Baxter Building Ep. 37: “Bah!”

January 15, 2018

Previously on Baxter Building: As the result of Reed Richards’/Marvel editorial’s inability to leave well enough alone (Delete as applicable), Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman have rejoined the Fantastic Four, just in time for the Thing to turn back into Ben Grimm, and the team to be defeated by the Frightful Four and… an evil Watcher…?!?

We start with the briefest of introductions, mentioning the issues that we’re talking about this episode (Fantastic Four #328 through 333, AKA the final Steve Englehart issues), and discussing potential Englehart-inspired pseudonyms for Jeff. You know, as you do.

While Jeff appreciates what he describes as the final Englehart Fantastic Four issue that “counts”, I’m less impressed with FF #328, for many reasons including sub-par writing from Steve E, and particularly ill-suited inks from Romeo Tanghal, although Jeff’s notion of an eyebrows pass makes things seem a little better. It is, as I put it, a “shoddy issue,” but at least there are odd color choices, an unexpected Sensational She-Hulk in-joke, inexplicable hideout hi-jinks and the two of us talking about the benefits of Meta-Englehart versus Regular Englehart.

“Well, let’s move on to #329,” I say, with a tone of resignation that the issue really doesn’t deserve. Welcome to the new Fantastic Four, who are kind of the old Fantastic Four, only far creepier, as the opening pages of the issue reveal. (They really are enjoyably creepy, really. Discover our joy in the word “Bah!” Listen to the fake FF ruin our chance for lasting peace with the Mole Man! Endure us talking about the ways in which the fake Fantastic Four were ahead of their time, and feel like the Ghost of Comics Yet To Come! We also discuss the lack of clarity in dream sequences, which… might be the point, upon reflection…? Then again, I’m not sure there was that much coherency happening at this point of the book…

What can we say about Fantastic Four #330? Well, it offers up Sue’s dream, which inexplicably doesn’t feature Sue but does feature Doctor Doom vs. Doctor Doom and the destruction of Earth. (Really, do other people have dreams in which they never appear, and it’s just me?) A general apathy in this issue is compounded by bad coloring (or, perhaps, coloring mistakes), and a sense that the best hope for this issue is wondering if it’s a parody, or meta-commentary on crossover events and crossover logic in general. Plus! It’s the return of Rich Buckler, and oh, man, has he brought some swipes! Is this even more meta-commentary on the nature of recycling in superhero comics, or just an unfortunate coincidence? U decide!

Sure, there’ve been some misfires so far this episode, but FF #331 offers up Reed’s dream, which has the best reveal in comics as the Turino XL’s foreshadowing from a handful of issues back is finally explained. We get an entirely solid issue of super heroics that is likely to make you wish that Steve Englehart stayed on the book for longer, and talk about Englehart sharing Reed’s apparent belief in the FF as a team. Meanwhile, Englehart’s captions ramp up the sarcasm and his war on Marvel editorial, deliciously.

What’s that, you say? You want to see some old-fashioned catfighting? Uh… okay…? Thankfully, Fantastic Four #332 has you covered. The issue opens with what may be comics’ greatest passive aggressive opening captions, but before too long, we get to see Crystal return to fight with Sue Storm, argue with Reed, and set up a genuinely wonderful retcon of one of John Byrne’s biggest upsets to the status quo… But, of course, it’s all a dream! (Sadly.) Meanwhile, Englehart works in more meta-commentary about what the Fantastic Four, and arguably Marvel, needs to be successful, but is he preaching to the readers or the editors? (Spoilers: Probably the latter, considering the context.) And what is it that’s more important to Johnny Storm: Love or ego? Jeff and I disagree on the answer!

Perhaps the greatest unanswered question about FF #333 is why it’s called “The Dream Is Dead, Part Two,” considering we couldn’t find a “The Dream Is Dead, Part One” anywhere. (Really, does anyone know where that appeared?) But in an issue where Hercules provides two perfect lines of dialogue, Rich Buckler swipes the latter Buscema/Palmer Avengers run for one panel only, and the massive, storyline-wrap-up fight is really a half-assed discussion about the need for people to change and grow, should we really care about titles? Of course not! After all, there’s Marvel editorial’s passive aggressive push-back against Steve Englehart’s passive aggressiveness to talk about, and boy, howdy. They didn’t disappoint.

The strangeness, and strange greatness, of the Englehart run as a whole is briefly memorialized as we wrap things up, before declaring the first couple of Walter Simonson arcs in the next episode — Fantastic Four #334-341, if you’re reading along at home — before the regular reminder that we can be found on Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon. As always, thanks for listening and reading. Next time, less bad dreams, but way, way more lame villains and time travel.


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8 comments on “Baxter Building Ep. 37: “Bah!”

  1. John Q Jan 15, 2018

    I think Englehart did something with the idea of a Doom/Kristoff war in his West Coast Avengers run too.

  2. Mike Murdock Jan 15, 2018

    Here’s what I don’t get. Why do Marvel and Steve Engelhardt keep coming back to each other? After being fired/taken off the Avengers and thrown under the bus, that would seem like the last straw for some. But, even if it’s not, he’s had so many other fights with Marvel. There’s a Harkness issue of Daredevil that was going to be the start of its own run but he got into a fight with Marvel because Ann Nocenti’s fill-in featured a Black Widow that was mildly inconsistent with his plans. I can possibly understand one or the other deciding to give it another try, but not both after so many times in blows up.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they do reconcile because it’s great to see him back, but everybody is surprisingly forgiving here.

  3. Robert G Jan 15, 2018

    This episode made me wish for a mature readers version of the Fantastic Foes, where they curse and bicker with each other and are basically bastards. I can’t stand the FF, because they’re so bland, but having their evil doppelgängers telling each other to fuck off and engaging in weird sexual escapades (Sue and Reed attend a swapping party?) is a comic I would gladly buy.

  4. Kevin Jan 16, 2018

    Dear Wait What Powers That Be:
    I have the fattest of all possible fat stacks in my hand. Unmarked. Who do I have to give it to in order to make “Larry King Interviews Dick Van Dyke and Alan Moore” a recurring feature, both on The Baxter Building AND Wait, What?
    There is no amount of DOSH (that’s right, I said it!) I won’t pay! Mortgage? BAH! Children? DOUBLE BAH!! GIVE ME MY LARRY KING!
    I never knew how much the world NEEDS this until Graeme brought it up. Please make this happen.

  5. Voord 99 Jan 16, 2018

    Reading these issues along with the podcast, they were, for me, easily the best things in the Engelhardt run.

    I don’t have the pure unsullied love for Engelhardt that our host’s do. He’s one of those authors that I missed at the right age, I think — I see what’s good about him, but I don’t *feel* it the same way that I would if I’d been really into his work at the time. And the thing about “problematic faves” is, if they’re not your fave, then they’re kind of just problematic.

    But it turns out that I really like reading Engelhardt sketching out his plot ideas if I don’t have to read him actually writing the story!

    On a couple of specific notes:

    – I took the decision to wind back the Fauxtastic Four to the very first days of the comic not as saying “This is what you want, and it’s not good,” but as saying “You’d never have had what you want if things had stayed static at the time” — that the idealized Lee/Kirby FF of about FF #50 is something that only existed because the comic was allowed to develop back in the ‘60s.

    After all, editorial didn’t want the comic wound back to FF #3 or thereabouts – that’s not the “classic” FF that everyone thinks of as the “real” FF. And it would have been easy enough for Engelhardt to do a caricature of the mature Lee/Kirby FF: Reed in his lab with 5 o’clock shadow, Ben angsting away amid catchphrases, etc. But that’s not the era that he chose to caricature.

    – I took the weird apocalyptic turn of Sue’s dream, and her absence in it, as a nod to the fact that Sue wouldn’t have actually been a significant presence in the comic if Engelhardt had had his way.

  6. David M Jan 17, 2018

    ‘The Dream Is Dead!’ is the interior title of Doctor Strange #18- on the cover it says ‘This Dream No More!’ It’s Steve Englehart’s last issue on the comic, (Surprise!)something my teenage self was pretty disappointed by, as it was one of the bright spots in mid-70s Marvel and easily my favourite Englehart comic.
    As for creative passive aggression, Marvel has a long history of allowing it. Kirby’s last Thor issue ends with Loki body-swapping Thor, Kirby again with that last page of the first volume of the Silver Surfer (maybe that’s aggressive aggression…) and ‘1,000 Clowns’ by Jim Starlin, which even has a crucified Steve Englehart in it. Do creators do this at DC? If not, why not?
    Regarding the nihilism in destroying the world in Sue’s dream, it’s worth remembering that Steve already destroyed the world, killing me and everyone else alive in 1976 in Doctor Strange #12. It’s a pretty strong run…

  7. Matthew Jan 19, 2018

    I had a different interpretation of Johnny’s response to Ben asking what he was dreaming of. For whatever reason I thought Johnny did remember, but couldn’t bring himself to say it.

    Ben: Listen, Kid–Ya gotta tell me! What wuz the dream that woke ya up an’ got us outta all that?

    Johnny: Franklin caused Alicia and me to fall in love, but in reality I loved Crystal.