Tag Archives: fantastic four

Celebrate the Fantastic Four with a Poster Featuring Classic Jack Kirby Artwork

This August, Marvel invites you to join Johnny, Ben, Sue and Reed in their much-anticipated return to comics, featuring an all-new story from Dan Slott, Sara Pichelli, and Esad Ribic!

And to celebrate the return of the first family, Marvel is excited to reveal a special Fantastic Four poster featuring classic artwork by Jack Kirby, which will be available to readers this August.

Be sure to pick up Fantastic Four #1 on August 8th, and stay tuned for announcements about Fantastic Four’s release, upcoming incentives, and more!

Celebrate The Return Of The Fantastic Four with Special Line-Wide Covers!

The Fantastic Four have returned, and what better way to celebrate the homecoming of Sue, Reed, Ben and Johnny than with a collection of variant covers highlighting the different iterations of Marvel’s beloved first family? This August, some of the industry’s most acclaimed creators will bring you the Fantastic Four through the years, highlighting the team during their many different and memorable eras in Marvel Comics!

Look for Marvel’s Return of the Fantastic Four variant covers on these select titles:

  1. Amazing Spider-Man #3 by Steve Epting
  2. Amazing Spider-Man #4 by Chris Sprouse (not final art)
  3. Astonishing X-Men #14 by Adam Kubert
  4. Avengers #6 by John Cassaday
  5. Captain America #2 by Travis Charest
  6. Deadpool #3 by Rob Liefeld
  7. Doctor Strange #4 by David Aja
  8. Fantastic Four #1 by Mark Brooks
  9. Hunt for Wolverine: Dead Ends #1 by Steve McNiven
  10. Immortal Hulk #4 by Arthur Adams
  11. Marvel 2-In-One #9 by Alan Davis
  12. Sentry #3 by Phil Noto
  13. The Life of Captain Marvel #2 by Humberto Ramos
  14. The Punisher #1 by Salvador Larroca
  15. Thor #4 by Bryan Hitch
  16. Tony Stark: Iron Man #3 by Adam Hughes
  17. Venom #5 by Gerardo Zaffino
  18. Weapon H #6 by J. Scott Campbell
  19. X-23 #3 by Carlos Pacheco
  20. X-Men: Red #7 by David Marquez

Don’t miss your chance to collect all 20 variant covers, coming to comic shops this August!

Esad Ribic’s Cover for Fantastic Four #1 Revealed

As the Fantastic Four prepare to make their return to the Marvel Universe, Marvel is proud to present a Fantastic Four teaser trailer celebrating new adventures of Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny!

Celebrate the Fantastic Four with a view into their past and a look towards the future, from their debut in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic 1961 issue to their much-anticipated return in August’s upcoming new series from Dan Slott (Amazing Spider-Man, Silver Surfer), Sara Pichelli (Spider-Man: Miles Morales), and Esad Ribic (Infamous Iron Man, Marvel Legacy, Secret Wars)!

And be sure to keep watching until the end for the FIRST exciting reveal of Esad Ribic’s dynamic and explosive cover for issue #1!

Celebrate The Return of The Four With Specially-Priced True Believers: Fantastic Four Comics!

Before Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli take the Fantastic Four on new adventures this August, Marvel invites you to relive some of the First Family’s classic stories with a line of Fantastic Four-themed True Believers comics, available only at your local comic book shops.

Reproducing some of the most iconic Fantastic Four stories of all time at the suggested retail price of $1, True Believers are perfect for readers new and old. Whether it’s your first time reading these memorable tales or your hundredth – you won’t want to miss this special celebration. Look for your favorites with new and colorful re-printings!

  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #1
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR VS. DOCTOR DOOM #1 Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #5
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR: THE COMING OF GALACTUS #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #48
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR: THE WEDDING OF REED AND SUE #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four Annual #3
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR: HULK VS. THING #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #112
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR: GALACTUS HUNGERS #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #175
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR: THE COMING OF H.E.R.B.I.E. #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #209
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR BY JOHN BYRNE #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #232
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR BY WALTER SIMONSON #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #337
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR VS. THE NEW FANTASTIC FOUR #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1961) #374
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR: THE BIRTH OF VALERIA #1: Reprinting material from Fantastic Four (1998) #54
  • TRUE BELIEVERS: FANTASTIC FOUR: WHAT IF? #1: Reprinting material from What If? (1977) #1

Be there this July when these exciting True Believers issues come to comic shops!

Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli Take on the Fantastic Four

Writer Dan Slott‘s dream has come true as he and artist Sara Pichelli will be bringing back Marvel‘s first family, the Fantastic Four. Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny are coming together as Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Thing, and the Human Torch this summer.

After the announcement, Slott said that when asked what comic he wanted to do after his run on Spider-Man was Fantastic Four.

Fantastic Four is out August 2018.

Review: Marvel Two-in-One #1

In Marvel Two-in-One #1, writer Chip Zdarsky, penciler Jim Cheung, inkers John Dell and Walden Wong, and colorist Frank Martin break every emotional bone in your Fantastic Four loving body. A comic co-starring the Human Torch was the last place that I expected to see an homage to the opening scene of The Dark Knight Returns where an aging, alcoholic Bruce Wayne tries to find a “good death” by crashing a very expensive stock car. However, Zdarsky, Cheung, and company pull it off complete with a nine panel grid, downcast eyes, and red and blacks from Martin that look like a funeral pyre. And Marvel Two-in-One has a quite wistful tone throughout the issue as Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm come to terms with their grief for the missing Richards family as well as the adventures they once had.

From his work on Jughead Howard the Duck, and of course, Sex Criminals, Chip Zdarsky does funny very well, and that shows in Marvel Two-in-One with the Thing’s deadpan one-liners (Apparently, he was just the Fantastic Four’s “bus driver”.) and a hilarious meta-joke featuring all the actors who have played the Human Torch. But he mainly goes for pathos in this comic, which is helped by the range of expression in Jim Cheung’s pencils and the detailed added in by veteran inkers John Dell and Walden Wong. For example, there is a two page almost silent sequence where the Thing visits a warehouse with all the FF’s stuff, including the Fantasticar, and remembers his family and their last adventure in blue tinged flashbacks. The first half of the comic is almost overwhelming for him with reminders of Reed and Sue everywhere and call from beyond the grave for him to watch after Johnny, who is suffering from both grief and the possible loss of his powers.

Also, the Thing and Human Torch don’t really team up in Marvel Two-in-One #1, which is perfectly fine. We do get a nice nod to the original Two-in-One series when the Thing lays out a villain in one panel that would probably have taken Spider-Man an entire issue or two to defeat depending on decompression. Zdarsky and Cheung have the two emotionally charged brothers physically and verbally butt heads before finally confiding in each other and finding a shared goal in exploring the multiverse using a very cool Reed Richards doodad. Martin turns on the flames before cooling down and going for simple muted colors as they start to talk and trust in each other again. Since the original Jack Kirby and Stan Lee Fantastic Four run, Johnny and Ben have butted heads with the Thing being jealous of Human Torch’s good looks and popularity while he is treated like a monster. However, they are family even if Zdarsky sneaks in a dark end-of-comic twist to get them to team up. It’s so dark that it makes presumably reformed supervillain Dr. Doom shudder.

In Marvel Two-in-One #1, Chip Zdarsky, Jim Cheung, John Dell, Walden Wong, and Frank Martin craft a comic that is true to the legacy of Marvel’s First Family and deals with the emotional fallout of their disappearance at the end of Secret Wars. They also set up a rocky course for the Thing and Human Torch to begin their own adventures with Dr. Doom watching from the shadows as he is still a little salty that he is not the one responsible for Reed Richards’ demise. Marvel Two-in-One is the first step of a road story featuring two brothers that butt heads, yet still love each other with plenty of nostalgia and a sliver of hope to boot.

Story: Chip Zdarsky Pencils: Jim Cheung Inks: John Dell with Walden Wong Colors: Frank Martin
Story: 9 Art: 8 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Unboxing: October’s Comic of the Month Club

Comic of the Month Club is a new monthly comic subscription box for comic book fans everywhere. Subscribers receive 8-9 personally curated comics every month and fill out a preference form as to what they’re interested in.

You can subscribe now. Please include “Graphic Policy” in the referral space. You as a subscriber receive an extra bonus and we do get something in return.

Find out what’s in this month’s box!

 

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the site.

Unboxing: August’s Comic of the Month Club

Comic of the Month Club is a new monthly comic subscription box for comic book fans everywhere. Subscribers receive 8-9 personally curated comics every month and fill out a preference form as to what they’re interested in.

You can subscribe now. Please include “Graphic Policy” in the referral space. You as a subscriber receive an extra bonus and we do get something in return.

This month’s comics with “rough value.”
X-Men #41 – $3
X-Men #42 – $3
X-Men #59 – $3
Avengers: The Initiative #22 – $2
Avengers: The Initiative #23 – $2
Avengers: The Initiative #24 – $2
Fantastic Four #38 – $2
Fantastic Four #39 – $2
Fantastic Four #41 – $2

Total: ~$21

 

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the site.

Have Them Fight God: Everything Starts on Yancy Street

I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts on each. The concept of articles about the Fantastic Four was invented by Rich Johnston. No infringement is intended.

Today it’s…

Spider-Man #90

Spider-Man_Vol_1_90

… from April 1998. A Spider-Man/Fantastic Four team-up with a difference.  

Written by Howard Mackie. Penciled by John Romita Jr. Inked by Scott Hanna. Coloured by Gregory Wright. Lettered by Kiff Scholl. Edited by Ralph Macchio.

ONE

This issue is a prelude to an event called ‘Identity Crisis’ which….WAIT! STOP! COME BACK! It’s alright. It’s alright. Different ‘Identity Crisis.’ This one’s a bit of harmless fluff about Spider-Man dressing up in four different costumes as part of an elaborate plan to beat a murder rap. It’s bags of fun. Fun which I’m over-simplifying it a little, as Spidey doesn’t just adopt four new costumes but four new names, four new personae, four new fighting styles, and three new speech patterns. The costumes are what matters here though, as this issue is the origin of one of them.

The ‘Hornet’ costume he gets given by a friend, the ‘Ricochet’ costume Mary Jane puts together in a charity shop, the ‘Prodigy’ costume he and MJ design together, and the ‘Dusk’ costume is inherited from the figurehead of a revolutionary uprising within a universe of antimatter. Only that last costume is thought to need a whole introductory issue rather than a brief introductory flashback, which probably sounds fair enough until you know that the look the spider-spouses collaborated on is the one that involves Peter slathering himself in gold body paint and gluing on a big fake nose. My opinion on how entertaining their marriage is to read about could be completely reversed by twenty pages of them workshopping that. Trying on different noses. Brilliant.

But this issue is about introducing the Dusk costume, so let’s try concentrate on that. Which won’t be easy because the issue doesn’t. Before it gets to Dusk it introduces another new costume that’s got nothing to do with any of this. Another new costume that serves no narrative function whatsoever and which only gets referenced once in the text. “A little costume change,” notes Peter as he takes stock of the effects of being converted into anti-matter and crash-landing on an alien world. After that no more is said about it. Not much is shown of it either. Three pages pass between Peter noticing that he’s wearing something different and us getting a proper look at what it is he is wearing.

littlecostume   

That one panel, bunched up at the top right of a page, is as good as it gets for full-length looks at this outfit, which is then just shown in head shots, long shots and ass shots for another four pages before he changes out of it and into into the Dusk clobber. There is an implicit rationale for the design – Peter has been gifted part of the Dark Force of a vigilante called SHOC and this get-up shares some features with SHOC’s costume to the extent that it’s monochrome and John Romita JR-ish – but it’s still incredibly eccentric. We’re given a new costume for Spider-Man that isn’t talked about or shown off, and we’re given it in an issue whose purpose is to introduce a different costume for Spider-Man. What’s going on there?

I’ve got two guesses! Maybe you could look this up somewhere, but guessing is fun. One is that Romita Jr designed this costume for the ‘Identity Crisis’ event without it having been explained to him that the concept wasn’t ‘four different Spider-Mans’ but ‘Spider-Man dressed up as four different people who aren’t Spider-Man.’ The mix-up having left him with a spare spider-look, he decided to get some use out of it here whether the story called for it or not. Does that sound plausible? I don’t blame him at all if that’s how it went. This costume really is pretty cool. Monochrome Spider-Man outfits are almost always onto a winner – the symbiote costume, the Future Foundation costume – and this is no exception.

My other guess would be that JRJR was maybe just trying to put off drawing the Dusk costume for as long as possible because it’s a bit shit. It’s a featureless silhouette, such as could only be of any possible interest as a move in the Anish Kapoor/Stuart Semple artwar, and it’s got those stupid flying squirrel wings that join your arms to your legs. You know the things – Banshee has them sometimes and Spider-Man threatens to go that way whenever his armpit webs are getting out of hand. Here they’re even worse than usual. Take a silhouette, join its arms to its legs by big flaps of material, and put it in an action pose and all you’ve got’s a big ol’ blob. Monochrome Spider-Man outfits are almost always onto a winner and this is the exception.

I might hate the Dusk blob but it means a lot to the people of Tarsuu, the planet within the Negative Zone where all this is going on. There’s a heroic rebellion against an evil empire underway round those parts and Dusk was its inspirational leader until he went missing and a second Dusk took on the identity. That second Dusk  gets wounded in this story and passes the identity to Peter. At this point you’ve probably got suspicious that this is all a bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride and that there’s no single individual who is the authentic ‘Dusk’, just a myth and a lineage. Doesn’t seem to be the case though. The leader of the evil empire understands his opponent to be a singular, recognisable individual and the later Dusks to be imposters. The second Dusk believes that the first is out there somewhere, that he’s just keeping his seat warm, and his final words are an unheard repetition of his plea that Peter find the true Dusk.

So becoming Dusk, as it’s explained to Peter, doesn’t mean that you actually become Dusk. Just that you take on his responsibilities and the further responsibility of having a look round to see where the original’s gone. Which I think makes what he does next a little bit rude.

He deals a big blow to the evil empire, which is helpful. Then he gives a speech to the grateful rebels about how Dusk will always be with them when their need is greatest, which is a big fib but also probably helpful. Then he vamooses back to Earth, which is fair enough as it would have been a big ask for “Dusk fights an endless war across the Negative Zone” to be the new status quo of the Spider-Man titles, but the least he could have done is leave the costume behind for a fourth Dusk to stick on. The very least! What’s he need it for back on Earth? He can get new identities just by rummaging around charity shops and gluing on comedy noses, while these beleaguered rebels are short a mythic figurehead now he’s run off with their vantablack pyjamas! What a dick.

Look at what goes through his mind regarding the Dusk role. As he leaves Tarsuu everyone’s cheering him and he’s loving it. As, still dressed as Dusk, he returns to New York with some rescued kids then everyone there is cheering him and he’s loving that too. “I don’t mind basking in a little hero worship for a change,” he tells SHOC. Peter ends this issue thinking about how much he likes being Dusk because everyone likes Dusk.  But once ‘Identity Crisis’ starts then he’ll opt to play Dusk as a sinister crook and disgust himself so much that he’ll start showering excessively. Starting to suspect this boy doesn’t want to be happy.      

Someone else inherits this identity after Peter, so maybe she eventually returns to Tarsuu, finds the original Dusk and sorts it all out. Looking her up, it seems like she falls off a roof and dies in her first appearance so it doesn’t sound too promising.  

TWO

There’s a lot of overlap between the world of Spider-Man and the world of the Fantastic Four and many team-up stories explore that, but there’s another sort of Spidey/FF adventure that works by putting Spider-Man in the parts of their world that are not part of his. Often those stories are written by Dan Slott and often they’re my favourites.

I’m thinking of things like that abortive trip to ‘a weird dimension’ from Spider-Man/Human Torch #2 or the two different jaunts to the Macroverse we see in Amazing Spider-Man #590-1. Stories that have the Fantastic Four going about their most generic day to day work of travelling to new realities with different laws of physics and finding themselves in circumstances where they have to decide the fate of entire alien civilisations, some of which will probably be some kind of techno-barbarians who’ve glued canons to big lizards. The sort of FF stories that can become very overfamiliar, but defamiliarised by having Peter Parker along to be freaked out by it all.

HTFGjaunt  

Beyond having Spider-Man be alarmed and refreshed by the technobabble and the Kirby dots, stories that contrast his life with the Fantastic Four’s tend to want us to notice two big differences; Scale and integration. Swapping jobs for a day in that Spider-Man/Human Torch issue then Peter wishes Johnny good luck with saving the city and Johnny tells him he’ll need good luck with saving the universe. We’ll investigate scale below, but the basic idea of having Spider-Man visit somewhere called ‘the macroverse’ is obviously to put forward the idea that he’s stepping into a bigger world.

Integration’s where the real emotional stakes are in contrasting Spider-Man’s life with theirs. His life is defined by a harsh separation of its components and by the horrors that arise from his struggles and failures to keep those walls up. The Fantastic Four’s lives are defined by the absence of those walls. Being adventurers and being a family are the same thing for the FF, family is the word for the adventure they’re on, and so there’s a real poignancy in seeing Peter Parker on a Fantastic Four adventure. They’re inviting him into their family, where they all have reasons to want him, and there are limits to the extent to which he’s capable of accepting. Limits set by his inability to imagine living one life where the pieces fit together. Imagining being five different people is easier for him than that.       

Spider-Man #90 has almost all the features of a story in which Spidey tags along on an FF romp. We open on Yancy Street, part of their New York, not his. Mary Jane immediately understands that they’ve stepped out of their personal story space and opens the issue with the words, “I told you we shouldn’t have gone walking in this part of town.” Sure enough, this part of town soon leads us to the Distortion Field, and the Negative Zone, and Blastaar the Living Bomb-Burst and having to decide the fate of entire alien civilisations, and everything short of techno-barbarians gluing canons to big lizards.  As soon as he swings down on to Yancy Street then, other than a brief appearance by SHOC, everything he encounters originates from, or is typical of, the Fantastic Four mythos. Spider-Man spends none of this issue in a Spider-Man story.

One odd thing though. The Fantastic Four aren’t in this comic anywhere.

That’s annoyingly disruptive for the rules I’ve chosen for what this project is and isn’t supposed to cover, but really interesting in terms of what it reveals. How does Spider-Man cope with a Fantastic Four crossover to which only he’s shown up?

The answer is “Um…kind of…better?” Or at least with much more comfort and confidence. Part of that is because they’re with him in spirit as a knowledge base; He can remember what Reed once told him about surviving the Distortion Area. He can remember what Johnny once told him about fighting Blastaar. With all these facts in his head he breezes through this issue with aplomb, leaping between worlds and toppling empires without breaking a sweat. He has a lovely time and everyone’s very pleased with him.

If Spider-Man’s life contrasts with the Fantastic Four’s in terms of scale and integration then it’s clearly not the scale part that spins him out. He ignites flames of revolution that burn from world to world without really stopping to reflect that this is an unusual day’s work for him. When it does register then it’s with mild approval. “This is cool! I get to fly… and have an entire world singing my praises!” is as reflective as he gets.  

Spider-Man can step out of his life and into the Fantastic Four’s and it doesn’t rattle him at all. As long as they’re not there. As long as there’s nothing to remind him that the parts of one’s life are parts of a whole.  

THREE

In Onslaught/Heroes Reborn, as I find myself summarising most weeks, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers died, only to be somehow transferred across to a new universe of Franklin’s creation. A lot of things happened and then they sailed back to their original lives in a big space boat.

I am fascinated by every trivial detail surrounding the journey in that big space boat. It feels to me like such a strange and poetic move between the physical and the metaphysical. The heroes who Franklin initially shunted over into his world have different bodies and minds to those that died in their own, so if we grant that he really did save anyone then he can only have done so as an essence distinct from both physicality and consciousness. Those who entered Franklin’s world did so as souls. Then they left it by all physically getting on a big space boat.

How they reenter their original universe is not consistent. The boat explodes and the heroes return home at different times, in different places, with different mental health problems and with differing levels of memory regarding the alternate lives they’ve just lived. Nobody just passes from one world to another as a stable object; They’re run through Google Translate and then run back through it again the other way.

This comic is unusual in that it addresses Spider-Man having been on that boat.

Spider-Man didn’t die in Onslaught, nor did he get reborn in Heroes Reborn. He was kind of just along for the ride. Heroes Reborn: The Return saw him accidentally dragged into Franklin’s universe because he was holding the Hulk’s hair while the Hulk was being accidentally dragged in. Once there he performed his plot function of being an independent witness who could confirm to the Avengers and Fantastic Four that a bigger world existed and they were all from it. Then he stood politely in the background as he caught a lift home. He was with the Avengers and the Fantastic Four as they returned. He was on the boat when it exploded in the gulf between realities.

Then next we see him, in relation to these events, is in Marvel Team-Up #6, where it’s still the night of the Heroes return but now Peter is sat at home learning about it with Mary Jane. She’s keen for details and he’s not really got any to give, unable to recall what Franklin’s universe was, how anyone got there in the first place, or who made it back. The most he can manage is to say that it was “Weird. Very weird.” We don’t know how he got from that inter-reality explosion to that sofa, but the process seems to have left him with less than perfect recall of the details. Then, in Amazing Spider-Man #360, we see him swinging about shouting “They’re alive! They’re really alive!” as if this is information which he’s either only just learned or only just been convinced of. Everything suggests that, for Spider-Man, his late game involvement with Heroes Reborn has been left as a bit of a blur.

Here, however, he seems well appraised of the specifics. Passing through the Distortion Area, he thinks to himself, “I recognise [this] place. Made a trip through it not too long ago… during the return of the heroes from that strange universe. I think I heard Reed Richards call this the Distortion Field. A Portion of subspace where matter is converted into anti-matter and vice versa.”

What’s interesting about this isn’t the inconsistency but rather the consistency with how Heroes Reborn frames the Negative Zone. In Heroes Reborn it’s the place you go to remember things that happened to you outside of your life. The Reborn Fantastic Four visited there from inside Franklin’s universe, met Blastaar the Living Bomb-Burst, and received visions of their lives in their previous continuity. These visions changed Sue, who would continue to dream of a son she’d met but never had. Later, Reed proves to Tony Stark that their lives aren’t what they thought they were by getting him to carbon date some old rock; dating it within the world showed it to be a sensible age for some old rock to be, but taking it outside of the world and into the Negative Zone to run the test showed it to be less than a year old.       

If the logic of Heroes Reborn positions the Negative Zone as a figurative space between the Fantastic Four’s two lives, the logic of the boat trip home goes further, making it the literal gulf between the two realities in a complex multidimensional geography that brings in the Distortion Area and the literal boundaries of Franklin’s imagination and invokes the Microverse. All these bits of what Sandman calls “psychic real estate” are rezoned as places to be traversed in the act of translating yourself from one person to another. The Negative Zone is established as a space between who you are and who you aren’t. As places to acquire a new identity go, it’s at least as good as the rubber nose factory.    

FOUR

Some things become absurd when you try and systematise them (I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts on each). ComicVine’s summary of Fantastic Four #29, for example, lists the issue as featuring four different ‘teams’; The Fantastic Four, the Yancy Street Gang, Super-Apes, and Communists.

That FF issue is titled ‘It Started on Yancy Street…’ while this Spider-Man issue is titled ‘It Started on Yancy Street…Again!” but what event is recurring? Can’t find any Super-Apes or Communists round here.

They’re all over Fantastic Four #29 though. Especially the letters page, the story pages serving almost as a prequel to its debate over how Fantastic Four should address the Red Menace. Alex Nicholson from Nashville wants to see the FF continue to be pitted “against the forces of Communism, which is a much bigger threat to our nation than crime is” while Jim Gibson from Santa Rosa reckons that the book “should quit cutting down the Soviet Socialistic Republic’s leaders.” Jim is concerned that Fantastic Four might start to look a little like propaganda. Surely not!

As ever, the story itself has no interest in considering or discussing Communism as anything other than a Foreign Threat. It likes the idea that it’s Totalitarian, because that’s a bit like Nazis, but that’s about as concerned as it gets with any ideological critique.  But the story is very interested in puzzling through questions such as those raised by Nicholson from Nashville’s letter. Who should the Fantastic Four be fighting? Nicholson’s approach to answering the question is to consider various real world threats (“Crime! The Commies!”) and rank them in order of danger, with the FF best advised to direct their efforts against the most severe. That’s fine as far as it goes, but is sod all help in working out how they should prioritise time travelling Pharaohs and pranksters from the planet Poppup. Where do they fit on your national threat scale, eh Nicholson?

As Superman says in JLA Classified #3, superheroes live in a complex world. Comicvine has it right; Fantastic Four #29 has the Fantastic Four, a street gang, communists and super apes. It has all those things and a real interest in sussing out how they fit together. Does Spider-Man #90 have similar interests, or it it happier to live in the desert of the toybox? Let’s play both stories out alongside each other.

The Spider-Man of Ninety Ninety-Eight visits Yancy Street to investigate some Algerian cuisine he’s read about. The Fantastic Four of Nineteen Sixty-Four visit there to investigate a drastic rise in crime they’ve read about. One is under the impression that they’re someone who gets to go out for a nice meal and the other under the impression that they’re suited to investigating urban crime. Both are swiftly disabused of these notions, Spider-Man by witnessing some teenagers being dragged into another reality and the Fantastic Four by having some cabbages and things thrown at them. Spider-Man throws himself into the portal and the Fantastic Four just go home to have a think.

It starts on Yancy Street for both of them , but it leads them to very different places. On arriving in the Negative Zone, Peter clocks the space war that’s going on around him and thinks, “A good old-fashioned, George Lucas inspired, rebels versus the evil empire rebellion is taking place.” He’s keen to pitch in but unable to tell which side’s which. “Oops! Problem solved!” he says a panel later, “The bad guys would be the ones blasting the buildings with women and children.” His conclusions are shown to be uncannily correct, right down to the rebels being called ‘The Rebels’ and the empire being called ‘The Empire.’

Peter’s journey has two stops; from Yancy Street to the Negative Zone. The Fantastic Four’s has several. From Yancy Street back home to look up who might be behind all this in their Big Book of Baddies, then back to Yancy Street to fight Super-Apes, then to the Moon, then to the Watcher’s home. Each move comes with an escalation of scale; our first visit to Yancy Street deals with spiralling crime so petty that it would be truer to say the area has seen an alarming rise in the prevalence of pranks, our second visit deals with a Communist plot enacted with the help of super-apes, and from there the sky’s the limit.

“Let me warn you that this ship works on magnetic power and can be controlled only by my orangutan!” cautions the Red Ghost, and you’re not going to read a better sentence than that today. Magnets and monkeys lift us off to the moon, where our concerns eventually move beyond the solar system as the Watcher shows off his treasures from other galaxies and our dastardly communist foe falls through one of them and off into infinity.

That’s a move from the criminal, to the super-criminal, to global politics, to the solar system, to intergalactic space, to a vastness beyond knowing; Fantastic Four #29 but every time it gets faster. What’s remarkable though is, as we shift scales, everything remains in play. There’s a little of this in the Spider-Man comic. Peter found himself in the Negative Zone because of his attempt to rescue those teenagers and so, when the rebel leader asks him what he’s doing there, he answers “the protection of innocents” and the rebel leader concludes they are in the same line of work. But other than the endorsement of this uncontroversial principle, there’s no interpolation of the two worlds. Peter is not left with any impetus to fight crime on Tarsuu or incite revolutions on Earth. It starts on Yancy Street, but it will not continue there.

The Fantastic Four issue is the very opposite, in that story then everything is part of everything. Supervillainous microdrones buzz unnoticed around Yancy Street. Familial proximity to supervillains forces Ben to reevaluate his love life. The Russian space program begets super-apes. Super-apes fund street crime. The Fantastic Four may operate more effectively at certain scales, as they abandon their efforts at community policing Johnny comments that he hopes Spider-Man never hears of it, but once again it’s less a matter of scale than of integration. Because what happens on this one New York street happens because of Space Gods and the Cold War and what happens to Space Gods and in the Cold War happens because of one New York street. It starts on Yancy Street and it never leaves.

       

Have Them Fight God: Luke and Danny Destroy the World

I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts on each. If DC are putting out FF material now, can I do any less?

Today it’s…

Heroes for Hire #12

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…from June 1998. A comic in which Sue Storm appears in a one panel flashback to something that happened in Alpha Flight.

Written by John Ostrander. Pencilled by Pasqual Ferry. Inked by Jaime Mendoza. Lettered by Jon Babcock. Coloured by Joe Rosas. Edited by Mark Bernardo.

ONE

The phrase ‘Heroes for Hire’ suggests Luke Cage and Danny Rand having Blaxpolitation/Kung Fu Buddy Movie adventures. Marvel almost once put out a collection called Marvel Bromance and the Power Man and Iron Fist issue it would have contained is exactly the sort of Marvel bromance that ‘Heroes for Hire’ brings to mind. But the first series to actually carry the title wasn’t that sort of thing at all. The second wasn’t either. Or the third. Comics called Heroes for Hire are never what you think of when you hear the phrase ‘Heroes for Hire.’

That said, this particular series, which ran between ‘Ninety-Seven and early ‘Ninety-Nine, did have Luke and Danny. Not only that but they both joined, resigned from, and rejoined this iteration of Heroes for Hire frequently enough to be considered the book’s leads. But…look. This is a series in which Luke Cage is collaborating with the Master of the World to kill off seventy percent of the world’s population in as hygienic a way as possible while Danny’s busy preparing for the culmination of his entirely separate plan to destroy all technology and impose an absolute monarchy across the face of the Earth. The Heroes for Hire are open for business, but it is far from business as usual.    

What’s changed the economic conditions so drastically is Onslaught/Heroes Reborn. Like Thunderbolts, this comic launched into a Marvel Universe where the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are thought to have died in that event. Also like the Thunderbolts this version of Heroes for Hire is offered as the sort of institution that might rise to take the place of those fallen Great Houses. Where it differs from Thunderbolts, however, is in that that superhero team secretly exists to fulfil a villainous agenda, while this superhero team exists to fulfil LOADS of villainous agendas.  

The stated agenda of Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch, is not a villainous one. True, he eventually pitches in with helping the Master of the World try to become the master of seventy percent fewer people, but it doesn’t look like that was his goal from the start. Jim’s been left running Oracle Incorporated, Namor’s surface world corporation, in light of Namor’s ‘death’ and Namorita’s efforts to cover it up. Over the course of the run we learn three things about how he’s making use of the company’s resources; that he’s not been directing them to the environmentalist causes they’re intended for, that he’s been buying enough minoxodil to grow a beard on an android, and that he’s set up these Heroes for Hire.  

The times are dark and hopeless and people need heroes to inspire them, reason both Jim and Danny. Danny’s response is to set in motion the unstoppable process of aligning our reality with that of K’un Lun, bringing about the end of the age of science and the eternal reign of the Dragon King over all nations. He later admits this was a bit of an overreaction. Jim’s response is to start up a new superhero team, one that will work “not as vigilantes, but as hired employees for those needing help, working for a nominal fee” with the nominal fee going to charitable causes.

Now, while not as out there as the whole ‘eternal reign of the Dragon King’ stuff, I still think this is an eccentric model. Jim’s goal is to inspire people with heroic displays, but he’s built in an pecuniary transaction that the ‘nominal’ bit admits is unnecessary. The helping people in need bit? Fine. The donating money to charity bit? Fine. The association of those two into “We’ll help people in need if they donate to other people in need”? A bit weird.

Which is perhaps why nobody’s quite got their head around Jim’s big idea. The team’s first mission is just them hearing some scientists are in trouble and rushing right off to save them with nary a contract being signed. Come the second issue then the wicked Nitro is taunting a SWAT team by telling them they’re not paid enough to stand against his explosive evil, when Danny leaps into action with the words, “Some of us just do it for fun!” Danny, Danny, Danny, what are you doing? You’re pretending to be here to garner charitable donations while secretly working to assemble a round table of warrior knights that will enforce the Dragon King’s autocratic will. Don’t go complicating things further by putting it about that this is all for larks!

We get four issues of superhero punch-ups before anyone presents themselves in any sort of ‘client’ role. It’s Sersi in issue five, who is very keen to transmute objects into gold as payment while the Heroes are very keen to tell her that the fee can be waived. After her the next formal client we see is a kid in issue eight who Luke charges a buck. Namor comes back in issue nineteen, checks in on how Jim’s been running his corporation, shuts the whole enterprise down and cancels the comic.  

It’s fair to say then that what makes this book a book about hireable heroes is less to do with their direct relationship with money and more to do with their relationship to being on a team. Deadpool explicates things on issue ten’s cover when he turns up saying, “Somebody call for a temp?” He has understood this book perfectly. This is a book about casual labour.

The Great Houses have fallen. The big employers have gone. But if we’re going to imagine the power structures of the Marvel Universe as a labour market then we have to remember that what us real humans typically want from a labour market, a wage, isn’t something that superheroes ever really need unless they’re in stories specifically about getting paid. Most of the time in superhero universes then money invisibly takes care of itself and the real wealth is the sense of one’s self as a valid and meaningful hero. The measure of how much a superhero signifies as a self-actualised individual, the semantic weight of the symbol on their chest, is the capital produced by the Marvel and DC Universe’s internal fictional economies.

What we’ve got here then, is a look at being a superhero under unstable conditions in the superhero sector. The superhero-and-related-professions sector, really, as Bambi Arbogast and Jennifer Walters are here in office roles and Jane Foster’s here as a medic.   

Nobody is on this team for long. Deadpool’s here for two issues. The Hulk’s here for one. Scott Lang is on the team from the start, but nobody notices him until issue six and then shortly afterwards he has to take extended periods of absence due to childcare issues. Hercules drifts in and out, leaving the first time because he got drunk and the second because he got distracted. Jen has to negotiate to stay on her hourly legal rate when pitching in with superheroics. Dane Whitman finds himself trying to juggle two jobs once the Avengers are back. The doors revolve so fast that when Danny, the leader of the team, quits in issue eight it gets presented in a perfunctory flashback.    

The White Tiger’s employment status is particularly interesting. If you’re anything like me then you might sometimes get a bit confused about Marvel’s five different White Tigers, but this one’s easy to remember – this is the one who is LITERALLY A TIGER. A tiger who can adopt human form and an attendant human-ish consciousness in order to do superheroing and get in inappropriate love triangles. I bet she’s only on the books when she’s human.    

The issue we’re talking about today, a Double-Sized Anniversary Spectacular, finds the series at some sort of equilibrium. We’ve got a sense here of who officially ‘counts’ as having been a member of this team, a sense arising partly from which of them show up for the anniversary issue and partly from which of them the Master of the World has troubled to make evil duplicates of. We’ve also got everyone’s cards on the table; Danny has half-apologised for inflicting a mystical dictatorship on the world but said there’s not much he can be expected to do about it now, while Luke is about to reveal that he was only pretending to want to dispose of most of humanity even if he does still think there’s a lot to the idea. Issue twelve is the first point in this series where we’ve got a clear idea of who this book is about and what they all want. The only point, really, as after this then we’re into the chaos of how they adapt to a world in which the Avengers and Fantastic Four have returned. This comic looks a lot like a big climactic showdown, but really it’s an island of calm.

TWO

How much does it matter to people who’ve been in the Fantastic Four that they’ve been in the Fantastic Four?

Here in issue twelve we, briefly, have a concrete sense of who this book’s heroes are; Iron Fist! She-Hulk! Black Knight! Thena! Hercules! Luke Cage! The Scott Lang version of Ant Man! The Jim Hammond version of the Human Torch! The LITERALLY A TIGER version of the White Tiger!

That means a whole third of this line up are people who have, by this point in their lives, been members of the FF. Two of them, She-Hulk and Ant Man, will be again, on the same squad no less. When that day comes it won’t particularly matter to either of them that they’d been Heroes for Hire together. That’s as it should be, as this book ends with a decisive “oh well then.” Namor sells the company and everyone goes their separate ways, Luke and Danny resolving that this will have no effect on their friendship and everyone else just being quietly dismissed with a “see you round, maybe” from Danny. Nobody leaves with any sense that having been part of the Heroes for Hire was a part of who they were. It was only ever just a gig.

What then, for the three (Luke, Jen and Scott) who have spent time  in the FF, did that time represent? Was that something that was just a gig for them, or something that they’ve carried with them as part of their identities?

Previous team affiliations are very important here. The whole logic of Namor trusting (to a point) Jim to run his corporation comes from them having been Invaders together, and this issue taps into that with Jim taking command and the team feeling all inspired as they imagine how it would have felt to serve with him in WWII. Having been an Invader matters in this book.

As does having been an Avenger. Dane is forever knowing important information because he was once an Avenger or holding people to the standards he would have expected from them back when they were Avengers. Then, once the Avengers are back and reformed, the Heroes for Hire frequently find themselves short-handed as their roster struggle to manage their commitments. Hammond’s grumpy about everyone being off doing Avengers stuff in issue eleven as they absent themselves for Busiek’s tellingly named ‘Once an Avenger…’ arc, and then again in issue thirteen as Jen and Herc wander off to help out with what’s going on in Waid’s Captain America. Only one of them wanders back.     

People who’ve been Avengers or Invaders want to talk a lot about those associations, but at no point do the three Fantastic Four members feel like talking about that being a thing they have in common. It comes up for each of them individually though. For Scott, and his daughter Cassie, it’s a very material concern. They’re not happy living in the Oracle Corporation’s HQ but, well, they were previously living at Four Freedoms Plaza and that’s not an option now. That their roles with the Fantastic Four have been taken from them is what’s put them in these circumstances.

For Jen it comes up as part of her reluctance to work on the team in a superheroic role. “I’ve done the group thing with the Avengers and the Fantastic Four,” she says in issue eight, I’m here strictly in a legal capacity.” It fits into her sense of identity in terms of where she sees herself in her career.

Most interesting is how it comes up with Luke. That happens in issue nine when Jim’s wondering if Luke’s been dragged off to Busiek’s Avengers book with everyone else. “Cage was never part of the Avengers, Mr Hammond,” Mrs Arbogast corrects him, “He was part of the Fantastic Four.” Not having been an Avenger is is presented almost as a corollary of him having been part of the FF. Arbogast has a strong sense of what it means to be aligned with a Great House, and of which Luke is aligned with. I love the irony of this in light of how firmly Luke will eventually find himself cast in the role of the One True Keeper of Avengers Values.

People in this series then have very pragmatic takes on their own involvement with the Fantastic Four. Yet there’s a real mythologisation of the Fantastic Four as an institution.

“The Avengers are dead, the Fantastic Four are dead,” complains Dane in issue two, “I have no money, no job, no purpose.”

That a team he never had anything in particular to do with is gone is his second biggest problem. Higher on the list than the money, job and purpose stuff. A sense that there is something wrong with the world is the backdrop to this series and the absence of the Fantastic Four comes up every time that wrongness is discussed.

That’s where the characters of Heroes for Hire seem to be with the FF. That Sue, Reed, Ben and Johnny are gone from the world represents a catastrophic existential shift. But that two of their own number once filled in for Ben and one of them once filled in for Reed… those were just gigs.

THREE

Although She-Hulk has been in the book for a couple of issues now, this is the point where Jen begins the character arc that will see her through to the end of the run. Before we can talk about that though there’s something you have to know.

This comic hates her. Really hates her.

Take this sequence, where Jen’s facing off against a duplicate of the Hulk, looking confident and assured that whatever version of the Hulk this is, she can handle the situation.

thiscomichatesJen1

She’s then just punched in the stomach in a panel that doesn’t look anything like superheroic action.

Because this is how superheroic action looks in this comic…

thiscomichatesJen2

And this is the punchline to Jen’s conversation with the duplicate Hulk…

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That’s just a woman being punched in the stomach, that is. Her cheeks comically inflating as the reader is invited to enjoy her being punished for her smugness and presumption. The pleasures being offered by the two depictions of violence couldn’t be more different.    

Whatever has she done that’s made the creators suppose that her humiliation there will be a satisfying moment?

Part of it is that, by the time she’s introduced, the book has become acutely aware of the fact that it’s called Heroes for Hire and that nobody in it is motivated by money. Jen therefore gets the job of being the one who cares about money. You can see the logic. ‘She-Hulk is a lawyer’ is a thing. ‘Lawyers are greedy’ is a thing. So we get a greedy She-Hulk who’s here because the Oracle Corporation made her a better offer than the DA’s office and who does not take her eye for a moment off how much she’s getting paid for all this.

There’s also a lot of awkward, and perhaps thankfully not unpacked, stuff about her gender identity – Mrs Arbogast refusing to consider her a ‘lady’ – but to be honest this series will beat her with any stick that’s to hand. There’s a scene where the narration boxes are endorsing the idea that her meanness and size identifies her as being a Skrull, when push comes to shove and…

…oh. Before I can tell you about that, I have to talk about the narrator. Heroes for Hire has a sense of itself as a retro comic. We’ll talk about to what extent that’s true in the next section, but we know that’s part of the remit here because issue eleven opens with narration about how “people say this is a ‘retro’ type comic.” And we know what doing a retro type Marvel comic involves, don’t we? Only the sensational stylings of Smilin’ Stan’s blistering baloney, True Believers!

Stan-Speak is what this book seems to call for, but what John Ostrander delivers is something far more fun. Ostrander gives us a narrator who’s trying to be Stan but who hasn’t quite understood what’s being asked of him and is spiralling wildly out of control. More than one issue involves the narrator in a genuine state of panic that the dangerous events unfolding are going to result in everyone’s death and his own unemployment. For one issue he decides to withhold useful information from the reader and have a fun quiz instead. Stories that start in medias res see him furious with the reader for turning up late and trying to hurry things along by asking any New York based readers to skip text boxes explaining local features. Much confusion arises from him inviting the reader to put themselves in the White Tiger’s place and then getting in a flap about whether or not the reader is literally the White Tiger (they are not. The White Tiger is LITERALLY A TIGER).   

The chaotic narration and the comic’s poor treatment of Jen come together in an incredible scene that might genuinely be one of my favourite ever She-Hulk fourth wall breaks as it also brings together her metafictional awareness with her legal role.  

Yes. She-Hulk fires the narrator.

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yourefired2

It’d be nice if the comic got more sympathetic to her after that brilliant play for control, but a text’s voice is not only expressed through narration. Two issues after this she’ll be drawn flouncing absurdly off while Luke makes shrugging “Dames, eh?” gestures at some random bloke. Heroes for Hire continues to hold her in a pointedly gendered disdain. This, at times self-aware, conflict between She-Hulk and the comic she’s in is the backdrop to the weird character arc that begins here in issue twelve.

It concerns her attitude to ex-cons. An attitude that’s very distinct from her attitude to anyone else that’s doing wrong. She’s the very first to tell Jim Hammond that he shouldn’t feel bad about almost destroying the human race and doesn’t seem bothered in the least by Danny Rand compelling all to bow before the Dragon King. Her heart bursts with forgiveness for any wrongdoers who haven’t been tried, convicted and sentenced. But as regards anyone who’s ever been through the criminal courts and been found guilty, She-Hulk’s putting the vert in Javert.

The arc starts here with Danny incredulous that Luke might have betrayed him. “He’s an ex-con, what do you expect?” she says, with poor Scott Lang stood right there. The arc ends with her speaking up for Luke and Scott to make sure they get their severance packages in the final issue.

What happens in between to change her mind seems to be one adventure and one date with Luke Cage, both in issue seventeen. The adventure sees them rescue several girls who’ve been kidnapped to serve as a harem by a couple of teenage terrorists. Luke strips the boys to their boxers and has the girls spank them. It is this “nasty sense of justice” that causes Jen to start to warm to him, even though one of the abductors is shown to be very much enjoying his punishment. It is uncomfortable.

Having won her favour with his ability to organise Abu Ghraib-esque spectacles of atrocity, Luke then takes her out for a meal and tells her his origin story. She listens attentively and then starts talking about the mechanics of them having sex. Immediately. No “I see now that people have the capacity for change.” No “I see now that the US justice system isn’t perfect and, y’know what, there might just be a racial element to that.” None of that. Straight to, “I don’t break. And I’m looking for a man who doesn’t bruise when I hold him tight.” It is uncomfortable.  

FOUR

Although a flashback to Sue’s adventure in John Byrne’s Alpha Flight is what qualifies this comic for inclusion in this project, there isn’t terribly much to say about that flashback itself. Yet Byrne’s fingerprints are necessarily all over the continuity of a book that is essentially a confrontation between a baddie he invented in Alpha Flight and a corporation in invented in Namor. The prevalence of Byrne material brings us into a very Eighties space, as do Luke and Danny themselves since nobody until Bendis will solve the problem of moving either beyond where Priest left them.

One more important Eighties element factors in. John Ostrander’s writing this book. We know what we want from Ostrander here, don’t we? Mark Bernado, the editor who assembled the creative team, wanted him because he knew he was “great with juggling lots of characters in a mission-orientated setting from his days writing DC’s Suicide Squad” and so much of this book makes sense when you realise that Marvel fancied this as their version of the Squad. The unstable cast. The extent to which everyone is both morally and operationally compromised. Even the way this book sits in relation to Onslaught/Heroes Reborn recalls Suicide Squad’s relationship to Crisis on Infinite Earths.  

A lot of fun can be had playing with how this sits next to DC material. We’ve got the adventures of the Oracle Corporation here as a follow up to the run that established Barbara Gordon as Oracle. That’s pleasing even before you get to that fact that the Oracle Corporation has a relationship with Misty Knight and Colleen Wing’s PI firm; Nightwing restorations.

So that’s a big wodge of Eighties material informing a book with a Sixties-style narrator who isn’t really a Sixties-style narrator at all. How that guy works becomes clear when Deadpool joins the cast and the narrator announces that there’s no way he’s going to compete. The narrator that She-Hulk fires is a post-Joe Kelly version of Stan Lee.

Because that’s the amazing thing about this volume of Heroes for Hire, and this issue especially, the way that it’s a massive nexus of anything that could possibly be an influence on it. Think of something that might have been informing a superhero comic in Nineteen Ninety-Eight. It’s in here somewhere.

Watching the art provides the big clues. Ferry and Mendoza start this run serving up the extremities of Nineties Image books. Their early Hercules looks like the kind of dude who’d stand at the back in Gen 13 and their early White Tiger is an unsolvable knot of Liefeldian jumblewumpf.  

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There’s none of that by the time we get to issue twelve. Its spaceships might still be zooming around a cosmos of limitless speedlines and crosshatching, but everything surrounding its human figures has calmed the fuck down. There’s a resurgent sense of ‘classicism’ happening around Mark Bagely on Thunderbolts and George Perez on Avengers and a sense of the collapse of Heroes Reborn having represented a final failure of the extreme early Image style. Looking at the compositions here and they’re very comparable to how Howard Porter’s JLA is looking. You could hand someone this and the first couple of issues of ‘Rock of Ages’ and they would absolutely tell you that they were the same sort of thing.              

As much as this comic is trying to present the recent past through a reinvention of the distant past, there’s so much here that’s forward looking. The very idea of the Corporate Superteam will be a huge concern in the decade ahead, from Milligan and Allred’s X-Force to Arcudi and Huat’s Doom Patrol, so Heroes for Hire is undeniably ahead of its time on that one. 

This is an artefact from an interesting and uncertain time for Marvel. It was obvious that the Nineties were dying but they weren’t sure what came next. They’d narrowed it down to either the Sixties, the Eighties or the Twenty-First Century but were reluctant to commit.   

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