Baxter Building Ep. 19: “Fool Among Fools!”

July 29, 2016

Previously on Baxter Building: Hey, the team’s back together again! After a surprisingly long time, Sue Richards has rejoined the Fantastic Four, replacing Medusa who’s decided to go back to the Inhumans for reasons that basically come down to “Let’s get the originals back together.” It’s yet another All-New Beginning for our quirky quartet, and rascally Roy Thomas and richie Rich Buckler are prepared to make the most of it — as long as we all agree “making the most” of something is code for producing a number of exceptionally uneven comics!

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But before we get started… Let me just take a second to take responsibility for the obvious: these show notes should have been up on Monday morning, and this is Friday evening. I have reasons called “I was sick and tired (literally) after covering San Diego Comic-Con for work, and then I had a backlog of even more work waiting for me, because that worked out really well,” but that’s not really any kind of defense. I’m sorry, you guys. I suck. But not as much as these comics! (Spoiler warning: these are actually some pretty okay comics, so the link is forced. Sorry for that, too. I really do suck.)

0:00:00-0:07:48: In which we introduce the issues we’re discussing this episode — Fantastic Four #160-170, for those playing along at home — and talk about how very strange they are. It’s not as if they’re classics in any real way, but the nostalgia that Jeff feels for them, having read them the first time around, and the enjoyment that I get from the moments of surreal inspiration contained therein proves to be surprisingly winning. Despite having Gaard in them, but you’ll meet him soon.
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0:07:49-0:50:06: “There’s something simultaneously really subtle and blunt” about Fantastic Four #160-163 I say at one point; it’s an epic that turns three parallel Earths (One of them being the FF’s, of course) against each other, and despite the best efforts of both Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler, it really doesn’t come off. Sure, there’s grand scope and scale here, but Thomas keeps veering away from the vastness on show for some inexplicable reason. (Jeff has a theory: “Thomas is both ambitious and lazy,” he suggests.) But there’s so much to enjoy in this four-part storyline, including not one but two alternate Earths, a human Ben Grimm that isn’t our Ben Grimm, some dinosaurs, watching Roy Thomas really impressively undersell his own exciting premise, and an antagonist I describe as “the sensational character find of 1975.” Which is to say, this guy:
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Also! How did Not Brand Ecch help Roy Thomas prepare for writing the F.F.? How did this storyline predict Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel career four decades early? And what is the best cliffhanger this title has seen to date?!? Really, there’s a lot to chew on in this storyline, which might explain how we managed to talk more than half an hour about it, if the simple fact that Jeff and I like to talk doesn’t already do that. (One plus side about doing show notes so late this time around is that we’ve already been corrected that despite what we said in the podcast, Reed has, in fact, used Doom’s time machine. He did it back in Fantastic Four #19. Thanks, Evan!)
0:50:07-1:13:18: We get slightly sidetracked as we start talking about Fantastic Four #164-165 by the fact that Jack Kirby provides his first FF cover in 63 issues for the first half of this storyline, but can you blame us? We are but beasts of habit, like Roy Thomas, who (of course) resurrects a 1950s hero for this two-parter that started life as an issue of Giant-Size FF and… feels like it. Yeah, this is an overlong mess of a story with a confused moral where Marvel Boy — or “the Crusader,” as he calls himself here — wants revenge because… banks are shitty and by the way, his planet also died? Something like that. Don’t worry, there’s also this amazing outfit from a young George Perez and Joe Sinnott:
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Johnny, you’re definitely the fashion plate of the superhero set. And your date — the debut of Frankie Raye, years and years before John Byrne does anything with the character! — definitely seems to appreciate it:
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Oh, and Jeff reveals his inner-12-year-old. Never has one 49-year-old man had such joy with the word “Uranus.” But he has a theory about why these issues are the anti-Roy Thomas at work that’ll make you forgive him anyway.
1:13:19-1:25:09: “I think these issues are just lousy,” I proclaim as we start talking about FF #166-167, and I’m standing by that. A two-parter guest-starring the Hulk that requires you to believe that Ben Grimm is a sociopath that feels even more like unnecessary filler than the last couple of issues — including some mismatched art from George Perez and Vince Colletta.
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You can tell that Jeff doesn’t dig it because he compares it to Silver Age DC, which seems to be his favorite insult for FF issues he doesn’t like, and honestly, it’s hard to blame him. That said, this storyline does lead into the final three issues of this episode…
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1:25:10-1:59:56: There’s a lot that could’ve gone wrong in Fantastic Four #168-170 — a storyline that requires Ben Grimm to be suspicious of his replacement in the team, only for his replacement to turn against the team for mind controlled reasons, which is could be particularly problematic considering his replacement is the book’s first black character ever, Luke Cage — but it… kind of works out…? There’s some surprisingly subtle character work going on here, with a self-pitying Ben Grimm (and a hilarious bar fight) and a very welcome smart Alicia, who works out what’s going on before anyone else, and even if Luke Cage feels particularly dull compared with his portrayal in other books of the time. Oh, and we get a new status quo for the Thing that looks as if he’ll be allowed to grow for the first time in… years, if not decades. Will it stick around, and we’ll have genuine character growth for the character? Don’t get too excited: remember that whole credo about “no change, just the illusion of change.” Before you get too downhearted, we talk about Roy Thomas seemingly finally working out the right tone for Fantastic Four after a particularly rocky run.
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1:59:57-end: We finish up by talking about the issues in this run and how much we enjoyed them despite their uneven nature, and then announce that next time, we’ll be doing Fantastic Four #171-184. In the meantime, we can be found on Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon, and I apologize once again for the lateness of the show notes. Really, I was very, very exhausted after Comic-Con, although that’s not really an excuse. Thank you very much for your patience, dear Whatnauts, and I promise to try harder next time. (Honest.)


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6 comments on “Baxter Building Ep. 19: “Fool Among Fools!”

  1. Thanks for the shout out Graeme!

  2. Rob G Jul 30, 2016

    GAARD! reminds me of Stan Lee’s NHL Guardians disaster. For a good laugh read the bios:

  3. Because I am terrible and forgot to do this yesterday: if you want to download it for yourselves outside of THE MAN’s Apple or Stitcher links, people.

  4. You may be pleased to hear that Gaard returned in Tom Brevoort’s Fantastic Force. You may also be dismayed, however, to hear he was much very 90s-fied and held none of the qualities you enjoyed in this reading.

    Mark Gruenwald later delved into the deaths of the Uranians and revealed they’d grown despondent at their own immortality and this summoned Deathurge, who shattered their atmospheric dome, killing them all. And of course, Jeff Parker would later establish the Crusader wasn’t really Marvel Boy (for that matter, the humanoid Uranians weren’t the native Uranians either).

    Gruenwald also loved the entire ITT plot; he brought back its instigator Albert DeVoor for some Marvel Two-in-One stories.

  5. David Morris Aug 12, 2016

    So the money Ben was laying away in FF #108 means what? Bearing in mind he’s in the vault! I assume that isn’t standard banking practice in the USA. So…if he’s on expenses, is Ben on the fiddle? ‘Sorry, Reed, that pogo plane totally blew up in a crash, you know how it is.’
    Also, does anyone ever use ‘One Thing after another’ as a story title in Marvel?

  6. To be fair, Iron Man’s helmet didn’t look like it could conveniently house a human head either, at least not until the movie versions took over the comic’s designed, but nobody thought that was a big deal.