Friday, May 30, 2008

WOLVERINE #88 – December 1994

It’s D-D-Deadpool, Folks!
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Adam Kubert & Fabio Laguna (pencilers), Mark Farmer & Tim Townsend (inkers), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

As a favor to James Hudson, Wolverine goes to San Francisco to check on Kane. When he enters the apartment Kane shares with Vanessa, he discovers Deadpool. Deadpool attacks, seriously wounding Wolverine when he stabs him in the back. Deadpool sees a photo on the wall of Kane and Vanessa at a local theatre and leaves. Wolverine works past his pain to catch a taxi and follow Deadpool. At the theatre, Kane and Vanessa are rehearsing lines for a play when Deadpool enters, wanting revenge on Vanessa for leaving him. The pair fights Deadpool while the breaks go out in Wolverine’s taxi. He rips open the passenger side door and uses it to glide down the street to the theatre. Deadpool throws two swords, one at Kane’s head and the other at Vanessa’s heart. Wolverine enters in time to stop the sword from killing Vanessa, while Kane knocks away the other sword. Deadpool drops a smoke grenade and teleports away. As Wolverine leaves town, he tells Vanessa not to feel bad about Kane stopping the sword aimed at him instead of the one Deadpool threw at her. He reasons that if Kane were dead, he wouldn’t have been able to get her help, or stop Deadpool from killing her some other way.

Continuity Notes
Kane and Vanessa are working as actors in San Francisco because they’ve retired from their violent lifestyle. This doesn’t last, and I think this story was just ignored when they were brought back.

This is presumably the first meeting between Deadpool and Wolverine. They seem to only know each other through reputation (Wolverine asks, “Deadpool, ain’t it?” implying that he’s never met him).

Wolverine’s healing factor is returning to its full strength, after being damaged after Magneto’s attack in “Fatal Attractions”. Deadpool claims that he has a “mutant healing factor” even though he’s not a mutant (he might simply be joking, though.)

“Huh?” Moment
In-between panels, Kane’s clothes change from normal street clothes to his elaborate superhero outfit with a bandoleer and other accessories.

We Get Letters
There’s a letter from a reader who refuses to read any X-comic that’s had an appearance by Apocalypse in the past, because he’s offended that the name of God’s judgment day is being used for a villain. He’s thankful that Apocalypse never showed up in Wolverine, so he can keep buying this book. The editor’s brilliant response is to bring up a Wolverine special from 1990 where Apocalypse actually did appear.

This is the infamous Fabio Laguna issue, the one with a direct Jim Lee swipe on all of his pages. The Swipe of the Week website got all kinds of material out of this one. Even Wizard magazine called Laguna out by printing a letter from a fan who noticed the swipes. I was more than willing to go along with the Jim Lee clones when I was fourteen, but I couldn’t take this one even back then. Once the Adam Kubert pages stop, this turns into a really hideous looking comic. The story just seems to be killing time until Wolverine can get back to the mansion to confront Sabretooth before the “Age of Apocalypse” crossover begins. Deadpool is back to the creepy “kill my ex-girlfriend” motivation he had almost two years earlier in X-Force, which undermines the work done to develop his character in his two miniseries. The opening fight scene between Wolverine and Deadpool with the Kubert art isn’t that bad, but the rest of the issue is pretty dire.

GENERATION X #2 – December 1994

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Mark Buckingham (inker), Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Buccellato & Electric Crayon (coloring)

Synch and Jubilee go to the roof of the school during a thunderstorm to talk to Gateway. As usual, he doesn’t speak, which frustrates Jubilee. M uses the school’s advanced computer system to create a model of Emplate. She notes that Emplate takes on the physical appearance of the mutants he feeds off of, which would explain why Emplate and Penance have similar spiky hair. Based on this, Emma figures out that the straps over Penance’s body are actually restraints. An alarm goes off in the medical center, indicating that Penance has escaped. The team’s shocked to discover that she used her claws to rip her way out of the building. The team splits up to find her, but Skin chooses to stay behind. As Banshee and Husk trail Penance, they don’t realize that she’s actually following them. Penance reaches out of the wet ground and drags Husk down with her. When Banshee goes after her, Penance slashes him in the back. When he’s on the ground, she puts her razor-sharp fingers in his mouth to block his sonic scream. Meanwhile, in Monaco, the Orphan Maker targets the eccentric Carter St. Croix. He’s saved when the Orphan Maker’s armor begins to fall apart.

Continuity Notes
This is the first full appearance of Penance, who will become a regular in the title. She has diamond-hard skin and razor-sharp claws. When Emma tries to read her mind, she says that she can’t access any thought patterns.

Adding to her list of abilities, M says that she can see in the dark. Her conversation with Emma also reveals that the team is unaware of M’s psychic powers.

Like the first issue, this is another simple plot, which mainly serves as a vehicle for character interaction and the development of a few mysteries. While the last issue led to an anti-climatic fight scene, this issue’s chase scene works a little better. Splitting the characters up on a chase gives them more space to interact than a simple fight scene does, and it helps to build suspense towards the issue’s climax. At least one mystery gets resolved, as it’s confirmed that the mutant who escaped from Emplate last issue is Penance. It’s too bad so many of the other mysteries are either never resolved, or just resolved poorly years later. Lobdell creates some entertaining dynamics between the characters, especially during M’s scene with Emma Frost. Emma doesn’t know how to deal with someone she can’t manipulate, which is a nice reversal for the character. Husk’s eagerness to prove herself and Banshee’s enthusiasm to play the role of teacher also work together well. Bachalo’s art is great at setting the mood and conveying the characterizations, so the book never looks dull even during the conversation scenes.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

GENERATION X #1 – November 1994

Third Genesis
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Mark Buckingham (inker), Richard Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato/Electric Crayon (colors)

Jubilee, M, and Husk trade insults outside of Xavier’s new school in Massachusetts, while Skin and Synch spar with one another in the school’s bio-sphere. Banshee is upset that Emma Frost went against his wishes by letting them train together so soon. M stays behind as Banshee, Synch, and Jubilee leave for the airport to welcome the newest student, Chamber. Gateway suddenly appears, which leads M to discern that “he” has returned. At the airport, Chamber is attacked by the evil mutant Emplate, who sucks the marrow from the bones of other mutants. Gateway teleports M and the rest of Generation X to help Banshee and the others fight Emplate. Husk nearly dies while attacking Emplate, but Jubilee saves her life by ripping her skin off, freeing the healthy body underneath. Emplate teleports away, rather than face the entire team. Back at his headquarters, Emplate discovers that the mutant he’s kept chained up for sustenance has escaped. At Xavier’s school, Gateway appears again with another new mutant. He says one word, “Penance”, which leads Emma to believe that it’s the mutant’s name.

Continuity Notes
Gateway is an aborigine mutant with the ability to create teleportation portals. He served as the X-Men’s method of transportation when they lived in an Australian ghost town. He’s an intentionally mysterious character who only spoke once before this issue (in an annual back-up written by a very obscure author). After the Australian era ended in the late ‘80s, he was forgotten until this issue. M calls Gateway “mentor”, implying some relationship between the two.

Chamber makes his first appearance. He later becomes an X-Man during a brief period, apparently because Joe Casey liked his visual. Jubilee welcomes him to "Generation X", so I guess they did end up using the name in the actual comic after all.

M exhibits her ability to “know everything”. This or may or may not be tied into her psychic powers, I’m not sure. Emplate also has an ability to automatically know facts about people, which M is mysteriously able to block.

This is a double sized issue with a wraparound chromium cover. The press for this issue bragged that this was Marvel’s first chromium cover (Valiant had popularized chromium covers over a year earlier). All of the extras bring the price to $3.95, making it over the double the price of Marvel’s standard X-books (which had just gone through a price increase themselves). The chromium cover does look nice, giving the art a slick appearance and emphasizing the detail lines. It’s also extremely flimsy, though, and attracts fingerprints like crazy. It’s funny that the gimmick cover aimed at collectors also makes it a lot easier for the book to be “damaged”.

I Love the ‘90s
Well, the name of the books is “Generation X”. It doesn’t get any more ‘90s than that. Even in late ’94, the name already felt a little dated. The archaic name was publicly used by Bill Jemas as a justification for cancelling the series eight years later.

Jubilee references the Cindy Crawford workout video, and calls M “Miss Perfect Priss ‘94”. It’s also interesting to see the fifteen-year-old Skin smoking, which dates the comic in a way. Marvel won’t even allow Wolverine to smoke today, and here’s a teenage hero doing it. Image’s Gen 13 series also had teen smoking during this era. There was of course a taboo on smoking by this time, but it did seem more prevalent in pop culture back in the ‘90s.

After months of buildup, Generation X finally debuts. Marvel certainly treated the launch of this title as a big deal, with a series of promotional inserts that ran throughout the line, lots of fan press hype, and a double-sized preview special. Marvel even attracted mainstream media coverage of the launch, back when that type of thing was pretty rare (the Washington Post covered Marvel's first "on-line press conference" to promote the book). The title of this issue is an allusion to Giant Sized X-Men #1, implying that this introduction of new characters will be just as important as the launch of the second team of X-Men (an idea that also shows up repeatedly in the preview special). Fourteen years later, that obviously didn’t turn out to be true. Only one of the new characters actually became an X-Man, during a very unpopular run that didn’t last long. Another one of the characters is being used in a spinoff, after years of disuse. Two of the members were killed off for shock value, and the rest of the cast, as far as I know, is in limbo. Not a lot of Wolverines and Nightcrawlers in this bunch.

Generation X has the distinction of being the first X-spinoff that wasn’t sold in my small town. I purchased my comics from various drug stores and supermarkets around town until the late ‘90s, and none of these places sold this book. There was a comic shop in a nearby town, but I wasn’t old enough to drive yet and was rarely able to go there. I did manage to buy the first few issues, but after a couple of months I had to resign myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to collect this series. Reading this issue now reminds me of the elements that frustrated me when I first read this, and they haven’t gotten better over the years. How exactly does M know everything? If half of Chamber’s chest is blown away, how is he still alive? Why is the character that peels away her skin not named “Skin”? The mysteries introduced mainly served to annoy me, although I was thrilled to see Gateway again.

Chris Bachalo brings a quirky, unique look to the title. His compositions look nice, and his storytelling is still organic and easy to follow without getting dull. The designs of the characters themselves are original and engaging, but I don’t like the red/gold/pale blue costumes. The design doesn’t tie in to any of the traditional X-student costumes, and it’s not strong enough to stand on its own. There are a few more “change for change’s sake” elements that don’t work for me, either. Instead of training in the Danger Room, the kids train in some type of jungle-bubble that Jubilee calls “the Danger Grotto”. It’s not visually interesting, and doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Why exactly would the team train in a wooded environment in the first place? What’s the advantage? It seems like an arbitrary change that’s done just for the sake of being different.

As the introduction to a new series, the story feels a little light. The plot builds up to a fight scene at the end that isn’t very impressive and just ends abruptly. The big baddie just decides to leave the fight and teleports away. The motivation for the fight is also pretty weak, since Emplate’s motive is simply that he likes to feed on young mutants. I’ll again point out that Fabian Nicieza set up a much stronger premise for a book about young mutants with the “Child’s Play” crossover, which would’ve had Xavier recruiting young mutants before Gamesmaster could corrupt them. Here, we just have a group of young mutants being attacked by a mysterious mutant who likes to feed on them, which isn’t very exciting. Lobdell’s main focus is really on the characters themselves, which plays more to his strengths. He does create nice interaction scenes between most of the characters, and they come across as likable enough. He seems to have a solid handle on the three established characters, Banshee, Emma, and Jubilee, which helps to make the series feel more like an organic extension of the franchise. Overall, it’s not a strong start for a new series, but it’s elevated by some decent character work and attractive art.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

X-FORCE ANNUAL #3 – 1994

In Deep
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mike Wieringo (penciler), John Lowe (inker), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Adriane (colorist)

Moonstar continues to work undercover within the Mutant Liberation Front, training them while honing her own developing powers. In China, their leader Reignfire recruits Jade Dragon, Collective Man, and Nuwa, the young mutants who make up “3Peace”. The rest of the Mutant Liberation Front joins Reignfire at a military base outside of Shanghai, where the government keeps info on China’s secret mutant prisons. They’re confronted by China’s superhuman soldiers, China Force. Moonstar tries to keep the other MLF members from killing their opponents, but Reignfire kills one of the China Force, simply to show the Chinese government how powerful he is. After locating the mutant prison, Reignfire leads 3Peace inside while leaving Moonstar and Feral behind to guard their flank. Inside the prison, it’s revealed that Reignfire has made a deal with the government and set up 3Peace to be turned over to Chinese custody. They try to escape, knocking Feral unconscious while fleeing the prison. Only Moonstar is left to stop them, but she refuses to. She lies to Reignfire, telling him that Nuwa’s powers knocked her out. Reignfire knows she’s lying, but lets her live. Moonstar doesn’t know if this means that her old friend has returned, or if Reignfire is only playing a game with her.

Continuity Notes
This issue is the debut of Chinese mutant activists 3Peace. They didn’t exactly catch on (it looks like not even Nicieza used the characters again).

Moonstar says that Reignfire found her after she “fell from Asgard”. Her Asgardian horse Brightwind has turned black and been renamed Darkwind. Moonstar became a Valkyrie after the New Mutants were kidnapped and taken to Asgard in an early New Mutants story. She decided to stay in Asgard at the end of the series' run.

This issue drops the first major hints that Reignfire is Sunspot. He appears in partial shadow twice, and both times it’s rather obvious that he’s supposed to be Sunspot. Moonstar’s motivation for working undercover is to help Reignfire return to who he used to be.

This is the rare example of an annual story that isn’t filler. Rather than focusing on the main cast, Nicieza goes back to the Moonstar subplot he established a year earlier. He resolves some of the mysteries from the previous MLF story, confirming that this is Dani Moonstar, and that she’s working undercover. Reignfire’s identity is practically confirmed, even while leaving the door open for more mysteries. This is a good example of Nicieza’s ability to develop long-running subplots that do actually pay off. It certainly seems as if he had a plan for all of this and wasn’t just randomly introducing a different plot every few months. Having Moonstar join the MLF is a smart way to integrate the original New Mutants cast with the more recent elements that developed in X-Force. Moonstar’s narration helps to make her role in the MLF sympathetic, even if it’s never revealed how exactly she plans to help Reignfire become Sunspot again. There’s also some attempt to develop generic MLF goon Forearm as a character, but I don’t know if anyone ever picked up on the idea that he wasn’t genuinely evil.

When Mike Wieringo passed away last year, a few of the tributes mentioned how out of place his style was in the ‘90s, and how many “serious” readers of the time just didn’t get it. I confess that I was one of those kids, because I can remember intensely disliking his art in this issue. Looking back on it, it’s definitely not as good as his later work, but it holds up okay. It’s certainly not deserving of the contempt I had for it. All of the figures are drawn well, most of them have distinctive faces, and the storytelling is clear, but I wasn’t able to get past the open style and cartoonish simplification. Not only did this art not have a thousand detail lines over everything, but the characters all looked “kiddie” to me. I was starting high school and didn’t have time for this cartoony stuff. It’s interesting that the books seem to be entering an era where guys like Wieringo, Dodson, and Hitch are doing the fill-ins, instead of the stereotypical Jim Lee clones of the day.

Siryn Song
Credits: Jim Kreuger (writer), Arnie Jorgensen (penciler), Bud LaRosa & John Lowe (inkers), Jeff Powell (letterer), Dana Moreshead (colorist)

While staying at Cassidy Keep in Ireland, Siryn hears a lullaby during the night. She follows the sound and finds the entrance to an old castle. She talks to the elderly lady inside. The woman helps Siryn deal with the pain of losing her mother while she was a small child. The next morning, she tries to show her friend Kelvin the castle, but it’s gone. They wonder if the woman was a ghost.

Continuity Note
Banshee is referred to as the “leader of the mutant group, Generation X” in a narrative caption. I don’t remember if the name “Generation X” was ever actually used in the series (just as Nate Grey was rarely called “X-Man”).

Typical back-up filler. I can see what Kreguer’s going for, but Siryn’s grief over her mother isn’t properly set up, so it doesn’t work. There’s actually more time spent on Siryn finding the castle than there is on her allegedly deep conversation with the old woman, which is a strange way to structure the story.

CABLE # 17 – November 1994

The Dark Ride Part One – The Calling
Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Steve Skroce (penciler), Mike Sellers w/Ryan & Dvorak (inkers), Mike Thomas (colorist), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering)

Gauntlet and the new Dark Riders hunt down former member Foxbat. They judge him to be weak and kill him. At the X-Men’s mansion, Cyclops tries to talk Cable into developing his mutant powers, but Cable would rather use firepower. While eating breakfast with the X-Men, Cable reveals to Storm that the Morlocks are still alive. Cable, Storm, and Domino investigate the sewers, even though Cable tells Storm that he only found one Morlock and that the rest were in a dimensional rift. Caliban bursts through a wall, running from the Dark Riders. They’re thrilled to discover Cable, who Gauntlet considers a real test. During the fight, Cable is forced to use his telekinetic powers against one of the Riders after losing his gun. The Dark Riders’ teleporter, Harddrive appears, saying that Cable has been declared off-limits. He teleports the team away. Cable vows to treat Caliban’s wounds, and then use his tracking ability to find the Dark Riders.

Creative Differences
This is one of those issues that’s computer lettered, but still has lettering corrections done by hand. Some of the altered balloons include an explanation of Cyclops’ powers, a mention by Cyclops that Cable wasn’t using his telepathic powers (meant to cover why Cyclops and Jean are mentally talking about Cable even though he could listen in, I assume), a reference to the dimensional rift the Morlocks went to, and an introduction of Harddrive when he appears. A few transition captions have also been added.

Continuity Notes
The new Dark Riders (Lifeforce, Hurricane, Deadbolt, and Spyne) debut. I think most of these characters end up as cannon fodder over the years.

Cable hears Beast refer to Cyclops by his old nickname “Slim”, which reminds Cable of the “Slym” who raised him.

We Get Letters
There’s a letter from a fan who’s gleefully surprised that Cable #14 referenced a story that was a whopping five years old. Just wait until every superhero comic published is either homaging or undoing comics that are decades old. There’s also a letter in response to the previous issue, which surprised me. The letters were usually three issues or so behind during this time. It’s possible that was one of the first emails printed by Marvel, but they don’t list an email address on the letters page.

The credits box “formally welcomes” Jeph Loeb with this issue, so I guess this should be considered the real beginning of his run. He actually seemed to have a better grasp on Cable’s character back in his fill-in issue, since his portrayal here seems to ignore the character arc that Nicieza’s been building for over a year now. Cable’s already been shown developing his psychic powers in X-Force, so it’s odd to see him so adamant against using them here. Cable’s back to “big guns, bad attitude”, for this issue at least. Even if it’s a step backwards, it does give Cable more personality than he normally has in this series. Ideally, Nicieza’s arc of a soldier who wants to learn more about peace would have provided some interesting stories, but so far that hasn’t panned out.

I don’t remember a lot about Loeb’s run, but I do remember that he often played up Cable’s connection to the X-Men. Cable and Domino hang out at the mansion for a large part of the issue, which produces a few decent scenes, even if some of the dialogue is a little awkward. Considering all of the effort Marvel went through to establish Cable as Cyclops’ son, it is nice to see some effort put into creating a relationship between the characters. Since Apocalypse has been retconned as Cable’s main enemy by this time, it also makes sense to see his former followers, the Dark Riders, show up as villains. The title still doesn’t have a very distinctive feel, but at least the connections to the main X-books don’t seem so forced. The new Dark Riders aren’t anything special, though. Half of the designs are awful, and they're all essentially personality-less. They serve their role as one-issue punching bags well enough, but using them in a three-issue arc doesn’t feel promising.

Monday, May 26, 2008


DEADPOOL #1 – August 1994

If Looks Could Kill!
Credits: Mark Waid (writer), Ian Churchill (penciler), Jason Minor (inks), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Dana Moreshead & Mike Thomas (colors)

Juggernaut breaks Black Tom out of a prison hospital, taking Dr. Killebrew, the specialist sent to treat Tom, with him. Weeks later, Deadpool is drinking in a bar when a group of armed men attacks him. Deadpool’s healing powers don’t respond as fast as usual, but he’s still able to defend himself until the mercenaries use a freezing device against him. Banshee suddenly appears, using his sonic powers to free Deadpool. They team up against the mercenaries, but Banshee lets one of them go free. Siryn enters and stops the fleeing mercenary, unaware of her father’s plan to trail him and find Black Tom. Deadpool explains to the pair that Black Tom must want him dead after their previous run-in. Siryn agrees to stay with Deadpool while Banshee contacts his Interpol sources. One of the armed men re-appears and has a sword fight with Deadpool. Deadpool guts the man, but not before his own hand is cut off. Deadpool expects his hand to grow back, but instead he passes out.

Continuity Notes
This issue establishes that Banshee and Deadpool have a history together. Deadpool says that Banshee owes him for the “Farouk affair”. This is also the first time Deadpool and Siryn meet, which sets up an unrequited romance that continued in X-Force and the Deadpool regular series.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Deadpool stabs someone through the stomach, and then realizes that his hand has been chopped off.

I Love the ‘90s
Deadpool remarks that he’s “too much Nancy, not enough Tonya”. Other outdated pop culture references in this issue include references to L. A. Law’s cancelation, the David Copperfield/Claudia Schiffer romance, and Phil Donahue’s old talk show.

I guess the first Deadpool mini was pretty successful, since he gets a second shot before even Gambit or Sabretooth do. This is an early Marvel job from Mark Waid (maybe his first ever?), even though he was already building his profile at DC. Deadpool doesn’t seem like an ideal fit for a Silver Age revivalist like Waid, but his ability to write non-stop, snappy dialogue suits the character, and it’s probably a major reason why he was chosen for the job. The plot is mainly just setting up the story while leaving room open for some action scenes. The dialogue is usually clever, but I wouldn’t say any of it is laugh-out-loud funny. Ian Churchill continues with his McFarlane-influenced style, which alternates between “tolerable” and “boy, that’s some screwed up anatomy”.

DEADPOOL #2 – September 1994

Luck of the Irish
Credits: Mark Waid (writer), Ian Churchill & Lee Weeks (pencilers), Minor/McLeod/LaRosa (inkers), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Dana Moreshead & Mike Thomas (colors)

Banshee flashes back to his first meeting with Deadpool. Banshee and fellow Interpol agent Daniel Peyer attempt to arrest a mobster named Almadovar, but Deadpool suddenly appears and kills him. Deadpool tells Banshee that Almadover was about to shoot him, so Banshee owes him his life. In the present, Banshee meets with Peyer, asking for any information Interpol has on Black Tom. Peyer still believes that Deadpool’s interference ruined his career at Interpol. Meanwhile, Black Tom is distressed to learn that Siryn has gotten involved. He orders his men to remove Siryn from the battle and make sure she isn’t harmed. Convinced that Deadpool is the key to curing him of his viral condition, Tom sends Juggernaut to kidnap him. Back in New York, Deadpool wakes up to discover that his hand still hasn’t regenerated. He concentrates and forces his hand to finally grow back. Tom’s men reappear and try to take Siryn away from the battle before Juggernaut arrives, but Deadpool stops them. When Juggernaut does appear, Siryn and Deadpool try to stop him by leading him to a knife manufacturing plant, where they drop blades and molten liquid on him. Their plan doesn’t work, and as they run from Juggernaut, they’re confronted by Peyer and dozens of armed men.

Continuity Note
The flashback establishes that one of Almadovar’s gangland rivals out to kill him is Amahl Farouk. Farouk was an identity of the Shadow King for years. This is presumably the “Farouk affair” referenced last issue, but since Farouk isn’t directly involved with any of this, Almadovar is, it’s odd that Deadpool would have called it that. Maybe Amahl Farouk was originally supposed to play a larger role and someone changed their mind in-between issues.

The plot doesn’t advance an awful lot, but it’s still pretty enjoyable. Just like the first Deadpool miniseries, the story sidesteps Deadpool’s role as a criminal by casting him as the target of another villain. The first mini didn’t introduce the idea that Deadpool might be capable of reforming until the final issue, and so far this series hasn’t gotten into that area at all. Waid has a firm handle on the main characters, and does a nice job with Black Tom’s relationships with Siryn and Juggernaut. He also emphasizes Banshee’s concern for Tom, which is consistent with his previous appearances. Keeping the characterizations and relationships consistent helps to make this feel more like an actual story and not just a shameless exploitation of the X-brand. Lee Weeks draws the opening flashback, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I preferred Churchill to Weeks when I first bought this comic. In my defense, Weeks’ rendition of Deadpool in the splash page really isn’t up to his usual standards (although the rest of his work is fine).

DEADPOOL #3 – October 1994

Deadpool Sandwich
Credits: Mark Waid (writer), Ian Churchill & Ken Lashley (pencilers), Bud LaRosa (inker), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Dana Moreshead & Mike Thomas (colors)

Daniel Peyer and his men are disrupted by a rampaging Juggernaut. Deadpool and Siryn escape to the rafters, but Juggernaut finds them. As he advances towards Deadpool, he explains that Black Tom needs Deadpool to cure him of the viral infection that is turning his body into wood. When Siryn hears this, she considers letting Juggernaut take Deadpool, but finally decides to save him. Inside Peyer’s office, Banshee discovers that Peyer already had the info he needed and that he’s left to get revenge on Deadpool. Siryn and Deadpool talk and grow closer while Deadpool tries to recover from his wounds. Peyer returns with his men and continues the fight. Banshee saves Peyer after Deadpool knocks him off a rooftop, and then leaves to find Black Tom. After hesitating, Deadpool finally agrees to join Siryn and follow Banshee. Meanwhile, one of Black Tom’s men brings him Deadpool’s severed hand. Dr. Killebrew explains his plan to graft Deadpool’s regenerative cells to Tom’s degenerative limbs in order to stop the infection. Tom cuts off his own hand and forces the doctor to attach Deadpool’s.

Creative Differences
The scene towards the end where Banshee saves Peyer and Deadpool agrees to follow Siryn is obviously not computer lettered, and it isn't in Starkings’ personal style either. I don’t know if this was the result of an editorial rewrite or some problems with Comicraft (the only noticeable disconnect would be Banshee given Deadpool’s unique balloon style for one panel).

For the first time, the mini briefly introduces the idea that Deadpool might be able to change. Siryn tells him that he’s “not the rogue” people make him out to be, based on the way he’s looked out for her. This is a bit of a stretch, considering that she’s held her own so far and is actually the one protecting Deadpool at this point. Plus, she’s witnessed him kill several people so far, which presumably wouldn’t endear himself to her that much. There’s really no implication that she’s actually attracted to him, but even building a friendship out of this seems forced to me. At any rate, this isn’t much different from the other issues. Lots of fighting and running around with a couple of amusing wisecracks.

DEADPOOL #4 – November 1994

Mano @ Mano
Credits: Mark Waid (writer), Ian Churchill & Ken Lashley (pencilers), Bud LaRosa & Tom Wegryzn with Philip Moy & W.C. Carani (inkers), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Dana Moreshead & Mike Thomas (colors)

Deadpool, Banshee, and Siryn track Black Tom to his secret headquarters. After splitting up, Tom attacks Banshee and Siryn, while Deadpool finds Dr. Killebrew. Deadpool recognizes the doctor because Killebrew was the man responsible for developing his regenerative process. He demands that Killebrew fix his waning healing factor, but has to leave him in order to save Siryn and Banshee from Black Tom. After Deadpool leads Tom to the roof, Daniel Peyer suddenly appears. Deadpool encourages Peyer to leave him alone and go after Black Tom, which leads to Tom blasting Peyer in the face. Juggernaut then arrives and attacks Deadpool. During the fight, Deadpool loses his mask, causing him to act erratically. Siryn destroys the roof under Juggernaut and returns the mask to Deadpool. Black Tom confronts Killebrew about the operation, which has left him near death. Deadpool has an opportunity to kill Tom, but doesn’t take it. He convinces Juggernaut to stop the fight so that Killebrew can save Tom’s life. Killebrew sets up a device to stabilize Tom’s condition while Banshee returns him to jail. Deadpool escapes with Killebrew, who promises to restore his healing factor. Deadpool says goodbye to Siryn, as an injured Daniel Peyer watches and plans his revenge.

I Love the ‘90s
Deadpool tells Siryn that they’re “a regular Michael and Lisa Marie”.

Unfortunately, this is the weakest issue of the miniseries. The Juggernaut chases are getting tedious by now, and new plot elements like Black Tom’s reaction to the surgery aren’t very clear (what exactly is supposed to be wrong with him?). Why exactly Deadpool’s healing power has gone away isn’t explained either. Daniel Peyer returns for no real reason, even though he doesn’t have anything to add to the story at this point. Peyer’s really an underdeveloped character, and setting him up as a recurring villain at the end just doesn’t work. The rest of the story isn’t that bad, though. Waid tries to humanize Deadpool by revealing that he’s extremely afraid of having his face being exposed. This is an element later writers totally ignored; his regular series even had Deadpool out in public wearing only baseball hats. Subsequent stories have also shown that he’s perfectly willing to expose his face just to gross someone out. I actually prefer Waid’s idea, since giving Deadpool a realistic insecurity helps to make him more relatable. In the final pages, Deadpool decides to spare Black Tom’s life, which is portrayed as some sort of major turning point in his life. The scene doesn’t work that badly, but it’s hard to read it and not think about the inconsistent ways Deadpool’s conscious will be played in the coming years. Overall, it’s an enjoyable mini, held back by inconsistent artwork and a disappointing climax.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

X-MEN #38 – November 1994

Smoke and Mirrors
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Matt Ryan (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Kevin Somers (colorist)

Beast discovers that the Legacy Virus has mutated into three strains, enabling it to infect humans. Iceman and Rogue discuss his recent possession by Emma Frost, while Psylocke and Phoenix spar in the Danger Room. Cyclops then takes over the Danger Room to give Sabretooth an exercise drill. Gambit tricks Cyclops into leaving the control booth, and then sets the Danger Room on a lethal setting. After watching Sabretooth defend himself for a few minutes, Gambit finally confronts him, telling him that he’s not going to revert into the person he used to be. Xavier discusses the loss of his classified information with Bishop, while Beast tries to reassure Iceman. Finally, Xavier reflects upon the future with Cyclops and Phoenix.

Continuity Notes
Sabretooth threatens to tell the X-Men about a “sinister” chapter in Gambit’s past. This is the first direct hint that Gambit has a past with Mr. Sinister.

Adam X visits Hazard in prison, asking about Milbury (a.k.a. Mr. Sinister). He claims that Milbury worked with Hazard’s father in the past. Hazard’s response is to ask Charles Xavier about him. Since Xavier’s father worked with Hazard’s, this is obviously an attempt to tie Sinister to Professor Xavier’s father, but I don’t think anything came of it.

The first in-story hint of the Age of Apocalypse storyline begins when Legion has a vision of Destiny in his sleep.

Psylocke has a very short haircut in this issue. The story even draws attention to it out by having Jean remark that she impulsively cut ten inches of her hair off. I think the short hair makes one more appearance and is then totally forgotten about. Maybe they thought it wasn’t feminine enough for a character so rooted in cheesecake.

Professor Xavier says that he lost all of his private files when Banshee was forced to destroy them during the Phalanx attack. He tells Bishop that he made no copies for security reasons, not even for Muir Island's records. He suggests that Commcast might be able to retrieve the data. This is another forgotten subplot.

This is the four hundredth quiet, post-crossover issue of an X-book. It does set the stage for a few subplots, but considering that half of them go nowhere, it’s hard to get too worked up about most of this. The first hints of an Iceman/Rogue relationship begin here, but this turns out to be another plotline that fizzles out. There’s a lot of interaction between the characters in this issue, but I don’t find most of it that interesting. A lot of the dialogue is filled with cryptic bits like “…Ah can’t run anymore from who Ah was…if it means Ah keep runnin’ away from who Ah wanna be”, which is either really deep or just nonsense. The moment where Gambit tells Sabretooth that he refuses to go back to the person he used to be turns out to be the best scene in the book, and it’s only five pages or so. Andy Kubert’s art is really strong, though, and it’s helped a lot by the improved paper quality and color separations.

EXCALIBUR #85 – January 1995

Edge of Night
Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Ken Lashley (penciler), Tom Wegrzyn (inker), Jon Babcok (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

Shrill reveals to Kitty that Nightcrawler has been possessed by Gravemoss. After Gravemoss unleashes a magic attack, Kitty phases down to the floor below. She flashes back to an early training session with Wolverine, where he taught her a form of martial arts used by the Mossad. When Gravemoss follows her, she uses the martial arts tactics against him. He teleports to Nightcrawler’s room and takes a sword from his wall, hoping to antagonize Kitty into drawing the Soul Sword. Kitty does draw the Soul Sword during the fight, but to Gravemoss' surprise, reveals that Wolverine also taught her swordplay. Amanda Sefton suddenly teleports in and joins the fight. Shrill uses her magic to hold Gravemoss and tells Kitty to kill him. Kitty refuses, and instead strikes him with the Soul Sword. The sword forces Gravemoss out of Nightcrawler’s body. Kitty gives the sword to Amanda, who stabs Gravemoss with it. She later takes the sword to her mother, Margali, for safekeeping. What she doesn’t realize is that Margali has now advanced on the magical Winding Way, and will use the sword to gain more power.

Creative Differences
When Amanda Sefton suddenly returns on page 29, there’s an altered word balloon that references her being thrown off a cliff in the last issue. You would think that the altered balloon would have explained how she survived the attack, but it doesn’t.

It’s the big fight issue, which essentially serves as a solo Kitty Pryde story. I like the way Ellis incorporates some realism into a fight scene that involves magic swords and possessed bodies, and his portrayal of Kitty Pryde is entertaining. Parts of the issue do feel padded, though. The flashback with Wolverine takes up five full pages in the middle of the story, which is certainly excessive. Shrill also drops out of the story without explanation, making me wonder what role she was supposed to play in the first place. Even if some of the plotting doesn’t work, Ellis is successful in bringing some personality to the book. None of the characters feel like ciphers, and the narrative captions now have some attitude. A lot of this has become the stereotypical British approach to superhero comics, but it felt fresh at the time. Ken Lashley returns as artist, which makes for a slightly jarring transition. His work has improved from the previous issues, thankfully, even if his female characters still look pretty generic.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

EXCALIBUR #84 – December 1994

Dark Adapted Eye
Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Daerick Gross (penciler), Bill Anderson (inker), Joe Rosas (colorist), J. Babcock (letterer)

Nightcrawler, now secretly possessed by Gravemoss, tries to talk Kitty into giving him the Soul Sword. Britanic crashes through the wall and stops Kitty from killing Moira. They take the unconscious Kitty to the medlab, as the Soul Sword returns to her body. Gravemoss is waiting outside when Amanda Sefton appears. When he learns that she’s come to help Kitty, he nerve pinches her and drops her off of a cliff. Professor Xavier and Moira watch enhanced footage of Illyana’s death, and witness the magic within her transfer to Kitty at the time of her death. Meanwhile, Gravemoss sets an occult fire inside Douglock’s body, forcing the rest of the team to leave Kitty alone in the lab. She wakes up and is confronted by the sorceress Shrill. Shrill’s eye is made of the same material as the Soul Sword, which creates a supernatural friction that causes her great pain every time the sword is unsheathed. She tells Kitty that she’s going to kill her because she doesn’t know a way to destroy the blade. Gravemoss teleports in, still inside Nightcrawler’s body, telling Kitty that he’ll protect her if she gives him the blade. Inside Douglock’s room, the rest of the team is unconscious.

Continuity Notes
Britanic is no longer speaking with the Shakespearian accent, saying that he’s begun to adjust to his experiences.
Shrill says that the previous owner of the Soul Sword was the demon “Darkoth”. There’s an editor’s note saying that the story of Shrill’s meeting with him is “yet to be told”.
Moira says that the “tiniest contact” with Douglock will infect her with the Transmode Virus. This seems to be going back to the original continuity Claremont established with Warlock back in New Mutants, but the recent Phalanx storyline doesn’t fit into this. If just touching a techno-organic being infects you with the virus, why weren’t all of the characters who fought the Phalanx infected? I don’t think Marvel stuck with the “no one can touch Douglock” idea, but I could be wrong.

The Soul Sword trilogy continues, moving at a pretty leisurely pace. Ellis doesn’t go in-depth with the continuity, essentially saying that Illyana used to have a sword that made her evil, and now it’s passed on to Kitty. What isn’t explained yet is why exactly the Soul Sword waited so long to manifest inside Kitty, and why she began to fall under its influence at this specific time. Introducing new characters who are also after the Soul Sword could needlessly complicate the story, but so far Ellis manages to keep things under control. A few Ellis-isms are starting to surface, as Gravemoss refers to Excalibur as “spandex clowns”, and says that he’d like to eat their eyes. There’s also almost an entire page dedicated to the characters discussing coffee. Daerick Gross’ fill-in art isn’t bad, and it’s a lot more consistent than his previous work in the recent annual back-up. It fits in well with Dodson’s work in the previous issue, so it’s not a jarring transition.

WOLVERINE #87 – November 1994

Showdown in Lowtown!
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler), Farmer/Green/Townsend/Rubinstein (inkers), Pat Brosseau (lettering), Marie Javins (coloring)

In Madripoor, Gambit visits Wolverine to talk to him about Xavier’s decision to take in Sabretooth. On the roof of the Princess Bar, a mystery man kills two Hand ninjas who were tracking Wolverine. Wolverine and Gambit investigate the roof, but can’t find the mysterious figure. While on the roof, Wolverine tells Gambit a story about Sabretooth from their days as CIA agents. After Sabretooth is seriously injured in battle, Maverick wants to kill him in order to keep their codes and extraction sites secret, but Wolverine stops him. Sabretooth regains consciousness and intentionally foils their escape plan so that they’ll need his help to fight against the enemy soldiers. Back in the present, the mystery man begins to attack Gambit and Wolverine. After tracking him down, they realize that his weapons aren’t lethal. Their attacker is revealed to be Maverick. He’s suffering from the Legacy Virus, and is antagonizing Wolverine into giving him a “warrior’s death”. Wolverine tells him that he needs to face his fears and never drop out of life. Maverick leaves, telling Wolverine to take his own advice.

Continuity Notes
Wolverine’s friend Rose from the “Lady Mandarin” storyline has morphed into another form (she now looks hideously deformed). She tells Wolverine that she’s retired from Landau, Luckman, and Lake and purchased half of the Princess Bar. Zoe Culloden is her replacement at L, L, & L.

This issue throws a few bones towards the long-time fans by resurrecting the Madripoor cast and by reuniting Wolverine with Gambit. Gambit doesn’t serve much of a purpose in this story, outside of setting up a Sabretooth flashback. Hama gives Gambit the heavily exaggerated accent and doesn’t really take advantage of the character, except for a brief scene where he calls Wolverine out for abandoning the team. Maverick makes similar statements about Wolverine “dropping out” at the end of the issue, so it looks like Hama is getting ready to finish the “wounded Wolverine” character arc. Maverick telling Wolverine to take his own advice is my favorite part of the issue, since it emphasizes how far Wolverine has gone over past few issues, without totally altering his character. Unfortunately, the next development for the character is the editorially mandated “feral Wolverine” storyline, which leaves Wolverine as some sort of nose-less animal.

It’s too bad that this is the first issue to get the “deluxe” paper treatment, since it’s the weakest looking Kubert issue yet. The four inkers don’t mesh, and most of the lines just look too thick and bold. All four of these inkers are fine on their own, so I’m not sure what the problem is. I don’t know if switching to the new paper stock had anything to do with the linework or not, but this is really a step down from the look of the previous issue.

Monday, May 19, 2008

EXCALIBUR #83 – November 1994

Bend Sinister
Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Terry Dodson & W. C. Carani (artists), Jon Babcock (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

While visiting Cairo, Amanda Sefton discovers her mother, Margali Szardos, living on the streets. Margali explains that she is in a period of lowliness on the Winding Way, which is meant to teach magicians humility. She tells Amanda of a magician named Gravemoss, who is warping the Winding Way in order to extend his period of empowerment long enough to find the Soul Sword. In London, a sorceress senses low-level activity of the Soul Sword. Every time the sword is drawn, she feels incredible pain. She plans on using her magic broach to find the sword and make sure it’s never drawn again. On Muir Island, Kitty Pryde receives a shipment of clothes from Jubilee. As she walks back to her room with the boxes, she beings to act strangely. Meanwhile, Meggan has a violent reaction to the evil hanging over Muir Island. Kitty rummages through Moira’s belongings, taunting her for keeping her dead husband’s clothes. After assaulting Moira, Kitty pulls the Soul Sword from out of her stomach. Nightcrawler overhears the commotion and teleports, but is intercepted during the fraction of a second he spends in an adjacent dimension while teleporting. Inside that dimension, the magician Gravemoss possesses his body.

Scott Lobdell is given an “original idea by” blurb, but not a plotting credit for this issue, which makes me comfortable enough to call this the beginning of the Warren Ellis run. Ellis’ run is one of the few from this era that fandom in general still holds in high regard (if Marvel hasn’t put out an Excalibur Legends-Warren Ellis book yet, I’m sure they will soon enough). After a year’s worth of issues that range from mediocre to outright horrible, he’s certainly a welcome sight on this title. This is mostly a setup issue, giving cryptic introductions to a few new characters while briefly touching base with the regular cast. The idea that Kitty would inherit the Soul Sword from Illyana goes back to old New Mutants continuity, but there’s no explanation of any of that in this issue. Ellis paces the story slowly, without dumping too much exposition on the reader. There’s a dark mood to the entire story, but it’s appropriate given the Soul Sword’s past, so it doesn’t feel as if Ellis is unnaturally inserting his sensibilities into the title. The confrontation with Kitty and Moira is handled very well, making Moira feel more like a real character than she has in months. Terry Dodson’s art is also impressive, even though I didn’t care for it when I first saw this issue. Dodson’s smooth, curvy work didn’t fit into the standard look of the X-books at all at this time, and I didn’t understand why he started to show up on fill-ins during this era. At fourteen, I would’ve been happier with a Roger Cruz fill-in. Once again, it seems like the art I deemed too soft and dull has aged a lot better than the popular styles of the time.

X-MEN UNLIMITED #6 – September 1994

Primal Scream
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Smith (storyboards), Mandel Alves Flor, Fabio Laguna, Al Rio, Edde Wagner (pencilers), Cabera/Champagne/Lowe/McKenna/Milgrom/Rubinstein/Townsend (inkers), Dutro/Oakley/Starkings (lettering), Agostinelli/Ariane/Sanchez/Triana/Webb (colorists)

Sauron sends the Savage Land Mutates to capture Havok. They’re followed to the Savage Land by Cyclops, Phoenix, and Polaris. After the death of his girlfriend, Tanya Anderssen, Sauron has grown more insane. He routinely sees images of his human self, Karl Lykos, which he tries to kill. With the aid of the Mutates, Sauron kidnaps Polaris, Cyclops, and Phoenix. He connects Cyclops and Havok to a machine, hoping to draw upon their related mutant powers. Phoenix and Polaris recover and rescue the brothers. Sauron chases them into the jungle, using his hypnotic powers to make the team fight amongst themselves. Phoenix finally uses her psychic powers to enter Sauron’s mind. She tries to free the part of him that is Karl Lykos, but instead witnesses a battle between Sauron and Lykos. Lykos commits “psychic suicide”, sacrificing his own identity in order to kill Sauron. Sauron is now reduced to his animal brain. The team allows him to fly away, knowing that he now has to live in the “kill or be killed” world of the Savage Land.

Continuity Notes
Sauron says that he used his hypnotic powers to trick Wolverine into letting him escape in Wolverine #71. There’s nothing in that actual story to suggest this, so I’m assuming it’s a retcon done to relieve Wolverine of responsibility for Sauron’s actions in the Savage Land.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this was originally supposed to be the Sauron one-shot by John Francis Moore advertised a year earlier in the X-Men/Avengers 30th Anniversary insert. Paul Smith is credited with “storyboards”, which leads me to believe that he was supposed to be the original artist, but didn’t make it past the layouts stage. It makes sense that a prestigious, but slow, artist like Smith would have been working on a special edition one-shot project. Given the multiple pencilers, inkers, letterers, and colorists on this issue, I’m also going to guess that this was a last-minute rush job that cannibalized the Sauron project in order to get something out there to the printers. I understand that these things happen in periodical publishing, but you would think that more planning would have gone into a quarterly book. It’s ridiculous that a book that has three months to be prepared ends up with five credited colorists.

Moore does provide a decent, action-heavy story. It doesn’t feel worthy of a prestige one-shot, but it’s good enough for a standard issue of X-Men Unlimited. Before Marvel decided to go with a “continuity light” approach, you used to see more stories like this. The premise is essentially a sequel to Sauron’s original appearance, where Karl Lykos drained Havok’s powers and transformed into Sauron for the first time. It makes sense that the energy-vampire Sauron would want to drain Havok’s powers again, but I think this is the first time someone used the idea. The story moves at a steady pace, and Moore does seem to have an understanding of the characters. It still reads like filler, but it rarely feels dull or padded. The major flaw would be the artwork, which consists of four Jim Lee impersonators of varying quality. The storytelling is mostly clear, probably due to the Paul Smith layouts, but the art is just ugly for most of the issue. I was impressed by how close some of the artists get to Jim Lee when I first read this as a teenager, but it doesn’t hold up at all. The multiple letterers and colorists are also distracting, giving the book a chaotic feel. One third of the lettering is done with computers, the rest by hand, which looks pretty odd. What’s worse is that the colorists can’t seem to decide if Sauron has a yellow beak or not (he doesn’t). Taking it all together, this should’ve been a sign to Marvel that this book needed help, but they didn’t seem to get the message.
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