Sunday, March 31, 2013

All Liefeld All The Time!

I've decide to focus all my blogging energy into celebrating the works of Rob Liefeld. So sit back and enjoy!

1989 - Punisher War Journal promo art by Jim Lee

Saturday, March 30, 2013

1981: The FF Forays Into The 80s part V: Of Black Holes and Negative Zones

By Jef Willemsen (

In the fifth part of the Doug Moench / Bill Sienkiewicz FF retrospective, we're in the home stretch as the team meets the world threatening Ebon Seeker, Reed makes life and death decisions and yours truly finally learns how to properly spell Sien-kie-wicz. 

By the time Fantastic Four # 229 rolled off the presses, it was already common knowledge John Byrne would take over in three months time. That left Moench and Sienkiewicz with ample opportunity to wrap things up, maybe even going out with one, big blow out story.

And they did.


"His name is Moon Knight, Ben... and as a subject... 
He's fascinated me more than any other in years."

The issue opens with Alicia uttering what has to be a bit of meta-commentary from Moench, who at the time was also writing the much lauded Moon Knight, while his Fantastic Four stories didn't exactly thrill the fans.

On a side note: isn't it odd a blind sculptress is able to carve a perfect likeness of someone without having ever seen (obviously) or touched him? Ah, the suspension of disbelief... 

Other than that, it's a perfectly normal sunny Saturday afternoon in New York. Reed and Sue are even out of costume for a change, visiting Central Park zoo with Franklin.

"But let's think of something more pleasant... like cobras and pythons."

When Reed Richards tries to make a joke... Worry. Unless he actually meant spending time with deadly serpents was more fun than trying to think of ways to help his only child deal with his powers. Speaking of power, at 14.22 hours, the skies darkened and a massive, powerful black force made its presence known. 

The effect only lasted for a moment, but the looming presence drew ever closer, growing ebon tendrils that caused all sorts of mayhem. The FF rushed home to the Baxter Building in order to investigate this phenomenon, but before they could get on with it, they were accosted by local New Yorkers who figured this was all their fault. Now, surely, that's an unreasonable assumption, right? After all, the FF is dedicated to prevent incidents like this...

"Then the mob... in a way... they were... right. It IS our fault!"

Yup... Reed had invented a device that the mysterious alien presence now used as a homing beacon.

It was coming straight for the Baxter Building. Johnny's girlfriend Lorrie rushed Franklin to safety at Alicia's while the FF rushed out to face the creature calling itself Ebon Seeker... the living black hole. Let's see how the extended fight scene ended.

"Now the Fantastic Four ARE beaten. Completely, thoroughly beaten."

Disappearing into his black, erm, hole... The team didn't die. Much to their surprise, they encountered a bright presence in the opening pages of Fantastic Four # 230. 

Yeah, the dumb founded look on the FF's faces undoubtedly mirrored that of many a reader when they tried to wrap their head around the origin story of Firefrost and the Ebon Seeker.

All of this actually starts on an alien planet, described as being eons in Earth's future, while being ancient history to the Ebon Seeker at the same time. This highly advanced world had reached an evolutionary dead end and hoped that contact with alien races might be the answer.

That's why they sent out two astronauts, lovers Xanth and Shareen, on a deep space exploration mission. For forty years, they travelled in the vastness of space without even a hint of extraterrestial life. Until one day, they run into an ancient space probe that's about to get sucked into a black hole...

"We're going after that ship! We're going into the black hole!"

I suppose after 40+ years of fruitless searching, one tends to get a little obsessed... but actually flying into a black hole? Still, Xanth followed the probe into the hole and got himself, Shareen and the ship properly crushed.

But, they didn't die... there were strange and powerful voices in the void that spoke to the couple. Shareen listened to them and, as a result, was reborn as the pure, peaceful Firefrost. But Xanth was either unable or refused to listen to the voices, instead becoming the Ebon Seeker, a living black hole unto himself.

And here's where it really gets complex: when he finally escaped the black hole that changed him, Ebon Seeker emerged millennia in the past. Unaware of all of this, the nascient star creature's only drive was a dim memory of his former self's old mission statement: find new life.

So off he went, but because he's now a walking talking black hole, any life he encounters is bound to be destroyed by him, and here's the kicker: the encounter will destroy him as well!

The cloud of dark (negative) energies that surround him (remember the tendrils?) attacks positive matter, which are a drain on Ebon's lifeforce. Whenever he arrives on a planet, he slowly bleeds to death. And what happens to a black hole that collapses in on itself? It takes whatever is near it with him into oblivion.

Only, the Ebon Seeker doesn't really die. He slowly reforms and starts the whole search for life all over again. Think Galactus on a less full stomach...

That's not all, but considering all of this is hopefully a little less dry when accompanied by colourful pictures, let's have Firefrost fill us in. After all she helped free the FF from the black hole so this stuff ought to be old hat to her...

But wait, there's more!

So, not only is the Ebon Seeker's maddened wandering across the galaxy about to cause the destruction of Earth, if the FF fail to stop him, he will inevitably cause a premature big bang. 

The solution to so big a problem proved stupifyingly obvious in the end. If positive energy causes the Ebon Seeker to 'bleed' to death, having him feed off negatively charged energies ought to clear everything up. Reed asks Firefrost to lure Ebon Seeker to the Baxter Building while he rushes to prepare the portal to the Negative Zone to accomodate the creature's size.

Unfortunately, there is no time to either evacuate the surrounding cityblocks or fine tune the settings so only the Baxter Building itself will get drawn in... So Reed decides the lives of a few hundred New Yorkers don't measure up to saving untold billions and throws the switch...

Wouldnt'cha know it... the plan worked. The second he arrived in the Negative Zone, Ebon Seeker returned to his old, reasonable self and had a heart to heart with Firefrost. She managed to convince him to return with her to the black hole that spawned them, so he could listen to the same voices that shaped her... and by doing so, share an eternity of loving each other. 

"Watcha up to, Stretch?" - "Hm? Oh, just reading..."

That's our hero, folks... After stranding several square blocks of New York city real estate in the Negative Zone, Mr. Fantastic kicks back and indulges in a little light reading. He really ought to learn to prioritise... 

Reed went to the Baxter building's library to check a theory he had about the identity of the mysterious space probe... He figured it must have been one of NASA's two Voyager probes that were launched into space in 1977. After travelling for eons, that satellite would set in motion the chain of events that created the Ebon Seeker. 

"The very thought of it, Reed... It sends a chill through me.
It's so beautiful... and yet so frightening."

Beautiful, Sue? If it wás one of the Voyager probes that Xanth and Shareen chased into that black hole, that would make mankind a retroactive accomplice to the untold billions of deaths the creature caused since the dawn of time. Yay us!

And also... let's look at the story Moench told these past two issues: one of the Voyager probes causes the creation of an insanely powerful creature that obsessively roams the galaxy looking for something, cutting a wide swath of destruction along the way before arriving at Earth? With at the core of all this high concept sci-fi the romance between two space faring lovers?

Sound familiar? It should... I just recapped Moench's 1981 tale ánd the plot to 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And just like that movie, the first two parts of Moench's final arc were overly wordy, extremely drawn out, loaded with unnecessary wide angle shots of space and riddled with technobabble. Let's call it an homage.

But enough movie talk... how do we get home, Reed?

Are the FF really forever trapped in the Negative Zone? Find out next time if you dare... in the sixth and final part of The FF Forays Into The 80s: Legacies Of A Forgotten Run (or: Where's My Stygorr mini?!) 

1985 - John Romita Sr.'s Wolverine

A merchandising art pinup circa 1985.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

1985 - Spider-Man the Movie

"After Corman lost the Spider-Man rights, Cannon Group purchased them for $225,000 plus profit-sharing, and took out a 50-page pull-out ad touting Spider-Man among its upcoming productions..."

"Stan Lee kept rejecting these script drafts — but at the same time, kept bucking to play J. Jonah Jameson himself."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The FF Forays Into The 80s part IV: Robots, Parasites and the Ego Spawn... Oh my!

By Jef Willemsen (

In the fourth part of this retrospective on Doug Moench & Bill Sienkiewicz's ten issue Fantastic Four run, the plotlines suddenly start to mesh as half forgotten characters show up, while Sue has more kids without Reed and Franklin really hates everybody. Sort of.

This chapter deals with the events of Fantastic Four # 226 through 228. Like most of Moench's run, these are done-in-one stories constructed in mostly the same way. Every issue opens on the team at home in the Baxter building, enjoying domestic bliss (but still wearing their costumes, oddly enough). Before too long, they're alerted to a threat, which they then proceed to seek out and deal with... And the issue ends with a corny non sequitur.

Wait, I'll show ya...

Fantastic Four # 226 starts out with a mysterious giant robot robbing a gold train in Czechoslovakia (as Slovakia and the Czech republic were called during the days of the USSR. After the cold war ended, Czechoslovakia ceased to be in 1993).

Reed is a little worried about this giant robot...

"I don't like being suspicious of our former allies, but we'd be derelict in our duty if we didn't investigate them".

That Reed...  the mere mention of an unseen giant robot immediately reminded him of the issue's guest stars... those sensational character finds of 1979... The Shogun Warriors. Actually, the entire Shogun Warriors concept was based on a toyline Marvel had acquired the rights to. Doug Moench wrote the adventures of the giant robots and their three valiant human pilots for 20 issues, before Marvel lost the license and was forced to cancel the title.

Moench used this issue of Fantastic Four to provide his characters with a proper send off... but he couldn't show the robots, their likenesses were licensed after all, that's why he had the villain of the piece destroy them off panel. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Ben hadn't returned yet from a date with Alicia, so Reed impatiently waited around for him, while young Franklin was playing a rather interesting game of cowboys and indians.

"What? Of course Franklin, very neat."

Give it up for Reed 'second hand smoke don't kill' Richards... attentive father of the year. Eventually Ben arrived, with some surprising guests in tow.

"We've had intimate dealings with the robot."

That's not half as dirty as it sounds, get your minds out of the gutter... because that's where the Shogun three are after a mysterious fourth robot destroyed their lives. Leaving Franklin with Alicia, the FF rush out to aid the Shogun Warriors in their plight... which took them to Japan and this sight...

"What are we going to do?!"

Good question... the fourth robot was an unfinished prototype that its pilot, an unnamed scavenger, discovered while digging through the Shogun Warriors' old base Sanctuary. Using spare parts meant for the machines he'd eventually destroy, the scavenger finished constructing the fourth robot and used it to have a little fun... 

Which was eventually ended thanks to the joys of semi-absentee parenting. 

Half-remembering what his son said, Reed figured out a way to combat the big bad robot... by hurling a rock at what turned out to its central guidance system... conveniently located on its forehead. 

One hit did the trick, the robot was downed, the bad guy captured and the Shogun Warriors enjoyed their final moment in the sun before returning to their non superhero lives as a test pilot, marine biologist and stunt man... Ya know, safe and cushy jobs.

Commenting on the Samurai Destroyer story, Moench would later say it might have been an attempt to break away from the model established by Stan Lee and Kirby, adding: "On the other hand, maybe it was a lingering effect of writing Godzilla.".

And speaking of monsters that time forgot... Fantastic Four # 227 opened with a mysterious meteor heading for Earth and Reed getting a call about it...

Talk about a quick and ultimately rather generic set up for an issue... Reed is called in by his old friend professor Gideon Carruthers to help investigate this meteor and considering it went down in a resort called The Lost Lake, the FF might as well vacation there.

Would you jump at the chance to stay in a place with a creepy sounding name like that?  But this is the Fantastic Four, they're used to gallivanting across Negative Zones and Inhuman abodes alike... That's why they prepare for a possibly dangerous expedition like this...

"Well, I've made the extra bags invisible and if Reed doesn't notice how funny I'm walking..."

You gotta feel a little bad for the treatment Susan Richards received during Moench's run. From the get go, he decided to treat her like little more than Reed's wife and support system. That's why we get cringeworthy scenes like this...

Here's a woman with the ability to project forcefields capable of holding back Galactus himself, but now she's suddenly reverted to a clumsy waif, trying to sneak extra luggage on board by holding all three invisible pieces in one hand? And when found out, she throws a typically female hissyfit?

En route to the campsite, the Fantasticar is attacked by a pteranodon... The giant, flying dinosaur  actively tries to peck at the vehicle. The Fantastic Four attemped to fight off the creature, until it suddenly exploded... Luckily, Reed was able to catch a chunk. 

"Something similar to a prehistoric trilobite..."

While researching this decidely odd looking creature, Reed and professor Carruthers are disturbed by a local boy whose dog went missing. Mere minutes after the child leaves, they pick up something on the police scanner about a strange occurence at the local gas station and the FF minus Sue go in to check it out...

"It's some kind of... wolf... lapping up the oil from that ruptured drum..."

Just why a weird, mutated wolf would enjoy... wolfing... down petroleum products is beyond Reed. But that doesn't stop him from ordering Ben and Johnny to attack the creature... only to learn it isn't without defenses either. 

Still, after a brief skirmish Reed notices the back of the wolf's head is lighting up so he uses his stretching powers to grab whatever is down there and wouldn'tcha know it... the wolf turned out to be the missing dog and Reed removed another trilobite, a live one this time. 

Let's get it down to the lab...

Curious to learn why both the wolf and the pternadon were out to get some oil? Read Reed's rather convoluted and farfetched explanation for the mind controlling trilobite's behaviour.. And then meet us back here for the next morning, when the FF charter a boat to literally get to the bottom of this mystery by diving up the meteor.

But once the piece of alien rock was on board, a trilobite mutated eel rose up to attack the FF. The waves it generated shook the boat, causing the meteor to crash against the side of the vessel, cracking open and revealing a very... familiar... foe. 

Turns out the 'meteor' was actually a pod for the alien mind control creatures... who are apparently stealthy enough to crawl upon the body of a combat trained woman wearing a skintight outfit. Hiding itself behind her hair, the brain parasite slowly took over Sue... But the others didn't notice the change until they saw her squatting near their Fantasticar...

Ah yes, exposition ahoy. Franklin had been using his latent powers to 'self destruct' the pternadon and the sea serpent, but facing his own possessed mother, he couldn't simply destroy the creature for fear of losing his mommy as well. Luckily, Reed managed to snatch the creature off Sue's back, returning her to normal...

All's well that ends well and with the mystery of the alien mind controlling trilobite meteor solved, the FF prepared to take off, only casually entertaining one final mystery. They saw the trilobite-controlled Invisible Woman squatting near the Fantasticar, but she didn't try to drain any fuel... so what *was* she doing down there?

"After all, he's our only son..."

Ow my, the FF actually ran into trilobite infested Sue as she was spawning offspring underneath the Fantasticar... Not exactly the safest place in the world, considering the craft took off with a decisive fireball, seemingly killing all but one of the brain parasites... 'our only son', indeed...

Fantastic Four # 228 provided a sequel of sorts. Both Sue and Reed had become so worried about their son's growing mutant abilities, they decided it was high time to chart his powers.  No, not at professor Xavier's school for gifted youngsters... that would make too much sense. No, the one scientist deemed worthy of examining Franklin was Reed's old college friend Abe Jankovitz. 

After some initial objections by Moench certified worrywart Sue, Reed actually asked Franklin what he wanted to do. As any child is wont to do, Frank gave a frank answer.

Joining Reed, Sue, Franklin and Ben on this trip to Jankovitz's New Jersey lab were the Human Torch and his latest girlfriend, mechanic Laurie Melton. They were supposed to be out on a first date, but Laurie happily tagged along with this anything but romantic interlude. In the lab, Johnny and Laurie watched from a distance while doctor Jankovitz explained his new (age) technique designed to help determine Franklin's abilities...

Sue initially shied away from this rather invasive procedure and emphasized a focus on more conventional approaches... like hypnosis. But before Franklin could be subjected to that, Johnny and his date decided they wanted to have a little alone time.... Luckily, big sister Sue was able to handle this understandable need with equally understandable tact...

"Come on, Lorrie... let's go dig up some burgers."

Taking the Fantasticar, Johnny and Laurie finally share a kiss, a hamburger and an ever so romantic New Jersey night, until Johnny's inherent showmanship annoyed one Franco Berardi so much, he took action...

"Shut it, Betty... the punk just can't stop showin' off..."

Yes, Franco was getting more than a little fed up with Johnny's showboating that he dared the Torch to a macho off...Bill Sienkiewicz sure draws a mean looking car, doesn't he? But just as Johnny was getting ready to throw down with his foe, professor Jankovitz tried his best to step in and use his technologies to safeguard Earth's future. 

"First one to swerve around does a chicken imitation for the girls"

 But just as Johnny was getting ready to throw down with his foe, professor Jankovitz tried his best to step in and use his technologies to safeguard Earth's future. 

"The ball of force has no substance... it's passing right through the solid glass panes of the window! And don't you see...? It looks like the most commonly reported ufo!"

Professor Jankovitz must have a phd in conversational info dumping... Anyways, Franklin's ball of mind energy takes off and hits a very familiar target...

"I'm gonna make you scream..."

When your son's mental energies turn random strangers into Freddy Mercury lookalikes in pinkish S&M outfits, it's usually safe to assume grandchildren are off the table... But that's neither here nor there.

Somehow, Jankovitz' experiment caused part of Franklin's subconscious to switch with Berardi which in turn transformed the man into the super-powered 'Ego-Spawn', who attacked the FF for a couple of pages until Sue managed to save the day by literally kicking out the plug and shutting down Jankovitz' device...

"And two scrambled egos are back at home, perhaps slightly bruised but intact."

With everyone back to normal, Reed gently tells Jankovitz he's off the case. From now on, he'll conduct the experiments with Franklin's powers himself. But it'll never get to that stage, as we'll  see in the fifth and final part of The FF Forays Into The 80s: Of Black Holes and Negative Zones.  

1980 - Anatomy of a cover - Captain America #249

1985 - Balder the Brave covers by Walt Simonson


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