Baxter Building Ep. 29: “That’s What I Hate About You, Stretch — You’re An Optimist!”

May 15, 2017

Previously on Baxter Building: Actually, forget any previouslies — while the last episode saw us get into the midway point of John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four, we’re skipping out of continuity this time around to read some Fantastic Four Annuals. All you need to know is that the Fantastic Four exists, but the 1970s wasn’t the best decade for them.

0:00:00-0:11:06: We get into things pretty quickly, with the introduction about the fact that we’ll be covering Fantastic Four Annual #14-18 and What If? #36 turning into a brief discussion about the eternal disappointment of annuals in general: the possibility they offer and the way they almost never live up to that.

0:11:07-0:24:06: That brings us to Annual #14, in which Salem’s Seven returns, Agatha Harkness suggests the world’s worst vacation, and neither Jeff nor myself are particularly interested in a plot resolution that can be summed up as “Franklin Richards can love everyone so hard it stops the bad guys.” But we are slightly more impressed by the comic’s surprising Nighthawk representation, Iron Man’s sick burn, and Nick Scratch’s resurrection as Flaming Wario. Take the pleasures of life where you can get them, dear readers.

0:24:07-0:46:01: How much did we love Fantastic Four Annual #15? “If we only had done a Baxter Building where we were just discussing Annuals #14 and 15, you me and every one of our listeners would kill ourselves before the end of the episode,” Jeff says, and that’s about it. Because the meat of the comic is lackluster, we find ourselves discussing how disappointing Skrulls are in general, the specific disappointment of 2008 crossover Secret Invasion (and its similarities of DC’s Millennium) and the bargain basement Philip K. Dickness that writer Doug Moench brings to proceedings in this annual. But we did enjoy the back-up strip a lot more, which I then liken to the Return of Superman story from the 1990s. No, really.

0:47:02-1:08:00: This brings us to Annual #16, which bears the shame of being the only annual in this run not on Marvel Unlimited… although, when you read the issue, you’ll understand why Marvel is happy to leave this in the virtual vaults. The powerhouse creative of team of Ed Hannigan and Steve Ditko deliver the Dragon Lord, AKA the sensational character find of 1981! “Jeff! Do you like this one? “It is migraine storytelling.” So, that’s a no? “I remember getting two-third of the way through this book and thinking, there’s fucking more?” Okay, then.

(We also discuss Jeff’s love of Avatar, my own Avatar PR experience, this annual’s similarities to Ditko’s Shade the Changing Man, and Jeff’s idea of how fathers and sons relate to each other. And then we read ads.) Jeff, one more time, how do you feel about this issue? “Depending on what your tastes are, FF [Annual] #16 is either a can’t miss, or a dear god, please miss.”

1:08:01-1:19:06: From the ridiculous to the… dull? Who could have suspected that John Byrne of all people would turn out to be too pedantic to fully take advantage of the “What If?” concept? What If #36 sees Byrne answer the question “What if the Fantastic Four had not gained their powers?” by writing the story, “Oh, they’d become a boring version of the Challengers of the Unknown.” I call it “an interesting oddity, but not an exciting one,” which on reflection might be far too generous.

1:19:07-1:32:27: By far the best issue of this episode, Fantastic Four Annual #17 sees John Byrne succeed in large part by completely ditching the eponymous heroes for half the issue and creating a surprisingly tense horror story in the process. I mean, sure, things fall apart when the F.F. do show up, bringing with them Byrne’s larger problems when it comes to the series, but still; the first half of this issue really is pretty great. Of course, because this is one of the most digression-y episodes in some time, we also manage to work in talk of both Skrull Kill Krew and the median age of Americans. Why wouldn’t we?

1:32:28-1:50:32: Finally, we arrive at Annual #18, which sees two great ideas brought together for one very mediocre comic book. Thankfully, we find better things to talk about, including the idea of Reed Richards as Marvel’s Great Cosmic Un-Fixer, Jeff’s amazing “Sad John Byrne” theory, and Grant Morrison showing up in (and being killed in) Suicide Squad. I said this was the most digression-y episode, right…?
1:50:33-end: As we wrap things up by badmouthing that which came before, Jeff reveals that I am Darth Vader to his Luke Skywalker and I get confused about just when the next episode is. We also wrap things up by reminding you to check out our Tumblr, Twitter and Patreon, and thank you for sticking with us. Also, Jeff really was remarkably sick while recording this, so let’s thank Jeff for sterling work, as well. A well-deserved round of applause for everyone, I think.


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20 comments on “Baxter Building Ep. 29: “That’s What I Hate About You, Stretch — You’re An Optimist!”

  1. RM Rhodes May 15, 2017

    In one of the Elfquest sourcebooks, Wendy and Richard Pini pointed out that they showed up in Ghost Rider and, thus, had to ask Marvel comics for written permission if anyone wanted to reproduce them in any form.

    • This makes me immeasurably happy. Al Ewing, I want to see the Pinis join the Ultimates for volume 3.

      • I’d also like to see the Penis join the Ultimates. Reed Richards would make a great addition to the team. What’s that? You said the Pinis? Oh, nevermind then.

    • Patrick Gaffney May 16, 2017

      Best memo ever. Sent out by Mike Carlin after Animal Man 24.

  2. FF Annual #17 (1983) completely ignores the events that take place in Avengers issues #93-94 (1971), where the Avengers fought and subdued the Skrull cows as part of the Kree-Skrull War. The Avengers even alerted the FF of this encounter in issue 94. Did I miss something? Or did Byrne?

  3. Archibald May 16, 2017

    Yo guys – any chance of including WHAT IF #11 (10/1978) “What if The Original Marvel Bullpen had become the Fantastic Four?” at the end of your FF survey. It’s written and drawn by Kirby (w/inks by Royer). It’s not great but it has it’s moments. It IS Jack’s last FF story. Sure, it’s out of continuity, but It’s got Namor and Skrulls. At the very least Jeff should be able to suss out a weird meta subtext. Whaddaya think?

    • Jeff Lester May 16, 2017

      Maybe we’ll have to do an ephemera episode, Archie, and let the listeners vote on what to include.

      I read this issue when it came out and again semi-recently (since starting the Baxter Building) and, uh, my weird meta-subtext one was kinda depressing. It has (IIRC) a lot of Roy Thomas as editor doing “um, actually…” footnotes about Kirby’s larger continuity digressions. But the thing that’s kind of a bummer is I get the impression Kirby was very, very coolish on RT (as one can imagine after seeing the appearance of “House Roy” in Mr. Miracle) and so whereas RT’s original idea was going to be more of a bit of classic revisionist “we were all great chums!” take with him as The Human Torch (which I suspect woulda been a great fanfic dream come true for Thomas), Kirby quietly nixed that idea and brought in Sol Brodsky instead.

      I dunno; probably reading too much into it as always, but it kinda bums me out currently.

      • Troy Maxwell May 18, 2017

        My request for FF-related What If? is #42 of the original run: “What If Sue Richards Had Died in Childbirth?” (December 1983). Written by Peter B. Gillis. I’d love to hear what you two think of it.

        • Person of Con May 22, 2017

          Along the same lines, I’d love to see you discuss What If 109, where The Thing chooses to stay in Liddleville. The obvious fit would have been a Baxter Building episode ago when you looked at the original storyline, but it might be interesting to see someone else’s (Bill Rosemann and Anthony Castrillo) take on a Byrne story.

          It follows a pretty typical What If format–“what if *this thing* happened? Answer: it’s worse”–but I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that choosing to stay in a world constructed by Dr Doom is a good idea.

  4. Mike Murdock May 19, 2017

    I was looking for the origin of “Blackagar Boltagon” recently. I couldn’t find it in the original Lee/Kirby stories. It wasn’t in the Thor backups. And it wasn’t in Kirby’s Amazing Adventures issues. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if this is the origin of it. I’d love if someone else knows of an earlier date.

    • The 1983 HANDBOOK entry for Black Bolt lists his real name as “unrevealed”, while the 1986 one has the “Blackagar Boltagon” nonsense. There are probably some minor appearances outside Byrne’s FF in that period, but no regular Inhumans feature, so this is the most likely source.

  5. David Morris May 21, 2017

    This is a rough set of comics, as you say. I got some ‘Where’s Wally?’ type fun from finding the characters in the double-page spread who are in the insets on the following pages. That amount of attention to the spread led me to suspect the inhabitants of New Salem were probably fleeing town planning as well as more typical persecution. Also, Perez’s take on Agatha Harkness has not improved since last time. She may be his worst take on a character.
    I agree Tom Sutton’s art is the only enjoyable bit of annual 15. Marvel rarely brought out the best in him, there were a couple of Dr Strange stories and some black and white Planet of the Apes stories he did which had the intensity he brought to the work he did for Charlton.
    Does it say in the What If story how what the-not-fantastic four does stops the Mole Man? I seem to have missed it.
    Reed’s solution to the Skull problem in #17 seemed problematic to me. We have an ‘inhibitor’that replicates itself. Some future Byrne will chronicle it’s tale…
    I think the Kree left the blue area about a million years ago. Weapons still have charge and there’s food you can eat. Kree science is amazing.

  6. I’ve been thinking of getting the two Perez FF VISIONARIES books from the library some time after I finish the Byrne stuff available (those last dozen issues are proving to be a slog, I may need an FF break after them), and it looks like those include these two annuals, and I was looking forward to the first as I didn’t know there was a pre-Titans Wolfman/Perez team-up (researching it, I see they also did a short Nova story in WHAT IF together). Now I’m not so sure…

    I did read the Ditko/Hannigan issue when it came out, and still have it. I remember kind of liking it, as a fairly early exposure to Ditko for me, and it reminded me of the Starman feature he did over at DC shortly before this. Maybe time to re-read it.

    I read the two Byrne annuals covered, and mostly agree with you. I wonder what the deal is with the art reproduction on reprints of #17? It’s pretty cruddy in the VISIONARIES book, some pages look like the line art came from photocopies, and it sounds like the Marvel Unlimited has the same flaws. Is it the same in the Omnibus? A shame, as it’s better-than-average Byrne for at least the first half, though that FF-free intro goes on a bit too long. The actual FF bits are pretty pedestrian.

    And #18 was pretty weak. I was excited when I saw Bright’s name in the credits, but it’s soon pretty clear it’s early Bright, not the great stuff he was doing a few years later. The story really made no sense.