Friday, April 30, 2010

PROPHET/CABLE #2 - March 1997

Credits: Rob Liefeld (plot), Robert Napton (script), Mark Pajarillo & Paul Scott (pencilers), Norm Rapmund & Jonathan Sibal (inker), Kurt Hathaway (letters), Laura Penton & Extreme Colors (colors)

Summary: Prophet and Kirby convince Cable that Crypt is actually Domino’s kidnapper. Using Prophet’s technology, the trio follows Crypt’s trail to the end of time. While investigating Kang’s hideout, they come across the Cosmic Cube. Cable refuses to touch it, which forces Kang and Crypt to attack. With Domino’s life in jeopardy, Cable agrees to hand the Cube over to Kang. Kang is immediately consumed by the Cosmic Cube and trapped inside. Crypt escapes, and the heroes return to the DOCC station with Domino. Prophet sends Cable and Domino home, knowing that they’ll meet again.

Continuity Notes: Cable says that he’s responsible for placing the Cosmic Cube at the end of time. This is, perhaps, a reference to an X-Force story Rob Liefeld never got around to. Cable’s also, apparently, the only person who can touch the Cube without being harmed. He claims that he allowed Kang to hold it because he knew the energy would consume him.

Creative Differences: Blaquesmith has a copyright notice in the indicia, but he never appears in the comic.

Review: You know, if Badrock/Wolverine didn’t suck, this didn’t have to suck either. The only advantage over the first issue this one has is the art, which seems to be handled mostly by Mark Pajarillo. He’s a nondescript Image-style artist, but he’s at least working on the level of an Ian Churchill. I have no idea who Paul Scott is, but if he’s responsible for the Liefeld-esque pages in this issue, he’s the most loyal Liefeld clone I’ve ever seen. I honestly wonder if Liefeld drew a handful of these pages uncredited, since they’re virtually identical to his style (and by “style,” I also mean his crude anatomy and nonexistent backgrounds).

The plot is just as nonsensical this time, as the Cosmic Cube shows up as a convenient plot device. Why exactly Cable can touch the Cube when no one else can is never explained, and there’s also the question of why Cable waited so long to hand it over to Kang. If he knew the Cube would just consume Kang, why did he see the Cube, turn back, get into a fight scene, and then finally give Kang what he wanted? If Kang knew that only Cable could hold the Cube (which is why Domino was kidnapped in the first place, to lure him to Kang’s base), why did he just grab it when Cable handed it to him? Did he think Cable gives off some magic energy that enables others to touch the Cube? I realize I’m criticizing the plot holes in a mid-90s crossover with a forgotten Liefeld character, but this one is weak even by the standards set by the other Extreme crossovers.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

PROPHET/CABLE #1 - January 1997


Credits: Rob Liefeld (plot), Robert Napton (script), Mark Pajarillo & Rob Liefeld (pencilers), Norm Rapmund & Jonathan Sibal (inker), Kurt Hathaway (letters), Laura Penton, Andy Troy, & Extreme Colors (colors)

Summary: Crypt travels to the Marvel Universe, hoping to find a means to defeat his enemy Prophet. He arrives at the X-Men’s mansion and fights Cable and Domino. After winning the battle, Crypt unmasks and taunts Cable with his face as he teleports away with Domino. A computer scan points Cable towards Prophet, who lives on the Direct Orbiting Commander Center. Cable teleports to Prophet’s base and begins a fight. Prophet’s companion Kirby ends the fight by putting a gun to the back of Cable’s head. Meanwhile, Crypt presents Domino to Kang the Conqueror.

Continuity Notes: In a text piece, Liefeld reveals that Prophet was originally intended to be an X-Force character. Prophet would’ve been a police officer from the future sent by Kang, a warlord in this era, to bring back Cable.

Production Note: Although these characters are associated with Image, this was actually published by Liefeld’s Maximum Press company. Judging by the cover dates, this was released around six months after the Marvel/Extreme crossovers began in Summer 1996. By this point, Liefeld was out of Image.

Review: Wrapping up the Extreme crossovers with the X-universe (unless there are even more I never knew about), we have the Prophet/Cable miniseries. Jim Valentino and Rob Liefeld had a falling out shortly after “Heroes Reborn” began, so he’s not going to be writing this. Jeph Loeb and Eric Stephenson might’ve been good candidates, but they’re sharing the editor credit. No, this is a Rob Liefeld joint, so to the surprise of no one, the plot consists of two extended fight scenes glued together with a flimsy setup. The story can’t even seem to decide if the Marvel and Extreme universes are separate realities, as Crypt has to travel across dimensions to reach Cable while Prophet just seems to be hovering over Marvel’s Earth a few pages later. Maybe the idea is that Cable teleported across realities, but it’s not clearly explained, and it would be a large leap in his teleportation abilities (Cable’s not even supposed to be able to teleport at this point in continuity, but I’ll cut the story some slack and just assume it’s not trying to adhere to any strict Cable continuity).

Now, who are Prophet and Crypt? Beats me. Crypt is apparently some sort of time thief, and Prophet is a warrior from various time periods. I guess they’re supposed to look like one another, or maybe they’re the same person from different points in the timeline. Or, perhaps Crypt is shapechanger and he’s framing Prophet. Who knows. Oddly enough, the script gives a detailed explanation of Cable and Domino for new readers, but just assumes everyone knows who the Extreme characters are. Shouldn’t this be the other way around? I do remember the Prophet series getting some hype when Chuck Dixon and Stephen Platt were briefly on the title. I certainly don’t recall this hairstyle in any of the promotional art, though:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

X-FORCE/YOUNGBLOOD #1 - August 1996

Credits: Eric Stephenson & Robert Napton (writers), Stephen Platt, Dan Fraga, Richard Horie, Ching Lau, Michael Linchang, Mark Pajarillo, & Andy Park (pencilers), Marlo Alquiza, Eric Cannon, Robert Lacko, Sean Parsons, Norm Rapmund, & Lary Stucker (inkers), Kurt Hathaway (letters), Dan Shadian, Extreme Color, & Quantum Color (colors)

Summary: X-Force rejoins Ricochet Rita in the fight against Mojo. Mojo enlists the aid of Youngblood’s enemies, the Four, to squelch the rebellion. Meanwhile, Youngblood member Sentinel develops a transdimensional accelerator that enables the team to return to Mojoworld. With Youngblood’s help, X-Force defeats the Four. The heroes are shocked when Dazzler emerges from Youngblood’s craft. She takes Shaft and Shatterstar to Mojo’s dungeon to release Longshot, as the united teams confront Mojo. Outmatched, Mojo triggers an explosion. Badrock and Caliban protect their teammates from the debris, but Mojo escapes.

Continuity Notes: Dazzler reveals that she was actually Mojo’s servant, the Agent, from the first chapter of the crossover. After Mojo’s nexus in the Extreme Universe was destroyed, his magic wore off and she returned to normal. She hid out in Youngblood’s ship and emerged when they reached Mojoworld.

Gimmicks: There’s an alternate cover by Rob Liefeld that manages to get the title mixed up.

I Love the ‘90s: Badrock calls breaking through a wall his impression of the sitcom Home Improvement.

Review: Okay, this one is the mess you were probably expecting. I’ll start with the art. Apparently, each individual pouch on a character’s costume required its own artist, so approximately nine thousand people were brought in to draw this thing. The issue opens with Stephen Platt doing his standard McFarlane/Adams impersonation:

It ain’t pretty, but you at least have the impression that some effort went into this. As the story progresses, the amount of detail lines drop, and the composition somehow manages to get even worse:

By the time you reach the final pages, the art looks like a napkin sketch that was blown up to standard comic size:

Why, it’s almost as if the book was thrown together at the last minute to meet a deadline.

The first chapter of the crossover was at least coherent and enjoyable on its own terms. This just reads like a generic team-up of generic ‘90s heroes fighting generically ugly ‘90s villains. The wit of Stephenson’s first script is gone, as the characters are now incredibly stiff and barely anyone shows signs of a personality. Not only is the plot an awkward fit with the first chapter (Ricochet Rita is given a lot of attention in the opening, while Mojo II, a fairly prominent character in the first chapter, has just disappeared in-between issues…plus, the idea that Badrock would be a “savior” to Mojoworld is forgotten), but it also introduces ideas seemingly at random that are never resolved.

After the issue opens with a lengthy monologue by Ricochet Rita, lamenting Dazzler’s death, Rita disappears without explanation. Dazzler’s “death” is resolved, but Longshot is thrown into the story for no real reason. He’s freed during the final pages, as Mojo escapes the fight, and has literally nothing to do. There’s also an abortive plot thread about Shatterstar, Siryn, and Warpath abandoning Cable during the fight with Mojo’s minions because they feel he’s wasting time. Shatterstar perks up when he hears Longshot’s name, reviving the long-forgotten hint that he’s Shatterstar’s father, but it’s another idea that isn’t addressed by the story’s end. Another abandoned idea is the concept that the X-Force and Youngblood team-up is actually helping Mojo, since it boosts his ratings. There’s no resolution, as the issue just ends with a big explosion and another hint that a sequel is on the way. The story isn’t as much of a mess as the art, but it’s close. It’s a shame, since the first installment proved that these comics don’t have to suck.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BADROCK/WOLVERINE #1 - June 1996

Savaged

Credits: Jim Valentino (writer), Chap Yaep (penciler), Jonathan Sibal (inker), Steve Dutro (letters), Brian Haberlin & Extreme Colors (colors)

Summary: Tyrax, the inter-dimensional warlord, establishes a base in the Savage Land. Sauron joins the Savage Land Mutates as a supporter, hoping that Tyrax’s mutagenic machine will rid him of Karl Lykos forever. Wolverine arrives in the Savage Land on a vacation and is spotted by Sauron. After learning of a “master plan,” Wolverine sends a distress call to the X-Men. A freak electrical storm allows Youngblood’s Badrock to pick up the call. Badrock arrives in the Savage Land and teams up with Wolverine, one of his favorite superheroes. After helping Zabu free Ka-Zar, the heroes face Tyrax and his mutated Dinosauroids. When Tyrax insults Sauron, he absorbs Tyrax’s life energy. Karl Lykos asserts his personality and uses the mutagenic machine to force Sauron to become human again. With Lykos’ help, the Dinosauroids are defeated. Tyrax escapes through his dimensional portal, and Badrock offers Wolverine a ride home.

Continuity Notes: Karl Lykos is mistakenly called “Lypos” several times in the script.

Review: Badrock is probably the closest Liefeld came to creating an endearing character during the Image days, isn’t he? He also teamed up with Spider-Man during the 1996 crossover season, so I guess he was Extreme Studios’ default mascot. Like the Youngblood/X-Force crossover, this fails to live down to the horrible reputation Extreme picked up in the ‘90s. There is a ghastly Badrock/Wolverine pinup by Marat Mychaels in the back, but the interior art is acceptable. Chap Yaep started out with an extremely distorted manga/Image style, but he’s more subdued here. It’s pretty much on the same level as Jeff Matsuda’s later X-Factor work, if you catch my drift. This might not be my favorite style, but I can live with it.

Jim Valentino was writing for Marvel before leaving to co-found Image, so he’s a respectable choice to write the book. The story’s really just straightforward action, but it never degenerates into totally mindless violence. Badrock is presented as a likable, teen hero (he has to stay behind while Youngblood’s on a mission because he hasn’t finished his homework), and Valentino has a decent grasp on Wolverine as well. It’s not deep, but it’s not pretending to be. Thankfully, it evokes a Silver Age superhero team-up vibe instead of an “x-treme” one.

Oddly enough, Valentino is treating the crossover as if the Marvel and Extreme characters live in the same universe. In fact, Badrock is a huge fan of Wolverine and loves the X-Men’s TV show. Not only does the Youngblood/X-Force crossover go the opposite route, but the alternate reality angle is an important component of the actual story. If these books were being published years apart, I could understand the inconsistencies. However, these comics were all released at the same time, as installments of the same event. Why would some stories treat this as a shared universe and others go out of their way to establish the universes as separate?

Monday, April 26, 2010

YOUNGBLOOD/X-FORCE #1 - July 1996

Smokin’ Mojo

Credits: Eric Stephenson (writer), Roger Cruz (penciler), Lary Stucker (inker), Steve Dutro & Kurt Hathaway (letters), Dan Shadian & Extreme Color (colors)

Summary: A representative of Mojo, the Agent, tricks the members of Youngblood into signing contracts that take them to Mojoworld. Youngblood’s leader, Shaft, escapes through a portal that takes him to the Marvel Universe. He lands in the Danger Room, where he’s confronted by the X-Men and X-Force. Professor Xavier confirms that he isn’t a threat, and Cable declares that X-Force will aid Shaft. Meanwhile, Major Domo informs Mojo that Youngblood will be Mojoworld’s new ratings champions, and that their world is ripe for exploitation. Ricochet Rita and Mojo II offer to aid Youngblood, as X-Force arrives with Shaft. The united teams split up to destroy Mojo’s teleportation nexuses in Mojoworld and Youngblood’s reality. With the aid of the Extreme Universe’s heroes, they succeed. X-Force disappears back into their reality, as Badrock ponders if he should go back and overthrow Mojo. Elsewhere, Mojo is ecstatic with his ratings and plans a sequel with more Extreme heroes.

Continuity Notes: The members of Youngblood are Shaft, Vogue, Riptide, Badrock, Diehard, and Knightsabre. The story takes place right before the Onslaught crossover, so X-Force consists of Cable, Domino, Sunspot, Meldown, Shatterstar, Caliban, Siryn, and Warpath. Shatterstar’s past with Mojo is used as Cable’s justification for X-Force taking on the mission. When freeing the Extreme Universe heroes from prison, Cable runs into someone from his past. His name is Bravo, and he’s an exact duplicate of Cable. I don’t know if this is an actual Extreme character, or a parody of the dozens of Extreme characters who look like Cable.

I Love the ‘90s: Beast laments that he’s never able to watch “Regis and Kathy Lee” when Shaft arrives.

Review: This is another Image crossover, made possible by Marvel’s “Heroes Reborn” deal with Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Liefeld didn’t finish “Heroes Reborn,” and he left Image during this time, but that didn’t stop a collection of Extreme/Marvel Universe crossovers from being released (including one I only recently discovered…Cable/Prophet). First of all, I will say that this is not a terrible-looking comic. I realize that’s extremely faint praise, but the idea of a 1996 Youngblood/X-Force crossover is probably going to evoke images of a horrid Liefeld-clone setting a world’s record for the highest number of clinched teeth in a comic. The art comes from Roger Cruz, still in his Joe Mad fan club days. It seems like he only provided rough pencils and the inker simply didn’t flesh them out. There’s barely any shading throughout the comic, and it occasionally seems as if the lines connecting the figures are barely meeting. At the same time, this prevents any of the ugly, excessive crosshatching of the ‘90s. So, not terrible, but rushed. Visually, the only aspect that’s truly ugly is some of the lettering. Random pages of the book go from traditional hand lettering to an amateurish attempt at computer lettering and the result is a mess.

The story parallels the art. Not as bad as you probably expected, but it’s not exactly setting a new standard for inter-company crossovers. I’ve only read a few Eric Stephenson comics, but I do know he has his fans and tends to be viewed as one of the few talented writers to be working at Image in the early days. Some aspects of the plot don’t work at all if you dwell on them (Why would Mojo’s portal take Shaft directly to the Danger Room? How exactly does X-Force reach Mojoworld?), but the majority of the story works as standard superheroics. Stephenson seems to have a grasp on all of the characters, and he even uses Shatterstar’s long-forgotten original motivation to justify X-Force’s role in the story. I get the impression that I would have more fun with this if I had any investment in the Extreme Universe, but Stephenson does at least give most of Youngblood’s members a tiny bit of personality. Connecting Youngblood, the media stars of their world, to Mojoworld’s “ratings equal power” gimmick makes sense and it works as a natural segue into the X-Universe.

Stephenson throws in a lot of meta-commentary, which even makes the often-tedious Mojoworld slightly more amusing (at least the members of Youngblood get annoyed with the constant media references). At one point, Mojo declares Youngblood the solution to disinterest in the X-Men, who aren’t the ratings champs they once were. I’m surprised Marvel let this one slip through, since it’s not exactly a hidden swipe at the line. Besides, it’s not even true. The X-books were still dominant in 1996, and any hopes that the new breed of Image heroes would replace Marvel and DC were pretty much gone by this point. At any rate, this was more enjoyable than I would’ve expected, and I’m actually curious about how the other crossovers turned out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #16-#17, July - August 1986

Underworld!/The Magma Solution

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Marc Silvestri (penciler), Kyle Baker/Vinnie Colletta (inkers), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter Parker and Joy Mercado are sent to cover labor unrest in rural Virginia for NOW Magazine. After getting harassed by locals, they meet Charla, whose son Seth has been kidnapped by mysterious men. Peter and Joy learn that Seth is an idiot savant, whose math skills enable him to work calculations faster than a computer. He’s being used by Magma and the Roxxon corporation, who have teamed up to explore new energy sources. Spider-Man frees Seth, but his battle with Magma causes the installation to collapse. After an explosion, only scraps of Spider-Man’s costume remain.

The Subplots: Joy suspects Peter is Spider-Man after Spidey emerges to fight Magma.

Web of Continuity: This Magma isn’t the New Mutants member; he’s a villain from Marvel Team-Up. He created his suit to fight environmentalists who stood in the way of his development of cheap energy.

*See _________ For Details: Peter is under the impression Flash Thompson is secretly the Hobgoblin, which is a reference to one of the many red herrings during that storyline in Amazing. Aunt May’s Social Security checks are being delayed and Peter doesn’t know why. There’s no footnote connected to this, but I assume it’s referring to a storyline in one of the titles. Spidey thinks about a civilian’s death during his battle with the Sin-Eater in Peter Parker#108, and Joy Mercado remembers seeing Peter in a fight in Peter Parker Annual #3.

I Love the ‘80s: Peter isn’t able to find any clean clothes, so he’s stuck wearing a Strawberry Shortcake t-shirt. Seth is referred to as “retarded” by Peter, which is a term that probably wouldn’t be used in these more politically correct days.

Review: So, sixteen issues into the book’s run, the original premise of “Peter Parker travels the globe while on assignment for NOW Magazine” finally begins. We’re even helpfully notified that this is the FIRST ISSUE (of a new direction) on #16’s cover. Marc Silvestri and Kyle Baker arrive as the new artistic team, although Vince Colletta is brought in very quickly for a fill-in. Like his previous issue, I don’t really see anything that portrays the rotten reputation he’s garnered over the years, but he’s certainly a comedown after seeing Kyle Baker inks. Silvestri and Baker are a solid team, bringing a combination of fluidity, energy, and grit to the title. There is a sense now that Web is going to be more than fill-ins, although this bold new direction doesn’t last long.

In terms of motivation or gimmicks, Magma isn’t that great of a villain, so it’s not surprising to me that he’s been lost to obscurity. I get the feeling Michelinie knows he’s a bit of a dud, which is why the story has so many other elements, such as the labor unrest, Joy’s suspicions, and the story of Seth thrown in. Magma doesn’t even appear until the final page of the first chapter. He does present a decent challenge during the fight scenes, and Silvestri makes his armor seem less ridiculous than the average artist probably could. The combination of the art and the various distractions from the main story prevent this from becoming a Spider-Man vs. Generic Villain storyline. However, I do think the “traveling photographer” premise is pretty weak, and it’s the type of idea you dream up when you’ve already decided Spider-Man stars in enough books. Even if this is a spin-off, I think there is an expectation that Peter Parker’s supporting cast will play a role in the stories, which requires most of the storylines to take place in New York. Traveling for NOW might be a part of Peter’s job, but it’s not really his life. If you’ve made the series so “different” it doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man book anymore, what was the point?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #2 - September 1986

Wake Me Up I Gotta Be Dreaming

Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Arthur Adams (art), L. Lois Buhalis (letterer), George Roussos (colorist)

The Plot: The New Mutants chastise Warlock for watching too much television and not experiencing life. He heads into New York City, where he encounters scientists Dr. Karl and Dr. Reni Weber. Karl convinces Warlock to give him a small sample of his body, which Karl hopes will make him rich. When Karl experiments on Warlock, he absorbs too much energy and behaves erratically. After taking Reni hostage, Warlock morphs into giant imitations of Godzilla and King Kong. Meanwhile, Spider-Man rescues animals freed from a lab by an activist group. He notices Warlock, but is unable to help. Spider-Man convinces Karl to return the missing piece of Warlock’s body. Soon, Warlock blasts off into space, explodes with energy, and returns home. After seeing a biased editorial against Spider-Man, Warlock declares he won’t watch TV again.

The Subplots: None.

Review: In some ways, this is a precursor to several issues of Nocenti’s Daredevil run. Nocenti wants to tell a story about animal experimentation, but has to wrap it up in a traditional superhero narrative. The results don’t quite work, and while she still stumbled with preachy “issues” stories in Daredevil, she did have a better idea of what she was doing by that point. Here, the message doesn’t seem to go any deeper than “animal experimentation is bad.” When Spider-Man points out to one of the Animal Liberation Front members that animal experimentation saves human lives, and even the ALF members have probably benefited from it, the retort is, “I’d rather die with the animals!” Apparently, this is supposed to be the winning argument, as Spider-Man has no response and even begins to question if he could be considered a type of animal experimentation. Putting an animal’s life on par with a human’s isn’t the most rational position to take, and even if the writer sincerely agrees with it, there’s nothing in the character’s established persona that leads me to believe he would buy into the idea. Peter Parker isn’t an established vegetarian, and hasn’t been portrayed as someone with strong attachments to animals in the past. If anything, his past indicates he would firmly side with the scientists on this issue. ALF, by the way, is a real organization. I don’t know if Nocenti used them intentionally, or how well-known they were in 1986, but it’s still odd to see them in a comic book, instead of a stand-in group.

Aside from the heavy-handed message, there is some good material here. All of the characters have personalities and no one is portrayed as two-dimensionally bad. Karl wants to make money off Warlock, but he does still genuinely care about him, and feels bad when Warlock has a negative reaction to one of his experiments. Straight-laced Karl and his messy wife Reni are a cute couple, and Nocenti manages to make them feel real over the course of just a few pages. There’s also the idea that everyone in the story is using Warlock (Karl for money, Reni to “play Fay Wray” and have an adventure, and Spider-Man for money as well, through photographs). They’re not bad people for doing these things, but they of course feel guilty when they briefly believe Warlock has died. Not surprisingly, large sections of the story are just excuses for Arthur Adams to show off. I’m not sure if Marvel could legally get away with Warlock impersonating Speed Racer’s car, David Letterman, Godzilla, and King Kong today, but it was fun while it lasted. It’s too bad the printing and coloring of this era don’t begin to do Adams justice.

You’re Lying, Peter Parker!

Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Mike Mignola (pencils), Geof Isherwood (inks), L. Lois Buhalis (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: In a dream, Peter Parker’s home is invaded by Hobgoblin, Kingpin, Black Fox, the alien costume, and Black Cat. He has to lie continuously to Aunt May and Jonah Jameson to cover his dual identity. He’s awaken by a phone call from Mary Jane, who’s upset he missed their date. She doesn’t believe his lie. He quickly calls Aunt May and the Daily Bugle, telling more lies, as he prepares to go out as Spider-Man. He vaguely remembers a nightmare but is glad he can’t remember it.

Review: Mike Mignola and Arthur Adams in the same comic? If John Byrne and Frank Miller did pin-ups, this could’ve been an early Legend imprint comic. This may be a back-up story, but it has a stronger idea and better execution than the main story. If any hero is going to feel guilty about lying to his friends and family, it’s going to be Spider-Man. Nocenti cleverly paces the story so that Peter is lying in almost every panel, as the stakes of his dream go higher and higher.

The idea of the hero as a liar has to be treaded lightly in order to keep him sympathetic (and heroic), but the story manages not to take the concept too far. The only time we see Peter lying for any reason other than to cover his dual identity is when he tries to cover for missing his date with Mary Jane. It’s subtly played, but the idea is there. Peter is lying to someone who already knows his secret identity, who doesn’t need to be “protected” from the truth. Dishonesty has become a standard aspect of his relationships, and he’s having trouble distinguishing when or not a lie is appropriate. I only wish Nocenti had more room to explore the idea.

Monday, April 19, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #14 - #15, May-June 1986

All That Glitters…/Fox Hunt

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Mike Harris (penciler), Kyle Baker (inker), Phil Felix/Rick Parker (letterers), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter Parker is threatened with eviction if he doesn’t repair his apartment’s smoke damage. Soon, as Spider-Man, he’s unable to stop the Black Fox from stealing the Eye of Carnelia from the Carnelian Embassy. Spider-Man learns of the Fox’s fence, Andre Boullion, and decides to sell his golden notepad. Spider-Man spots the Black Fox leaving Andre’s office, and is shocked to discover Andre’s body inside. Spider-Man assumes Fox is the killer, but soon learns that the mercenary Chance is responsible. Spider-Man defeats Chance, and sells the notepad to another fence the Fox tried to use. Unable to sell the Eye of Carnelia, Black Fox returns it to the embassy for the reward money. Meanwhile, Peter decides to pay Nathan Lubenksy’s hospital bills rather than save his apartment. He returns home to discover Mary Jane has made the necessary repairs.

The Subplots: Aunt May’s boyfriend, Nathan Lubenksy, is in the hospital after taking a beating in Amazing Spider-Man (he’s a gambling addict). Robbie Robertson is afraid Jonah Jameson is trying to usurp his editorial control of the Daily Bugle.

Web of Continuity: The Black Fox is an elderly jewel thief who often tricks Spider-Man into letting him go. Chance is a mercenary obsessed with…chance. Rather than charging for his services, he wagers on the outcome of his assignments.

*See _________ For Details: The Black Fox and Andre Boullion last appeared in Amazing #265. Chance kills Andre because he refused to join his employer’s intelligence network. A footnote points towards recent issues of Spectacular. Peter and MJ painted his apartment in Amazing #273.

Commercial Break: The somewhat infamous Power Pack/Spider-Man child abuse prevention comic is advertised on the back cover of #15.

Review: Wow, that golden notepad stuck around for a long time, didn’t it? Since character and ongoing continuity counted more than anyone’s “personal vision” in these days, David Michelinie begins his run by addressing the few recurring storylines this fill-in prone title’s accumulated. The golden notepad storyline had potential at the beginning, but unfortunately stuck around in the background for almost a year, as Spider-Man would occasionally remember he’s supposed to be angsting over it. Michelinie addresses the more practical questions, such as how does Peter go about selling a golden notepad in the first place? Dealing with an underworld fence doesn’t feel right for the character, but this is at least addressed during the story. And it should come as a shock to no one that Peter ends up using the money to help someone else rather than himself.

Allowing MJ to save his apartment actually forecasts an issue from the early days of their marriage -- Peter’s insecurities over being with someone much more successful than he’ll probably ever be. Michelinie will go on to write many of those early marriage stories, and he’ll revive Chance and Black Fox regularly during his run on Amazing. He clearly has some affection for the characters, and is able to use their unique gimmicks very well in this arc. The fake-out at the end of #14, hinting that the Black Fox killed Andre Boullion, is a great clifhanger.

The combination of Mike Harris and Kyle Baker looks nice, and very ‘80s at the same time. If you’ve read any of the Bill Sienkiewicz/Mary Wilshire issues of New Mutants, you know what I mean. There are a lot of shadows, and everything is slightly realistic yet slightly stylized. I’m assuming the missing detail lines and faded colors are an aspect of the printing process used during the time.

Friday, April 16, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #13 - April 1986

Point of View

Credits: Peter David (writer), Mike Harris (penciler), Kyle Baker (inker), Phil Felix (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man slows down a semi-truck with his web-line before it hits a pedestrian. Some of the bystanders believe Spider-Man actually caused the accident, which is the angle the media exploits. Jonah Jameson pays for the pedestrian’s hospital bills, not knowing that he is actually a con artist who ran into traffic when he saw Spider-Man overhead. Spider-Man, frustrated with the public backlash, breaks into Jameson’s office and threatens him. After Jonah makes him realize he is acting like a menace, he leaves. When Robbie Robertson tells Jonah that the “victim” is actually a criminal, Jonah chooses to run the truth rather than save face.

The Subplots: None.

Review: David Michelinie is announced as the new writer in the letters page, so this is the last Peter David fill-in for a while. J. Jonah Jameson’s characterization has been all over the place over the years, and there have been a few stories that try to make him less cartoonish. This succeeds in adding some depth, but it also attempts to rationalize his various portrayals. I think the accepted characterization of Jameson now is that he is a credible newspaperman with a specific blind spot that involves Spider-Man, which is the angle David takes. After he pushes Spider-Man too far, Jameson has to talk him off the ledge. Jameson doesn’t take any joy in seeing Spider-Man driven to the brink; he doesn’t seem to know what to think about his actions. As Jameson puts it, either Spider-Man really is a menace, or Jameson has been able to convince him that he is one. Spider-Man leaves, unwilling to prove Jameson right. After Jonah agrees to run the true story behind the pedestrian, admitting he was duped into paying for a con artist’s hospital bill, he wonders if Spider-Man will ever realize that he is a true journalist. For a brief moment, he admits that maybe they’re both wrong about each other.

It’s a great issue, and I wonder if it’s been lost to time because of where it ran. Not only is this running in the third Spider-Man book, but it’s a fill-in in the middle of what seems to be a run of fill-ins. Why would Wizard continually praise the old Amazing fill-in, written by Peter David, about Spidey chasing a criminal in suburbia, but not bring this one up? Why wouldn’t this story be included with “Born Again” as one of the greatest J. Jonah Jameson stories? It certainly deserves to be.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #12 - March 1986

Have You Seen That Vigilante Man!

Credits: Peter David (writer), Sal Buscema (breakdowns), Bob McLeod (finishes), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter learns the incendiary device mainly caused smoke damage. After a rival newspaper gives Peter a $1,000 prize for his heroism, Jonah Jameson overrides Robbie Robertson and puts Peter’s story on the front page. Peter impetuously spends the money to get ahead on rent to placate his obnoxious landlord. Peter has the three thugs arrested, but they’re bailed out by Hector, the hitman brother of the gangleader. Hector declares that he’s going to kill Peter Parker. When the thugs realize they would be considered accomplices in Peter’s death, they race to his apartment to stop Hector. Spider-Man deals with Hector, then changes back into Peter. He decides to drop charges against the thugs, leading his neighbors to turn against their hero.

The Subplots: None.

*See _________ For Details: While identifying his harassers, Peter asks the Assistant DA about a gang case involving someone who “looks like a cross between Michael Jackson and Prince.” A footnote points toward Peter Parker annual #5, which stars Ace.

I Love the ‘80s: Peter remarks that his clothes will have to last a long time…“like until 1993.”

Review: Danny Fingeroth is apparently gone, but don’t get the crazy idea that Peter David is the new writer. This is still Web of Spider-Man, the title that has a strong allergic reaction to anything resembling a stable creative team. David continues the storyline, getting some more laughs out of the idea and raising the stakes to even more ridiculous degrees. The only real glitch from one issue to the next is the portrayal of the hitman, Hector. In the previous issue, he was a brooding, tormented man who warned his brother to stay away from a criminal lifestyle. Here, he’s more of an archetypical hitman character who decides that he wants Peter Parker dead for having the gall to inconvenience his brother. Soon, he decides that he’ll just kill the next person to walk through the door, which happens to be MJ. I’m not sure where Fingeroth was going with the character, but David (or perhaps the editor influencing the story) decides to use him as a straightforward villain for the issue’s climax. This doesn’t exactly work, and it feels as if Hector is brought in to make this atypical story a little more normal.

I also have issues with the ending. If all the thugs did was harass Peter Parker, having him drop charges in the hopes they’ll reform could be acceptable. However, they were introduced as potential rapists in the last issue, and this issue makes it clear that the immigrant woman they victimized is too terrified to testify against them. The neighbors accuse Peter of being self-centered and irresponsible for letting the criminals go, and they’re absolutely right.

So, the ending has problems, but David still gets mileage out of the concept. Before Peter manages to turn the neighborhood watch against him, he realizes that he’s getting praised for stopping crime as Peter Parker, while Spider-Man is vilified for doing the same things. He could just drop the Spider-Man routine, help people as Peter Parker, and make money as the head of a security force. We all know the story can’t go in that direction, but it’s realistic for Peter to consider the possibilities. The local hero angle is also explored at the Daily Bugle offices, as Jonah places his newfound surrogate son on the front page, partially to upstage the rival newspaper that gave Peter reward money. Peter doesn’t know how to deal with positive press in the Daily Bugle (an idea Gerry Conway will explore years later), and his abrupt refusal to have lunch with the staff doesn’t leave him in anyone’s good graces for long. At the story’s end, as MJ is quick to remind him, Peter’s exactly where he started (only now, his apartment has massive smoke damage). It’s “the ol’ Parker luck” again, but it’s delivered in a creative way we haven’t seen before.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #11 - February 1986

Have You Seen That Vigilante Man!

Credits: Danny Fingeroth (plot), Bill Mantlo (script), Bob McLeod (art), Phil Felix (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: After Peter Parker stops an attempted rape at a laundromat, he’s declared a local hero. Against his wishes, the community starts “Peter Parker Patrols” to monitor the neighborhood. The three thugs from the laundromat begin vandalizing his apartment, forcing Peter to intimidate them as Spider-Man. After Peter asks MJ and Flash Thompson for advice, he returns home to see smoke coming from his window.

The Subplots: MJ is worried that knowing Peter’s secret ID is bringing her too close to him (didn’t she regret turning down his proposal just a few issues ago?). Peter comments that Flash no longer thinks he’s seeing his girlfriend, Sha Shan, behind Flash’s back. That’s the first time this subplot has been referenced in this title.

Forever Young: Peter and Flash talk about their long-ago days of high school.

Creative Differences: Peter’s conversation with Flash appears to be re-lettered. It certainly isn’t Phil Felix’s work.

Review: This is a nice two-parter with a clever premise. Every so often, you’ll see Peter Parker forced into stopping crime in his civilian guise, but I don’t think any story ever dealt with the repercussions of what would likely happen afterwards. The last thing Peter wants to do is draw this kind of attention to himself, which is exactly what happens. And while the local patrols are unable to stop the thugs from breaking into his home, they’re persistent enough to guard the skylight he uses to go in and out as Spider-Man. Watching Peter’s friends react to his newfound celebrity is also entertaining, as Robbie Robertson wonders if Peter is somehow endorsing vigilantism. Imagine that. The scene with Flash Thompson is interesting, as Flash refuses to acknowledge that he ever acted as a bully. His stance is that Peter distanced himself from the other kids and that Flash was only giving him a “razz.” I can see this working as Flash’s personal justification for his behavior, but it’s odd that Peter just seems to accept it. Peter only distanced himself from the others after he became Spider-Man, out of sheer necessity. Amazing Fantasy #15 makes it very clear that Peter wants to be close to the other kids, so Flash’s argument has a giant hole in it. At any rate, this is a strong start for the story, even as the book remains unable to keep a consistent creative team. Bob McLeod pencils and inks this issue, and turns in a great job, reminiscent of Mike Zeck’s work.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #10 - January 1986

There, But For Fortune!

Credits: Danny Fingeroth (writer), Jim Mooney (art), Rick Parker (letterer), George Roussos (colors)

The Plot: Spider-Man runs into Dominic Fortune, an aging adventure hero who is being pursued by war criminal Baron von Lundt. Fortune is searching for Sabbath, a female agent he partnered with in 1940. Von Lundt hires the Shocker to deal with Spider-Man and Fortune. Shocker is defeated, but Fortune lands in the hospital. Unbeknownst to Fortune, a woman named Sabbath is now working for Baron von Lundt.

The Subplots: Spider-Man briefly reflects on the golden notepad he stole a few issues ago.

Web of Continuity: Dominic Fortune first appeared in Marvel's black and white magazine line, apparently as an analogue to another Howard Chaykin character, the Scorpion. You would think this was the first part of a multi-chapter story, but five years pass before Danny Fingeroth returns to Web to finish this story.

Review: Here’s another sign Web had some sort of behind-the-scenes chaos in the early days. This clearly isn’t supposed to be the end of the storyline, yet it’s abandoned and just forgotten as the issues go on. It’s also the third issue in a row that has little to do with Spider-Man, although Fingeroth does draw a connection between Spider-Man’s constant stream of regrets and Fortune’s remorseful feelings over Sabbath. Fortune himself is appropriately likable, and the addition of his straight-laced son who just wants the old man to go back to the retirement home works well. I’m also happy to see Jim Mooney, one of the greatest Spidey artists ever, back.

Monday, April 12, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #8-#9, November - December 1985

Local Super Hero!/The Twilight Heroes

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Geof Isherwood (penciler), Vince Colletta (inker), Janice Chiang (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter Parker is sent by the Daily Bugle to investigate a small town superhero, the Smithville Thunderbolt, in Pennsylvania. He discovers the Smithville Thunderbolt, Fred Hopkins, lost his powers a year ago after decades of heroics. With the aid of cybernetic enhancements, Fred has been staging harmless “disasters” to maintain his image. Local reporter Roxanne Dewinter has discovered Fred’s identity and plans to reveal it, hoping the story will land her a job at a big city newspaper. Meanwhile, Ludlow Grimes, a simple farmer who last year found the other half of the meteor that powered Fred, arrives. Angry over the ostracizing he’s received since gaining powers, Ludlow lashes out at Fred. During the fracas, Fred saves Roxanne’s life, and Ludlow realizes that Fred isn’t the source of his problems. Spider-Man assumes Roxanne will now kill her story, but she reveals Fred’s identity anyway. Fred, fearing a public backlash, commits suicide, not realizing the town was gathering at his house to thank him for his years of service.

The Subplots: None.

I Love the ‘80s: Roxanne declares that when she’s a big city reporter, all of her vehicles will have cassette decks.

Review: We’re now in an odd stretch of the title, where neither David Michelinie or Danny Fingeroth seems to be the regular writer. I suspect this was written as a two-part fill-in, since it doesn’t contain any subplots or set up any ongoing storylines. This is a rather unusual story; along with its dark twist ending, it could be read as a nasty commentary on the superhero genre. Or maybe just Superman specifically. Fred works as a small town reporter, surrounded by Daily Planet analogues. After a meteor grants him powers, he becomes a rural equivalent of Superman, even though he usually doesn’t have a lot of crime to fight. Once the power fades away, Fred has no idea what to do, so he begins staging fake disasters. The story keeps Fred sympathetic, since no one is ever hurt in the “disasters” (he uses smoke bombs instead of actual fire, for example), but he’s clearly supposed to be pitiful.

While Fred basks in the attention, Ludlow gains powers and gets the “feared and hated” treatment. Even his family is terrified of him. He’s also a farmer, which parallels the Smallville portion of Superman’s canon. Adding to the cynicism, Ludlow isn’t a noble, salt-of-the-earth farmer like the Kents; he’s a simple-minded dunce in overalls. I don’t think Michelinie is actually saying this is what a real farmer with superpowers would be like, but that interpretation might not be too much of a leap. The portrayal of 1950s Smithville certainly seems like an attempt to shoehorn reality into old superhero tropes. When Fred gains his powers, he’s surrounded by racists and anti-Semites, which I guess was pretty edgy in 1985, but it’s now become the standard portrayal of the ‘50s. (“Hey, maaan. Life wasn’t really Leave it to Beaver in the 1950s, y’know.”) It’s possible that Fred becoming a beloved hero in the ‘50s and Ludlow becoming an ostracized freak today is intended as another meta-commentary on the superhero genre. The original DC heroes were universally beloved in their world, which obviously isn’t the direction Stan Lee would follow.

Finally, there’s Roxanne, the thinly veiled Lois Lane analogue. Her storyline mirrors Lois’ decades-long quest to reveal Superman’s secret identity, which I’m sure never got old. I’m not sure if Roxanne is intended as a ruthless parody of Lois, or if Michelinie is playing off the disdain a lot of fans had for old-school Lois. Maybe this is what the “real” Lois would be like.

The story isn’t all gloom, as we learn that Fred honestly wants to help people, in spite of his faults. Plus, Ludlow is recruited as a potential SHIELD agent, so he gets what appears to be a happy ending. The twist comes when Roxanne refuses to learn the traditional lesson secondary characters are supposed to learn from these comics and publishes her story anyway. Turning the screw further, we learn that Fred committed suicide over nothing, since the crowd just wanted to thank him. In the final panel, a remorseless Roxanne takes a picture of Fred’s body.

I think I’ve read the entirety of Michelinie’s Amazing Spider-Man run, and I don’t recall anything approaching this level of cynicism. In fact, I seem to remember fans criticizing his ASM run not being serious enough. Since the editor was also responsible for pushing Spectacular in a dark direction during this era, I wonder what role he had in shaping this story. Like most of Michelinie’s comics, this is well paced, has a few surprises, and the dialogue is pretty sharp. All of this has little to do with Spider-Man, but he’s worked into the story as naturally as could be expected. I just wish this wasn’t so dark. Of course, I’m saying this as someone who’s read years’ worth of gloomy comics with disparaging analogues of classic characters. I’m sure this felt appropriately daring when originally published.

Friday, April 9, 2010

SPAWN/BATMAN - 1994


Credits: Frank Miller (story), Todd McFarlane (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: In Gotham City, Batman fails to rescue an innocent man from the cybernetic device that’s imprisoned him. He traces the man’s dental records to New York, where several homeless have disappeared. In the alleys, he discovers Spawn, who is killing two men who were torturing the homeless. Batman attacks, but Spawn fights him off. Spawn investigates the missing homeless and learns that they’re the victims of “philanthropist” Margaret Love, who he once knew as Soviet agent Nadia Vladova. Soon, Love dupes Batman into fighting Spawn again. After a battle that leaves both disoriented, another cyborg arrives and stabs Batman in the heart. Spawn uses magic to save his life, and show Batman the truth about Margaret Love. The duo team up to stop Love’s ultimate solution to human greed, a nuclear assault. Spawn allows falling debris to kill Love, against Batman’s wishes. Spawn suggests the two part as friends. Batman responds by launching a batarang into his face.

Spawntinuity: As seen in Spawn #21, this issue does count in Spawn continuity. Oddly enough, the inside front cover labels the story a companion piece to “Dark Knight Returns.”

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Spawn says “shit” for the first time. A future letter writer asks why Alan Moore used the phrase “ca-ca happens” in his issue if censorship wasn’t a problem. McFarlane’s response is that each guest writer set his own limits.

Review: Wizard Magazine, at the height of its days as the ultimate hype machine, used to make fun of this comic. Actually, for years, I can remember Wizard making cracks about this comic. I believe McFarlane himself even ran some negative letters about Spawn/Batman. Not only did I enjoy this comic as a teenager, but it also inspired me to buy the Spawn comics pack that included issues #12 and #13, the two issues that convinced me to become a regular reader. And, while I realize that people had ridiculous expectations for a Frank Miller Batman story at this time, I still don’t understand the ire this comic generated.

Did people hate it because Spawn discovers the real villain while Batman is duped? That’s understandable, but this is the comic that gives Spawn the top billing, so he’s going to have to do something important in the story. Plus, this was before the days of the infallible Grant Morrison Batman. It’s not as if Batman had any reason to doubt Margaret Love, and he was eager for a rematch with Spawn (a character he already viewed as a murderer) anyway. Were people upset that Spawn fought Batman to a standstill and later saved his life? Well, the story does establish that Spawn’s “cheating” with magic. I suppose the combination of Spawn saving Batman and leading him to the villain is too much, which is something I didn’t consider at fourteen. However, if you really wanted Frank Miller Batman, this issue is filled with pulpy Millerisms. I ate this up as a teen, and still think many of these lines are great. My only issue with the script itself is the trash talking between Spawn and Batman during their various fight scenes. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but the characters sound like two teenage boys taunting one another during a pickup basketball game. It doesn’t sound right coming out of either character, and it doesn’t mesh with Miller’s gothic narration either.

Artistically, I considered this McFarlane’s best-looking comic at the time I read it, and that’s probably still true today. (This might be the last comic McFarlane penciled and inked entirely on his own. Greg Capullo becomes co-artist with Spawn after this crossover is done.) Helping McFarlane out are Steve Oliff’s excellent colors, which create unique shades of blue and green that still look striking today. While McFarlane does produce his strongest work, some of the pages are still wonky. Spawn’s mask comes on and off in-between panels without explanation, which just becomes distracting as the story goes on. McFarlane later defended this, saying that the mask’s disappearance was just a subtle indication that it’s a living organism. That may be, but it doesn’t explain the inconsistent designs on Batman’s chest emblem, or the cybernetic gloves he discovers at the start of the story and uses throughout the issue.

McFarlane chooses to draw Batman mostly as geometric shapes throughout the comic, rarely showing his face and often even ignoring his teeth. Miller did this trick a few times in DKR, but McFarlane goes for it on almost every page. At the time, I thought this was the coolest Batman I’d ever seen. Today, I wonder if McFarlane wasn’t at least partially motivated to save time by covering Batman in black. I still like the look, but it doesn’t need to be on virtually every page. McFarlane going even more stylized is certainly a contrast to Batman/Spawn, which had the audacity to actually show Spawn’s physique and Batman’s chin.

So, while McFarlane could be inconsistent, that wasn’t anything new. I could nitpick things, but I really think he took a rather large artistic step with this comic. And certainly the production values are terrific. I don’t think anyone chose to hate this comic for the art. I think the rancor came from a combination of impossibly high expectations of Miller, and the sense that Batman was getting “punked” in some way. If people thought that Miller was putting a zany sense of fun over the serious work of writing Batman this time…well, we all know what was in store for them. And, yeah, I still like this comic, regardless of what 1994 Wizard has to say about it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

BATMAN/SPAWN - 1994


War Devil
Credits:  Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant (writers), Klaus Janson (art), Klaus Janson & Steve Buccellato (colors), Todd Klein (letters)

Summary:  In 1590, on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, the colony mysteriously disappears.  The only clue is the word “Croatoan” which is carved into a tree.  Six years ago in Gotham City, Batman fails to stop Al Simmons from assassinating Simon Vesper, a businessman constructing the massive Gotham Tower.  Today, Spawn reads a headline announcing the completion of Gotham Tower.  He arrives in Gotham, sensing evil.  Meanwhile, Vesper rises from the grave.  Batman investigates Gotham Tower and discovers a dead body.  A pentagram and the word “Croatoan” are written in blood.  Spawn spots Batman, and assuming he’s a demon, picks a fight.  Spawn’s costume cuts off his power supply, allowing Batman to win the battle.  The two team up to stop Simon Vesper, whose selective blackout is creating a pentagram shape in the Gotham skyline.  He calls the dead to rise from their graves, promising to feast on 100,000 souls this time.  Spawn learns that Vesper is the demon Croatoan, who arranged for his own assassination six years earlier.  Croatoan wants Spawn’s soul as a bonus, but with Batman’s help, he is defeated. 

Spawntinuity:  This is DC’s contribution to the crossover, so it doesn’t count in Spawn continuity.  Both Batman/Spawn and Spawn/Batman are treated as the first meeting between the characters.  The disappearance of the Roanoke Island settlement is a true story, often described as America’s first mystery.

Review:  This crossover occasionally comes up on Chuck Dixon’s message board.  From memory, I’ve learned that all three Bat-writers of the era were assigned so that royalties could be shared, Alan Grant volunteered to read the entire run of Spawn and gave a hilarious recap of the series to his fellow writers, and Dixon is responsible for the deadpan “You can call me Al” joke.  The story is more intricate than anything McFarlane or his guest writers have attempted at this point, reading as you’d expect a Denny O’Neil-edited DC comic to read.  The connection to Roanoke Island is clever, there’s a little bit of detective work, and the one-shot manages to cram a lot of story into forty-eight pages.  While these guys obviously know how to write Batman, Spawn is a little out-of-focus.  The writers seem to think that Spawn is a Claremontian “big talk” character with a poetic soul, while McFarlane tends to write him as a relatively normal guy who’s just frustrated by the unreal circumstances that surround him.  He is given a small character arc, as he wonders at the beginning if he can find his “real face,” and then declares at the end that he’ll be a man like Batman, who wears his real face “without apology.”

I’ve heard rumors over the years that McFarlane didn’t like this crossover.  I don’t know if they’re true, but I wonder how McFarlane reacted to Janson’s artwork.  I think most artists would be happy to see a Klaus Janson rendition of their creation, and Janson’s gritty enough for the character, but it is odd to see Spawn drawn in such a “straight” style.  Janson is far from a dull artist, but he is the first penciler to draw Spawn without the excessive stylization.  The cape is still ridiculously large, but it’s no longer covering Spawn’s body, which allows, God forbid, a few shots of real anatomy.  Janson also avoids drawing (for much of the comic, at least) shadows over every object, weird angles, and odd page layouts.  If Spawn were a DC character, this is probably what his book would’ve looked like. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

SPAWN #20 - November 1994

 Showtime - Part Two
Credits:  Tom Orzechowski & Andrew Grossberg (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Mark Pennington (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters and copy editor), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary:  Spawn and Houdini chase Porsche MacNeill in Houdini’s magic car.  Houdini grows bored and leaves, while Spawn notices Terry Fitzgerald nearby.  Spawn disguises himself and rescues Terry from the Ukrainian bodyguards of Volokhov, the rogue atomic scientist.  Volokhov is at Porsche’s store, having a detonator repaired.  Spawn and Houdini reunite at Columbia University, where Volokhov threatens to detonate an atomic bomb if the Ukraine isn’t given a massive loan.  The bomb ignites, and Houdini learns his teleportation device has been disrupted by the Overlap.  In retaliation, he uses magic to transport the atomic blast to the Overlap.  Volokhov and Porsche are arrested, but Porsche is released due to lack of evidence.  Spawn plants a tiny explosive in his apartment to teach him a lesson.

Spawntinuity:  A flashback reveals Spawn first met Terry in “Language Immersion School” in Monterey, California.  You’ll also notice on the cover that Spawn’s eyes are much larger than they used to be, which seems to be one of Capullo’s contributions.

Review:  Fill-ins, by their very nature, don’t leave a lot of room for creators to have an actual impact on the characters.  This fill-in arc puts the writers in an even more difficult position, since it had to take place in-between two already published issues of the series.  Consequently, it occasionally feels like a Houdini story guest-starring Spawn, but I think the final result reads quite well.  Spawn never seemed to have a lot of motivation to do much of anything, so a character like Houdini is needed to kick off a storyline, anyway.  The actual moments that focus on Spawn mainly reiterate what we’ve seen in the previous issues (Spawn still views Terry as a friend on some level, and he doesn’t want Wanda to become a widow again), but they’re successful in making Spawn seem more human and likable than usual.  The plotline about a mad Ukrainian scientist isn’t typical Spawn fare, but this was still early in the book’s run.  The deviation didn’t feel totally out of place, since McFarlane hadn’t decided to make the entire series about dark urban horror yet.

Monday, April 5, 2010

SPAWN #19 - October 1994


 Showtime- Part One
Credits:  Tom Orzechowski & Andrew Grossberg (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Mark Pennington (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary:  Members of the mystic Overlap are studying the effects of atomic energy on Hell-Creatures.  A subliminal message is implanted within a Ukrainian atomic scientist attending a seminar at Columbia.  He’ll detonate an atomic bomb when Spawn is nearby.  Harry Houdini, an unpopular agent of the Overlap, is assigned the case with the hopes he’ll also be wiped out.  Meanwhile, Porsche MacNeill, a young electronics expert, is detonating bombs in his neighborhood, hoping to scare off the local homeless.  He accidently bombs Spawn while he’s asleep.  Spawn chases him but is interrupted by Harry Houdini, who promises to teach him about his powers.  After Houdini lectures Spawn, another bomb detonates.  Houdini teams up with Spawn to stop Porsche.

Spawntinuity:  The Overlap is described as a “reality that intersects all planes of existence” and the birthplace of magic.  It’s also trademarked by Andrew Grossberg, so it’s not an idea that sticks around Spawn continuity.  Houdini teaches Spawn how to draw magic from his costume.  He asks Spawn to summon a marble with the costume’s power, leading Spawn to accidentally create a marble statue.  I don’t think Spawn’s ability to create inanimate objects with his costume shows up again.  If Spawn really could draw magic from his costume, that would seem like an easy way to avoid going to Hell after his own powers run out.

Spawn #19 might be the next chronological issue, but it was released after issues #21-#24 were already published.  McFarlane skipped issues #19 and #20 and went straight to #21 after finishing the Spawn/Batman crossover.  He only offered a vague explanation in issue #21, but the rumor at the time was that Diamond changed their policy on late books, leading McFarlane to cancel all orders on the already late #19 and #20 in order to avoid making them returnable.  I was tempted to review the comics in the order they were released, but it seemed unnecessarily confusing.  The actual release order goes Spawn #1-#18, #21-#24, #19, #25, #20, then #26.

The Big Names:  Flint Henry draws a pin-up, mocking Todd McFarlane’s inability to count. 

Spawn Stuff:  The first wave of Spawn action figures is announced.  McFarlane manufactured them himself under the brand “Todd Toys” and I believe they were the first action figures to be made of any Image characters.  They did look very impressive at the time, but as Mike Sterling has pointed out, they look rather meek when compared to modern action figures (which owe a lot to McFarlane’s continued efforts to essentially make them slightly articulated models).

Review:  I don’t think Tom Orzechowski has too many writing credits, but he did write a few Classic X-Men backups before this fill-in run (his Nightcrawler story was great).  Plus, he went on to write a Harry Houdini miniseries with Andrew Grossberg.  I don’t know if this incarnation of Houdini or the Overlap ever appeared before this comic, but the story gives them a credible introduction even if the issue feels a little crowded.  This is certainly the opposite of decompression.  McFarlane could occasionally go overboard with the narrative captions, but he never produced a Spawn issue that took so long to read.  This isn’t a complaint; it’s just surprising to read a Spawn story that feels like a Jim Shooter-era Marvel comic.  At the very least, Orzechowski and Grossberg have a natural writing style, and Orzechowski’s lettering always makes giant chunks of text look good. 

The story so far has little to do with Spawn, but instead plays off the potential strangeness a being from Hell could attract while on Earth.  There is an effort to connect Spawn’s mercenary past with a Russian scientist, and to bring in Terry Fitzgerald as a government agent, so it doesn’t feel as if it’s a totally random story shoved into Spawn.  I like the portrayal of Houdini as an arrogant scoundrel who actually did know magic, and his condescending interactions with Spawn are fun.  McFarlane didn’t seem to push his guest writers into following a specific formula, which enabled them to go places we wouldn’t normally see in the series.

Friday, April 2, 2010

SPAWN #18 - February 1994

Reflections- Part Three

Credits: Grant Morrison (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Art Thibert & Dan Panosian (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Spawn’s alley friends distract Anti-Spawn, preventing him from delivering the killing blow and allowing Spawn time to recover. Spawn uses magic to bring Anti-Spawn to his knees before punching a hole in his face. The angels retrieve Anti-Spawn, leaving Spawn free to return to Simmonsville. There, he encounters Major Vale. Spawn kills him in retaliation for one of Vale’s military cover-ups. After destroying the town, Spawn reshapes the memory of the day he proposed to Wanda into a spark. That night, he hides outside of her window and releases the spark into her mind.

Spawntinuity: A mysterious man in the alley gives Spawn a blank card, telling him he’ll know when to use it. He claims that he belongs to the same group as Cagliostro, and that there are other powers outside of Heaven and Hell. When "Cog"’s origin is later revealed, I don’t believe it’s ever reconciled with this scene (although the card shows up later).

Creative Differences: The next issue blurb claims that McFarlane will return with a story about the Freak. Not only does this not happen, but a series of behind-the-scenes events will prevent issue #19 from being released until the latter half of 1994. The Freak won’t show up until late 1995, in an issue guest-scripted by Alan Moore.

Spawn Stuff: A fifty-dollar Spawn satin jacket is advertised.

Review: When I reread these issues a few years ago, it dawned on me what Morrison was doing with this run -- he was giving McFarlane Spawn: The Movie. Starting with the opening issue, you have a major plot point tied to the character’s origin (Al Simmons’ death creating Simmonsville), the villain from the hero’s origin becoming a costumed threat (Jason Wynn’s transformation into Anti-Spawn), a clarification of the hero’s status quo (Spawn’s discovery at his grave, which actually is in the live-action movie), and a touching ending that ties back to the hero’s secret identity (Spawn releasing the memory to Wanda). The final splash page of Spawn, jumping towards the camera in the rain, declaring, “Darkness is my home now”…how could that not be the final scene of a Spawn movie?

Was Morrison literally doing this as a movie pitch? Probably not, but it does seem like he’s intentionally playing off the structure of a traditional action film, or the 1989 Batman movie at least. The story isn’t helped by a few of these elements, such as the unexplained selection of Jason Wynn as the Anti-Spawn, or the professional wrestling-worthy spontaneous second wind that allows Spawn to suddenly defeat Anti-Spawn. However, there’s no shortage of intriguing ideas throughout the arc, and I think the final moment between Spawn and Wanda is legitimately touching. This is a good example of a story that wouldn’t work with the later interpretation of Spawn; the cipher who’s really just a ghost on the edges of the stories.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

SPAWN #17 - January 1994

Reflections- Part Two

Credits: Grant Morrison (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Mark Pennington (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Spawn hears Malebolgia’s voice at his grave, mocking him. He’s suddenly transported to Simmonsville. There, he’s attacked by the Anti-Spawn. Outclassed, Spawn teleports back to the alleys to regroup, but Anti-Spawn follows him. After repeatedly blasting Spawn, Anti-Spawn prepares for the kill.

Spawntinuity: Malebolgia reveals that Spawn’s body is made out of psychoplasm and can change its shape.

Review: It’s the action-heavy middle chapter, so this isn’t exactly a densely packed plot. Morrison didn’t conform too much to the Image style in the first chapter, but now he’s delivering an issue-long fight scene filled with giant panels and gratuitous splash pages. At the very least, Greg Capullo seems to be having fun with this. There are a few Morrison touches, such as Spawn’s description of teleportation (“A shotgun blast through un-space at the speed of light. Stressed molecules shrieking with shock.” When did Spawn ever speak like this?), and a few creative uses of the characters’ powers. The climax comes when the cross design on Anti-Spawn’s face shoots out a fiery blast, which is an imaginative way to incorporate his elaborate design into the actual story.

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