Friday, December 31, 2010

LONGSHOT #1 - February 1998

Fools

Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Michael Zulli (penciler), Al Williamson (inker), Bill Oakley (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: In Mojoverse, a monstrous Thingee devours Longshot. After a near-death experience, Longshot awakes in Kansas. He’s secretly followed by the Thingee, as Longshot begins a journey to the X-Men’s home. He befriends a girl named Betty, who’s later traumatized by the Thingee. Longshot finds her in a sanitarium, where he’s joined by six patients who feel a kinship with him. After Longshot uses magic and faith to revive Betty, he’s confronted by the Thingee. The patients unite, and by choosing love over fear, the monster is transformed into its original form, the Beautiful Thingee. Rejuvenated, the patients join Longshot on his earthly journey.

Continuity Notes: In case this wasn’t officially confirmed before, the narrative captions refer to Longshot having a wife, who is presumably Dazzler. Longshot is also given a tiny, rhyming sidekick in the story named Nutt.

Production Notes: This is a $3.99, forty-eight page one-shot. This is an unusual format for Marvel, as one-shot stories this size are usually in the $5.99 bookshelf format. This is also a rare hand-lettered comic from the late ‘90s. I seem to recall the opening DeMatteis/Zulli arc in 1998’s Webspinners also had hand letters by Bill Oakley.

Review: Before the Mojoverse became a tired venue for TV and movie parodies, it was Ann Nocenti and Arthur Adams’ weird corner of the Marvel Universe. The original Longshot miniseries had some elements of media parody, but the majority of the story focused on inserting fantasy elements into the “real” world of Marvel’s superheroes. J. M. DeMatteis follows the original premise, treating Mojoverse as a fairy tale environment, while using Longshot as a reverse Dorothy in the allegedly normal world of Baum, Kansas (this might shock you, but this comic is filled with Wizard of Oz references).

Aside from using the story as an excuse to play around with hallucinogenic ideas, DeMatteis really does display a firm grasp of Longshot’s character. In his original appearances, Longshot was the naïve innocent in our world, but as the story points out, innocence can’t last forever. Considering his adventures with the X-Men, and the war he fought to overthrow Mojo, it strains credibility too far to keep the same character arc going. Instead, Longshot is now in search of something he feels is missing, which he later realizes is his own innocence. He’s still childlike and trusting, so he feels like the same character, but he eventually learns the value of the experiences he’s traded for that innocence. Longshot is paralleled by the story’s villain, the Thingee, who reveals in the end it was mistakenly trying to regain its innocence by consuming “purity in all its forms.” It’s a well-executed, well-drawn story. Letting faith and magic heal a comatose girl, and defeating the main villain with the power of love, are the types of ideas that rarely, if ever, work in traditional comics, but I’ll even give them a pass this time, since this is clearly a fairy tale as much as it is an action comic.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

X-FORCE #77 - May 1998

City of Lost Children

Credits: Joseph Harris (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Marie Javins (colors) Comicraft (letters)

Summary: X-Force makes a wrong turn into “Almost Reno,” Nevada. Nuclear testing in the 1960s has left the current generation with mutant powers, and many of the children are dying young. Mary, a young telepath, is targeted by SHIELD agents, and resists X-Force’s efforts to help her. Meltdown eventually has a civil conversation with Mary at the park and offers her hope for the future. Mary uses her powers to knock out the SHIELD agents, and X-Force leaves town.

Continuity Notes: Sunspot feels the locals are harassing him because he’s Latino. It’s my understanding from his original appearances in New Mutants that Sunspot is half-black/half-white. Perhaps he would still consider himself Latino because he’s from Brazil, but his ancestry doesn’t seem to fit the standard use of the term. (I’m reminded of stand-up comedian Louis C.K., who’s originally from Mexico, chastising people for assuming everyone in Mexico is Hispanic.)

Review: This fill-in story has two odd distinctions going for it. The first is rather obvious, as the logo has been replaced with a softer, non-traditional (for superhero comics) font. I have no idea why the logo was suddenly classed up for a fill-in story, but I guess the advent of computer lettering made it easier to try this kind of stunt. Although I never felt compelled to buy this issue in the past, the sudden logo switch did stop me in my tracks when flipping through the back issue bins, so I can’t deny it’s an attention-getter.

The other peculiarity is the fact that the regular writer later pens a sequel to this story. How often to do fill-ins get sequels? In the follow-up, John Francis Moore addresses one of the flaws of this story, the stereotypically eeeeviiilll SHIELD agents, while he ties the idea of “Almost Reno” into a larger story arc he’s developing. The portrayal of SHIELD is one of my major problems with the issue, as I dislike the way the organization is always depicted as the bad guy when it appears in other Marvel Universe titles (I imagine I’ll get into this again as Joe Casey’s Cable run develops). The other is the treatment of dusty little “Almost Reno.”

Assuming that these books are supposed to be about tolerance and judging people as individuals, why is it okay to have X-Force refer to the residents of the tiny town as “these people”? Why does Sunspot speculate that the citizens “probably don’t even wash their hands!” when the electric hand dryer in a public bathroom doesn’t work? Why is virtually every local a dimwitted, close-minded bigot? (For that matter, why did Siryn tell the team last issue to be extra careful about exposing their powers in Texas? Isn’t this its own form of discrimination and stereotyping?) There’s no immediate plot purpose for any of this, either, unless Harris is trying to stress that the locals are chasing away outsiders in order to keep their mutant kids a secret. If that was even what he was going for, the execution is pretty muddy. The children’s deaths are being reported by the media, so if this is a secret, it’s not being kept well. The residents just come across as indiscriminately nasty, and outright hostile towards minorities like Sunspot.

The story itself is typical of what you see in “quieter” fill-ins. The ending is a little lazy, as X-Force just leaves the girl behind, but I’ll cut it some slack since this was intended as a standalone fill-in. It’s not as if Harris could’ve inducted the girl into the cast, and I guess he did create a basic concept interesting enough for the regular writer to return to later. Meanwhile, Adam Pollina’s art is continuing its unique evolution. A letter writer notices that he’s sneaking Norman Rockwell references into the art, which leads the editors to reveal that Pollina’s spending a lot of time studying Rockwell’s work. How many comic artists are assigned to draw sleepy small towns and actually don’t dismiss the assignment as boring? The rustic setting could’ve easily been hacked through in a hurry, but Pollina cares enough to make the scenery graphically interesting. I also like his development of human faces, as some characters are given a stylized, cartoony look while others appear photorealistic. I don’t think Pollina lasts for too many more issues, and I don’t know why he’s rarely shown up over the years, but I’m glad he’s stuck around this title for so long.

GENERATION X #39 - June 1998

Return from Forever

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Terry Dodson w/Dan Lawlis (penciler), Rachel Dodson w/Jon Holdredge (inker), Comicraft (letters), Felix Serrano (colors)

Summary: Dirtnap explodes, unleashing the elements of M-Plate: the St. Croix twins and Emplate. Chamber attacks Emplate, unaware his energy burst will destroy the Citadel. As the Citadel collapses, Emplate and DOA teleport away, while Gen X boards the train with Elwood. Synch and Penance disobey orders and stay behind to free Gaia. Gaia takes them through a hidden Warp Chamber, as the Token leads Skin and Emma to a train station, where they’re reunited with the team. Meanwhile, Synch, Penance, and Gaia emerge from the Warp Chamber in the diner. Synch encounters Dorian and Weasel, who mercilessly beat him.

Continuity Notes: The Token possesses some form of magical power that enables him to lead Emma and Skin to a train station that magically appears under the Biosphere’s treehouse. Gaia runs away as soon as she reaches Earth, and Penance follows Synch’s order to chase her. Dorian and Weasel are angry at Synch for causing a mess when he falls through the Warp Chamber. They throw in a “boy” when talking to him before suddenly turning violent.

Review: Wow, this never ends. This story has so many disparate elements, just touching base on each thread takes up over half of the issue. Taken on their own, most of these ideas have potential. Gaia feels she has an obligation to stay in the Citadel, even as it collapses. Synch risks everything to save her, granting her her first taste of freedom. Dirtnap learns about friendship and honor from the team (who don’t seem broken up about his apparent death, by the way). The daughter of the police chief blackmails her way into the school and runs into an extradimensional Token. Two teenage punks discover a Warp Chamber in the local diner. All of these stories could work as Generation X issues…but why are they all crammed into the same arc? And why shove all of them into the origin story of M, Penance, and Emplate? What do Tokens, or Universal Amalgmation, or Synch getting a beatdown by local hoodlums have to do this? This is the major mystery that goes back to the first issue of the series, and instead of focusing on the central characters in the story, the series devotes issue after issue to unrelated, half-formed ideas. I disagree with the people who hated these issues with a burning passion, but I can understand why they were disappointed.

Monday, December 27, 2010

MAVERICK #10-#11, June-July 1998



Red Reign Part One - Cold Front!

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Leo Fernandez (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & Virtual Calligraphy (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: Maverick awakes in Russia, where Ivan the Terrible is waiting. While being escorted to a dungeon, Maverick escapes and steals a horse. He’s forced to surrender when Ivan threatens a young boy. Later, Ivan meets with AIM representatives and backs out of an arms deal. When they leave, Ivan sends Sickle and Hammer to follow the AIM agents. They’re joined by Ivan’s new hire, Omega Red.

Continuity Notes: The body of Etta Langstrom (the scientist who attempted to brainwash Maverick in issue #2) is in the dungeon. Ivan also breaks the fingers of one of his mistresses when she accidentally interrupts his conversation with Maverick.

Review: I don’t think you can blame Jim Cheung’s covers for Maverick’s short run. Most of them are strong attention-getters, with appropriately vivid colors, and this is one of my favorites. And what about Maverick’s daring horseback escape? It’s literally one page of the story. Gonzalez seems more interested in having Ivan strut around for a few pages and remind us of how evil he is. Maverick barely has anything to do, and the action scene he’s given is too brief to be effective. The Ivan vs. AIM subplot does have potential, though. I’ve always enjoyed villain vs. villain conflicts.

Perilous Choices

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Leo Fernandez (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & Virtual Calligraphy (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: Chris sneaks into Dr. Keller’s office, disguising himself with the energy that surrounds his electric powers. His powers snuff out while fighting the gang, however. Lying on the floor, Chris can no longer protect his identity.

Review: Two of the five pages in this backup are spent on recapping the previous chapter, making this even more flagrant filler. The story doesn’t even end here, which means it’s going to be stretched out into three issues. Leo Fernandez’s art is still clean and attractive, though, and I don’t mind him as a fill-in for Cheung.


Red Reign Part Two - Raising the Stakes

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Jim Cheung (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & VC (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: Maverick discovers his cellmate is the new Red Guardian, while Ivan unveils to Omega Red his plan to pin the robbery on Hydra. Maverick escapes when his powers flare up and returns to Ivan’s mansion to retrieve his gear. With the help of Ivan’s mistress, Maverick discovers Ivan’s plot to rob AIM of WMDs. Along with the Red Guardian, Maverick sneaks onboard Ivan’s plane.

Continuity Notes: Maverick says he knew the original Red Guardian, Alexi Shostakov, personally. The new Red Guardian claims to be an independent hero who wishes to inspire the disheartened people of Russia. While reading Ivan’s files, Maverick learns that Major Barrington was innocent of the charges made against him during Dr. Langston’s brainwashing.

Review: Maverick only has one issue left, so it’s time for a few plot threads to be resolved. In a quickie scene, the hero learns that his mentor Major Barrington was never involved with his evil ex-wife and he shouldn’t have questioned him earlier. Well, yes, Maverick. Allegations the villain makes about someone while brainwashing you probably aren’t true. This was a silly subplot in the first place, but letting it drag on for almost a year and then resolving it in a way that just reinforces how dumb the protagonist has been…that wasn’t the best way to go. Ignoring the ridiculous subplot, the main story makes decent progress. After a rather dull issue, the action is amped up this time, so Cheung is given some cool things to draw. I’m not sure why exactly a new Red Guardian is introduced, other than the fact that the story takes place in Russia, but Cheung also has a nice interpretation of the character.

Exposed

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Leo Fernandez (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & VC (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: Before the gang can learn Chris’ identity, they’re attacked by a groggy Dr. Keller. Chris’ powers return long enough for him to defeat the teens. After the gang is in custody, Chris apologizes to Dr. Keller.

Review: Three issues. This lugged along for three issues. A total of fifteen pages were wasted on Chris going to the doctor and stopping a teenage gang that happened to show up. And it took three months to get to the conclusion. Can you imagine if an annual backup was needlessly padded out and serialized over the course of several issues? That’s essentially what we have here. I realize the decision to cancel Maverick most likely came before these backups started, but surely this flagrant use of page-killer didn’t help sales.

Friday, December 24, 2010

EXCALIBUR #118-#119, March-April 1998

New Year’s Evil

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Mel Rubi (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: An army of Bamfs kidnaps Lockheed and creates havoc on Muir Island. Meanwhile, Meggan tells Colossus that they can’t be friends because she’s uncomfortable with his feelings, and Peter Wisdom demands Shadowcat tell him why she’s avoiding him. Eventually, the Bamfs make their presence known and attack the team. From the shadows, their master Nightmare enters.

Continuity Notes: Shadowcat feels awkward around Wisdom due to the crush on Rigby she developed in the Kitty Pryde: Agent of SHIELD miniseries. The original Bamfs were products from Shadowcat’s imagination that appeared in the ‘80s Nightcrawler miniseries.

Review: After months of buildup, Lockheed’s shadowy tormentors are revealed. I don’t know if the readers really needed to wait six months to learn that they’re Bamfs, but the little demons are fun. Much of Raab’s run has been pretty dull, so I’m more than happy to see a threat that totally comes out of left field. And while Rubi still struggles with human characters, his cartoony style actually suits the Bamfs quite well. While Raab builds up the Bamf story, he touches base with some of the ongoing romantic entanglements, which doesn’t work as well. Kitty wants to be with someone younger and more like herself, while Colossus suspects that Meggan is pushing him away in order to avoid her own feelings. If the characterizations didn’t feel so flat, these scenes would’ve had more impact, but Raab’s scripting is usually too stiff to really do convincing soap opera material.


Preludes & Nightmares!

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Jim Calafiore (penciler), Rob Hunter (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Nightmare plays on the team’s subconscious fears, but is unable to manipulate Peter Wisdom’s dreams. After already dealing with his internal shame, he’s able to stand up to Nightmare and defend his teammates. When Wisdom reveals each member’s true heroism, Nightmare is forced to retreat.

Continuity Notes: Nightmare says he recruited the Bamfs from the “Well at the Center of Time,” last seen in the Nightcrawler miniseries. The Bamfs targeted Lockheed because they’re jealous of his relationship with Kitty. Before leaving, Nightmare says a “mutual friend” will be interested in what he’s learned about Excalibur.

Review: It’s a “Give Each Member a Dream Sequence” issue, as Raab explores the hidden anxieties of each member. Nightcrawler is afraid of what can happen to Professor Xaver in custody (as this was written during the two-year period Xavier was being held post-Onslaught), Colossus sees visions of his dead family, Meggan worries Captain Britain wouldn’t love her in her true form, Douglock questions if he’s ever broken free of the Phalanx, and Kitty fears she was cheated out of her childhood and can’t handle a serious relationship. There’s nothing really unexpected here, but Raab’s delivery is competent enough. Putting Peter Wisdom in the unlikely role as the team’s defender is a good choice, as it emphasizes how far he’s come since joining Excalibur and shows that even a cynic can see the team’s true heroism. His accent is even tolerable this time around, thankfully.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

X-FACTOR #144 - April 1998

Points of View

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Duncan Rouleau (penciler), Jaime Mendoza w/Allen Martinez (inks), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: Shard and Havok unite to free Dark Beast’s human captives, until Fixx telepathically reveals the XUE’s mission to Shard. When Ever regains consciousness, he explains that the humans can’t be freed, as Dark Beast has infected them with the strain of the Legacy Virus that targets humans. Meanwhile, Random emerges to free Mary Stewart, a human he reluctantly kidnapped for Dark Beast. Random turns against Dark Beast and aids Havok, yet the villain still escapes. Ever volunteers to look after Mary and the infected humans in the underground lab.

Continuity Notes: According to the XUE, Havok freed the human subjects in their reality, inadvertently causing the deaths of millions of humans. This allegedly led to “a whole chain reaction of anti-mutant sentiments, Sentinels…” etc. Wasn’t it already revealed that Onslaught’s victory in Bishop’s reality lead to the anti-mutant furor, or did I imagine that?

We Get Letters: More denials the series is getting cancelled, as the editor states, “We’re just getting geared up for our 150th issue and man, do we have surprises!” Getting cancelled at issue #149 was probably the biggest surprise.

I Love the ‘90s: Havok lets out an emphatic “Not!” while fighting Mystique. I still contend that people weren’t actually using this slang in the late ‘90s.

Review: To Howard Mackie’s credit, this does resolve at least a few of the mysteries from the previous issue, which has to be a new record for this book. We now know that the XUE wants to stop Havok from freeing the humans because they’re carrying a plague, which works fairly well as a plot twist. Except, we have no idea why Mystique absolutely had to be a part of this mission, as she does nothing in this issue. And even though the XUE’s urgent mission from the future last issue was to stop Havok, they’re now asking for his help at the story’s end, as this was just one dangling thread and “time hasn’t been completely repaired yet.” Plus, this might’ve been an intentional misdirection, but the implication last issue was that Havok had to be killed, not just prevented from opening some cages. And, if humans infected with the Legacy Virus are a horrible threat to society, why has Moira MacTaggert been allowed to run free since 1994? Yes, she’s recently quarantined herself, but this was her choice, and it took her years to reach this decision. Overlooking the disappointing payoff, Random is (sigh) randomly inserted into the chaotic fight scene for no apparent reason, along with Fatale, who shows up for all of one page before getting blasted into apparent oblivion. Too many characters, too many vague plot points, and horribly distorted artwork. The book has reached lower points, but this is still atrocious.

X-FORCE #76 - April 1998

Bittersweet Reunions

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (story idea), Mike S. Miller (art), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: In Texas, Cannonball spends time with X-Force. When he walks in on Meltdown and Sunspot kissing, he flies away in anger. Meanwhile, Domino competes in one of Arcade’s fighting tournaments. Arcade pits her against Shatterstar, threatening to kill Rictor if the former teammates refuse to fight. Domino wins the battle, and decapitates Arcade’s imposter robot. She takes his client, Etienne Rousseau, into custody, revealing that she’s been working undercover for the UN all along. Elsewhere, Mojo and the real Arcade monitor the events.

Continuity Notes: When Domino steals one of Shatterstar’s swords, she feels as if it’s “fighting against” her. Shatterstar reveals that his blades are “charged with a bio-electric current to make them unwieldy to anyone but myself.” Mojo is adamant that Shatterstar is his property, although Shatterstar comes from a future Mojoworld, ruled by Mojo V.

I Love the ‘90s: Siryn wants another quarter to play “that Chumbawumba” song. Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s credit for this issue reads “Tubthumping.”

Review: The “Domino tries to prove she hasn’t lost her skills” arc continues, as Moore answers fan requests and also brings back Shatterstar for one issue. Even if editorial turned his origin story into an unholy mess (as Domino says here, his background is filled with “mystery and contradiction”), Shatterstar goes back to the very first issue of the series, and he shouldn’t just be forgotten about. Although Moore is flagrantly turning the book into a New Mutants reunion title, I’m glad he’s at least making an effort to acknowledge the more recent history. Meanwhile, the Sunspot/Meltdown romance subplot continues, culminating in Cannonball pitching a fit and running away, or flying away at supersonic speeds to be more precise. This storyline doesn’t really make any of the participants look very good, but it’s presumably all a part of Moore’s plan to make the cast more realistic teenagers/twenty-somethings. Still, it’s a little too soap opera-ish, or Real World-ish (before the show devolved into indiscriminate hookups between virtually every cast member), for my tastes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

CABLE #55-#56, June-July 1998

Wiser Times

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Ladronn (penciler), Juan Vlasco w/Keith Aiken (inks), Comicraft (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: A captive Blaquesmith tries in vain to contact Cable, while an assassin is hired to kill Domino. Cable explores his new neighborhood in Hell’s Kitchen and befriends a waitress named Stacey. Irene tracks him to the diner and berates him for his actions in Switzerland. When she mentions the image of Blaquesmith she saw at his home earlier, Cable races back to his headquarters. There, he encounters Domino, who resents their growing distance. She leaves and is ambushed by the assassin.

Continuity Note: This is the first appearance of another potential love interest for Cable, Stacey Kramer. All that’s revealed about her this issue is her first name and her aspiration to become a nurse, but she’ll become a more important character in future issues.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this issue might be a reference to a Black Crowes song.

Review: I’m under the impression Casey had no real interest in using characters like Blaquesmith and Domino, but they are a part of Cable’s supporting cast and it would seem odd if he went out of his way to ignore them. Well, ignoring Domino for long would’ve been unfair, but Blaquesmith didn’t even seem able to maintain the interest of his own creator. He’s been missing since issue #32, a story that hinted he might be dead, and Cable hasn’t exactly been too broken up about it. Even though this occurred around the time Cable had to take a crossover break, Jeph Loeb still had more than enough open issues to address his disappearance before leaving the book. Instead, the readers were treated to more issues of Cable dealing with his techno-organic virus, followed by a lengthy arc in the Mircoverse that ended with the power of love defeating a Fantastic Four villain.

Casey is getting around to dealing with Blaquesmith’s dangling subplot, while also getting Domino out of the way so that Cable’s free to pursue either Irene or Stacey. The rest of the issue is mostly dedicated to Cable exploring his new neighborhood, a version of Hell’s Kitchen that apparently didn’t undergo an economic recovery in the ‘90s (it’s my understanding that Hell’s Kitchen is one of the nicer Manhattan neighborhoods these days). Casey lays this on a bit thick (at one point Cable declares that he likes the diner because it reminds him of “hope,” which Stacey reminds him is free), but I get what he’s aiming at.


Bloodrite

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Ryan Benjamin (penciler), Matt Banning w/Hanna, Aiken, & Holdredge (inks), Comicraft’s Saida Temofonte (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: Blockade targets Domino, who can’t withstand his attack. Meanwhile, Cable receives a vision of Blaquesmith, but abandons him when he telepathically senses Domino’s pain. He finds her abandoned body and takes her to the hospital. Leaving Irene to watch over her, Cable finds Blockade in a bar. He extracts vengeance by forcing Blockade to view his subconscious, which leaves him comatose. Later, SHIELD agents arrive, suspicious Cable was involved.

Continuity Notes: The assassin from the previous issue is named Blockade here. The recap page identifies his real name as Dexter Parrish, and lists his power as “a bizarre affliction that has transformed his skin into a thick, craggy hide.” Whoever hired him to kill Domino isn’t revealed.

Review: It’s quite obvious that Casey is trying to write this book to suit Ladronn’s sensibilities, which is how we ended up with a Silver Age throwback villain like Blockade in the first place. He’s a non-mutant contract killer, formerly associated with the Sinister Syndicate (via retcon), who hangs out in bars with other non-mutant villains, like Stilt-Man. He has no ties to the Summers family, time travel, Mr. Sinister, anti-mutant groups, Stryfe, or anything else associated with ‘90s X-comics. Ladronn designed him as, of course, a lost Kirby villain in the previous issue, and did quite a job. However, Ladronn isn’t available for this issue, so former Jim Lee clone Ryan Benjamin is brought in as artist. Oh, the irony. Benjamin isn’t as bad as some of the Image-style artists that showed up in the titles, but it’s obvious this story wasn’t intended for him. As for the story, this is a fairly simple revenge plot, although Casey seems aware of how thin an idea it is. He adds some meat to the idea by focusing on the concept of revenge, as Irene ponders the hypocrisy of Cable, who’s allegedly in touch with a deep philosophy from the future, but still gives in to base human instincts when someone he personally knows is hurt. Trying to reconcile the original “eye for an eye” Cable with the wimpier New Age Cable of the late ‘90s isn’t a bad direction to explore, and it makes good use of Irene’s character.

Friday, December 17, 2010

GENERATION X #37-#38, April-May 1998


In Dark Woods, the Right Road Lost

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Andy Smith (penciler), Sean Parsons (inker), Comicraft (letters), Mike Rockwitz (colors)

Summary: At the Citadel of the Universal Amalgamator, M-Plate unveils a girl strapped to an altar. M-Plate demands Synch copy her powers. Elsewhere, Dirtnap guides Banshee, Husk, and Penance into a strange, cold dimension. They find warmth inside a train, which they take to the Citadel. Meanwhile, Elwood the Pooka, Chamber, and Jubilee continue their search for Synch. They fall from the sky into a world named “Moria,” landing on train tracks just as their teammates’ train races into the dimension. On Earth, Chief Authier gives Skin and Emma advice on how to deal with a Token, before taking Dorian and Weasel to Mr. Timmons’ diner for community service.

Continuity Notes: The diner has a “WC” room, a la the Landau, Luckman, & Lake warp chambers. When Skin and Emma check inside the treehouse, they find Tracy having a polite tea party with Artie, Leech, and the Token. Last issue, the kids were shackled with energy-chains. Also, Police Chief Authier seems to have lost interest in finding Tracy rather quickly.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this issue is a reference to Robert Pinksy’s translation of Dante’s “Inferno.”

Review: It’s another issue of wacky dimension-hopping, not-so-capably rendered by fill-in artist Andy Smith. Hama’s script is filled with images that a credible artist should’ve had a field day with (such as the Snark, a monster that resembles a T-Rex until four eye-tentacles emerge when Chamber blinds it, and later runs around without its head when Chamber really lets loose), but Smith is way too green to pull this off. Even overlooking the subpar art, the story’s essentially a mess at this point. If the point of this story is to reveal M’s long-awaited origin, why is so much of the focus on Pookas, Tokens, Snarks, Chimera and her Plasma Wraiths (who have disappeared in-between issues), alternate dimensions, teenage punks, cosmic trains, LL&L warp chambers, and Dirtnap? The story has split off into so many diversions, it’s hard to focus on any one thread and care anything about it. Some of the character work is still nice, such as Banshee explaining the concepts of honor and loyalty to Dirtnap when he questions why they’re risking their lives for Synch, but even this moment makes little sense. Dirtnap started this arc as a villain, suddenly helped the heroes last issue by taking them to another dimension to find Synch, and now abruptly questions why they’re on this dangerous mission and wants out. Unlike some fans, I don’t mind a Wolverine character like Dirtnap showing up in the book, but at least try to keep whatever character arc you have in mind for him consistent from issue to issue.


Mystery Train

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters), Felix Serrano (colors)

Summary: Banshee hits the breaks and narrowly avoids running down Elwood, Chamber, and Jubilee. When the train accelerates to escape a giant spider, Dirtnap falls out of a window, but is rescued by the team. At the Citadel of the Ultimate Amalgamator, Chimera is reduced to ashes when she questions M-Plate’s plan to amalgamate the entire universe. The train finally reaches the Citadel, but M-Plate captures the heroes. Elwood boosts Dirtnap’s power, allowing him to swallow M-Plate. On Earth, Tracy explains that the Token can help Gen X find their friends, while Dorian and Weasel enter the restricted WC room.

Continuity Notes: Hey, Chimera's back. The enchained mutant girl from the last issue is identified as Gaia, and according to the recap page, she’s supposed to be the protector of the Citadel. She claims that her galaxy was wiped out when she refused to let others use her powers for evil. She also says that her chains are her responsibility and she isn’t “meant to be free.” According to Tracy, the Token was originally “miffed” that the students were trespassing on his property, but after talking to him, they’ve become friends.

“Huh?” Moment: On the opening splash page, Banshee is described as “co-member of a group of fledgling mutants.” I assume they meant “co-teacher.”

Review: Well, Terry Dodson’s arrived, so that solves the “ineffectual artist” problem that’s plagued the series for over six months at this point. The book’s still crazy, though, and not in the charming or cheerful way I’m sure it was intended to be. Although the various threads are starting to come together, the story isn’t much different from the previous issues. If you really like seeing a divided cast go on wacky alternate reality adventures, goofy anthropomorphic fantasy characters, and a vaguely defined villain and his/her vaguely defined plan, this is for you. I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed this arc more if Dodson drew the entire story, but I still think it’s a questionable idea that’s dragged on for too long. Although the Lobdell issues had their share of silliness, the stories still left room to focus on the cast. Hama does work in some characterization, such as Synch’s interaction with Gaia (she’s angry he briefly went along with M-Plate’s plan after he/she threatened Synch’s teammates; he responds that “the universe and all sentient beings is too abstract a notion compared to the suffering of my friends”), but there are so many threads going on, the characters are definitely taking a backseat to the plot.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MAVERICK#8-#9, April-May 1998


Fractured Lives

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Jim Cheung & Leo Fernandez (pencilers), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & Virtual Calligraphy (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: The Confessor breaks Sickle out of Canada’s “Ice Box” prison. In Florida, Maverick watches over Elena, who remains comatose. For her protection, Maverick’s kept her in Chris Bradley’s home. Maverick and Chris resolve their differences, and Isabel arrives with a new suit of armor. Maverick announces he has to travel overseas to take care of old business. Meanwhile in Russia, Ivan the Terrible sends the Confessor after Maverick.

Continuity Notes: Maverick reveals to Chris that his Legacy Virus infection has resurfaced. He suspects that his remission is caused by his psychic connection to Elena, which is severed now that she’s in a coma. His powers are now out of control, which means his hands melt anything they touch. The erratic powers have left both of his hands with third-degree burns. Before he leaves Florida, Maverick asks Chris to come up with a code name to use on their “chatterboxes” (which are basically cell phones). Chris comes up with “Bolt,” which sticks around until the character is killed off.

Review: This is mostly a “quiet” issue, and since character work isn’t Jorge Gonzalez’s strong suit, it’s quite dull. Maverick spends the issue at the Bradley’s suburban home, where he watches over Elena, recaps the past few issues, goes on a boat ride with Chris, recaps a few more plot points while spelling out the new status quo for his powers, and then decides to leave on a mysterious mission. I understand that Maverick’s connections to Chris and Isabel are supposed to ground him with the real world, but Gonzalez has never made any of the suburban material that interesting, and now it’s taking up the bulk of the issue. The continued focus on Maverick’s powers and the Legacy Virus is also getting tedious. And how exactly is a psychic rapport supposed to keep a terminal disease at bay? The rest of the story is dedicated to the Confessor breaking Sickle out of jail in the middle of a blizzard, which does alleviate some of the boredom. These are enjoyable action scenes capably rendered by Jim Cheung, who is still the highlight of the series.

The Wall

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Jim Cheung (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & Virtual Calligraphy (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: In Paris, Maverick asks his estranged friend Jean Luc Vivant if he knows of any connection between Major Barrington and the murders of Cell Six. Jean Luc angrily sends Maverick away. Later, he receives a message instructing him to travel to St. Augustine’s Church in Germany. Maverick arrives and is promptly ambushed by the Confessor. Before knocking him unconscious, Confessor reveals that Maverick’s parents and brother were Nazis.

Continuity Notes: Jean Luc Vivant hates Maverick because he blames him for his paralysis. Maverick says it was an accident.

I Love the ‘90s: The Bullpen Bulletins recounts James Cameron’s recent appearance on the Howard Stern Show, where he revealed his intentions to make a Spider-Man movie with Leonardo DiCaprio as the star.

Review: This is closer to what I would’ve expected from a Maverick solo series -- conspiracies, mystery characters from the past, and action scenes set in unusual locales. The dialogue is still pretty flat, and the narrative captions have a habit of just dumping blunt exposition that isn’t relevant to the story (this issue, it’s a dry recap of the history of the Berlin Wall), but the action scenes are energetic and Cheung is given some cool environments to draw. As for the Nazi revelation, this is pretty much The Most Predictable Thing You Can Do with a German character, isn’t it? Perhaps Gonzalez had some twist on the concept in the works, but the series is close to cancellation and the idea is never properly explored.

Easy Targets

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Leo Fernandez (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & Virtual Calligraphy (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: Chris visits Maverick’s friend, Dr. James Keeler, for a checkup. Chris leaves despondent, but returns to apologize for his sour attitude. Before entering, Chris notices a gang from his high school is raiding the doctor’s office.

Review: Hooray, Chris Bradley’s monotonous subplot pages are now relegated to their own back-up story. Since most of the main story is told as a flashback (with an appropriate ‘90s “hazy” coloring effect), I imagine these pages were shuffled to the back in order to retain the main story’s flow. Chris is still complaining about the things he always complains about, but now he’s placed in a potential action scenario. When he sees the teenage punks harassing the doctor from outside the window, he questions, “what do I do?” It’s the classic “hero in civilian identity has to use his powers to help an innocent” dilemma, and apparently Chris has never read a comic book before. As a child of the Chromium Age, perhaps he just kept his comics in mylar bags and never opened them. The proper response is to use your clothing as a partial mask, Chris, that way the bullies will magically be unable to recognize the rest of your face. Duh.

Monday, December 13, 2010

X-FORCE & CABLE ‘97 - June 1997

The Last Valkyrie

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Rob Haynes (layouts), Casey Jones (penciler), Jason Martin & Jon Holdredge (inks), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Leann Clark (colors)

Summary: Brunnhilda arrives on Earth, revealing to Moonstar that the Valkyries have been captured. She’s taken back to Asgard by a Hellhound, leading Moonstar to call X-Force for help. They travel to Ungava Bay, Canada, where they walk through a hidden gate into Asgard. They’re attacked by Malekith, the Valkyries’ captor. Cable is taken prisoner and X-Force is forced to retreat. They learn that Malekith is keeping the Valkyries prisoner in Valhalla, where only Moonstar is allowed. Sunspot sneaks along with her, though, and is almost taken by Hela. Moonstar charges her psychic arrow with the life force Brunnhilda passed on to her on Earth and revives the Valkyries. Soon, with Cable’s help, she uses another psychic arrow to defeat Malekith. The Valkyries return X-Force to Earth, but Moonstar still refuses to join the team.

Continuity Notes: Like this year’s X-Men annual, this story takes place before the “Operation: Zero Tolerance” crossover. At this point, Cable is still living in the mansion with X-Force and Moonstar is working undercover with the MLF.

Review: I had no idea this comic existed until a commenter pointed it out to me. This is one of John Francis Moore’s early tributes to the New Mutants series, as virtually the entire story is an homage to the X-Men and New Mutants stories found in the Asgardian Wars trade paperback. Even though Cannonball wasn’t available for the story, Kindra, the dwarf with a crush on him from the original story, still has a cameo. Obviously, much of the appeal is nostalgia, and the novelty of seeing X-Force in one of the fantastical worlds of the Marvel Universe doesn’t hurt the story, either.

Unfortunately, a lot of this relies on the art to work, and as much as I enjoy Casey Jones’ work, much of the issue looks rushed. One of the reasons why the original Asgard storyline is so well regarded is due to Arthur Adams’ insanely detailed art (even if the printing of the original issues didn’t do the work justice). Here, Asgard’s scenery is detailed just enough to let the reader know where the story’s taking place, but there’s no real effort put into selling it. Story-wise, Moore crams a lot into thirty-nine pages, so much so I wonder if the idea would’ve worked better as an extended story arc in the regular series. A few thought balloons and dialogue exchanges provide some insight into how the cast is reacting to the events, but the focus is really on getting the story done by the issue’s end. Rushed as it feels at times, this is still a decent read, and an early indication of the direction Moore will take the series.

Friday, December 10, 2010

EXILES VS. X-MEN #0 - October 1995

X-Over

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Ken Lashley (penciler), Tom Wegrzyn (inker), Patrick Owsley (letters), Shannon Blanchard & Malibu (colors)

Summary: The X-Men use Gateway’s teleportation powers to follow Juggernaut, who’s disappeared from this reality. They find him in another world, where he’s joined a team of reformed villains named the Exiles. When Exile Reaper tries to escape to his reality through Gateway’s portal, he unwittingly unleashes the Firewalker monster. The X-Men and Exiles put aside their differences and defeat the monster. Realizing that Firewalker only feeds off the Exiles’ energy, Juggernaut decides he can’t risk awakening it with another trip though alternate realities. Back at the mansion, Storm tells Xavier that he would be proud of Juggernaut’s evolution.

Continuity Notes: Why exactly the Firewalker only feeds off the energy possessed by Exile members isn’t explained. Gateway was occasionally appearing in Generation X during this era, which doesn’t make his role totally out of place, although he’s never been able to teleport between realities before. Rogue is shown as a member of the team, even though this story explicitly takes place shortly after Wolverine#93 (the issue that sent Juggernaut to the Ultraverse). Rogue wasn’t a member at this point, and didn’t rejoin until next year’s Onslaught crossover.

Review: Continuing the series of overpriced “limited premium edition” Marvel/Malibu crossovers, we have Exiles Vs. X-Men. (By the way, I just discovered the Wolverine/Night Man, Exiles/X-Men, and Prime/Hulk crossovers were reprinted in an eighty-page, $6.95 special called Mutants Vs. Ultras. If you didn’t want to pay for the expensive mail-in comics, this was at least a reasonable alternative). This one fulfills the low expectations of an intercompany crossover comic, as the heroes cross dimensions through dubious means, fight the other reality’s heroes for no real reason, team up to fight a bigger threat, and then return home and absolutely never think about the events again. An inordinate amount of attention is paid to Ultraverse continuity, as we’re apparently supposed to know about the Exiles’ previous alternate reality adventures, which makes parts of the issue needlessly confusing. If the book is supposed to make me curious about the Exiles and willing to invest in the Ultraverse, it’s actually responsible for the opposite reaction (and I’m sure existing Ultraverse fans were already abandoning ship by this point). A tiny amount of characterization is given to Xavier, who worries about his stepbrother in the story’s opening, and is relieved to learn from Storm that he’s on the road to redemption at the end. Not that Juggernaut truly reforms any time soon (the man who will eventually write that arc is still doing porno comics at this time), but it’s the thought that counts.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WOLVERINE: INNER FURY - November 1992


Credits
: D.G. Chichester (writer), Bill Sienkiewicz (art), Michael Heisler (letters), Sherilyn van Valkenburgh (colors)

Summary: Wolverine learns from Nick Fury that Hydra has targeted him. Soon, Wolverine is attacked by Hydra agents, who slice into his adamantium bones with a nanotech-infested sword. He’s rescued by a bounty hunter named Big, who’s been trailing Hydra. As the nanotech virus infects Wolverine, his healing factor fades away and his body begins to reject the adamantium. Big accompanies him on a mission to find the Whale, a defected Hydra scientist who might be able to help. After finally locating the Whale, Wolverine learns that Big is actually a Hydra agent who’s used him to track down the rogue scientist. Near death, Wolverine thrusts his claws into his own brain, which forces his immune system to reboot. He recovers as Big tries to dispose of his body with a chainsaw. When the chainsaw hits adamantium, Big dies in the ensuing accident.

Production Note: This is a $5.95, forty-eight page prestige format one-shot.

Review: This is what happens when the prestige books get artistic. The summary listed above is a charitable approximation of what appears to be happening in the book, as the creators seem determined to make the entire comic as impenetrable as possible. Along with the basic story of Hydra duping Wolverine into tracking down a turncoat scientist, the creators throw in the shadow of a voluptuous woman assigned to kill the Whale (who turns out to be Big, whose little hovercraft casts a shadow that resembles Christina Hendricks’ figure), dream sequences that cast Wolverine as Captain Ahab, and endless pages of scientists spouting tech-babble at one another. The fight scenes are also nearly impossible to make out, and Whale and Big are given such similar designs (tiny men with big, pointy noses), it’s hard to tell them apart at first. I seem to recall Chichester pulling similar stunts on Daredevil, particularly in the issues Scott McDaniel drew. I can respect the desire to create something higher than an easy read, but confusion for confusion’s sake is just annoying. I also wonder if the byzantine storytelling was partially motivated by a need to cover the lackluster plot. Big’s the one who leads Wolverine on the mission to find Whale, yet the story points out that Wolverine’s enhanced senses aren’t working well due to the nannite infection, so it’s not as if Wolverine’s in a condition to be tracking anyone anyway. Why exactly was Wolverine involved in this mess in the first place?

Monday, December 6, 2010

GHOST RIDER & CABLE - September 1992

Servants of the Dead

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Guang Yap (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Janice Chiang (letters), Fernando Mendez (colors) (No credits appear in the issue. Comics.org lists the credits based on those printed in the original Marvel Comics Presents stories.)

Summary: While hunting Masque, Cable falls through a hole and lands in an underground world. There, he rescues a young girl from the Grateful Undead cult. Ghost Rider follows Cable underground when he notices the commotion. The Grateful Undead summon an ancient god to execute the heroes, but it can’t survive their attack. A new cult, the Warriors of the Dead, emerges and punishes the Grateful Undead for summoning the god. The Warriors follow Cable and Ghost Rider, demanding the girl. Soon, the Warriors are beckoned by their god. The “god” reveals himself as a human magician, who once used his necromancy to honor the dead. He’s disturbed by the direction his followers have taken. The girl is revealed as a reanimated body intended to be their god’s bride. The magician allows her to return to a natural death, and Cable and Ghost Rider return home.

Continuity Notes: After wading through an underground river, Cable is grateful he doesn’t have a “short-circuited bionic part.” This was written before Cable was retroactively revealed as the techno-organic virus infected Nathan Summers, and was considered a standard cyborg. The retcon explanation for these comments is that he added conventional bionic parts to his body to confuse people of this era.

Production Note: This is a $3.95, sixty-four page one-shot that reprints the Ghost Rider and Cable serial that ran in Marvel Comics Presents #90-#97. There’s no indicia or credit box, and the logos from the splash pages and next issue blurbs have been removed. One of the introductory narrative captions actually leads into the characters’ names, which of course aren’t there anymore because their logos have been erased.

Review: When I first discovered this comic a few weeks ago, I knew I had to buy it. How could I in good conscious run a ‘90s-themed comics blog and ignore this? As it turns out, the most ‘90s element of the comic is the cover. Guang Yap’s subdued art is about as far away from Sam Keith’s exaggerated cover as you can get, and while the story deals with death cults and angry gods, it’s quite tame. Still, it’s Cable, in what I believe is his first starring role, teaming up with the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider, and that’s certainly of an era.

Because the story originally ran in Marvel Comics Presents, each chapter has to be eight pages long, the required length of all of the MCP serials. Reading all of the chapters together could be a jerky experience, but with the exception of a few bumps, the flow works reasonably well. Due to the original eight-page format, something has to happen every few pages, which gives the book a breakneck pacing that works to the story’s advantage. The most obvious tell that this was originally a serial would be the abrupt shift in villainous cults. The majority of the story focuses on the Grateful Undead (a name someone apparently found clever enough to let slide through), before we’re suddenly introduced to a second death cult that also has an angry god and wants to kill Ghost Rider and Cable. The story still moves so fast, though, the change in villains doesn’t have a particularly negative impact. It’s an entertaining action comic, from back in the days when Cable didn’t mind shooting someone in the face (which absolutely happens here), Howard Mackie comics made a modicum of sense, and people actually cared about Ghost Rider. It’s not deep, but it certainly surpassed my expectations.

Friday, December 3, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #6 - July 1990

Up From Slavery

Credits: Gerry Conway (plot), Stan Lee (script), Gil Kane (penciler), Sal Buscema, Mike Eposito, & Alan Kupperberg (inks), Rick Parker (letterer), Nel Yomtov, Evelyn Stein, & Bob Sharen (colors)

The Plot: Spider-Man finds himself a captive of Psycho-Man, who mistakenly believes he still possesses the Uni-Power. With the aid of Psycho-Man’s fellow captives, Spider-Man escapes and battles Psycho-Man in the heart of the Microverse. When Spider-Man destroys Psycho-Man’s size-control device, he shrinks into apparent nothingness. Spider-Man’s newfound friends restore him to his proper size, and the hero returns home to MJ.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: Following two line-wide crossovers in the annuals, Marvel decided to do smaller crossovers, consisting of only three chapters each. This is the final installment of “Spidey’s Totally Tiny Adventure,” which ran through all of the 1990 Spider-Man annuals.

Review: Okay, it’s time for “Spidey’s Totally Tiny Adventure,” which I’m sure wasn’t influenced by Honey, I Shrunk the Kids at all. Apparently, editor Jim Salicrup wanted to reunite as many of the classic Spidey creative teams as possible during his stint, but many of the creators weren’t fully available. Consequently, we get an annual crossover plotted by regular writer Gerry Conway, scripted by Stan Lee, penciled by Gil Kane (who most likely only provided breakdowns), and inked by various creators. The inconsistent inking doesn’t do the book any favors, since this isn’t quite the Gil Kane Spidey you remember from those Marvel Tales reprints. (I couldn’t believe this was the same guy who drew the “Death of Captain Stacy” arc as a kid; probably because I didn’t notice John Romita inked those original issues.) Spider-Man looks great in a few panels, but the design of his costume, and sometimes his entire body type, seems to fluctuate from panel to panel. The story is obviously silly, and since Stan Lee apparently stopped scripting in a consciously “serious” style around 1970, he’s an appropriate choice for the storyline. Most of the jokes aren’t too corny, and the story keeps going at a steady pace. All of this is noticeably rushed, but it’s still entertaining.

Salesday for a Shootout

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Ross Andru (penciler), Mike Eposito (inks), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colors)

The Plot: MJ and Aunt May’s trip to the mall is interrupted by anti-capitalist terrorists. The Punisher arrives to stop them, but the terrorists use MJ and Aunt May as a shield. May fakes a heart attack, giving the Punisher an opportunity to finish the terrorists.

Review: A Punisher/Aunt May team-up story, brought to you by the creative team who wrote and drew the Punisher’s first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129. Is “classic” too strong a word? I’m sure Punisher’s diehard fans hated seeing him in stories like this, but I usually enjoyed his occasional interactions with the rest of the Marvel Universe as a kid. Acknowledging the sheer gimmickry of the story, Conway tries to make it as plausible as possible and doesn’t play it as outright comedy. The most unrealistic aspect of the story is just how calm Aunt May remains throughout the whole ordeal. You would think going through this would scar her for the rest of her short life, but she remains especially cool and even delivers a composed recap of the events to the media after the Punisher escapes.

Eleven Angry Men…And One Angry Woman

Credits: Peter David (writer), June Brigman (penciler), Stan Drake (inks), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colors)

The Plot: MJ is the only juror willing to convict a burglar caught by Spider-Man. After she refuses to budge, the jury is declared deadlocked. The defendant is confident he’ll survive a new trial, until he sees Spider-Man (on his way to pick up MJ) swing by the window. He accepts a plea bargain and is sent to jail.

Review: This is an homage to Twelve Angry Men, based around the premise that Spider-Man’s habit of leaving criminals webbed up in public isn’t actually enough evidence to convict them. The combination of a weary judge and inexperienced defense attorney leaves Mary Jane on the jury, and she of course refuses to believe the burglar’s claim that Spider-Man was the real culprit. Peter David spends most of the story on the interactions between the frustrated jurors and MJ, and gets a decent amount of comedy out of the idea. It’s a strong premise for a story, and David is pithy enough to get the point across within a few pages.

Child Star

Credits: Tony Isabella (writer), Steve Ditko (artist), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colors)

The Plot: A suburban stockbroker couple summons demons to help them play the market. The demons soon escape and cause havoc in the neighborhood. The Uni-Power allows two-year-old Eddie to become Captain Universe. The baby Captain banishes the demons in a flash of light.

Review: Gil Kane, Ross Andru, and Steve Ditko in the same Spider-Man comic. Of course, they’re not all drawing Spider-Man, but let’s not be greedy. This is a comedy story by Tony Isabella, who did a few jobs for the Spider-office during this era. It is honestly funny, and uses the Captain Universe concept quite well. I do have to wonder about the “demons” Ditko’s designed for the story, though, as they look more like friendly Muppets.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #62 - March 1990

All That Glitters…

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter Parker learns that Mark Raxton, the Molten Man, is extorting $10,000 from his stepsister, Liz Osborn. Fearful of Harry’s reaction, Peter offers to speak to Raxton while MJ, Kristy, and Liz keep Harry busy. As Spider-Man, Peter faces Raxton in the Osborn’s apartment. When he realizes Raxton is actually innocent, he returns as Peter Parker and takes him to meet the Osborns. Learning that Raxton only wanted a loan, Harry offers him a job at his factory.

The Subplots: Spider-Man is uncomfortable with the Daily Bugle’s new pro-Spidey bias, although he is selling more photos than usual. Later, Peter locks a city inspector named Edna Gortch in the closet when he senses Molten Man is approaching. He forgets to let her out when the fight is over.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: When Kristy laughs at MJ’s old modeling photos, MJ warns that she’ll blush when she sees photos from her “junior league Paula Abdul” phase.

Review: And now we’ve reached Molten Man’s reformation, perhaps the only reformation from Gerry Conway’s run that stuck around for a while. As I’ve mentioned before, Conway is quite skilled at creating sympathetic characterizations, so Molten Man actually does come across as a genuinely repentant guy who’s easy to root for. He’s still pretty vicious in the fight scene, though, as the barely reformed villain gets “carried away” and has a blast locking Spider-Man inside a refrigerator and dropping an elevator on him repeatedly. The rest of the issue focuses on Spider-Man’s new role as “New York’s Favorite Superhero,” which is an amusing change of pace. Spidey doesn’t feel comfortable signing autographs, and all of the newfound adulation just makes him paranoid that the other shoe is about to drop. This storyline doesn’t lead to much of a conclusion, perhaps because it’s only resolved as Conway writes his closing issues and dutifully puts the status quo back in place, but I always liked Spider-Man’s discomfort with any form of praise. This issue’s opening sequence, which has Spider-Man searching the sewers for a mysterious “Wendy,” was also one of my favorite scenes as a kid.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #61 - February 1990

Dragon in the Dark

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Overwhelmed with his new powers, Spider-Man throws his mask from the top of a skyscraper and declares that he’s quit. The Wizard catches the mask, and uses Dragon Man to trace the scent. Dragon Man tracks Peter Parker to the subway, where the hero is forced to fight back until the android’s flame gives out. The crowd cheers the triumphant Spider-Man, who is temporarily inspired to keep going.

The Subplots: Dr. Doom is trying to siphon Spider-Man’s cosmic energy, but he’s sabotaged by Loki. MJ visits Kristy in the Eating Disorder Unit and talks about her parents. A mystery man is calling Liz Osborn, telling her he wants to come home.

Web of Continuity: The cosmic powers story is finally resolved in Amazing Spider-Man, where it’s revealed that the Uni-Force endowed Spider-Man with cosmic powers, but the experiment at ESU temporarily prevented him from fully adopting the Captain Universe identity.

*See _________ For Details: Dr. Doom siphoned a portion of Spider-Man’s power in Spectacular #160 with his Tess-One robot.

Review: The event has entered its final month, and Peter Parker has reached the point where he’s given up his life as Spider-Man. Of course, this happens every three weeks, but the creators have certainly taken an unusual path to get there. The basic plots of most of the “Acts of Vengeance” crossovers are fairly redundant, but Conway’s attention to characterization and the continued use of the supporting cast enable the title to retain its identity. Peter’s frustration with his new powers is effectively conveyed, and it’s nice to see small moments like Liz asking Peter to babysit, and MJ joining Kristy for dinner at the EDU. The fight scene with Dragon Man is also fun, and I’ve always liked the new cosmic power Peter develops this issue -- the ability to generate new costumes out of stray molecules. Three issues is enough of the gimmicky storyline, though, and I’m glad things are back to normal next issue.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #60 - January 1990

The Harder They Fall

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Dr. Doom equips Goliath with a mechanism that forces him to absorb the cosmic energy Spider-Man radiates. During their fight in Battery Park, Goliath is forced to painfully grow larger and larger as Spider-Man uses his new powers against him. Spider-Man notices the connection, but has to use his powers again when Goliath attacks a nearby ferry. Overcome with energy, Goliath falls into the water and doesn’t emerge.

The Subplots: Peter seeks guidance from Aunt May, who’s dealing with Nathan’s terminal diagnosis. Thomas Fireheart refuses to buy pictures from Nick Katzenberg that show Spider-Man in a bad light. When Spider-Man swings by Fireheart’s office to express his aversion to the Daily Bugle’s new direction, Glory Grant walks in. Overwhelmed at the sight of Spider-Man, she runs away.

Web of Continuity: An image of Captain Universe is super-imposed over Spider-Man when he strains to use his powers and snatch the ferry away from Goliath. You could say this is too obvious a hint, but I had no idea who Captain Universe was or what he looked like when these issues were released.

*See _________ For Details: Spider-Man first fought this version of Goliath in Spectacular #49, when he was known as the Smuggler.

Creative Differences: A re-lettered word balloon on page 9 has Peter reiterating that Nathan only has a few weeks left.

Review: Spider-Man still has cosmic powers, he still doesn’t like them, and Acts of Vengeance continues. Now, Peter turns to Aunt May for advice on how to deal with his powers, phrasing the question as “What would you do if you had the power of life and death?” Alex Saviuk gives Aunt May a reaction shot that would only seem appropriate if Peter abruptly flashed her, but the rest of the scene is executed quite well. Aunt May takes the surprising stance that this power would in essence be a burden, since no human should be forced to decide which lives ought to be saved. She gives a monologue on the cycle of life and accepting death, tying the “hypothetical” dilemma Peter’s brought to her with Nathan’s terminal illness. “Acceptance…is the only power of life and death a human being ever needs.” Regardless of the crossover event and gimmicky alteration to the status quo, Conway still remembers this title is about the characters, which is why his run always stuck with me. If Conway had actually brought some resolution to Glory Grant’s subplot, instead of this issue’s four-panel tease, this would be almost perfect.

Monday, November 29, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #59 - December 1989

With Great Power

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Following an experiment at ESU, Spider-Man finds himself with greatly enhanced powers. Elsewhere, Dr. Doom places a micro-sensor on Titania, and orders her to take care of Spider-Man. She storms into the Daily Bugle offices, demanding Spider-Man show up to fight. During the battle, her micro-sensor breaks, which allows her natural fear of Spider-Man to resurface. Spider-Man accidentally inspires her to continue the fight, which forces him to unleash an energy beam that knocks her unconscious.

The Subplots: Thomas Fireheart has called a meeting of Bugle staffers to explain the newspapers new pro-Spider-Man direction. When discussing the move in private with Kate Cushing, he has to knock her unconscious so that he can transform into Puma and defend the staff from Titania. Nick Katzenberg, meanwhile, has developed a crush on Cynthia Bernhammer, Robbie Robertson’s lawyer.

Web of Continuity: The Marvel event “Acts of Vengeance,” which has supervillains swapping foes with other villains, has begun. This is why Dr. Doom is finding opponents for Spider-Man, while other villains are taking on the Fantastic Four.

*See _________ For Details: The ESU experiment that Peter believes granted him new powers occurred in Spectacular Spider-Man #158. Dr. Doom references Titania’s recent loss to She-Hulk, which occurred in Solo Avengers #14 (in a cute back-up story by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis). Titania has an irrational fear of Spider-Man, following their battle in Secret Wars #7.

Review: “Cosmic Powers Spider-Man” has begun. I fully recognize this is the gimmickiest premise on earth, but I loved this story arc as a kid and won’t abide any trash-talk. I have no idea what the impetus for this story was; it’s possible the Spider-office already had this arc mapped out when “Acts of Vengeance” was imposed on the line, or perhaps this storyline was specifically designed to coincide with “Acts.” If Spider-Man is being forced into fights with various villains throughout the Marvel Universe, maybe someone thought he needed a power-up to make his way through the event. Then again, do you really need cosmic powers to take out Goliath or the Brothers Grimm?

The appeal of the storyline really comes from Peter’s reaction to his new powers -- he hates them. Flying nauseates him, punching someone is now potentially lethal, and his spider-sense is so powerful it gives him migraines. The fans might get a kick out of seeing Spider-Man develop a new power set, but it’s sheer misery for the character. The structure of the story is also worth noting, as every chapter is self-contained, yet obviously you get a fuller idea of what’s going on if you buy all of the books. I only purchased half of this story arc as a kid (completely missing all of the Spectacular segments, even though the story started in that title), but was still able to follow the events without feeling left out. Limiting the arc to only three months was also a smart move, since there’s no way the gimmick could’ve worked for much longer, and this is really all the time you need to explore Peter’s reaction to the new powers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #5 - October 1989

Warzone: New York

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Javier Saltares (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four team up to fight the Atlantean invasion of New York. During the battle, the Deviants’ leader Ghuar kidnaps the Invisible Woman. As the Atlantean army gains ground, Atlantis is bombed by its former ally, the Lemurians. When Attuma receives the news, he ceases fire. The shocked Atlanteans are placed into custody, as Mr. Fantastic vows to find his wife.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: This is a chapter of the “Atlantis Attacks” crossover, which ran through the 1989 Marvel annuals. The Fantastic Four of this era actually consists of five members, as Sharon Ventura joins the team as a female Thing.

*See _________ For Details: This story is continued in West Coast Avengers Annual #4.

I Love the ‘80s: Spider-Man says he’d give up his Pee Wee Herman doll to see Mr. Fantastic turn violent.

Review: Following a team-up with She-Hulk against the Abomination in the Amazing annual, and a team-up with Cloak and Dagger that stopped one of Ghuar’s schemes in the Spectacular annual, Spider-Man makes another starring appearance in the “Atlantis Attacks” crossover. This is one of the consequences of doing a crossover that involves virtually every title in the line; not only do you have to find a story that can comfortably fit the Silver Surfer, Punisher, Thor, and the X-Men, but popular franchise characters like Spider-Man end up with a disproportionate number of appearances during the storyline. This year’s Amazing annual was just lighthearted action (featuring early art by Rob Liefeld, who got the job on Todd McFarlane’s recommendation), while the Spectacular annual had Spidey teaming up with Cloak and Dagger to stop an alleged rehab clinic that was turning patients into snake-people. Plus, Gerry Conway penned the “Atlantis Attacks” Daredevil annual, which guest starred Spider-Man and featured more victims of the phony rehab clinics.

Now, Spider-Man shows up yet again to stop the Atlantic invasion; this time teaming up with the late ‘80s, improperly named, incarnation of the Fantastic Four. The invasion turns out to be a dud, as the Atlanteans are distracted by the annihilation of Atlantis, which presumably sets up a future event in the crossover. The Invisible Woman is also kidnapped as a potential Bride of Set, which is followed up in the Avengers and West Coast Avengers annuals (Jean Grey is also kidnapped as a would-be bride in the 1989 X-Factor annual, which features a John Byrne lead story inked by Walt Simonson). And, yes, none of this has anything to do with Spider-Man. Conway still gives Spidey a firm personality and allows him to perform a few heroic deeds, but the crossover is so deep into its storyline by now that Spider-Man barely has a role to play. I imagine Conway knew the extended fight scene could get dull, so it’s broken up with constant bickering between two sparring newscasters. The reporter in the field is risking her life to document the invasion of Manhattan, while the idiotic anchor is obsessed with trivial facts and celebrity gossip. These exchanges are actually the highlight of the story, which is unfortunately the weakest Spidey chapter of “Atlantis Attacks.”

A Random Miracle

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Steve Ditko (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: ESU professor Evan Swann is endowed with the powers of Captain Universe, which he uses to fight the Quantum Mechanic. After the Mechanic disappears in a flash of light, the Unipower leaves Dr. Swann.

Web of Continuity: The Unipower bestows the cosmic powers of Captain Universe to people in the right place and the right time. After the specific disaster is averted, the power leaves its host.

*See _________ For Details: After gaining the power, Dr. Swann instantly remembers Captain Universe’s previous appearances in Micronauts #8 & #35, Marvel Spotlight#9-#11, and Incredible Hulk Annual #10.

Review: Steve Ditko might refuse to draw Spider-Man again, but he was still willing to pencil these annual back-ups. Aside from technically getting Ditko stories between the covers of a Spider-Man comic, these back-ups also granted us the odd experience of seeing Ditko draw characters like Captain Universe and Solo. This is filler material that’s supposed to be a quick read, but Conway does add some depth to the story by centering it on sub-atomic physics and the Uncertainty Principle (the Quantum Mechanic is ordered to strip the universe down to its basic components and fix its basic “relativity displacement”). And why is a Captain Universe story showing up in a Web of Spider-Man annual? The answer is coming, but not until the conclusion of Marvel’s next line-wide crossover…

A Mute Prayer for Deaf Ears

Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mark Propst (penciler), Andy Mushynsky (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Wild Pack operative Kuryova is killed in battle, yet Silver Sable refuses to grant his widow his pension due to Kuryova’s cowardice and insubordination. Sable reflects on her cruel father, and the impact he’s had on her life.

I Love the ‘80s: The story is told against the backdrop of the Iran/Iraq war. Iraqis are also spelled “Iraquis,” which I’ve never seen before.

Review: This is another early Fabian Nicieza job, which tries to humanize Silver Sable while also emphasizing how heartless she can be. Revealing that she has daddy issues isn’t the most original take in the world, but I’m assuming this was already an established aspect of the character, and Nicieza gets enough out of the idea to justify ten pages. The rest of the issue consists of another “Saga of the Serpent Crown” back-up, which ran in all of the 1989 annuals, and a few Fred Hembeck pages. Hembeck counts down some of Spider-Man’s more “dubious” friends, foes, situations, and accessories. “Dubious” used to mean teaming up with Howard the Duck, and not having his eye ripped out and eaten in front of him, learning Gwen Stacy had an affair with Norman Osborn and gave birth to his children, or making a you-know-what with you-know-who. Oh yeah, he was also supposed to be a clone for a few years there, too, wasn't he? Anyone out there interested in a Fred Hembeck Destroys the Past Twenty Years of Spider-Man Continuity miniseries?

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