Wednesday, June 30, 2010

X-FACTOR #138-#139, October-November 1997



Fear Walks amongst Us

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Mel Rubi (penciler), Rob Hunter, Steve Moncuse, & Allen Martinez, Hack Shack Studios (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: Sabretooth kills a mutant fortune teller the Hound program sent him to recruit. Stone, a fellow Hound, warns Sabretooth to obey orders, but Sabretooth ignores him. Later, he’s confronted by Omega Red. Omega Red wants to bargain Sabretooth for the Carbonadium Synthesizer, but Sabretooth fights him off. Soon, Sabretooth visits Stone and warns him that he now works alone. Meanwhile, Mystique disguises herself as the missing wife of Senator Brickman. She’s “rescued” and brought into the Brickman home.

Continuity Notes: Omega Red claims he’s made a deal with Elana Ivanova to trade Sabretooth for the Carbonadium Synthesizer. This is continued in the Maverick series. Mystique previously impersonated Mallory Brickman in Uncanny X-Men #359. I believe this is the first indication that Mrs. Brickman has actually been missing during all of this time. During a brief subplot scene, Dark Beast asks Havok why he trusts him. Havok mentally declares that he’s just using Dark Beast so that he can get close enough to him to stop his genetic experiments.

Review: So, apparently, the government’s Hound program, which appears to be run by rabid anti-mutant zealots, recruits mutants for unclear purposes. Sabretooth declares that he’ll “show them who’s really in charge of this operation” by killing the mutants he’s supposed to recruit. The response of his fellow Hound is essentially, “Aw, gee, cut that out.” Why is Sabretooth going along with the illusion that he’s a part of their team in the first place? If these mutants are so important to the Hound program, why aren’t they stopping him from killing them? Why doesn’t the Hound program keep Sabretooth on a leash, and use something like the collar he wore while in X-Factor? What did the Hound program get out of placing Sabretooth in X-Factor for so long, and why did they think he’d be a good recruit in the first place?

Ignoring this nonsense, there is at least an effort to retcon Havok’s move to villainy. Now, we’re supposed to believe that Havok was only bringing Dark Beast close to him in order to stop his experiments. I don’t believe for a second this was the plan all along, since they teamed up a year ago by this point and this is the first indication Havok has problems working with Dark Beast. Aside from that, Havok’s heel turn was supposed be confirmed when he nearly killed the love of his life with a plasma blast, shortly before he tried to kill everyone on that commercial airliner. At any rate, it does look like one of the many mistakes of this era is being corrected.

The Enemy Within

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Duncan Rouleau (penciler), Art Thibert, Whitney McFarland, & Hack Shack Studios (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: Federal agent Vargas investigates the return of Mallory Brickman. Mystique, as Brickman, claims that Sabretooth kept her prisoner for months. When Vargas asks too many questions, Mystique uses her influence to have him stationed in the Arctic Circle. The doctor who removes her inhibitor implant also dies in a mysterious car crash. Elsewhere, Val Cooper and Major Atkinson investigate the disappearance of Sabretooth and Mystique, as X-Factor recovers at the Brotherhood’s base, and Havok and Ever probe the Dark Beast’s experiments.

Continuity Notes: Mystique is sending federal agents after Sabertooth as punishment for…something he’s done to Trevor Chase (apparently Trevor is missing, but it was Sabretooth’s superiors in the Hound program that wanted him; Sabretooth shouldn’t have him). X-Factor is still recuperating after Sabretooth’s attack. Polaris collapses when she tries to use her powers. Ever, the character that only appeared once before with the Brotherhood, returns. He claims that he’s “escaped the yoke of McCoy’s mind control.” Ever originally showed up in group shots of Gene Nation, even though he never actually appeared with them in a story. Mackie might be trying to reconcile his two allegiances, since Gene Nation had ties to Dark Beast.

Review: Perhaps someone made a conscious decision to make X-Factor more coherent, since this is the second issue in a row that focuses mainly on one character and downplays the ongoing conspiracies. The book still doesn’t make a lot of sense, though. Apparently, Mystique is a good enough mimic to fool Mallory Brickman’s husband, but her precocious eight-year-old daughter is just clever enough to ask the right questions and make Mystique uncomfortable. Seeing Mystique lie her way out of trouble and work around the investigation adds some intrigue, but the execution is a bit off. We’re also supposed to believe that Mystique has casually killed the doctor that removed the government’s inhibitor chip (she claims now that Sabretooth implanted it as a tracking device) to cover her tracks. Is this the same Mystique that appeared to be going straight again a few issues ago? Are we supposed to buy into a budding romance between Forge and Mystique if she’s still killing people? Duncan Rouleau debuts as penciler. He’s much more subdued here than in the Juggernaut one-shot, but he’s still doing over-the-top cartooning. While some of his figures work as an odd Marc Silvestri/Jeff Matsuda blend, much of this is just too distorted for my tastes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

EXCALIBUR #111-#112, August-September 1997

Broken Vows

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Rob Stotz (breakdowns), Scott Koblish (inker), Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: In Hong Kong, Excalibur visits Rory Campbell, who now works for Sebastian Shaw’s corporation. Kitty is suddenly possessed by the spirit of Ogun and attacks the team. Peter Wisdom threatens to kill Kitty if that’s what it takes to free her of Ogun. Rather than risk the death of his host body, Ogun’s spirit exits Kitty. Later, while on a Shaw Industries jet to Paris, Meggan and Colossus learn the pilot has strapped explosives to his chest. The jet explodes.

Continuity Notes: The team is in Hong Kong following their adventure in China with the Dragons of the Crimson Dawn. Captain Britain has left the team in-between issues following the loss of his powers. Rory Campbell uses cybernetic devices to walk now, which Nightcrawler fears is another sign he’s becoming Ahab. Colossus finally tells Nightcrawler about Amanda Sefton’s abrupt departure from Muir Island. Peter Wisdom checks his e-mail and learns his contact Jardine has been killed.

Review: A lot of subplots, and a main story that only consists of Kitty Pryde getting possessed and fighting the team for a few pages. The action sequences might’ve elevated the issue, but the art is ugly enough during the conversation scenes. The fight scene is even harder to look at. Not all of Raab’s ideas are bad, and I’m glad he hasn’t forgotten the Rory Campbell storyline, but the dialogue is so stilted it’s hard to care that much about anything that’s going on. His foreign accents, especially Peter Wisdom’s, are especially awkward.


Survival

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Pete Woods (pencils), Scott Koblish (inker), Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Meggan attempts to use her elemental powers to keep the jet’s debris afloat, but a mysterious force blocks her powers. Colossus shelters her as they crash into the Swiss Alps. After carrying the frail Meggan for hours, he encounters a hi-tech installation. Meanwhile, in Germany, Nightcrawler tags along as Peter Wisdom investigates the murder of his friend Jardine. Soon, they’re confronted by a mystery figure. On Muir Island, Douglock begins to develop feelings for Wolfsbane.

I Love the ‘90s: The Chemical Brothers song “Block Rockin’ Beats” is blaring in a club Nightcrawler and Wisdom visit.

Review: At least Pete Woods drew this one. I’m not sure if any thread qualifies as the main story this issue, although Colossus and Meggan trudging through the snow seems to take up a slight majority of the pages. After backtracking on the previous issue’s cliffhanger (somehow a portion of the jet survived the massive explosion that consumed the entire craft), we’re treated to several pages of Colossus trying to land a jet, and then walking through the Alps for hours. This isn’t very exciting, and it’s pretty obvious that this is leading towards a High Evolutionary story, so I wish Raab would get on with it. I personally like subplot-heavy comics, but this is the second issue in a row that feels too thin. I do like the pairing of Nightcrawler and Wisdom, and the brief acknowledgment of Rahne’s fears over Moira’s sickness, though.

Friday, June 25, 2010

GENERATION X ‘97 - December 1997

The Wages of Despair

Credits: Elliot S! Maggin (writer), Dan Fraga (penciler), Lary Stucker (inker), Comicraft (letters), Don Skinner (colors). Based on a novel by Scott Lobdell & Elliot S! Maggin

Summary: Chamber notices that his Gen X teammates are behaving strangely. They’re cold, distant, and increasingly lifeless. Images of the Hellions, Emma Frost’s previous team, are also appearing around the campus. Chamber hallucinates that his body is back to normal and Emma is recruiting him at the London branch of the Hellfire Club. In reality, M and Husk are taking his body to the Biosphere, where D’Spayre is waiting. Chamber fights back, expelling D’Spayre in a nexus of psionic energy. Chamber appears lost in the nexus, but he forces his body to rematerialize. His body briefly returns to its pre-mutant state, but he’s unable to maintain his original form. Soon, his face and chest are again consumed with psionic energy.

Review: Marvel licensed a plethora of paperback novels in the ‘90s, but I didn’t know until now that one of them was adapted into an actual comic. I can’t speak for the quality of the original novel (which is never named in the issue), but the adaptation has major problems. Since Chamber is the narrator, the only one unaffected by D’Spayre, and ultimately the hero, it’s obvious this is a Chamber story. However, I have no idea what the story’s supposed to be saying about him. The idea is floated that the other characters are all acting as depressed as Chamber normally acts, but really, they’re acting like zombies. They don’t even have pupils after a certain point. If the story’s about Chamber’s feelings regarding his teammates, we’re never offered any deep insight into what he really thinks about them. If the story is about him yearning for a whole body again, the idea’s barely explored. An entire story about Chamber getting his body back and losing it again has potential, but the comic deals with this in literally one page.

Perhaps the novel had a clearer theme, along with an actual explanation for what D’Spayre wants, and a fleshed out arc for Skin and Sync (who leave the school when things get weird, eat lunch, and then go back only to be immediately captured). Dan Fraga, fresh from Extreme Studios, provides the art. It seems as if he’s moved on to a Jim Lee impersonation, and while he shows a little personality on a few pages, the characters usually end up with the same generic faces and bodies throughout the issue.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

CABLE #48-#49, November-December 1997

Hellfire Hunt Part One - Dirty Secrets

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Ladronn (penciler), Juan Vlasco (inker), Comicraft (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: Tabloid journalist Irene Merryweather is ordered to dig up dirt on Sebastian Shaw, a millionaire who always manages to stay out of the news. Only one of her contacts isn’t afraid to speak to her. While visiting the contact, Irene discovers his body. She races to the Inquiring Eye offices and discovers her coworkers are also dead. She’s chased by Hellfire Club soldiers until she’s rescued by Cable.

Continuity Notes: The story acts as if Shaw’s membership in the Hellfire Club is a big secret, which doesn’t seem right. Shaw’s membership in the criminal Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club is the secret, but not his role in the respected society association.

Review: James Robinson has been on this title for months, but this is his first opportunity to begin telling his own stories. Cable was a rather aimless character by this point, so it looks like Robinson is going the “introduce a normal p.o.v. character” route. This allows the book to turn the focus away from Cable for a while, and bring in another cast member that can see him through the eyes of potential new readers. Irene’s alright as far as those characters go, although I think Robinson overplays her desire to be a Daily Bugle reporter. I get that she’s unhappy as a tabloid journalist and wants to move to a legitimate newspaper, but having her deify a fictional newspaper on every other page is tiresome. I imagine the Daily Bugle’s reputation in the Marvel Universe is more along the lines of “that newspaper with a few good reporters, a decent sports page, and a bizarre obsession with Spider-Man” anyway.

Ladronn becomes the regular artist with this issue, marking the start of a lengthy stint. He sticks around until 1999, when Marvel decides to replace him with Rob Liefeld. Marvel’s decision to replace a Kirby/Moebius artiste with…well, Liefeld, was one of things that drove internet fans crazy in the final days of the Bob Harras era. The critically acclaimed creative team of James Robinson and Ladronn was assembled by editor Mark Powers, around the same time he oversaw the addition of Steve Seagle and Joe Kelly to the main X-books. He also tried to get Warren Ellis to stay onboard Wolverine, despite Ellis publicly announcing he was only doing four issues. Powers was supposed to be the good X-editor. Less than a year later, he was known as a notorious re-writer and general cause of “creative differences” on the X-books. I don’t pretend to know what was really happening behind-the-scenes, but his sudden drop in popularity was interesting.

Hellfire Hunt Part Two - Weary Knights & Shabby Paladins

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Ladronn (penciler), Juan Vlasco & Scott Hanna (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: Cable explains to Irene that Shaw’s associate, Donald Pierce, has ordered a hit on both of them. At Cable’s command, a diversion is created in Algeria that lures Pierce away from his Boston home. Cable and Irene infiltrate Pierce’s home, where they’re confronted by Hellfire soldiers and hired gun Paladin. After they’re defeated by Cable, Hellfire agent Taft swallows poison. Cable connects with his dying mind and learns of the “Tomorrow Agenda.” The Hellfire Club wants to kill Apocalypse and harness his power. Pierce’s paranoia that Irene would learn of the plan, and his personal hatred of Cable, lead him to order their deaths.

Continuity Notes: Cable explains to Irene that he first met Pierce years ago in Algeria. With the aid of Iron Man and Nick Fury (maybe it’s Fury, it’s hard to tell), he stopped Pierce from overtaking the country. A narrative caption later claims that Cable was responsible for Pierce’s initial transformation into a cyborg.

Cable reveals to Irene that he has a group of followers called “the Believers” who have pledged to help him save the future. Two of them generate the hologram of Cable in Algeria that distracts Pierce.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has average yearly sales at 133,041 and the most recent issue selling 117,368 copies.

Review: Robinson continues to develop the Hellfire storyline, while also establishing a new status quo. Cable tells Irene that he wants her to be his chronicler, so that people can learn from his life. In a way, this works as an excuse to keep Irene involved in the storylines. On the other hand, it reinforces the ridiculous “Cable-messiah” nonsense I could never stand. (Yes, Cable, your battles with lower-tier X-villains and that disease that turns you into a cyborg must be chronicled for future generations.) Robinson also continues the character’s proud history of retcons, as we learn he previously teamed up with a few Marvel heroes to fight Pierce sometime in the past. I dislike the way Cable was retroactively inserted into so many characters’ backstories, but this doesn’t really bother me. If he ran into Moira MacTaggert, I guess it makes as much sense for him to encounter Iron Man. Donald Pierce was introduced as a cyborg and I don’t think anyone ever explained how he got that way, so revealing it was Cable isn’t a total cheat.

Seeing Ladronn’s interpretation of the Marvel Universe is fun, and he does a great job with Boston’s architecture. You don’t get the sense he’s just tracing photographs; it seems like he genuinely loves drawing every brick of these buildings. As much as I enjoy Ladronn’s take on Paladin, though, I have no idea why he’s in this story. Charitably, you could say he didn’t know the Hellfire Club is secretly criminal, but I get the sense he’s just a random character Robinson pulled out of the Marvel Handbook.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WOLVERINE ‘97 - November 1997

Heart of the Beast

Credits: John Ostrander & Joe Edkin (writers), Leonardo Manco (art), Comicraft (letters), Shannon Blanchard (colors)

Summary: In his past as a secret agent, Wolverine helped Russian scientist Dimitri Suhkarov and his daughter Viktoria escape the USSR. Although Wolverine escaped with Viktoria, Russian agent Volk intercepted the rescue mission and killed Dimitri. Today, Viktoria works for the Canadian Secret Service. She informs Wolverine that Volk has been sent to kill him, and that KGB experiments have given him the ability to morph into a wolf-creature. Soon, Volk has kidnapped Viktoria and goaded Wolverine into following him to Russia. During their fight, Volk is finally pushed into a true wolf form. Content as an animal, he abandons the fight and joins a wolf pack. Wolverine realizes that this is what Volk wanted all along, but Viktoria is still adamant about finding Volk and killing him.

Continuity Notes: Viktoria is listed as a member of Xavier’s Mutant Underground, although that doesn’t play a role in the story. Government agent Bowser, a character from this wondrous era of X-Factor, hires Volk to kill Wolverine in retaliation for his role in ending Operation: Zero Tolerance. However, Bowser’s Hound program and OZT were two separate entities (at least, that’s the impression I get when trying to decipher X-Factor)

Review: So, what do you do when you’re writing a one-off Wolverine story? Either you tell a story about his past as a secret agent, or you manipulate circumstances so that Wolverine is forced to fight his animal rage. If you’re doing a double-sized book, it’s possible to work them both in. There’s nothing new here, but the execution is competent, and Leonardo Manco, who’s perfectly suited for Wolverine, is drawing it. Volk’s clearly designed to be an evil doppelganger of Wolverine, and while I think he serves his role in the story, the creators have made the mistake of giving him blonde hair and facial features virtually identical to Sabretooth. On paper, Volk might be a wolf-man, but in the published comic, he just looks like Sabretooth in civilian clothes.

The twist at the end of the story reveals that Volk never really wanted to fight Wolverine; he just wanted an opponent good enough to push him over the edge so that he can finally become a wolf. Wolverine’s willing to let him go (even though he killed Dimitri Suhkarov, and a friend of Wolverine’s during another encounter) because he feels there’s no need to punish an animal. Viktoria refuses to forgive, though, and goes into the woods to (somehow) track down a wolf that used to be human. Viktoria’s obviously supposed to represent the darker side of human nature, as Wolverine muses that perhaps he’s misread his berserker rages all of these years. He says that an animal only kills for survival, while humans act out of anger and revenge. Yes, it’s his human nature he’s been fighting all along. I don’t necessarily buy the reasoning (animals only kill for survival, literally, every time?), but the closing monologue is well written, and the twist makes the story feel less generic.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

X-FORCE #71-#72, November-December 1997


Previously in
X-Force…
Warpath was summoned by the mysterious Sledge to retrieve the Vanisher from a strange dimension. In exchange, Sledge gave Warpath info on reporter Michael Whitecloud, the one man who knows the story behind the murder of Warpath’s tribe. Meanwhile, following the events of Operation: Zero Tolerance, the remaining members of X-Force refused to assume false identities and parted ways with Cable.

Destination: Unknown

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Team X (inks), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins & Digital Chameleon (colors)

Summary: X-Force is stranded in Minerva, Ohio after their car breaks down. While waiting for it to be fixed, they sneak into a hotel room for the night. In the parking lot, they rescue young Richie Alegria from armed men. Richie opens a suitcase filled with money and offers X-Force a job. Meanwhile, Domino learns that Zero Tolerance implanted a non-removable device in her brain that slows her reaction times.

Continuity Notes: Warpath has retrieved the Vanisher for Sledge, and been picked up by X-Force, in-between issues. While eating at a diner, Sunspot learns his credit cards have been cut off due to a lawsuit against his father’s estate.

I Love the ‘90s: Meltdown complains that she hasn’t seen Talk Soup in weeks.

Review: After finishing off a few of Jeph Loeb’s storylines, and dealing with a crossover, John Francis Moore begins to make the book his own. Based on interviews and some of the other comics he’s written, I know that Moore has an issue with authority figures and an appreciation for Beat writers like Jack Kerouac. Not surprisingly, once the crossover is done, he has the cast break away from their mentor, go on a road trip, and throws in a few counter-culture references (I assume Louise and Scooter, the two hippies who pick up X-Force in a van, are a nod towards some ‘60s thing I know nothing about). Moore’s already proven he has a handle on the characters, and he now places them in a situation Xavier’s brood rarely deal with -- they’re broke. The question of how they’re supposed to travel across country (or what their destination even is) makes for a fun setup and immediately separates the title from the other X-books.

Lies & Deception

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inks), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: In Chicago, Sunspot, Meltdown, and Moonstar protect Richie Alegria from the mob. When they learn the mob wants Richie to repay them, and that he lied about the mob targeting his father, they’re tempted to leave. Richie convinces them to stick around for a few days. Meanwhile, Siryn and Warpath travel to Nebraska to meet Michael Whitecloud. Whitecloud reveals to Warpath that a genetics program named Project: Stepladder is responsible for their tribe’s murder. He claims that proof of Stepladder’s involvement is in a bus locker in Kansas. Suddenly, Whitecloud’s head violently explodes. Elsewhere, Domino stops a bank robbery, as a shadowy figure follows X-Force’s trail in Ohio.

Continuity Notes: Michael Whitecloud says that he learned of Project: Stepladder from radiologist Lucius DeWitt. Whitecloud offered to keep him, and a Stepladder test subject named Gordon Thorpe, at his Camp Verde home. While Whitecloud was in town one night, Stepladder destroyed Camp Verde and planted evidence implicating the Hellfire Club.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has average sales for the year at 155,261 with the most recent issue selling 131,282 copies.

I Love the ‘90s: Two of the Chicago mobsters are arguing over which actor is the best NYPD Blue star. Their boss comments that every goon has to have an opinion “ever since that stupid Tarantino movie.”

Review: Splitting the cast up tends to be John Francis Moore’s take on team comics, and he’s already working on four plotlines at the same time (the mob story, Warpath’s investigation into the Camp Verde massacre, Domino’s continuing subplot, and now there’s a shadowy figure that’s trailing the team). As I’ve mentioned before, I like it when a lot of things are going on at the same time, and a team comic gives you a unique opportunity to explore various plot threads without making the title too schizophrenic. On their own, none of these threads are overwhelmingly interesting, but when they’re added together, the book takes on a real momentum. The new characters, Michael Whitecloud and Richie Alegria, might just be there to help set stories into place, but Moore also manages to give them enough personality to feel real. Whitecloud is a drunken mess after years on the run from Stepladder, but rather than skipping over the obvious, Moore has the character muse “I don’t know which stereotype I became, the alcoholic reporter or the drunk Indian.” Richie Alegria was initially the mob victim, but this issue we learn he’s a lying con artist, who’s good enough to keep X-Force around even when they know he’s probably running a scam. Moore also gets credit for not only resolving the long-forgotten mystery of the Camp Verde massacre, but for using it as the catalyst for new material.

Monday, June 21, 2010

MAVERICK #1 - September 1997

Overture

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

Summary: Maverick begins to succumb to the Legacy Virus, but Elena Ivanova uses her psychic powers to keep him alive. After going into cardiac arrest, he explodes with energy and begins to feel the virus go into remission. They’re soon attacked by Sickle and Hammer, agents of Russian mobster Ivan "the Terrible" Pushkin. They escape to the home of Maverick’s friend, and technology supplier, Isabel Ferguson. While Maverick has a phone conversation with Chris Bradley, Pushkin and his men invade Isabel’s home.

Continuity Notes: Elena Ivanova is the woman from the Maverick one-shot; the Larry Hama character obsessed with killing Sabretooth in retaliation for her mother’s death. Chris Bradley is the mutant teen with the Legacy Virus Maverick met in Unlimited #15. While near-death, Maverick has a vision of a woman named Ginetta, wearing a wedding dress. Maverick, who claims that Weapon X experiments might be responsible for his remission, has not only regained his energy absorption powers, but has also developed new ones. He can melt objects by touching them, punch with super strength, and shoot concussive force if he’s absorbed enough energy.

Review: It’s 1997, and you know what the kids want. A spin-off starring a long-ignored character from Jim Lee’s X-Men run -- Maverick, the secret agent who wears bright yellow body armor. Due to Maverick’s past with Wolverine he became a de facto character for Larry Hama, who wrote the original Maverick one-shot, to handle. However, editor Kelly Corvese seemed to be under the impression that only Howard Mackie and Jorge Gonzalez could write his books, so the most obvious choice wasn’t given the job. He could’ve flipped a coin and chosen Mackie, though, so I guess we should be thankful Gonzalez was hired.

Gonzalez seems to be going for a James Bond riff (the story’s dedicated to Ian Fleming), so it’s odd that he not only revives Maverick’s powers, but even gives him new ones. A really cool secret agent wouldn’t need super powers, and since Maverick has never actually used his powers in his previous appearances, it’s not as if he’s closely associated with mutant abilities anyway. However, I do understand why Gonzalez has Maverick go into remission, even if the scene is a little clumsy, since he’s a lot less credible as an action lead if he’s terminally ill. The Legacy Virus is what connects Maverick to Chris Bradley, and Maverick has no idea how to tell him that he’s now in remission. It’s kind of a cowardly move on Maverick’s part, although it seems to go along with what little we know of him so far. Initially a generic tough guy, Maverick turned into a self-pitying crybaby after his Legacy Virus infection, so maybe Gonzalez is trying to make an intentional point about his character here. Gonzalez also introduces the idea that Maverick feels he’s undeserving of a second chance after the actions of his past, which is one way to tie human emotions on to the rather cheap “remission” copout.

If 1997 was an odd time for a Maverick ongoing, it was certainly a strange time to introduce Russian villains named Hammer and Sickle. They’re working for the mafia and not any Communists (as far as we know), but they’re still rather ridiculous. Maverick’s also fought Omega Red on more than one occasion by this point, which is probably more than enough reason to lay off the Russians a bit. As weak as the villains are, and as stilted as Gonzalez’s script can be, this is a decent start for a new series. The relationships between the characters are clear, past continuity is used logically, and Gonzalez keeps things moving. By the end of the first issue, Maverick’s out of his deathbed, practicing his new powers, and working on his second encounter with the arc’s villains. No decompression here. Jim Cheung’s somewhat abstract artwork looks nice, as he brings a lot of energy to the pages and gives Maverick a stylized look that works without any Jim Lee influence.

Friday, June 18, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #33-#34, December 1987-January 1988

What’s the Matter with Mommy?

Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Cindy Martin (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

One of the text pieces in the original “Kraven’s Last Hunt” trade acknowledges the negative reaction some fans had to the crossover. Some vendors didn’t carry all of the Spidey books, which meant readers in those towns missed out on important chapters in the storyline. The spider-office of this era responded accordingly, and used a different approach for future crossovers (basically, each individual chapter of an event was a somewhat complete story that didn’t end with a cliffhanger). The Mad Dog Ward storyline, however, ran immediately after “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” before editorial had a chance to respond to the complaints. Since Web was still without a regular creative team, and Peter David had left Spectacular by this point, I imagine running another crossover was at least partially motivated by the need to give the spinoffs material for another month.

I’ve only read one chapter of this crossover, and one issue of the sequel that ran in Spider-Man in the early ‘90s, so I can’t attest to its overall quality. This individual chapter has Ann Nocenti penning an even more anxiety-ridden Peter Parker than usual. He worries about everything…if he’s disappointing Aunt May, if he does any good as Spider-Man, if he’s secretly angry with Mary Jane for leaving for a modeling assignment, if he’s subconsciously sabotaging himself by selling Spider-Man photos to the Bugle, etc. He runs into two kids on the street whose mother has just been institutionalized. He can’t stop worrying about them either, so he investigates “what’s the matter with mommy?” It turns out the woman is married to one of the Kingpin’s men, and that she’s been institutionalized in the Mad Dog Ward, a ward secretly controlled by the Kingpin. It’s a suitable opening for the storyline, one that combines Nocenti’s interest in a twisted domestic life with traditional Spider-Man action. Of course, another downside of crossover arcs are the issues you miss when you win a series’ lot on eBay, so I don’t know how this turned out. They really should’ve considered this back in 1987.

Fourth and Eternity

Credits: Jim Shooter (writer), Sal Buscema (penciler), Vince Colletta (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

And, now we’re back to lame inventory stories. Jim Shooter was out as editor-in-chief by this point, so I wonder just how long this story sat around collecting dust before publication. This is a ridiculous story that has Spider-Man playing a game of football that saves the entire universe. The setup has an alien obsessed with gambling intruding on the Watcher’s home with a weapon he stole from Galactus. The Watcher offers to let him go if he hands over the dangerous weapon, and the alien promises to go along if he loses a bet. They decide to bet on a football game Spidey is playing with a group of inner-city kids. If you think the universe is saved, and that Spider-Man teaches the kids life lessons through sports, you get no points whatsoever because of course that’s what happened in this stupid comic book. The various conditions the kids place on Spider-Man, including tying one arm behind his back, before he can play with them are cute, though. Two “sophisticated” storylines in a row, and then an issue devoted to Spider-Man playing a game of football that settles a cosmic bet. The ‘80s were a crazy time for comics.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #31-#32, October-November 1987

The Coffin/Resurrection

Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Zeck (penciler), Bob McLeod (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson/Bob Sharen/Mike Zeck (colorists)

The Plot: Kraven tracks down Spider-Man and shoots him with jungle potions. Spider-Man is buried alive for two weeks before he finds the inner strength to dig out of his grave. He reunites with Mary Jane, but soon leaves to find Kraven, who has usurped Spider-Man’s identity.

The Subplots: Spider-Man attends a memorial for Joe Face, a hood he often used as an informant.

Web of Continuity: Aside from the fact that Spidey’s gotten married since last issue, in-between issues #31 and #32, Kraven takes on Spider-Man’s identity and targets Vermin as an opponent.

Forever Young: Following the deaths of Ned Leeds and Joe Face, Peter is contemplating his own mortality.

Production Note: Yes, Marvel did have a colorist named Janet Jackson in the ‘80s.

Review: “Kraven’s Last Hunt” probably wasn’t the first crossover within a group of titles, but I believe it’s the first time a storyline intended for one book was broken up into every title in a line. In the original reprint collection of “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” editor Jim Salicrup explains that having Spidey buried alive in a six-month storyline while he was fighting the Lizard or Dr. Octopus in the spinoff titles would’ve killed the dramatic impact. Aside from preserving the integrity of DeMatteis and Zeck’s story, spreading the arc out over the entire line brought more cohesion to the titles, and reaffirmed Web as a book that actually mattered.

I first read this storyline in that reprint, which I believe was called a “graphic novel collection” because it was oversized, recolored by Mike Zeck, and printed on extremely nice paper. Reading “Kraven’s Last Hunt” now in its original format, with crappy flexographic printing and ads for Oxy zit cream and Johnson Smith Company novelty items, is a little disconcerting (that “Meatloaf and the Marvel Universe Aid the Special Olympics” ad is also on one of the back covers). The text pieces in the collection explain that the story was originally conceived as a response to DC’s continuity revamps in the 1980s. Marvel’s executive editor Mark Gruenwald coined the phrase, “We don’t have to revamp our characters, we got them right the first time,” an attitude that apparently inspired then-editor Jim Owsley and J. M. DeMatteis to conceive a story with existing characters and continuity that stood on its own merits. Karven, at the time, was widely viewed as a Silver Age relic; suited best as cannon fodder for someone like the Scourge. Using one of the goofiest Spider-Man villains in a consciously “serious” story was a batty idea, and I’m still amazed it worked so well.

The standard Marvel ethic of utility over art is abandoned, as thought balloons are replaced with narrative captions and editorial notes are banished. Instead, we have repeating images, “silent” sequences, literary references, heavy symbolism, and just a hint of decompression. It’s obvious the story is going out of its way for that ‘80s sophistication prize, but I don’t think it ever crosses over into true pretentiousness. Kraven burying Spider-Man alive and then conducting a brutal imitation of him is the grim hook of the story, but DeMatteis has more depth than that. The story examines life far more than it dwells on death. Peter has started a new life with Mary Jane, but he’s begun to question his own mortality and identity as Spider-Man. Kraven has cheated death with his jungle potions, but has nothing to live for, outside of his obsession with Spider-Man. In the end, Kraven’s destroyed by his own pettiness, while Spider-Man is inspired by his love for Mary Jane to overcome his fears and embrace life. This isn’t a story about their marriage per se, but it uses the marriage brilliantly. I can’t imagine a scene that has Spider-Man’s love for his elderly aunt inspiring him to dig himself out of his grave having the same impact. The art is also beautiful, but that’s to be expected when Mike Zeck is involved (why doesn’t he do interiors more often?). I doubt the original reprint version of “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is the one Marvel publishes now, but I hope the revised colors he did for the collection are still being used.

LINK: Dave Campbell looked into the future and knew I would be linking to his old blog twice in one post. His review of this storyline is worth reading.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #3 - 1987

Credits: Danny Fingeroth & Roger Stern (writers), with numerous artists, colorists, and letterers

The 1987 Amazing Spider-Man annual told the story of Peter and Mary Jane’s wedding. The Spectacular Spider-Man annual detailed their honeymoon. What does Web bring us this year? A series of profiles on Spider-Man’s supporting cast, along with a gallery of Spidey’s “forgotten foes.” Most of these losers are one-time Marvel Team-Up cannon fodder; although Black Cat is thrown in there for some reason (maybe the reasoning is that people “forgot” she was originally a villain). These aren’t even Handbook entries, they’re pin-ups of throwaways like Moondark with a few lines of text thrown in. Some of these villains are so ridiculous I’m happy to see them for the first time, but I still can’t believe Marvel published an annual that consisted entirely of annual back-ups. It’s obvious the books were having scheduling difficulties at the time, but Web really caught the worst of it. Web’s already endured months of fill-ins, and now this? The abundance of filler sends readers the message that this book is a low, low priority, which is a reputation you don’t want the third book in your franchise to receive. Couldn’t the filler annual be assigned to Spectacular, so at least the honeymoon story could show up here?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #28-#30, July-September 1987

Torch Bearing

Credits: Bob Layton (writer), Steve Geiger (penciler), Vince Colletta (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

Spider-Man heads to LA to retrieve a damaged web-shooter, which he left on the Statue of Liberty’s torch, along with his clothes and ID. The torch is being used on a Tournament of Roses float, and unbeknownst to Spidey, a group of yuppie terrorists wants to abduct it to draw attention to the plight of avocado farmers. The story grows more ridiculous from there, as a sunburned Spidey chases the runaway semi-truck carrying the torch throughout Los Angeles. It’s one of those stories that hinges on Spider-Man having insanely bad luck at every turn, but it never grows tiresome. The most entertaining fill-in so far.




Mask

Credits: James C. Owsley (writer), Steve Geiger (penciler), Art Nichols (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

Jim Owsley was apparently supposed to take over the title with this issue, but he says editorial interference lead to his early departure. This is a sequel to Owsley’s Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot, which I’ve never read, but I know is controversial amongst Spidey fans. The story also ties in to Owsley’s “Gang War” arc in Amazing, which has a pretty low reputation. If you’re not familiar with all of the continuity, the issue reads as a bit of a mess. Ned Leeds, believed to be the Hobgoblin, is dead. His partner, Richard Fisk (the Rose), now wants to drop the criminal identity he created, but is still sending his men on shady missions. Fisk’s pal, Alfredo (sporting a ponytail and giant ‘80s sunglasses) runs afoul of the new Hobgoblin, but Spider-Man saves his life. In the midst of all of this, Wolverine shows up to check on Spider-Man after the events of Spider-Man vs. Wolverine. A multicultural street gang picks a fight with them, as Wolverine tries to convince Peter that he can’t quit as Spider-Man, which I guess was still an ongoing storyline in the other books. It’s disjointed to say the least, but finally something is happening in this book.


The Wages of Sin

Credits: James C. Owsley (writer), Steve Geiger (penciler), Abel/Baker/Fern/Geiger/Williams (inkers), Rick Parker (letterer), George Roussos (colorist)

No Spider-Man this issue, just a story dedicated to Richard Fisk recapping the past few years of Amazing Spider-Man storylines…I mean, confessing his sins to a priest. The big draw of this issue is the combined origin stories of the Rose and Hobgoblin, although the Hobgoblin material is essentially negated when Roger Stern later returns and reveals Ned Leeds was never the real Hobgoblin. I know a lot of people hate the idea of Ned Leeds as Hobgoblin, but it seems like the story does a credible job of tying the revelation into all of the established clues of the time (I was too young to be following Amazing during those years, so I imagine my perspective is different from that of many fans, though). After recapping around thirty comic books, Richard Fisk confesses to accidentally killing a police officer while in his Rose identity. His guilt leads him to drop any pretense that he’s just pretending to be a criminal. On the final page, he appears in the office of his father, the Kingpin, offering to work for him. I’m sure this was all a setup for something, but Kingpin became a de facto Daredevil character in this era, and Richard Fisk was forgotten for years. Next issue: Spidey’s married and Kraven wants to kill him.

Monday, June 14, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #25-#27, April 1987-June 1987

After an abrupt change in editorial, and the movement of David Michelinie to Amazing, Web of Spider-Man returns to a stretch of aimlessness. Most of these issues are simply filler and aren’t that interesting, so I’ll go through them as quickly as possible with capsule reviews.


Beware the Stalker from the Stars!

Credits: Larry Lieber (story & pencils), Vince Colletta (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Julianna Ferriter (colorist)

Well, just look at that cover. You know you’re in for a classic Spidey story, right? This is another Larry Lieber inventory story, which has Spider-Man locating an alien weapon that’s landed on Earth. With the help of a pacifist alien that’s followed it here, Spidey defeats the green guy on the cover. Also, Aunt May gets mugged, but Spidey manages to retrieve her broach…from the same crook who initially found this alien plot device. What are the odds? Lieber’s previous fill-in was tolerable, but this one should’ve stayed in the drawer. For the record, the Statement of Ownership has yearly sales at 264,500 with the most recent issue selling 239,225 copies.



“Nothing to Fear…”

Credits: Stefan Petrucha (plot), Len Kaminski (script), Tom Morgan (pencils), Mike Eposito (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), George Roussos (colorist)

It’s an “untold tale of Spidey’s past,” back from the days of his red and blue costume, and that apartment with the cigar store Indian and Star Wars poster. It’s hard to tell if this sat around for years, or if the story was intentionally set in the past (I’m not sure if any of these creators were working for Marvel in the early ‘80s). The cover was clearly pulled from inventory, though. There’s a nice hook for this story, as soft-touch Spider-Man falls for a crook’s lie and lets him go, only to later realize he stole $50,000 from a famine relief charity. The crook soon seeks Spidey’s help, as his older brother targets him after his sibling tried to pin all of their crimes on him. Exposure to chemicals has caused Spidey’s spider-sense to go haywire, but he decides he must keep going, of course. Tom Morgan draws a fine Romita-style Spider-Man. He goes on to design the U.S. Agent costume in Captain America, and then undergoes a ‘90s makeover in Iron Man and the 2099 books, I believe.


Scared To Succeed!

Credits: Dwight Jon Zimmerman (story), Dave Simons (art), Rick Parker (letterer), Marie Severin (colorist)

There isn’t an editorial footnote placing this story in the past, although it not only features Spidey in his red and blues, but Dave Simons goes out of his way to draw the costume Ditko-style. Notice that the spider-legs on Spidey’s chest emblem are all pointing down, which was a huge no-no by the 1980s. Peter also has a 1985 calendar on his wall, so I’m assuming this was another one pulled from the drawer. In this issue, Spider-Man faces Headhunter, a white knockoff of Mr. T (not to be confused with New Mutants villain Axe, the other Marvel Universe Mr. T clone). Headhunter works for the mysterious ESI corporation, which promises to help executives get ahead in business. The only catch is their contract, which demands things like the CEO’s firstborn child if their business slumps. Spidey spends the issue protecting an auto CEO and his son from Headhunter, who literally keeps the heads of his victims in jars on display (McFarlane should’ve revived him for his grim ‘n gritty Spider-Man series). It’s as silly as it sounds, but I guess we’re lucky this random inventory issue didn’t have any aliens in it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #23- #24, February-March 1987

Slip Slydin’ Away!

Credits: David Michelinie (plot), Len Kaminski (script), Jim Fern (penciler), Vince Colletta (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Slyde targets businesses with connections to jailed crimelord, Rockwell. Peter Parker happens to come across Slyde as he flees the scene of a robbery. As Spider-Man, he’s unable to stop Slyde, but he does nab a briefcase full of money from Slyde.

The Subplots: On their flight home from Ireland, Joy Mercado berates Peter for his “deal” with Spider-Man and calls him a lazy photojournalist. Aunt May asks Peter to join her on a senior’s junket in Atlantic City, which is where the Vulture shows up on the final page.

Web of Continuity: Slyde was “just another chemical engineer searching for the perfect non-stick coating for cookware” before his firm was bought out by Rockwell, which somehow inspired him to create a non-stick suit and steal from the mob.

*See _________ For Details: Spidey sees an ad in the Daily Bugle classifies from Silver Sable, asking to meet Spider-Man. A footnote points towards Amazing Spider-Man #281. Peter also casually mentions that he plans on quitting as Spider-Man, a subplot from the other books that hasn’t been mentioned at all in this title so far.

Commercial Break: Spider-Man faces the Sogmaster in his desperate search for the missing Cap’n Crunch.

Review: It’s Slyde, the villain so lame the ‘90s Spider-Man cartoon didn’t want him (even Big Wheel got a storyline…if Slyde showed up, I’ve blocked out the memory). Slyde’s just there to provide the action for a few pages, and even Spider-Man seems so bored by him he can’t be bothered to chase after him when he escapes. The real goal of this issue seems to be the resolution of the Joy Mercado subplot, along with a few efforts to place Web in-continuity with the other Spider-titles.

After months of teasing that Joy knows Peter’s secret, Michelinie specifies which secret Joy knew. Going way back to the Stan Lee/John Romita days, it’s revealed that Joy knows about Peter’s arrangement with Spider-Man, which has Spider-Man notifying Peter of his activities and splitting the profits of the photos with Peter. That’s a lie Peter devised after he stupidly confessed to being Spider-Man (because he had the flu of all things), but Joy’s heard the rumor and believes it’s true. I don’t know if Michelinie was always going in that direction, but it is a twist you don’t see coming. She thinks Peter is lazy and unprofessional, and there’s really nothing he can say in his defense. This is the best scene in the issue, partly because it takes place after Peter angrily follows Joy into the airplane bathroom. After they emerge together, a flight attendant gives the Comics Code approved response of “I don’t think I want to know…” Given that Peter actually thought he had a shot with Joy, the scene is even more amusing.

High Stakes

Credits: David Michelinie (plot), Len Kaminski (script), Del Barras (penciler), Vince Colletta (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter joins Aunt May on a seniors’ trip to Atlantic City. There, the Vulture is trying to sell a new plastic that can rig games to casino owner Owen Briosky. Briosky balks at the Vulture’s million-dollar price; the Vulture responds by attacking his casino. Peter sees the commotion, changes into Spider-Man, and faces the Vulture. Their fight is interrupted by the Hobgoblin, an associate of the mob-connected Briosky, who chases Vulture away.

The Subplots: After saving one of the Vulture’s victims from falling off a roof, someone grabs Spider-Man’s ankle and tries to pull him inside the building. Spidey wonders if this is related to the earlier train station incident, since his spider-sense wasn’t triggered. I assume this was supposed to be another early Venom cameo.

Review: If I were Peter Parker, I would wonder why my friends and family always drag me to places where supervillains happen to be nearby. This is Michelinie’s final issue, and it looks like no one’s pretending this book is supposed to be about Peter traveling for Now Magazine by this point. Web is about to enter fill-in mode, and even if this was plotted by the departing writer, it still feels like filler. Perhaps the lack of subplots makes the story feel so thin. I can understand Michelinie avoiding any new subplots in his last issue, but there’s nothing to distract from the dull main story. The only real twist in the issue comes from the Hobgoblin’s cameo, which unfortunately comes across as a last-minute addition. His entrance comes out of nowhere, isn’t played for any dramatic impact, and he’s gone just a few pages later. Adding the Hobgoblin to the mix could’ve been a lot of fun; I could see an entire issue dedicated to Spider-Man getting caught in-between a Hobgoblin/Vulture fight. Instead, he’s just tossed in to give the story a quickie ending.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #20 - #22, November 1986 - January 1987

Little Wars!

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Marc Silvestri (penciler), Rick Parker (letterer), (inker and colorist are unknown)

The Plot: Peter and Joy arrive in England to cover Margaret Thatcher’s speech on terrorism. At the airport, IRA Provos stage a terrorist attack. After Peter helps the police capture the terrorists, he investigates IRA activities in London. Spider-Man rounds up another group of terrorists and stops an attack at Thatcher’s speech. Peter and Joy decide to travel to Ireland to investigate more IRA activity.

The Subplots: Joy shows some romantic interest in Peter, but pulls away. Her actions hint that she still suspects he’s Spider-Man. Both Peter and Joy uncover the phrase “Red Hand” while investigating the IRA. Joy is also looking into Roxxon’s practices in the UK.

Production Note: There are no credits listed in this issue. Comics.org doesn't know the full credits, either.

I Love the ‘80s: Well, the IRA…Margaret Thatcher…

Creative Differences: The IRA, or at least someone claiming to represent them, didn’t take kindly to this story. Christopher Priest says on his website that someone called in a bomb threat to Marvel’s offices after this story ran, which he thinks might’ve contributed to his removal as Spider-editor.

Review: It’s more of the “gritty realism” that showed up in many of the Spidey titles in the mid-eighties (although I think Tom DeFalco mostly stayed away from it in the main book). If seeing Spider-Man take on a real-life terrorist group isn’t enough for you, the story ends with the revelation that a little girl injured in the bombings has just died. See, Web is different from the other books because Spidey fights fewer supervillains and there’s always the chance that a kid will die. In hindsight, this is perhaps trying a little too hard to be serious and important, but it’s still a well-crafted action tale. Michelinie throws in a few “Spidey moments,” such as his guilt over worrying about his secret identity while civilians are dying, and his growing relationship with Joy Mercado. It seems like Michelinie was going with the angle that Joy knows Peter’s Spider-Man, respects him for it and is perhaps attracted to him because of his selflessness, but is reluctant to get involved with a superhero. Of course, it’s hard to discern where any of this was going, since virtually all of these storylines are either dropped or carried over much later into Amazing Spider-Man.

The Enemy Unknown!

Credits: Larry Lieber (script/pencils), Vince Colletta (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: While on the boat ride to Ireland, Peter reflects on a previous adventure. Gymnast Ron Corbett blamed Spider-Man for his father’s death, after he was killed by robbers fleeing from Spider-Man. Ron and his brother decided to ruin Spider-Man’s reputation by having Ron impersonate him and commit crimes. Spider-Man tracked the brothers to the Roosevelt Island Tram, where he publically defeated Ron and restored his reputation. After Spider-Man saved Ron’s brother from falling, Ron forgave him.

The Subplots: None.

I Love the ‘80s: The mayor of New York, Ed Koch, makes a cameo.

Review: Are you kidding me? In the middle of an “important” terrorism storyline, we get an inventory story by Stan Lee’s brother? The feeble setup has Peter sneezing on the boat, then reflecting on the last time he had a cold. Coincidentally, a new Spider-Man emerged that week and began a crime spree. It’s not as hokey as the cover would have you believe, but this is clearly a reminder of the days when shipping late wasn’t an option and something had to go in-between those pages, even if it had been sitting in a drawer for a while.

Profit of Doom

Credits: Jim Shooter (plot), Len Kaminski (script), Marc Silvestri (penciler), Art Nichols (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter and Joy arrive in Belfast and are shocked to discover the city in ruins. After evading another terrorist attack, they meet a local named Liam. He reveals that terrorists with no discernable agenda, the Black Hoods, have arrived in Belfast. Liam suspects they’re connected to his brother Rory’s disappearance. Soon, Peter and Joy are kidnapped by the Black Hoods. They learn that Roxxon created the group to foment fear in the populace, which will help the corporation sell a new weapon to the British government. Liam helps Peter and Joy escape, but is shocked to discover the Black Hood he killed in battle was his brother. After Roxxon’s plot is exposed, Roxxon kills the executive in charge of the project.

The Subplots: Aunt May is afraid her boarders are abandoning her. I don’t think this goes anywhere, since the boarders stick around until 1990, when she asks them to move out.

Production Note: For the second time in three issues, the credits are missing. There actually is a significant change in the credits this month, as this would’ve been Jim Salicrup’s first credited issue as editor. The regular writer is also gone this month. A future issue reveals the credits for this issue in the letters page.

Review: Wow, this storyline started with a “ripped from the headlines” IRA plot, diverged for an inventory issue, then concluded with a new, fictional terrorist group sponsored by the all-purpose evil corporation, Roxxon. And what of the mysterious “Red Hand” that was teased in the first chapter? It’s been forgotten, except for a brief mention as Peter remarks that he’s heard of a “Red Hand” but not the Black Hoods. Plus, that teaser scene with Solo was never resolved. Obviously, something happened behind-the-scenes over the course of this arc. I don’t know if it was the phony bomb threat that inspired Marvel to backtrack, but this is clearly not where this storyline was supposed to go.

Last issue’s inventory story was probably needed to cover more than just a blown deadline; it reads as if Big Jim Shooter stepped in to show the incompetents how to write a story that doesn't inspire death threats. The first chapter did have Joy investigating Roxxon, so maybe they were always supposed to work with this story, but I can’t imagine this was the conclusion Michelinie had in mind. Because everything has to be resolved in twenty-three pages, the plot is rushed and the conclusion feels anti-climatic. Peter and Joy barely even do any investigative reporting, as Roxxon conveniently kidnaps them and their helpful executive spells out their sinister plot in fine detail. Shooter doesn’t have a lot of options if he wants to work all of this into one issue, but the scene is rather ridiculous. And, c’mon, this is clearly a copout. We start with the IRA, and end up with made-up villains and their giant death ray? That’s lame.

Monday, June 7, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #18-#19, September-October 1986

The Longest Road!

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Marc Silvestri (penciler), Kyle Baker (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: In Appalachia, Spider-Man narrowly avoids the mine explosion but his costume and web-shooters are ruined. He hitchhikes towards New York penniless, and is eventually arrested for stealing food. A corrupt cop sends him on a work detail to a millionaire’s mansion, where the prisoners are hunted for sport. After stopping the madman, the deputy allows Peter to leave. He eventually makes his way to New York, and tells his story to Mary Jane.

The Subplots: With his original costume ruined, Peter declares that he’ll stick with the black costume. While waiting for a train in New York, a mystery figure evades Peter’s spider-sense and pushes him on to the tracks. Years later, we learn this was Venom.

I Love the ‘80s: The Spider-Man editorial office now has a computer for keeping track of freelancers and using a modem to call them.

Review: Following the Appalachia storyline, Peter is now stuck in “Backwoods, USA” virtually naked and penniless on his way back to New York. It’s a great premise to start from, and thankfully Michelinie goes through all of the obvious ideas in one issue and doesn’t stretch things out. My favorite moment is Peter stealing a blueberry pie out of desperation, only to be caught by the police a few minutes later. He has no idea how to panhandle, the only trucker willing to pick him up talks all night and keeps him awake, his spider-sense prevents him from sleeping on his prison cot, he swallows bugs while riding on top of a semi-truck, and of course, Peter has to fight off prison rape while in the county jail. If these events were stretched over several months, the story would get old fast, but cramming all of the misery into one issue makes it fun.

Humbug!

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Marc Silvestri (penciler), Bob McLeod (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Nel Yomtov (colorist)

The Plot: Humbug debuts, committing robberies to pay for his entomology research. The professor’s incompetence almost gets him killed, and makes him an easy victory for Spider-Man.

The Subplots: Spider-Man is enticing criminals to attack him in order to test his spider-sense after the previous issue. Vigilante Solo kills a group of terrorists in Germany. Aunt May is unsure of her relationship with Nathan, because she feels he’s grown cold-hearted. Jonah Jameson is sending Peter and Joy Mercado on an assignment to cover terrorist activities in Europe.

Web of Continuity: Solo makes a cameo, although he doesn’t make a full appearance until Michelinie’s Amazing Spider-Man run in 1989. Since this story is supposed to be leading to Spider-Man facing terrorism in Europe, and Solo’s gimmick is “While I live, terror dies!” he was probably supposed to show up in the next issue.

*See _________ For Details: Peter mentions that Flash Thomspon is on the run from the law, and Aunt May and her boarders were recently held captive in their home. A footnote points toward recent Amazing and Spectacular issues.

Review: This is the first appearance of joke villain Humbug, although I’m sure this issue was supposed to be significant as the debut of Marvel’s latest psychotically violent, gun toting vigilante Solo. Since Solo isn’t seen again until years later, it seems like there’s still a decent amount of behind-the-scenes chaos going on. Several pages are also devoted to Spidey testing his spider-sense, which ties into Venom’s first appearance, another story that isn’t resolved until years later in another title. Humbug is a goofy reminder of the days when you can get away with a character like this, and I’m guessing he’s either been killed off in a giant crossover or only shown up in Dan Slott comics in recent years (cripes, looking at Wiki, apparently he's been decapitated). He’s not a classic, but he kills a few pages rather well as the growing subplots continue to develop.


Friday, June 4, 2010

SPAWN #26 - December 1994

The Dark

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Neil Gaiman (story assist, uncredited), Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo (art), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letterer), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Fred Barnett’s adopted daughter is returned to foster care after he is no longer able to provide for her. One of his friends is a homeless associate of Spawn’s. Fred asks Spawn for help, but he scoffs at the idea of creating money. Cagliostro visits Spawn and reviews his current predicament, as Malebolgia speaks to his followers in Hell. Suddenly, Spawn is transported to Heaven, where the angel Gabrielle asks questions about his encounter with Angela. She returns him to the alleys after they drink wine and talk. Later, Spawn learns that Fred committed suicide.

Spawntinuity: Cagliostro (referred to as “the Count” for most of the issue) returns for the first time since #9. His giddy personality is gone, as he now does what he’ll do for the next hundred issues -- drop ominous hints about a future apocalypse and tease Spawn about a possible “better way.” Gabrielle claims that Heaven is a “dimensional umbrella,” and Cagliostro says that Heaven is kept in different time continuums. Before Spawn learns about Fred’s fate, he boasts to his friends that Violator actually kept his word and returned his powers after Violator #3.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: Neil Gaiman wrote at least three pages of this issue (it has to be the Spawn/Gabrielle scene). Gaiman says the material came from a partial script McFarlane used, and as a result of his lawsuit, McFarlane apparently has to credit Gaiman as co-writer whenever this story is reprinted.

Review: One part human-interest story, one part origin recap, and one part tease for the Angela miniseries. At least it’s not another toy commercial. McFarlane’s verbose narration has now turned its sights on the horrors of greed, in an issue later cited in a lawsuit against him for stealing intellectual property. As puffed up as Fred’s story is (his wife, who apparently couldn’t be bothered with life insurance, is dead and he hasn’t found work in a year), McFarlane avoids some of the clich├ęs in his monologue. As the narration reminds us, we’re all taught that money is evil and greed is destructive, yet lack of this “evil” substance prevents Fred from caring for his adoptive daughter. The state doesn’t care about how much he loves her while the girl lives in a rodent-infested hovel. Spawn’s response to a request to create money is humorous, as he points out that he’s homeless too and wouldn’t be in the alleys if he knew how to make money. Spawn’s dismissal of Fred is very harsh, though, and despite the final page splash of him brooding, he never learns anything from this episode. Spawn goes on to treat his homeless friends poorly, and eventually shuts himself off from society completely. This might’ve been a long-form character arc on McFarlane’s part, but it really only succeeded in making Spawn more unlikable.

Since McFarlane decided not to do an action piece this issue, there’s some space to fill. Once again, “every issue is someone’s first,” so we have another recap of Spawn’s origin. McFarlane tries to add a new angle to it by presenting it from Malebolgia’s point of view, as he brags to his followers about how badly he’s screwed over the latest Spawn. Picking up on Gaiman’s previous work, the story reiterates that if Spawn isn’t successfully trained on Earth, he’ll become food for Malebolgia’s servants in Hell. Through Malebolgia, McFarlane lays out the four options before Spawn, although I can’t tell the difference between a few of them. One is to do nothing, although his powers will eventually fade and he’ll return to Hell. The second is to become a hero, which will force him to act on his instincts and send more souls to Hell. The third is to “choose the path of darkness,” which will send deserving souls to Hell. The fourth is to “despair, and perish through carelessness or desire.” That’s virtually identical to the first option, and I have no idea how options two or three are supposed to be different (I guess the third option is to become an outright villain, which would perhaps result in good and bad people dying). Why exactly Malebolgia wants Spawn to send him souls is a little unclear, since these people will eventually die of something anyway. Is Hell in a hurry? I am glad McFarlane’s finally addressing what exactly Spawn’s supposed to be doing on Earth, although this information doesn’t exactly provide a blueprint for the future.