasonable once Conway takes over from Stan Lee. Conway is a young guy who gets young people, at least on some level, whereas for Lee, young people are something he watches on TV.

    Anyway, I thought it was too much of a coincidence to leave unremarked (two recorded discussions of Gerry Conway’s Spider-Man in the same 24 hour period). Love the podcast, as ever. I’m sure it and the Avengers read-through partially inspired this project of mine, so thanks for that. Hope the next batch of issues is better for you guys, or if not, that you can keep up the hilarity from this episode. Cheers.

    • Jeff Lester May 24, 2016

      Thanks, Cass! You got a link for us to those videos? I’d love to check them out and suspect I might not be the only one.

      • Well, I hadn’t uploaded any of the videos when I made that post. I did upload the first one now, and will upload the second maybe third later today (it takes quite a while since the camera produces super duper hi-res videos). Here’s the link for episode 1, which reviews ASM 1 through 50.

        Before you click, let me throw some caveats. There is no preparation that goes into these videos, and as you will see, the video-making professionalism deserves a grade of F minus. You may laugh when you see 30 seconds of dead air for me to find and pick up the next issue to review. That being said, I have a lot of passion and knowledge about Spider-Man and the various creators that worked on his books, and I think that shows through.

        Thanks for letting me post a link. I will post the next two videos later in this thread, once they’re uploaded.

    • Well, d’oh, wish I would’ve listened all the way through before commenting, then I would’ve known that Conway did find good voices for the Fantastic Four. I guess he’s just good at character overall. Anyway, here are the next two episodes, the second being the Conway one I referred to above. (ASM 51-100)
      (ASM 101-150)

      (And that’s all the link posting from me, I promise).

  4. Matthew May 24, 2016

    For those of us following along at home, how long until the Fantastic Four gets good again? When should we anticipate the next really legendary run of really good material? Actually, would be great if you could straight up mention that in the next Baxter Building and reassure us that there will eventually be a dawn after these terrible issues.

  5. supergodmasterforce May 25, 2016

    Jeff !!

    How much would I need to donate through Patreon to get my very own ” A hando from a rando in Orlando “T-shirt ?

  6. Kevin May 25, 2016

    I’d rather drink new Cheeto-flavored Zima than get a hando from a rando in Orlando, even if it was Lando.

  7. Bruce Baugh May 26, 2016

    Man, that #137 splash page sure reminds me of something. The composition is almost Frazetta-ish. But I’m getting nowhere trying to find sources.

  8. Your opening comments on Iron Fist and how comic character relationships are things we’re told are happening rather than shown, reminded me of the first opera I went to see – Tristan & Isolde. Nothing. But. Exposition! Telling us the bloke signing was a mighty warrior, that the couple’s love was a rare and unheard of wonder etc etc. Back as kids reading in monthly instalments (weekly, but smaller doses here in the UK) we filled in so much backstory and context that simply wasn’t there. For years I’ve thought that the idea of Industrial Comics as cinema was a misreading and that they are close to plays, but now I’m thinking they are silent operas – all shouty costumes, bugger all depth or nuance.

    Love listening to WW/BB each week. Thanks

  9. David Morris Jun 1, 2016

    Okay, so maybe I’m the weirdo, but Johnny seems to think those kids are Dorrie’s, but the math doesn’t seem to add up, certainly for the little girl. The longest Dorrie knows Sam (from what we’re told) is two years and nine months. If she and Sam conceive a child immediately, her oldest child could be two and she could have another who’s a bit under a year and 3 months. Maybe they’re just really big kids?
    That splash to FF#137 is lovely, but Joe Sinnott is getting an artist co-credit for a reason on these issues. I think Buscema has relaxed into a style of story telling that’s more effective than some of his previous work on the title, but all that texture and noodling, that’s Sinnott..

  10. As an autistic listener I feel like I should comment on what you said Jeff and why I think it’s pretty uncomfortable, if not a little offensive.

    On it’s own the idea that Reed and his son have autism is a valid reading, especially based on some of his more outlandish behavior in earlier issues. The real problem with what you said was the context. You and Graeme were lamenting that Franklin was underwritten to the point of being emotionless and unimportant, “just a prop”. So when your theory is in response to that the idea then becomes that Franklin literally isn’t a person because he has autism. The idea that autistic people are robots who have no emotions or understanding of them is a hurtful stereotype that I want you to consider when discussing the characters.

    • Jeff Lester Jul 26, 2016


      I owe you two apologies: the first for this sitting in the comments section waiting to be moderated for a weirdly long time, and the second for your absolutely valid points regarding my statements.

      Thank you for pointing out this incredibly outdated and hurtful lack of understanding about people with autism. Not only do I have some outdated associations with autism and dissociative fugues, I also have internalized what you correctly characterize as hurtful stereotyping.

      I promise to be more educated and sensitive about my statements in the future. Again, thank you for pointing it out!