Monday, July 31, 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Milch Studies: Deadwood



In case anyone's interested, my look back at the first season of Deadwood is now up at Gentlemen of Leisure.  It's a fascinating show, not only for the themes it explores, but also for the chaotic process behind its production.  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Micro-Reviews: WOLVERINE EPIC COLLECTION - MADRIPOOR NIGHTS: Part Three




WOLVERINE #11 - Early September 1989
If you thought you weren’t getting enough Wolverine before his solo series, now you’re getting WOLVERINE twice a month! No wonder Claremont left.

Peter David returns, while Buscema is joined by Sienkiewicz, reinventing the book’s visuals. The lushness is gone, replaced by sketchy lines. I’m happy either way, although the darker art doesn’t match the story. David is going for comedy for much of the arc, with Wolverine as the well-intentioned friend who’s thrown into a wild adventure.

Archie Corrigan’s past is fleshed out a bit, as we discover that his brother has mental problems and is soon to lose the family’s wealth. Burt Corrigan routinely convinces himself that he’s movie heroes, and this time it’s Indiana Jones. Who knew that the public would become so sensitive to these issues one day that this story might be deemed offensive? Who knew that a massive media conglomerate would own both Marvel and the Indiana Jones property?


WOLVERINE #12 - Late September 1989
More of Wolverine and friends being chased around San Fran by vampires. Supposedly, there’s a long-unspoken ban on car chases in comics, but this one isn’t so bad.  David’s script is thick with one-liners, although he manages to keep Wolverine’s character pretty consistent throughout.  There’s a flimsy excuse for everyone to return to Madripoor at the end, but I get the sense that David couldn’t care less about the setting.


WOLVERINE #13 - Early October 1989
More Gehenna Stone, more PAD jokes, more Nowlan covers that I didn’t like as a kid…

This issue, Wolverine confronts the leader of the Gehenna cult, while two brothers who’ve acquired a piece of the stone end up in Madripoor, coincidentally. They end up killing each other in the Princess Bar.

All of these chapters on their own have been fine. The art’s great, and the story keeps moving at a decent pace. Overall, though, there’s a sense that any hero could’ve been plugged into this story, which is often a problem with these WOLVERINE fill-ins. There haven’t been enough solo tales to define what a Wolverine story really is, so the title suffers while Marvel decides what to do post-Claremont.

Another note about the issue -- it’s the final one to feature Wolverine out of costume. The experiment lasted just under a year.



WOLVERINE #14 - Late October 1989
As the cover indicates, Wolverine is now dressing like Wolverine.

Story-wise, there’s no justification for this. Logan declares that he wants to change into something “apropos.” This happens while on a plane ride to Madripoor, where he’s explicitly hiding his Wolverine identity -- so, this makes zero sense. Clearly, this had to be editorial fiat. I don’t know if sales were harmed by the initial decision to downplay the superhero element, but I wonder today if perhaps I wasn’t so excited by this book as a kid because it didn’t truly resemble other Marvel books. Were there legions of kids not buying WOLVERINE because they didn’t see that costume on the cover?

The big revelation this issue - Jessica Drew has always known Logan is Patch. Certainly not what Claremont intended, although I’m not sure if it harms the status quo. Jessica can keep a secret, so the X-Men will remain “ghosts.” It’s amusing Marvel launched WOLVERINE during the time Claremont was adamant about keeping them “dead” to the world.


WOLVERINE #15 - Early November 1989
Apparently, this cover gave us the standard WOLVERINE corner box art.

I’ve never understood why this figure was selected. Nowlan’s style doesn’t match any of the regular artists on this title, the pose is awkward, and the recycling just feels cheap. Was Marvel in a hurry to reassure fans that, no, Wolverine really does wear his real outfit in this book?

This issue - Wolverine is mocked thoroughly for his Patch disguise, the Madripoor cast is enchanted by the Gehenna Stone and tries to kill each other, and the Prince joins forces with Ba’al, the ancient evil god who created the stone. No real justification for this story to still be going, but it’s mindlessly entertaining. Peter David has Wolverine utter his first pun, which is also the first time David’s attempt at a jokier Logan falls flat. The rest of this story has actually managed to keep Logan jokey and in-character.


WOLVERINE #16 - Late November 1989
The final issue in the collection, and the storyline. Thankfully, this Epic reprint doesn’t drop off on a cliffhanger, which I wish was a basic rule.

There’s an attempt at making this specifically a Wolverine story, and fan reaction was mixed. David never outright says that Wolverine represents the “Hand of God,” but he steps right up to the edge. Not only does Wolverine feel in touch with a higher power, and is compelled to offer an earnest prayer, when facing Ba’al, but he’s remained immune to the Gehenna Stone throughout the arc. It is a role that you couldn’t place Spider-Man into, and I suppose Wolverine’s healing power leaves the door open to this interpretation. But that’s not really how people want to see Wolverine, is it?

The rest of the trade is a thick collection of promo interviews and art for the series. I love seeing this stuff reprinted. The people working in Marvel’s trade department deserve immense credit for the work that they’re doing. Not only is the fanzine press of the era represented, but even unused covers that appeared in MARVEL AGE are slotted in. As a reprint collection (an affordable one!), this is a fantastic package.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Micro-Reviews: WOLVERINE EPIC COLLECTION - MADRIPOOR NIGHTS: Part Two


MARVEL AGE ANNUAL #4 - 1988
I’ve never seen that Art Adams cover before. Surprised it hasn’t been recycled endlessly like his CLASSIC X-MEN #1 cover.

This was a preview for WOLVERINE #1, that’s actually been placed after issue #3 in this collection. I like the way the editors don’t just toss stories out there; they want to make them fit. I’ll play “umm, actually” and point out that it should be placed sometime after #4, however, because Logan doesn’t know Gen. Coy is in Madripoor at this point.

Calling this a story is generous. Wolverine wanders Madripoor, and all of the X-teams somehow make quick, unexplained, cameo appearances. It’s worth reprinting, though, because it’s by the original creative team, and I love when the Epic collections find these obscure pieces that no one remembers. 


WOLVERINE #4 - February 1989
These opening pages are Orzechowski at the height of his hand-lettering days. There’s just as much character in the lettering as the art, but it isn’t distracting at all. It’s also Orz’s last issue as letterer, which I suppose helped to give WOLVERINE an identity separate from UNCANNY X-MEN, but it feels like a real loss.

This issue, Claremont makes his greatest strides in establishing the world of the series. New villains and supporting cast members, like the pilot Archie Corrigan, are introduced, while Claremont leftovers from SPIDER-WOMAN and NEW MUTANTS also join the cast. I’ve always admired the way Claremont seems to have a plan for any character who had more than a walk-on appearance in one of his books. Allegedly, he has notebooks packed with plot ideas for all of these obscure characters.

I’ve never heard of a clear reason why Bloodsport’s name was changed to Bloodscream. Was it really to avoid a lawsuit from the “Bloodsport” movie producers?

Not that this goes anywhere, but having Jessica Drew play against Logan’s acceptance of Tyger is a smart idea. Wolverine figures she’s the “good” crimelord, because she doesn’t deal in drugs or slaves. Jessica doesn’t want to side with any criminal. 

What Tyger actually DOES do for money isn’t clear, aside from some scenes establishing that she runs joyhouses (Code-approved brothels). We’re told she’s a crimelord, but what that entails is murky.


WOLVERINE #5 - March 1989
The debut of Hardcase & the Harriers, some of them at least, a paramilitary team that didn’t take off. Even though the Harriers all resemble background GI JOE players, Hama had no use for them. Hardcase later appeared in WOLVERINE as a parody of Cable clones, even though Erik Larsen didn’t seem to know that Hardcase predated Cable’s debut.  

Another oddity this issue - Psylocke’s Inferno-era armor debuts…months after it’s already appeared in UNCANNY X-MEN. Jessica and Lindsay discover it in the offices of Landau, Luckman, & Lake, which also debuts here. I’m assuming Claremont had some secret origin in mind for the armor, and LL&L, but I doubt we’ll ever discover it. I’ll repeat again that it’s a shame X-MEN FOREVER didn’t cover this territory. 

While Hardcase offers no real threat, Wolverine spends much of the issue fighting Coy’s hired guards. An extended fight scene featuring an Anglo hero fighting minority foes, and there’s no scene like this to make it okay. 



Oh, how backwards we were in 1989. And 1999. And 2009. Comics had yet to reach peak wokeness.


WOLVERINE #6 - April 1989
Tyger is rescued, while Karma joins Wolverine’s side and Claremont drops very Claremontian hints that never paid off.

Karma’s working with her criminal uncle in order to rescue her missing siblings. No payoff (from Claremont).

The armor that appears to be Psylocke’s was apparently not forged by “mortal hands.” No payoff.

Archie Corrigan is somehow a “disgrace” to his uniform. No payoff.

I’m convinced that Claremont did have resolutions in mind, it’s just clear that they weren’t deemed a priority at the time.

One continuing theme of the series is the thin line between heroes and villains in Madripoor. This issue, Karma is inspired to become a hero again, thanks to Wolverine’s influence. (Wolverine’s arc from rebel to mainstay had already been completed. And it’s a testament to Claremont’s skills that fans still embraced the character.) Meanwhile, their big heroic mission is to save one crimelord from another.

The promise of seeing Wolverine “cut loose” has him slicing Bloodsport’s throat…off-panel. It’s all amazingly tame today, but it was as close to edgy as Marvel was going to get in 1989.


WOLVERINE #7 - May 1989
The status quo continues to evolve - the Prince declares that Coy & Tyger will both serve as crimelords. Since Tyger doesn’t touch drugs or slaves, Coy can handle the nasty stuff. Wolverine gives some rationale on why this is okay. It’s another way duality is introduced into the series. Both Tyger & Coy are morally flawed, but only together can they make life work in Madripoor.

Meanwhile, the Hulk appears, in scenes that were supposed to be colored as night, but weren’t. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be that big a deal, but Hulk only comes out at night in these comics, and that plays to the issue’s cliffhanger.

Another sign this was intended as an “older” Marvel book of the era - two attempted rape scenes in one issue. Not that anything happens, of course. We also learn the Prince is an obsessed fan of Lindsay’s and it’s played as a joke. Jessica questions if this is a man who would ever accept “no,” however.

More odd continuity - Lindsay can remove Psylocke’s (?) armor, but Tyger can’t. Wolverine has the “ultimate key,” because he commissioned it from “a friend.” 



WOLVERINE #8 - June 1989
Hulk, split between Joe Fixit and Banner, is here for a silly guest spot, but Claremont is still mindful of the theme. Just as Madripoor’s Lowtown and Hightown represent the two sides of Wolverine, and Tyger and Jessica Drew represent his dueling animal/hero natures, Hulk is also two people residing in one body.

I always liked this issue as a kid. Wolverine spends much of the story conspiring ways to put the Hulk back into purple pants. And in the closing pages, it’s heavily implied that Hulk has seen through the “Patch” disguise, so he ends up with a small victory over the hero. 


WOLVERINE #9 - July 1989
The first of many, so many, WOLVERINE fill-in issues.

It’s possible this was inventory, maybe a MARVEL FANFARE story, that was slotted in. The final page reveals that the entire story’s been a flashback, and there’s some attempt to have Logan declare that he isn’t the same man we see in the story.

The plot treats Wolverine as the Punisher, methodically tracking down mercenaries and killing them for their actions in Iraq five years ago. Wolverine says he was “Weapon X” then, and then claims the flashback was also years ago, so…how long were we to believe Wolverine’s been an X-Man? He also appears in his yellow outfit, another hint that the story might’ve been lying around for a while. Then again, I don’t think Peter David was writing freelance for Marvel during the yellow costume days, so maybe this was intended for WOLVERINE.

While the story plays out like an EC morality tale, David still makes an effort to maintain Wolverine’s unique moral code. He assures the reader that he takes no joy in killing, and only finds happiness in innocence. The mercenaries have to die because they stole that innocence from someone, and he’s keeping a promise he made years ago. This was all pretty daring stuff for Marvel in the ‘80s…now, it reads as a template WOLVERINE solo tale from the early Quesada years.


WOLVERINE #10 - August 1989
The comic that cemented Sabretooth’s place as Wolverine’s major villain. The seeds were planted during “Mutant Massacre,” but this was the moment that a generation of kids forgot that Sabretooth was a lame henchman character, along the lines of the Constrictor, and embraced him as Wolverine’s evil opposite.

It’s still so early in Sabretooth’s development, his name is spelled “Sabre-Tooth.”

The fight here has been revisited numerous times. And, done properly, it could’ve been an excellent set piece in one of the movies. Instead, it was thoroughly botched in that first WOLVERINE movie.

Another significance of the issue is that it’s one of the extremely rare Wolverine flashback stories from this era. One of the first ever -- I think the KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE mini might’ve had a flashback, but other than that, Claremont tended to avoid them.

It’s also the final Claremont issue, although he leaves with no fanfare. His return is over 100 issues away, and perhaps the less said about that the better. The internal politics of Madripoor are still in play, as we learn that Jessica & Lindsay have set up shop in a “bawdy house” under the Prince’s command. None of the post-Claremont writers wanted to touch this stuff. The closest anyone came was the Goodwin run, which used Madripoor effectively as a setting, but I believe avoided the politics.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Micro-Reviews: WOLVERINE EPIC COLLECTION - MADRIPOOR NIGHTS


I remember people being angry when, in the midst of lost Silver Age reprints, Marvel collected WOLVERINE in the Essentials books.

“Classic Lee/Ditko DR. STRANGE remains out of print, but the dumb fanboys get their Wolverine!” (Not that the Essentials ended up skipping DR. STRANGE, of course. He eventually came out okay.)  I think most of that elitism has dissipated, and the Epic Collections are steeped in the 1980s, so WOLVERINE doesn’t appear out of place.

MADRIPOOR NIGHTS opens with the initial MCP serial, starring Wolverine. The decision to do a solo book had already been made, and the regular creative team (Claremont & John Buscema) are here to introduce the new world of Madripoor.

Madripoor has become an accepted part of the X-canon, and larger Marvel Universe. The chances of it appearing in some X-related movie/TV project are inescapable.  (Of course, as WIZARD told us, Claremont did nothing memorable after 1980… )

The Essentials volume just dumped readers into the first issue of the regular series. If you wanted the Madripoor backstory, you had to buy that separate “Save the Tiger!” one-shot, or assemble the first ten issues of MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS.  

I actively resisted MCP as a kid, and have few regrets on that score. I did miss those Sam Kieth issues that stayed out of print for years, though.

I didn’t even know about this Romita cover until just now. Those quickie MCP reprint one-shots didn’t bother with pesky covers.




The Epic collection doesn’t skimp on the extras, so you also get the promotional material for the original WOLVERINE ongoing. The sales hook is that Logan is now unleashed, without the restraints of the X-Men’s moral code. It means Tom DeFalco’s now in charge, and he’s less squeamish at the thought of Logan killing.

Even so, Logan’s not too lethal in the opening arc. He only kills when in life or death situations, or to save an innocent. Also, there’s little-to-no blood in any of these comics.

The story has Logan entering Madripoor, following an off-panel encounter with a dying man. He’s obligated to deliver a message…or to deliver a locket. The continuity’s a bit choppy in the opening chapters. Eventually, we discover that an acquaintance of the X-Men has a new life in Madripoor, and is plotting to overthrow the local crimelord. Problem is, she wants to take his place.

The character is Tyger Tiger (just try keeping that specific order straight), a meek banker that was kidnapped by the Reavers when they realized they had too much money. Tyger was supposed to be their accountant, but the X-Men interrupted their brainwashing process. Claremont can at times obsess over minor details, and I’ve always thought this was a clever angle to play. What does a team of efficient cyborg thieves do when they have so much money they can’t spend it all? Well, what does any billionaire do?

Tyger wasn’t fully turned, but she isn’t her old self, either. Rejected by her family and the Hong Kong banking community, she’s found a new home in the seedy world of Madripoor. The makings of a great character are here, even though Tyger disappeared a few issues into the book’s run. Claremont’s setting up a parallel between Logan’s inherent dichotomy and Tyger’s identity struggle. Something could’ve been done with this, but instead she ended up a forgotten, not-quite love interest.

Wolverine sides with Tyger, taking on Roche and his major henchman Razorfist. I realize he’s just here as muscle, and is killed off quickly, but this design hasn’t aged very well.


I think we were in the final days of legless unitards being okay in comics.

At story’s end, Tyger’s in position to rule Madripoor’s underworld, and a conflicted Wolverine sticks around to act as her conscience. That’s the setup for the regular series, which had potential, until pretty much the day Claremont left the book. 



WOLVERINE #1 - November 1988

I read most of these issues for the first time in the Essential reprint. The Buscema/Williams/Green art does lose something when colors are added. There’s a depth to the drawings that just doesn’t translate with color. Buscema famously hated superheroes, and I suspect Claremont’s pitch of doing the book as TERRY & THE PIRATES was his way of appeasing Buscema. Plus, Claremont wasn’t thrilled at the thought of a monthly WOLVERINE book, either. He likely was looking for a way to alleviate his own boredom.

This issue, Logan formally adopts his Patch disguise, which is literally an eyepatch. Launching a solo WOLVERINE book while the X-Men were believed dead is an early case of Marvel allowing commercial interests to overrule internal story logic. It seems like a minor issue now, but I could see Jim Shooter fighting his bosses over this. DeFalco was more of an attitude of publishing what he knew the fans wanted. And they wanted WOLVERINE, every month.

When in battle, Wolverine wears all black, and shadows magically appear over his eyes. This makes no literal sense, and I doubt Marvel was willing to claim that Logan was now wearing mascara. I bet Peter Sanderson was thrown for a loop when updating Wolverine’s Handbook entry. “Do I explain that eye trick? How?!”

Interestingly, Wolverine comes across a different courier who’s been tortured by savages, but now it’s on-panel. Coincidentally, the item he’s in charge of also has ties to Madripoor, and Wolverine’s ex, Mariko.

Mostly, the story’s an excuse for Buscema to draw what he likes, and for Wolverine to “cut loose” in a way fans weren’t used to seeing. All of this would seem pretty tame by today’s standards, though. Even when Logan’s cutting through an army of thugs, his narration spells out his specific moral code.


WOLVERINE #2 - December 1988

If you’re counting the Claremont tropes, we have a possessed hero, a few “caper”s, and one “rabbit” as a verb. Honestly, this stuff rarely bothers me. I certainly didn’t pick up on them as a kid, and the scripts don’t read as lazy to me today.

Claremont continues to introduce old SPIDER-WOMAN characters, with Jessica and Lindsay officially joining the cast. They’re tracking the Black Blade of the Yashida Clan, which connects not only to Wolverine’s rarely seen love interest, but occasional Claremont favorite the Silver Samurai. 

There’s some character work amidst the action -- Lindsay gets drunk her first night in Madripoor, and discovers her bartender is from the same area of Long Island… Logan sees the possession of the Black Blade as a parallel to his berserker rages…more talk of Logan’s moral code -- Claremont rarely wrote generic fight scenes.



WOLVERINE #3 - January 1989

Essentially a Lindsay McCabe solo story, as she works to free Logan/Patch of the possession of the Black Blade.

It’s odd to think of the effort that went into creating a supporting cast for Wolverine, given that his standard solo adventures will entirely drop the concept. Probably because so much of the WOLVERINE solo book turned into fill-ins, which don’t lend themselves to large casts of characters. Then Larry Hama took over the book, and he seemed to think Jubilee was all the support Wolverine needed.

The story ends with the Silver Samurai taking possession of the Black Blade, and the story spinning a reason why this could be a good thing. Not a bad opening arc, overall, but I’m surprised that so little of it focuses on Madripoor.

I have to also give credit to the Epic team for reprinting all of the Wolverine Gallery pin-ups. The Essentials skipped most of them. One consistent trait is just how INconsistent the artists are drawing Wolverine’s hands. Sometimes he has the metal housings on his actual knuckles, sometimes he doesn’t. It’s like I’m watching the ‘90s cartoon all over again. For the record, the metal housings are on Wolverine’s gloves. He also has housings under his skin that bulge out when he extracts his claws, but ordinarily, Logan’s hands look normal.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Remembering the Show Banned by Parents Nationwise



My other CBR post of the week, an examination of the HBO animated series, TODD McFARLANE'S SPAWN.    I tried to cover the development and all three seasons in one post, while also discussing the possibility of the long-teased, still-missing, new SPAWN series.
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