Tuesday, May 31, 2011

EXCALIBUR #122 - July 1998

The Search - Part One

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Dale Eaglesham (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Following the leads provided by Sabra, Excalibur travels to a Zero Tolerance outpost in Peru. Inside, the team is attacked by Prime Sentinels who have taken the form of the original X-Men. Eventually, the team realizes that the Sentinels want their help. A Prime Sentinel explains that this base escaped the UN’s notice and has continued to operate after Bastion’s arrest. They adopted the guise of the original X-Men in an effort to calm an unruly mutant prisoner. Excalibur opens his cell, expecting to find Professor Xavier, only to discover a restrained Mimic. Meanwhile, Meggan welcomes Brian Braddock back to Muir Island.

Continuity Note: The Prime Sentinels refer to Mimic as a mutant, which is incorrect. Mimic has imprinted all of the original X-Men’s powers, but he’s not a mutant himself.

Review: Going back to Uncanny X-Men #100, it’s a tradition to pit X-teams against the original X-Men. Why exactly I’m not sure, I don’t think the Avengers or Justice League recycle this idea so often, but Raab does have history on his side. Unfortunately, this turns out to be one of his weakest issues in a while. The dialogue mostly consists of stiff recaps of previous storylines, and the deep internal conflict Nightcrawler is supposed to be going through doesn’t quite work. It’s one thing for a determined Nightcrawler to pursue Xavier’s freedom, while also proving his worth as a leader, but it’s another to have him personally blame himself for Xavier’s imprisonment. Nightcrawler had nothing to do with that storyline! Along with this questionable bit of plotting, there’s Douglock’s sudden adoption of human emotions (he abruptly becomes the team’s whiny brat this issue), a scene that has Shadowcat using her powers to phase the team through Mimic’s telekinetic shield (can she do that?), and some dull recaps of the Muir Island subplots. Moira’s made her peace with dying, again, and Meggan is still in love with Brian. And while I am glad Brian’s back, I assume he’s returning just to be there for the upcoming series finale. Finally, there’s Dale Eaglesham’s fill-in art. This is probably the weakest work I’ve seen from Eaglesham. There’s a generic ‘90s look to it, and for some reason he’s given Douglock dreadlocks. I don’t care if they both end in “lock,” that’s inexcusable.

Monday, May 30, 2011

X-FACTOR #148 - August 1998

Sorry Is the Hardest Word

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Lee Moder (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Henry Gyrich locates Havok and places him under arrest for his terrorist activities. Polaris suddenly appears and steals Havok away. The government’s soldiers and Mandroids pursue the mutants, leading Polaris to disrupt the Mandroids with an EM pulse. One of the Mandroids goes haywire, forcing Havok to rescue Gyrich. Val Cooper arrives and uses her authority to exonerate Havok. On their ride home with Val, Polaris tells Havok that their relationship is over.

Continuity Notes: Dark Beast is mistakenly referred to as being “from the future” twice. Havok is being arrested specifically for attacking an airliner in Uncanny X-Men #339.

We Get Letters: Tom Raney is announced as the new artist, beginning in issue #150. The editor even teases new character designs for the team by Raney that will debut soon. Raney will go on to pencil X-Factor’s replacement series, Mutant X, a book that Marvel still doesn’t seem to know will exist. This is the next to last issue and no one seems to know the book is cancelled.

Review: Havok’s rehabilitation continues, as Howard Mackie now tries to justify Havok’s treatment of Polaris and his terrorist attack from Uncanny X-Men #339. Mackie’s still going with the “I was undercover!” defense, which works about as well with continuity as claiming Dark Beast is from the future. No explanation is given for what exactly Havok hoped to achieve by attacking a civilian airliner, or blasting Polaris in the face and nearly killing her; “undercover” is the only rationalization Mackie seems willing to muster (although in a previous issue he intimated that Havok was still under Dark Beast’s influence during those scenes, which contradicts all of the telepaths and third-person narrative captions that assured us this was “the real” Havok). Oddly, Havok’s brutal assault on Polaris isn’t even mentioned at all. She’s more upset about him disappearing without personally saying goodbye, it seems. As far as breakup scenes go, this one’s obviously lacking, although it is a minor miracle that some effort’s being put into rationalizing the past three years of storylines at all. The action sequences are the issue’s highlight, as Lee Moder brings some excitement to the mineshaft chase scene and Mandroid fights.

Friday, May 27, 2011

CABLE #59 - October 1998

Pressure Points
Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Ladronn (penciler), Juan Vlasco (inker), Gloria Vasquez (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In the Sudan, SHIELD agent Jack Truman is assigned Cable’s case. He follows Cable’s trail to the Swiss Alps, where he meets an old rival, G. W. Bridge. Bridge offers Truman no help, but Truman is content knowing that Bridge is about to receive an unwelcome transfer to the Washington bureau. Later, Truman lands in Hell’s Kitchen. He unleashes the monster Zzzax to draw out Cable. After a weakened Cable defeats Zzzax, Truman confronts him.

Continuity Notes: Cable meets Kenny Kramer, the younger brother of local waitress, Stacey. Stacey reveals Kenny has Down syndrome, and that she’s taken care of him since their parents died.

Review: This begins “The Nemesis Contract,” a four-part storyline that pits Cable against SHIELD. Joe Casey’s pet character, and future Deathlok, Jack Truman makes his debut and receives most of the issue’s attention. I don’t like to throw around terms like “Mary Sue” -- actually, I hate that phrase -- but it’s hard to ignore just how hard Casey is selling this character. He kills an elephant with a handgun on his debut page, he just knows that G. W. Bridge is an idiot (perhaps a dig at Rob Liefeld, or just the early ‘90s in general), he casually mentions killing a rogue LMD of Dum Dum Dugan in the past, no one at SHIELD is cool enough to retrieve his files, and he nonchalantly gets hold of an Incredible Hulk monster just to attract Cable’s attention. Truman’s heavy narration on each page also gets a little tiresome, and it’s not helped at all by a lettering font that Comicraft seems determined to make even uglier with each issue. Yes, he’s a manly man with a healthy ego. Is there any other point to this story? Cable has a few pages to recap his T-O virus angst, and we learn more about Stacey, but that’s really it. I will give Casey credit for pulling Zzzax out of nowhere as a generic monster for Cable to fight, though. Their fight scene is enjoyable, and it’s the first time in a while that Ladronn’s actually around to draw the Kirby-style villain Casey’s thrown in for him.

GENERATION X #41 - August 1998

Massachusetts Chainsaw Massacre

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Alè Garza (penciler), Cabin Boy (inker), Comicraft (letters), Felix Serrano (colors)

Summary: With the headmasters out of town, Skin convinces the rest of the team to spend the night watching horror movies. The movies give Jubilee nightmares, forcing her to watch versions of Bastion, Sabretooth, Omega Red, and Emplate kill her teammates. Jubilee awakens from her nightmare and discovers her teammates were planning on scaring her anyway. They give up when they realize how badly she’s already scared herself.

I Love the ‘90s: During Jubilee’s dream, Husk sings the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” in the shower.

Review: After the lengthy, messy M-Plate arc, this is a welcome change of pace. Scott Lobdell established a precedent of character interactions trumping plot during his run on the book, so it’s a relief to read a simple story about the kids watching slasher movies while the grownups are away. Jubilee’s nightmare sequence adds some action, and a few comical movie references, to the story. Villains from Jubilee’s past are recast as movie killers, so Sabretooth becomes Freddy Krueger, Bastion is Norman Bates, Omega Red becomes Jason, and Emplate is Leatherface. I’m not sure if all of the recastings are supposed to relate to the specific villain, but it would be impossible to do this story and not have Sabretooth become Freddy. (It’s feasible that recasting Bastion as Norman Bates is a reference to Bastion’s close ties to his mother figure, but the other selections seem arbitrary.) The art comes from Alè Garza, who has a nice cartoony style that draws on artists like Chris Bachalo and Mike Wieringo. There’s even some Bill Watterson evident on a few pages. Garza, along with fellow Wildstorm artists Dan Norton and J. J. Kirby, should’ve gotten more work from the X-office in the late ‘90s.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

UNCANNY X-MEN & FANTASTIC FOUR ‘98 - September 1998

Thresholds

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Paul Pelletier & Leo Fernandez (pencilers), Andrew Pepoy, Keith Champagne, Rob Leigh, & Ray McCarthy (inks), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Serrano/Ramos/Soto/Smith/Schigel (colors)

Summary: Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman go out for a night at the opera, a performance also attended by Beast and Cecilia Reyes. Meanwhile, Wolverine forces Cannonball to join him in a poker game with the Thing and Human Torch. Unbeknownst to Mr. Fantastic, his new miniaturizer device is identical to one developed by Stark-Fujikawa scientist, Bradley Beynon. When Beynon is fired for copying Mr. Fantastic’s design, he raids Stark-Fujikawa’s vault and discovers a Psycho-Man robot and an Emotion-Stimulator Box. Beynon sends the robot to the FF’s headquarters and attacks the opera with the Box. The heroes defeat Beynon, but must soon protect him for an enraged Psycho-Man. During the battle, Beynon targets Mr. Fantastic with his miniaturizing device, but accidently sends himself and Psycho-Man to the Microverse.

Continuity Notes: Cannonball is portrayed as a novice poker player who has to be forced into the game, although he outplays everyone and consistently has winning hands. This is virtually identical to the story in X-Men #48, which also featured the Thing and was only a few years old at the time. The only difference is that Scott Lobdell heavily implied that Cannonball was pretending not to know how to play, while Joe Casey treats him as a genuine novice. Perhaps Lobdell should’ve looted a scientific vault and launched an attack on Casey for stealing his idea.

“Huh?” Moment: When Wolverine and Thing race out of Pier-4 to respond to Mr. Fantastic’s signal flare, Wolverine discovers Thing has somehow crushed his motorcycle with the FF’s “flying bathtub.” How exactly this happened isn’t explained at all.

Review: Team-ups were the gimmick for the 1998 annuals, which sounds fine on paper, but I seem to recall almost all of them getting bad reviews. This one certainly isn’t a stellar entry. The “humorous” character subplot is an unintentional rerun of a recent story, the villain has a shaky motive, and for some unexplained reason, the reader has to accept that Stark-Fujikawa keeps a Psycho-Man robot and accompanying device in its closet. It’s no secret by now that Casey has more of an affinity for the Fantastic Four than the X-Men, but the only real highlights in this issue come when he riffs on Joe Kelly’s concurrent X-Men run. While his characterizations of the Fantastic Four don’t go much deeper than a few catchphrases, his portrayal of Beast and Cecilia’s budding romance (a subplot dropped from the main books just as this annual went to press) brings some life to the story. Casey’s depiction of Cecilia’s response to her first brush with mind control -- she’s furious and wants to kill the guy -- also adds a nice touch of reality to the story. The rest of the issue is easily forgettable. Even the art, by the usually reliable Paul Pelletier and Leo Fernandez, is obscured by the rushed inking job.

Monday, May 23, 2011

WOLVERINE: TYPHOID’S KISS - May 1994



Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Steve Lightle (artist), Michael Higgins & Bill Oakley (letters), Kelly Corvese, Carlos Lopez, Mike Thomas, & Renee Witterstaetter (colors)

Summary: While investigating the Project, a government program that’s accidentally created a serial killer, Wolverine encounters Mary Walker. Wolverine is smitten with the demure Mary, but soon realizes another personality lives within her -- Typhoid Mary. Typhoid abandons Wolverine and pursues her own vendetta against the government scientists. Wolverine continues his investigation and finds Trevor, a scientist for the Project who regrets his involvement. Trevor leads Wolverine to Sid, the Project’s director. He finds Sid operating on Mary, allegedly following her wishes to remove the Typhoid persona. Typhoid reemerges and wrecks havoc in the lab. She escapes, leaving Wolverine alone with Sid. Sid boasts that Wolverine won’t kill him, even as his claws reach Sid’s throat.

Continuity Notes: The serial killer, or “spy-killer” as the story calls him, is known only as Roberts. He reaches out to Wolverine because he remembers him from his spy days. Wolverine, at this point, still hasn’t recovered the lost memories from his secret agent life, so he doesn’t remember Roberts. He chains Roberts up while investigating his claims, but Roberts eventually breaks free and kills himself before he can murder anyone else.

Production Note: This is a sixty-four page one-shot, reprinting the Wolverine serial from Marvel Comics Presents issues #109-116.

Review: Ann Nocenti used to carry Typhoid Mary around with her on various assignments, which explains how the Daredevil villain met everyone from Wolverine to Spider-Man to Ghost Rider in just a few years. I’m not complaining; Typhoid’s a great character and likely the most memorable aspect of Nocenti’s Daredevil run, which was filled with fantastic stories. Described by Nocenti as a way to "shatter the female stereotypes--virgin, whore, bitch, ditz, feminist, girl scout, all-suffering mother, et al.--into tiny fragments and yet keep all the pieces in the same little female bundle," Typhoid isn’t what most people would expect to find in a Marvel comic circa 1988. As many others have pointed out, Nocenti was writing warped, Vertigo-esque stories for Code-approved Marvel books years before Vertigo even existed. She also contributed, with John Bolton, quite a few twisted Classic X-Men back-up stories during that era. Steve Lightle was the cover artist during this time, which is where I first discovered his work. I’ve always loved Lightle’s covers, and while his interiors during this story are occasionally murky, most of the art lives up to his reputation.

This is one of the first MCP stories to appear following the Weapon X serial, so the threads Nocenti picks up on regarding shadowy government conspiracies and human experimentation hadn’t been exhausted by numerous Wolverine writers yet. While writing Daredevil, she dropped hints that Typhoid had undergone her own days as a government guinea pig, so the connection with Wolverine doesn’t feel particularly forced. You could argue that there’s a sameness to most of Typhoid’s stories (hero meets innocent Mary, becomes enraptured in some way, Typhoid appears, hero is either repulsed by her violence or drawn in, established female love interest begins to wonder what’s wrong…), but I’ve always found it a plausible treatment of how a villain with psychic powers would interact with her opponents. Unless your hero has the mental prowess of Professor X, he’s going to get sucked in by Typhoid in one way or another. Wolverine is a great character to pair with Typhoid, since it’s conceivable that he could be attracted to either side of her personality. I don’t know if Nocenti had this in mind while writing the story, but Typhoid Mary directly parallels both of Wolverine’s love interests from his original miniseries -- sweet, reserved Mary matches Mariko, while the violent, liberated Typhoid is analogous to Yukio.

I’m not sure how tired government conspiracy stories were by 1992 (Nocenti even hints that the Project played a role in JFK’s assassination), but there is an effort to move past a few of the clichés. One of the problems I often have with government conspiracy stories, especially in comics, is the casual portrayal of human experimentation. Obviously, the real world brought us atrocities like Nazi experimentation and the Tuskegee syphilis study, but in the realm of comics, it seems as if there's no shortage of truly sadistic scientists willing to do anything for a paycheck. Rather than paint everyone with a giant brush, Nocenti introduces at least one sympathetic scientist, and even gives him a few pages to justify his involvement with the Project. The killer, Roberts, isn’t given a sensitive monologue, but his madness is successfully portrayed by a series of psychedelic fantasy sequences. These scenes could’ve been an excuse for arbitrary weirdness, but they serve the story by emphasizing just how badly the Project has damaged Roberts.

The most notable characterization of the story belongs to Wolverine, which is fitting since he’s the star, of course. Instead of dismissing him as a one-note killer, Nocenti emphasizes Wolverine’s strong moral code that actually limits his body count. As an extended narrative scene in Chapter Six explains: “Logan -- he can incapacitate, immobilize…maim and cripple a hundred ways. But he rarely kills. If you don’t believe it -- check their heartbeats.” This is the Wolverine that’s been lost over the years, as Marvel’s pandered to an increasingly bloodthirsty fan base. Wolverine knows how to kill, a part of him might still lust for the kill, but he’s heroic enough to use only the force that’s necessary. This might’ve simply been a repercussion of Jim Shooter’s mandate to tone him down (which also lead to the Hellfire guards Wolverine sliced up later becoming cyborgs), but I think it added another layer to the character.

The mastermind behind the experiments, Sid, is so confident that Wolverine isn’t a true killer, he taunts him even as Wolverine’s claws reach for his neck. When Wolverine asks who would even know if he killed him right there in the empty room, Sid responds, “You…you’d know.” Wolverine counters, “Don’t I always?” The story then concludes in darkness, leaving a black, empty panel to tease the reader. Did Wolverine give in to his urges? After learning what Sid’s done, could anyone blame him? Conversely, as Sid points out, he’s not the scientist who experimented on Wolverine, and nothing Wolverine does is ever going to erase the torture he’s already been forced to endure. The audience is left to decide Sid’s fate, and while it’s not hard to guess where a modern Marvel editor would stand, I miss the days when a Wolverine writer could get away with this kind of ambiguity.

Friday, May 20, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #8 - August 1992

The Dark at the End of the Tunnel (The Hero Killers, Part Three)

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Scott McDaniel (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man teams with the New Warriors to rescue their teammate, Speedball. They battle supervillains employed by Justin Hammer at the scientific research station where Speedball is being held. During the fight, Silhouette is kidnapped, and Firestar discovers the body of Gamma Flight’s Auric. Later, the united heroes find Auric’s sister, Silver. She inadvertently leads them into a trap, where Speedball’s powers are used against the heroes.

The Subplots: None.

*See _________ For Details: Speedball was kidnapped in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #26. The final installment of this storyline appears in New Warriors Annual #2.

Review: This is the only chapter of this crossover that I own, but the basic concept sounds promising. As the Sphinx explains on the final page, a group of villains are inverting the government’s Project Pegasus program and analyzing the powers of heroes for their own ends. Spider-Man’s research reveals that the conspiracy involves the Life Foundation, the Brand Corporation, and Justin Hammer, which is a nice cross-section of Marvel villains, and at least two Michelinie creations. I’ve always enjoyed stories that have villains forming alliances, and this plot sounds like a perfectly logical scheme, within the context of the Marvel Universe, for the villains to be pursuing. The rest of the story is an extended fight scene, competently rendered by a pre-stylized Scott McDaniel, which has Spider-Man and the New Warriors fighting a cross-section of Marvel villains that range from Rhino and Boomerang to obscure losers like Bombshell and Stiletto. It’s not deep, but it’s fun.

First Kill - Part Three

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Aaron Lopresti (penciler), Bruce Jones (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Venom kills Bruno Markham in retaliation for the murder of an inventor whose work was stolen by Markham. When the victim’s nephew expresses remorse for helping Markham take his work, Venom gives him a second chance. Later, Eddie Brock decides to bond with the alien symbiote permanently.

*See _________ For Details: This story is continued from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #26 and Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #12 (incorrectly listed as #11 in the footnotes).

Creative Differences: The narrative captions leading up to Markham’s death are clearly not lettered by Rick Parker.

Review: The ongoing Venom series of miniseries is about to begin, which is why this year’s Spider-annuals are running a prequel story that shows Venom as an anti-hero fighting for justice in his own warped way. This is only eight pages, and without the context of the previous chapters, it’s hard to make much of a judgment. I was never a fan of using Venom as a vigilante, though, and retroactively inserting quasi-heroic adventures into his past just sounds like a bad idea.

The Security Gauntlet

Credits: G. Alan Barnum (writer), Tod Smith (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Sara Mossoff (colorist)

The Plot: While testing a family friend’s security system, Black Cat encounters Hydro-Man. She tricks him into an airtight display case and locks him inside.

Review: It’s eight pages of Black Cat skulking around a house and then fighting Hydro-Man. Nothing else going on, except a joke in the final panel that suggests she doesn’t trust herself as a security consultant because she’s still tempted to steal. Filler, obviously.

Down Memory Lane (Spider-Man’s Top Ten Team-Ups)

Credits: Tom Brevoort & Mike Kanterovich (writers), Aaron Lopresti (penciler & inker), Steve Dutro (letterer)

The Plot: Spider-Man reflects on various heroes he’s teamed up with while waiting for MJ to return home. He finally declares his marriage to MJ to be his most successful team-up yet.

Review: It’s a story co-written by Tom “Youth” Brevoort reaffirming Peter Parker’s marriage. Make of that what you will. Some of the in-jokes are humorous, such as Spider-Man’s funny feeling that he has something in common with Dr. Strange.

Evil’s Light - Part Three: Charge of the Light Brigade

Credits: Eric Fein (writer), Vince Evans (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Dave Sharpe (letterer), John Kalisz (colorist)

The Plot: Cloak pulls Lightmaster into his Dark Dimension, angering the businessman, Chadwick, who’s using his powers for research. Cloak follows Dagger’s command to stop fighting and releases the comatose Lightmaster. Chadwick threatens to press charges, but can’t because he isn’t operating within the law either.

*See _________ For Details: A footnote says Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #12 has all of the details of the story so far.

Review: Another shred of a story that’s hard to properly judge. Pairing Cloak and Dagger against Lightmaster isn’t a bad idea, although I have a feeling this is another story about a generically evil businessman exploiting a villain for profit and then biting off more than he can chew. Unless Eric Fein had a great twist on the concept, it doesn’t sound very interesting.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #90 - July 1992

The Spider’s Thread/Sleight of Mind!

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Sam De La Rosa (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man finds himself living the life of an actor, battling various foes on a movie set. Max Shiffman, his agent, tries to help Spider-Man adjust to reality after he’s injured during a stunt. Suddenly, Spider-Man’s attacked by numerous villains. They continue to morph into various forms until they become a Venom-Galactus hybrid. Spider-Man realizes that Mysterio is behind the illusion and defeats him in battle. Max, the real person used to add authenticity to the illusion, is saddened that Mysterio’s illusion of his late wife can no longer exist.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: Max Shiffman is Spider-Man’s agent from Amazing Fantasy #15. A flashback scene reveals that Max watched Spider-Man apprehend Uncle Ben’s murderer and, apparently as a publicity stunt, called the Daily Bugle to give them the details. By drawing the Bugle’s attention to Spider-Man, Max inadvertently ruined his show business career. Another retcon, from the prestige format Amazing Fantasy series written by Kurt Busiek, had John Jameson bumped from a talk show for Spider-Man, which set the stage for his father’s bad blood.

Gimmicks: This is a double-sized issue with a cardstock cover and hologram, which allegedly shows Spider-Man’s wrist moving back and forth. The cover price is $2.95, more than double Web’s standard $1.25 price. A poster by Rick Leonardi pairing Spider-Man with Spider-Man 2099 is also included.

Review: This is one of the four “enhanced” Spider-Man anniversary comics published in 1992. Most of them aren’t particularly good, and I would say all of them were overpriced. The most famous one is likely Amazing Spider-Man #365, which reintroduced Peter Parker’s parents. Yes, we’re entering that era of Spidey continuity.

In this installment, Howard Mackie goes all the way back to Spider-Man’s first appearance, reviving the long-forgotten agent from his brief show biz career. Since most of the story is an illusion, it’s hard to say how much of Max’s story is true. Max claims that his association with Spider-Man opened the door for a lucrative career in Hollywood, but this is likely a part of Mysterio’s fantasy. Other scenes suggest Max views Spider-Man as the golden ticket that he regrets losing. What is established fairly well is Max’s love for his wife, Trudy, which does give the ending some resonance when we learn she died last year.

What isn’t conveyed very well is the idea that Mysterio now has a philosophy based on disregarding reality and embracing fantasy. Spider-Man seems to think it’s significant that Mysterio needed Max, an actual person, to make the illusion work, so Mysterio’s philosophy is invalidated. Yeah, that’s why Mysterio is crazy. Trying to give Mysterio a deep motivation for creating a symbiote-infected Galactus is pointless anyway. If Mackie wanted to use this story as a vehicle for a philosophical debate, he probably shouldn’t have wasted so many pages on cartoonish action sequences.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #89 - June 1992

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Sam De La Rosa (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Richard Fisk murders a group of rival gangsters, as Spider-Man scours the city for him. He encounters Hobgoblin, who’s angry with Fisk for not paying his fee. Hobgoblin offers to lead Spider-Man to Fisk if he helps dispatch Fisk’s guards. They reach Fisk just as he’s under fire from the new Rose, Blood Rose. Spider-Man defeats the Praetorian Guard and the treacherous Hobgoblin, but loses Fisk when he falls into the harbor. Blood Rose also escapes in the confusion.

The Subplots: The Daily Bugle runs a correction for the photo erroneously credited to Peter Parker. Meanwhile, Nick Katzenberg nervously packs his bags, convinced that his life is in danger.

Web of Continuity: Fisk recognizes Blood Rose’s voice and identifies him as his former “best friend.” This is a large hint that Blood Rose was originally intended to be Alfredo Morelli, Fisk’s previous ally against the Kingpin.

*See _________ For Details: Hobgoblin tells Spider-Man that Deathwatch is nowhere to be found. A footnote points towards Ghost Rider #24.

Review: Okay. Blood Rose. I’m not going to say the original Rose design was a stroke of genius, but I believe his creators intentionally made him look like a dork. It’s supposed to be absurd that this guy wears eyeglasses over a leather mask. But Blood Rose? What’s the excuse for giving him a jumpsuit, a bandoleer, a thigh belt, an ankle belt, and pouches, pouches, pouches? Oh, yes. 1992. Adding “Blood” to his name also amps up the x-tremeness, and of course those nerd glasses had to be ditched for sunglasses. If only someone thought to give the guy a trenchcoat or an even bigger gun. Do you think there’s some way he could smoke a cigarette through his mask?

Blood Rose’s introduction isn’t even the worst moment of the finale. As a conclusion to a six-month storyline, this is a nightmare. The new new Rose’s identity is never revealed, Nick Katzenberg’s fate is left dangling, Richard Fisk conveniently disappears at the end, and numerous questions remain unanswered. How did the photo end up in the Bugle in the first place? Who wrote the blurb about a future underworld “exposé” in the caption? That’s more than just a “printer’s error.” How many of the Rose’s men saw the Spider-Man costume in Peter’s bedroom? Did the Rose ever learn his identity? If Sgt. Blume had heroic intentions for becoming the Rose, why was he casually murdering his own men? If these men weren’t working for the Rose, then who else could’ve sent them?

The rushed ending makes you wonder how exactly this story was plotted out in the beginning. After an issue that averages around five or six panels a page, the final page is suddenly crammed with ten panels. In those ten panels: Richard Fisk runs away from Blood Rose...is shot in the back and falls in the harbor...Spider-Man searches for him...after a “fevered search” can’t find him...returns to the warehouse, only to find a rose left behind by Blood Rose...a rose that’s crushed when Spider-Man vows to learn his true identity one day. That’s one page! How much planning am I supposed to believe went into this arc when the conclusion had to be crammed into one rushed page? Since the storyline had such a promising start, it’s unfortunate that Mackie’s debut fizzles out like this, but I’m afraid it’s an indicator of what lies ahead for this title.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #88 - May 1992

The King Makers

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Sam De La Rosa (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Richard Fisk travels with Hobgoblin, the Praetorian Guard, and their captive, Spider-Man to the remains of the Kingpin’s office. The Rose’s men attack in a helicopter and rescue Spider-Man. The Rose offers to help Spider-Man defend Peter Parker’s family from Fisk. They travel to the Catskills and rescue Mary Jane and Aunt May. Richard Fisk arrives and kills the Rose while Spider-Man is incapacitated. Fisk returns home, shaves his head, and declares himself the new Kingpin.

The Subplots: Before the battle in the Catskills, Sgt. Blume interviews Robbie Robertson about the photo. Robbie informs him that the photo was actually taken by Nick Katzenberg, who fears for his life now that his secret has been exposed. Later, after Fisk defends Rebecca from mercenaries hired to kill the Kingpin’s son, he heads to the Catskills. He kills the Rose, who is unmasked as Sgt. Blume. Another mystery figure picks up the mask behind Spider-Man’s back and assumes the identity.

Web of Continuity: Sgt. Blume blames the Kingpin for his brother’s death, saying that “Billy was a good cop” who wouldn’t take a bribe. He teamed up with Richard Fisk to end the Kingpin’s empire.

*See _________ For Details: This issue follows Hydra’s attack on the Kingpin in Daredevil #300. Now that the Kingpin is out of power, various forces are fighting for control of the underworld. The goons sent after Richard Fisk and Rebecca are apparently working for aspiring crimelords that want the Kingpin's son out of the way.

“Huh?” Moment: Richard Fisk has gained what appears to be a hundred pounds in-between issues, even though this story takes place right after the previous issue.

Review: And this is where “The Name of the Rose” goes in a baaad direction. I’m normally willing to forgive the awkward examples of subtext from this era, as the stories were aimed at a younger audience that couldn’t be expected to pick up on too many subtleties. But…wow. What could even be said about this? Mackie has decided to illustrate Richard Fisk’s descent into his father’s shadow by literally turning him into his father. Not only does he feel compelled to shave his head after a bullet grazes his temple and gives him a bald spot, but he somehow becomes morbidly obese in-between issues. Plus, his girlfriend even has white streaks in her hair, just like Richard’s mother! It’s like, he’s destined to turn into his father, you guys! (Or, you know, he has certain…issues with his mommy.) I don’t care if you are assuming your audience consists of ten year olds, this is just inexcusable.

Aside from the preposterous treatment of Richard Fisk, the rest of the plot isn’t holding up so well. Sgt. Blume has been such a minor character in this story, his unveiling as the Rose doesn’t have a lot of impact. Also, the visual shorthand used in his previous appearance suggested he was up to something sinister, but this issue emphasizes his pure motives in becoming the Rose. He also claims that he never sent armed men after Peter Parker, which is a blatant contradiction of the first chapter of this storyline. If you take his appearance in the last issue at face value, then he’s probably the one responsible for letting Fisk know where to find MJ and Aunt May, as well. It’s certainly possible that Mackie intends for him to be a liar, but he hasn’t given Blume any ominous motives for becoming the Rose. The only information given on him in this issue makes him out to be a hero.

There’s also the continuing Nick Katzenberg subplot, which logically should've ended by now. As established in this arc, Katzenberg has some connections to the mob, which makes him more corrupt than Gerry Conway ever portrayed him as, but it’s within the realm of possibility. What we don’t know is why the photo was taken, how it ended up in the Bugle, and why Katzenberg is so afraid. Fisk doesn’t have any real reason to want the photographer dead since his alliance with the Rose is over and the Kingpin has been dethroned anyway. And yet, Katzenberg must have some form of psychic powers, because the story ends with Fisk still demanding the photographer’s death. On top of all of this, we also have the mystery of the second new Rose, hastily introduced this issue. I’m sure his identity, along with a logical explanation for all of the storyline’s plot holes, will be revealed next issue, right?

Monday, May 16, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #87 - April 1992

The Best Defense

Credits
: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Sam De La Rosa (inker), Rick Parker & Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: The Hobgoblin is stolen from custody by Richard Fisk, who spares his life in exchange for Spider-Man’s. Nick Katzenberg arranges for his informant, Twitch, to send Spider-Man into a trap. After Twitch speaks to Spider-Man, he’s killed by the Praetorian Guard. Later, the Rose turns against the increasingly ruthless Fisk. Fisk responds by sending Hobgoblin after the Rose. The Hobgoblin then teams with the Praetorian Guard, defeating Spider-Man in battle.

The Subplots: Richard Fisk’s girlfriend Rebecca is concerned about his erratic behavior. Spider-Man runs into Demogoblin, who surprisingly declares he “isn’t the enemy” and leaves. Sgt. Blume, a detective investigating the murder at the Parkers’ home, returns to speak to Peter. He instead listens in on a message left by MJ and Aunt May, who are still hiding in the Catskills.

Web of Continuity: Richard Fisk is growing more muscular, yet developing a double chin as of this issue. This foreshadows perhaps the most absurd moment of the storyline. Initially, Fisk plans on killing Hobgoblin as retribution for Ned Leeds’ murder, but accepts Hobgoblin’s offer to kill Spider-Man. Finally, an excited Spider-Man mistakes Demogoblin for Harry Osborn from a distance, which ties in to Harry’s disappearance from this era’s Spectacular Spider-Man.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Spidey unleashes a sarcastic “NOT!” after discovering a group of kids hiding at the pier where he’s being attacked by the Praetorian Guard.

Review: Well, the pace does pick up in this chapter. In fact, I would argue that Richard Fisk’s moral degeneration happens a little too fast to be truly convincing. One of the major problems with this story is the idea that Richard is destined to turn into his father, yet we’re never given a believable set of circumstances that leads to this point. Apparently, it’s the photo of his meeting with the Rose, published in the first installment of the storyline, that’s set him off, but…why exactly? Allegedly, he’s partnered with the Rose to bring down his father, which is a noble goal. How exactly does this lead to him zealously calling for the deaths of Peter Parker and Spider-Man?

Ignoring Fisk’s shaky motivation, the issue does have some promising advancements. Remembering Fisk’s grudge against Hobgoblin is a nice continuity point, and their eventual partnership helps to highlight just how far gone Fisk is supposed to be at this point in the story. Having the Rose turn on Fisk first is another decent twist, since Fisk has been the aggressor so far, and I’m glad Mackie didn’t wait any longer for the duo to turn against one another. Sgt. Blume's subplot has a mediocre pay off next issue, but he’s drawn menacingly enough by Saviuk here to make you wonder what Mackie has in mind for the character. The espionage material is really the highlight of the storyline. Unfortunately, the issue ends with the introduction of another group of generic hired thugs, the Praetorian Guard. Body armor, giant guns, ponytails, ridiculous headgear…hmmm….where’s the guy with beard stubble and a backwards baseball hat?

Friday, May 13, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #86 - March 1992

The Dark Within

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

The Plot: Spider-Man continues to search for the Rose, while armed men break the Hobgoblin out of jail. The deranged Hobgoblin chases the men back to their employer. Richard Fisk confesses to authorizing the jailbreak, and tricks Hobgoblin into attacking Spider-Man. Following an altercation with Nick Katzenberg, Peter learns of the Hobgoblin’s escape and pursues him as Spider-Man. During their fight, a sickly Hobgoblin splits into two individuals -- the human Jason Macendale and the Demogoblin. Demogoblin escapes while Macendale is placed in custody.

The Subplots: The Kingpin orders Richard Fisk to kill an employee that’s failed him. Richard doesn’t respond, so the Kingpin performs the murder. Later, the Rose chastises Richard for ordering the jailbreak without his permission. At the Daily Bugle, Robbie Robertson reveals that he doesn’t know how the mysterious photo was published in the first place.

Web of Continuity: Kingpin is upset about losing someone “very close to me,” which is later hinted to be Typhoid Mary. This references Daredevil #297, which ended with Daredevil arranging Mary’s institutionalization in a mental hospital.

*See _________ For Details: Spider-Man mentions his previous encounters with the Hobgoblin in Moon Knight #33 and Ghost Rider #17.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has average sales at 211,167 copies with the most recent issue selling 203,800.

Review: Richard and the Rose continue to meet in dark rooms, Kingpin continues to emasculate Richard, someone else arrives to kill Peter/Spider-Man, and Peter fears he’s going over the edge. All plot points covered in the previous installments. Mackie does convey the idea that the contract on Peter’s head is making him progressively unglued, signified this issue by Peter almost throwing Nick Katzenberg out of an open window, so the plot is impacting the characterization, but it’s hard to deny the story’s taking its sweet time. Apparently, this issue is supposed to end Peter’s “gone too far” arc, as he witnesses the birth of Demogoblin and declares, “I’ll never let that kind of hatred spew forth out of me.” Obviously not subtle, but it’s a credible way to connect the action story with Peter’s ongoing character arc. Now, can the story move on?

What I’ve always hated about this issue is the sudden birth of the Demogoblin. As a kid, it was the first time I realized that sometimes things just happen in a comic because the writer says so. Apparently, this ties in to Hobgoblin’s previous appearance in Ghost Rider #17, but the only information given about that story is that Hobgoblin was touched by “Blaze’s hellfire.” For someone who had never even read a Ghost Rider comic, that didn’t help a lot. The story reads as if the Hobgoblin has a bad headache, strains a bit, and suddenly he’s split into two separate people. And Demogoblin has got to be one of the worst Spider-villains ever. The living embodiment of McFarlane’s misguided “religious zealot” revamp of the Hobgoblin, drawn more hideously with each appearance…yuck. I’m glad Jason Macendale can go back to his standard Hobgoblin identity, but unfortunately the months ahead showed that Marvel was far more interested in Demogoblin. As Macendale was essentially forgotten, Demogoblin made an appearance in what seemed like every Spider-title at one point or another. I still can’t believe such a rotten character was used so often, even during the ‘90s.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #85 - February 1992

Three the Hard Way

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

The Plot: The Parkers return home and discover the dead body, and Peter’s exposed costume. Later, they’re attacked by the Triad Brothers. As Spider-Man, Peter chases them away. Nick Katzenberg witnesses the fight and harasses Peter and MJ when it’s over. MJ responds by punching Nick out. After Aunt May and MJ head to a friend’s mountain home for safety, Spider-Man tracks down the Triads. When he slightly cuts one of them, he realizes he’s gone too far and leaves. Soon, Deathwatch appears, expressing his disappointment to the Triads.

The Subplots: The Kingpin is aware of the Rose’s return and is keeping tabs on Richard Fisk. Richard meets with the Rose, and after discovering that Spider-Man is “protecting” Peter Parker, declares he must die. Meanwhile, the Hobgoblin receives a rose in prison.

Web of Continuity: Deathwatch is a villain from Howard Mackie’s Ghost Rider run. He’s apparently working as an emissary between the Triads and the Rose.

*See _________ For Details: Hobgoblin has been shifting back and forth between his human and demon forms ever since Ghost Rider #17.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: As Peter and MJ try to catch a cab: Likely we’ll get a taxi in the rain -- NOT!

Review: And here is the first indication this story might not deserve six issues. Last issue already established that Peter Parker's life is in jeopardy, along with Richard Fisk’s plot against his father, so Spider-Man’s battle with the Triads and the conspiracy scenes with Richard and the Rose aren’t adding anything to the story. Mackie does get some material out of Peter and MJ’s reaction to the underworld invading their life, and the Hobgoblin is brought closer into the main story, but there’s nothing else going on. I might be more charitable towards this issue if the Triads weren’t terrible villains. Three Chinese (?) brothers with berets, elaborate ponytails, glowing swords, and poor English skills…they’re really just asking to be killed off during a crossover tie-in, aren’t they?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #84 - January 1992

Family Ties

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: While Peter and MJ dine at Aunt May’s, armed men arrive, looking for Peter. He changes into Spider-Man and defeats them, but doesn’t get any answers. MJ shows Peter a photo in the Daily Bugle incorrectly credited to him. It features two shadowy men meeting, and promises to be the start of an exposè into New York’s underworld. The photo was actually taken by Nick Katzenberg, who never intended for it to be printed.

The Subplots: Richard Fisk watches his father, the Kingpin, train with martial artists. Richard’s engaged in secret activities and is upset about the picture in the paper. His shadowy partner is revealed as the Rose. Mystery men ransack the Parkers’ home. When one of them calls their boss, another agent is then ordered to kill him. After the men are gone, Peter’s Spider-Man costume is left on his bed. Elsewhere, a deranged Hobgoblin is kept in custody.

Web of Continuity: The original Rose was Richard Fisk, who worked undercover as a crimeboss in order to harm his father’s empire. Back in Web#30, a dejected Fisk abandoned the Rose identity and went into his father’s employ. This is his first appearance in years.

The murdered agent, Michael, is killed for making a call on an unsecured line. He was excited over an unexpected discovery in the Parkers’ home. This is presumably the Spider-Man costume. Since Michael’s killed before he can talk to anyone, this may be the story’s rationalization for how Peter’s secret identity is maintained (this assumes that no one else entered Peter and MJ’s bedroom, though).

It's worth noting that Terry Kavanagh inserts a massive retcon into this storyline during his eventual run. Since it seems obvious that Howard Mackie was working under the assumption that Richard Fisk really is Richard Fisk, I'm not going to take the retcon into account when reviewing this arc.

*See _________ For Details: A footnote informs us that this story predates Daredevil #300, which was the “Fall of the Kingpin” issue.

Review: After a solid year of fill-ins, Web once again has a regular writer. Both Tony Isabella and Kurt Busiek performed admirably as interim writers, but the job’s gone to the writer of Marvel’s latest hit, Ghost Rider. I believe this is Howard Mackie’s Spider-Man debut, and while he’ll go on to have perhaps the most maligned run in the franchise’s history, this isn’t a bad start at all. “The Name of the Rose” is the latest storyline to get a serialized cover countdown, and it’s also the longest extended arc in Web’s history. A six-part storyline was quite rare in these days, so like many fans I assumed that something big was going on. As it turns out, the story arc barely makes a dint in continuity, unless you count the reintroduction of the Rose and the birth of Demogoblin as watershed moments.

Judging this issue on its own merits, however, it’s hard to deny that this is an intriguing launch for the story. Richard Fisk returns after several years away, and instead of immediately giving him back his previous identity, Mackie teases the debut of a new Rose. Peter Parker is apparently framed for one of Nick Katzenberg’s photos, a photo that Nick was actually using for blackmail and didn’t intend to be published. Armed men attack Aunt May’s home. The Parkers’ apartment is ransacked, leaving behind an uncovered Spider-Man costume. A dead body is left in their living room. Having an armed helicopter attack Aunt May’s house might be a little much, but aside from this scene, the issue is filled with captivating little moments. As the first chapter of the storyline, it’s certainly successful in drawing the reader in.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #83 - December 1991

Entrepeneurs (sic)

Credits: Kurt Busiek (writer), Chris Marrinan (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Brad Joyce (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man comes across struggling PR exec Sturdevant E. “Bob” Robbins, who helps him defeat the criminal Hypertron. Unbeknownst to Spider-Man, Bob steals Hypertron’s harness, hoping to use his marketing skills to become rich as a superhero. He’s soon pursued by the former AIM scientists who created the harness. Spider-Man saves Bob and the scientists from each other, and orders Bob to turn over the harness. Bob complies, but secretly saves a backup of Hypertron’s schematics.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: Bob later reappears as the Bobster, which is just one of the potential superhero names he considers in the issue. During Spider-Man’s flashback to his origin, the spider on the back of his costume is colored blue. This is a reference to the very first printing of Amazing Fantasy #15. John Byrne, of course, provided an elaborate and unnecessary explanation for the blue spider in his Chapter One miniseries.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Bob has lost business, and the AIM agents have been laid off, since the start of the recession. An opening narrative caption even comments on how “easy” it was to make money in the ‘80s, but those days are over. The Hypertron armor is also powered by a series of what appear to be cassette tapes and floppy discs.

Review: I think Web of Spider-Man fill-ins are a good test of skill for writers. Even assuming that the story fits within one or two issues and actually makes sense, does the plot truly connect to Spider-Man in some way? Is the supporting cast used? Can future writers expand on the ideas you’ve introduced? Or are you just writing generic action stories that could star any hero? Too many of Web’s fill-ins fall into that latter category, which is why it’s a relief to get to the Kurt Busiek issues.

I don’t think any of these comics will go down as classics or anything, but they’re solid standalone stories that fit all of the criteria listed above (with the possible exception of the Bloodshed issue, which didn’t specifically feel like a Spider-Man story, but was still a solid character piece focusing on an average person who's crossed the hero's path). Bob seeks out Spider-Man, looking to overturn his steady stream of bad publicity. When he realizes that Spidey isn’t looking for representation, he decides to enter the hero business himself. Spider-Man recognizes his younger self in Bob, and feels an obligation to teach him that getting into the hero business for money is going to end badly. The story’s not very serious, but it still incorporates some of the central themes of the character and leaves the door open for more Bob adventures. Chris Marrinan’s art, which is highly reminiscent of Erik Larsen’s take on Spider-Man, is also better than your average early ‘90s fill-in.

Monday, May 9, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #82 - November 1991

Pumping Up!

Credits: Kurt Busiek (writer), Ron Wilson (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Brad K. Joyce (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man searches for Man-Mountain Marko, who’s allegedly kidnapped a child. He discovers that the Maggia’s genetic enhancements, and his steroid habit, have left Marko unstable. Spider-Man finds the unhinged Marko’s home, but is unable to rescue the boy quietly. Marko gives Spider-Man a challenge, but is eventually defeated.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: Marko is haunted by an incident from the past, when a small teenager unexpectedly knocked him to the ground in response to Marko’s harassment. It’s clear that the teenager is supposed to be Peter Parker, circa the earliest issues of Amazing, but I believe this is a new incident created for this story.

Forever Young: Marko, who’s clearly well into adulthood, is shown to be close to Peter’s age in the flashback.

Review: Kurt Busiek’s fill-in run continues, giving us an early example of his affection for obscure characters, and another brief “untold tale” of Spider-Man’s past. It’s possible I’m getting the dates wrong, but I wonder if the WWF’s early ‘90s steroid scandal was an inspiration for this story. Hero rescues kid from steroid-crazed villain is a pretty standard starting point, but Busiek puts some effort into tailoring the story for Spider-Man. Spidey’s given a cold throughout the issue, making Mary Jane the voice of reason who insists that he can take the occasional sick day. Spidey thinks he’s come to a reasonable compromise by simply rescuing the kid and leaving Marko for the police, only to discover that the kid actually idolizes Marko and can’t wait to see him finally beat up Spider-Man. It’s like Spider-Man always has bad luck or something. There’s not much to the ending --Spider-Man just hits Marko until he finally falls over -- but the little boy does change loyalties when he witnesses Spidey’s performance in the fight. True to his character, Spider-Man complains about the kid’s lack of loyalty and swings away. Another enjoyable, if not very memorable, issue from Busiek.

Friday, May 6, 2011

SPAWN #75 - August 1998

Sacred Ground

Credits: Todd McFarlane & Brian Holguin (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Danny Miki w/Scott Kobayashi (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin, Dan Kemp, & Tyson Wengler (colors)

Summary: Spawn finds himself powerless in the Greenworld. He’s restrained by thorny vines and confronted by the Keeper, the Emerald Parliament’s representative. The Keeper explains that the Earth is the third force in the battle between Heaven and Hell, a war that will destroy the planet, unless someone forges peace. Spawn sees a vision of himself with angel wings, flying in-between God and Malebolgia. In Rat City, Boots channels energy through Spawn’s sigil, which brings him back home. An army of angels arrives and arrests Boots for interfering with human affairs and aiding a Hellspawn.

Spawntinuity: As the angels take Boots away, he asks Spawn: “The deal you made with Malebolgia -- how do you know you really made it?” He then says that a child will come, which Spawn must “look to.” Meanwhile, Cyan snaps out of her seizure when Spawn returns to Earth.

Production Note: The book is back to twenty-two pages, and even includes a five-page preview of the Harry Houdini limited series, Great Escapes.

Review: It’s an anniversary issue, and although the book isn’t double-sized (a stunt McFarlane rarely likes to pull), the creators still seem aware that it should be significant in some way. They accomplish this by, of course, vaguely hinting about future events and making cryptic revelations about the “real” story behind Spawn’s origin. Essentially, it’s the past twenty issues of this book, compressed into a one-issue story.

I’m sure McFarlane and/or Holguin thought the revelation that the Earth itself doesn’t want a war between Heaven and Hell was clever, and I suppose it is a justifiable take on the standard End Times theology. But, just as the previous issue intimated that God can’t create souls, I suppose we’re also supposed to believe that God couldn’t create another Earth after the war. Obviously, McFarlane isn’t bound to a strict Judeo-Christian interpretation of the afterlife when creating his comic, but he’s very casually recasting the role of God without dealing with any of the consequences. Is this God the universe’s ultimate moral authority? Does the God of the Spawnverse answer prayer? Is He or She responsible for the creation of existence? If not, who or what is? I’m not saying that all of these questions should’ve been answered by this point, but the subjects should’ve been broached. Mark Gruenwald wouldn’t have pussyfooted around like this.

Now, as for Spawn himself, we’re given the shocking revelation that he’s the one destined to bring peace between Heaven and Hell. Oddly enough, his death is also supposed to trigger their war during Armageddon. He’s so special! Certainly, he won’t be replaced with a different character within the next hundred issues. (How exactly his death is supposed to start the war isn’t clear, by the way. Does this mean that with Spawn dead on Earth, his soul returns to Hell, where he’ll fight alongside Malebolgia’s army? Or does his mere existence prevent the two sides from ever fighting the final battle?) Since Spawn is the lead, it’s understandable that the creators want him to fulfill some grand destiny and be “special” in a way the previous Hellspawns weren’t. Fine, but why does he have two separate prophesies attached to him? It’s overkill.

Finally, as Boots is hauled way in chains (a plot thread that actually did have something of a resolution), it’s revealed that maybe Spawn never made the famous deal from his origin, and that a mystery child is the key to everything. Obviously. We’ve already discovered that Spawn’s memories are fake, and that Wanda was Hell’s target all along, so why not undermine the rest of the character’s well-established origin story? And, gee, could that exceptional child be Cyan? Actually, I have no idea how this played out. Did anyone read Spawn long enough to know if any of these cryptic references were paid off? Looking through Wikipedia, I know that Cogliostro replaced Malebolgia in Hell, Angela died, and Al Simmons has become the villainous Omega Spawn…but what about the revelations from the end of McFarlane’s original stint as writer? Did we learn more about Hell’s interest in Wanda? Was the magic child revealed? Did the Earth make another attempt at stopping Armageddon? I’m genuinely curious…do Spawn fans have a strict stance on continuity, and has the series lived up to it in the years following McFarlane’s departure?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

SPAWN #74 - July 1998

The Void

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

Summary: After discovering Spawn’s secret identity, Sam and Twitch are determined to learn his connection to Jason Wynn. Meanwhile, Spawn fights the Heap, but is soon consumed within his body. Boots discovers a Spawn sigil left behind in the alleys. Within Heap, Spawn speaks to Eddie Beckett, who now serves as a conduit for the “Emerald Parliament.” Spawn floats out of the black void into a tunnel, where he sees another Spawn sigil.

Spawntinuity: Cyan instinctively knows when Spawn has disappeared inside Heap. According to Boots, he can’t allow Spawn to die because this will trigger Armageddon. He claims that Malebolgia has harvested too many souls and that Heaven isn’t ready to fight. Apparently, God’s unable to create souls in the Spawn theology.

The Big Names: The real life Terry Fitzgerald has photos from the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert, and the first US date of Pearl Jam’s ’98 tour. He hints at a future collaboration with the band, which will turn out to be their “Do the Evolution” video.

Production Note: What has two staples and only twenty pages of story? Any issue of Spawn from this era.

Review: You know the issue isn’t off to a promising start when it opens with more of Sam and Twitch’s bumbling detective work. They do at least know that Spawn is Al Simmons now, but the four-page sequence is marred with the grim “we’re bringing him in” cliffhanger. This is, what, the fifth time Sam’s rushed into action, pledging to bring Spawn in? Where do any of these investigations go? Also, he’s not a cop anymore, so where is he bringing him? The story does acknowledge that the detectives lost their jobs while investigating Chief Banks, but that bit of info is essentially ignored just a page later to make room for the dramatic closing line. This goes in the Sloppy Spawn Continuity Hall of Fame.

After the shoddy opening, the issue redeems itself a bit. Spawn has his first real fight scene in months against the Heap, and while it doesn’t last long, Capullo brings a lot of energy to the action. The all-black void within the Heap, contrasted against Spawn’s elaborate costume and the assorted garbage he’s dragged along with him, is another strong visual. I’m sure Boots’ vague talk about Armageddon is going to be more cryptic horse manure that doesn’t amount to anything, but the script is fairly successful in selling the idea. I’m even more convinced that the division of labor at this point is McFarlane plotting and Holguin scripting, since this doesn’t read like a terrible comic; the aimlessness and repetitiveness are only obvious if you know the book’s track record.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SPAWN #73 - June 1998

The Heap

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

Summary: Unimpressed with Sam and Twitch’s progress so far, Cogliostro leaves them with a file on Al Simmons. Later, he warns Boots that a third force is approaching. Elsewhere, Eddie Beckett is harassed by a mob enforcer who’s heard rumors that Eddie is hoarding “something special.” He leaves Eddie for dead, yet the necroplasm oozes out of Eddie's paper bag and revives him. Eddie is reborn as the Heap. Representing the spirit of the Earth, he soon targets Spawn.

Spawntinuity: The Heap is a long-standing character that goes back to the Golden Age. McFarlane attained the rights after his purchase of Eclipse Comics’ intellectual property. Of course, the character he really wanted to use was Miracleman, but we all know how that turned out.

Production Note: Yes, twenty pages again.

Review: The story opens with the return of that old Todd chestnut…the manila file folder. Yes, Cogliostro, the proper way to deal with two detectives who haven’t gotten around to actually investigating anything in the past five years is to just give them a file with the info you want them to have. Just put the rest of us out of our misery. Maybe one day McFarlane can release a trade paperback of all of the storylines in this book that turn on manila file folders. If you’re facing a genetically engineered mob enforcer, a corrupt bureaucrat, or the KKK, nothing amps up the excitement like a manila file folder.

I will say that this issue doesn’t read as if two separate comics were pasted together into one, so it’s an improvement over the previous two installments. Not surprisingly, the book’s just back to more cryptic references and vague hints about the future. This time, the concept of some “final battle” that Spawn is destined to have a role in is revived. Apparently, the creation of the Heap ties into this, making this one of the few times a mysterious hint about the future actually connects to the main story. And, the Heap’s creation even pays off a subplot from the previous issue, making this the fastest McFarlane has ever gotten around to really doing anything. It is a little odd that McFarlane’s chosen to include a monster he bought from another comics company in this title before introducing the new characters created for his toy line, but maybe he feels as if he needs to get his money’s worth out of the character.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

SPAWN #72 - May 1998

Bloodless

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

Summary: Boots stops the fight and sends the vampire, Wolfram, away. Boots is taken into custody by the police investigating the disturbance, and allowed to give a message to Sam and Twitch. He tells them that Spawn will need them soon, which reignites their interest in his case. Meanwhile, a wino named Eddie Beckett finds the bag of necroplasm in the alleys, as Spawn suddenly goes into action. He rescues a child from strange men, unaware the child has the brand of Heaven on his stomach.

Spawntinuity: The “brand of heaven” is a white-on-black inverse of the Spawn insignia. Apparently, the men turn into vampires when Spawn kills them, but if that’s so, why are they targeting another agent of Heaven? Also, it’s odd that the uniform police officer allows Boots to visit Sam and Twitch’s office. It’s been established repeatedly (and as recently as last issue) that the police force considers Sam and Twitch a joke, so why is this guy going out of his way to allow a bum to personally give them a message? According to the next issue's recap, Sam and Twitch were at their office in the police station. These characters haven't been police officers for around thirty issues!

Todd Talk: McFarlane informs a reader that while his early stories are lacking, he feels that his writing today holds up to his contemporaries and is no longer a “deficit to the book.”

Production Note: Twenty pages, again.

Review: Didn’t this book just run a portrait cover that looks exactly like this one? Cogliostro isn’t even in this issue, and if anyone thinks he’s getting a lot of Spawn gunplay inside, he’s going to be disappointed. I’m convinced that this title is going through some sort of behind-the-scenes chaos, and the inaccurate covers are just one clue. Like the last issue, we have another story that has a slow build for the first half of the issue, before abruptly shifting gears into a totally different story in the second half. I suspected that the second half of the previous issue was plotted some time after the first was finished, and I have some confirmation that this is exactly what happened to this issue.

On the hype page, Terry Fitzgerald gives Greg Capullo credit for penciling eleven pages in under three days, as Todd handed him the plot for the final twelve pages on a Thursday. From this we can infer that a) Capullo is one of the fastest artists in comics, and could’ve taken on a second book during this era if he wanted, b) a twelfth page didn’t need to be drawn, confirming that the newscaster pages are just pulled from previous issues, and c) the first half of the book was finished and ready to go, while the second half was put on hold for an unknown reason. And guess what, it’s painfully obvious when you sit down to read it.

The issue opens with Boots, Wolfram, Sam, and Twitch leisurely recapping the story thus far, following the aftermath of Spawn and Wolfram’s pointless fight. On page ten, we have a subplot scene that places the paper bag of necroplasm in the hands of a new homeless character. Fair enough. Two pages on this scene even seems justifiable. Then, the book abruptly jumps to a two-page spread of Spawn leaping heroically into action, oversized ‘90s guns in tow. For absolutely no reason, he knows that a little boy has been kidnapped, and he’s taking down his captors. He spends a few pages killing them, the boy’s safe, and because nothing can ever have a clean ending in this book, he laughs manically and reveals his “reverse Spawn” symbol after Spawn leaves. Finally, there’s one more page to fill, so there’s a recycled page of the talking heads repeating the details of the previous gang war storyline.

It’s like they’re daring you to keep buying this book at this point. Out of the twenty pages of content, nine of them are dedicated to exposition. The eleven pages of actual story consist of a subplot setup and a vague fight scene that feels like it belongs in the second half of a different issue. If McFarlane was so hard up for time, why didn’t he hire other people to do the book? Couldn’t he have Tom Orzechowski write a backup story and get someone like Rick Leonardi to draw it? Yes, he now has a co-writer, but I suspect that Holguin is only scripting over McFarlane’s plots at this point. The issues he writes solo that I've read are actually coherent, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. While the book does need better scripting, it’s the actual stories that are the problem, and it’s unbelievable that McFarlane hasn’t realized that yet.


Monday, May 2, 2011

SPAWN #71 - April 1998

Apparitions

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

Summary: Cogliostro warns Spawn that his presence in the alleys has consequences, but he refuses to listen. Meanwhile, Wanda is angry with Terry for not taking Cyan’s behavior seriously. Sam takes Twitch to a strip club to relax, only to discover a vampire killer inside. The vampire soon locates Spawn, attacking him in Heaven’s “dead zone.” Boots stops the vampire from killing Spawn, confirming the creature is an agent of Heaven.

Todd Talk: Todd McFarlane is dismayed by the current trend of variant covers, citing them as a poor way to keep new readers. He says his strategy is to produce a quality product for a reasonable price, and boasts that Spawn has maintained the same cover price since the beginning. He neglects to mention that the book has only run twenty pages of story for several months now. The shorter stories are making room for more Spawn-related hype pages, instead of outside ads, so perhaps he feels justified that he’s still giving people their money’s worth. And I actually did read all of the hype material, even long after I stopped buying the merchandise.

Creative Differences: In case you haven’t noticed, Spawn inexplicably has a bat’s head on the cover. He also doesn’t kill a priest in the story, nor does one even appear.

The Big Names: The real-life Terry Fitzgerald spent time with Korn while they recorded their new album, and has photos of himself with several skinny white males with dreadlocks to prove it.

Production Note: As I alluded to above, this is another issue with twenty pages of story.

Review: Todd McFarlane’s co-writer, Brian Holguin from KISS Psycho Circus, begins his run without any fanfare. A few pages don’t seem to have McFarlane’s scripting style, so I’m assuming Holguin scripted a few pages that had already been penciled. I certainly hope he wasn’t involved with the plotting of this issue, because it’s among the worst so far. The story opens with Cogliostro giving Spawn the same lecture he gives in almost every other issue, as Spawn offers his typical “Shuddup and leave me alone, old man” response. We then check in on Terry and Wanda, who are now abruptly having marital problems. If only the two of them hadn’t magically forgotten their war against Jason Wynn, maybe they would have something to do together. Finally, Sam and Twitch recap the past few issues before Sam drags Twitch to a strip club. At this point we’re ten pages into the story, which means a solid half of the issue is dedicated to exposition and recycled scenes.

Now, if the issue was another slow-burner that recapped what we already knew while setting the stage for the next arc, it would still be terrible, but it would be typical Spawn. This issue makes the leap into sheer ineptitude on page eleven, as Sam and Twitch enter a strip club that’s inexplicably gone mad. An unnamed vampire, who resembles a high school shop teacher, has somehow inspired lunacy in the club and escaped with a stripper. Sam and Twitch find her body in the garbage two pages later. Now, there’s something to be said for picking up the pace, but abruptly changing the entire direction of the story with the sudden appearance of a new villain is just shoddy. This is Spawn. New villains don’t just show up on page eleven of a previously unrelated story. They’re teased, sometimes for several pages, sometimes for months, before they go anywhere near Spawn. This nondescript vampire just shows up, with no build-up, no exposition, and no real motivation, finds Spawn and fights him for a few pages.

The delivery is so clumsy, it’s appalling even by the low standards this book has already set. And the “shocking” revelation that Heaven has mean ol’ vampires working for it…seriously? Is this supposed to be scandalous in a book that already has the nihilistic point of view that Heaven and Hell treat the selection of souls like the NBA Draft? This really is a new level of awful. You could certainly argue that McFarlane has been overly sluggish in moving in any direction, but the unexpected swerve into Liefeld-style ADD is just bad in a different way.