Tuesday, August 31, 2010

GAMBIT #2 - October 1997

Shadow Rise

Credits: Terry Kavanagh & Howard Mackie (writers), Klaus Janson (artist), Comicraft (letters), Christie Scheele (colors)

Summary: Gambit is rescued by Vatican agents Marcelo and Katrina. Gambit grows close to Katrina as he recovers, unaware she's in training to become a nun. Marcelo searches the city for the angel, which Gambit has named Anielle. A woman named Sibyl suddenly enters, commanding what appears to be a pack of armed zombies. Marcelo is killed in the battle, as Gambit escapes to protect Anielle. Sibyl follows, revealing her demonic wings. Gambit and Anielle flee inside a church, where the mysterious Oliver Stoker suddenly enters.

Continuity Notes: Katrina refers to Tante Mattie as “Mattie Baptiste,” and intimates that they’re all a part of an organization known as the Grigori. Gambit questions if they’re really descendants of fallen angels, as biblical apocrypha states. Katrina doesn’t give much of an answer.

Review: Look, Terry Kavanagh has arrived. I’m not sure how the script was divided between Mackie and Kavanagh, but this flows a little easier than most of their individual works from this era. With maybe one or two exceptions, Gambit’s phonetic accent is even tolerable. The big exception is Gambit explaining what the Grigori are through that insane accent (“Angels from the dawn o’ Genesis, fallen in de sunderin’ o’ Heaven. Not heavy enough wit’ sin t’crash t’rough de Earth int’ de burnin’ abyss wit’ their darker brethren…”). Like the first issue, this has non-believer Gambit thrown into an adventure with characters out of some sort of Catholic fan-fiction. Most of the mysterious characters with cameos in the first issue are fleshed out here, which is one advantage of forcing these writers to work within a limited series format. There’s no “we’ll get around to revealing that shadow figure” or “the mysterious conspiracy will be explored in detail later” nonsense if you only have four issues to deal with. Gambit also receives some character work, as the issue opens with an extended monologue during his near-death experience. He’s reflecting on his past sins and his place in the darkness, which wasn’t anything new for the character, but the sequence works surprisingly well. Klaus Janson’s moody art helps a lot, as we see Gambit swimming through darkness, emerging in his own grave, and fighting against the zombies that want to drag him back down. Gambit’s previous angsting probably would’ve been less annoying with the proper visual accompaniment.

Monday, August 30, 2010

COLOSSUS #1 - October 1997

A Most Dangerous Game

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Bryan Hitch (penciler), Paul Neary (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Jason Wright (colors)

Summary: While on vacation in Paris, Colossus and Meggan are targeted by Arcade. After they’re kidnapped by his assistant Ms. Locke, Colossus awakens in Murderworld. Through various scenarios, he has to rescue Meggan. He eventually realizes Arcade is behind the deception and breaks through to the control panel. Arcade arranges for Colossus to stage his death in order to learn who ordered the hit. After Colossus performs a mock execution, Arcade escapes with the heroes. Arcade reveals he wanted to fake his own death because he’s now fearful of his clients, Black Air. The group tries to discretely escape on an ocean liner, unaware Black Air is following them.

Continuity Notes: Black Air wants to kill Colossus in retaliation for his role in stopping their plan in Excalibur #100. You would think they would also want Meggan taken out, but Arcade claims she wasn’t a part of the deal. Following the Victims miniseries, Ms. Locke is a robot replacement for the murdered original. Arcade’s face is now back to normal, without explanation.

“Huh?” Moment: While on a murderous rollercoaster ride, Meggan transforms a cluster of spikes into butterflies. Is transmutation one of her powers? I know she has elemental powers, super strength, can fly, change (her) shape, and occasionally imitate other mutant powers…but this, too? Also, even though the spikes clearly transformed into butterflies, Meggan says she’s turned them into flowers.

Review: What do you do with a Colossus one-shot? The Cold War is long gone by this point, so you can’t go the route of his early solo stories and use American/USSR relations as a plot point. He left the Acolytes years earlier and has already convincingly redeemed himself as a member of Excalibur. His sister is dead, and a time travel story about her and his insane brother is being used in the New Mutants miniseries. So…just pair him with a team member he rarely interacts with and give him an adventure with Arcade. Raab does attempt to tie the story specifically to Colossus, as Arcade’s simulations recall his past as an Acolyte, and revive “the Proletarian,” an identity he took when Arcade brainwashed him during their first encounter. Plus, Arcade somehow knows Colossus killed Proteus and Riptide back in the Claremont days, so his guilt is briefly referenced. But, really, this is a light-hearted adventure story that doesn’t attempt to say an awful lot about the character. This easily could’ve been an X-Men Unlimited issue, but we all know there just wasn’t enough X-product on the market at this time. Poor Marvel had to put something with the X-characters on the stands.

This is a fun read, although I wonder why the story’s structure sucks away so much of the potential drama. We know from the beginning that Arcade and Ms. Locke are after the heroes, so when Colossus awakens in his Acolyte uniform, we already know it’s a Murderworld simulation. Later on, Colossus and Arcade make an on-panel deal to fake Arcade’s death, which is faithfully executed a few pages later. However, Meggan is in a Virtual Reality simulator and doesn’t see the deal, so she really thinks Colossus is killing Arcade later on. Why leave only Meggan in the dark? Since the details of their arrangement are revealed later, we didn’t have to see their agreement upfront. It’s like the story is going for a “What’s going on?!” effect, but feels the need to just tell you everything that’s going to happen before it happens.

The art is provided by Bryan Hitch, and I think this is the best work he’s done at this point. The Alan Davis influence is still evident, but not as blatant as in his previous comics. The characters are all clean and attractive, the action scenes have energy, and the storytelling is clear. Plus, there’s not one visible photo-reference to be found. I don’t want to pull a “your old stuff was better”…but I like this so much more than the gallery of Google Image Search results his work often resembles now.

LINK: Dave’s Long Box once examined this comic, and the sexual politics of Meggan.

Friday, August 27, 2010

GAMBIT #1 - September 1997

Falling Star

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Klaus Janson (artist), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Christie Scheele (colors)

Summary: In Miami, Gambit steals the Cross of Redemption from a Cuban gangster. A vision of Tante Mattie suddenly appears, asking Gambit to do “the Lord’s work.” Gambit refuses, then tries to escape the gangster’s security. While running past the beach, Gambit is drawn towards a nude woman emerging from the water. Enthralled, he wraps her in his coat as the men continue to chase him. They gun down Gambit, who falls into the water. He has a vision of the woman as an angel as he apparently dies.

Continuity Notes: Good luck placing this one in continuity. Gambit says he’s doing an old-fashioned theft to ground himself after his outer space adventure. An editor’s note points towards Uncanny X-Men #342-#344, which is apparently as long as that storyline was supposed to last. Instead, it dragged on until issue #350, and ended with Gambit being left for dead in Antarctica. My No-Prize explanation is that Gambit was actually referring to another space adventure we never saw, or perhaps the story is set after he escaped Antarctica but before he rejoined the X-Men.

Production Note: The indicia lists this as Gambit vol.1, no. 1, which shows someone had a short memory.

Review: The first Gambit limited series came out of the X-Men’s 30th anniversary event, during the height of the character’s popularity. I didn’t think it was particularly great, but I dutifully purchased every issue and accepted it as a legitimate part of X-continuity. Four years later, I have a vague recollection of flipping through one issue of this series and quickly placing it back on the stands. Not only had Gambit’s popularity begun to cool, but the utterly insane number of X-related miniseries and one-shots pumped out of various Marvel offices had left the spinoff material toxic. Even if I was a full-grown adult with a decent paying job, I couldn’t have justified buying all of the X-product shoved out between 1996 and 1998. I still liked the X-Men and didn’t even consider buying over half of this stuff. Who exactly was the audience for all of these books?

As quickly as this miniseries sunk into obscurity, there is an odd significance to it. A rumor began to circulate (either through Wizard or one of Marvel’s hype pages) that a character debuting in this series would have major repercussions for the Marvel Universe in the future. I’m assuming the character in question is the female angel introduced in this issue. She apparently was going to tie in with the “Marvel Crisis” Warren Ellis was writing, which would’ve served as a Marvel continuity reboot towards the end of the millennium. Marvel got cold feet about the project (but still went ahead with their misguided plan to rewrite Spider-Man’s origin with Spider-Man: Chapter One), and Ellis’ original plans apparently made their way into the Ultimate Universe years later.

The starting place for this story seems to be, of all things, the ‘90s X-Men animated series. The “Nightcrawler” episode established Gambit as an atheist, most likely to play off the other X-Men who were open to Nightcrawler’s beliefs. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Howard Mackie is giving us a Gambit who’s suddenly hostile to faith; declaring that he doesn’t believe in redemption, or “Him,” and is going to do what he wants whenever he wants to do it. So, of course, after he steals a cross, his Catholic godmother appears, demanding he do a mission for God, shortly before an angel washes up on the beach. Not exactly subtle, but this is a Howard Mackie comic (I’m sure I’ve said those words before). At least there’s a clear idea for a story so far, which is more than X-Factor could muster for more than five pages at a time. Gambit’s feelings on redemption are fertile ground for a story, especially in light of his “secret shame,” which is going to be revealed a few months later in Uncanny X-Men #350. I don’t have high hopes that the theme will be explored well, but I’m willing to be surprised. And Klaus Janson is the artist, so this miniseries automatically looks better than the rest of the ancillary X-clutter.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

GENERATION X #33-#34, December 1997 - January 1998



Thieves in the Night

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Steve Harris (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins & Michael Higgins (colors)

Summary: Gen X goes into town for dinner, as Penance stays behind with the St. Croix twins. In town, the students are harassed by two teenagers, Weasel and Dorian. Local police chief Authier breaks up the confrontation. Simultaneously, two young thieves named Tracy and Aemon raid the school. Penance scares them away, but they escape with their loot. Later, the team tracks down Aemon, who is grifting with Weasel and Dorian. They fight with Jubilee and Skin, and Authier arrests the thugs after they speed away. Authier returns home to his family, unaware his daughter Tracy is involved with the ring. Meanwhile, Banshee and Moira examine the Legacy Virus, while Chimera and Dirtnap pay Emplate a visit.

I Love the ‘90s: Actual dialogue, spoken by Skin: “Hey, I downloaded a good joke from the ‘net this morning”. Later on, Synch complains about the film adaptation of Starship Troopers. The two burglars are also wearing Bill and Hilary Clinton masks. This leads to a few Whitewater and Paula Jones references (no one knew about Monica yet).

Review: Here’s something the internet really, really liked -- Larry Hama’s run on Generation X. I can remember these issues becoming a shorthand reference for terrible comics, although I think they’ve been wiped out of the consciousness by the new millennium’s collective output of J. Michael Straczynski and Chuck Austen. Hama’s not an obvious choice for this book, but he’s a loyal creator and I can understand why the X-office would want to keep him around after his arbitrary removal from Wolverine (plus, he always liked writing cast member Jubilee). Some parts of this issue don’t feel like Hama, while others are clearly his contribution.

Hama’s always maintained that he doesn’t write narrative captions or thought balloons in his scripts, so I’m assuming all of the superfluous captions and thought balloons here were added by editorial. Hama does have a tendency to ground most of his work in reality, which is evidenced by a few scenes. Banshee and Moira’s conversation about the Legacy Virus connects it to Mad Cow Disease, and drops terms like “Spongiform Encephalopathy” and “Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.” Police Chief Authier doesn’t just give a generic speech against intolerance, he specifically names his Huguenot and Ojibway heritage and his wife’s Jewish and Armenian background. The team doesn’t encounter supervillains or mutant-hunting robots, they face the local punks who robbed their school while they went out to eat. Excessive “grounding” in a superhero book can get old fast, but it works here. The Snow Valley location has essentially been ignored since the book began, and I think the series is better off if the stars aren’t existing in their own little bubble away from the rest of the world. Robbing the cast of their possessions, and then hinting about the significance of some of the items (like Husk’s Calculus textbook and a cigar box owned by Skin), is also a good starting place for a story.

My major problem with Hama’s writing in this specific issue is the dialogue he gives to the teenage characters. Rather than writing them as characters first and teenagers second, which seemed to be Lobdell’s tactic, Hama is constantly writing awkward slang that makes the characters “teenagers” in the way Stan Lee’s original X-Men were.


Guilty Secrets

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Steve Harris (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: Banshee returns to the school and is promptly decked by Emma in retaliation for his earlier punch. Gen X retrieves their possessions from Aemon, although Jubilee, Skin, and Husk are still missing items. Tracy calls the school and arranges a meeting. She soon returns the items in exchange for a favor. Meanwhile, Emplate invades the school with Chimera and her Plasma Wraiths. The St. Croix twins merge back into M, who then grabs Emplate and disappears in a flash of light. M and Emplate emerge as one being.

Continuity Notes: Skin reveals he faked his own death after his girlfriend Tores duped him into riding along on a drive-by shooting. Whether or not he actually participated in the shooting (which killed two rival gang members) is unclear.

Review: Did people immediately hate Hama’s run, or did it take a while? Aside from the forced teen-speak (“This is way uncool!”), I don’t have a major problem with his work so far. The majority of this issue is dedicated to Jubilee, Skin, and Husk retrieving their possessions from Tracy. It’s reminiscent of one of Lobdell’s low-key issues, only now the characters are interacting with someone from outside of the school. Jubilee explains to Tracy the significance of her cowboy hat, which was given to her by Wolverine (she then goes on for several pages explaining why Wolverine is so great, which amuses me). Skin reveals the pistol inside his cigar box is a reminder of the gang life he left behind. Husk’s Calculus textbook hides her diary, which reveals her feelings for Chamber. It also divulges the school’s secret and offers details on their previous adventures, but Tracy just assumes Husk has an active imagination.

Despite the deceitful cover, and the…unusual ending, the issue is really about these character moments, and I think that’s consistent with what Generation X has been about since the beginning. My major complaint is Steve Harris’ art, which is just as bland here as it was in the previous issue. I won’t say he’s terrible, but his action scenes are totally limp and his overall style is forgettable. Following Chris Bachalo, this title needs someone with a distinctive, expressionistic style. This used to be one of Marvel’s best-looking titles, but now it seems as if the editor is just finding random freelancers for fill-ins.

Monday, August 23, 2010

MAVERICK #4-#5, December 1997-January 1998



Found and Lost

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

Summary: Chris Bradley meets up with his girlfriend Donna in New York’s West Village. They’re suddenly attacked by the Friends of Humanity, who tapped Donna’s phone after Chris was outed as a mutant. Maverick and Elena Ivanova, who’ve tracked Chris since he ran away from home, arrive to help. Area resident Wolverine also joins the fight. After Maverick gets Donna to safety, Elena uses her telepathic powers to convince everyone nearby they died in an explosion. Later, when Maverick returns home, he’s abruptly seduced by Elena, who’s hiding a secret.

Review: Hey, that cover’s deceitful -- Wolverine and Maverick don’t fight in this issue. I can’t believe a comic book company could be so dishonest. Wolverine and Maverick do, however, have an argument about Maverick keeping his Legacy Virus remission a secret from his teenage protégé Chris. Four issues into the series, this seems to be the major internal conflict for Maverick, and it’s pretty weak. Why is this macho tough guy leading man so hung up on potentially hurting the feelings of a teenage boy? And how does he know Chris wouldn’t be happy for him? Plus, why does Wolverine care so much about this? The emotional arcs in this book just don’t feel properly fleshed out. Another example would be Chris, who often seems overly emotional about everything, but doesn’t respond to his girlfriend’s belief that he’s dead with more than a “Aw, that’s too bad.” Rather than stoically accepting that she’s better off thinking he’s dead, shouldn’t he be upset with Elena for creating the illusion? I think this would hurt him more than learning that Maverick actually isn’t going to die of the Legacy Virus.


Pressure Points

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

Summary: Maverick and Elena get into an argument when he discovers that she’s still tracking Sabretooth. Maverick leaves angry, and lets off steam by attacking the henchmen of mobster Big Louie. After sending them the message that Louie owes him money, Maverick heads to a bar. A drunken Blob picks a fight with Maverick. During the fight, Maverick’s powers give out, but he finishes Blob with a grenade. Maverick returns home, now willing to help Elena, only to discover her goodbye letter.

Continuity Notes: Maverick advises Elena not to confront Sabretooth, fearing she’ll end up like another telepath, Birdy. Maverick claims that Birdy was killed by Sabretooth’s father, but it was actually his son, Graydon Creed, who pulled the trigger (as seen in the Sabretooth miniseries).

We Get Letters: A letter writer asks what happened to Maverick’s mutant power to see short distances into the future. The editorial response confirms he had the power, but says it disappeared when he developed the Legacy Virus. What are they talking about? When could Maverick ever see into the future?

Review: The previous cover with Wolverine wasn’t anything special, but this is an attention-getter, isn’t it? Blob doesn’t serve much of a role in the story; he’s mainly there as a disposable X-villain who’s free for a one-issue beating. He also drunkenly accuses Maverick of being a Nazi (due to his accent, although it’s never phonetically spelled out and he doesn’t use any German exclamations, like a certain X-Man), which Maverick finds unusually upsetting. This is foreshadowing for a future arc, and having it wrapped into a fight scene is one way to bring some action into the issue, I guess. Pitting Maverick against the mob for a few pages is another excuse for some action, although the motivation for the fight is interesting. Maverick’s only searching the mobsters out because their boss owes him money, which he needs since the Legacy Virus has prevented him from working for a year. I’m not sure if anyone’s ever bothered to explain how exactly the various unaffiliated mutants in the Marvel Universe make money, so I’ll give Gonzalez credit for addressing the topic.

I wish Gonzalez had more of a knack for natural dialogue, as the argument between Maverick and Elena doesn’t showcase much of a personality for either character. Maverick doesn’t want Elena to risk her life chasing Sabretooth, and Elena wants to kill Sabretooth, because that’s the motivation she’s had since her first appearance and no one’s developed her since then. Elena does raise the valid point that her “obsession” with Sabretooth isn’t different from his own pursuit of Ivan Pushkin (who presumably was intended to be the major villain of this series), but it’s the only memorable part of their argument. Well, Elena does slap Maverick when he suggests she lured him into bed as a part of her anti-Sabretooth crusade, but both characters politely apologize afterwards and go back to the discussion. Thankfully, Cheung’s art alleviates much of the tedium, and the Blob fight is rather enjoyable.

Friday, August 20, 2010

TALES OF WOE - MTV Press, 2010


Review copy provided by the publisher.

The original press release for Tales of Woe boasted that it had to be printed in Singapore because China wouldn’t touch it. The back of the book warns that “this is not Hollywood catharsis (someone overcomes something and the viewer is uplifted), this is Greek catharsis: you watch people suffer horribly, and then feel better about your own life.” The book opens with a story of a baboon sucking the brains out of a three-month-old boy. You know what you’re getting into. The book features twenty-five real-life depressing stories; some of them are fairly routine accounts of models dying of anorexia or hunting accidents, some detail overseas issues like the Asian sex trade, or Muslim/Hindu conflict in India, others deal with the black market for organs, a female Luchadore serial killer, and human beings with the worst fetish I’ve ever heard of. All of the anecdotes are taken from the modern day, so there’s no going back to pull out a Kitty Genovese. Two stories come from Alaska, which mainly seems to be an excuse for the artists to display “edgy” drawings of Sarah Palin, who has nothing to do with either story. The art, which comes from eleven artists, including Patrick McQuade, Kiki Jones, and Ralph Niese, appears sporadically throughout the book, giving it the lurid pulp appeal the publisher was going for. Not all of the art is easy on the eyes, but some of the artists are quite good. Ralph Niese is especially worth checking out. You’ll know just by reading the back cover whether or not this material actually interests you, but the book certainly stays true to its premise.

NEW MUTANTS #1-#3, November 1997 - January 1998

Truth or Dare Death

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Bernard Chang (penciler), Mark Pennington (inker), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters), Tom Vincent (colors)

I guess enough years had passed for New Mutants nostalgia to kick in by 1997. Most of the one-shots and limited series cranked out of the X-office during this era were blatantly unnecessary, but reviving the original New Mutants feels like a credible start for a miniseries. The story has the New Mutants of the later Claremont issues (Mirage, Sunspot, Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Cypher, Warlock, Magma, and Magik) training in a Danger Room simulation of Limbo. Magik is visited by a mysterious robed figure, who offers vague hints about her future. After a game of truth or dare, Magik decides to teleport to the future to learn her fate, and the New Mutants tag along. In the present, the surviving New Mutants (and Douglock, who snuck along with Wolfsbane) return to the mansion for a reunion. They run into their teenage selves, and when Douglock stupidly blurts out that Magik should be dead, she runs away. She’s comforted by the robed figure, who reveals himself as her brother, Mikhail Rasputin.

Ben Raab did a lot of work on the peripheral X-titles in the mid-90s, some good and some bad, but what this issue has going for it is Raab’s obvious affection for the characters. Right down to which character had a crush on the other (which always seemed to be changing in the early issues, just like high school), Raab seems to know the New Mutants. He even acknowledges that Sunspot and Karma have never met Douglock, which is a moment a lot of writers would’ve ignored (I forgot that Sunspot had mysteriously vanished during Douglock’s early appearances, although it seems like he would’ve at least known about Douglock by now). Kitty Pryde’s cameo in the flashback scenes also feels like a moment from the original issues, as she tries to reassure Illyana after her first encounter with Mikhail. Using Mikhail as the villain uses continuity to the story’s advantage, as we’ve never seen Magik interact with her brother before. Of course, Mikhail suffers from indescribably powerful (and vague) abilities and motivations that usually don’t go further than “he’s crazy,” so having him as the villain might raise its own issues.

Family Matters

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Bernard Chang (penciler), Mark Pennington (inker), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters), Tom Vincent (colors)

Mikhail returns with Magik, explaining that he’s developed another new use of his powers -- time travel. He contacted Magik in the past and planted the idea for her to travel to the present, where he hopes to prevent her death. The adult New Mutants are suspicious, and debate over whether or not reality should be altered to save Magik’s life. Perhaps because this is only a three-issue mini, Raab rushes through their conversation and has several members matter-of-factly state that reality shouldn’t be altered, period. I would expect the heroes to eventually come to that conclusion, but they’re reaching it rather quickly and unemotionally.

Even more ridiculous is their decision to charge into battle against Mikhail and the teenage New Mutants, all based on the assumption that Mikhail has “something to hide.” I can understand the appeal of pitting the grown team versus the teenage team, and the fight scene does have its moments, but Raab isn’t giving the characters enough motivation for these actions. If one side was going to fight the other, it seems like the impetuous teenagers would’ve been the first to strike, anyway. In the end, Karma (who’s leaning towards resurrecting Magik, unlike most of the adults) turns against her team and joins Mikhail. Karma puts the older New Mutants to sleep, as Mikhail begins the next phase of his plan; only now the teenage Wolfsbane is having doubts. Like I said, the character work is enjoyable, but it feels like a lot of space has been wasted on a hero vs. hero fight with a shoddy motivation.

Letting Go

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Bernard Chang (penciler), Mark Pennington (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Tom Vincent (colors)

Using advanced technology, Mikhail claims that he’s successfully removed the genes that will lead to Magik’s future Legacy Virus infection. Cypher is suspicious, and later checks Mikhail’s records for verification. Aside from learning that he’s dead in this time period, Cypher discovers that Mikhail actually infected Magik with the Legacy Virus. Simultaneously, the adult New Mutants are freed with the help of the teenage Wolfsbane. Mikhail prepares to fight them, until Cypher arrives and reveals the truth. Mikhail explains that he’s infected with the Legacy Virus, and that his plan was to infect Magik with the virus while she had her magical powers, hoping that her magic could create antibodies. His plan exposed, Mikhail teleports away, although he doesn’t know yet if his plan worked, and none of these characters are really a threat to him anyway.

Mikhail’s exit is supposed to be an emotional departure, after Magik rebukes him when he asks for her forgiveness. This isn’t a total copout, as Raab humanizes Mikhail to the point that he does seem legitimately remorseful, and his claim that he’s creating a cure to help all of mutantkind seems somewhat genuine. Of course, he’s now the man responsible for infecting his kid sister with the Legacy Virus, and his gamble that Magik could beat the disease didn’t pay off. Now that everyone’s appropriately weepy, the two teams say goodbye as Karma removes the teenagers’ memories of these events. Raab’s been hinting throughout the mini that Karma’s psychic powers are developing rapidly, granting her new abilities. I guess the new powers were always intended to erase the teen New Mutants’ memories of the events, thus explaining why none of the characters remembered meeting their future selves. Well, if the X-books would’ve stuck to the “official” rules of Marvel time travel laid out by Mark Gruenwald, Raab wouldn’t have needed to go through the trouble. Time travel is supposed to create new realities automatically, which means this story’s claim that Mikhail is responsible for Magik’s death in Uncanny X-Men #303 is dubious at best, and a new reality would’ve been created by this time travel adventure.

So, the mini has a few plot problems (and some atrocious dialogue, like “Time t’kick it old school!”, begins to crop up in the final issue), but I found myself enjoying it. Raab obviously likes the New Mutants, and he’s constructed a story that uses the characters rather effectively, so it’s hard to totally dismiss the book. I’m also happy to see Bernard Chang, a penciler severely underused during this era, show up as artist. Chang’s drawing in a slightly angular, “chunky” style that resembles a more restrained Ed McGuiness, and it looks great. The original New Mutants title had its fair share of left-of-center artists (like Kevin Nowlan, and the kids just loved him), so he’s a fitting choice for the series. I could see Chang drawing the original series in this style; although I imagine it would’ve been printed with terrible flexographic printing on a slightly yellow paper stock.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CABLE #51-#52, February-March 1997

Hellfire Hunt Part 4 - Faith and Deception

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), James Robinson (plot assist), Ladronn(penciler), Juan Vlasco & Bud LaRosa (inks), Comicraft’s Saida Temofonte (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: Cable traces the Hellfire Club’s activities to Switzerland, and reluctantly takes Irene along. They’re attacked by Hellfire Club soldiers, and rescued by a mysterious older man named Wilhelm. Wilhelm knows of Cable’s powers and claims to be a Believer, but Cable doesn’t recognize him. Eventually, Cable scans his mind and learns his true identity -- Wilhelm is the Nazi supervillain Master Man.

Review: Welcome to the comics industry, Joe Casey. As Casey revealed in a Wizard interview later this year, he was an acquaintance of James Robinson who was interested in writing comics. When Robinson had to leave this title (to write a Freddy vs. Jason screenplay), Robinson gave Casey a chance to work on this issue. Casey thought it was a writing exercise until he was informed he just wrote Cable #51. Although Marvel apparently never officially confirmed it to him, Casey became the regular writer of the series.

I believe Casey has said before that he doesn’t have much of a connection to the X-Men (which was pretty obvious to anyone who had to suffer through his Uncanny X-Men run), so I wonder if bringing in a villain from the mainstream Marvel Universe was his idea. In terms of the “Hellfire Hunt” storyline, I have no idea what Master Man is doing here. Revealing that he might be a Believer (one of Cable’s “followers” we’ve never heard of until Robinson’s run) connects him to the title character, but I can’t help but to feel that this is a distraction from a story that’s already dragged on for months. The rest of the issue consists of exposition, exposition, and more exposition. Irene flashes back to the events of the past few issues, Ch’vayre recalls his first contact with Sebastian Shaw, and Shaw and Pierce needle each other while conveniently reminding anyone nearby of their plan to steal Apocalypse’s power. Ch’vayre’s flashback does introduce a brief new scene, which has Shaw informing him that he doesn’t need help from a refugee from the future, because Trevor Fitzroy has already joined the Hellfire Club. That’s a nice touch, but it’s obvious that most of this issue is just stalling for time.


Hellfire Hunt Part 5 - Beyond Belief

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), German Garcia (penciler), Jon Holdredge (inks), Comicraft (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: Wilhelm confesses to Cable that he was Master Man, and swears that after befriending one of the Believers, he now wants redemption. Cable reluctantly accepts Wilhelm’s offer of aid, and puts Irene in a deep sleep to protect her from more violence. They travel through the Alps in a blizzard and are soon attacked by Hellfire soldiers. Before Cable can stop him, one of the soldiers kills Wilhelm. Cable mourns his death and carries on to his destination. He discovers Apocalypse’s fortress, and witnesses the Hellfire Club’s battle with its automated defenses.

Continuity Notes: The "secret" of Ch’vayre is just a flashback to his arrival in this time. This Master Man is the one who appeared in the early issues of the ‘90s Namor series. After failing to commit suicide, he retreated to the Swiss Alps. The super-soldier serum in his veins has begun to wear off, which explains his aging.

Review: So…why did Master Man show up? Casey actually uses the character rather well in this issue, as Cable has to deal with the “Could you forgive a Nazi?” question while continuing his mission. Master Man’s quest for redemption does add some humanity to the issue, but it still feels as if he’s mainly there to buy some time. Maybe if this weren’t a titled, multi-part storyline and just an old-school rambling Marvel narrative I wouldn’t mind him so much. If you call a story “The Hellfire Hunt” and make a big deal about the group finding Apocalypse, perhaps you shouldn’t have so many issues dedicated to the Hellfire Club doing virtually nothing. I could complain that novice writer Casey is overwriting every single page of this comic with melodramatic narrative captions, but that might not be fair. So long as Mark Powers edited this series (and Wolverine), every writer’s run had those turgid captions.

Monday, August 16, 2010

BALLISTIC/WOLVERINE & WOLVERINE/WITCHBLADE

BALLISTIC/WOLVERINE #1- February 1997


Credits: David Wohl & Joe Benitez (plot), Larry Hama (script), Joe Benitez (penciler), Aaron Sowd (inker), Dennis Heisler (letters), Dean White (colors)

Summary: On New Year’s Eve, Wolverine receives a message from Zoe Culloden to meet him at LL&L’s Times Square branch. He passes through the “WC” room, which sends him to another dimension. In this Times Square, a fascist police force is terrorizing innocent citizens. Ballistic arrives and helps Wolverine fight the police. She informs him that “the Mayor” is her Cyberforce teammate Heatwave, mind-controlled by Mephisto. Zoe Culloden is his aide. At the Mayor’s office, Wolverine and Ballistic try to stop his mysterious plan, which strikes at midnight. Zoe fights against Mephisto’s mind-control and turns against the Mayor, but can’t stop his scheme. At the stroke of midnight, everyone in Times Square disappears.

Continuity Notes: This is a chapter of the “Devil’s Reign” crossover event, which pitted Marvel and Top Cow characters against Mephisto. Ballistic is a member of Cyberforce, who’s protected from mind-control by cybernetic implants (Heatwave is a cyborg, too, so I don’t know how Mephisto ensnared him).

Production Note: “Devil’s Reign” is another Marvel/Image crossover that partially wasn’t published by Image. Although the inside front cover has a “special thanks to Image Comics,” this issue was published during the very brief period Marc Silvestri broke away from Image and self-published.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Landau, Luckman, and Lake’s Times Square office is attached to a fetish nightclub.

Review: Hey, it’s another ‘90s inter-company crossover I barely remembered. A few months after Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld were handed a chunk of the core Marvel Universe, we have this crossover with the remaining Marvel characters and Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow studio. I don’t recall a lot of promotion for this crossover on Marvel’s end. In fact, I think I only knew of its existence from the ads Marvel ran from comics retailer American Entertainment, which bragged about all of the variant covers they had to sell. On Top Cow’s end, this seems like something of a big deal, as the crossover apparently leads into the next storyline in Cyberforce. Image titles seemed to be okay with incorporating outside properties into their actual continuity (WildC.A.T.S. apparently did this all the time), but I’ve never seen that willingness on Marvel’s end.

Larry Hama, who wrote Wolverine during Marc Silvestri’s stint as artist, seems to be the only Marvel writer involved with this event, and he’s merely providing the script for this issue. Hama’s always able to capture Wolverine’s voice, and his fight scene dialogue is usually fun, so this issue does at least have some personality. The plot covers a surprising amount of ground, given the number of fight scenes, and splash pages and double-page spreads. Joe Benitez is one of the better Top Cow artists. He’s obviously following the Silvestri model, but Benitez isn’t doing a bad impression of him, and he doesn’t have the obsession with wrinkles and scratchy lines that so many Top Cow artists share.

WOLVERINE/WITCHBLADE #1- March 1997

Credits: David Wohl & Christina Z (story), Michael Turner (co-plot, pencils), D-Tron (inker), Dennis Heisler (letters), Jonathan D. Smith (colors)

Summary: Ballistic leaves to find her sister, while Zoe Culloden departs to find backup. Wolverine follows the scent of evil, searching for the missing crowd in Times Square. Meanwhile, Sara Pezzini begins to wonder if her past as Witchblade was an illusion. Her powers have disappeared, and her former enemy Ian now claims he’s her boyfriend. She begins to fall for the illusion until Wolverine crashes through the window and attacks Ian. Sara realizes that she’s had the Witchblade all along, as Ian transforms into Mephisto.

Production Note: Look how much larger the Image logo is now. Silvestri's back with Image by this point.

Review: Okay, the previous chapter balanced the two characters well and told a passable action story. This does not. Wolverine barely appears in this comic, and most of his appearance is spent dryly recapping the storyline thus far. The story is really about Witchblade, and it appears to be set after a specific storyline in her book as it has her mourning the deaths of several friends, then discovering (as a part of Mephsito’s illusion) that they’re alive. I never understood the appeal of Witchblade or Michael Turner, and this doesn’t do anything to win me over. Obviously, Witchblade is a mostly-nude female hero with an inhuman body, but look at her. She’s covered in hideous gray scabs that take the form of skeleton hands that cup her breasts, Janet Jackson-style. She’s also rail-thin and has virtually no facial features, with the exception of her lips, which are bigger than her fists. People were into this?

While Turner can mimic the surface elements of Silvestri’s style, and draw an impressive Mephisto, his characters designs are pretty appalling. Most of the cast barely looks human, and it’s impossible to tell Witchblade’s friend Michael apart from the villain, Ian. What’s worse, looking back over the comic, I think they’re not even supposed to be the same race! Maybe the rest of this crossover isn’t so bad, but I’m not curious enough to find out. This storyline is continued in Witchblade/Elektra, but since that doesn’t fit into the X-Universe, I’m thankfully off the hook.


Friday, August 13, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #44-#45, November 1988 - December 1988




Reunion

Credits: Peter David (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Gregory Wright (colorist)

The Plot: Members of Warzone meet in Las Vegas for their annual competition, as Peter Parker arrives to promote his book of photographs, Webs. While on her way to Peter’s book signing, Marlo Chandler is injured by Warzone’s Charlie. When Charlie is targeted by the other members of Warzone, Spider-Man is drawn into their fight. Their paths cross with Marlo’s boyfriend, Mr. Fixit, at the Coliseum Casino. Spider-Man discovers Mr. Fixit is actually the Hulk.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: From the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Webs is a book of Spider-Man photographs, published without Peter Parker’s permission because he signed away the rights to the Daily Bugle (you’d almost think a comic book freelancer came up with this idea). He’s promoting the book because the publisher is paying him to do a promotional tour.

*See _________ For Details: This story is continued in Incredible Hulk #349.

I Love the ‘80s: Spidey comments that his spider-sense tingles whenever Nancy Regan consults her astrologer, the Michael Jackson songs “Beat It” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” are referenced, and Peter appears on Dinah Shore’s talk show.

Review: I’ve never heard of Warzone before, but apparently they’re a group of heavily armed mercenaries who try to kill each other once a year during some contest. Even though it’s a fight to the death, all of these characters act like old friends and talk as if they’ve done this for years. I’m sure the Incredible Hulk chapter clears this up, but my stance is that I’m reviewing Web of Spider-Man and only Web of Spider-Man. Despite the less than engaging villains, the story still has some fun with Peter Parker’s book tour, as he endures another moronic television host and empty book signing. A few fantasy/sci-fi/comic book references are thrown in, as the publisher’s representative talks about the other writers she’s dealt with (she thought Alan Moore was scary looking). I imagine the story was supposed to be significant as Spider-Man’s first meeting with the gray Hulk, although this is really being saved for the next chapter in the crossover.


Death From Above!

Credits: Adam Blaustein (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

The Plot: Peter flies home from Las Vegas, sharing a small flight with casino owner and suspected felon Morris “The Snake” Diamond. The Vulture, who’s angry at Diamond for stealing the plastic formula he marketed to casinos, bombs the plane. Peter helps the ditzy stewardess, Sara, retrieve parachutes for the passengers. After landing in the desert, Diamond is kidnapped by the Vulture, and Sara is knocked unconscious by one of Diamond’s irritated flunkies. As Spider-Man, Peter carries Sara through the desert until he eventually finds the Vulture. The Vulture injects Spider-Man with a serum shortly before he's knocked unconscious in the fight. Spider-Man is saved by Sara, who reveals she’s a government agent. The Vulture, Diamond, and his men are all arrested.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: I’m not sure when this first appeared (he says he’s been using it for “months”), but Spider-Man now has a warning light to warn him when his web-shooters are running low.

Review: Web of Spider-Man’s trademark, the one-off fill-in, returns. Adam Blaustein was an assistant editor at Marvel around this time, and I’m not sure if he wrote any comics after this (Blaustein apparently led an interesting life before passing away in 2008). He’s chosen to do a sequel to the Vulture’s earlier appearance in this title, which wasn’t exactly a highlight in the character’s history. Like the earlier issue, Vulture is still obsessed with raising enough money to fund his own taxidermy, so he’s marketing a special plastic to casinos that makes it easier to fix dice. His speech pattern is thankfully back to normal (he’s not repeating everything he says Mojo Jojo style anymore), but this really isn’t the most inspired take on the character. Most of this is fairly generic, but Blaustein does gift us with Morris “The Snake” Diamond and his cronies -- Jewish mobsters obsessed with dressing and talking like cowboys. If you threw various stereotypes and archetypes into a hat and pulled out the first three results, you’d probably end up with a similar idea.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #42-#43, September-October 1988



Pressure!

Credits: Peter David (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

The Plot: The Teacher, who recognizes Peter as an imposter, hands him his Spider-Man mask and asks him to leave. Spider-Man decides that Betty is happy with the Students and he has no right to intervene. Flash Thompson angrily disagrees, and learns the location of the Students’ farm from a policeman friend. With the help of Reverend Tolliver and a group of armed men, Flash abducts Betty.

The Subplots: MJ is unwilling to model lingerie until she consults with Peter. When he only makes a quick phone call after twenty-four hours away, she goes ahead with the assignment. Spider-Man learns one of the cultists is named Tracey, the same name as Kate Cushing’s sister. Kate is determined to find out if this is her sister. After consulting with Dr. Druid, Spider-Man learns how the Teacher could fake miracles.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Obviously, MJ is wearing small robes and lingerie during the issue. It’s pretty tame when compared to Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen’s future work, though.

Miscellaneous Note: Unless I’ve missed something from a previous issue, this cover marks the beginning of a tradition from this era of Spider-Man. Can you find what’s hidden in the cover?

Review: Following last issue’s revelation that the Teacher might not be a maniacal villain, Peter David explores the implications. Peter’s convinced that Betty’s making a mistake, but she seems happy and he doesn’t feel justified in making decisions for her. Flash disagrees, and deals with the situation as impulsively and dangerously as could be expected. Although no one really thinks that the Teacher is going to turn out as a legitimate healer or religious leader, David does a good job of selling him as rather benign. Not only does he peacefully ask Spider-Man to leave (after not exploring his secret identity), but Spidey also begins to wonder if the man does have healing powers. As he points out, he’s seen much stranger things in the Marvel Universe, and it’s not impossible that someone with healing abilities could’ve established a religious order. Regarding the subplots, I’m not sure if MJ modeling lingerie serves a purpose much higher than the “cheesecake” advertised on the cover, but I like the way David handles their relationship and how it’s impacted by Peter’s life as Spider-Man.


Autodafe or…“Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition”

Credits: Peter David (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

The Plot: Peter is called to Flash’s apartment to participate in Betty’s deprogramming. He reluctantly agrees, and with Reverend Tolliver’s help, Betty makes progress. The Students of Love break into the apartment and abduct Peter, Flash, and Betty. At their farm, Student Bruce accidentally starts a fire. Peter changes into Spider-Man and leads his friends to safety. The Teacher offers to stay behind and help Bruce escape, but they’re both killed in the blaze.

The Subplots: Aunt May sees MJ’s test shots for a lingerie job. When MJ realizes how upset May is, she burns the photos. Kate Cushing finally meets the Student Tracy, who doesn’t recognize her. She tells Peter that this isn’t her sister, before turning away in tears.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: MJ takes a shower, and is conveniently covered by a tastefully large sponge.

Review: This was the only chapter of this storyline I read as a kid, and I think it’s a testament to the creators’ skills that I could read this at eight-years-old and pick up on virtually everything in the story. Like the previous issues, David manages to weave the action scenes with some entertaining moments with the supporting cast (Aunt May threatening to “dock” MJ if she ever embarrasses Peter is a classic), which is really what I’m looking for in a Spidey comic. The entire arc has been tightly plotted, and the only real issue would be Flash’s moronic decision to deprogram Betty in his apartment (since the Students know where Betty’s friends live). This is slightly covered by Reverend Tolliver reminding him of what a dumb idea it is, but that doesn’t explain why Tolliver went along with it.

Of course, now that the Teacher has a name to attach to Spider-Man’s face, he has to die. It’s the law. I like the way Peter David refuses to cop out and make Teacher an outright villain until the very end, when he finally pulls a gun on Spider-Man as his entire operation falls apart. Further confirmation that he’s a fraud comes when he’s prepared to leave Bruce to die, which indirectly leads to his own death when Bruce holds him down as debris falls from the ceiling. Kate Cushing’s story has a gloomy resolution, as we learn that the Student Tracy doesn’t recognize her at all. Whether or not this is someone else, or if Tracy has been brainwashed past the point of recognizing her sister, is intentionally vague, but Kate’s reaction is a big clue that this is her sister. As Kate tells Peter, “Not everyone gets happy endings.” This always stuck with me, since it’s the kind of simple, sad resolution I wasn’t used to seeing in kid-friendly entertainment. I hope no one’s ever done a sequel to this story and ruined this ending.

Alex Saviuk’s work throughout the arc shouldn’t be overlooked. As I’ve mentioned before, he draws Spider-Man and the supporting cast perfectly on-model, giving every character their own distinctive face, body, and posture. His page layouts are just as clean and attractive as his character designs, as he often deals with pages that exceed eight panels, but never draws a cramped page. He knows how to structure the page and can sell drama in even the tiniest panels. His layouts on the deprogramming pages are particularly great:

How many modern mainstream comics would lay out that much information on one page, and do it so seamlessly? Saviuk might not have a reputation as the most daring artist to ever touch Spider-Man, but I think his work perfectly suits this storyline and does a lot to enhance David’s story. All around, this is good work that deserves another look. How about a “Cult of Love” trade paperback, Marvel?

Monday, August 9, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #40-#41, July-August 1988



All You Need Is Love

Credits: Peter David (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

The Plot: Flash Thompson spots Betty Leeds talking to a strange man, Guy, weeks before she suddenly disappears. Spider-Man catches Flash threatening Guy and breaks up the confrontation. He slips a spider-tracer on Guy, and snatches one of the pamphlets he was carrying. They learn he’s a member of a cult called the Students of Love. Flash continues to follow Guy, and is rescued by Spider-Man when the cult attacks him. Spider-Man locates the Students’ headquarters and finds Betty inside. He tries to sneak her out, but she screams for help.

The Subplots: When Peter explains the story to Kate Cushing, she reveals that her sister joined a cult decades ago and hasn’t been heard from since. She assigns Ben Urich to cover the story.

*See _________ For Details: Betty is emotionally distraught following the death of her husband, Ned Leeds, in Spider-Man vs. Wolverine.

Review: This begins “Cult of Love,” a four-part story arc by Peter David. I’ve heard a few people complain about this story over the years (maybe they thought four issues without a supervillain was a little much), but I’ve always enjoyed it. Peter David’s never done a long stretch of Spider-Man comics, but I think this arc gives us an idea of how he would handle the super-heroic and soap opera elements of the franchise (absent of any crossovers or events, which seemed to impact every issue of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man I saw). Incorporating Spider-Man’s supporting cast into the superhero action is always tricky and rarely works, but David’s found an angle that plausibly merges the two. You might find it slightly ridiculous that Spider-Man’s high school girlfriend has joined a cult, but given her state of mind after her husband’s death, and previous portrayal as someone who’s at least a little emotionally fragile, the story makes sense.

One issue after Nathan Lubensky was fleshed out by Nicieza, David humanizes Kate Cushing, who previously existed only as Peter Parker’s overly demanding boss. She’s still true to her established character, but the revelation about her sister shows the first hint that she’s more than just the caricature we’ve seen before. Learning more about the supporting cast is always a good thing in my book, since it adds to the human element that made Spider-Man comics different from other superhero titles.


That Old-Time Religion

Credits: Peter David (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man tries to escape from the cult’s compound with Betty, but she resists. While he’s distracted with Bruce, a Student with pyromania tendencies, Betty removes his mask. Spider-Man flees to avoid exposure. While spying in the air vents, he discovers the Students’ leader, an unassuming man called the Teacher. In disguise as a Student, Spider-Man witnesses the Teacher cure a man who allegedly has cancer.

The Subplots: MJ runs into her high school friend and fellow model, Lorraine. While Lorraine spends the night, MJ notices her suspiciously creeping around the apartment. Later, Lorraine suggests MJ try out for lingerie modeling. Meanwhile, Ben Urich investigates the realty company owned by the Students, which is selling Betty’s apartment. Flash Thompson tags along with Urich and meets Reverend Tolliver, a pastor who deprograms cultists. He explains how a con artist can fake a miracle, like removing “cancer” from an accomplice.

Web of Continuity: Betty never gets a look at Peter’s face, in case you’re wondering. Lorraine’s mystery is resolved in Web #49.

Creative Differences: MJ and Lorraine’s conversation about lingerie modeling has been re-lettered.

Review: There’s always at least a small twist in a Peter David story, and in this issue it’s the Teacher. As Spider-Man points out, he was expecting a stereotypically evil/insane cult leader, like the ones he’s encountered in the past, and is shocked to discover a seemingly reasonable, even-tempered normal man is in charge of the Students. The Teacher explains to his followers that Spider-Man wouldn’t dare go to the police, since he’s the one who’s trespassing and the Students have done nothing (legally) wrong. Spidey has to acknowledge that he has a point, and while he doesn’t abandon his mission, he does begin to question what he’s doing.

It’s obvious David has done some research into religious cults (although the Students aren’t tied to any specific religion, and just vaguely talk about “love” instead of any deity), which goes a long way towards making the Students feel real and not like the cults you normally see a superhero fight against. Having Rev. Tolliver explain in great detail how a balloon covered in fake blood could be used to trick people into believing in a miracle, as Peter simultaneously witnesses the “miracle” occur at the Students’ compound, is a great scene. It’s also fun to see Flash Thompson and Ben Urich doing their own investigation as Spider-Man fails to handle things his traditional way, while MJ has to adjust to the fact that she’s living with a superhero and make sure there’s no evidence when company’s over. There’s not a lot of spider-action, but the treatment of the supporting cast and unique dilemma given to Spider-Man more than compensate.

Friday, August 6, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #39 - June 1988

Petty Crimes

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

The Plot: A homeless alcoholic is burglarizing Aunt May’s neighborhood. After Nathan Lubensky’s apartment is robbed, Peter checks on him and vows to recover the engagement ring Nathan gave May. Spider-Man catches the thief at a nearby pawn shop, but he escapes. He soon realizes the local homeless man is actually his old foe, the Looter. Unhinged by seeing Spider-Man again, Looter reclaims his identity and goes on a rampage. He attacks the van Aunt May and her boarders are riding in, and is quickly defeated by an enraged Spider-Man. Nathan recovers the ring and returns it to May, who realizes she still has feelings for him.

The Subplots: A homeless woman pulls the thread out of Spider-Man’s costume while he tries to rescue her from an attacker. Mary Jane is aghast at the outfit (a replacement costume he picked up in Germany). She tells her fashion designer friends that Peter needs a Spider-Man outfit for a costume party, and they create a new one.

*See _________ For Details: Spider-Man has been wearing his red and blue costume since Amazing Spider-Man #300. Mary Jane couldn’t bear to look at the cloth replica of the black costume after her encounter with Venom. The German replacement costume he’s wearing, which has “Die Spinne” written on the back, comes from the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot. Nathan Lubensky and Aunt May broke up after he allowed the police to kill an intruder in Spectacular Spider-Man #113. They began to reconcile in Amazing Spider-Man #300, when she invited him to dinner.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has average number of copies sold during the year at 242,875 copies, with the most recent issue selling 243,741.

Review: Like the previous issue, this is a Fabian Nicieza fill-in that actually fits in with the ongoing storylines, and is entertaining in its own right. There are actually two significant events in this issue, as Spidey gets a real replacement costume and Nathan Lubensky and Aunt May reconcile (okay, “significant” might be a strong word, but both plot points resolve ongoing stories in the other titles). I imagine having the “forgotten villain return as a drunken mess” idea has been used quite a few times over the years, but I think it was relatively original by this point. I normally dislike it when Spider-Man’s villains interact with people he knows as Peter Parker, but I think it works in this issue. It is a pretty big stretch that the Looter has ended up homeless in Aunt May’s neighborhood, but the story needs a local burglar and a credible villain for Spidey to fight, so the choice is understandable. I haven’t read a lot of Nathan Lubensky’s early appearances, so other writers might’ve also gone in this direction, but Nicieza’s portrayal of Nathan brings a lot of humanity to the character. He’s still a cantankerous old grouch, but he has the decency to apologize to Peter for the way he’s treated him, and he clearly loves Aunt May. He might be a moderately important supporting cast member who’s been long forgotten, but Nicieza really makes you care about the guy.

This issue is also significant as Alex Saviuk’s first chance to draw Spider-Man in his classic costume. Saviuk was my favorite Spider-Man artist for a few years as a kid, in large part due to his fidelity to the John Romita, Sr. style (which I only knew at the time as the “right Spider-Man,” because that’s the way he looked on all of the merchandise). Only years later did I learn, through this interview, that Romita was actually something of a mentor to Saviuk in comics and directly influenced his work. Saviuk’s a great choice to draw Spider-Man, as he can draw the costume on-model, handle the action scenes, and draw instantly recognizable interpretations of the supporting cast (unlike, say, a certain editor-in-chief). He stuck around for years, drawing Spider-Man in various styles; everything from McFarlane-esque to the ‘90s “animated” look when doing the comic adaptation of the cartoon. I believe he still works on Spidey to this day, on the Spider-Man newspaper strip.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #38 - May 1988

Moving Up

Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams & Mike Eposito (inkers), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

The Plot: Hobgoblin demands work from the Arranger, who sends him after Spider-Man as busy work. Meanwhile, Peter and MJ throw a goodbye party for their friends at their Chelsea apartment. When Peter hears word that Hobgoblin is wrecking havoc across town, he skips out of the party. He finds Hobgoblin, but soon notices that his reflexes are impaired. He figures out that the punch was spiked, as he tries to fight Hobgoblin. An electrical flash damages Hobgoblin’s cybernetic control, forcing him to retreat. Peter returns home and learns that his landlord’s spouse, Barney Muggins, spiked the punch.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: Peter and MJ are moving out of the Chelsea Apartments, where Peter’s lived for years. As of Amazing #300, they’re moving to the Bedford Towers condo.

I Love the ‘80s: Spuds Mackenzie is at the party. Mrs. Muggins wants to know why a dog is drinking beer.

Review: I believe this is Fabian Nicieza’s second professional work (following a fill-in on a New Universe book). It doesn’t read like something a novice would write, as it’s well-structured, quite funny, and has a great hook. A drunken Spider-Man fights the Hobgoblin. What’s not to love? Spidey even gets off the “Peter Parker wouldn’t do that!” hook because the punch was spiked. Nicieza also has a handle on the various characters in Peter’s life, so the party scenes are fun to read. Although we’ve entered a stretch of issues without a regular writer again, this actually doesn’t feel like a fill-in. A few of the ongoing plot threads are acknowledged (new villain Tombstone even makes an appearance, throwing Hobgoblin out of a window at Kingpin’s headquarters), and the issue serves as a goodbye to the long-standing Chelsea Apartments location. Peter has some moments with his neighbors, and (while still under the influence) even gives the vile Mrs. Muggins a kiss goodbye. A strong debut from Nicieza, who should’ve done more Spidey work over the years.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #37 - April 1988

When Strikes the Slasher!

Credits: James Owsley (writer), Steve Geiger (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Gregory Wright (colorist)

The Plot: Numerous fashion models have become victims of the mysterious Slasher. Dakota North takes the case, as Peter worries for MJ’s safety. Backstage at a show, MJ’s friend Elyse receives flowers from her obsessed fan, Harvey. Desperate for Elyse’s attention, Harvey hires an actor to pose as the Slasher, so that Harvey can “save” Elyse. When the imposter targets MJ and Elyse, they run for safety. Dakota North and Spider-Man apprehend the imposter, but MJ is soon the target of the real Slasher, the deranged and envious Elyse. Spider-Man stops Elyse in time, as Harvey realizes he has a lot to learn about love.

The Subplots: None.

Forever Young: Peter chides himself for having an “adolescent inferiority complex” after he learns that MJ has paid his quarterly tax bill.

Review: Gerry Conway is now handling Spectacular Spider-Man, so we’re back to fill-in mode. Owsley and Geiger did two earlier issues, and were apparently supposed to be the regular creative team for a brief period. I wonder if this issue was originally supposed to run with their other issues, and later went through some rewrites to make it fit in with the post-wedding status quo. That would fit with Owsley/Priest’s claims that his scripts were being rewritten, although the marriage plays such a major role in this story it’s hard to imagine it being written before the wedding.

Because this is a 1980s Jim Owsley comic, the superhero action is limited, the tone is often dark, and the villain is a deranged serial killer. There is some humor, and a happy ending, so it’s not as bleak as some of the Spidey material from his stint as editor. There isn’t a lot of room to sell the mystery, but I like the way Owsley hints that the random stranger Howard hired to impersonate the Slasher might actually be the killer. That’s the twist ending you normally get in comics, so the revelation that he’s innocent is a good reversal. Peter is also handled well, as he continues to deal with his insecurities over MJ’s success. Why exactly Dakota North is in this issue is beyond me, but Owsley seems to enjoy writing her and her hapless brother/assistant, also.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #36 - March 1988

Phreak-Out!

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

The Plot: After Peter returns home, Steve sneaks into the science lab and dons his electric exo-skeleton. Jake and his girlfriend Ronda spot Steve and follow him inside. When Jake flips the light switch, the circuits connected to Steve’s suit overload. Electric power consumes Steve, who soon names himself “Phreak-Out.” Still angry with Peter, he breaks into the Parkers’ apartment and kidnaps Mary Jane. Spider-Man follows him to Times Square, where Jake and Ronda also arrive. When Steve absorbs too much energy, his suit shorts out and he is arrested.

The Subplots: Mob hitman Tombstone is following Roland Rayburn. When Robbie Robertson spots Tombstone riding by, he’s distressed. Meanwhile, in South America, Tarantula is ordered to kill Spider-Man.

Web of Continuity: This brief cameo is actually the first appearance of Tombstone. Like the Roland Rayburn and Tarantula subplots, Tombstone’s story is continued in Spectacular Spider-Man.

Production Note: The flexographic printing in this issue is atrocious. Some of the word balloons are simply illegible.

Review: Okay, two issues in a row with silly villains is a little much. Not content with just remote-controlling outdated robots, Steve now has to wear a ridiculous power-suit (reminiscent of the one worn by Transformers villain Circuit-Breaker, only more revealing) and cause havoc in Times Square. If this poor kid’s fashion sense is okay with partial sleeves, a bare midriff, and exposed thighs, maybe he deserved to be picked on. The story ends with Jake comforting Steve as he’s placed in custody, as he swears that they’ll work out their problems…together. Any story that ends with the actual line “that’s a promise…friend” as the high school jock gives the misunderstood nerd a thumbs-up has obviously crossed the line into camp. The comic was published when the majority of the audience didn’t consist of jaded middle-aged men, so I’ll cut it a little slack, I guess.

Conway does try to use the story to make a statement about Peter Parker, as Peter and MJ disagree over whether or not he was ever like Steve. It’s interesting that MJ is adamant that Peter was never a “loser” in high school, since that’s one of the terms I hear people use to describe him when discussing a return to the “classic” status quo. Their discussion about Peter’s personality, and his response to his teenage alienation, is my favorite part of the issue, and an early indication that Conway can handle their relationship well.


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