Previously on Baxter Building: The Thing is gone! She-Hulk is here to stay, despite topless sunbathing on the Baxter Building roof! And the series has brought on Jerry Ordway to ink John Byrne’s pencils, and the comic looks better than it has done in some time as a result. Which is a good thing, because what’s to come is pretty ugly, when it comes down to it.
0:00:00-0:07:45 After a Skype-enabled false start, Jeff and I get down to work analyzing what’s to come in Fantastic Four #s 278-284 — issues in which John Byrne definitely intends to make one, if not more, Serious Points About Things. (Not Ben Grimm, he’s still out the book.) The problem being, the execution doesn’t exactly follow through on the ambition. As Jeff puts it, “It’s not so much like he gave up, but…”
0:07:46-0:25:50: We get started with Fantastic Four #278, in which Doctor Doom returns (Kind of), but we’re far more interested in the fact that John Byrne apparently lost a bet and had to use the word “Remember” as often as humanly possible, the rewriting of Doctor Doom canon and an epilogue that only hints at the troublesome to come. But before we’re done with the issue, there’s one thing I really wanted to talk about…
0:25:51-0:33:31: …and that’s an editorial note in the letter column for the issue that is, essentially, a pre-emptive apology for the racism in this issue and the next one. Jeff and I talk about why the attempt at an explanation and defense ring hollow, and the ways in which this storyline wants to have its sensationalism and eat some holier-than-thou-ness, too.
0:33:32-0:54:57: FF #279 brings with it some anti-nostalgia for me; despite this being the first actual Fantastic Four issue I bought way back when, I really hate it in large part because of its overlong opening sequence. Jeff is far more understanding, although he wishes there had been more Doom, which isn’t an unfair criticism. We also talk about where this larger plot is going (or, as the case may be, not going), tease the Steve Englehart era, and get into why the Hate Monger plot is quite so ugly. (We keep talking about an X-Men issue when discussing this subject; we don’t say it in the episode, but it’s Uncanny X-Men #196, for those wanting to go track it down.)
0:54:58-1:15:32: Face it, true believers, Fantastic Four #280 has it all, as long as your definition of “it all” includes a surprisingly shoddy cover and some questionable stereotypes popping up as John Byrne attempts to build his “Oh No Men Are Racist But Especially When Aliens Are Involved” storyline. Jeff and I talk about all of that, the failure of Byrne to fulfill his own aims, the surprising (but welcome?) cowardliness of the issue when it comes to hate speech when compared with the previous two issues, the return of Reed Richards Patriarch At Large and, of course, the first appearance of Malice. Don’t forget: comics aren’t even for kids anymore.
1:15:33-1:29:45: There’s a lot to dislike about FF #281, including a horrific conclusion — that boots the end of the Hate Monger thread over to another comic entirely — and Reed Richards saving the day through being a misogynist. There’s also the fact that neither Reed nor Johnny recognize Sue when she’s being Malice (including, as Jeff points out, Johnny pointing out how hot this new villain is), Jeff and I talking about whether or not I’m reading too much into this plot being the culmination of a thread that started back when Sue had a miscarriage, and whether or not this entire storyline is trash. (Spoilers: It is.)
1:29:46-1:47:54: Considering everything ended with a big cliffhanger in the last issue, Fantastic Four #282 has to start with excitement right out the gate, right? Or, you know, a multi-page, mostly silent dream sequence for Franklin that is basically an advertisement for Power Pack. That John Byrne! Always zigging when you expect him to zag, or perhaps provide a coherent reading experience that doesn’t ask you to read multiple other comic books! Jeff did his homework and explains what happened in Secret Wars II as it relates to this issue, while I come up with conspiracy theories and we discuss whether it’s easier to get to the Microverse in a hot water bottle or a hip flask. Oh, and the mullet. The mullet.
1:47:55-2:08:36: Talking about FF #s 283 and 284 somewhat run together, as we run out of both time and patience with the storyline when it hurtles towards its conclusion, but there’s still stuff to talk about here — including a dream sequence for Sue that might be the most interesting thing in this entire episode, and provide a key as to how Byrne sees the character, and also Byrne’s horrendous treatment of She-Hulk that pretty much undercuts whatever larger point he was trying to make around Sue in the first place. (One of the sad things about the fact that we were tired at this point is that neither Jeff nor I pointed out that Sue’s Nightmare Reed talks very much like the real Reed did when trying to break the Malice persona, interestingly enough.) Also, given that Byrne purposefully leaves out what Sue actually did to Psycho-Man, we come up with a couple of possible, if somewhat unlikely, alternatives. (Spoilers: the Malice costume comes into play more than might be expected here.)
2:08:37-end: So, how were these issues overall? According to Jeff, they make “for some really distressing reading,” which… doesn’t feel like that much of an overstatement, to be honest. We look ahead to the issues we’ll be covering in the next Baxter Building — #285-295, which finish off Byrne’s run — with some trepidation, while trying to work out why we both kind of enjoyed this episode’s reading despite knowing better. If you don’t want to join us on that particular emotional journey, perhaps you should check out our Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon instead, or simply tune back in next month for the end of another era. Until then, as always, thanks for listening and reading.
And for those who’re looking for a direct download, kindly direct your attention to: http://theworkingdraft.com/media/podcasts2/BaxterBuildingEp31.mp3
I know exactly which one of Johnny’s haircuts you’re referring to – that was the best laugh I had this ep!
You guys seem to forget Doom’s robots (the Servo-Guards) have always looked very mini-Sentinel like, especially back in Kirby’s “killer robots” story (#84-87).
I was actually very intrigued by Jeff’s “Byrne is Sue Storm” analysis. Then I remembered his “Mr. Fantastic is my father” realization and laughed. One day I hope we learn who Johnny & Ben are.
Jeff claimed Byrne didn’t have an axe to grin in #284, but he actually did. That issue basically exists for Byrne to lash out at Barry Dutter, who at that time was a fan who disliked She-Hulk and sent hate mail wherever she appeared – Savage She-Hulk, then Avengers, and then FF. Hence why the guard who abuses She-Hulk – and who is then told to “shut up” is named Dutta.
I am, of course, the man who wrote a profile on Dutta so that everyone would know this fascinating tale: http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/duttaff.htm
Holy crap, that Dutta thing is amazing.
Seconded! Thank you for some invaluable context, Michael!
The differences between Kirby’s robot guards in those stories and this one are instructive though. Kirby’s have eyes permanently and sinisterly in shadow from the helmet overhang. They don’t have permanently open surprised robot mouths. They do not have the look of somewhat over-inflated balloon robots. One might say they are not as Muppet-y as Byrne’s. Perhaps the FF has just run into a troop Doom has created to be kid-friendly for primary school visits? Also Byrne made them more Sentinel-like by giving them Sentinel ‘boots’ and ‘gauntlets’.
When I was a kid I didn’t like this new Dr. Doom origin. His face was supposed to be the most worst thing imaginable, not just some bad burns. I thought the thing was he literally stuck his head into Hell and the Devil/Mephisto had some time to do some plastic surgery on him making him supernaturally horrific.
That is totally awesome, Ian! I one thousand percent prefer this take.
Drinking game: Drink every time Jeff says “Psycho Pirate.”
I like that you guys said you used to Byrne Steal Byrne books. Someone should tell him on a message board!
BTW, Kitty Pryde didn’t just use racial slurs on one occasions, she did it in three! God Loves, Man Kills, Uncanny X-Men 196, and New Mutants 45. The final one is the one where she has a whole string of choice words. When Bendis wrote the X-Men, he had Kitty give a wonderful speech where she actually deliberately decides not to use a racial slur!
An interesting Kirby drawing of minimally scarred Doom can be found here:
The comparison of Byrne’s re-telling of the Kirby/Lee origin of Doom is instructive. The major changes are he folds Valeria into the story, I think she was a Roy Thomas creation, and we lose Victor as a trickster/rogue. There’s the stuff with the face, but we already knew this, didn’t we? Doom’s face is canonically so horrific we’ve seen brave people and medical professionals flinch and cower when they see it. The monks he is taken in by and then dominate do none of this. The most significant and odd bit that Byrne changes in Doom destroying his face by having too hot metal placed on it is that Kirby/Lee Doom really means it when he says ‘Pain?? That is for lesser men!!’ and is impassive as he disfigures himself. He mastered himself first. Byrne’s Doom…emotes more.
Oh, and thanks to you both, but especially Jeff for his mention of hot water bottles. That jogged loose the words ‘Walter Hottle Bottle’ and that resulted in some happy google searching and my looking at images from ‘Jack and Jill’ comic, which was my first regular weekly comic fix. Sweet.
I would be legitimately excited to listen to an episode dedicate solely to Graeme and Jeff reading Star Brand. I genuinely think it would be astounding.
You snark, but I bought the Byrne Star Brand collection in that wacky Amazon sale and I could be talked into this AMAZINGLY easily. Jeff? The ball is in your court.
I snark, but I am also serious.
Since Graeme so callously (and hilariously) cut off Jeff’s matryoshka-stack psychoanalysis, allow me to contribute my two cents: Byrne isn’t Doom.
It sounds like reading more of this run is *exactly* what you want to do – but shouldn’t you read Annual #19 as part of the next stretch?
So there was a little bit of cognitive dissonance with me when you were discussing Byrne’s use of racial slurs while simultaneously repeatedly using the word “paddywagon”. “She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot are put in the PADDY WAGON.” “They’re still in the PADDY WAGON.”
You know “paddywagon” originated as a racial slur towards the Irish, right? Called that because of the idea it’s used to haul around the Irish (paddies) due to their presumed criminality.
Hey other Matthew! Thanks for saying this. It bothered me too.