Wednesday, October 31, 2007

IMAGE COMICS WEEK – SPAWN



SPAWN #1 – May 1992

Questions
Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff (colors)

Summary
Spawn appears in New York City with no memory of his previous life. All he knows is that he died five years ago and made a bad deal with a devil. Spawn comes across an attempted rape and saves the victim. Suddenly, he flashes back to his funeral, and realizes the woman mourning at his casket is his wife. He takes off his mask and gloves to discover that his entire body is badly burned. Meanwhile, detectives Sam and Twitch investigate the murders of various underworld figures.

Review
This is the debut appearance of Spawn, a character that dominated the comic book marketplace for almost a decade. I started buying this title around the time Greg Capullo started his run, and stayed with it for most of my teen years. At some point, I realized that the stories never went anywhere, but I didn’t actually drop the book until Capullo left. A lot of people don’t want to admit that they bought this book during the ‘90s (and sales have even dropped to less than 25,000 apparently), but you can’t deny that this was a very popular title during that era. With Spawn, McFarlane created a title that appealed to little kids, teenage metalheads, horror fans, traditional superhero fans, and wannabe occultist types. That’s a pretty wide net. I think if the character had a more clearly defined personality and motivation, it would’ve maintained more of its popularity.

The first issue of this series is just Spawn wandering around, stopping a rape (then wondering why, because he’s “not a hero”), and having random flashbacks. McFarlane experiments with some creative page layouts and uses the Dark Knight Returns trick of having TV news reports give exposition. As a first issue, it’s actually not that bad. I think more about the character should have been revealed, but McFarlane does a decent job of building up the mystery. I’ve seen people question in recent years why McFarlane was so popular during this era, but seeing someone combine cartooniness with “realism” was still pretty new at the time. McFarlane’s technical drawing is inconsistent, but it’s always energetic and most of his pages are interesting to look at. Plus, McFarlane stuck with a monthly title for years, building up a huge fanbase (something his inspiration Art Adams never did). Now, there are guys like Pete Woods and Ed McGuiness who have figured out how to combine cartoony elements with more solid drawings, making McFarlane’s stuff less impressive.




SPAWN #2 – June 1992

Questions – Part Two
Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff and Reuben Rude (colors)

Summary
Spawn attempts to use his powers to fix his skin. He turns into a blond white man, shocking him since he should be black. Meanwhile, a monster named the Violator is ripping the hearts out of New York gangsters. Spawn has another flashback to arguments with his boss Jason Wynn. Spawn collapses and wakes up in the alley next to a clown, who turns out to be the Violator.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Violator’s gimmick is that he rips the hearts out of people. McFarlane seems to enjoy making these scenes as bloody as possible. He also seems to be under the impression that the human heart looks like a potato.

Review
Okay, it’s another issue of Spawn moping around the alleys and not doing anything. McFarlane pads this out with more pages of the Violator’s killing spree, and numerous splash pages of Spawn striking poses. I don’t know why exactly McFarlane was more interesting in drawing this stuff, rather than Spawn actually, you know, doing something. I should point out that I’ve read over seventy issues of this series and never saw an explanation for Spawn turning into a white guy. I used to assume that the real Al Simmons was white and that this was some sort of in-joke, but that’s not the case.




SPAWN #3 – August 1992

Questions – Part Three
Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff and Reuben Rude (colors)

Summary
Spawn recalls the name of his wife, and heads to a CIA office to get her address. Reading her file, Spawn discovers that his wife has married his best friend during the five years he was gone. He disguises himself and visits their home, discovering that they also have a daughter. Later, Spawn broods in an alley, and is confronted by the Violator. He rips Spawn’s heart out, but he quickly recovers.

Review
The plot advances a little bit, but it’s only covering territory that should’ve already been covered by now. Why wait three issues to reveal that his wife married his best friend? It’s not as if there was a lot going on in the previous issues. Spawn’s relationship with his wife is one element of the character that I do like. A character who sold his soul to the devil only to find out that she’s married someone else isn’t a bad idea. Unfortunately, this just became an excuse for Spawn to mope around back alleys and feel sorry for himself for years.

SPAWN #4 – September 1992

Questions – Part Four
Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff and Reuben Rude (colors)

Summary
Spawn repairs his heart and fights Violator. After dismembering one another, a large devil appears and explains to Spawn that he was chosen to be a warrior for Hell due to his past life as a hired government assassin. He’s been given a finite amount of power, and once it runs out, he returns to Hell. The devil heals Spawn and Violator, but forces Violator into his human form as punishment. Spawn wanders off, contemplating his new life.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority
There’s plenty of dismemberment fun in this issue.

Review
This is the climax to the series’ first story arc, and it does establish Spawn’s origin and status quo. Aside from that, it’s a small payoff for four issues of story. Why exactly Violator felt the need to kill large numbers of mobsters is never revealed. What the devil hopes to gain by placing Spawn on Earth in the first place isn’t clear either. The confrontation between Spawn and Violator isn’t even fun. Spawn strikes some poses and then gets thrown into a wall. The actual fight takes place off-panel, with giant sound effects and floating limbs taking the place of an actual fight scene. McFarlane begins to write a lot of heavy captions, which was always a distinctive feature of the book when I followed it. They’re fairly boring and don’t say a lot, but Orzechowski’s lettering is attractive. He also gives all of the superpowered characters their own distinctive font and word balloons, which looks cool. The colors are also great and look contemporary with something that would be published today. Spawn remained a great looking comic for the rest of the ‘90s, with improved paper quality, excellent Greg Capullo art, and a new standard for digital colors and separations. Unfortunately, the stories always trailed behind the pretty, pretty pictures.

BONUS –A 1992 Todd McFarlane interview by Gary Groth about the creation of Image. Definitely NSFW.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

IMAGE COMICS WEEK – WILDC.A.T.S


WILDC.A.T.S #1 – August 1992


Resurrection Day
Credits: Jim Lee (writer, penciler), Brandon Choi (writer), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)


Summary
Void rescues a homeless dwarf named Jacob Marlowe from a group of thugs. She tells him that he has a great destiny to fulfill, and within two years he is a multi-billionaire. He has assembled a team of super-powered characters called WildC.A.T.S (Spartan, Maul, and Warblade) in order to alter Void’s visions of the future. Helspont, the leader of a villainous group known as the Cabal, has learned of the location of “the third gifted one”, while the mysterious Gnome gives Marlowe the same information in exchange for a future favor. The gifted one is an exotic dancer named “Voodoo”, and she is also being tracked by the mysterious Grifter and Zealot. A member of the Coda (a group of female assassins) and two aliens disguised as humans infiltrate the club where Voodoo dances, and are confronted by Grifter. The WildC.A.T.S soon arrive and rescue Voodoo. Marlowe asks Grifter and Zealot to join him, as the Coda awakens and detonates a bomb inside the club.


Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority
The word “ass” is censored, but “bitch” is not. There’s a reference to wet dreams, and the bulk of the action in this story takes place in a strip club.


Gimmicks
There are two trading cards bound in the middle, one of Spartan and one of Voodoo. You learn more about the characters from the cards than from anything in the actual story.


Review
I decided to start with WildC.A.T.S because it has the most obvious connection to the X-Men franchise. Jim Lee began his run on Uncanny X-Men in 1989 (as a fill-in artist who became so popular he was given the book permanently) before moving over to its spinoff X-Men in 1991. By the end of that year, he was plotting both titles while still penciling X-Men. By the summer of 1992, Lee was gone from Marvel and WildC.A.T.S was on the stands. WildC.A.T.S is an amalgam of the X-Men (characters born with super powers), Transformers (two alien groups taking their fight to Earth), and a little G. I. Joe (cool vehicles, lots of military-style acronyms). Combine that with Jim Lee’s art, and this title seemed to have more commercial potential than the rest of Image’s line-up. WildC.A.T.S did go on to have its own CBS cartoon show and action figure line, but neither lasted for very long. Spawn turned out to be the most commercially successful property from the early Image line, but even that success faded by the end of the ‘90s.


The early Image titles were heavily criticized for lacking any plot, but that isn’t really the case with WildC.A.T.S. If anything, there’s too much going on. Once again, Lee falls into the trap of introducing too many characters too quickly without properly establishing who they are or what they want. I’ve looked through this issue three times and can’t find the word “WildC.A.T.S” anywhere inside the story. If you can’t get around to naming your team in the first issue, something’s probably wrong. The story’s just too busy racing along and introducing one group of characters after the next. In a way, it’s nice to see a creator so excited about his ideas and not dragging things out, but Lee just introduces too much, too quickly. The script (written by Choi, I assume) seems to be heavily inspired by Chris Claremont. I won’t say it’s needlessly verbose, but it reads more like something from the early ‘80s than what you would expect from an early Image comic. When the narrative captions shift to Grifter’s inner monologue, the script suddenly turns into a bad Frank Miller homage.


The early promise of Image was that you were going to see your favorite Marvel creators doing whatever they wanted without restrictions. Lee pushes the envelope a little bit, but it seems pretty restrained. It’s about as violent as his Marvel work, with a little more sexuality; one of the main characters is a stripper, which did seem daring at the time, and Lee gives Zealot outrageous proportions in her debut appearance. The paper quality doesn’t have the shiny and slick look that Image is known for, but it is nicer than what Marvel was doing at the time. The coloring is much more sophisticated than anything Marvel was doing in 1992, thanks to digital separations. There’s also twenty-eight pages of story, six more than the industry standard of the time, at Image’s standard price of $1.95. I should also point out that Lee’s art has improved since his later X-Men issues. Lee had a lot of enthusiasm about this book, and it shows. Unfortunately, the story is just too chaotic.


WILDC.A.T.S #2 – October 1992


Revelations
Credits: Jim Lee (writer, penciler), Brandon Choi (writer), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Chiodo (colorist)


Summary
Secret government agency I/O detects the presence of the WildC.A.T.S as Void teleports them away from the explosion. I/O sends its operatives to fight the team, but Marlowe recognizes their leader, Lynch, and they decide to team up to stop the Daemonite reunification. Zealot explains to Voodoo that they are descendants of an alien race known as the Kherubim, and that the Daemonites and Kherubim have been fighting on Earth for centuries. The Daemonites are now searching for an orb that will enable them to reunite with their race and destroy the Kherubim. Voodoo uses her power to see Daemonites in disguise to perceive that Vice President Dan Quayle is secretly a Daemonite. The team travels to a NASA base, where Quayle is planning to release the orb. The team is discovered and faces Quayle’s bodyguards, the government sponsored super-team, Youngblood.


Gimmicks
There’s a card-stock, holographic cover that doesn’t look good in any light I place it under. There’s also a coupon for the special Image Comics #0 comic, which was delayed for months (was it ever released?). The coupon is huge and interrupts a two-page spread in the middle of the book.


Imitation and Flattery
The villain Pike looks a lot like Deadpool (who looks a lot like Spider-Man). Warblade turns his fingers into claws, not unlike a certain X-Man.


Production Note
Lee comments that the book is four to five weeks late, blaming the delay on the birth of his daughter. He’s disappointed that he wasn’t able to keep up with the monthly schedule he kept for six years.


Review
Even more characters, none with any real personality, show up. I’m starting to wonder if Lee was in some sort of competition with Rob Liefeld to see who could trademark the most names. The WildC.A.T.S are given an origin that takes up less than one page before the story jumps to another scene. This is a pretty looking comic, featuring nice art and vibrant colors, but it’s not interesting to read at all. The book is filled with dialogue like “a zebra alert psi-storm is coning in on us” and “the rogue psi-op’s power signature in the Q-P field left an echo trail”. It’s like an X-Men comic, only without any engaging characters or relevant metaphors.


WETWORKS


Credits: While Portacio (plot/pencils), Brandon Choi (plot/script), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)


Summary
A man with gold armor (or skin?) named Dane kills a group of armed men. When he’s finished, a group of more people in gold armor burst through the wall.


Review
This is a preview of Wetworks, a title that was originally going to be an original Image series, but came out years later after Whilce Portacio’s hiatus. This back-up truly has no plot, but in fairness, it’s only four pages long.


WILDC.A.T.S #3 – January 1993


Reunification!
Credits: Jim Lee (writer, penciler), Brandon Choi (writer), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Chiodo (colorist)


Summary
Maul, Spartan, and Voodoo face Youngblood, while the rest of the WildC.A.T.S search for the control center. They soon discover Helspont and Daemonite scientist M’Koi are preparing to breach the orb. During the fight, Warblade kills M’Koi, but Helspont, Pike, and the Coda are able to defeat the team. Meanwhile, Voodoo uses her powers to exorcise Dan Quayle of the Daemonite possessing his body, convincing Youngblood to stop the fight. Three floors below, the Gnome and his men are making plans to capture the orb themselves. Finally, Helspont breaches the orb, creating a portal in space for Daemonite ships to pass through.


Review
This is the “big beat down” issue, but even the action is bogged down by too many characters and too much pseudo-scientific nonsense. There are over twenty characters in this issue, which is pretty ridiculous. The Image founders seemed to enjoy crossing over with each other’s titles, I guess in an attempt to follow the Marvel tradition of establishing a shared universe. Lee does a good job adapting Liefeld’s characters to his own style, but he seems to lose interest in drawing them just a few pages into the issue. The idea of Dan Quayle secretly being possessed by an alien is slightly amusing, but it’s only a small part of this story. If this issue was only slick-looking characters beating on each other, this would at least be a fun action comic. Instead, almost every page is weighed down with heavy captions and dialogue like “He has also deactivated the fusion reactors so that we may enter the orb containment chamber”. Zzzzzz….


WILDC.A.T.S #4 – March 1993


Resolution
Credits: Jim Lee (writer, penciler), Brandon Choi (writer), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Chiodo (colorist)


Summary
Youngblood and the remaining members of WildC.A.T.S team up to stop Helspont. Spartan uses his android body to deactivate the reactor relay switch, which fries his body but shuts down Helspont’s stargate. Helspont decides to use the orb itself to kill the WildC.A.T.S, but he discovers that Gnome and his Triad have stolen it. The Triad attacks the team, and Gnome blasts Void with the orb. Marlowe shoots Gnome’s arm off, dropping the orb down a reactor. Before the orb explodes, Marlowe and Void combine their powers and teleport the team away. As the team escapes, Voodoo learns that Spartan is being revived into another cyber-synthetic body.


Gimmicks
This issue is polybagged with a trading card by Jim Lee.
There’s also a preview of Larry Stroman’s Tribe in the back of this issue. I’d review it, but I honestly can’t make any sense out of it.


Review
Well, it’s more of the same. The WildC.A.T.S and Youngblood stop Helspont pretty easily, and then face a totally separate group of villains before more things blow up and they teleport away. Gnome and the Triad are a group of extremely underdeveloped characters with no motivation, so really, who cares that they’ve turned on the WildC.A.T.S? Helspont and the Daemonites have at least been established as credible villains, so there’s at little investment in seeing a fight with those characters. Tossing in four more guys to fight at the very end just feels lazy. Just to confirm that this is the early ‘90s, Gnome attempts to hold Marlowe to the promise he made earlier, only to have Marlowe reply, “Whoever said I was a hero?” Of course, Marlowe stopping Gnome actually isn’t anti-heroic, but he still seems proud not to be a hero. I don’t know how exactly the “heroes who don’t act like heroes” trend came about, but it’s kind of disturbing in hindsight. None of the WildC.A.T.S characters come across as particularly heroic in these issues; even though they are fighting to stop aliens from taking over the Earth, they seem to be doing it mainly to continue their war against the Daemonites. This could potentially be interesting, but instead it just makes the characters more unlikable.


So, that’s WildC.A.T.S. It looks nice, but it’s a cluttered book that’s kind of a chore to read.

Monday, October 29, 2007

IMAGE COMICS WEEK BEGINS!


I’m taking a break from the X-books this week to look at their major rival in the early 1990s – Image Comics. The X-books were especially hit hard by the foundation of Image, losing the popular artists behind Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, X-Men, and Wolverine. With one exception, all of these titles were also being plotted by the artists. Marvel suddenly had to find new writers, pencilers, and inkers for its top titles, and as I’ve noted in my recent reviews, the results weren’t pretty.


Before becoming its own full-fledged company, Image began as an imprint of Malibu Comics. Youngblood, the comic that would become Image’s first release, was announced as a three-issue mini-series in October 1991. Before Youngblood was announced, Marvel’s lawyers apparently squashed Liefeld’s previous attempt to publish a title called The Executioners through Malibu. The Image name actually didn’t exist yet, and there’s no indication in the early announcement that anyone else would be joining him. In fact, looking at the Usenet discussions from this era, most people didn’t believe that he was even leaving X-Force in order to do this title.


The earliest reference to the name “Image Comics” I can find online is a February 1992 discussion about the latest Comics Buyer’s Guide. The original creators announced to form Image are Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, and Jim Valentino. Image is billed as an interconnected superhero universe published by Malibu. The titles originally announced include Youngblood by Liefeld, Spawn by McFarlane, The Dragon by Larsen, The Pact by Valentino and Brigade by Liefeld. Youngblood was released in April 1992 (two months late), making it the first Image Comic ever. The preorders of Youngblood automatically made it the best-selling independent comic of all time (eventually selling a million copies), which I’m sure helped to convince the other Image founders to join. In May 1992, Amazing Heroes announced that more creators, including Portacio, Lee, and Silvestri, were joining Image. Image was an immediate hit for all of the creators involved -- by August 1992, Image had seven of the top ten highest selling comics for that month.


Mail-order company Entertainment This Month began running ads for Youngblood #1 in Marvel comics cover-dated April 1992. In the months to come, ETM’s monthly Marvel ads would be filled with Image characters, declaring how “hot”, “collectible”, and “violent” these series would be. I don’t know how Marvel felt about indirectly running ads for their competition. As someone with no access to fanzines or comic shops, I first learned about these new titles by buying Marvel books, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I actually didn’t buy any Image titles during the first year of their existence. I was a diehard Marvel Zombie, and I actually considered these guys traitors. I was determined to stay loyal to Marvel, and was probably buying more Marvel comics than ever before by the end of 1992. Tom DeFalco and Bob Harras really should’ve flown to my house and bought me a Happy Meal or something. About a year after Image launched, I had a chance to buy a stack of early Image issues from some local teenager. I looked through the collection and decided to buy early Spawn and Savage Dragon issues, but I had a chance to read the entire set. I thought WildC.A.T.S. and CyberForce looked interesting, but even at age twelve Youngblood, Supreme, and Brigade didn’t appeal to me. Months later, I picked up Spawn/Batman on a whim, and was sucked in by Todd McFarlane’s art. I began to buy Spawn monthly, along with the occasional Savage Dragon issue and Wildstorm title. For some reason, I didn’t feel like I was betraying Marvel at that point.

Bonus! A 1992 CNN report about the formation of Image. Did you know that some people read comics into their twenties?

Friday, October 26, 2007

EXCALIBUR #46-#50

#46-#47 (Davis/Farmer/Heisler/Oliver) – These issues are the full introductions of Kylun and Cerise, two characters that were essentially forgotten once Davis left the title. Both of these characters have a lot of potential, but I guess they didn’t fit into the darker world of the ‘90s X-titles. Cerise later endures a horribly retconned origin that doesn’t make any sense, which I guess shouldn’t be shocking. These are great looking issues; Oliver’s coloring should especially stands out. Davis’ art plays around with page layouts and pulling the “camera” in and out, an effect he pulls off very well. Davis continues to build on old continuity from Marvel UK, early Excalibur issues, and a one-shot special that was apparently filled with contradictions. This is Avengers Forever-type material, telling you that the mistakes you saw earlier weren’t mistakes and that everything has been happening for a reason. This run was written when continuity was a much higher priority at Marvel, so I don’t know if it’s something that would be published today. Davis is able to incorporate the old continuity with new characters and plotlines in a seamless way, so you really do feel as if there’s logical connection between these events.


#48-#49 (Davis/Farmer/Heisler/Oliver) –These issues mark the first appearance of the Anti-Phoenix, a concept that you might think would’ve had a large role in X-continuity, but seems to have been relegated only to this Excalibur storyline. The Phoenix Force is now being tied into the continuity of the original Captain Britain series, which should (theoretically) root characters like Roma and Merlyn even more firmly into the X-universe. It never really worked out that way, and I don’t think any of these events were referenced after Davis left the title. This storyline is a huge payoff for longtime fans, but it is rooted in continuity from a wide variety of sources, which might bother some readers. Davis is building up to an ominous finish, but doesn’t totally abandon the light-hearted humor of the original issues, something most writers couldn’t pull off.


#50 (Davis/Farmer/Heisler/Rosas) – Davis’ first storyline concludes with this issue, along with some long-running subplots that go back to the early issues of this series. Davis obviously put a lot of thought into how to connect the various plot threads he introduced at the start of this run, making this issue feel like a real payoff. A lot of the early subplots from the Claremont issues are also resolved here. Davis ties them into his story so well, I was surprised when I found out that he didn’t consult Claremont at all when writing this arc (editor Terry Kavanagh told Davis not to worry about what Claremont might have done, just to make the book his own).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

EXCALIBUR #42-#45

Before heading into the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover, I’m going to be looking at the two X-titles I wasn’t buying during this time. Both Wolverine and Excalibur were higher-priced baxter paper titles that rarely interacted with the other X-books during this era. If I had more money, I would have bought these titles, too, but my meager kid allowance just couldn’t support them. Well, I know I would have bought Wolverine at least. I only barely considered Excalibur an X-title. Yeah, it had some of the X-Men, but their team leader wasn’t even a mutant! And the title started with the wrong letter! The fact that the book often seemed to be in a state of perpetual fill-ins at this time also turned me off. When Alan Davis came back with issue #42, I didn’t even notice. I had stopped even flipping through the title (the newsstand dealers in my town might have even dropped Excalibur during this time; I don’t remember seeing these issues on the stands at all). I ended up picking up these issues years later in my late teens, after I discovered that Alan Davis is truly a genius. Even if Excalibur had a different editor and very rarely had anything to do with the other mutant books, it’s still an Uncanny X-Men spin-off and it should be examined if you’re looking at the overall quality of the X-line in the ‘90s. So, here are my quick thoughts on Excalibur #42-#45.


#42 (Davis/Farmer/Heisler/Oliver) – Alan Davis’ return to the title and his first issue as writer. It’s a fun, yet continuity-heavy, issue that sets up some future stories and resolves some dangling plot lines. As always, Davis’ art is beautiful. I think it might have been too subtle for my younger self to truly appreciate, though.







#43 (Davis/Farmer/Heisler/Oliver) – Davis continues to maintain the comedy element, but not at the expense of genuine characterization, or the advancement of more serious storylines. This doesn’t read anything like the other X-titles of this time. It feels more like Claremont’s older material. It is interesting to see how the X-titles took the Claremont influence in different ways. Davis focuses on characterization while building up to a larger story, as the other titles focus more on introducing mysteries and balancing various subplots.




#44 (Davis/Farmer/Heisler/Oliver) – This issue shifts focus to the Marvel UK characters, Meggan and Captain Britain. Davis is beginning to incorporate the Marvel UK continuity more firmly into the X-universe, which is something that probably should have been done much sooner in this title. With all of the references to the original Captain Britain series, Excalibur is beginning to feel more like a legitimate follow-up to that series.





#45 (Davis/Farmer/Heisler/Oliver) – The various plotlines continue, with some hints there might be a connection to the various threads. Davis does a wonderful job not only on Captain Britain’s fight scene and Technet’s slapstick comedy, but also on the conversation scene between Rachel and Meggan. The body language and facial expressions on those two pages are great.

X-MEN #13 – October 1992


Hazardous Territory
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Art Thibert (art), Dan Panosian (art assist), Joe Rosas and Marie Javins (colorists), Lois Buhalis with Tom Orzechowski (letters)


Summary
The X-Men travel to the abandoned Almagordo facility to find Professor Xavier. Ryking is frustrated that Xavier didn’t believe the file he sent him about Almagordo’s secret activities. The X-Men arrive and Ryking immediately fights them. Cyclops knocks out the mechanism on Ryking’s arms, inadvertently causing his powers to unleash an explosion. Everyone survives, but Xavier feels Ryking doesn’t have any answers about his father, so they leave Almagordo. Meanwhile, Stryfe continues to collect artifacts that resemble Apocalypse.


Continuity Notes
Stryfe refers to Apocalypse as the “Sinner of Time”, and that he will “steal his past the way he has stolen my future”.


Ryking tries to convince Xavier that his father’s death “went beyond Kurt Marko”. Marko was another co-worker of Xavier’s father, and later Xavier’s stepfather. As established by Stan Lee in the original issues, Marko killed Brain Xavier in a scheme to marry his wife and take her inheritance. Marko is also the father of the Juggernaut.


An old piece of paper in Almagordo reads “Shiva Scenario – Committee Evaluation Report” written by Kurt Marko, Alexander Ryking, and Brian Xavier. Shiva is the robotic program designed by the Weapon X project to eliminate members of the program who go rogue.


“Huh?” Moment
Rogue and Wolverine discover a hidden sub-level, then travel up the stairs to investigate it.


I Love the ‘90s
Jubilee complains that she’s being interrupted from “woofin’ it up” with Arsenio.


Review
More filler until the crossover begins. If the mysteries introduced in this issue ever went anywhere, I could be more charitable, but since this all turned out to be vague clues that never added up to much, this storyline is just pointless. If you have two issues to kill before a crossover, why waste it on introducing yet another mysterious character making more vague allegations about somebody’s past? This stuff is pretty tedious at this point. I think these mystery storylines kept going in the X-books because a younger, less cynical audience had actual faith that this stuff was going somewhere. I know I did. Some people have speculated that there was an actual policy that these mysteries shouldn’t be resolved; that the kids would just quit reading if they got all of the answers. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can say that each new mystery pushed an old one out of my head. By the time I read this story, I wasn’t thinking about Fitzroy’s mysterious connection to the White Queen, for example. And by the time Gambit hinted at a connection with Mr. Sinister, I wasn’t thinking about Almagordo anymore.


Even if you want to enjoy this as a dumb action comic, you can’t. The X-Men barely face Ryking (or “Hazard” as the covers call him). Most of the issue consists of Ryking yelling to Xavier about his pain, and the X-Men running around an abandoned building. The fight consists of Beast kicking Ryking, Cyclops blasting his arm, and then his “energies” exploding. Rogue and Wolverine are captured by Ryking off-panel, and after being shown trapped in his energy field, are suddenly free again when the scene shifts back to them. Everything about this issue is just that sloppy. Hazard says that he needs this high-tech “firing mechanism” to channel his “energies” – where did he get this thing? He’s been in the hospital since he was a little boy, how does he break free and suddenly have this futuristic armor? I imagine that being hospitalized for most of his life also would’ve prevented him from finding secret files about his father and mailing them to Xavier. Why does Xavier say that Almagordo has no answers after discovering so many secret levels to the base? Why not at least explore them? What would it hurt to search the debris? The X-Men just leave as classified documents fly all around them. One of them shows that Xavier’s father was actually involved in something suspicious, which makes the X-Men look like idiots for not even checking around them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

X-MEN #12 – September 1992


Broken Mirrors
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Art Thibert (artist), Dan Panosian and Trevor Scott (art assist), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Joe Rosas and Marie Javins (colors)


Summary
Carter Ryking sees a news report about his father’s death, triggering a super-powered seizure. Ryking is a childhood friend of Professor Xavier’s; their fathers worked together at the Almagordo Nuclear Research Facility. Wolverine has discovered a file in Xavier’s office that claims that Almagordo was actually a front for studies in genetic mutation. Wolverine suspects that Xavier’s father might be involved with his past because he endured similar experimentations. Ryking breaks out of the hospital and crashes his father’s funeral, claiming that he is going to expose his father’s lies. Xavier is there, and he asks Ryking why he’s doing this. Ryking takes Xavier to Almagordo so they can learn the truth about their fathers.


I Love the ‘90s
One of the nurses on page one is named “Nurse Stimpy”.


Creative Differences
A different letterer does the second panel of page twenty-seven. The thought balloons display Xavier’s concern for the three people Ryking has killed, and show that he’s trying to contain the situation. I don’t know what these thought balloons took the place of, but I’m guessing that this panel was redone to emphasize Xavier’s concern about the people around him.


Review
This issue marks the start of Fabian Nicieza’s run. He contributes to all of the major storylines during this era before leaving at the end of 1995. This storyline isn’t exactly a great start since it falls under the category of “mystery character appears, makes cryptic comments that are never resolved, and then disappears.” Ryking is yet another mentally unstable antagonist, an idea that must’ve been in style at the time. After reading so many stories about crazy Mystique, crazy Mikhail, crazy Morlocks, and crazy Callisto in Uncanny X-Men in such a short amount of time, I’m a little sick of it. Ryking, at least, isn’t an established character who suddenly goes insane. His treatment as a child lead to his insanity and it’s an important part of this storyline. That’s fine, but he’s still another ranting lunatic I’m supposed to take seriously as a character, which is very old at this point.


Art Thibert fills in as artist, pulling off a Jim Lee impression for the entire issue. It actually looks better than a lot of the actual Jim Lee issues from this era. As a kid, I was really excited at the prospect of Thibert permanently replacing Lee, but it didn’t happen. Thibert stuck around the X-office for a little while before leaving to do a short-lived Image series. He was the original artist of the Cable solo series, but left after just a few issues (I vaguely remember Nicieza criticizing his inability to meet a deadline in an issue of Wizard). He still works as an inker, but I don’t think I’ve seen him pencil anything in about ten years. His work here isn’t very original, but most of it isn’t bad.

X-FACTOR #83 – October 1992


Painting The Town
Credits: Peter David (writer), Mark Pacella (pencils), Al Milgrom (inks), Glynis Oliver (colors), Richard Starkings (letters)


Summary
Genoshan refugees Jenny Ransome and Philip Moreau arrive to support the X-Patriots’ asylum request. Lukas, one of the X-Patriots, recognizes Moreau’s last name and connects him to his father, the man who developed the mutate process. Lukas uses his shape shifting ability to transform into Cameron Hodge and attacks Moreau. X-Factor is able to stop him before any damage is done. While the government is still deciding what to do with the X-Patriots, Havok convinces Val Cooper to let the team give them a tour of New York. Wolfsbane accompanies Taylor but loses track of him. Taylor, a young Genoshan with the ability to sculpt fire, is soon brutally beaten by a frightened mob in Central Park.


Continuity Notes
Wolfsbane says that if she returns to fully human form, she’ll change back into a Genoshan mutate. She also claims to be colorblind in her wolf form.


I Love the ‘90s
Guido and X-Patriot Pirouette dance to the “Mutant Rap”. Lyrics include “Go mutant! Go Mutant! Go!”


Review
This is the weakest issue of the “All-New. All Different” X-Factor so far. The last issue ended with Havok dramatically declaring that the team was going to Genosha with the X-Patriots. This issue, they’re still in New York while government bureaucrats try to decide what to do with the X-Patriots. At the end of the issue, they’re still not any closer to getting to Genosha. It seems as if the story is suddenly stalled because someone realized that X-Factor couldn’t go to Genosha and back in time for the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover. As far as time killing goes, most of this issue isn’t bad, but the storyline’s momentum is affected.


Mark Pacella fills in before Jae Lee’s brief run begins. He’s lost some of the Liefeld influence, but his work still has that patented early ‘90s ugliness. There’s a lot of scowling, pupils often disappear, costumes are inconsistent, and everyone has incredibly skinny feet. If I understood what Larry Stroman was saying in his recent CBR interview, it was Marvel’s decision not to renew his contract during this time. The fact that, apparently, someone somewhere thought that this was an improvement is mind-boggling.
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