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.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The “Batman: The Animated Series” Episode That Didn't End Things, After All



Another installment of Adventure(s) Time is now up at CBR.  If you have any other animated episodes you'd like to see paired with ADVENTURES tie-ins, you can leave a comment or contact me on Twitter.

Also, if you're wondering if I'm only going to be posting links from now on, I'll possibly have micro-reviews of a certain series up in the coming weeks...

Monday, April 10, 2017

Adventure(s) Time: When "Knightfall" Invaded The Animated Series


My latest look back on Batman: The Animated Series and its tie-in comic is now up at CBR.

I cover an episode from what could be the strongest run of episodes during the series' run.  There are so many cool shadowy shots in this episode, I wanted to screencap all of 'em.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - Batman:The Animated Series and Its Furry Foes




Please understand that I've summoned all of my willpower to avoid making any reference to a certain 1962 novelty song that was, perhaps, performed by Bobby "Boris" Pickett.  My latest installment of Adventure(s) Time is now up at CBR.  If you'd like to see Batman Adventures, or any Adventures comic really, covered in the future, just leave a comment.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Interested in 10 Rejected X-MEN Movie Concepts?



Tough!  Because you're getting fifteen...

http://www.cbr.com/x-men-movie-moments-that-almost-happened/


(By the way, I forgot to mention what could be my favorite alternate casting from these movies.  Actor David Hemblen, who was the voice of Magneto in the '90s cartoon, was reportedly one of Bryan Singer's choices to play Magneto in the film, but he was unavailable due to his commitment to Earth: Final Conflict).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - When BATMAN:TAS Began to Grow Up



My newest contribution to CBR looks at the debut of Two-Face on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and the sequel from the ADVENTURES tie-in comic, written by Paul Dini. If that Two-Face painting I mentioned has been published somewhere, and I've simply forgotten about it, please be kind enough to tell me.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - The Batman Episode You Can't Escape


My latest piece for CBR...I probably should've mentioned that there is an amazing double-page spread of the Scarecrow's House of Horrors in that ADVENTURES comic:


Monday, January 16, 2017

TMNT Video Collection from the FHE Days





The packaging art on these old FHE videos is pretty nice.  I'm assuming that Mirage was also in charge of this artwork, since all of the other merchandising art came out of Mirage.  It's amusing to see just how much the PR people who cut these commercials loved Michelangelo.  Even when he isn't the Turtle speaking in the clip, they dub in Michelangelo's voice!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - Supergirl's Non-Gooey Animated Debut


In case you missed it, my latest installment of Adventure(s) Time focuses on Supergirl's debut in the DC Animated Universe, some of the behind-the-scenes issues it presented, and how the Superman Adventures comic completed the character arc that was cut from the show.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Micro-Reviews - TALES OF THE BATMAN (Part Two)



“Museum Piece” by Mike Resnick
Another entry that plays with the narrative; this isn’t a story, but a documentation of various exhibits in the Gotham Museum.

It reads as a clinical recounting of various battles between Batman and the Joker, but no real narrative emerges.

Meaning, there’s no coherent line from one exhibit to another.  It’s not a meta-commentary on the evolution of the characters, and there’s no connection from one exhibit to the next.

The final entry does indicate that the Joker attempted suicide in the last documented case, which could be interpreted a variety of ways, but the revelation comes out of nowhere.

Not a bad hook for a piece, but it would’ve been nice if the entries didn’t come across as arbitrarily selected bits of stories.

“Wise Men of Gotham” by Edward Wellen
Oh, lordy.  Where to begin on this one?

At times, it’s a fairly standard Batman vs. Riddler story.  It’s fine, as far as that goes.

The riddles hinge on an English fairy tale I’d never heard of, the Wise Men of Gotham: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wise_Men_of_Gotham

Published in 1995, I’d wager this was written sometime in the late ‘80s.  Batman is still free to crack jokes, homelessness is the pressing issue of the day, and there’s a reference to the Japanese buying up American properties.

“Another Day in Paradise” was surely playing in the background as Edward Wellen clacked away on his IBM Lotus Pro.

Continuity’s clearly no priority here.  Previous stories featured the Bat-phone, but in this installment, Gordon only has the Bat-signal as a means to summon Batman.  Gordon acts as if he doesn’t think the signal will work, but why does he have the thing in the first place?

Another bit of absurdity -- Bruce Wayne appears at a costume party dressed as Batman, in one of his actual Batman suits.  He even has a conversation with Commissioner Gordon, who doesn’t recognize him at all.

And Bruce Wayne jeopardizes his secret ID once again when he consults with a female professor/potential love interest on the nature of the Riddler’s clues.  Is everyone in this story just flat-out oblivious?

But the dumbest moment occurs at the end, when a homeless man runs into Batman and notices something in his eyes.  The vagrant follows Batman around, and inadvertently falls victim to a bullet meant for Batman.

His final words?  I’m not making this up:

“The eyes…the eyes of the kid…who watched me…knock off his folks…in the stickup…”

Yes, Joe Chill is the random homeless man Batman happens to bump into!  And he somehow remembers Bruce’s eyes!

(Never mind that they’re white slits when Batman’s in costume…)

That’s as dumb as anything Gotham has tried to pull off.  And, yup, that’s saying something.

And is there any payoff to this?  Does it add to the story in anyway?  Nope!  It’s just tossed in during the final two pages.  Unbelievable.

You might defend the editor for not enforcing strict continuity, but how did THAT bit slip through?

Would it be so hard to say, “Let’s not introduce the killer of Batman’s parents as a random bum during the story’s wrap-up, kill him off, and not explore the idea in any way”?

“Robber’s Roost” by Max Allan Collins
Collins might be the only participant who’s actually written Batman comics before.

Collins presents us with a secret society of Gotham elites who are obsessed with owls.  Absurd!

Okay, they eat rare owls and other endangered animals, so it’s not quite the same as the Snyder comics.

Although I dislike the lazy class warfare element (Bruce is the only decent rich man in town, of course), I enjoyed the story.  Batman chases the Penguin for several hours, but later teams up with him to stop the grotesque practice.

We also have Batman’s awkward speech in front of a parole board, arranged by Gordon, which doesn’t end well.

“Brothers in Crime” by William F. Nolan
Why would you publish two Penguin stories right next to each other?  Especially when the first one ends with Batman deciding to let the Penguin go, and the second one opens with him in prison?

Every editorial choice made on this anthology is mystifying.

Anyway, this is the story of Penguin’s half-brother, who’s assigned as Penguin’s cellmate.

Told from the brother’s POV, he details Penguin’s various manipulations, and their falling out that ends with him saving Batman’s life.

There is a nice twist at the end, but we have another chatty, joyful portrayal of Batman, and a plot convenience that has Penguin easily taking down Batman.

I recognize that Batman as a character is open to interpretation, but alternating between pre and post-Miller Batman is irritating.

“Death of the Dreammaster” by Robert Sheckley
This one is…maybe?...set in the future.

It opens with Batman inadvertently killing the Joker, although he later returns to haunt Batman as a hallucination.

The tone here is bizarre -- chatty, friendly Batman again, but the story opens with Joker standing over mutilated, dismembered corpses, ready to kill a little girl.

The story’s filled with odd choices, like Batman having a publicly known girlfriend named Vera.  And I don’t mean Bruce Wayne’s girl -- Vera is specifically known as the girl Batman is seeing socially.  How does that even work?

We also have Batman adopting a fully formed alternate identity, millionaire playboy Charlie Morrison.  There’s a payoff at the end, but this just doesn’t read as a Batman story.

It’s also around 20 pages too long, and the tone shifts from horror to espionage to near-camp.  Not a great entry.

“On a Beautiful Summer’s Day, He Was” by Robert McCammon
The Joker’s origin, by way of “Stand by Me.”  Actually, it’s closer to King’s darker work.  (Yes, I know McCammon predates King.)

The Joker as a kid -- John Napier, Jr. -- abused by his mentally unstable father, kills his childhood neighbor.

All of the standard, over-explain-everything origin story moments are here.  Joker’s father is a mentally unstable chemist stuck working a job as a traveling salesman.  He’s obsessed with laughter and smiles, doesn’t understand why he can’t find happiness, and abuses his wife in horrifying ways.

Junior is ostracized by most of the kids, carries bones in his pocket, and we discover, is experimenting with animal corpses.

It’s as unpleasant as it sounds, and there’s nothing here to balance out the bleakness.  Also, playing coy with the identity of “Junior” is just ridiculous.  Clearly this is meant as a Joker origin story.

“The Joker’s War” by Robert Sheckley
Another “short” story that’s around 20 pages too long.

The premise has Joker in Europe in 1940, plotting to steal Italian art before the war spreads.

Through the course of the story, he falls in love with a German socialite, becomes a close adviser to Hitler, irritates the mafia, and uses Hitler’s astrologer Obermeier as a pawn in his schemes.

The premise is, uh, unique, but the Joker rarely feels in-character during the story.  He’s neither funny or sadistic, is capable of genuine romantic love, and doesn’t view crime as vehicles for practical jokes.

Instead, he’s a master criminal and manipulator, the greatest alive.  But he rarely feels like the Joker.

And Batman’s not even mentioned in the story, outside of Hitler stating his admiration for the way Joker handles the “beefy Batman and his catamite boyfriend Robin.”

“Endangered Species” by Greg Cox
Was there a law saying only Joker & Penguin could appear in this book?  A reminder of the days before TAS firmly took hold of the public’s perception of Batman, perhaps.  The three standout villains from the Adam West series were Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman (with Riddler as a close fourth), and that seemed to influence most interpretations of the mythos until TAS had been on the air for a few years.

And this interpretation of the Penguin is, unfortunately, dreadful.  It opens with him bathing people in literal acid rain.

I’m not saying the Penguin would never kill, but most of his murders seem to be of the “incompetent henchmen” variety.

I’ve certainly never viewed him as outright sadistic, which would be Cox’s interpretation.  Penguin’s scheme is to kidnap a pair of rare Japanese owls from the Gotham Zoo, not to preserve them for his own collection, but to threaten their death and hold them ransom.  He kidnaps the story’s narrator, a Japanese vet named Sumi, and bullies her into keeping the owls alive until he can collect his ransom.

So, the traditional view of the Penguin as a sincere bird lover who’s deluded himself into thinking he’s a part of the upper-class -- that’s gone.  He’s just a sadist kidnapping rare owls for ransom, unconcerned if they die.

Making this more irritating, a previous story showed Penguin as an earnest conservationist who teamed with Batman to save other rare birds.

That was only a few stories ago!  C’mon, this is well past sloppy.

“Copycat” by John Gregory Betancourt
After 382 pages of Joker/Penguin/Nobody villains, Catwoman finally appears.

And the premise is insane.  Catwoman has been framed for the murder of Bruce Wayne.  Upon investigating, she learns that the copycat killer is none other than Bruce’s ex, Vicki Vale.

Okay, John Gregory Betancourt.  You’ve got me interested.

The story turns out to be Bob Haney-level nuts from beginning to end.  You can poke a million holes in the plot, but it’s absurdly entertaining, and the story manages to use the two standard Batman love interests in a creative way.

Ignoring the ending, which has Catwoman swallowing cyanide, this would’ve been a nice TAS episode.

“A Harlot’s Tears” by Ed Gorman
So they wanted to shove all of the Catwoman stories at the end of the book?

I swear this book was assembled by a Random Batman Story Generator and not an actual editor.

After a zany piece inspired by the Silver Age, we’re abruptly thrown into a vulgar tale of Catwoman aiding prostitutes targeted by a serial killer.

Casual drug use, repeated f-bombs, it’s all very Vertigo.  (And I guess this beats Batman V Superman’s R-cut as the first time “f**k” appeared in material featuring Batman.)

I’m not a big fan of Catwoman’s retconned past as a hooker, or inserting patently adult material into these concepts, but the story of Selina looking out for girls on the stroll starts off strong.

The ending, however, which has her taking the killer home with her overnight so that he can TALK ABOUT HIS FEELINGS with his intended victims, is laughable.

Nice writing, in general, evoking a gritty late ‘80s feel, but the ending is irritatingly absurd.

“Reformed” by John Gregory Betancourt
Oh, great.  Another Penguin story.

The anthology includes several stories previously published, which likely explains why John Gregory Betancourt has two contributions.  Why they were placed so close together, however, is beyond me.

I have an immediate gripe about this one -- Penguin shouldn’t be in Arkham Asylum.  Traditionally, he isn’t played as insane.  I think the Animated Series slipped up once and placed him in Arkham, but usually he was shown in Blackgate Penitentiary.  

And he never comes across as insane in this story, outside of his obsession with Batman.  It’s a generic Penguin story, without even a bird-themed crime, and there’s not much to it.

Vulture - A Tale of the Penguin by Steve Rasnic Tem
The closing entry…and heaven help us all, it’s another Penguin story.

It’s also another “short” story with a funny definition of the term.  Sixty-two pages long.

This time, Penguin is in normal prison, not Arkham.  (Even though this story presents a more credible argument for his instability.)  He’s spent months in a high-profile hunger strike.  It’s all a part of an escape plan, and I’ll admit, Tem’s scheme is clever.

Free from prison, and now unrecognizably skinny, Penguin explores the outside world and realizes just how much the culture has changed.  Death is no longer taboo, “freaks” walk around in daylight, and kids idolize horror movie monsters.

Declaring himself a performance artist, Penguin rechristens himself The Vulture, adopting a new criminal persona.  He commits small crimes throughout skid row, until he learns of Gotham’s new serial killer -- The Bird of Prey.

Penguin dedicates himself to stopping the killer, and the story evolves into straight-up Dexter.  Penguin turns out to be a mediocre vigilante, however, and remains clueless in romance.  Batman appears at the end, and Penguin welcomes incarceration.

“Vulture” is one of the strongest stores in the anthology; if only it were the ONE Penguin story in this thing.  Who thought we needed around six hundred of them?

And if you've noticed the 2 villains prominently featured on that cover image, remember this was released in 1995.

 It's also a cheap stunt to pull -- only ONE Riddler story and ZERO Two-Face stories.

Now I'm wondering if the endless Penguin stories were initially commissioned as BATMAN RETURNS tie-ins?