Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Today, it's Kirby-style monsters vs. Image-style inks. No one wins.
I went with the version of this panel without dialog.  'Cause I'm there for you like that.
Sometimes, when trying to explain why I'm so excited for a particular comic (or movie, or show, or whatever) I believe I have been guilty of the sin of hype. I have had friends read books that I swore up and down were better and more exciting than Darth Vader fighting Godzilla with the spirit of Bruce Lee waiting to take on the winner; and come away a little underwhelmed.

Well, no hype this time. No, this is about me falling victim to the windup, only to be crushed when I looked up the delivery.

A couple weeks ago, I lucked into a cheap copy of Marvel Monsters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone and the Monster Hunters, a charming pseudo-reference guide to your...Marvel Monsters, yeah. If you don't know Fin Fang Foom from Groot, then you get the hell off my blog! Close the door behind you!

Oh, just kidding. It's a dense little book though, surprisingly text heavy; although that may have been done to cheap out on art. Elsa Bloodstone pulls together various accounts of giant monsters and weird crap, pieced together from accounts by Reed Richards, Henry Pym, Dr. Druid, and even mentions Nightcrawler vs. the Son of Krakoa. Somewhat disappointingly, it's not written in the same super-ass-kicker British-accented voice she would have in Nextwave. (Admittedly, Elsa's monster-fighting origin in Nextwave was a case of a good joke trumping continuity porn, as it were.)

One case mentioned multiple times in this handbook involved our friend Rorgg, king of the Spider-Men; Grottu, a Blip, the Two-Headed Thing, and Zzutak. And the Fantastic Four. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Based on the description, I was wondering if it was one of the Marvel Monster one-shot issues (like the sublime Fin Fang Four) or something, but it turned out to be Fantastic Four Unlimited #9. Nice Claudio Castellini cover, but I actually had this issue in my basement, and had read before, since I got it out of the quarter bins maybe a couple of months ago. It's not very encouraging that the handbook description was more memorable than the actual issue, is it?
Between that title and the camera squarely focused on Man-Thing's...backside, I'm going to get labeled questionable content.
You'd think I'd remember a title like "The Shape of Things that Came" too, if only to giggle. Written by Roy Thomas, art by Herb Trimpe, inks by Carmen Imperato. None of whom I blame for this: this was from 1994. The Image-ization of comics was in full effect, and I think Trimpe was having his arm twisted to deliver a more "hawt" style of pencils. The issue was also set when Reed was missing, presumed KIA with Doom; and Ant-Man was his replacement. And Wolverine had sliced part of the Thing's face off. Yeah, they were kind of working under a handicap here, and may have been forced to shoehorn the story into continuity; but I'm not sure that excuses the Thing's scars, which look like an afterthought or correction made in the inks.

(It may sound odd now, but Ant-Man replaced Mr. Fantastic for two years. And, back in the day, Reed lost his powers for over two years. I think She-Hulk's term replacing Ben was a little longer than that. Does anyone think the current FF roster with Storm and Black Panther is going to be that long?)

On to the plot: on their way to Soho, the FF run across the Molten Man-Thing (not the swampy, mouthless one, which is just as well for me) stomping down the street. After a brief skirmish, the monster disappears, and the Four are introduced to Frank Johnson, who created the monster with with a magic set of paints, to hype up the grand opening of his Museum of the Monstrous and Strange. Even though the cops are a little suspicious Frank caused the monster; you know, in the Marvel Universe, I don't think this even qualifies as reckless endangerment, possibly not even a disturbance.
You're not invisible, Sue, your eyes are just closed.
Guh. That art's just not good. And I like Herb Trimpe. His Hulk work was steady and straightforward, and his Savage Tales strip was really not too shabby.

Like the monsters in this issue, Frank previously had appeared in one of Marvel's pre-superhero stories, in Frank's case Strange Tales #88 . This is probably like Ashley Simpson talking about her old nose, but all those Kirby/Ditko monster stories are in continuity at Marvel. Sometimes I love that the Punisher exists in the same universe as Zzutak, the thing that shouldn't exist. Still, this whole issue reads better if you've seen at least some of those old stories: I hesitate to call them 'classics,' since while they are endearing, they're formulaic even for comics.

Thomas does give you the bulletpoint recaps: Frank was a fantasy painter given a magic palette of paints by "an Aztec elder obsessed with restoring their ancient empire," that could bring what he painted to life. And monsters would be the first thing to come to mind, huh? You wouldn't want to paint Halle Berry or anything? Either Frank's really devoted to his museum, or, judging from the monsters' color schemes, all the paint he had left was either crayon green or burnt ochre.
The Thing can't really help his name, any more than people named 'Johnson' or 'Woody'...and I can't stop giggling to keep typing.
So, Frank's lured the FF to his museum's opening and to meet his son, Cal. After a brief recap of the monsters, visitors begin to arrive, and Sue elects for the FF to stay. Things go swimmingly, including a Spider-Man cameo where he explains the science of Rorgg to a lost Ant-Man; until Scott sees an Aztec and gets jumped. Even for a superhero, it's not really fair to expect Ant-Man to singlehandedly beat up four or five very large Aztec warriors; but he's embarrassed to be sent running to hide behind the rest of the team.
There's a disclaimer about exactly this on the back of the tickets.
In short order, the head Aztec, Yucoya-Tzin, the "lord who creates," reawakens the monsters, coming as a surprise to hopefully no one there. I'm not sure if the monsters were brought back to life, or merely reanimated somehow, but they all act like their old selves and are generally pissed about being dead or defeated. Using the old trade partners routine, the Four eventually defeat them; but the Aztecs are gone with Frank and Cal.

In Johnson's office, Johnny finds a 'Z' traced into the dust on his desk...oh, that's the least believable thing yet in this issue: I'm a freakin' slob, and I don't have a layer of dust thick enough to leave messages in at my desk. Even my toy shelves don't collect enough dust to leave a message on...although I do feel compelled now to tidy up a bit. Anyway, where do you think the Aztecs are going, Poland?

It's 'Z' for 'Zzutak,' as Yucoya-Tzin forces Frank to reawaken the monster. Don't ask how they got from NYC to the Yucatan Peninsula in the turn of a page, since the FF arrives right behind them. (The FF have a pogo plane and other transport, though...) As the fighting starts, Frank knows the Four could be in trouble, since as a thing brought to 'life' by magic paint, Zzutak doesn't have internal organs or weak spots. He tries to use the paint to bring back the monster he'd previously created to defeat Zzutak, but it was buried too deeply. Frank convinces Scott, who persuades the rest of the team, to let their minds go blank and give the unnamed monster their strength. Poor nameless monster. Still it defeats Zzutak and the two are buried again.

So, the Aztec revival gets put on hold until Apocalypto, I guess. Aside from the occasional cameo or alternate-reality appearance, this would about do it for the Marvel Monsters until the 2005 specials. Even more oddly, the specials, including Fin Fang Four, appear to be in continuity; making it weird to reconcile the Reed Richards that clones Thor and is an apologist for McCarthyism with the one that plays chess with Fin Fang Foom and employs Gorgilla as a window washer.

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