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?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #58 - December 1989

Rematch

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

The Plot: Peter Parker boards a train to Pennsylvania, where Robbie Robertson is turning himself over to authorities after his forced escape from prison. The Grizzly confronts Peter, demanding he find Spider-Man and arrange a rematch. Peter reemerges as Spider-Man, and soon realizes Grizzly merely wants to regain his self-esteem. Spider-Man throws the fight, and although Grizzly later realizes he didn’t actually win, he feels lucky he got his shot.

The Subplots: Puma reveals to Spider-Man that he purchased the Daily Bugle in order to restore Spider-Man’s reputation and pay off his debt of honor. Kristy’s parents, Lou and Sibyl Watson, arrive in New York. Lou is verbally abusive and dismisses Kristy’s problem, while Sibyl stays in denial. MJ stands up to Lou and promises Kristy that she’ll be her family.

Web of Continuity: The Grizzly is a former flunky of the Jackal, who first appeared in Amazing #139. Puma says he owes Spider-Man a debt of honor for “numerous reasons.” This issue doesn’t make it clear, but other issues list Puma’s accusation that Spider-Man’s a thief, from Web #50 , as his motivation for buying the Bugle and helping Spidey’s reputation.

*See _________ For Details: Thomas Fireheart took over the Daily Bugle and fired Jonah Jameson in Spectacular Spider-Man #157. Robbie Robertson also confronted Tombstone on an Amish farm in the same issue.

Review: Here’s another villain reformation that many creators ignored. Gerry Conway seems to have a knack for creating likeable characterizations, because I have a hard time thinking of the Grizzly as a loser after reading this issue. He’s a decent guy who wants a second chance, but can’t let go of his humiliating defeat from years earlier. After he realizes Spider-Man threw the fight, Grizzly accepts the kind gesture and moves on with his life. That is, until later creators come along and just throw him into a “loser’s squad” of lame villains out for more revenge against Spider-Man.

It’s obvious that Grizzly was already considered a joke by the time this issue was released, since even the characters in the story can’t stop laughing at his bear suit (although Alex Saviuk actually makes it look pretty credible). It’s easy to keep using Grizzly or Rocket Racer as throwaway gag characters, but making the reader actually care about them takes real skill. Personally, I think the earnest attempts Conway made to actually do something with the characters are more entertaining than the predictable joke stories. The subplots tie in with the main story, as Robbie Robertson and Kristy Watson deal with their own self-esteem issues. Robbie feels whole again after finally confronting Tombstone, while Kristy’s eating disorder is traced back to her dysfunctional family. She has to begin her own journey to discover her self-worth, and MJ promises to be there for her. As Robbie conveniently explains as he returns to custody, “If you believe in yourself…what other people think of you, or do to you, just doesn’t matter.” It’s all very touching, but maybe we should forget that Kristy completely disappeared from the books just a few issues after MJ promised to help her though her problems and take care of her like family.

Monday, November 22, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #56-#57, November-December 1989

Skin-Deep

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

The Plot: At ESU, Peter Parker tries to develop a new web fluid, but the results are too corrosive. He’s distracted by a white supremacist rally, which is soon interrupted by an enraged Rocket Racer. After pulling him away, Spider-Man learns that Bob Farrell, the Racer’s secret ID, and his family had an encounter with the racists earlier that day. Later, both Spider-Man and Rocket Racer witness the skinheads’ bombing of the Afro-American Studies building. Racer confronts their leader, Eddie the Cross, and accidentally breaks a vial of Peter’s corrosive web fluid over his head. Eddie escapes, and later emerges as the skinless villain Skinhead.

The Subplots: Mary Jane’s friends suggest she audition for a soap opera. J. Jonah Jameson learns that Thomas Fireheart is buying out shares of the Daily Bugle in a hostile takeover.

*See _________ For Details: After the events of Spectacular Spider-Man#155, Peter believes Robbie Robertson is dead. (He fell out of a helicopter after Tombstone forced him to escape from prison, but of course, he turns out to be fine).

I Love the ‘80s: Well, a certain Seinfeld star has learned that “Afro-American” isn’t really used anymore. Peter wonders if Michael Keaton also has problems as a superhero. Later, he deems he’s too bored to watch Arsenio. There’s also a panel that has Spider-Man explaining the difference between good skinheads and bad skinheads. “Most skinheads are no more racist than anyone else. Heck, the skinhead style started with an appreciation of black West-Indian music.” I can’t imagine a story today going out of its way to acknowledge the non-racist skinheads, so I guess the bad ones have ruined the term for everybody.

Creative Differences: A re-lettered word balloon emphasizes that Peter knows Nathan Lubensky is dying, after he initially thought Aunt May received the negative test results.

Review: Yeah, I know…one of the few black people Peter Parker has ever known just so happens to run into problems with skinheads. You could argue that this isn’t the best way to use Rocket Racer (especially since Spider-Man has to repeatedly lecture him not to resort to violence and to stay calm), but I actually enjoy Conway’s interpretation of the character. As a kid, Rocket Racer’s name, gimmick, or costume never really appealed to me, but I’ve always liked him as a character. For years, I was convinced that with a new gimmick Rocket Racer could at least be as a credible a hero as any of the New Warriors. Looking back, it would have to be Conway’s characterization that made me feel that way, because I’m almost positive he wrote the only Rocket Racer appearances I read as a kid. The idea of an ex-con putting his past behind him and restarting his life isn’t new, but Conway’s portrayal is believable, and pitting him against people scummy enough to harass his mother and sister makes him an easy hero to root for.


Flesh and Blood

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

The Plot: Skinhead morphs into a shapeless mass of flesh and absorbs his fellow Nazis. Meanwhile, Rocket Racer and Spider-Man research Skinhead’s past and learn that he’s actually Jewish. At his childhood home, Skinhead emerges to kill his rabbi father. Spider-Man targets the skeleton within Skinhead’s form and eventually knocks him unconscious.

The Subplots: A delirious Kristy escapes from the Eating Disorder Unit and visits the Parkers. They bring her back to the hospital, where a doctor orders them to stop enabling Kristy. MJ gets firm with Kristy, telling her she isn’t going to watch her kill herself.

Web of Continuity: Peter and MJ are now moving in to their SoHo loft, which is upstairs from Harry and Liz’s apartment. The building is a converted factory, so the loft is essentially an empty floor with no actual rooms. This presents a problem for Peter when he’s wearing his costume around the house and company arrives. The events of the other Spider-titles, specifically the scenes that actually introduce the loft, have to happen “between the pages” of this storyline, since the Parkers were still living with Aunt May, and unaware of the loft Harry was setting up for them, last issue.

Creative Differences: Marvel staffer Dwayne McDuffie apparently didn’t care for this storyline, or the introduction of Night Thrasher in New Warriors. His response was a pitch entitled Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers (I should point out that Rocket Racer doesn't have any type of stereotypical speech pattern in these issues, and I don't think Night Thrasher did, either).

I Love the ‘80s: Kristy is repeatedly referred to as a “bulimic-anorexic,” a term I’ve never heard, but was perhaps an early idiom for plain ol’ bulimia.

Review: So, Eddie the Cross, a self-hating Jew, can now morph into a shapeless blob and absorb people in his new identity -- Skinhead, the White Redeemer. Pure. Genius. Gerry Conway has crafted a Spider-Man tale that combines an after-school special with a B-movie threat, and guest-stars the Rocket Racer. And while you can’t deny the camp factor, I do genuinely believe this is a well-crafted story. Conway focuses on “the barriers to happiness a man carries within himself,” as we learn that Eddie has spent his life as an outcast, first searching for his identity as a fierce Zionist before rejecting his heritage and embracing Nazism. Rocket Racer grew up without a father, leading to a low self-worth that told him that his dreams of college were pointless, and that his only future was in crime. Racer now wants to prove himself as a scientist and a superhero, but he’s haunted by the mistake that’s left Eddie as the Skinhead. Spider-Man tries to console Racer, but he also feels guilty about creating the web-fluid that mutated Eddie (…and how exactly did that work again?). Plus, in his personal life, he has no idea what to do with Kristy. Personally, I find these dilemmas much more interesting than the perpetual “rookie/naïve young person” predicaments that Marvel can’t seem to let go of. Why can’t a younger hero look up to Spider-Man? Why shouldn’t he offer counsel to a reformed criminal who wants to do the right thing? And who says Rocket Racer has to be a joke character, anyway? But, no, Spider-Man’s destined to face the same problems over and over again, and Rocket Racer’s reformation has to be ignored so that he can be used as a throwaway, retro-joke villain*. Hooray for progress.

*That's a snarky reference to an early Tangled Web issue, but apparently his more recent appearances have been more respectful of his character. I still say it's only a matter of time before he shows up again as a wacky '70s throwback villain, though.


Friday, November 19, 2010

SPAWN #48-#49, May 1996


The System

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Tony Daniel (pencils), Kevin Conrad (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Todd Broeker & Roy Young (colors)

Summary: Under the demonic influence of his symbiote, Spawn withdraws from his friends and builds a refuge deep within Rat City. He contacts Bobby, one of his few remaining defenders, to tell him that he’s going underground. In private, Spawn continues to feed on the evil passed on by the worms. Elsewhere, Sam and Twitch receive info on Chief Banks’ associates from a mystery source (Violator and Jason Wynn), while Terry Fitzgerald uncovers Wynn’s secret arms dealing. While conducting the research, Terry’s health continues to fade.

Todd Talk: A letter writer complains that the Sam and Twitch storyline has moved too fast for his tastes. Even McFarlane seems incredulous at this suggestion.

Spawn Stuff: The Image Info page suggests you find a second job if you want to keep up with all of the McFarlane Toys releases.

Review: It’s another subplot issue, with a few more pages of Spawn acting spooky thrown in. McFarlane just can’t let go of this “feeding on evil” nonsense, so even more pages are wasted on Spawn showering himself in worms while extensive narrative captions try to sell the idea that this is supposed to be terrifying. It isn’t. It’s dumb. Greg Capullo might’ve been able to pull off the imagery, but Tony Daniel is just too cartoony to sell the idea. And there’s no getting around just how ridiculous an idea this is. Spawn relying on “evil” animals to build his strength once was pushing it; keeping the idea around for months is inexcusable. Spawn playing with worms and doing minor construction in an alley are pretty dull things for the protagonist to be doing, and unfortunately this problem is going to get worse (we’re still not up to the “Spawn builds a chair” issue). There is some acknowledgment now that the homeless don’t want Spawn around anymore, and only Bobby and Boots are left as his defenders. This at least makes logical sense, although I wonder if this was an idea McFarlane cribbed from the HBO series, since most of the homeless were opposed to him from the beginning of the cartoon’s continuity.


Helter Skelter

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Danny Miki (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: After blacking out at work, Terry is referred to a neurologist. Meanwhile, Cy-Gor approaches New York, searching for Al Simmons. Cogliostro discovers the fortress Spawn’s symbiote has created in Rat City. A mutated potion of the cloak attacks Cog, but he speaks in a strange language and calms the symbiote down. Violator senses the symbiote’s transformation and is thrilled. Later, Terry has a second blackout while driving and crashes into a semi-truck.

I Love the ‘90s: On the Image Info page, Terry Fitzgerald is excited to play an early demo of the Nintendo 64, but he has to ask “what’s with the carts Nintendo? CD is where it’s at.”

Review: Issue #50 is just one issue away, which means McFarlane has to pick up the pace if he wants to achieve his stated goal of having Spawn return to Hell in the anniversary issue. Consequently, there’s about 40% less padding this issue. After months of allegedly scary activity by Spawn’s costume, it’s now morphed into a hideous form and doing something non-worm related. The visuals of the mutated costume do look great, and it’s refreshing to see a cover that doesn’t involve generic posing for a change.

I was never keen on seeing Spawn go back to Hell so soon, though, since it feels as if McFarlane’s skipping ahead to something that shouldn’t have happened until years later. The early issues made a big deal out of Spawn’s power-meter, which is supposed to mark Spawn’s return to Hell when it reaches zero (a special graphic for the meter was even created, and it was worked into almost all of the early issues). Now, even though Spawn has more than half of his powers left, the story jumps ahead and just dumps Spawn in Hell anyway. Out of all of the slow-burning plots, I have no idea why McFarlane decided to rush on this one. Meanwhile, the recurring subplots of the past few years have barely moved, as Jason Wynn is still being investigated by Terry, Sam and Twitch are chasing the same conspiracy, Wanda is still clueless about Al’s return (despite Spawn outright telling her his identity), and Cy-Gor continues to waste pages. I think even McFarlane was bored by Cy-Gor at this point, as he only appears here in a one-page cameo after being forgotten for several issues.

McFarlane actually can get to the point when he’s properly motivated, as evidenced by the “Terry’s sick” subplot. McFarlane needs him at death’s door for an event in issue #50, and what do you know, he got him to that place in less than four issues. Maybe setting a few more specific goals (like, say, resolving all of the dangling subplots introduced since #25 by #50) would’ve removed a lot of the book’s aimless wandering.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SPAWN #46-#47, April 1996


Revenge

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Tony Daniel (pencils), Kevin Conrad (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Todd Broeker & Roy Young (colors)

Summary: Several of Tony Twist’s enforcers are murdered by Tremor. He soon tracks down Vinnie, the man who can locate Twist. Tremor takes Vinnie to Twist’s home, but he can’t bring himself to kill Twist when he reveals that he knows where Tremor’s brother is hiding. Tremor leaves with Vinnie, dragging him to Spawn’s alleys. Tremor asks Vinnie to repeat the names he spoke earlier. Spawn’s shocked to hear Wanda, Terry, Cyan, and Jason Wynn’s names. Meanwhile, Terry’s flu worsens.

Spawntinuity: Cogliostro lectures Spawn about letting his symbiote take control. He also reveals that being eaten alive by animals couldn’t have killed Tiffany (angels can only be killed by absorbing their light), so Spawn must’ve been duped. Tony Twist divulges Tremor’s real name is Richard and his brother’s name is David. Tremor believed David dead, but for some reason is now convinced Twist isn’t lying. By the way, Tremor still hasn’t been called that name on-panel, and this is his second appearance.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: As Vinnie leaves behind the two women in his bed, he proclaims he’s going to “take a dump.” A narrative caption soon describes the “parcel” he leaves in the toilet after Tremor breaks through the wall.

Review: So, after months away from home, Spawn returns to the alleys and promptly does nothing. Cogliostro’s claim that Jason Wynn was just one part of the conspiracy to kill Al Simmons is apparently enough to keep Spawn from going after him (even though this doesn’t seem to fit the previous continuity, unless McFarlane is referencing Wynn’s deal with Hell from the Grant Morrison issues), so apparently the hero has nothing else to do. Not really where you want the protagonist of your series to be, but that hasn’t seemed to have bothered McFarlane for over a year at this point. Instead of wasting time on making Spawn interesting or giving him the slightest direction in life, we’re treated to several pages of tired mafia clichés. Tony Twist’s men do bad things, a mystery man kills them, the killer is revealed as Tremor, and he shows up at the end to form a truce with Spawn. This eats up almost twenty-two pages. Making this aimlessness even worse is knowing that McFarlane actually does have at least three other ongoing subplots that could’ve been advanced while he wasted another issue with filler.


Twisted

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Danny Miki (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: With Vinnie’s help, Spawn locates Billy, the man assigned to spy on Terry’s family months earlier. Tremor throws Billy in the dumpster, declaring that Spawn must now live up to his end of the bargain. When Cogliostro returns to the alley, he discovers the worms Spawn brought back to the city have killed Billy. Spawn and Tremor invade Twist’s hideout, where Tremor learns his brother David is actually employed by Twist. David refuses to believe Tremor is his brother and shoots him repeatedly. Spawn breaks David’s leg, sending Twist the message to leave Terry’s family alone. Meanwhile, Violator reveals his plan to have Spawn’s costume prematurely send him back to Hell.

Spawntinuity: A narrative caption refers to Tremor by name for the first time. In the letters page, McFarlane admits he forgot to call Tiffany by name during her appearances (notice a pattern?). Violator comments that Malebolgia dropped Spawn into a specific alleyway for a reason, but refuses to go into any more details. McFarlane would occasionally hint at the significance of “Rat City” but I don’t know if the clues ever amounted to much.

Production Note: Spawn’s word balloons are now colored a shade of light blue.

“Huh?” Moment: Spawn claims he’s only breaking David’s leg and that it can be fixed at the hospital, while the art clearly shows him shooting it with a gigantic canon.

Review: On the off-chance anyone cared about Tremor and his brother, here’s an issue almost entirely dedicated to their relationship. The revelation that David actually works for Twist is a decent, ahem, twist, but if McFarlane really wants the audience to believe it’s some horrible tragedy that Tremor’s brother doesn’t recognize him, he really needs to flesh these characters out. I honestly don’t think this is beyond McFarlane’s capabilities (before it grew into such a bore, Spawn’s yearning for Wanda in the early issues worked quite well), but he seems to have lost even rudimentary storytelling abilities during this run. Tremor and his brother don’t tie into any ongoing themes or emotional arcs, nor do they have anything to do with the continuing storylines that were supposed to be leading up to #50. The story only connects to Spawn because Twist assigned men to spy on Terry and Wanda back during “The Hunt” storyline, and apparently McFarlane feels Spawn never dished out the appropriate payback. And as great as the art is this issue, the action just amounts to Spawn and his monster friend beating up on guys in business suits. There’s even an opportunity for a legitimate confrontation between Spawn and Tremor after Spawn callously breaks his brother’s leg, but nothing happens because it’s page twenty-one by this point and it’s time for everything to be wrapped up.

Meanwhile, something actually happens in the subplot pages! Okay, it’s just the brief mention of a plan to do something, but that’s better than nothing. We now know Violator is still after Spawn because he wants to prove to his superiors that demons are better than humans, and he knows a way to send Spawn back to Hell soon. Okay, that’s something. I don’t think McFarlane really needed four pages to get that out, but considering the pacing of the previous issues, it’s a minor miracle that any idea was advanced at all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

SPAWN #44-#45, March 1996


Avenger

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Tony Daniel (pencils), Kevin Conrad (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor), Lois Buhalis (letters), Todd Broeker & Roy Young (colors)

Summary: The angel Tiffany goes on an unsanctioned mission to kill Spawn for his tryst with Angela. She finds him feeding on the dark energy of a bear in the woods. After killing the animal, Tiffany easily impales Spawn on a tree and prepares to decapitate him. Meanwhile, Sam and Twitch decide to investigate Spawn’s mysterious connection to Chief Banks and Billy Kincaid.

Spawntinuity: Tiffany claims that she’s shattered all of Angela’s old training records. She lives with other angels in “The Gate,” a dusty, rocky environment. According to Tiffany’s research, decapitation is the only way to kill a hell-creature.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: Although he didn’t work on this issue, Neil Gaiman has successfully sued over the character of Tiffany, citing her as a derivative version of Angela.

The Big Names: Two pin-ups of the Violator’s Clown form this issue, provided by, of all people, Ren & Stimpy animator Bill Wray and comics writer Chuck Dixon.

Production Note: This issue is printed on a much cheaper, flimsier paper stock than the previous issues. I’m not sure what happened behind the scenes, but the thicker stock is back next issue.

Review: If you really enjoyed seeing Spawn hang out with his forest buddies last issue, you’ll be thrilled to know he wastes numerous pages in this issue doing the same thing. McFarlane now brings worms into the act, which does seem to fit the horror ethic he’s going for. I seem to recall McFarlane later turning Spawn’s entire face into living worms, so he clearly liked the idea. Aside from wasting more pages with this inane “darkness feeding,” we have a few more pages of Spawn pining over Wanda again. Want even more recycled material? Violator wastes two pages laughing over his partnership with Jason Wynn that’s going to destroy Spawn and his extended family. I'm sure eventually they'll get around to formulating some kind of a plan. Meanwhile, Sam and Twitch are back to investigating Spawn again, putting them back on the path they were on all the way back in issue #5.

I think the introduction of Tiffany is supposed to be the major selling point, but McFarlane fails to do anything with the character. Gaiman was able to give Angela an arrogant, smug persona that’s actually fun to read, while Tiffany is self-righteous and boring. The internal politics of Heaven are also skipped over, which ignores the odd verisimilitude Gaiman gave his stories. If you’re really going to introduce the hosts of heaven into the storyline, you have to have an internal reason for why they’re not constantly after the demonic hero. Gaiman went about this by establishing Heaven as a pedestrian bureaucracy, filled with petty rivalries, egos, and backstabbings, and apparently little interest in actually executing the stated objectives. Tiffany is just too extreme for any office buildings or pantsuits, so all of the allegedly “boring” material is skipped over so that she can attack Spawn. The ensuing fight is pretty boring itself, as Tiffany only encounters Spawn a few pages before the story’s over and just beats on him for a couple of panels before the twenty-two pages are up.


Warriors

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin (colors)

Summary: Tiffany slices what she believes to be Spawn’s head, only to learn it’s an assortment of worms. Spawn’s costume goes on the attack, summoning the forest creatures to target Tiffany. Soon, only her bones remain. When Spawn returns home, he’s warned by Cogliostro to take back control over his symbiote. After Spawn falls asleep, the symbiote stirs. It hides the worms it concealed in its cape inside a dumpster in the alleys. Elsewhere, Sam proposes Twitch join him as a private detective, while Terry worries he caught Wanda’s cold.

Review: First of all, what is Spawn doing on that cover? Capullo and McFarlane seem to be growing through a twisted tree phase during these issues (Curse’s laboratory was also located on top of a bizarrely contorted tree), so I guess it fits into a new motif they’re working on. But what about that pose? Half of Spawn’s right foot looks it’s missing, and there’s no way his left foot could fit on top of that tiny sliver of a limb. And why is he squatting like that?

Anyway, after attempting to sell Tiffany as a major threat last issue, here she’s quickly outsmarted by Spawn’s costume and his forest pals. Remember, any animal you see after sundown is evil and you’d best stay away. As previous issues have shown us, Spawn apparently isn’t clever enough to outsmart a carrot, so he’s lucky that Hell provided him with such a great support system. After Spawn returns home (how exactly he got from West Virginia to New York is skipped over, but at least we’re spared another tour of McFarlane’s warped interpretation of small town America), he’s lectured about the costume by Cogliostro. The idea of the costume actually working against Spawn has potential, and it creates a conflict the series hasn’t explored yet. Spawn needs the costume to survive, but what is he going to do if the symbiote pushes him further and further into evil? Unfortunately, I seem to recall this is another dropped idea, although I do remember McFarlane going out of his way to make Spawn more anti-social and unlikable during this era, so maybe that was his way of paying the subplot off.

Friday, November 12, 2010

SPAWN #42-#43, February 1996

Fanboy

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Tony Daniel (pencils), Kevin Conrad (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Steve Oliff, Quinn Supplee, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Spawn’s cloak morphs into a protective shell and rockets him away from the lab’s explosion. He lands in rural West Virginia, where young comics fan Pat hides in a shed from local bullies. Spawn reluctantly gives Pat advice on life, and follows him during his next confrontation with the bullies. Against Spawn’s will, his cloak attacks the kids. When Pat pleads for their lives, the cloak eventually lets them go. Meanwhile, Cy-Gor searches for New York, while Sam and Twitch find more links between Chief Banks and Jason Wynn.

Spawntinuity: For some reason, New York City detective Twitch has a very nice home in Connecticut. An exciting subplot scene reveals Wanda has a cold.

“Huh?” Moment: Pat reasons that the design on Spawn’s chest is a giant “M.” Spawn dismisses the idea, until he realizes that Violator has the same design on his face-paint, and deduces the “M” is for Malebolgia. Aside from the fact that the name debuted in Alan Moore’s fill-in issue, long after McFarlane designed Spawn and Violator, we’re also supposed to believe Malebolgia uses modern English characters when designing his demonic henchmen’s outfits.

Review: Okay, Spawn hangs out with a nine-year-old, while Cy-Gor continues to roam the country and Sam and Twitch dig through more file folders. No filler here. I have to question why McFarlane is pairing Spawn with a cutesy nine-year-old after spending so many issues selling the idea of Spawn as so dark, gothic, and vicious. Now, he’s listening to the kid’s list of favorite comics and giving out advice on girls. It’s silly, but never funny, so the entire story is just flat. And this Cy-Gor stuff is sheer torture. This is the third issue in a row that’s wasting pages on this lame character doing absolutely nothing. Does a point ever emerge out of this, and why was I supposed to care in the first place?


Evil

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Sam and Twitch arrive at work, only to discover their parking permit is revoked. After finally reaching their office, they’re confronted by Chief Banks, who feels enough time has passed to fire them without arousing suspicions. Sam and Twitch leak their files to the media, but Jason Wynn’s contacts give him enough time to distance himself from Banks. When the story breaks, only Banks is implicated. As Federal agents arrive to arrest him, Banks commits suicide. Meanwhile, Spawn recovers in the forest by feeding on the evil of the nocturnal animals.

The Big Names: The Image Info page announces Alan Moore as the writer of the Spawn Playstation game. When the game is finally released, almost two years later, it isn’t written by Moore, nor is it even playable.

Review: So, the Sam and Twitch subplot that’s shambled along for almost two years finally reaches something of a conclusion. Their nasty boss commits suicide, Jason Wynn remains spotless, and the detectives are out of a job. Over the next few issues, they’ll become private detectives, which doesn’t functionally change anything about their role in the book. And what is their role supposed to be? I can see the need for a pair of average cops assigned to investigate Spawn. I can even see why McFarlane would want to make them reluctant allies with Spawn later on. But why let this pointless conspiracy nonsense drag on for so long? Why waste two years on a story that just leads to the characters losing their jobs, only to have them take up virtually identical jobs a few issues later?

Meanwhile, the star of the book is wandering the woods, apparently near-death. Nice continuity with the previous issue, which had him well enough to humor an annoying nine-year-old for the entire story. The sequence is a bit hard to make out, but apparently Spawn is virtually a corpse at this point, rotting under a tree. He’s revived when insects and various creatures of the night sense his plight and arrive to help…by feeding him with their evil. The justification for this is a passage that's supposed to sound like something out of the Bible: “God shed his light on earth in the name of goodness. And those who dare shun it shall forever remain stained in evil.” So, any creature that’s out past 7:00 PM is evil in the Spawnverse; so evil that they even have red, pupil-less eyes. I will give the creative team credit for the imagery in the scene, which does look great. Brian Haberlin uses striking shades of white, blue, and red to create the sequence, and Greg Capullo is no slouch at drawing evil foxes, bats, owls, and snakes. I believe this is also the first time we’ve seen Spawn in the snow, and any break from the series’ standard back alleys is welcome. But, wow, is this dumb. Spawn’s receiving power-ups from evil woodland creatures, and the story is so deadpan in the delivery, you can’t help but to laugh.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

SPAWN #40-#41, January 1996

Fugitives

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Tony Daniel (pencils), Kevin Conrad (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Todd Broeker w/Roy Young (colors)

Summary: Agents working for the Curse booby-trap Spawn’s throne, shocking him into unconsciousness. He awakens inside Curse’s laboratory, where he discovers he’s being dissected. Meanwhile, Cy-Gor is hunted in the woods by locals who believe he’s Bigfoot. After rescuing a boy from a careening SUV, Cy-Gor disappears.

Spawntinuity: This is the first time “Rat City” is used to describe the specific area where Spawn resides in the alleys. Curse now has tiny, cloaked followers with cybernetic body parts and giant teeth. Wanda and Terry have a two-page conversation, recapping their ongoing storyline and confirming that Wanda doesn’t believe Spawn is Al Simmons.

Production Note: Many of the pages clearly aren’t lettered by Tom Orzechowski, but the other letterer isn’t credited. Orzechowski's one-time assistant, Lois Buhalis, who also letters a future issue, is probably the letterer.

Todd Talk: McFarlane uses the letters page to map out the future of the series: A new angel (and lawsuit) named Tiffany will appear soon. Next, Spawn will return to Hell in #50 and stay for around ten issues. Post #60, a new character who knows Spawn’s identity will appear as Spawn uses his CIA training and goes on covert missions. Beginning in #70, Spawn will begin to learn more about his homeless friends, which will take the book to issue #80. McFarlane, perhaps, is overestimating his audience’s attention span.

Spawn Stuff: A letter to the McFarlane Toys “Endcap” column wants to know how many Angela action figures shipped without the painted-on panties.

Review: After a break for the Christmas story, we’re back to one of the alternating Tony Daniel issues. Cy-Gor has returned, and now he’s in an exhilarating battle with local hunters who think he’s Bigfoot. Surely a full third of the issue should be devoted to this excitement. As for the title’s star, he’s suckered into a trap by the Curse, which actually does end with a nice cliffhanger. Spawn’s strapped to a table, severed from his cloak and chains, and his legs are missing. That’s certainly a teaser for the next issue. However, before getting there, McFarlane spends forever on showing Curse’s followers (who were originally homeless people, but now appear to be Muppets or something) trying to move his body. This filler, added with the Cy-Gor filler, and the Wanda and Terry filler, leaves you with around six pages of actual story.


Fugitives Part Two

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin, J.D. Smith, & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Curse continues his dissection of Spawn, hoping to learn the secrets of Necroplasm. When he leaves the room, Spawn snatches a scalpel and amputates his right hand. He mentally commands the hand to punch the containment tank that holds his uniform. The uniform escapes through a tiny fracture and absorbs Spawn’s severed limbs. Reformed by his uniform, Spawn thinks he has the advantage, until Curse presses the lab’s self-destruct button. Meanwhile, Cy-Gor is pursued by hunters while Violator reminds Jason Wynn of their deal.

Spawntinuity: During his dissection, Spawn flashes back to a jungle mission, which is apparently supposed to be in Vietnam (the narrative captions place him at twenty-one years old, which would easily put Spawn in his mid ‘40s, even in 1995). After Al Simmons’ friend is killed, he’s rescued by another soldier nicknamed “Saigon.”

Review: The first page of this issue opens with an extended prose sequence that is at least four hundred words long. I question if the entire first issue of this series had that many words. Once McFarlane decided his book was too much of a “quick read,” he certainly threw himself into the opposite direction. I wouldn’t mind the verbiage if it added something to the story, but instead McFarlane just drones on with another long-winded recap of Spawn’s origin. Other recycled material in this issue includes more pages of Cy-Gor tearing through rural America, and Violator discussing his deal with Jason Wynn. Wanda & Terry and Sam & Twitch’s never-ending subplots apparently have the issue off.

Despite the stretches of boredom, the main story really is fun. McFarlane actually takes advantage of Spawn’s supernatural origins and does something with him that you can’t do with Batman or Spider-Man. Those wimpy heroes can’t survive a vivisection, while Spawn’s x-treme enough to cut off his own hand and get the job done (“Spawn’s hand had done its job” is an actual narrative caption in this issue, by the way). Watching Spawn’s hand run around like Thing from the Addams Family is honestly entertaining, and it’s the type of lunacy we don’t see often enough in McFarlane’s humorless stories. Spawn’s costume is also given something to do, as it escapes from captivity and consumes Curse’s lab in black ink. This is obviously a Venom riff, but I guess McFarlane deserves some license to go back to the idea. Even Curse has a somewhat credible motive, as he now wants to study what exactly Spawn is made of and use it in his war against the devil. He’s still nuts, but it’s less of the generic “ka-raaazy” that’s supposed to justify any ridiculous action, and more of a coherent motive. If the story had less Cy-Gor and more progression of the ongoing storylines, this would be a pretty solid issue.

SPAWN #39 - December 1995

Noel

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff, Quinn Supplee, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Greggy, a young child in a poor neighborhood, is left alone on Christmas Eve after his mother leaves for work and his sister sneaks out. Spawn drops on to his rooftop while pursuing a gang of thieves. Spawn ties the criminals together and flies off, leaving Greggy to believe he’s Santa Claus. Greggy discovers a leftover bundle of cash, which he gives to his mother as a Christmas present.

Spawntinuity: The inside front cover now has a recap paragraph, which actually describes Spawn as having “no purpose” and “spinning aimlessly.” See, kids, you’re supposed to be bored with Spawn’s utter lack of ambition. The text also spells Cagliostro as “Cogliostro” (which becomes the official spelling even though it’s a misspelling of the real-life name that inspired Gaiman in the first place) for the first time.

Review: I guess even atheist creators with satanic anti-heroes feel the need for the occasional Christmas story. I wonder if this was an idea McFarlane had left over from his Spider-Man days, since there’s a pretty glaring hole in the story -- Spawn doesn’t chase criminals. He’s never shown the slightest interest in stopping bank robbers or car thieves. After he rescued a woman from a gang rape in the first issue, he even reflected that he didn’t know why he bothered since he isn’t a hero. Spawn does rescue the local homeless from the disproportionate number of teenagers who hang around the alleys and set bums on fire, but that’s because they’re allegedly his friends. Unless the area bums have neatly wrapped bundles of cash lying around, this is probably money stolen from the bank. Having Spawn fly for the first time on-panel, just to do a riff on Santa and his reindeer, is another odd decision on McFarlane’s part. A Spawn Christmas story does have potential, though, when you consider Christmas commemorates the birth of God’s son, and Spawn was created to fight a war against God. There’s a story in there, but McFarlane seems more interested in doing another human-interest story about the poor. At the very least, you do get a sense for how much Todd likes kids, and this a break from the series’ usual austerity.

Monday, November 8, 2010

SPAWN/WILDC.A.T.S #1-#4, January-April 1996

Devilday

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Scott Clark (pencils), Sal Regla (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), LeeAnn Clark & Olyoptics (colors)

As Alan Moore was wrapping up his Spawn work for Todd McFarlane in 1995, he also accepted Jim Lee’s offer to write WildC.A.T.s. Moore’s monthly stints on WildC.A.T.s and Supreme lead me to believe he would’ve taken over the Spawn regular series if McFarlane had asked him, but apparently McFarlane felt confident enough in his own writing abilities to keep going with the title. The addition of Tom Orzechowski and Olyoptics does bring a style reminiscent of Spawn to the miniseries, and artist Scott Clark seems better suited for McFarlane’s hero than he does the assorted WildC.A.T.s. Clark doesn’t seem able to draw a variety of body types or facial expressions, which you’d think would be a prerequisite for a team book. Spawn wears a mask, and has fairly standard “big, but not too big” comic book anatomy that’s usually covered with a cape anyway, so Clark’s interpretation is pretty close to McFarlane and Capullo’s.

The series opens with Spawn breaking into the WildC.A.T.s' headquarters, demanding a rematch with Grifter and Zealot. The two ‘Cats have no idea what he’s talking about, which is a cue for Future Grifter and Future Zealot to enter. As Spawn is quick to point out, Future Grifter is quite old, and Future Zealot is black. They’re from the future, and they’re on a mission to kill Spawn before he steals a magic talisman and becomes the evil Ipsissimus. Future Zealot can’t bring herself to kill Spawn, so instead everyone agrees to travel to the future and stop the Evil Future Spawn; not to be confused with the McFarlane Toys action figure, Future Spawn. Apparently Void can travel through time, which enables the cast to journey to the predictably dystopian future. I don’t think it’s a big secret that the WildC.A.T.s are at least a little inspired by the X-Men, so perhaps Moore is intentionally doing a riff on one of the more famous X-tropes. The very first page of the story details the origin of the mystic talisman, and I can’t decide if it’s supposed to be Claremontian or just Moore giving another magic lecture:


Credits: Alan Moore (story), Scott Clark (pencils), Sal Regla (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), LeeAnn Clark & Olyoptics (colors)

In the future, the cast is introduced to “WildC.A.T.s 2015,” the future resistance team. Not surprisingly, some of the ‘Cats are dead (Warblade and Voodoo), and some are maimed (the robot Spartan is a disembodied head and Zealot’s legs are missing). Violator’s brothers act as Ipsissimus’ henchmen, and a few Wildstorm characters make cameos, either as servants of Ipsissimus or as a part of the resistance. The united teams take Spawn to the Chrysler Building, which is now renamed “the Red House.” The script treats this as a shocking reveal, but the art simply shows the Chrysler Building with a few of Spawn’s costume elements added to it. It’s not even wearing a giant, impractical cape. This issue is mainly dedicated to showing off the future world, so very few new ideas or plot elements are introduced. Someone asks Spawn how he feels about fighting against his future self, and his response is essentially, “It’s alright.” The fact that Spawn doesn’t seem overly shocked or concerned that this is what he’s going to turn into actually says a lot about the character. He knows he’s already made a deal with a devil, he knows he’s capable of brutal violence…all he’s lacking at the moment is any ambition. The self-awareness that he might just turn out this way, and his cold acceptance of it, does exploit one of the unique aspects of the character.


Credits: Alan Moore (story), Scott Clark (pencils), Sal Regla (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), LeeAnn Clark & Olyoptics (colors)

The cast splits up, explores Ipsissimus’ lair, and encounters a few more future versions of the Wildstorm characters. Most of the females are in a harem, some of the Gen 13 cast has joined Ipsissimus, and WildC.A.T. Maul is now a brainless servant of the evil Future Spawn. Although a version of Spawn is the main villain, the miniseries has definitely leaned heavily over to the Wildstorm side so far, which automatically made it less interesting for me as a teenager. Even when Violator shows up, he just makes a brief cameo before Zealot’s older, future counterpart reduces him to bone. Unless an editor insisted, I really have no idea why Moore dedicated so much of the story to showing us how horrible the future is for Gen 13, the Black Razors, the Coda, and all of the other Wildstorm characters that the industry has abandoned.


Credits: Alan Moore (story), Scott Clark (pencils), Sal Regla w/Chris Carlson (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), LeeAnn Clark & Olyoptics (colors)

Finally, Spawn actually has something to do, outside of setting up a story that mainly involves other characters. The heroes confront Ipsissimus, and Spawn promptly steals the amulet that started the mess. Unfortunately, Ipsissimus reveals that the amulet merely gave Spawn the courage and drive to fight against Malebolgia and steal his powers. The amulet itself is powerless. The WildC.A.T.s realize that Ipsissimus still has all of his memories as Spawn, so they’ve actually allowed an unwitting plant on their team all along. Future Zealot takes Spawn back to the present, and suddenly realizes that he still has the amulet he stole from Ipsissimus.

See? They’ve created the time loop that allowed Spawn to get the amulet in the first place, and while the amulet doesn’t grant him power, it does corrupt him into a power-hungry monster. However, the day is saved when Spawn accidentally knocks Future Zealot’s mask off, and realizes she’s a grown Cyan. Apparently, Moore wrote this under the impression that Cyan actually was Spawn’s daughter, which is why she couldn’t bring herself to kill him in the first issue. A few lines had to be rewritten to acknowledge Cyan is the daughter “who could have been” Spawn’s, but the content is really the same. With time altered, the future ceases to exist and the amulet disappears in-between the cracks of time and space.

Moore hasn’t invented any variations on the time travel story, but when he isn’t dwelling on how horrible and nasty the future is, he does create some entertaining time loops and conundrums for the heroes to explore. I wish the rest of the series explored the intricacies of time travel, or made some attempt to humanize Spawn. As much as I enjoyed this specific issue, getting here was a bit of a chore in places. And maybe doing a time travel story really wasn’t a nod towards the X-Men, but what am I supposed to think when the miniseries ends with a “corrupted” hero turning on his teammates? Dystopian futures and tainted heroes fighting against their allies? Was this really a coincidence?

Friday, November 5, 2010

WOLVERINE: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST #3 - February 1998

Chain Reactions

Credits: John Francis Moore (plot), Joe Casey (script), Joe Bennett (penciler), Jon Holdredge, Wellington Diaz, Scott Hanna, & Walden Wong (inks), Comicraft’s Emerson Miranda (letters), Monica Megerdoomian (colors)

Summary: Amiko rescues Wolverine from drowning in the dam, revealing that she’s been working against Shinobi Shaw all along. Baron Zemo arrives with the captive Synch and Leech, who join the fight with the remaining X-Men. Scarlet Witch is freed, but Magneto stays behind to fight Shinobi. As the dam collapses, Magneto’s legs are crushed by falling debris. He’s rescued by Wolverine, and is later able to comfort the wounded Scarlet Witch on her deathbed. As the team regroups in India, Wolverine submits Amiko for membership.

Continuity Notes: The Sentinels shown flying overhead on the opening splash page are Zero Tolerance models. Amiko reveals that Silver Samurai, who later became Emperor of Japan, arranged for her to fake her death to protect her from Wolverine’s enemies. Magneto’s crippling is used to justify him using a wheelchair in the original “Days of Future Past” arc.

Review: Man, this one went downhill fast. Apparently, Shinobi Shaw’s plan really has been to cause random chaos, which would apparently pave the way for his newly formed Council of the Chosen (the Inner Circle’s original name). So, he’s using Scarlet Witch’s powers to destroy the environment because he wants to rule over a devastated planet? These are motivations on the level of a Captain Planet villain. If the story played up the idea that he’s targeting the Sentinels, and perhaps the X-Men shouldn’t stop him, you have fertile ground for a story. Instead, we’re left with a generically crazy villain. And why would Amiko fight Wolverine, and poison him, if she was working against Shaw the entire time?

This really is a rush job, as if the four inkers weren’t an obvious clue. Charlotte Jones, who had a fairly lengthy introduction last issue, has just disappeared in-between issues. Previously, Baron Zemo offered Synch and Leech some type of deal if they revealed Wolverine’s location, but that entire plot point is just ignored this issue. I guess the idea is that Zemo has betrayed both the Sentinels and the X-Men to follow Shaw, but the execution is sloppy. It’s a shame the finale had to live down to the low expectations of blatant cash-grab comics. (“Let’s do a Days of Future Past mini...that’s also a Wolverine mini!”) I’d like to think this wasn’t the ending Moore had in mind when beginning the story, or perhaps something was lost between the scripting and penciling, because this is quite a letdown.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

X-MAN: ALL SAINTS DAY - November 1997


Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Comicraft (letters), Lee Ann Garner (colors)

Summary: X-Man befriends Jerome, a terminally ill boy, in the park. Hearing word of a Transylvanian doctor with the secret to eternal life, X-Man travels by train to meet her. He encounters Sebastian and Teresa, Interpol agents secretly posing as newlyweds in need of Dr. Cindy von Mort’s help. X-Man accompanies them to von Mort’s castle, where he soon discovers von Mort’s true identity as the eternal Absynthia. Teresa is killed by Absynthia’s followers, Augustine and Boniface, after discovering one of her kidnap victims. Sebastian helps X-Man defeat Absynthia, but his grief over Teresa’s death pushes him into suicide. With Absynthia in custody, X-Man returns home to spend time with Jerome. He realizes they must make the most of the time they have left.

Continuity Notes: Absynthia reveals that she was a countess obsessed with cheating death after losing her young husband. After giving up, Diablo appeared, offering her a suicide potion that would reunite her with her husband. Instead, the potion granted her eternal life. She now recruits followers to aid her vendetta against Diablo.

Production Notes: Forty-eight pages. Prestige format. Six dollars.

I Love the ‘90s: X-Man also exclaims “NOT!” while taunting Absynthia. Was “NOT!” really still around in 1997?

Review: X-Man got a six-dollar prestige format book? X-Man?! I’ll give the creative team credit for producing a story that’s miles above the average quality of the monthly series, but I don’t think “X-Man” and “prestige” should ever be used in the same sentence. Ben Raab writes the character for what I believe is the first time, bringing a different interpretation than what we’ve seen in the regular series. Raab writes X-Man as a prototypical teenage hero; he isn’t snotty or irrational, but instead fairly good-natured and willing to help the random people he comes across. X-Man doesn’t usually speak in slang (which makes sense, as he comes from a hellish alternate reality overseen by a genocidal maniac), but he now sounds like a cast member on an early WB drama, to the point that he even refers to little Jerome as “m’man” or “m’man J.” This is slightly annoying the first time it happens, but Raab doesn’t let up. Every time X-Man thinks about the sick little kid, it’s “m’man needs help” or “I hope m’man J is able to live a long life.” I can understand Raab’s desire to make X-Man more likeable, but it’s pretty obnoxious.

Ideally, a prestige format story has something to say about the lead character, which puts Raab in an awkward position since the best things to say about X-Man probably came out of Peter Wisdom’s insults when Warren Ellis used the character in X-Man. Raab picks up on the idea that Absynthia is experimenting on her kidnap victims, much as Sinister experimented on X-Man in his reality, which inspires X-Man to stop her. Jerome’s terminal illness also parallels X-Man’s “burnout” problem, which will allegedly kill him before he’s eighteen. The story doesn’t spend a lot of time with the concept, but pairing him with a kid who’s also dealing with his own mortality is a solid idea. X-Man learns that he isn’t the only person with problems, and can perhaps learn some lessons that don’t involve giant explosions. If only the regular series explored this type of a story. Although the monthly title has mostly ignored X-Man’s feelings on death, it is a major theme of this story. Absynthia was cheated out of death, X-Man wants to fight death on Jerome’s behalf, Teresa is murdered, and Sebastian joins her in death; submitting to the desire that caused Absynthia’s dilemma in the first place. Just think, Marvel hired someone to write an incidental X-Man one-shot, and he actually put thought and effort into it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WOLVERINE: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST #2 - January 1998

Uneasy Alliances

Credits: John Francis Moore (plot), Joe Casey (script), Joe Bennett (penciler), Jon Holdredge & Wellington Diaz (inks), Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne (letters), Monica Megerdoomian’s ColorGraphix (colors)

Summary: In India, Magneto and Jubilee meet Emma Frost, who repairs the damage Psylocke inflicted on Wolverine’s psyche. Psylocke senses Wolverine’s consciousness has returned, so Midnight is sent to assassinate him. The heroes invade the Nevada facility where Scarlet Witch, whose powers are being used to create ecological havoc, is being held. Wolverine is ambushed by Midnight, who stabs him with a poisoned blade. She reveals her identity as Amiko. Meanwhile in Portland, Synch, Leech, and Charlotte Jones are caught by Baron Zemo and his Thunderbolt troops.

Continuity Notes: Jubilee is still angry with Emma after abandoning her, for unrevealed reasons, with the rest of Generation X. Charlotte Jones is Archangel’s old girlfriend from the X-Factor days, who’s now helping the mutant resistance. A narrative caption reveals Quicksilver is dead. Angel is also dead, which apparently lead Psylocke into villainy.

Review: Joe Casey said in an early interview that he was brought in as scripter at the last minute after he submitted his first Cable script, so it’s obvious some deadline issues have emerged. Joe Bennett, who now has two inkers, is also looking a little rushed. I suspected this would be a problem last issue after seeing his one-panel portrayal of Psylocke, and this issue confirms it -- Bennett seems unwilling or unable to actually age the major characters. Emma Frost and Psylocke are still babes, and the passage of time now means that Jubilee, of course, has the standard comics female anatomy. The only characters that actually have aged are the X-Men members John Byrne drew in the original story, who appear in a brief cameo set in the South Bronx Internment Camp. If Colossus is gray at the temples, surely Psylocke can have a wrinkle or two.

The actual story is still entertaining; Moore has the heroes travel across the world and interact with various characters, showcasing different aspects of the future that weren’t explored in the original storyline. The Amiko revelation wasn’t hard to see coming after Psylocke disclosed Midnight had a past with Wolverine, but this is a good use of the character, and one way to make the story more Wolverine-centric. And perhaps the creators did have some small insight into the actual future -- while on his rescue mission, Wolverine dons a costume that’s remarkably similar to the one he wore in the early ‘00s (the one Marvel wanted him to wear in all of his appearances, back when someone in the corporate ladder was hung up on “synergy”).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

SABRETOOTH: BACK TO NATURE- January 1998

Homicidal Tendencies

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Frank Teran (art), Comicraft (letters & design), Shannon Blanchard (colors)

Summary: Wild Child is informed that his former girlfriend, Lori, has been murdered by sibling serial killers Yuri and Komarovsky “Chop Chop” Yevgraf. Sabretooth knows them from his past, and talks Wild Child into traveling to Canada with him. Stealing Yuri’s pain medication, Sabretooth is able to ignore his restraint collar and kill him. Meanwhile, Wild Child rescues Lori’s sister Leisl from Chop Chop in a warehouse. Despite Wild Child’s insistence on bringing him in alive, Chop Chop accidentally impales himself while trying to escape. Sabretooth returns home with Wild Child, content with his supply of Yuri’s painkillers.

Continuity Notes: This takes place during Sabretooth’s days as a compulsory member of X-Factor, although it was published a few months after he broke free of his collar. Sabretooth actually does mention pills have helped him remove the collar in X-Factor #136, so this was worked out in advance.

Production Note: This is a $5.99, forty-eight page, prestige format one-shot.

I Love the‘90s: Sabretooth remarks that he “pulled a Tyson” after biting Yuri.

Review: Here we go, another six-dollar one-shot that could’ve easily served as an X-Men Unlimited issue. I wouldn’t call this a bad comic at all, but over ten years later, the cover price still seems outrageous. You could argue that the story has some significance for setting up Sabretooth’s escape from X-Factor, but the fact that the character left the team several months before this comic was published kinda kills the drama. The tone is appropriately gritty for a Sabretooth comic, and Frank Teran’s art, which falls in-between Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson, certainly fits the mood better than the Jeff Matsuda X-Factor issues that precede the story.

Jorge Gonzalez has a decent handle on Sabretooth, portraying him as suitably nasty, but still throwing in a few curveballs, like his brief warning to Leisl not to let revenge consume her. Sabretooth could’ve just as easily killed the woman as give her advice, which might come across as inconsistent characterization under a lot of writers, but Gonzalez is able to make the scene feel somewhat credible. In the end, we learn that Sabretooth’s partial motive for tagging along was to push Wild Child into giving in to his animal temptations, but mainly to score some painkillers from Yuri, who he happens to know is an addict. Having Sabretooth take vicodin to get around his collar’s “retaliatory blasts” is pretty clever, although I doubt all of the dope in the world would be enough to deaden the pain we’ve seen the collar dish out in the past. Surely Sabretooth’s healing factor is stronger than any prescription drug, anyway. Maybe the drug material would’ve been a little much for the regular priced, Code Approved comics, and I did find myself enjoying the comic, but I still refuse to believe this story warrants the six-dollar format.

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