Tuesday, July 28, 2015

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #440 - October 1998


The Gathering of Five - Part Two: A Hot Time in the Old Town
Credits:  John Byrne (writer), Rafael Kayanan (penciler), LaRosa/Ramos/Palmiotti/Kayanan (inks), Mike Rockwitz & Mark Bernardo (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  Spider-Man chases a seemingly brainwashed Molten Man across Manhattan.  Eventually, he realizes that Molten Man is on a mission to kill Alison Mongrain, who’s recently gotten off a tramp steamer with Robbie Robertson.  Spider-Man distracts Molten Man while Robertson and Mongrain escape.  Molten Man’s powers cause the docks beneath them to catch fire, and soon Spider-Man and Molten Man are both in the water, in the path of a giant boat.  Spider-Man escapes, but Molten Man disappears.  Meanwhile, Norman Osborn gathers one more piece needed for the ceremony from an antiques dealer named Maxwell.

The Subplots:  Alison Mongrain is adamant that she see Peter Parker immediately.  Meanwhile, Maxwell warns Osborn that the ceremony could impart one of five gifts: power, knowledge, immortality, death, or madness.  He also claims that the gifts “are never quite what they seem to be.”

Miscellaneous Note:  The recap page summarizes the previous ASM issue, which was essentially filler, as opposed to the first chapter of this storyline.

Review:  This issue was billed as an “early start” for John Byrne, who was allegedly so excited to be a part of the relaunch, he just couldn’t wait for the new Amazing Spider-Man #1.  Reader response at the time seemed to be mostly negative, and not only because Byrne would be simultaneously rewriting Spider-Man’s first year in the Chapter One miniseries.  As many fans pointed out, doing a soft reboot of the continuity and relaunching the titles with new #1s is utterly pointless if the storylines are just continuations of plots that begin before the relaunch.  That’s a valid point, but I now wonder how people would’ve responded if there were no transition issues and Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #1 simply dropped readers right in the middle of the new status quo.  The response probably would’ve been even more hostile.  

The early chapters of this crossover have actually done a decent job of hiding the fact that this storyline is about Norman Osborn gathering plot devices needed for a magical ceremony.  (Because Norman Osborn is always hatching those mystical schemes, right?)  I have to admit that John Byrne’s produced a script that’s far more readable than the bulk of the Tom DeFalco run.  The jokes are still largely terrible (While chasing Molten Man, Spidey remarks that the sewers stink “worse than J. Jonah Jameson’s gym socks!”), but Byrne seems to have a handle on Spider-Man’s character, emphasizing how much he wants to believe Molten Man hasn’t gone bad and allowing him to use his smarts during the action scenes.  Casting Molten Man as the villain is a decent choice, given that he’s been working for the Osborns for years now, so it’s inevitable he’s going to end up as a puppet in some plot Norman Osborn’s developed.  Byrne emphasizes the “molten” aspect of Molten Man’s name, establishing that he’s melting everything in his path, in addition to generating scalding steam that’s endangering anyone nearby.  He actually comes across as a credible threat for Spider-Man this issue.  I’ll also give Byrne credit for making it clear that something’s forcing Molten Man into doing this, so his reformation during the Gerry Conway years isn’t just tossed out the window.  The Molten Man of the past ten years isn’t ignored for the sake of a one-issue fight scene, and there’s no screwy continuity going on in order to justify a return to villainy.  That’s more consideration than Byrne will show Sandman in just a few months…

Monday, July 27, 2015

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #32 - October 1998


The Gathering of Five - Part One: Acquistions
Credits:  Todd Dezago (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Ralph Cabrera (inks), Tom Smith (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  Spider-Man swings past Override as he causes a traffic jam outside of the Aleister Building.  He follows Override inside the building and discovers that Override is stealing an ancient relic from the Technomancers.  Override is able to cover his escape by releasing the Technomancers’ menagerie of strange creatures.  Later, Override convinces Norman Osborn to let him participate in a mysterious ceremony known as the “Gathering of Five.”

The Subplots:  A Scrier reports to Osborn that the “package” has been delivered safely.  Robbie Robertson locates Alison Mongrain in Paris.  MJ receives a call from a modeling agent, asking her to return to the business.

*See _________ For Details:  Override’s wife Aura was nearly killed in Sensational Spider-Man #25.  He hopes that this ancient ceremony will give him the power he needs to heal his wife.

I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man swings past a movie theater promoting Wesley Snipes as Blade on the Marquette.  

How Did This Get Published?:  “Man, there is just nothing better than catching the web-line express home after a long day of snapping pictures for the Bugle as freelance photographer Peter Parker.”  I’m glad Spider-Man’s secret identity was smoothly inserted into that thought balloon, or else I would’ve been lost throughout the rest of the issue!

Review:  Marvel’s ready to pull the plug on this era of Spider-Man, although two poorly-received crossovers remain.  “The Gathering of Five” is an attempt to seed a few storylines for the upcoming relaunch, and…that’s pretty much it, really.  It would be nice to say that this era of the titles is given a proper sendoff and the various storylines in the ongoing titles are wrapped up in a neat little bow, but that’s clearly not the motive of the crossover.  Ultimately, the Gathering of Five is a plot device that will lead to a few storylines in the early days of the relaunch, and after that, the story’s simply forgotten.  

I will say that Todd Dezago handles the opening chapter with as much grace as could be expected, creating a link between the dangling Override plot and the gimmicky Gathering of Five concept.  If you’re not aware of any of the behind-the-scenes drama, this might even read like any other issue of Sensational.  It’s more than likely that Dezago would get around to Override and the Technomancers again, and this search for mystic artifacts plot could charitably be viewed as the latest scheme by Norman Osborn.  MJ just might get a subplot that has her contemplating a return to modeling, and hey, it looks like this Alison Mongrain nonsense is finally getting resolved.  There’s no real indication this issue that the entire line is being primed for an extremely awkward “back to basics” reboot, even though that’s exactly where it’s all headed.  I doubt Dezago was particularly thrilled to be closing out his run on a crossover, but his work here is perfectly competent.  He introduces all of the elements needed for the next chapter, never forgetting to throw in those human moments, such as MJ’s reaction to an old acquaintance who doesn’t know she lost the baby.  He also gives the artist several cool things to draw, like the horrific beasts hidden inside the Technomancers’ lair (even though Joe Bennett seems to be strictly in fill-in mode, so they don’t look especially menacing).  Everything that’s wrong with the crossover is still in the background, leaving the reader with an opening chapter that’s actually good enough to trick you into buying the next issue.

Friday, July 24, 2015

SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #22 - November 1998


Poisoned Souls
Credits:  Mark Bernardo (writer), Mike Deodato, Jr. (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Jack Morelli (letters)
The Plot:  Scorpion reemerges as a sanctioned vigilante, working as an employee of Roxxon Oil and an unnamed government agency.  Roxxon stages events that cast Scorpion as a hero and ingratiate him to the media.  Later, Peter and MJ attend a lecture held by Jonah Jameson’s wife Marla at ESU, only to find it a target of Scorpion and the Black Tarantula’s hired thugs.  Jonah and Marla are kidnapped. Later, NYPD detective Connor Trevane is able to help Spider-Man board a plane that follows them to South America.  Spider-Man soon discovers Roxxon is working in concert with the Black Tarantula to create a new breed of super-soldiers.  Marla’s scientific expertise is needed to complete the project, so Scorpion threatens to kill Jonah if she doesn’t cooperate.  Spider-Man emerges and defeats Scorpion in battle.  The Black Tarantula escapes, and Marla (who was wearing a wire the entire time) contacts the proper authorities.  Connor Trevane informs Raymond Royton of the Department of Justice that he should now have enough info to indict Roxxon Oil.
The Subplots:  Peter is uncertain if he can defeat Scorpion, especially now that Scorpion has received upgraded abilities.  MJ tells Peter she has faith in him, and congratulates him when he returns home.
Web of Continuity:
  • The government agency working with Roxxon is never identified.
  • At the Roxxon event that announces Scorpion’s debut as a Roxxon employee, Betty Brant meets Trish Tilby, who Spider-Man describes as “one of her idols.”
  • Marla Madison (not called Marla Jameson this time) is actually drawn on-model this issue, for the first time in almost two years.
*See _________ For Details:  A footnote reminds us that Spider-Man helped find Det. Connor Trevane’s son in Peter Parker, Spider-Man #44 (although the book was only known as Spider-Man back then.)  Roxxon’s former subsidiary the Brand Corporation (which dabbled in human experimentation) was shut down in Amazing Spider-Man #236.  Brand reopened without ties to Roxxon in Spider-Man: The Mutant Agenda #1.  Ben Reilly (with Power Man and Iron Fist) faced the souped-up Scorpion in Spider-Man Unlimited #13, which also featured Roxxon’s efforts to acquire Rand-Meachum.  Raymond Royton has been investigating Roxxon since Amazing Spider-Man #235.
I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man tells Detective Connor Trevane that he has to explain to him the meaning behind the bees in the X-Files movie.  I have no idea what this is supposed to mean…are police detectives better than the average person at deciphering vague plot points in movies?  Shouldn’t he be consulting a film critic?
Review:  It’s the final issue of Spider-Man Unlimited, even though an animated series and accompanying comic tie-in with the same name will debut in 1999.  (The less said about that fiasco the better.)  Years after that, in an effort to pump more Spider-product into the market, Spider-Man Unlimited is revived, this time as a standard format comic.  It dies after a few years and no one seems to notice.  In 1998, the original incarnation is being cancelled to make way for the relaunch of the Spider-Man line, which will allegedly feature fewer, more easily accessible titles.  The new Amazing Spider-Man #1, which is just two months away, will feature yet another story about a mysterious group granting the Scorpion upgraded powers.  Editor Ralph Macchio either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
There’s nothing particularly great about this issue, but I have to say that Mark Bernardo addresses my standard complaints about Roxxon stories.  Roxxon is, I can’t believe this, actually being investigated this time, by a long-forgotten minor character from the Roger Stern days.  The idea that Roxxon could just do WTF-ever it wanted and get away with anything because, "yeah, man, the corporations" was always ridiculous and I’m glad Bernardo remembered that Roger Stern was trying to address this ages ago.  That doesn’t mean their plan this issue is bulletproof, however.  There’s no clear reason given for why Roxxon feels the need to make the Scorpion a nationally famous superhero, which is a major plot point in the first half of the story before being dropped.  I guess the assumption is that they’ll make stacks of money merchandising his image, which is the standard “corporation meets superhero” plot, but it would be nice to have some clarification in the actual story.  More frustrating is the idea of an unnamed rogue government agency with an elaborate scheme to create super-soldiers operating right under the Department of Justice’s nose.  I realize that government conspiracy stories were all the rage in the ‘90s, but just throwing that idea out there with no effort to give the agency some kind of identity or motive, and letting them get away scot-free, feels half-baked.

All that said, the issue is fairly satisfying as a Spider-Man story, a problem that’s plagued Spider-Man Unlimited for much of its existence.  (Although to be fair, Bernardo’s handful of issues are usually good about presenting stories that feel unique to Spider-Man.)  This time, Peter has an emotional issue to resolve, the supporting cast not only appears but has an actual role in the story, and a classic Spider-Man foe returns and is played up as a credible threat.  In fact, the crux of Peter’s emotional angst this issue is his insecurity about facing Scorpion yet again.  You could argue this is overblown given the number of times Peter’s succeeded in the past, but I think the story is effective in selling the idea that Scorpion’s more powerful than ever now and not a guaranteed win for Spidey.  MJ’s there to give Peter a pep talk, as opposed to nagging him to death, which is a welcome sight these days.  Any Scorpion story wouldn’t be complete without Jonah, which gracefully leads to Marla’s role in the plot.  And that’s not all, because even more obscure characters start popping up!  I half-expected Deb Whitman to make a cameo before the story was over.  This feels specifically like a Spider-Man story, and not a random fill-in rescued out of the drawer and tossed on to the schedule.  I realize that sounds like a low bar to clear, but even the monthly titles seemed to have a problem accomplishing this much in 1998.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #439 - Late September 1998


There once was a Spider…!
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Rafael Kayanan (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)
The Plot:  A thousand years in the future, researchers Zack and Lana discover the remains of a web-shooter in the ruins of Old Manhattan.  Their tests confirm it belonged to Spider-Man, one of the leading figures of the Heroic Age.  They speculate on what Spider-Man’s life was like, and the circumstances that led to him losing the web-shooter.  In the present, Spider-Man searches for a lost girl in the sewers.  He clings to an unstable structure, which falls on his arm, breaking the web-shooter.  Spider-Man convinces the girl to be brave and manages to rescue her in spite of his injured arm.
The Subplots:  MJ encourages Peter to stay home for the day, but changes her mind after seeing news footage of the missing girl.  MJ spends the rest of the day alone.
Review:  I don’t pretend to know what was going on behind the scenes at this time, but Tom DeFalco’s final two ASM issues shipped bi-weekly, leading the way for John Byrne to debut early with the “Gathering of Five” crossover.  Like the previous two issues, this is pure filler, but it is has more heart and humor than the two duds that preceded it.  Zack and Lana’s attempts to piece together what Spider-Man’s life must have been like play against the reality that Spider-Man experiences as New York’s least appreciated hero, and there are numerous in-jokes for comic fans to enjoy.  Lana, for example, is a fan of Spider-Man’s “Maximum Carnage” era, a fact Zack just can’t believe.  DeFalco has also remembered to throw in a token Peter/MJ scene; one that once again mischaracterizes MJ as a domineering nag, but she’s thankfully less annoying than she was earlier in DeFalco's run.  It seems we were supposed to be sympathizing for MJ during her previous bouts of obnoxiousness, an idea that was poorly conveyed to say the least.  This issue has a brief scene emphasizing just how lonely she is when Peter is off playing hero, which is a fair enough avenue to explore.  The human moments could’ve been sold better by Rafael Kayanan, who still struggles with basic acting, but I have to say that I’m still enjoying his interpretation of Spider-Man and I think his backgrounds look solid.  Overall, the story is a decent goodbye for DeFalco, who was never able to hit his stride during his second Amazing stint.  I’m glad that he was able to go out with one of his stronger issues.

Monday, July 20, 2015

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN Annual ’98 - October 1998


The Night They Killed Big Bear…It was in the Stars
Credits:  Jack Morelli (writer/ letters), Joyce Chin (penciler), Andy Lanning (inks), Christie Scheele (colors)

The Plot:  Disgraced former boxer Sam “Big Bear” Lincoln works as a janitor at the Hayden Planetarium.  He’s murdered by agents of the mobster Alphonse Scarpetti, who thinks Sam is going to reveal Scarpetti’s connection to an infamous murder.  Later, Bugle sports reporter Max Igoe attempts suicide.  Spider-Man saves his life and Max confesses he feels responsible for Sam’s murder after interviewing him for a book.  Before he died, Sam sent an audio tape to his friend MacKinley Stewart.  Scarpetti’s men ransack Mac’s apartment, stealing the tape and leaving Mac for dead.  Mac’s friend, Elektra, investigates the attack and soon encounters Spider-Man at Scarpetti’s home.  They leave with the audio tape, which gives them the clues needed to find evidence Sam left hidden at the planetarium.  While there, Spider-Man and Elektra are attacked by Scarpetti’s enforcer, the wraith-like Silencer.  Using magnetism from a broken meteorite, they defeat the Silencer and capture the evidence needed to put Scarpetti in prison.  Elektra is unable to enjoy the victory, however, after Mac dies from his injuries.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  Due to events of her solo series, Elektra is wanted on several counts of murder.  She claims the Kingpin framed her.

*See _________ For Details:  Mac is apparently Elektra’s love interest from her ‘90s series.  A footnote says he previously suffered major injuries in Elektra #19.

How Did This Get Published?:  One narrative description during the Silencer fight scene:  “From the inky black of himself, the grim phantom draws gleaming twin fighting blades…and the cruel storm whose foreboding approach they had sensed…erupts!”

"Huh?" Moment:  Spider-Man’s way of telling Max Igoe he isn’t a mind reader is to claim he isn’t Professor X.  Professor Xavier doesn’t have a public identity at this time, so Igoe wouldn’t have the slightest idea what Spider-Man’s referring to.

Review:  At the very least, you can’t accuse this story of being padded.  That’s not to say it’s convoluted either, there’s just a lot of material to take in over the course of thirty-eight pages.  Jack Morelli, a name I primarily recognize as the letterer of Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run, seems excited to tell a noir story about a washed up boxer with ties to the mob, a story that somehow requires Spider-Man and Elektra be thrown into it.  Spider-Man’s connection through the Daily Bugle isn’t that much of a stretch, admittedly, but somehow Elektra has her love interest from her cancelled ongoing pulled into this affair.  Why isn’t immediately obvious, unless someone at Marvel was just adamant that the poor guy get killed off and this was the only comic available to do it.

Spider-Man has a long history of appearing in mobster stories, of course, so it’s easy to give Morelli the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of the issue.  It soon becomes clear, however, that Spider-Man’s not the star of this story, and since none of the generic goons are any kind of a threat to him, a supernatural menace has to be shoehorned in.  That’s the Silencer, a villain whose gimmick has already been taken by Cloak, the Shroud, and probably a dozen other characters.  He’s a needless distraction in a story that’s already packed, and every scene with him just drags.  Also holding the issue down is the unremitting narration, which seeks to remind us on each page just how hard-boiled this story is supposed to be.  A few of the lines are kind of clever, but the overall batting average is rather low.  This is a script in desperate need of some red ink.  

I’ll give it credit for being different, however.  The tone is a marked departure from the standard material being produced by the spider-office during these days, and there are a few glimpses of a solid idea in here.  Joyce Chin is also an interesting choice as penciler, given that her work at this time is oddly reminiscent of Liam Sharpe’s.  It’s hard to accept this as Spider-Man art, but her pencils fit the mood.  Generously, this could be written off as an experiment; one that doesn’t quite work, but isn’t a total loss either.

Friday, July 17, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #6 - September 1996


Back in the USSR Part 2: Clear and Present Danger
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Ben Herrera & Roberto Flores (pencilers), Gary Martin & Ralph Cabera (inks), Matt Webb (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  The X-Men and Brotherhood call a truce when Magneto announces that he’ll combine his powers with the Scarlet Witch’s to stop the missiles from hitting America.  Apocalypse suddenly appears outside and engages Magneto and the X-Men in battle.  Gambit contacts Xavier, who then conveys Magneto’s plan to Nick Fury.  Against the urging of the Joint Chiefs, Fury convinces the president not to retaliate against Russia.  Apocalypse abandons the fight when the Russian military arrives, and Magneto is eventually able to gain control of the final missile.  He directs it to Apocalypse’s underground stronghold in the Nevada desert.  Apocalypse teleports away from the blast, but is unable to save years of research.

Continuity Notes:  Magneto has been secretly studying Apocalypse for years, just as he suspects Apocalypse has studied him.

How Did This Get Published?:  Storm’s response to Magneto releasing his magnetic wall and freeing the X-Men is excruciating, even by animated Storm standards:  “The barrier he imprisoned us behind -- he is dissolving it!  Now we may strike back at this man whose actions will bring death to millions.”

Review:  How does Magneto go from raving lunatic last issue back to the noble anti-hero this issue?  Most of the drama of this chapter hinges on Xavier and Fury’s efforts to convince the US government to trust Magneto, even though the previous issue showed us a Magneto more than willing to destroy the United States!  Perhaps someone realized in-between issues that Magneto was out of character, in regards to his animated appearances, but it’s hard to imagine why anyone thought radically altering his personality for the second chapter was a legitimate solution.  If you’re going with bug-eyed crazy Magneto, at least be consistent for the duration of a two-part storyline.  Suddenly dropping in the Claremont interpretation of Magneto makes the overall story feel utterly incoherent.



Speaking of incoherent, we have the dreaded artist jam this issue.  Only two pencilers and two inkers, yes, but the dissimilarity in styles is so jarring that even the youngest of readers is going to be taken out of the story.  Both Ben Herrera and Roberto Flores have styles that could vaguely be called “manga influenced,” but that doesn’t mean their art is in any way compatible.  Herrera’s work is angular, open, and occasionally too simplified for its own good.  Flores has a curvy, detail-heavy style that looks like Humberto Ramos if he drew skinnier, even more distorted figures.  Flores would’ve fit in at the later days of Extreme Studios, while Herrera did back-up work on Savage Dragon, if you get what I’m saying.  They’re both “cartoony,” but that doesn’t mean they’re well-matched.  And neither artist is on the level of Andy Kuhn, who produced some fantastic covers for the Adventures books in the mid-90s, although I’ve yet to see one featuring his interiors.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #5 - August 1996


Back in the USSR Part 1: Armageddon in Red
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Ben Herrera (penciler), Gary Martin (inks), Matt Webb w/Malibu (colors), Ul Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Inside Asteroid M, Magneto prepares his recruits, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Toad, for war.  Their base is suddenly attacked, sending it crashing to the ground.  They land near Moscow and are quickly confronted by the Russian army.  Magneto and his followers dismantle the troops and head for a nearby nuclear missile base.  Nick Fury covertly contacts the X-Men and asks for their help.  The X-Men soon arrive in Russia, but are unable to stop Magneto from launching the missiles at America.  Magneto is confident he’s provoked a war between the two nations.  After the missiles launch, Apocalypse appears on the monitors, boasting that Magneto has fallen for his scheme.

Continuity Notes:  
  • With the exceptions of Beast and Rogue, all of the standard X-Men from the cartoon appear this issue.  Jubilee isn’t allowed to go on the mission, however.
  • Magneto calls his followers the “Brotherhood of Mutants,” leaving the “Evil” out.  No reference is made to Magneto being Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s father.
  • Magneto doesn’t outright reference the Holocaust, following the example of the cartoon, but does state that he was imprisoned for being “different” and that Russian soldiers “were the liberators of my prison camp.”
“Um, Actually…”:  The story of Magneto and Asteroid M has already been told in the show’s “Sanctuary” two-parter.  And the “Family Ties” episode presents a contradictory view of Magneto’s first encounter with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.  Also, isn’t Mystique already leading a Brotherhood team in the show’s continuity?

Production Note:  This issue comes with a bound Dunston Checks In poster, which has coloring pages and puzzles printed on the back.  Clearly someone somewhere thought actual kids were buying these 99-cent books.

Review:  I’m willing to cut Ralph Macchio some slack in regards to continuity, considering that the show’s schedule was erratic by this point, and I doubt he was given access to scripts that weren’t being adapted for X-Men Adventures.  It’s not as if the show itself had perfect continuity, it couldn’t even keep the original team of X-Men straight, so I’m not going to judge the book too harshly for contradicting the later episodes of the series.  I will judge a story for reading like something straight out of the Silver Age, however, which is exactly what happens this issue.  For pity’s sake, Magneto’s so deeply ingrained in the Silver Age he even uses the term “Soviet” in 1996.  I’m half-convinced that this plot was sitting around the Marvel offices for years before getting dusted off for this issue; how else do you explain Magneto using his powers to brainwash the Russian Soviet scientists that are manning the missile base?  It’s crackpot loon Magneto, an interpretation that the cartoon thankfully ignored, behaving like a maniac and trying to provoke America and Russia into a nuclear war.  (Again, how Silver Age is this?!)  Had this been released as a retro project with Steve Rude pencils…well, the story would still be a joke, but at least it would’ve looked pretty.  

How did this end up as a tie-in to the ‘90s cartoon show?  How did Macchio totally miss Magneto’s previous characterization after adapting the first three seasons of the show?  The nuanced portrayal of Magneto as a reluctant villain is a hallmark of the series; an early indicator that this wasn’t going to be a dumbed down toy commercial for little kids.  The only redeeming aspect of the issue is the surprise appearance of Apocalypse at the end, which at least teases the potential of something interesting happening next issue.  Honestly, I’m not expecting much, but maybe we’ll move on past the Cold War.

Monday, July 13, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #4 - July 1996


When the Dweller Awakes
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Mike Miller (penciler), Dan Panosian (inks), Matt Webb (colors), Ul Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Cyclops rides into Salem Center and discovers it’s been overrun with N’Garai demons.  He enters the only home immune to their attack and discovers Erich Zann inside.  Zann reveals that his family struck a deal to aid the N’Garai years ago in return for their safety, and that today is the day the N’Garai will summon the Dweller in Darkness, a beast that will destroy the Earth.  Cyclops tries to convince Erich to use the Book of R'lyeh to stop the invasion, but he refuses.  Annoyed, Cyclops locates the N’Garai leader Kierrok, who has imprisoned the X-Men.  Cyclops frees the team and takes the Book of R'lyeh from Kierrok.  Cyclops tries to use the Book to banish the N’Garai, but can’t read the language.  Erich enters and performs the ceremony, even though it means he’ll be banished with the N’Garai.  Erich bravely sacrifices his life, disappearing with the N’Garai.

Continuity Notes:  
  • X-Men appearing this issue include Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Gambit.  
  • This story is very loosely based on Uncanny X-Men #96.
  • The N’Garai never appeared in the animated series, so this marks their Adventures debut.  
  • Erich Zann is an established character from the H. P. Lovecraft mythos, taken from the short story “The Music of Erich Zann.”
“Um, Actually…”:  The N’Garai generate from a dimensional rift in this story, while in the mainstream universe they emerge from a cairn on the outskirts of the Xavier estate.

Production Note:  Not only does this issue include a card offering a discounted subscription to Spider-Man Magazine for Kids, but it also includes a polybagged packet of Kool-Aid!  Is there a collector’s market for unopened, twenty year old packets of Slammin’ Strawberry-Kiwi Kool-Aid?

Review:  Check out that Adam Warren cover…you’ve got to wonder now why Marvel didn’t heavily pursue Warren after Joe Madureira exploded in the mid-‘90s.  It’s great that Adventures gets a cover of this caliber, but it’s odd that he wasn’t used on more mainstream projects.  Anyway, that cover gives us the promise of a Bike-Riding Cyclops vs. Demons throwdown, and while I can’t say that the interiors quite live up to Warren’s work, there is a decent amount of action this issue.  Mike Miller seems to be having fun with the various demons, and the opening sequence featuring Cyclops riding an anime-style motorcycle through a horde of N’Garai is honestly more exciting than anything I was expecting out of an Adventures issue.  As a story, this is miles ahead of any of the animated series’ Cyclops episodes.  Not only is Cyclops portrayed as an inspirational hero, instead of a barely effective whiner with questionable voice acting, but he also gets to rescue the X-Men and play a critical role in stopping the villains.  Erich Zann’s character arc is noticeably rushed and not particularly fulfilling, but I do like the premise of someone making amends for his family’s mistake and sacrificing himself to save others.  The idea that Erich’s doing this against the wishes of Cyclops, who’s more than willing to be the hero and sacrifice his own life, is actually dramatized pretty well.  I’m not sure how AKOM would’ve pulled it off, but I would’ve loved to see this story take the place of any of the actual Cyclops spotlight episodes.