Previously on Baxter Building: Walter Simonson took on Marvel’s first family, and Jeff was… not impressed. Worse, after re-reading the issues through eyes that were more critical than nostalgic, neither was I. And those were the good issues…!
0:00:00-0:05:17: We open with a brief introduction about the issues we’re covering this episode, as well as the strong response to the last episode and whether or not Jeff is gaslighting me. I am blinking noticeably, please tell me you can see this.
0:05:18-0:18:01: How much do we love Fantastic Four #342? Perhaps the answer is obvious from the amount of time we spend on it, although the 13 minutes is actually significantly longer than this bizarre fill-in deserves, as might be obvious when you realize it’s basically a cover version of the John Byrne Secret Wars II crossover about the little kid who sets himself on fire, but with more super villainy and a guest-starring role from Rusty Collins, the character no-one liked from X-Factor (or, in Jeff’s mind, an obscure sex act). Really, it’s kind of a surprise we managed that long, really.
0:18:02-0:46:26: Walt Simonson returns for FF #343-344, aka, “Nukebusters!!!” and “Nukebusters II,” which Jeff recaps with impressive brevity, even if I think he’s being far too harsh about the comics themselves. We talk about the unbearable lightness of plotting, DC’s Challengers of the Unknown and whether or not Simonson would rather be writing that book — as well as whether or not that would’ve made Jeff like these comics more — and the most pressing question of all: What is with Simonson’s interest in Sue’s middle and using that as a foreground object in panel layout? Plus! We discuss Art Thibert’s inking, and I keep saying his name as if it was Thilbert, with an L. There is no L. I am an idiot.
0:46:27-1:13:11: Discussion of Fantastic Four #345-346 follows, and if I disagreed with Jeff’s complaints about the writing of the previous two issues, I couldn’t here; there are amazingly slight, speedy reads where the biggest stumbling point is the utter mischaracterization of Shary, although Jeff has an interesting take on just why she suddenly wants to stay human instead of a Thing, despite what Steve Englehart spent a long time telling us. But what about the dinosaurs, I hear you ask? It’s a Walt Simonson comic with dinosaurs! Doesn’t that alone make it particularly excellent…? Well, maybe…? Yet, somehow, Jeff and I were more impressed with the sight of Reed Richards shooting a gun. Maybe we’re doing this wrong.
1:13:12-1:38:59: Talking about doing it wrong, FF #347-349 is the fan-favorite “New Fantastic Four” storyline that sees Art Adams come in as guest artist, and Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and the Hulk come in as a guest Fantastic Four, and it leaves us pretty cold. There’s a story that doesn’t really make that much sense, repeats plot points that have literally happened less than a year before, and seems the work of a particularly disengaged Simonson, while I make my attempt to steal Jeff’s title of Most Hated Whatnaut by admitting that Adams’ art makes for some bad comics. I’m very sorry. (Not really.)
1:39:00-1:53:11: We segue into looking back at the eight issues we covered — really, just the Simonson-written ones — and talk about, basically, why they’re not working for us. Does Simonson not have the humility or the interest for the series? Has he forgotten that it’s a team book about multiple characters? Could he simply be — gasp! — not a great writer? (The problem obviously isn’t his artwork; he’s Walter fucking Simonson. I think we’ve talked more about the art in this series since he started than since Kirby was on the book.)
1:53:12-end: We wrap things up talking about what we’re going to be reading for the next Baxter Building (#350-356) and being very vague about when the next Wait, What? is; it’s actually going to be next week, unless disaster strikes. Until then, you can find us, as usual, on Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon. Apologies for the lateness of the show notes — a combination of me being later than I wanted and then the site being down because of reasons I don’t fully understand, to be honest — and thank you, as ever, for reading and listening.
For those looking for the direct link: http://theworkingdraft.com/media/podcasts2/BaxterBuildingEp39.mp3
Hey, gents. No note over at the Patreon page. Again. Last post from December. There a reason? did I miss a notice? It’s my go-to for updates, so I’ve been curious
The reason is little more than me forgetting. But there’s a note up there now! (Sorry.)
Much like last time, I have to admit that you’re making good points with which I can’t disagree. But I am desperately trying to make you wrong by sheer force of will, because I so badly *want* this run to be one of the bestest things ever.
It’s not that I have any nostalgia for Simonson’s run. I didn’t read it the first time around, having entered my Vertigo snob phase and given up superhero comics entirely. But having been reading FF along with the podcast for a while now, Simonson’s run is just somehow for me the most enjoyable the comic has been to read since Kirby. Actually, it might be the only time that it’s been really enjoyable since Kirby.
Part of it is that lightness of touch on which you commented — that Simonson doesn’t seem to take this seriously. This is the first time (maybe?) that a post-Lee/Kirby FF hasn’t seemed leadenly deferential and overawed by the Lee/Kirby period in a deadly dull sort of way. OK, Englehart wasn’t straightforwardly deferential, either — but parading how different you want the comic to be is just deference inverted.*
I think I basically agree with you that this run reveals that the character dynamics had run out of steam at this point. But unlike you, I think Simonson’s tack of reducing the soap-opera to the occasional gesture and concentrating on telling fun science-fiction stories works as a solution.
(I loved the dinosaurs, damn it! Actually, I preferred them to the alternate-universe story, which reminds me too much of the sort of Marvel superhero comics that I gave up reading.)
It’s a shame that you won’t be doing the Waid/Wieringo run, because I think that it has a certain amount in common with this, but is much more sustained, and I’d be curious to hear how you reacted.
*I’m not really bothered by the change to Shary’s characterization in itself. This is because, as I said, Englehart’s not a problematic fave for me when he comes up with this character — he’s just problematic. Tacitly retconning Shary is something that I positively welcome.
I don’t entirely like what Simonson retcons her into, but it does have one aspect that I like. She’s pretty obviously a female Reed Richards: she ‘s the other character who knows science stuff and makes smart observations. Which adds interest to her relationship with Ben.
One of the things that struck me the first time I read Nukebusters was the supposition that alternate Alicia was sighted. That scene with her kissing Shary only makes sense if this is an Alicia who lacks the supersenses of 616 Alicia.
Also what is it with Tom De Falco wanting to follow Simonson runs? Oh and I’m grateful to Graeme’s apology about Art Thibert’s name. Given the relationship between spelling and pronouniation on this side of the Atlantic, I was beginning to consider the possibility that that’s how you pronounce ‘Thibert’.
It’s like this: FF 347 was the first FF comic I ever bought (although I knew the characters from cartoons) and my first exposure to Art Adams’s artwork which blew my 13 year-old mind. I loved that story, and the lateness of each chapter seemed interminable. Those three issues may have had their flaws in terms of storytelling, but seeing all those super-heroes together fighting beautifully-illustrated monsters and aliens was all my young self could possibly ask for.
I don’t know how they would read to me as an adult, so your criticisms are probably valid. My inner child, on the other hand, wants to know WHY DO YOU HATE FUN?!??!?
I’m looking forward to how you guys rate the next batch of issues, especially 352. Will Jeff’s love of formalism have him saying Simonson’s is finally living up to the hype? Will the Judge Dredd stand-in appeal to Graeme’s ingrained sense of 2000 A.D. fandom? Will everyone’s inner child stop accusing you of hating fun? Stay tuned!
I’ve barely read any FF, I just listen to BB as a fan of yours, so keep in mind, this is the opinion of someone on the outside looking in.
I think it’s odd that in earlier episodes you guys pushed for the idea that the Fantastic Four should be science fiction explorers first and superheroes second, but in these issues where a writer is clearly trying to send them to strange locales with mysteries to solve you brush it off as him “Not knowing how to handle them as superheroes” or “Thinking about places he wants to draw first and an FF story second”. I can’t speak to the actual quality of the issues but they sounded like solid sci-fi pulp adventure premises to me.
Very happy you guys are back! After listening to 38 BBs over the years, I just read my first Fantastic Four comic! Fantastic Four #1! It was pretty good!
Non-Patreon suggestion for post-BB:
Legion! Legion! Legion!