Previously on Baxter Building: Technically, last time we covered a few years’ worth of annuals, but in terms of the monthly comic book, John Byrne has settled into a comfortable rut of retro attitude and safe, if enjoyable, storytelling. Anyone expecting that to change this time out will be disappointed. Just saying.
0:00:00-0:07:12: Welcome back to the show that never ends, dear Whatnauts. (Or, at least, won’t end until we’ve reached the final issue of this volume, and that’s aways away yet.) This time around, we’re covering Fantastic Four #s 271-277, a run of issues that prompts Jeff to consider just what writer/artist John Byrne is trying to do with the series, and why it isn’t better than it actually is. Is it a failure of ambition, talent, or both?
0:07:13-0:23:58: From there, we jump straight into FF #271 and the horror of Sue’s mullet, which Jeff believes fails to conform to the truest definition of the mullet form. Thankfully, there are other things to distract us from the follicle horror, including the undiscovered secret of Johnny Storm’s powers, the unknown wealth in Reed Richards’ family, and how much fun it can be to see Byrne channel 1950s monster comics in a flashback. All this, and a revelation about Reed Richards’ health that will… not be followed up on in future issues! Truly, this is the age of Mighty Marvel Forgetfulness!
0:23:59-0:40:27: Fantastic Four #272 causes a schism as Jeff is left utterly cold and I am, well, warmer than lukewarm, at least. (I actually like the issue a bunch.) We talk about the ways in which Byrne is an unapologetic thief of other people’s ideas, iconography and images, as well as the strange mix of disappointment and potential that is Nathaniel Richards, and what that means for the parentage of the Fantastic Four as a whole. (Oh, and we digress a little about Byrne as artist, inspired by a note he writes to the readers warning that he’s about to start experimenting with his pencils. Spoilers: He doesn’t really.) Despite all of this, Jeff is adamant on the fact that the comic isn’t fun, because he likes, like, good comics or something.
0:40:28-1:00:58: You know what isn’t a good comic? That would be FF #273, which closes out this trilogy with an especially subpar issue. What’s the blame? Maybe it’s the terrible lettering, provided by Byrne himself, although it’s far more likely to be the fact that even John Byrne can’t seem to bring himself to be interested in the story he’s telling here. “It’s amazing how much Byrne stops giving a shit,” Jeff says, and he’s not wrong. Nonetheless, we give some conversation the old college try, with Byrne’s potential desire to be a “fun cartoonist” and the actual, real history of the world. Oh, and this comes up, as unlikely as it seems:
All this, and a return of Jeff’s “shadow self” theory, but this time it’s not about Reed. Will wonders never cease? Actually, just wait until the next issue.
1:00:59-1:10:39: You can tell how interested Jeff and I are about Fantastic Four #274 — which I call “what can only be described as John Byrne’s weird attempt to try and raise sales of The Thing” — by the fact that we barely actually talk about the comic, which is to all intents and purposes a Thing story in the wrong title, instead spending time on Thing continuity around this time in general. But at least Jeff likes the art — this is the first of two issues inked by Al Gordon — even though I am unconvinced by his Barry Windsor-Smith comparison.
1:10:40-1:28:03: The infamous FF #275 sees the true, as Jeff puts it, Victorian nature of John Byrne come out: not only is this the “She-Hulk photographed topless on the roof of the Baxter Building” issue — a plot that is, to be kind, more than a little flimsy and tripped up by Byrne’s own objectification of She-Hulk — it’s also the issue where the true horror of Alicia’s Cursed Vagina of Shame is revealed, as Johnny and Alicia talk about their night before in an especially cringeworthy scene. There’s much discussion over the Alicia/Johnny pairing, and whether or not we buy it. Spoilers: we don’t.
1:28:04-1:39:20: Running out of steam, we tackle Fantastic Four #s 276 and 277 pretty much together, which is mostly all that they deserve. Ostensibly a two-parter, there’s a lot of strange going on here, including the fact that the Thing’s return to Earth is covered in half of one issue that also happens to be a crossover with ROM Spaceknight (“Who gives a shit?” asks Jeff, which surely prompts at least one ROM fan to declare, “I do!”), and a Reed and Sue plot that goes nowhere not particularly entertainingly despite a Doctor Strange cameo. It’s not all bad, though; there’s a fun bunch of newspaper strip cameos, and the arrival of Jerry Ordway on inks is something that both Jeff and I find a great boon to the book’s look in general. Overall, though, things have been so much better. Is this the shape of things to come…?
1:39:21-end: We wrap things up by looking ahead to what we’ll be covering next episode — FF #278-284 — and, en route to wrapping things up, take an entirely unexpected detour to discussing the roll-out of the first series of X-Factor and the way it was promoted. Quite how that happened, I have no idea. As you try to work that out, think about visiting our Tumblr, Twitter and Patreon, and know that you have our thanks, as ever, for listening and reading. Next week: Back to normal with a regular Wait, What?!
Since I’m logged in (for a change), let me do the honors and provide the link for your cutting and pasting needs:
Also, I love how “cold” these cold opens are getting: the next one is just going to be me going, “please, Graeme, please let me die instead of discussing these comics! Please?”
(And I actually kinda liked these!)
Johnny Storm fucked a skrull? Think about that for a minute. He fucked a skrull. I’m hoping that at least it was a female skrull. In any event, that makes him a skrull fucker.
A Skrull who looked like Alicia who was introduced as the double of his sister…
Nice one on bringing Bucks Fizz to the group, Graeme… did you see last year’s interval turn, in which the rather talented hosts brilliantly took the piss out of all the Eurovision cliches this side of Katie Boyle? Stick with it past Granny on the Drum and you’re rewarded with a filthy milkmaid and a man on a hamster wheel.
Will be with us while he can.”
See! Bucks Fizz are entirely on-topic for the podcast.
If I was writing the Fantastic Four, I would have Ben constantly reminding Johnny, “Remember that time you fucked a Skrull?”
This was a pretty mediocre set of issues. As noted, Byrne seemed to quickly lose interest in the Nathaniel Richards thing, which had a promising enough set-up, but no point in the ending. Was it really just meant to add that layer of confusion to Rama-Tut’s origin in the end (with that blatant swipe of a full page of Kirby art on that epilogue page)? And man, that Byrne lettering. How was that allowed?
I thought Al Gordon’s first stint inking was pretty bad, especially the first issue. Given how much better his later stint was, not too much later, I wonder if the first time around he was working on pencils that Byrne planned to ink himself. Also, two really awful issues, maybe the two worst to-date of Byrne’s run (although worse is on the horizon).
Ordway is really a breathe of fresh air after that. Almost good enough to trick you into thinking you’re reading good comics. Glad you called out the wasted potential of the split-page issue. There’s nothing in there that wouldn’t have been improved if they did it as main-story/back-up or a series of 4-to-5 page scenes.
There are definitely 40 candles…
39. One of the “candles” is a skrull.
Lester lives. For now.
Kang being from the Richards line has come up since then, such as in ‘Citizen Kang’ wherein we learned his birth name was Nathaniel Richards, after his ancestor.
If you recall, the connection between Rama-Tut and Doctor Doom was extremely nebulous when they first met – in that instance, Rama-Tut suggested they might be “the same man.” Oh, Rama-Tut; you’re a lot of the same person (Kang/Immortus/Scarlet Centurion) but none of them are Doom.
He’s also Iron Lad, because sure, why not?
One small piece of empirical support for our hosts’ contention that the split between top and bottom stories in #377 just consists of two independent stories, with no interplay between the two halves of the page.
OK, so we are getting into an era of Byrne FF where I read significant extracts from it at the time – via Marvel UK. Mostly before this point, the way Marvel UK republished stuff was to chop it up into smaller chunks for weekly publication.
What I didn’t know at the time was that they also frequently rearranged – or reconfigured (whatever) – the panels to make them more dense for an audience used to short action-packed weekly installments in British comics. And cut stuff out. So one month of Spider-Man US would be two or so weeks of Spider-Man UK.
Anyway, when it came to Secret Wars II, whoever was the editor at the time decided to republish it in a slightly different way than before. One, one American comic would (most of the time) be one weekly issue – cut and rearranged to a lower page count. Second, they would publish the SW II miniseries itself, but also all the tie-ins. And a lot of other stuff – you would have week after week in which the Beyonder didn’t actually appear, but you’d follow an entire Avengers story arc that was going on at the same time.
It was actually great for young me, because it was like getting a survey of the whole Marvel universe, including parts of it that normally didn’t get reprinted by Marvel UK.
Some series got more love than others. So you’d have one issue of Daredevil with a prose bit at the beginning to situate you, but loads of Iron Man (the whole Obadiah Stane conclusion, in fact). And for whatever reason (presumably because the editor thought it would sell) Byrne’s FF was extremely well represented.
But not completely intact. And for # 377, I recall that they only printed the material from the top half of the page, rearranged to be complete pages. In fact, I think it was only the Ben, Johnny, and Alicia portion, with the Dire Wraiths stuff removed.
And – here’s where it supports our hosts’ contention – it read completely smoothly, at least in my memory. I had no idea that it was only the top half of its US issue until I just recently read #377 on Unlimited in order to follow along with this podcast.
Ah, Marvel UK…in this context now I really want to know if Jeff has ever seen Apeslayer, but I also know I’m a bad person.
I have the strangest feeling we’ve talked about Apeslayer on the podcast, but if not… Hey, Jeff! We should really talk about Apeslayer.
I remember that Secret Wars II issue! And they also grabbed pages from… shit…? #275, I think? The opening, with Johnny? That showed up somewhere in the series, as well. The whole Secret Wars II series in the UK was wacky. (Also around this time, Spider-Man and Zoids reprinted #272-273 at the very least, because I have very clear memories of reading #273’s story with the bad lettering and wondering what the hell had gone wrong.
Interesting note on Reed’s Dark Ages comment. The specific source of Reed’s statement that there was no scientific progress from 300AD to 1300AD is from the 1983 pop-history book The Discoverers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Discoverers
It’s a dated concept, of course. The Dark Ages had plenty of scientific research, but much of it was outside Western Europe.
The Swedish publication had one issue (an issue were typically at least 48 pages, so usually two American issues) made of the first pages from 274 (monster mash was never published as far as I know), entire 276, and 277 minus the direwraiths, with there being Mephisto on both the top and bottom half of the page towards the end. I think it reads better for it.
Hilariously considering the story of 275 (which, along with Thing 23, made up the next issue (and also included a poster of She-Hulk sunbathing from Marvel Fanfare 18)), the first page where Jen turns into She-Hulk has the colours reversed, with Sue, Jen, and the neighbour being pale green and She-Hulk being orange.
Also, I though the publisher guy in 275 was a dig at Stan Lee.
It would be interesting to read a study of how the panels of a single US story were reworked for different countries, and what national expectations of how comics read were driving it in each particular instance. I don’t suppose anyone knows if someone has written (and illustrated, obviously) something like that?
I too thought the publisher was dig at Stan Lee. Before even reading the issue I glanced at the cover and thought it WAS Stan Lee inviting the reader in to the issue. Byrne already appeared in the issue, so why not Stan? He even has Stan’s two-toned hair because the darker hair is actually a toupee!
I was originally in the tank for the publisher being Stan (like back when the comic first came out) but I now feel Byrne was at least trying to work in a lot of plausible deniability into the portrayal: there’s just not enough verbal Stan-isms to really read as the guy. But, again, that might be due to Byrne trying to cover his ass.
I’m not as happy with the ‘old monster story’ in FF #271 as you are. It really rubs me the wrong way that Byrne appears to think that him drawing deliberately poorly equates to what Kirby and Ditko were doing in those stories. Their imagination, skill and professionalism elevated so many of those tropey tales, it’s annoying to contemplate that there could be people who imagine they were as poorly drawn as this.
I can sort of see what Jeff means about some Barry Smithesque rendering on muscles, here and there in #274, but someone is using so much disparate hatching in that issue, whether it’s Byrne or Gordon that it’s a confusing mess. Look at panel 4 on page 14, someone likes Moebius! Given Byrne’s warning about the art, I guess it’s him, but apparently he lost his nerve. Compare that to Chaykin breaking his style to pieces in the mid to late 70s and building himself into a superior artist over years-of course, if he wanted to do that again now, I’d be super impressed…
Did Byrne ever explain how Reed and Sue bought their house? Did they use a shell company? Did they get government help? Pay cash? I mean it’s one thing to put on a wig, but don’t you have to use real names to buy houses in the US? I mean, maybe I should just be grateful we didn’t have three issues about how they secretly bought a house, but it seems an odd omission from Mr B.