Friday, December 30, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #123 - April 1995



Players and Pawns Part Two - True Lies
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Steven Butler (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Flash Thompson and his students are targeted by the Jackal. Ben Reilly defeats him, unaware the Jackal wants to be placed in Ravencroft. As the Jackal is taken away, Jack hands Ben a disc that he claims proves Ben is the original Peter. A verbal command from the Jackal immediately causes Jack to deteriorate. Meanwhile, Kaine has handed Peter Parker documents that allegedly prove that he is the original. When Kaine refuses to answer all of Peter’s questions, Peter charges him. Kaine throws Peter off of a building and escapes. Later, Ben throws the disc into the river, confident in his own identity.

The Subplots: Aunt May awakens from her coma. Meanwhile, another clone travels to New York. Finally, Detective Trevane pursues an arrest warrant.

Web of Continuity: Flash Thompson is now a grade school gym teacher. The third Peter Parker is a needless distraction that only serves to pad the story out even longer. The arrest warrant is for Peter, of course, leading in to the OJ-inspired “Trial of Peter Parker” storyline.

*See _________ For Details
: Peter and Ben shut down the Jackal’s lab in Spider-Man #56. Kaine presented Peter with his “evidence” in Spectacular Spider-Man #222; the same issue the mystery of the third Peter Parker began. Ben returns to the smokestack that allegedly incinerated him in Amazing Spider-Man #150 before throwing the disc away.

Creative Differences: Several added thought balloons establish that the Jackal is attacking Flash and his students in order to provoke Ben Reilly. Later, more added thought balloons have the Jackal boasting that he wants to go to Ravencroft because “something” there belongs to him.

Review: The clone storyline was originally supposed to end in Amazing Spider-Man #400, which went on sale the same month this issue was released. Clearly, this was not to be. The standard explanation from the creators is that Marvel’s marketing machine became enamored with the concept and pressured them to keep it going, requiring them to develop one inane plot twist after another to prevent the story from reaching its natural conclusion. Okay, maybe no one involved with the books ever used the phrase “inane plot twist” (in public, at least), but that’s clearly what’s happening by this point. Ben’s the real Peter! No, Peter is…Kaine says so! Who’s Kaine? We can’t say yet, but Peter’s going to fight him for no reason this issue! Wait, this third Peter is the real one…you can trust us now! Uh-oh…the Jackal’s plan is still in motion behind bars! By the way…we’re killing Aunt May next week, but Peter will be too busy digesting prison food to mourn his loss!

As exasperating as the overall storyline is by now, there are a few decent moments in this issue. Ben’s interaction with the original supporting cast has been interesting so far, so working in Flash and his students is a smart move on the creators’ part. Ben’s decision to throw away the evidence that “proves” he’s not a clone is reminiscent of Peter’s choice to throw his test results away in ASM #151, which is a clever callback. Ben’s just as confident in his own identity now as Peter was back then, which is ironic given that Ben’s so adamant that he isn’t Peter anymore. Finally, Steven Butler returns with full pencils, producing the best-looking issue in a while. Unfortunately, he’s still stuck drawing the horrific Scarlet Spider costume, which is several months away from retirement. Yet another reason why this story needs to move on.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #122 - March 1995


Smoke and Mirrors Part One - The Call
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (plot), Todd Dezago (script), Steven Butler (breakdowns), Randy Emberlin (finishes), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Peter Parker and Ben Reilly are suddenly assaulted with visions of the past. A subconscious prompt sends Ben to the mountains. There, he encounters Jack, a diminutive clone of the Jackal. Another deformed Peter Parker clone attacks him, leaving Ben for dead in the snow. Meanwhile, Peter tries to fight off his hallucinations, until he has a vision of Ben’s lifeless body. He declares that he won’t turn his back on Ben.

The Subplots: Kaine watches Ben’s battle with the clone from a distance. In New York, MJ and Anna Watson keep vigil over Aunt May. MJ’s adamant that May will live to see her baby, but Anna prepares her for the worst.

Web of Continuity: Peter has visions of awakening in the Jackal’s lab, causing him to question for the first time if he is in fact the clone.

*See _________ For Details: MJ announced her pregnancy in Spectacular Spider-Man #220. The next chapter of “Smoke and Mirrors” is Amazing Spider-Man #399.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year as 199,708 copies with the most recent issue selling 152,500.

Review: And now begins the clone saga phase that has every ridiculous idea from the original storyline exhumed and hauled into modern times. I can understand why the creators would want to revive the Jackal in a storyline about the original clone, but I consider it one of those ideas that is so obvious it's not really worth doing. The Jackal already did everything he needed to do for this storyline back in the ‘70s. He created the clone. And as Gerry Conway revealed while he went out of the way to make his silly old story a bit more respectable, the Jackal wasn’t even capable of cloning in the first place.

Hardly anyone even remembered the Jackal at this point -- his true claim to fame was hiring the Punisher for his first appearance -- so what exactly was served by bringing him back? Apparently, someone thought it was a good idea to give him a tiny clone, a drastically altered “funny” personality, and a ridiculous new motivation that changed his desires from “hot blonde co-ed” to “world domination.” He’s the Jackal in name only, and yet he’s just as pathetic a villain now as ever. I can’t imagine the people invested in this story, the ones who were dying to know about Ben’s past and whether or not Peter was a clone, cared anything about the Jackal, his annoying clone, or his stupid genetic time bombs. He’s just a distraction that unnecessarily stretches the story out for a few more months. Unfortunately, he won’t be the only one.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #121 - February 1995



Web of Life Part Three - The Hunting
Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Phil Gosier (breakdowns), Sam De La Rosa & Randy Emberlin (finishes), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Kaine encounters a gang of thugs who are terrorizing a homeless woman and murders them. Meanwhile, Ben Reilly races to Peter Parker’s home, hoping to catch the Grim Hunter. He’s soon confronted by Kaine, who knocks him unconscious. When the Grim Hunter arrives, Kaine faces him.

The Subplots: Gregor, a friend of the late Kraven the Hunter, fears for his son’s sanity. Elsewhere, Detective Jacob Raven has tracked Kaine’s fingerprints to New York.

*See _________ For Details: The Grim Hunter ended his pursuit of Ben Reilly in Spider-Man #54 after discovering that Ben wasn’t the same Spider-Man he faced earlier. The conclusion to this story arc occurs in Spider-Man #55.

Creative Differences: Portions of Gregor’s monologue are lettering corrections, and an added thought balloon emphasizes that Grim Hunter escaped from Ben in the previous chapter.

Review: Terry Kavanagh isn’t officially gone at this point, but apparently some behind-the-scenes disagreements will soon lead to his departure. Todd Dezago will show up during the early days of the clone saga as a fill-in writer before taking over Sensational Spider-Man after Dan Jurgens’ brief stint. Just based on this issue, I would say he has a better ear for dialogue than Kavanagh, but there’s no noticeable improvement in the plotting. Since Web is released during the first week of the month, it’s placed in an odd position during the crossovers. It always starts the storylines, but never finishes them, leaving every other issue as the third chapter in a four-part storyline. In other words, every other issue is largely “Middle.”

It’s obvious that this issue has a lot of time to kill. Kaine’s opening scene just reiterates the character’s brutal nature (even towards the person he's allegedly saving), while Ben’s introductory action piece is just an elaborate setup for a Miracle on 34th Street reference. A few more pages are eaten up with a monologue by Gregor, a character who’s never appeared in this book before, but apparently has a connection with the Kraven-spawn that’s about to be killed off. Exciting. We’re halfway through the issue by now. A Kaine subplot establishes that the police are on his trail, so that’s at least one plot advancement. Ben and Kaine then trade off monologues for a couple of pages before having a fight scene that drops a few vague hints about their shared past. Of course, we’re still several months away before any true revelations are made, so this is more stalling, really. Finally, Kaine and Grim Hunter face off on the final page, leading us directly into a different comic that will actually resolve this story. Would even a hardcore completist want to keep buying a comic with stories like this? At the very least, a competent artist could’ve redeemed the action scenes, but the rushed, faux-McFarlane style art just drags the material down even deeper.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #120 - January 1995



Web of Life Part One - Lure of the Spider
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Steven Butler (breakdowns), Randy Emberlin & Don Hudson (finishes), Kevin Tinsley (colorist), Krol, Powell, & Crespi (letterers)

The Plot: Ben Reilly fills in for the missing Spider-Man, defeating Tombstone and the terrorist group A.R.E.S. on the same night. After spotting Ken Ellis and Betty Brant during one of his fights, Ben visits Betty and considers offering her his story. Instead, he changes his mind and leaves. Meanwhile, the Grim Hunter follows Ben’s path.

The Subplots: Kaine keeps a vigil near Aunt May’s hospital room. He suddenly has a vision of MJ’s death. In Pittsburgh, MJ says goodbye to her sister Gayle.

Web of Continuity: Gayle comments that MJ is “positively glowing,” a subtle hint that she’s pregnant (which is apparently no longer in continuity, regardless of Marvel’s claims that all of your old Spider-Man comics still happened with a shacked-up Peter and MJ). MJ traveled to Pittsburgh to reconcile with her family a few issues earlier in Amazing Spider-Man.

*See _________ For Details: Tombstone’s previous attempts to become a crimelord occurred in Spectacular Spider-Man #204-206. A footnote corrects a narrative caption’s claim that Kraven’s mansion has been abandoned since his death with a reference to the “Pursuit” storyline. A brief shot of Peter Parker near death is accompanied with a plug for the Amazing/Spectacular crossover “Web of Death.” Finally, this story is continued in Spider-Man #54, and a very special announcement will be made in Spectacular Spider-Man #220.

Gimmicks: This is a forty-eight page flipbook. The other side of the comic is a reprint of “Cold Blood” by Greg Cox, a Spider-Man vs. Morbius prose story from the Ultimate Spider-Man collection.

Miscellaneous Note: Ben’s rooftop meeting with Betty is a pretty obvious homage to the Superman/Lois Lane interview scene in the original Superman movie.

Review: Well, if nothing else, there’s a lot going on here. Defenders of the clone saga will always point to the increased sales of the storyline’s opening issues, which is a fair enough argument. After years of lackluster spinoffs and an occasionally bland lead title, the return of the clone (prefaced by the degeneration of Peter Parker into an irrational lunatic) absolutely kicked some excitement back into the titles. That doesn’t mean the idea itself was particularly good, but it was ostentatious enough to make anyone pay attention.

When Mike Sterling says that he sells more clone saga back issues to kids than current Amazing issues at his shop, I’m not surprised. These issues are filled with crazy events -- new mystery characters, death prophesies, numerous villains, a potential replacement for Peter Parker…and somehow, the supporting cast is actually receiving a little more attention as well. (Setting Betty up as a potential love interest for Ben is a far better use of the character than abruptly turning her into a tough-as-nails butch reporter.) A few issues prior, the big drama was whether or not Peter would accept a job taking publicity photos for MJ’s soap opera. Now, he’s undergoing an emotional breakdown while his clone (who might not be a clone) has come out of retirement to fulfill his responsibilities. Even if you think this is a train wreck, it’s hard to ignore.

Monday, December 26, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #119 - November 1994


The Exile Returns Part Three - Echoes of Silence
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Steven Butler (breakdowns), Randy Emberlin (finishes), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Ben Reilly collapses outside of his apartment, due to the wounds he sustained fighting Venom. His neighbor, Gabrielle Greer, takes him to a nearby clinic. Daily Bugle reporter Ken Ellis tracks Ben to the clinic, but Ben slips away without being noticed. However, he is found by a woman infected with a clone of Venom’s symbiote. He misunderstands her appeal for help and leaves to prepare for his rematch with Venom. Soon, Ben confronts Venom as he battles the woman in Times Square.

The Subplots: The hitman Kaine is offered a job, but he instead kills the mobsters who sought his services.

Web of Continuity: Since the previous issue, Ken Ellis has coined the moniker Scarlet Spider to describe Ben. Ben’s impact webbing debuts this issue during this rematch with Venom.

*See _________ For Details: Venom gashed Ben’s side in Spider-Man #52, the female Venom’s symbiote has regenerated following Venom: Lethal Protector #6, and the conclusion of this story occurs in Spider-Man #53.

Creative Differences: This issue has numerous lettering corrections, but I can’t tell if any of them are actual rewrites. Some of the female Venom’s monologue is relettered on page twelve, around half of the Kaine subplot scene has been relettered, and Venom’s description of how he’s going to strip the symbiote away from the woman on page twenty-seven is partially relettered.

Review: So, following the previous issue, Ben fought Venom and he got a boo-boo on his side. And, apparently the female with a cloned symbiote from the original Venom mini has returned. (I don’t know if this woman ever received a name, but in this issue, Kavanagh only refers to her as “psycho,” “blondie,” "cuz," and “sister.”) Regardless, I don’t think I missed much by skipping Spider-Man #52. Much of this installment feels like padding, with the big conclusion to the Venom fight being reserved for Spider-Man #53. However, over the course of a few panels we do have the introduction of impact webbing, a concept I honestly like and kind of wish could’ve survived the clone saga. Ben’s neighbor Gabrielle Greer is also given a few panels, but during the short-lived career of Ben Reilly, Gabrielle doesn’t amount to more than a short-lived potential love interest. The Kaine subplot scene is much more significant, though, given later revelations about the character. I’m not sure how this will play out while rereading Web, but my memory is that the identity of Kaine was teased for what seemed like forever, even though it should’ve been pretty obvious all along he was another spider-clone. What else were we supposed to think about a masked man with brown hair and Spider-Man’s physique that debuts during a massive cloning storyline?

Friday, December 23, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #118 - November 1994


The Exile Returns Part One - Memories
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Steven Butler (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Ben Reilly visits a museum on his way out of New York City. After wandering the city and reflecting on his life as Peter Parker, Ben decides that he can’t leave while Aunt May is dying. When he overhears a news report about Venom on the radio, he returns to the museum to buy a spider-themed sweatshirt he saw earlier. Combining the sweatshirt with a leotard, he creates a new Spider-Man costume.

The Subplots: Betty Brant visits Anna Watson in Aunt May’s hospital room. Meanwhile, Venom tours the city and reflects on his past.

Web of Continuity: If you’re curious to see what exactly is happening in the other Spider-titles during this era, the Life of Reilly site has extensive recaps and behind the scenes commentary by many of the creators involved.

*See _________ For Details: Following the events of the “Power and Responsibility” crossover, Venom returned to New York to ensure that Carnage would not escape Ravencroft.

I Love the ‘90s: The local news station monitoring Venom calls their coverage “Venomwatch ’94.”

Review: And here’s where the hard sell for Ben Reilly begins. The plan was already in place for Ben to replace Peter as the “true” Spider-Man, and even if the creators didn’t quite understand just how badly fandom would reject the idea, they at least knew that they had to put some work into selling it. Unfortunately, they went the predictable route of lessening Peter in order to make Ben look more appealing by comparison. Peter was already a raving lunatic in the preceding storylines, so Ben was automatically depicted as the sensible, more sympathetic Spider-Man in his initial appearances. Over the ensuing months, Peter remains unhinged while Ben is portrayed as a virtual saint. Perhaps the final straw in tearing Peter down was the infamous Spectacular Spider-Man issue that had him slapping Mary Jane, but apparently this scene was perceived differently than the creators intended, so maybe that (horrific) incident wasn’t a part of a concentrated effort to make Peter look bad.

Pitting Ben Reilly against Venom, though, is a clear example of elevating Ben at Peter’s expense. Heck, the last line of dialogue in the issue is “Okay, Venom -- Here’s one Spider-Man who’s not gonna let you run wild!” Get it? Because editorial/marketing concerns had Spider-Man reluctantly form a truce with Venom in Amazing Spider-Man #375, that obviously means that the character of Peter Parker is deeply flawed and deserves to be replaced. Preferably by his “real” self, seeing as how he’s been a clone since 1975 and all. That’s perhaps an exaggeration of the creative team’s intent, but I don’t think it’s much of one. Peter = loser who let Venom go. Ben = true hero who’s going to correct that foolish mistake. The fans will clearly see the logic behind this. They’ll be even more excited to see Ben take over the mantle of Spider-Man…right?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #117 - October 1994





Power and Responsibility Part One - Shadow Rising
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Steven Butler (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man confronts Ben Reilly, incredulous that his clone could’ve survived. During the fight, Ben knocks Spider-Man unconscious and slips away. Meanwhile, Dr. Judas Traveller arrives at Ravencroft with his entourage. He quickly takes over the facility and mentally examines the inmates’ connections to Spider-Man. His devotee Chakra sends a message to Spider-Man -- the inmates will be killed or freed; either way, Spider-Man must face Traveller. Ben overhears the message and secretly follows Spider-Man to Ravencroft.

The Subplots: Mary Jane’s aunt Anna arrives to visit Aunt May in the hospital.

Web of Continuity: Well, obviously, nothing important has happened in the Spider-titles since the last issue of Web.

*See _________ For Details: Dr. Ashley Kafka is still recovering from Shriek’s escape in Amazing Spider-Man #390. The original clone storyline from Amazing #149-151 is mentioned in a later footnote.

Creative Differences: An added thought balloon has Ben remarking that he only kept his old costume as a souvenir. Unfortunately, the extra balloon interrupts a sentence that had been broken into two separate thought balloons, making the addition particularly awkward.

Gimmicks: This issue has a cardstock foil cover and an extra flip book story. The cover price is $2.99.

Review: And now we’ve reached what used to be considered the most controversial Spider-Man story of all time. Of course, this goes back to the days when a) comics were reaching a mainstream audience, and b) readers had enough of an emotional connection to get worked up about this kind of thing. The Marvel Universe is a living, breathing retcon today, so it’s a little difficult to appreciate just how outrageous this story seemed at the time, even before Ben Reilly was revealed as the “one, true” Spider-Man. The clone was dead. He lived and died back in the ‘70s, before much of the audience was even born. And the fans that actually were old enough to remember the original storyline tended to regard it as one of the low points in Spider-Man’s history. He was gone, dead, and virtually forgotten, only getting referenced in a few late ‘80s Spectacular Spider-Man issues (and those stories largely existed to correct the implausible science of the original storyline). Revealing that the clone not only survived, but also had his own life “behind the scenes” of the Marvel Universe for the past twenty years was enough to make many fans apoplectic. And, again, this is before they found out that this was the “real” Peter Parker.

Looking back, with demonic pacts, several origin revisions, and illegitimate Gwen Stacy/Norman Osborn babies in our rearview, the outrage over this story almost feels quaint. I bet Marvel wishes they could get the fans to care so much about a storyline today. Too bad for them, because I think the overabundance of these stunts has left the readers in a permanent state of ennui. You could reveal that Peter Parker and Harry Osborn were secretly lovers during their college roommate days and only the editorial staff of The Advocate would probably care.

As for this specific issue, it really is the best issue of Web in a while. Kavanagh’s dialogue isn’t as overwrought or clunky as usual, and the alternating Spider-Clone/Judas Traveller plots certainly grab your interest. The revival of the clone was Kavanagh’s idea, and perhaps his enthusiasm for the concept is coming through in his work. It would’ve been nice to see some sort of a recap explaining how exactly Spider-Man ended up on a rooftop in a confrontation with his long-thought dead clone, though. Even if this wasn’t labeled the first chapter of a crossover, that’s information that at least warranted an editor’s note. That complaint aside, it’s a decent chapter that stirs up a lot of interest.

The story’s helped a lot by new artist Steven Butler, who seems to be specifically channeling Mark Bagley during this stint. He’s even joined by Bagley’s Amazing inker Randy Emberlin, giving this issue a look that’s virtually identical to the line’s flagship title. I can understand the desire to give each series its own distinctive look, but there’s something to be said for linewide consistency, too. Even subconsciously reminding the readers of Amazing sends the message that Web isn’t a disposable spinoff anymore.





The Double Part One - Born Again!
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Liam Sharp (penciler), Robin Riggs (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), John Kalisz (colorist)

The Plot: Professor Miles Warren creates a clone of Peter Parker. After weeks of abuse, the clone knocks Warren unconscious and escapes his lab.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: This story shows the unambiguous creation of a Peter Parker clone, rejecting the retcons from Spectacular Spider-Man annual #8 that established Warren’s “clones” as genetic duplicates. Gerry Conway’s retcon of his original clone storyline revealed that Warren merely used a virus that changed the appearance of a person to match that of someone else. Hence, the Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy “clones” were normal people injected with a virus that altered their DNA to resemble Peter and Gwen’s.

*See _________ For Details: The story of the clone continues in Amazing Spider-Man #394.

Review: J. M. DeMatteis is widely viewed as the best writer of these clone stories, and it’s obvious from this back-up that he’s intrigued by the issues of identity and “nature vs. nurture” that cloning introduces. Most of the script is a series of narrative captions offering a poetic reflection on the creation of life and the fundamental question of “Who am I?” that everyone must face. The basic plot consists of an old man beating a naked teenager. That kind of sums up the clone saga right there -- a talented writer could find numerous avenues to explore, but the basic premise is hard to escape. Your thoughtful reflection on human nature might be beautiful, but it’s wrapped around laughably bad science and ridiculous Bronze Age continuity.

Monday, December 19, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #10 - June 1994



Shriek, Rattle, and Roll
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (plot), Mike Lackey (writer), Jerry Bingham (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Freddy Mendez (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man escorts Shriek into Ravencroft, despite his objections that the facility isn’t ready to accept patients. Shriek soon feeds on the negative emotions of a guard and powers herself out of her restraints. She frees her fellow patients, Pyromania, Gale, Mayhem, and Webber, and attacks the staff. With John Jameson’s help, Spider-Man apprehends the inmates.

The Subplots
: Warrant and his boss Reynard are using a guard, Barker, as a spy. Their plan is to watch Ravencroft explode and exploit the new bounty hunter opportunities it will generate.

Web of Continuity: Edward Wheelan, formerly the Vermin, now works as a peer counselor at Ravencroft.

Creative Differences: An added thought balloon has Mayhem (who apparently is the only one of the convicts without an online profile) reflecting that she’s only helping the others long enough to kill them after they escape. This was apparently added to justify why Mayhem is joining the other inmates even though a previous scene established that she viewed them as immoral. I don’t think establishing that she wants to kill them as soon as they’re free helps clarify her motivation, though.

Review: Aside from Jerry Bingham’s art, there’s nothing of note here. I don’t even think the introduction of four new Ravencroft patients was intended to do anything more than kill a few pages. In case anyone’s curious, Pyromania is a pyrokinetic, Gale can create massive winds, Mayhem secrets a poisonous gas, and Webber is a “deranged psychotic escape artist,” as opposed to those perfectly stable psychotic escape artists. Two of these villains could’ve given Wizard staffers some easy flatulence jokes, but I can’t imagine anyone else paying these characters a lot of attention. They are such total blank slates that virtually any writer could do something with them, but the Handbook’s already filled with hundreds of generic goons begging for a reinvention.

Daze and Confusion
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (plot), Joey Cavalieri (script), Alex Saviuk (breakdowns), Don Hudson (finishes), Sergio Cariello (letterer), Joe Andreani (colorist)

The Plot: The master hypnotist Daze targets Senator Gaines, who is under Warrant’s protection. Warrant neutralizes Daze and rescues the senator from committing suicide. Reynard injects Daze with truth serum and learns that he works for a criminal cabal known as the Fold.

Review: A caption on the final page asks readers to write in if they want to see more Warrant action. This teaser story, which pits Warrant against a foe that resembles a pedophile cosplaying as Dr. Strange, apparently wasn’t enough to turn the tide in Warrant’s favor. Sadly, we’ll never know the outcome of Warrant’s epic battle with the Fold. I can’t imagine why the comics reading public of 1994 didn’t want more of a character that’s essentially a cyborg Gambit, but sometimes the fates are cruel.

Tabula Rasa
Credits: Mike Lackey (writer), Sergio Cariello (penciler/letterer), Keith Williams (inker), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: The Black Cat discovers the Black Fox stealing jewelry from her apartment. He claims he’s been hired to return it to its proper owners. After pursuing him she decides to let the Black Fox go, content that the last vestige of her criminal life is gone.

I Love the ‘90s: Black Cat remarks that she wants to settle down with the latest Fabio romance novel.

Review: This is pretty amusing, and the art has a cartoony charm that I like. Mike Lackey’s interpretation of the Black Fox feels a little off (he speaks like a walking thesaurus, which seems like a great exaggeration of his established characterization), but the story remains a fun, quick read. A footnote reminds us that a Black Cat miniseries is coming from Terry Kavanagh and Andrew Wildman, but I doubt it was as entertaining as this back-up.

The Power of Resistance
Credits: Joey Cavalieri (writer), Vince Giarrano (art), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: The Prowler fights the Resistor, a former AIM scientist that’s using local gangs for labor. He recognizes one of the young gang members as a friend of his brother’s. After defeating the Resistor, the Prowler warns the child to make the right choices from now on.

Review: Obviously this is a fairly generic set-up, but I imagine Joey Cavalieri probably would’ve gotten something out of the concept if he had enough room to flesh out the story. I don’t think the little kid Prowler’s so concerned about is even named in the story, which gives you some idea of how rushed the execution is. The art ramps up the excitement a bit, with a style that’s a mash-up of Sam Kieth and early Jae Lee. Looking at this back-up, I wonder why exactly Marvel created a new hero to serve as a Spawn clone, when Prowler was already there with his McFarlane friendly costume and cape. I imagine Spider-Man completists would’ve felt more compelled to buy a Prowler series than a Nightwatch one anyway.

Friday, December 16, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #13 - June 1998



For Whom the Bell Grumbles
Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Christopher Jones (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noelle Giddings (colorist)

Following last issue’s revelation, the team now debates whether or not to go forward. And if they go forward, who should lead the Young Heroes?

Monstergirl seizes the opportunity to present herself as the clam, mature voice of reason. She also kisses Off-Ramp during a transparent attempt to draw him closer to her.

Bonfire discerns Junior’s secret identity during a debate over DC continuity (apparently, it’s very important to some people when the term “meta-human” was coined).

Thunderhead is unsure about going forward, especially if it means replacing Hard Drive as the team’s “cape guy.”

Off-Ramp is hurt the most by Hard Drive’s actions. He remains unsure of his decision to join the team and requests a few days off. The team realizes that Off-Ramp is the most valuable member of the Young Heroes, due to his teleportation powers. Without a means to travel to their battles, the team doesn’t have a lot of options.

Junior accidentally tells Zip-Kid he thinks she’s beautiful. She tells him not to apologize for being nice.

Zip-Kid is upset with her boyfriend for casually dismissing her. When she returns home to have “the talk” with him, he unexpectedly proposes to her.

Frostbite views Off-Ramp as his only way home. When he tries to explain this to him, Off-Ramp thinks he’s hitting on him.

More conversations, more manipulation, and more romantic entanglements. Raspler doesn’t advance any of the ongoing storylines very far, but he’s still able to make a conversation scene worth your time. His treatise on how valuable a long-range teleporter would be for a superhero group is something I’ve never thought of before, and he’s managed to make the idea work as a credible conflict for the team members. If you really did live in a remote area of Canada, losing your teammate teleporter would have a fairly significant impact on your life. I’m not sure if he’s serious about a homoerotic subtext to Frostbite and Off-Ramp’s relationship, though, largely because Christopher Jones’ facial expressions can occasionally be hard to decipher.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CHRONOS #6 - August 1998


The Funeral Party
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Dennis Rodier & Steve Leialoha (inks), Ken Bruzenak (letters), Mike Danza (colors)

1998: Chronos and Alex attend David Clinton’s funeral, allowing Walker to give Alex (and any new readers) a history lesson on the original Chronos. The flashback also reveals that Walker Gabriel first met David Clinton while studying his theories on time travel. They became acquaintances, but not truly friends, which is why Walker can’t believe Clinton left him his valuable technical papers and 1934 World’s Fair clock. Inside that clock is a more valuable treasure, the key to Clinton’s safe house. Inside, Chronos and Alex discover paintings stolen from famous painters the day they were finished, rare antiques, and Clinton’s original time travel equipment. Walker’s not thrilled by this, since these items are virtually impossible to fence.

The most shocking discovery in the house is an old photo of David Clinton with Walker’s parents.
Suddenly, one of David Clinton’s old friends, Abel Tarrant (the Tattooed Man), enters. He demands Chronos use the time travel equipment to send him twenty years in the past. Chronos obliges, but unfortunately for Tarrant, Clinton’s old time machine explodes shortly after sending him back to the past. Alex essentially nags Walker into doing something, so he travels back in time to retrieve Tarrant.

1978 (give or take a few years): Chronos encounters Tarrant harassing his twenty-year-old self, bullying him out of getting his first tattoo. Tarrant reveals that this tattoo parlor served as his first crime connection, so he wants to erase the mistake and recreate his past. Tarrant’s tattoos melt into blobs as he doubles over in pain, leading Chronos to take him back to the ‘90s.
A few amusing moments during this scene: Chronos comments that tattoos themselves don’t lead to crime, since everyone he knows under thirty has one. This was written in 1998, before the tattoo fad infected even teenage Disney Channel stars and middle-aged single dads. John Francis Moore also implicitly endorses the Carter Administration by having Chronos tell Tarrant that he’s saving him from the Reagan years. I’m sure this is just a gratuitous partisan shot, but Ronald Reagan will become an important historical touchstone in future issues.

1998: Chronos returns with Tarrant, whose tattoos have returned to normal, signifying the futility of changing the past (and also leaving him free to be dismembered in a future issue of Green Lantern or Suicide Squad). Walker declares that he won’t be looking back at his own life with regret at age forty. Holding the photo of his parents, he’s determined to learn the truth about his past. Apparently, this reflects an edict of DC, who felt the character of Walker Gabriel was too whiney and passive. To Moore’s credit, this issue doesn’t feel like an abrupt change of direction, and I would rather see the mysteries resolved sooner rather than later, so this is one editorial decree I don’t mind. The second half of the series noticeably picks up the pace in the coming issues, and I honestly think the later issues are more entertaining than the early ones, even if the pacing is occasionally bizarre.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #12 - May 1998


Oh My God! He’s Dead!
Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noel Giddings (colorist)

Oh, he isn’t dead. After the team freaks out, Hard Drive wakes up. He erected a telekinetic shield a split-second before Ricky shot him, so he’s fine. For now. The team grabs Ricky, who dismisses his actions by claiming that he assumed Hard Drive is always protected by a telekinetic shield. Before Off-Ramp teleports him to jail, child genius Ricky quickly discerns one of the biggest mysteries of the series. How could Hard Drive know to erect a shield unless he was reading Ricky’s mind? And if he can read minds, who’s to say he hasn’t been telepathically influencing the team as well? Bonfire, Off-Ramp, and Junior suddenly remember the times they’ve been manipulated by Hard Drive, exposing his past behavior to the team. Everyone unites against their former leader, a fight breaks out, and Hard Drive is revealed as…“emotionally unstable” to say the least. When he comes close to killing Off-Ramp, Hard Drive breaks down and agrees to seek help.

Plus…
Monstergirl also claims that Hard Drive has tampered with her mind, which a handy footnote informs us is a lie. Hard Drive is incensed by her betrayal.

Bonfire will leave the team now that she’s consummated her relationship with Frostbite, at least according to Hard Drive. She doesn’t exactly deny it.

Thunderhead opens a present left by Hard Drive before he left for the hospital. It’s a specially made guitar that fits his large hands.

Frostbite never gets to join the fight. He was out when Off-Ramp teleported in to retrieve him, so he missed everything.

One year into the book’s run, one of the its largest secrets is exposed to the team. That seems like an appropriate amount of time to tease an idea, but then again I’ve read so many ‘90s X-titles, my judgment might be impaired. The action in this issue doesn’t feel as forced as it did in the previous arc, since it’s entirely plausible that the team would react violently to Hard Drive’s dirty secret. The characterization of Hard Drive remains interesting, as he defends his actions by saying he did it all for “the people of the world.” He’s only magnifying emotions, not creating them, and if he’s using his powers to influence other “metas” to help humanity, so what? He desperately wants the team to like him, and when they understandably turn against him, his childlike response to the rejection is brutal. Is Hard Drive comics’ first bi-polar superhero? Is his childishness a commentary on comics fans? Will any of this be resolved before the series is cancelled?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CHRONOS #5 - July 1998


Legacies
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Doug Hazlewood & Dexter Vines (inks), Willie Schubert (letters), Mike Danza (colors)

1998: Chronos returns to his apartment with Alex, who’s amused by his outdated video game systems. Alex receives a message from the mysterious Goodfellow on her Keystone and travels across time with Chronos to the Temple of Eternity. This temple allows Goodfellow’s troupe to travel anywhere though time…which seems kind of redundant given the time-traveling Keystone devices they carry. I realize that the Keystones don’t allow them to travel directly from one era to another -- they have to keep hopping around time until they reach their destination -- but since the time-hopping doesn’t seem to bother them so much, I’m not sure why the temple is supposed to be so important. Why exactly is Moore attaching so much continuity to the troupe’s time travels?

After pushing in a piece of the Gate of Eternity (which resembles a giant Aztec calendar), they travel to…

1865: In nineteenth century France, Chronos meets the leader of the troupe, Lucas Goodfellow. He explains that he was plucked out of time at the moment of death and paired with eleven other “time-lost wayfarers who had been shanghaied by a mysterious power.” He formed the Lucas Goodfellow Traveling Theatrical Troupe to ensure that certain historical events occur. He asks Chronos to join, but he refuses. Later on, a monologue will reveal that he’s scared at the prospect of becoming a hero, and he doesn’t want time travel to ravage his body the way it’s destroyed David Clinton’s.

Alex learns that her grandmother Cassandra has died. Goodfellow hands her a silver dragon necklace that’s been left for her. Chronos touches it and is briefly transported to eleventh century China. (This is the scene featuring the ancient Chinese city of Kaifeng miscolored “in dark purple and chartreuse” that penciler Paul Guinan complained about when announcing the book’s cancellation. And he’s right; the colors on this page are muddy and kind of ugly.) Chronos catches a glimpse of Cassandra, who wears a hood that conceals her face. I have a feeling this is significant later on…

1998: Anyway, Chronos returns home and picks up a photo of his deceased mother. What would you expect anyone with time travelling powers to do? He uses his ability to travel back to his childhood, of course.

1985: Berkley, California. This is one of my favorite sequences in the series. Moore’s already explored some of the traditional science fiction time-travel plots, and now he’s using the premise to examine an idea that’s relatable for everyone. Who wouldn’t want to revisit their childhood home? I wasn’t as old as Walker Gabriel in 1985, but I had a similar collection of Super Powers action figures in my bedroom (although the DC Universe seems to have produced toys that didn’t exist in our world, such as a Golden Age Flash figure). Walker sees his mother and his younger self playing outside. He wants to talk to her, but what could he even say?

Upstairs, Chronos plans on leaving a note for his mother, hoping to warn her of a fatal car accident eight months in the future. He overhears his parents arguing about his birth parents, a subject he didn’t think they knew anything about. He investigates his father’s office and finds a book with yet another Aztec calendar on the outside. He opens it to discover a map of Chronopolis. Touching the drawing, he’s taken to Chronopolis during the days of its construction, and is quickly sent back home by a discourteous cyborg. Back in 1998, Chronos answers the phone to discover his predecessor, David Clinton, is dead.

Monday, December 12, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #11 - April 1998



Climb Every Mountain to the Headquarters Without Fear!
Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noelle Giddings (colorist)

Grundómu continues to destroy the rainforest, while Junior deduces that the monster is somehow exhaling oxygen like a plant. The team decides to pit Bonfire’s fire powers against Grundómu, while Off-Ramp recruits the nearby scientists. The kid genius, Dr. Renquist (or “Ricky” as he doesn’t like to be called) theorizes that Grundómu is making himself invaluable to humanity by replacing the rainforest. Eventually, Ricky confesses that he created Grundómu and gave him this plan. Ricky is convinced by Junior that any nation on Earth would like to have a “colossal plant-based oxygen machine,” so he orders Grundómu to stop his rampage. Later, the team investigates Ricky’s lab to make sure things are on the up and up. Unfortunately for Hard Drive, Ricky shoots him in the side of the head when he isn’t looking.

In Subplot Land…
Hard Drive tries to encourage Bonfire during the fight, but he’s still upset about her tryst with Frostbite.

Bonfire is apparently having hot flashes, according to the cover blurb. Did DC really intend to associate this character with menopause?

Monstergirl is furious when Off-Ramp asks her why she doesn’t grow larger while fighting the Grundómu. Why exactly she’s so sensitive about her powers remains a mystery.

Frostbite is incensed that he’s been left behind. While taking a walk, he runs into a teacher from issue #6. He learns that “Flying Squirrel” of the Rat Pack is out of jail, and he contemplates checking up on him.

One issue dedicated to a monster fight was a little strange, but two in a row is especially bizarre for this book. I don’t know if Dan Raspler wants a change of pace, or if DC is trying to “mainstream” the title, but there is a sense that the direction of the book is changing. The cliffhanger certainly isn’t of the “________ is kissing ________” variety, but I think it works as an abrupt shock for the readers. I’m not sure what to make of Ricky, who I initially dismissed as a throwaway character, but it’s obvious he’s not supposed to be an incidental. He reads like something straight out of a Mark Waid script, which makes me wonder if Waid (or perhaps Morrison or Millar) ever did anything with the brat.

Friday, December 9, 2011

CHRONOS #4 - June 1998


Reprise
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inks), Ken Bruzenak (letters), Mike Danza (colors)

Outside of Time: Chronos emerges in Chronopolis for the first time, following Vyronis’ activation of the Time Masher. He’s greeted by Alex, now aged seventeen years, who’s working with Rip Hunter to undo the damage created by Vyronis. Chronos learns that he’s some form of temporal anomaly, which makes him the world’s only hope against Vyronis. Alex hands Chronos his displacement suit, which becomes his standard superhero outfit for the series, shortly before the all-powerful future version of Vyronis attacks. With Alex and her allies dead, Chronos teleports back to…

1464: In Florence, Chronos relives his disastrous choice from the previous issue, only now he turns against Vyronis. Vyronis tries to kill him, and in the process, Chronos is bathed in chronal energy after the tachyon generator explodes. Chronos makes a hasty wish to be anywhere but Florence, and suddenly appears…

Whenever Kamandi Is Supposed To Take Place: Chronos and Vyronis find themselves attacked by “Lion Men on ATVs.” Despite what the cover would lead you to believe, though, this scene is only three pages long. Chronos does break Vyronis’ Keystone, which will presumably be important later on, but really this scene exists as a dramatic demonstration of Chronos’ new powers, and as a continuity nod to DC fans. Chronos tests his powers by willing himself to return to fifteenth century Florence. He makes it back, is reunited with Alex, and is ready to face new adventures. But…

1998: David Clinton reminds us again that time isn’t something to be toyed with. He fades out of existence, for perhaps the last time.

So, four issues into the series, Walker Gabriel’s origin and status quo are (mostly) spelled out. He can travel through time, reaching specific eras and locations if he concentrates on objects representing that time and place. He isn’t a straight hero or villain, nor does he have a clear motive at this point. Why exactly he’s a temporal anomaly is the major mystery right now, and Moore’s resolution to the mystery will be his most creative use of time travel during the series’ run.

Paul Guinan’s art is just as delicate and remarkable this issue as it has been since the first issue, although I can see another example of the “camera” being placed too far back. When Chronos punches Vyronis on page nineteen, it should be a big deal. Vyronis has been screwing with Walker since the series began, and this issue opened with a super-powerful Vyronis from the future killing Alex in Chronopolis. Chronos hasn’t had a real physical confrontation with the villain yet, and since he isn’t a particularly physical character (as Walker says, he hasn’t hit anyone since he was eight), Walker punching Vyronis should feel like a big deal. Instead, the panel is a long, skinny one that works in a lot of background we’ve already seen, and shows Traven snatching a gun away from Fiorella. There’s no impact. Maybe Moore asked for all of that in the panel, but I have no idea why he would want the climatic “hero slugs villain” moment crammed in with any other information. At any rate, this is a strong closing chapter for the opening arc, and if there were ever a Chronos trade, this would make the perfect stopping point for the first volume.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #10 - March 1998



Tremble in Fear -- For the Beast Hunts You!
Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Christopher Jones (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noelle Giddens (colorist)

So, the logical follow-up to a slow, character-driven issue is to do an action-packed hero vs. monster story. I’ve never heard of Grundómu before, but apparently he lives for “the hunt” and speaks in non-sequiturs like “Belching! Bellicose! I Besiege!” The Young Heroes travel to Brazil to stop the monster, encounter a bratty twelve-year-old scientific genius, and talk about the DC Universe’s abundance of super-powered primates. Finally, they encounter Grundómu. Junior notices that Grundómu actually has a nice smell, which is surprising given his size and sheer monsterness. Why exactly this is brought up is left unclear, but presumably the smell mystery will tie into next issue’s conclusion.

In non-monster news…
Bonfire and Frostbite have returned from their naughty vacation. They want to test their mysterious psychic bond, but are interrupted when Off-Ramp abruptly abducts Bonfire away to participate in the mission.

Thunderhead misses Bonfire. Due to his giant size, he can no longer play guitar and take his mind off his problems.

Zip-Kid considers hanging out with Thunderhead, but when she realizes that going to a bar would require her to take off her mask, she decides to keep her secret identity.

There’s a lot of action here for a book that isn’t supposed to be about the action. Raspler is still incorporating a respectable amount of character work, so this doesn’t feel like a total switch, but I wonder what exactly prompted the change. The Grundómu fight is fun, even if it feels like an unnecessary diversion at this point. The most interesting team interaction this issue comes from Thunderhead and Zip-Kid. Thunderhead’s depression is heightened by his inability to play the guitar (Grant Morrison does the same bit with Beast in New X-Men years later), and Zip-Kid is only now realizing that fraternizing with the team in public will require her to give up her secret identity. At least, she seems to think so. Who’s to say any of her teammates would recognize her face?

Monday, December 5, 2011

CHRONOS #3 - May 1998



Renaissance Man
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inks), Willie Schubert (letters), Mike Danza (colors)

1873: Chronos is caught by the Linear Man, whose name we learn is Traven. The time-traveling actress, whose name is revealed as Alexandra Damaskinos, walks in on them and realizes that Chronos must be the reason why her tribe has been sent to the nineteenth century. During the confrontation, Chronos activates the strange metal disk, which we learn is called a Keystone, and escapes with Alex.

1998: The original Chronos is meeting with a lawyer to discuss his will. He’s represented by the ex-wife of his former foe, the Atom -- Jean Loring. This scene is mainly here to remind us that David Clinton is still fading in and out of existence, but just imagine if the creators of this book really did have access to the future! We could’ve been warned about Identity Crisis years in advance.

1464: Chronos and Alex have landed in Renaissance-era Florence. Some continuity is established (Alex belongs to a group of time-travelers led by a “Goodfellow,” only its members should be able to use the Keystones, they disguise themselves as actors because performers are supposed to be eccentric, the villain Vyronis is a former member, and the tribe can’t travel to anywhen they feel like -- points in time are connected to one another), and another DC character makes a gratuitous cameo. Jason Blood, whose demon form only appears in shadow, is hanging around Vyronis and his lover Fiorella for no obvious reason. He recognizes Chronos, who has no idea who Blood is, which means Moore probably planned on teaming Chronos and the Demon together in a later story (set in an earlier time period, of course).

Outside of Time: At the Vanishing Point, Traven reports to his commander and is sent to another era with a chronal energy surge -- Florence, 1464.

1464: Chronos learns why Vyronis hired him to steal the tachyon generator, and it naturally involves a giant machine that can destroy the entire timeline. Vyronis is convinced that he can use his “Time Masher” to disrupt the flow of time and reshape it however he pleases. Chronos just wants to go home. When Traven arrives to finish his arrest, Chronos manages to steal his gun from him. Chronos strikes a deal with Vyronis; he’ll keep Traven at bay long enough for Vyronis to activate the Time Masher, provided Vyronis sends him back home to 1998. (Who wouldn’t long to relive the days of endless Viagra jokes and the Lewinsky scandal?) Cliffhanger: Vyronis activates the machine and the world disappears in a flash of light. Chronos wonders if he’s made the wrong decision.

Obviously, Moore’s crammed a lot into this issue. This is the most continuity we’ve been exposed to so far, and he’s given several issues worth of information out in just a handful of pages. There’s so much going on Chronos often feels like a bit player in the drama, which is an unusual route to take in an ongoing series. I think the storyline is interesting enough to justify all of the digressions, but I can see why a casual reader would begin to feel lost at this point, and this is only the third issue. When Chronos is allowed to show some personality, we’re reminded that he isn’t a traditional superhero protagonist. Walker isn’t particularly iniquitous, but he’s willing to go along with a villain’s plan if it means getting what he wants. The unpredictably of Chronos’ actions, and where exactly they’ll lead him, is one of my favorite aspects of the book.

And, speaking of time travel, here’s the back cover ad for the original Grand Theft Auto game. Who could’ve guessed where this gimmicky premise would lead?


Friday, December 2, 2011

X-MEN UNLIMITED #23 - June 1999


Lessons
Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Al Rio (penciler), Livesay/Holdredge (inks), Kevin Somers (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In the wake of Magneto’s takeover of Genosha, Professor Xavier reflects on his students and the world they must be prepared for. Marrow, Gambit, Rogue, and Shadowcat are irritated by his zealous attitude. Nightcrawler talks to Xavier, challenging him not to give in to fear. Xavier watches the team train in the Danger Room and is proud to have them as his family.

Continuity Notes: After searching the internet, Shadowcat learns her missing father is in Genosha. This is treated as a shocking revelation, but wasn’t this information revealed years earlier in Excalibur?

“Huh?” Moments: Professor Xavier repeatedly points to a videoscreen image of Genosha while trying to make a dramatic point to Nightcrawler. Unfortunately, someone forgot to actually paste an image into the panel, so he’s just pointing to a gray screen. I also wonder if several panels of a confrontation between Xavier and Shadowcat are accidentally missing word balloons.

Review: Wow, another X-Men story that hinges on Professor Xavier acting like a jerk. And it sees print just a few months before “The Shattering,” an X-crossover that uses Professor Xavier acting like a jerk as the impetus for the entire event. There’s enough material out there now for a Professor Xavier: A-Hole trade paperback, I swear. I will say this about Unlimited #23 and “The Shattering” -- there’s an actual point to the stories and Xavier is redeemed by both of their endings. New Marvel has failed pretty miserably in that regard.

The goal of this issue is to provide some insight into Xavier’s state of mind following the events of the “Magneto War” storyline. Since the main titles went off on an interdimensional/outer space arc directly following the crossover, you could argue that the team’s emotional response to the events was skimped over. Raab explores the idea that Xavier views Magneto gaining control of his own country as the ultimate defeat, while also fleshing out how he feels about returning to the X-Men (another plot development that was glossed over during the days of Uncanny and X-Men’s perpetual crossovers).

The story’s padded a bit with scenes of Xavier’s astral form checking out all of the X-characters starring in spin-offs, but for the most part, Raab has a clear focus. Xavier’s discouraged by a major loss, he’s wary about the future, and he’s paranoid that the latest incarnation of the team isn’t prepared. The X-Men simply see him behaving like an irritable bowel and don’t understand what’s wrong, with the exception of Nightcrawler, who once again proves what a nice guy he is by reaching out to the Professor. Nightcrawler throws some of Xavier’s old pep talks back in his face, and Xavier soon realizes that he should never give up hope in the team. The End.

As an epilogue to “Magneto War,” and a traditional “quiet” issue, this is all right. I know some fans have a problem with Al Rio, but I view him as one of the better Wildstorm artists. His characters look a little more human when compared to ones drawn by other artists who work in this style, and he doesn’t go overboard with needless rendering lines. It is a little ridiculous that apparently no one thought about how this story would relate to “The Shattering,” but I’m not surprised at this point. My fan explanation is that Xavier knew the team was annoyed by his overreaction to “Magneto War,” so he used it to add authenticity to his “drive the team away” scheme in “The Shattering.” If Marvel wanted to, they could’ve removed some of Xavier’s first-person narrative captions and just used this story as a “Shattering” prelude. As it is, I’d like to see this issue reprinted as an epilogue in a “Magneto War” trade paperback.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WOLVERINE Annual ‘99 - March 1999


Crying Wolf!
Credits: Marc Andreyko (writer), Walter McDaniel (penciler), Walden Wong & Scott Koblish (inkers), Gina Going (colors), Heisler & Revenge Graphics (letters)

Summary: Wolverine suspects famed author Duncan Vess is a werewolf. When he follows him home after a book signing, he encounters Deadpool, who’s been hired by a mysterious group to kill Vess. Their fight is interrupted by Lycus, a werewolf who’s targeted Vess for exposing werewolf secrets in his novels. Eventually, a council of elder werewolves appears. They reveal that they hired Deadpool to kill Vess, hoping that a human execution would be more inconspicuous. The Council punishes Lycus for acting on his own by turning him into a wolf. They leave when threatened by Wolverine, and Vess declares that he will go into hiding.

Continuity Notes: A footnote establishes that this story takes place prior to X-Men #90. Walter McDaniel, or perhaps the inkers, doesn’t seem to be drawing Wolverine with bone claws, even though he’s months away from regaining the adamantium.

I Love the ‘90s: Deadpool cites Bob Saget as an example of a hack comic. Presumably, Deadpool would know today that Saget is actually a filthy stand-up with a mean sense of humor. Deadpool would probably be a fan.

Review: I can just imagine the Twilight references if this story had been published today. Maybe they would’ve been funny, as opposed to what we have here. Some writers can give Deadpool brilliantly funny quips, while others can’t seem to go further than generic “light-hearted” banter. There is one amusing moment when Wolverine realizes that Deadpool’s too cheap to make his blades out of silver, but that’s really it. And, honestly, I’m not sure why exactly Marc Andreyko thought that a secret werewolf novelist would’ve served as a legitimate springboard for a Wolverine/Deadpool story. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by Walter McDaniel’s pencils. Normally, I can’t stand his art from this era, but this is a better job than anything I saw in Deadpool. Sometimes he still resembles a subpar Jeff Matsuda, but his Ed McGuinness-style Deadpool isn’t bad at all.

Beer Run
Credits: Marc Andreyko (writer), Massimiliano Frezzato (art), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Heisler & Revenge Graphics (letters)

Summary: During a poker game, Wolverine takes Nick Fury’s SHIELD car for a beer run. On the way home, he’s abducted by the Hand and forced to fight a dragon. Wolverine escapes as the Hand are sucked into another dimension. Meanwhile, local hoods have stripped Fury’s car. Wolverine finally returns home to discover his friends are asleep.

Continuity Notes: Wolverine is drawn with metal claws in this story as well.

Review: I’m almost positive this story was originally going to appear in a 1998 black and white Wolverine holiday special that was cancelled at the last minute. The one-shot even made its way into the Bullpen Bulletins’ checklist, and “Beer Run” sounds like one of the stories listed in the summary. I seem to recall many fans at the time wondering (rightly so) how exactly something of this caliber ended up as an annual back-up. The gray-tone art by legendary Italian artist Massimiliano Frezzato is absolutely beautiful, blending the story’s elements of action, humor, and fantasy perfectly. The plot is obviously silly, but I was struck by how much it reminds me of post-2000 “New Marvel.” Wolverine is buddies with Captain America, the Thing, She-Hulk, and Nick Fury. He's wearing a wife-beater and jeans. Villains are used with no real concern for continuity (how often can the Hand summon dragons?). Art by a prestigious foreign artist. It stars Wolverine. That’s New Marvel, right? Did they ever reprint this back-up? Aside from the fact that it isn’t needlessly padded out and doesn’t feature any gore, profanity, or heroes fighting each other, it would fit right in with something published today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

GAMBIT #1 - February 1999




The Man of Steal
Credits: Fabian Nicieza & Steve Skroce (story & art), Rob Hunter (inker), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Comicraft’s Emerson Miranda (letters)

Summary: In China, Gambit steals a spaceship component from an ancient temple. After Gambit rescues archeological engineer Sekmeht Conoway from the crumbling temple, the employees of Elysian Enterprises and American federal agent Carl Denti are unable to find him. He returns home to the X-Men, but receives another mission from New Son via the Courier. Looking to steal more information on the spacecraft, Gambit attacks an Elysian Enterprises convoy lead by the X-Cutioner. When Gambit realizes that the spacecraft is the one that once powered Apocalypse, he decides that no one should have the information and destroys it. In the process, the X-Cutioner is humiliated and three Elysian guards are fired. Meanwhile, a mystery woman examines the dreams of Gambit’s adopted father and the Courier.

Continuity Notes: The ancient ship is a Celestial craft that once belonged to Garbha-Hsien, before it was stolen by Apocalypse. A footnote points to X-Force #37 for details. Carl Denti is the X-Cutioner, of course, and the three security guards fired by Elysian Enterprises (Cosmo, Ellenthrope, and Farley) will appear in future issues.

I Love the '90s: The Courier’s dream takes place in Washington, which of course leads to a Monica Lewinsky reference. The senior LeBeau’s flashback to Gambit’s childhood with Bella Donna is described as “Dawson’s Creek meets Pulp Fiction.”

Gimmicks: This is a double-sized issue without any cover enhancements. However, numerous variant covers were released for the issue. You can view all of them here.

Review: Decompression was already catching on by the late ‘90s, although the phrase “writing for the trade” probably hadn’t been coined yet. (Doing this at Marvel would’ve been foolish, since the company barely released trades during this era.) Fabian Nicieza seemed to be conscious of the fad, and responded by making every issue of Gambit a tightly packed, dense read along the lines of Chris Claremont, Don McGregor, John Francis Moore, etc. If Bill Jemas had actually read a comic by this point, his head would’ve exploded ten pages into this one.

Along with setting up Gambit’s new status quo -- working with the X-Men and secretly for the New Son simultaneously -- Nicieza has also introduced a new group of supporting cast members and villains. And by “introduce” I don’t mean a drawn-out sequence that shows them making coffee in the morning, taking a shower, and driving to work. The very first page establishes C.E.O. Anwar Anubar, archeological engineer Sekmeht Conoway (who we later learn is his daughter), and the concept of Elysian Enterprises. They’re intended to be ongoing foils (and, in Sekmeht, perhaps a love interest) for Gambit, which is somewhat surprising given their low-key introduction, but that’s the nature of the book. You’re actually expected to, y’know, read and pay attention and not presume that everything’s going to be spoon-fed to you. X-Fans were probably already familiar with Carl Denti/X-Cutioner, and perhaps even the Celestial spacecraft, but the combination of new characters, a new status quo, numerous scene changes, some vague subplots, and old continuity references left some fans with a bad impression. I remember several people complaining online that this issue was too difficult to follow. And there is quite a lot thrown at the reader, but any confusion should be alleviated by a second reading.


In terms of characterization, Nicieza seems to be pulling Gambit closer towards the affable rogue he appeared to be in his initial appearances, instead of allowing him to endlessly wallow in patented X-angst. Gambit’s dealing with an ethical dilemma, as he doesn’t know where he fits in with the X-Men and isn’t sure if he should be helping New Son out, but he isn’t whining about it. He’s still having fun and using his powers in creative ways. Nicieza’s throwing Indiana Jones, Robin Hood, and maybe even Tomb Raider into a blender and getting a pretty likable hero/anti-hero out of it.


Steve Skroce was initially used as a major selling point for the book (the title was announced with Skroce as artist before any writer had been found), and he is producing remarkable work. He’s going for the Geoff Darrow “thousand-and-one things happening per page” look, and he’s skilled enough to make it work. Not content merely to draw a million shell casings or glass shards during a fight sequence, Skroce is also working out complicated movements for Gambit, car chases, and giant explosions…often on the same page. Occasionally the page layouts can be a little too busy, but the amount of effort he’s put into the issue is obvious. Even if you’ve already dismissed Gambit as a character, it’s hard to deny that this creative team is putting a lot of thought and energy into this book. Unfortunately, given the glut of X-titles, and the general impression that the franchise had gone off the rails by the late ‘90s, the title always had an uphill battle.

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