No, no, I really love time travel stories. If time travel stories were a girl, I'd marry them. (Also, if they were Keira Knightley.) I loves me some era-hoppin', clock-turnin', calendar-flippin', grandfather-killin' stories with the fierce passion of John Wilkes Booth as he tripped over me shouting "Sic Semper Tyrannus," and firing his handgun wildly, upset about his copy of Incredible Hulk #5, apparently.
I like historical time travel stories, where you get to meet Jesse James or Teddy Roosevelt or Clara Bow. I really like self-looping and -referential ones: where the traveler overlaps his own life and we see the effects of his own past actions on himself rather than just Julius Caesar or Fatty Arbuckle or Duke Kahanamoku. Think Back to the Future, Part Two (where two Marty McFlys stretch the special effects budget and double Michael J. Fox's rich-as-Croesus salary), or Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Time Squared," which pits Picard versus Picard for the Enterprise's annual "Make-It-So-Off" competition.
But what I really love are time travel stories where events appear chronologically out of sequence to the general observer but in fact have a logical forward-moving storyline from the POV of the time travelers. F'r instance: where the heck did that Data-head come from at the beginning of Star Trek TNG's Time's Arrow? (Data would lose his head in his own future but back in the past). How come The Doctor and Martha don't recognize either Queen Elizabeth I or Sally Sparrow? (Because those meetings occur in the Doctor's own future, which is the past for those two who have met him). When I first flipped open 52 Week 19, I was all thrilled and excited, because (as I declared loudly to the world) "Booster's back, Baby!" And with the time-hopping assistance of Rip Hunter, Booster's story no longer needed to continue chronologically...for us, that is. I wanted to see Skeets chasing Booster and Rip throughout time...more specifically, throughout the 52 weeks...which means we would have seen them pop up through out the series, out of sequence, every few issues. A Skeets/Booster/Rip appearance in, say, issue #32 might be followed by one in issue #37...that occurred before the one in #32. Only when you have the whole series could you follow along and put all the pieces together in logical time-traveler POV chronological order. When I realized, however, that this wasn't gonna happen (Booster didn't pop out of time until quite close to the end of the series), I was a little disappointed. I love Easter eggs like that, which reward careful reading, re-reading, and flipping around to link the segments together. I do think DC dropped the ball by not giving us short snippets of Booster leaping around the fifty-two weeks, but as the new Booster Gold series is pretty fun and seems like it might pull out that old but irresistible trick at some point, all is forgiven, Johnny DC.
And anyway, as I suddenly remembered with a tiny light bulb going on over my fuzzy little head, somebody did a story like that already. And that somebody was the totally freakin' awesome Walt Simonson. And that story was the senses-shattering time-twisting Fantastic Four #352. And that this FF is one of the most fun comics, ever, and maybe I oughta tell you a little bit about it.
"But what," you ask, "has that got to do with the triumphant, fast-smashin', sucka-punchin' return of Bahlactus's Friday Night Fights, Bully?" you query me, and I shake my head and smile at your naive question. It's because, quite simply, dear readers, FF #352 features the mind-blowing spectacle of Reed Richards and Victor von Doom slugging it out mano a mano as they leap around in time. Or, as Unca Walt tells us, without a sliver of hyperbole:
Let's peer in on our kooky kwartet, shall we?
(Click this picture to Big Ben-size)
It is exactly 1:04 AM. Long past my bedtime, but both Reed and Doom get to stay up late and watch Conan 'coz they're wearing Doom's "personal time sequencers" that allow them to skip back and forth in time anywhere within one half-hour of your origin point. Much like those pesky aliens who gifted Ralph
But Reed is not all rubber and no silicon chip: he's got a plan, Stan, and he puts it in action by flicking ahead from 1:05 AM (see the green time box in the lower left-hand corner for the "real universe" time) to 1:08 AM (the white circular time balloon shows where Reed and Doom are heading to).
Turn the page and for bashful Benjy Grimm the clock ticks along placidly to 1:06 AM so you can read his emotional subplot with ex-She-Thing Sharon Ventura, and there! On the right side of the page pop Doom and Reed...but golly, what they're saying and doing doesn't following logically from the previous page, does it?
In fact, try to read this like a normal comic book and you'll quickly be confused. The Thing storyline progresses normally at a forward-clock movement per page pace, but the Doom/Reed panels seem to be disjointed and out of order! The dialogue doesn't seem to make sense and Reed is suddenly clad in some sort of armor he wasn't wearing on the previous page...oh wait, that's right! They're time-traveling! Don't read the Doom/Reed pages in comic book order; instead, follow their time travels using the minutes at the bottom right corner of the page!
Armed with this knowledge, flip back a page and note that Doom and Reed set out from 1:05 heading to 1:08. Flip through the comic until you spot the "real world" 1:08 (a few pages forward, in the bottom left green box), and there's where Doctor Doom has landed:
But Reed's not here? Tricky, tricky, Doc Richards! Doom heads off for 1:25 AM, and so should we, flipping forward into the future where he catches Reed unstable-moleculed-handed, arming himself (and armoring himself up!) in Doom's weaponry room of the not-too-distant future! But Doom catches up with him and off they head for 1:33 AM:
Plaang! Pound! Fzzzip! Foom! Here's the throwdown that Bahlactus has charged me with presenting to you good folks. It's not a good idea to have fistfights at 1:33 in the morning (some people are tryin' to sleep, you know!), they're not there long, heading back in the flash of an eye to 1:06 AM.
To follow them, you and I flip back a handful of pages until you find the green real world time of 1:06, and the story continues there. Now that panel from 1:06 AM makes sense, don't it? And am I not telling the truth when I opine with every bean in my body that this is one of the most fun comics, ever?
Of course, if you're following Doom and Reed, the Thing storyline will seem out of sequence. That's why this comic utterly rewards careful reading and re-reading: you need to read it at least twice (once following Reed and Doom, the other time to follow the rest of the FF), and then you'll be so gap-mouth slack-jawed freakin' blown away by teh ZOMG awesum that is the wild and wacky mind of Walt Simonson that you'll wanna read it again and again and again...not for nothing is this cover-blurbed as
Oh, and my second favorite part?
Reed lures Doom to 1:13 AM, just in time for him to pop out of thin air and be blasted by a robot that's fighting The Thing. Now that's thinking fourth-dimensionally, Reed!
But what's my favorite part?
At 1:34 AM, Reed goads Doom into blasting him point blank, but our Elastic Exemplar deflects the power of the blast using his time sequencer, sending the blast to 12:33 AM and himself to 1:20 AM. But wait a ever-luvin' minute...the story started at 1:00 AM...just where the Sam Scratch did Reed send the energy blast?
The ultra-cool answer: he sent it so far back that it went into a totally different comic book:
Reed Richards deflected an energy blast through time in Fantastic Four #352 and it wound up in Fantastic Four #350 (neatly skimming over FF #351, which was a fill-in issue).
(my head explodes)
(tucking the fluff back into my head)
Okay. Let's pull FF #350 out of the longbox and take a look at that. Doom has captured the Fantastic Four and placed each one in an impossible-to-escape trap. Sue's in a room filled with gas that keeps her unconscious, Johnny's apparently in a hotel suite with free adult movies, and Reed? Reed's in a dungeon cell so impregnable that there is not a single hole for Reed to stretch and slither out of. In short, Reed is trapped and we'll never see him again:
Artwork on this and the next panel are from Fantastic Four #350 (March 1991),
written and drawn by Walt Simonson, inks by Al Milgrom, coloring by Brad Vancatta, lettering by Bill Oakley
Oh, until he appears a few pages later telling Doom that he dug his way out with a belt buckle.
Cheat! shouted the amassed internet, or whatever CompuServe forums and AOL chat rooms existed in 1991, back when everyone's favorite comic blogs were just a twinkle in the eye. That seems like a careless excuse for an escape, hardly worthy of either Reed (not clever enough) or Doom (too sloppy a deathtrap). But now that we've read, out of page sequence, FF #352, we know the rest of the story: Reed was lying about the belt buckle. His real escape was facilitated by the deflected energy future-Reed sent back to 12:33 AM blasting down the walls of his prison. In short, like Bill and Ted, Reed escaped certain death by reminding himself later to save himself from certain death.
Right now, you're a Grinch or a communist if you're complaining in any way, shape or form about this story. If you still retain your senses and can hold in your drool instinct, however, you might ponder aloud: "Well, why didn't Walt show us Reed escaping from his trap?"
And the answer to that one is: he did...right on the cover of FF #352 (note the real-time counter "12:33 AM" in the corner):
(head goes 'splodey again)
Reed Richards: game, set, and match. But Walt Simonson for the win.
One hundred ten seconds ago, you clicked on a link from the Mighty Bahlactus that sent you here to my blog. Thirty-three seconds from now, I will be finishing writing this blog entry up and sending the link to Bahlactus. Yesterday, he replied with a thank-you note.
And for a dandy look at FF #350 ("The One Where The Energy Bolt Wound Up"), well, hop feet first into the joy that is Dave's Long Box!