Wednesday, April 16, 2014

X-MEN Episode Fifty-Seven - October 7, 1995



Proteus (Part Two)
Written by Luanne Crocker

Summary:  Proteus seeks his father, politician Joe MacTaggert.  The X-Men take shifts guarding Joe from Proteus, despite his bigoted views on mutants.  After Proteus discovers Joe’s new family, he storms the Union Hall in the middle of his father’s campaign speech.  The X-Men, and the newly arrived Banshee, fail to stop him.  Only Professor X is able to calm Proteus by appealing to his humanity.  Soon, Proteus is back on Muir Island receiving therapy, and gaining better control of his powers.

Continuity Notes:  Wolverine receives his third model during this arc.  This episode, he’s dressed as a ‘70s cowboy, in a look obviously inspired by the early Dave Cockrum issues.

Um, Actually…”:  Some vaguely defined, pseudo-scientific device created by Moira is described as the only thing that can harm Proteus.  In the original storyline, Proteus is vulnerable to metal, which leaves Colossus with the burden of killing him before he can harm anyone else.

Review:  In fairness, I will say that the second chapter of this arc is an improvement over the first.  This episode dramatizes Wolverine’s shell-shocked reaction to Proteus’ reality-warping quite well, exposing the cartoon’s audience to one of the very few times Wolverine's ever shown any weakness, and giving Cal Dodd another direction to take his performance.  Remaking Joe MacTaggert as a “family values” candidate not only fits the climate of the ‘90s, but it provides Proteus with a legitimate reason for hating the guy.  The scene where he visits Joe’s home and sees the new family, including his half-sister, is unusually dark by the standards of the show.  Just the idea of an older, divorced politician with his second family being the source of derision is rare enough for Saturday Morning Television, and it’s a nice reminder that the series can still go places you wouldn’t expect it to.  I also enjoy stories that have the X-Men working to defend bigots, as much as they might not want to, because it emphasizes a basic heroic ideal behind the concept that’s too often forgotten.

There’s not enough here to save the adaptation, however.  Almost none of the interpersonal conflicts from the original storyline are represented, mainly because the producers have decided to cast a team of X-Men that only includes one member present in the original story.  (Two if you count the semi-retired Banshee, who disappears for much of this adaptation.)  Yes, Wolverine has some great moments in the comic, but where’s Storm, Phoenix, and Cyclops?  Is there anything in this two-parter that matches Phoenix’s growing concern over her powers (mirrored by the nigh-omnipotent Proteus), Storm’s determination to stand down Proteus and save her friends, or Cyclops’ unorthodox method for bringing Wolverine back into the fight?  The story’s even missing that classic moment, the most important moment in Wolverine and Cyclops’ past I would say, where Wolverine finally acknowledges that he does respect Cyclops as a leader and a man. 

Why drop Rogue and Beast into a story that has nothing to do with them?  I wouldn’t expect Nightcrawler, Havok, and Polaris to be represented since they’re designated guest stars on the series, (even though they also have great moments in the original issues, or at least in the Classic X-Men backups) but what about the regular cast?  Cyclops and Storm are appearing in every other episode anyway, so why exclude them?  And wouldn’t it be great if the audience actually got to see Jean in an adventure in-between the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix serials?  I’m not asking for Colossus to suddenly join the team and then kill Proteus on his first mission, but more fidelity to what made this story great in the first place would’ve been nice.  For pity’s sake, this is a “Proteus” adaptation that has a happy ending!  Even Joe MacTaggert decides in the end that he loves his son and mutants are all okay with him.  That’s missing the point of the original by a country mile.  What’s frustrating is that the show hasn’t shown so much of a willingness to sanitize the material in the past, which makes me wonder what exactly was happening behind the scenes.  I wouldn’t expect any actual murders or rotting corpses on the show, but it’s shocking that an adaptation of such a dark story could be this bland.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Monday, April 14, 2014

X-MEN Episode Fifty-Six - September 30, 1995



Proteus (Part One)
Written by Bruce Reid Schaefer
 
Summary:  Moira MacTaggert treats the teenage mutant Proteus, who is kept in a private cell on Muir Island.  When Proteus escapes, Moira calls the X-Men for help.  The X-Men search for him as he travels into a nearby town, possessing the locals and causing havoc while searching for his father.  When he confronts the X-Men in battle, Moira is finally forced to admit that Proteus is her son, Kevin MacTaggert. 

Continuity Notes:
  • This two-parter is based on the original Proteus storyline in Uncanny X-Men #125-128.
  • The X-Men featured this episode are Xavier, Beast, Rogue, and Wolverine.
  • Proteus was originally referred to as “Mutant X” during his cameo appearances earlier in the Claremont/Cockrum Uncanny X-Men run. “Mutant X” is shown as the name on his cell door this episode.
  • Morph has another brief cameo on Muir Island, as he appears to be undergoing a brain scan. Banshee also appears at the start of the episode, standing next to Moira as she “treats” Proteus.
  • The Blackbird is shown flying out of the hole underneath a movable swimming pool this episode.
  • Flashbacks in this episode tell the story of Xavier and Moira’s broken engagement, Xavier’s service in the military, Moria’s later wedding to Joe MacTaggert, and Xavier’s love affair with Amelia Voght from Uncanny X-Men #309.
  • During the flashback to Xavier’s romance with Amelia, we see another glimpse of the original X-Men training in the Danger Room. Angel is included, which doesn’t fit the continuity of this series, since he didn’t meet the team until the middle of the first season.
  • The Technet is shown drinking in a pub Proteus enters after he escapes Muir Island. There are also cameos by other Marvel UK characters outside of the pub. These cameos make absolutely no sense within the context of the story.
  • Moira claims Proteus is telepathic, which doesn’t seem to fit the comics’ continuity, nor does it seem to add anything to the story.

“Um, Actually…”:  Joe and Moira MacTaggert are shown getting a divorce in a flashback.  In the comics’ continuity, Joe is still legally married to Moira and refuses to grant her a divorce because he feels it’s politically convenient to be married to a world-renowned scientist.

Saban Quality:  Wolverine changes from his superhero costume into civilian clothes, then back again, for no discernible reason during the story.

Production Note:  The closing credits are back to the standard quick-cut montage with theme music playing in the background.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  Proteus doesn’t possess bodies and slowly leech the life out of them, as seen in the comics.  Instead, he’s represented as a blocky outline that enters bodies and then leaves them unharmed.

Review:  I love the original Proteus storyline as much as anyone, but I can’t defend the decision to adapt it for Saturday Morning TV.  The original story deals with even more adult themes than “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” with visuals that are far more appropriate for Liquid Television than anything FOX was airing at the time.  Proteus is a child of rape, sheltered from the world because of his powers, a disembodied spirit determined to kill his parents.  He possesses people, rots their bodies, and moves on to his next victim.  His creators also saw fit to give him the ability to warp reality, and considering the psychology of the character, it’s only fitting that he twists reality in absolutely horrifying ways.  (If the original stories couldn’t creep you out, check out the backup stories Ann Nocenti and John Bolton created for Classic X-Men.)  It’s a dark psychological tale that was only suitable for Code approval because Chris Claremont and John Byrne had a skill for knowing just when to pull back and let the audience’s imagination take over.  Needless to say, it’s an awkward fit for an all-ages network cartoon.

With all of the teeth removed, “Proteus” becomes just another adventure of the X-Men chasing a rogue mutant around a different locale.  Admittedly, some life is breathed into the episode by a plethora of flashbacks, which is always red meat for longtime fans and welcome information for viewers only familiar with the characters through the cartoon.  As rushed as the flashbacks can be, the basic story of Xavier, Moira, and even Amelia Voght’s pasts are all dramatized quite well, and the producers have made the wise decision to ignore Lucifer and just imply that Xavier lost the use of his legs during an unnamed war.  I wouldn’t advocate changing the comics’ continuity to reflect this, but it’s totally understandable if other-media adaptations of the X-Men downplay Lucifer, a long-forgotten minor villain, in order to make the story of Xavier’s paralysis more dramatic. 

Unfortunately, when the focus shifts to the main plot, the story immediately begins to drag.  Proteus has been redesigned to resemble a gigantic, featureless square figure, straight out of an old Space Ghost model sheet.  I can understand why the visual of Proteus’ possessed bodies literally rotting wouldn’t fly, but couldn’t he at least appear as a silhouette, as seen on the cover of Uncanny X-Men #127?  I can’t imagine the thinking behind such an uninspired design.  It matches his personality, though, as the animated version of the character spends the episode moping around, staring at random people and wishing his dad were around.  Contrast this with the Proteus who absolutely hated the world, spoke like a Shakespearian villain, and relished the thought of murdering his own father.  This guy is an emo teen with a fake Scots accent.  He’s not intimidating or very sympathetic, so the audience is left waiting for the X-Men to hurry up and just throw him back in his cage.  Unfortunately, Moira reveals in the final five minutes that Proteus is her son (a “twist” that’s hard to judge on its own merits since comic fans already know this, but it seems like info that should’ve been obvious already).  That means that everyone’s got to respond to the shocking reveal, Kevin’s father will inevitably appear, and we’re going to get a second chapter.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.

Friday, April 11, 2014

X-MEN/WILDC.A.T.S - THE DARK AGE - May 1998



Credits:  Warren Ellis (writer), Mat Broome w/Bret Booth (pencils), Sean Parsons (inks), Wendy Fouts & Wildstorm FX (colors), Comicraft’s Dave Lanphear (letters)


Summary:  In 2019, the surviving members of the X-Men and WildC.A.T.S are kept in concentration camps by the Daemonite/Sentinel hybrids.  Warblade removes his power-dampener in order to cut out the other heroes’ inhibitors, knowingly sacrificing his life.  Led by Lord Emp and Shadowcat, the heroes break into a Daemonite/Sentinel facility and free Phoenix, Cable, and Savant.  Merging their powers with Lord Emp’s, they execute their plan to travel into the past and prevent their teams from forming, which will stop the Daemonites and Sentinels from ever merging.  As they enter the timestream, Wolverine and Grifter arrive from Canada and bomb the facility.  Reality warps, then returns to normal in the present day.


Gimmicks:  A variant cover laid out by Michael Golden was also released, although the pencils and inks were provided by Richard Bennett, which probably didn’t thrill anyone expecting a Michael Golden cover.


Review:  Yet another take on “Days of Future Past,” which I suppose isn’t a surprise considering that every chapter so far has moved up and up the timeline.  Warren Ellis predictably wrings every drop of bleakness he can out of the concept, but while he’s an obvious choice to write a dark science fiction story set in the future, casting Mat Broome as artist is a questionable decision.  The previous chapters consistently featured the best artists working for Wildstorm during these days, which is a list Mat Broome (especially the Mat Broome of 1998) can’t compete with.  He seems to be going for a Travis Charest look on many pages, which unfortunately leads to needlessly elaborate layouts and pointless insert panels that ruin the flow of the page.  And while his designs for the alien/robotic technology are kind of impressive, his human figures are often too flat and awkward to be taken seriously.  And the bondage outfits he’s designed for the future X-Men, especially Wolverine, would make even Joel Schumacher roll his eyes.  


Ellis’ story covers much of the ground you expect these “Days of Future Past” sequel/parody/pastiches to go, right down to the team’s leader making a dramatic entrance in a wheelchair (previously it was Magneto, then Peter Wisdom, now WildC.A.T.S’s Lord Emp.)  Taking the Daemonites from WildC.A.T.S continuity and merging them with the Sentinels isn’t a bad idea, helping to make the story less obviously an X-Men story and adding a science fiction element that we haven’t really seen in any of the mutant dystopian futures yet.  Ellis also has a nice hook for the time travel element of the story, as Shadowcat explains that the Daemonites and Sentinels only exist because of the WildC.A.T.S and X-Men respectively, so the best way to ensure they never merge is to go back in time and prevent the teams from forming.  (Somehow, in the course of one page, the plan changes to prevent just one team from existing, and the WildC.A.T.S volunteer, but I think the concept is still interesting.)  Simultaneously, Wolverine and Grifter arrive, totally ignorant of what’s going on, and just blow up the Daemonite/Sentinel base.  Oops.  The ending makes little sense, but I guess the idea is that all of the previous X-Men/ WildC.A.T.S have been wiped from continuity.  That’s one way to end a series of crossovers that was never going to “count” in the first place.  


Overall, despite a few good ideas, The Dark Age is the weakest of the X-Men/ WildC.A.T.S books.  Aside from the disappointing art, the story wastes too much time gratuitously killing off established Wildstorm characters instead of fleshing out the main cast or actually exploring some of the time travel ideas introduced by the plot.  Alan Moore already did a “Days of Future Past” riff in the Spawn/ WildC.A.T.S miniseries that included quite a few superfluous death scenes for the Wildstorm heroes…I don’t need to see yet another gruesome slaughter of a character I barely recognize from 1995.  The cast also lacks any real diversity, as everyone does little more than snap and swear at each other, when they’re not busy bemoaning their wretched existence.  It gets old fast.  The previous chapters might’ve been thin reads, but I think they’re genuinely entertaining in a way this isn’t. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

X-MEN: HELLFIRE CLUB #4 - April 2000



Also Sprach Sebastian
Credits:  Ben Raab (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Kevin Somers (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)


Summary:  In China, Irene is awakened by Tessa, who relates to her the story of Sebastian Shaw.  She learns of his past as a poor steelworker, who attended college on scholarship and became a successful engineer.  Against the wishes of his girlfriend Lourdes Chantel, Shaw joined the Hellfire Club, only to be betrayed by the mutant-hating White King Edward Buckman.  Following Lourdes’s death, Shaw killed Buckman and instituted the new Inner Circle.  Shaw interrupts the story to meet Irene.  She rejects his offer of membership and pursues the publication of her story back in New York.


Continuity Notes:  
  • A few pages of this issue are a retelling of the back-up story in Classic X-Men #7, which is likely why Chris Claremont has a “special thank you” credit in the opening.
  • Other members joining the Hellfire Club with Shaw include Iron Man’s father Howard Stark and Archangel’s father Warren Worthington, Jr.


Miscellaneous Note:  The title of the issue is a reference to “Also sprach Zarathustra.”


Review:  The finale might seem like a bit of an anti-climax, as Irene is allowed to live and we never learn if her story is published, but I think Raab does a capable job of creating a sense of closure without spelling everything out for the reader.  Shaw is humanized for, if not the very first time, the first time in ages as Raab goes back to his youth and explores his blue-collar roots.  Revealing that Shaw was essentially a character out of a Bruce Springsteen song is perhaps trying a bit too hard to make him likeable, but it seems to be a legitimate background for him to have.  In comparison to the more recent trend in villain origins, revealing that they were all psychopaths as children (hello, Geoff Johns), I prefer the path taken here.  Shaw’s evolution into sheer villainy was already handled by Claremont in the back-up story that killed Lourdes Chantel, but Raab does a decent job of getting the character to his starting point in Claremont's story.  And as someone who spent much of his youth preoccupied with X-continuity, I have to say it’s a relief to see the previous Sebastian Shaw prequel story hasn’t been ignored.


The best scene in the issue is when Shaw refuses to kill Irene, simply because he sees so much of himself in her.  That’s a smart way to invert the point of the previous stories, which consistently showed ambition as the downfall of the protagonists.  Here, Irene is spared solely because of her tenacity and desire to succeed.  Then again, those are the traits she shares with the villain she’s desperate to bring down, so how is Irene supposed to view herself now?  My only real issue with the conclusion is Shaw’s arrogance that he can just buy out any publishing firm that wants to publish her story.  That old trope might’ve gone unnoticed pre-internet, but by 2000 a story spiked by Newsweek had already leaked online and caused a certain American president a lot of trouble.  The idea of a shadowy cabal controlling what the public hears always stretched credibility, but in the days when the average person has more access to information than ever before, it’s much harder to sell this as a legitimate plot point.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

X-MEN: HELLFIRE CLUB #3 - March 2000


For Want of a Soul
Credits:  Ben Raab (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Kevin Somers (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)


Summary:  In England, Irene meets with Spitfire and the modern-day Union Jack.  Spitfire reads from the journal of her father, the original Union Jack.  In an entry from 1915, he tells the story of Esau Shaw and his envious brother Jacob.  Esau was ambivalent about joining the Hellfire Club, but Jacob craved the power and struck a deal with Mr. Sinister.  After Sinister granted Jacob shapeshifting powers, Jacob killed his brother and attempted to take his place.  Union Jack foiled his scheme, but was unable to capture Jacob.


Continuity Notes:  
  • Donald Pierce’s ancestor, identified only by his last name, attempts to recruit Esau into the Hellfire Club, based on his belief that a Shaw should always be a member.  
  • The present day scenes also establish Irene Merryweather as a smoker, which I don’t recall from any of her previous appearances (not that this version of Irene looks anything like her past appearances anyway.)


Review:  The flashbacks make it to the twentieth century, as the mystery killers get closer and closer to Irene.  I don’t think Ben Raab has hidden his affection for Union Jack in the past, so it’s not a surprise to see him here, but he thankfully doesn’t feel like a gratuitous guest star.  So far, Raab’s done a good job of taking existing Marvel characters from different time periods and working them into the story naturally.  Cameos in flashback stories can easily become annoying, but Raab’s been able to avoid that trap.  Plus, Charlie Adlard draws a fantastic Union Jack.  


Thematically, Raab advances the concept of desire, and the price a person is willing to pay to get what they want.  (Or to silence whatever insecurities lie within them.)  Irene begins to question if her own ambition to become a famous reporter makes her any better than the fools who have fallen for the Hellfire Club’s trap over the years, a valid point considering that she’s risking everything on a story that she acknowledges could just be forgotten by the next day.  I like the way the drama is escalating from issue to issue, as the flashbacks inch closer to the modern day while the Hellfire Club gets closer to Irene.  The issue ends with Irene unwittingly stepping into a car with a pitchfork logo, a nice cliffhanger setting the stage for the final issue.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

X-MEN: HELLFIRE CLUB #2 - February 2000



Toll the Bell Liberty
Credits:  Ben Raab (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Kevin Somers & Christie Scheele (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)


Summary:  Archangel tells Irene the story of his ancestor, Major-General Wallace Worthington, who married young Elizabeth Shaw, unaware that she was a pawn of the Hellfire Club.  When Elizabeth Shaw refused to turn over military secrets to Lady Grey, she ordered Worthington killed.  The Captain America of 1781 tried to save Worthington, but was too late.  As he leaves, Archangel informs Irene that the historian she was scheduled to meet was recently killed.


Continuity Notes:  The Hellfire Club’s Lady Grey is the spitting image of Jean Grey, from which we can infer that Jean gets her looks from her father’s side, I suppose.


Review:  Hmm…we know Archangel’s family has a history with the Hellfire Club, that goes back to their debut storyline, but learning of this “Lady Grey” who happens to look exactly like Jean, that’s perhaps a bit of a stretch.  I assume Raab is playing off the illusions created by Mastermind in the original “Dark Phoenix Saga,” which had Jean “reliving” the life of an ancestor that was associated with the Hellfire Club.  That ancestor was supposed to be an illusion created by Mastermind, though.  That’s always been my assumption, at least, and it would seem to be the only reasonable explanation that works within Mastermind's established power set.  Regardless, if the Club really is the venerable institution that Marvel has claimed it to be, I suppose it’s not entirely improbable that two X-Men with Northeastern roots could have ancestors in the Club.


Concerning the actual content of the story, it’s another solid issue.  Elizabeth Shaw’s quest for freedom is contrasted with the “freedom” represented by the Hellfire Club, which also gives Raab an opportunity to hint at what the real-life Hellfire Club was doing during this era.  (Hint:  Kinky things.)  Creating another member of the Shaw family that isn’t an obvious villain, one that’s actually quite sympathetic this issue, is also a smart play on Raab’s part.  While working in the Captain America of 1781 might initially seem like an awkward continuity implant, he naturally ties into the issue’s theme of freedom, and he fulfills the role of Wallace Worthington’s confidant quite well.  You can’t think Worthington is too bad a guy if he’s buddies with Captain America, after all.

Monday, April 7, 2014

X-MEN: HELLFIRE CLUB #1 - February 2000

 

Witch Hunt
Credits:  Ben Raab (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Kevin Somers (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

Summary:  Irene Merryweather investigates Sebastian Shaw’s family, focusing on Reverend Hiram Shaw and the Salem Witch Trials.  Irene learns from a minister the story of Hiram, his son Obadiah, Obadiah’s girlfriend Abby, and her secret life as a witch.  When Hiram’s wife is killed by Dormammu, Abby is blamed.  As she escapes Salem, she uses her powers to kill several townspeople.  Today, the minister is killed after telling Irene the story.

Continuity Notes:  Irene Merryweather is oddly off-model, although I guess not as off-model as Trish Tilby can occasionally be.

Review:  This is an unusual relic from the final days of the Bob Harras era.  Marvel was apparently willing to do a historical drama with few superheroic elements as a miniseries, but didn’t have enough faith in the concept to leave X-Men out of the title.  Had this mini been released a year or so later, with a writer not associated with late ‘90s Marvel, it probably would’ve been acknowledged as another "daring" experiment from the Quesada/Jemas days.  And, had it been released a few years earlier, before the market had been oversaturated by X-product, it might’ve been remembered as a unique project by a promising creative team.  Instead, it’s dumped out just as this era of Marvel comes to a close, not gaining much attention from X-fans or non-X-Fans.

Over the years, a few readers have picked up on the miniseries, however.  I’ve heard it described as the giant leap ahead for Ben Raab, and based on the first issue, I can’t disagree.  He starts with the most clichéd set-up imaginable, the evil preacher picking on innocent girls in 1692 Massachusetts, then turns all of the clichés into clever plot twists.  Yes, Rev. Hiram Shaw is arrogant and power hungry, but he’s also legitimately hunting witches.  He’s described by Dormammu as the "sorcerer supreme" in quotes, so I doubt Raab is playing with continuity enough to claim that Shaw really is this era’s Sorcerer Supreme, but he’s clearly involved with the mystical realm in some way.  As is Abby, the alleged witch who turns out to be a literal witch.  When Shaw tells his son Obadiah not to be seen with her, it’s not only because he’s accusing Abby of being a witch in order to provoke the locals.  Using Shaw, a character we naturally assume to be a villain based on his occupation and last name and casting him as a flawed hero is kind of brilliant, and it automatically makes me more willing to give the series a shot.  The art is also nicely cast, as Adlard’s moody art fits the era perfectly, while his stylized faces are still human enough to sell the emotions.

Friday, April 4, 2014

X-FORCE #101 - April 2000


Learning to Fly
Credits:  Joseph Harris (writer), Steven Harris (penciler), Rick Kethcum (inker), Matt Hicks (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)


Summary:  Cannonball crashes into San Francisco Bay as all mutants lose their powers across the globe.  After he’s taken to the hospital, a depressed Meltdown wanders the city.  She soon meets a boy named Kevin, who lost his newfound ability to fly when all mutant powers were cancelled.  He tries to gain his peers’ acceptance by doing another flying stunt the next day.  Meltdown is barely able to rescue him.  Later, Meltdown spends time with the recuperating Cannonball, contemplating what it means to be “normal.”


Continuity Notes:  It’s another story following Uncanny X-Men #379, even though there aren’t any footnotes pointing the reader in that direction.


Review:  Last issue was the big anniversary issue, and John Francis Moore’s final story, while next issue is the start of the Warren Ellis revamp.  What to do with the issue in-between?  Give Moore one more issue to tie up loose ends from his run?  Reunite Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld for one final story featuring the original members of the team?  Another New Mutants tribute story, perhaps?  Nope.  The proper answer is “Kill time with a tie-in to the main X-Men books.”  The “All Mutants Lose Their Powers” arc (Did it ever have a real name?) seemed oddly un-ambitious given the nature of the story, but in retrospect I can understand why Marvel didn’t want to make it into a larger event.  Writers can do the type of story seen in this issue, and…that’s pretty much it.  The cast reflects on losing their powers, then they have to move on with their lives.  How many comics truly need to address this, especially when everyone knows it’s only temporary?  


Joe Harris does a nice enough job exploring some of the obvious ideas, allowing Meltdown to narrate the story and reflect on what being a mutant has ultimately cost her.  The new kid, Kevin (or “Freakshow” to the kids at school) is the archetypal lonely weirdo who thinks being able to fly is his ticket to popularity, which turns the focus to the other side of the equation, just how good it could feel for someone like that to be special.  Thankfully, Harris doesn’t go the predictable route and have Kevin get lynched at the end (in fact, the kids seem genuinely excited to see someone fly); Kevin instead embarrasses himself when he refuses to accept that his gift is now gone.  It’s a sad ending, but Harris doesn't make the scene overly dramatic.  No teen suicides, fortunately.  The main drag on the issue is the art, which couldn’t possibly be more ill-suited for a quiet character story.  Steven Harris simply cannot draw believable, consistent human faces.  These are ugly, ugly people.  Harris seems to be inspired by Adam Pollina’s style, but it looks like someone kept clip art of some of Pollina’s worst drawings from early in his run and just copied them over and over again.  Cable also looked horrible this month, making me wonder what was going on behind-the-scenes in the weeks before the “Revolution” revamp.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

CABLE #78 - April 2000

 

I Still Believe I Cannot Be Saved
Credits:  Joe Pruett (writer), Juan Santacruz w/Michael Ryan (pencilers), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Gloria Vasquez (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary:  Cable returns to his warehouse to discover it’s been ransacked.  According to Blaquesmith, the burglars were attempting to access the building’s secret room, where he’s working on a cure for the techno-organic virus.  Meanwhile, representatives of the Ranshi Empire search for time travelers in Manhattan.  Later, Cable meets with Stacey and erases her memories of their relationship.  As he leaves, he admits he loves her.  On his way home, Cable’s techno-organic virus goes out of control.  Irene Merryweather later discovers him in the streets.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Cable loses control of his techno-organic virus (again) due to the events of Uncanny X-Men #379.
  • Ozymandias gets a subplot page, pondering what he’ll do now that Apocalypse is dead.  Linger in obscurity would be my guess…
  • Speaking of Apocalypse’s “death” -- this issue makes the same mistake a few of the spinoffs made during this period.  Cable claims Apocalypse has been “defeated” and Cyclops is dead, ignoring the actual ending of X-Men #98, which had Apocalypse merging with Cyclops’ body and then teleporting away.  How do you get “dead” or “defeated” out of that?

I Love the '90s:  The title of this issue is of course a reference to the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1995 hit, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.”  And, yes, this is not technically a ‘90s comic, but I couldn’t ignore that one. 

Review:  What a weird issue.  This is the final issue of Cable before the “Revolution” relaunch of the early 2000s, which means it’s also Joe Pruett’s final issue of the title.  And he spends the issue wrapping up a romantic subplot from the Joe Casey days that’s already been pretty definitively resolved, setting up new characters for what I’m assuming is the next writer’s run (or else this Ranshi Empire stuff makes no sense at all), introducing a new Blaquesmith subplot for some reason, and closing the issue with a quickie tie-in to a storyline occurring in the main X-titles.  So, judged as a single coherent story, there’s barely anything here.  And if you’re actually intrigued by that cliffhanger, I hate to tell you that the next issue picks up six months later. 

The only plotline that’s reasonably lucid this issue is Cable and Stacey’s break-up.  Pruett handles their conversation fairly well, but the scene is marred by Juan Santacruz’s tendency to draw human faces that are abysmally inhuman.  I don’t want to be too hard on the guy, but it’s shocking to me that Santacruz found work on a mainstream title at this point in his career.  He spends much of the issue imitating Ladronn’s backgrounds and Bernard Chang’s anatomy, creating this bizarre blend of two disparate styles we’ve already seen in the book, but botching both badly.  Inserting an interlude by former Wildstorm artist Michael Ryan, the next penciler on the book, adds yet another clashing style to the issue.  And even if Michael Ryan’s pages are kind of bland, he does draw competent human anatomy, making the switch back to Santacruz’s pages even more frustrating.  I don’t think anyone will tell you Cable was particularly good during this era, but this is still a pretty sad way to close out this run.



Monday, March 31, 2014

X-BABIES REBORN #1 - January 2000





Beware the Babymaker!
Credits:  Ruben Diaz (writer), Juvaun J. Kirby (pencils & colors), Caleb Salstrom (inks), Comicraft (letters)

Summary:  While training in the Danger Playpen, Sugah accidentally touches Psychilde, which leaves Psychilde in a coma.  Soon, the X-Babies realize that her neoplasm is unstable.  They travel to Mojoworld, where they hope to find a cure.  Spiral, however, wants Psychilde’s neoplasm to create more stars for Mojo.  Her latest creations, the Mitey ‘Vengers, are unleashed on the X-Babies, but eventually they realize that Mojo is the true villain.  Iron Ace and Sugah attempt to repair Psychilde’s damaged neoplasm, but in the process alter her body into that of an Asian ninja.  Soon, Mojo is defeated by the united teams.  Later, however, Mojo creates more new creations…baby villains. 


Continuity Notes:  This story introduces the Mitey ‘Vengers, which consist of Captain Amerikid, Iron Ace, Big Boy, Thunderson, Wisp, and Hawkey.


I Love the '90s:  One corner of Mojoworld is revealed to be the Fad Dump, which houses last year’s hits, such as “digital pets, teen boy bands, yo-yos -- again.”  Unfortunately, boy bands don’t die out in 2000 as the comic predicted.


Review:The cover might fool you into thinking this was released during the Quesada/Jemas days, since the company name is written across the top and there’s no corner box (the new look adopted to signal Marvel’s new direction in 2001).  Plus, the interiors bring us lower-case lettering, when the X-Babies speak at least, another “innovation” from the Quesada/Jemas era.  The comic’s actually from the final year of the Bob Harras days, however.  It might be tempting to think this comic influenced the future look of Marvel Comics, but I can’t imagine any of Bob Harras’ replacements ever glanced at it.  I don’t even recall much of a fan response to this one-shot, even though the first one was received fairly well.  X-specials were far from “special” at this point, and virtually anything with the X-Babies on the cover was probably automatically rendered unimportant to most readers.  And fans of the original one-shot possibly didn’t even know this existed, because I certainly don’t remember any promotion for it.  

X-Babies Reborn isn’t as much fun as its predecessor, but it has its moments.  Aside from some cute jokes, including a running gag about where babies come from and the introduction of ninja-baby Psylocke, there is some legitimately good character work between Sugah and Psychilde that evokes a Claremontian feel without turning the sentiment into parody.  The plot has more than its share of puzzling diversions, however, such as a detour to an abandoned library that doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose outside of making a joke about kids not reading books anymore.  Too often the story just feels padded in order to fill up the double-sized page count.  Like the previous one-shot, the real highlight of the issue is J. J. Kirby’s art.  I think his X-Babies rival the original Arthur Adams’ versions, and the ‘Vengers are great cartoony reinventions the heroes (especially tiny Hawkeye and Iron Man.)  If Kirby could apply this style to six-foot superheroes, I don’t see how he couldn’t have had Ed McGuinness’ career.  

Friday, March 28, 2014

SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #17 - August 1997


I, Robot Master
Credits:  Glenn Greenberg (writer), Howard Mackie (plot assist), Joe Bennett (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inks), Christie Scheele (colors), Jack Morelli (letters)


The Plot:  Betty Brant and Peter Parker investigate mysterious robotic toys left at various children's hospitals.  Peter recognizes one of the toys as a miniature Robot Master, leading him to suspect Mendell Stromm is still alive.  With Arthur Stacy’s help, Peter discerns which hospital will receive the next toy delivery.  As Spider-Man, he meets Stromm the next morning, and is shocked to discover he has amnesia.  Stromm takes Spider-Man to his old lab, explaining that he was wandering aimlessly until he passed the abandoned building and felt drawn to it.  He began to make toys for local children, inspired by vague memories of being a sick child.  When Spider-Man mentions Norman Osborn, Stromm’s demeanor changes.  He dons one of his robotic suits and attacks Spider-Man, assuming he’s associated with Osborn.  The building is destroyed, but Spider-Man saves Stromm with Arthur Stacy’s help.  


The Subplots:  Arthur Stacy visits the Daily Bugle to gain more information on Spider-Man’s connection to the deaths of George and Gwen Stacy.  Jonah Jameson sends him to lunch with a reluctant Peter, who was at the offices to research Mendell Stromm.  Later, Peter discovers MJ is still up at 3 AM studying.  She advises him not to allow his anger over Norman Osborn’s actions cloud his judgment when dealing with Stromm.


Web of Continuity:  
  • Mendell Stromm was left for dead by Norman Osborn in Amazing Spider-Man #418 as punishment for failing him.  His amnesia was caused by an electrical blast to the brain.  The reality is that Tom DeFalco meant for this to be an actual death scene, but Glenn Greenberg was interested in bringing Stromm back.
  • At the end of the story, Spider-Man takes Mendell Stromm to Dr. Kafka for an evaluation.  She confirms that most of his memories of the past nine years are gone, which means Spider-Man’s secret identity is safe.
  • Robbie Robertson and Arthur Stacy meet for the first time this issue.
  • Jonah Jameson is hale and hearty this issue, and Ashley Kafka is still employed at Ravencroft, meaning this is another story that has to occur before Spectacular Spider-Man #246.


Forever Young:  Speaking of Ashley Kafka, she mentions that Stromm’s heart attack, which was his first death scene back in Amazing Spider-Man #37, occurred nine years ago.  That means Peter Parker was a college freshman nine years ago, putting him firmly in his late 20s.  Marvel’s unofficial de-aging of the character is only a year away, at which point reboot co-architect John Byrne will declare Peter merely 22.


I Love the ‘90s:  While staking out the hospital early in the morning, Spider-Man wishes he had a portable TV to watch Dionne Warwick and the Psychic Friends Network.


Miscellaneous Note:  The title of this issue is a reference to Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.


Review:  The best Spider-Man Unlimited issue in ages, no doubt about it.  Not only is this a much stronger Joe Bennett job, whose Amazing Spider-Man work I would say is obviously suffering from deadline problems, but it’s a well-constructed story that uses the current status quo of the titles in a thoughtful way.  I’d put this issue up against any of the contemporary monthly Spider-Man books, assuming we had to compare for some reason.  It just feels more like a Spider-Man story than the vast majority of the material being published at this time.  The characters are likable, past events are influencing current events in logical ways, and the connection between Peter’s life and Spidey’s life feels organic.  When MJ gives Peter a small lecture, (lovingly) telling him not to let his anger over what happened to them earlier cloud his thinking…when Betty realizes that visiting kids in a children’s hospital might be hard for Peter after losing his own daughter…when Arthur Stacy has a chance to unmask Spider-Man but instead saves Stromm’s life…these are simple human moments, sharply written, and it’s hard to think of too many of these scenes occurring in the monthly titles.  


As we discover in the final “Life of Reilly” installment, the inspiration for this issue came from Greenberg’s desire to tie up some loose ends from the Clone Saga, and to actually address a dangling plotline from the current titles.  What exactly was Arthur Stacy supposed to be doing in these books?  The only writer who even seemed interested in covering the Stacy family was Howard Mackie, and his interest was sporadic to say the least.  Why were the Stacys revived if no one was going to do anything with them?  What’s the point of establishing Arthur Stacy as obsessed with learning the truth about Spider-Man and then putting him far into the background?  It’s possible that Mackie did have plans to address this, and I’m sure he did help Greenberg to make this a better story when consulting with him, but it’s slightly ridiculous that it takes an issue of Unlimited to give this story any traction.  It’s a good use of Unlimited, which of course is usually filler, but these are ideas that should’ve been addressed months earlier.  And given Greenberg’s ability to effectively use the supporting cast, make good use of the line’s current status quo, and humanize a throwaway villain like Mendell Stromm, it’s a shame he wasn’t assigned more Spider-Man work during these days.  At the very least, he should’ve been given a chance to make something out of Unlimited on a regular basis.