Wednesday, August 31, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #9 - June 1993

The Origin of the Cadre

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Nelson Ortega (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

The Plot: Three mysterious babies are left on the doorstep of a monastery. The children (Shard, Vortex, and Dementia) are raised by the Knights Templar, and left ignorant of their connection to the Hellbent. Calling themselves the Cadre, the orphans reach young adulthood and sneak out of the monastery. On the night they leave, the monastery is assaulted by the Hellbent.

The Subplots: Gregori, one of the Knights Templar, is worried about the “potential danger” of the Cadre’s “cursed heritage.” Later, when the Hellbent attack, they boast that the Knights have been betrayed by someone named Seth.

Gimmicks: Like all of Marvel’s 1993 annuals, this comic comes polybagged with a trading card spotlighting the fantastic new characters introduced this issue.

Review: Ah, so the Hellbent are something Kavanagh carries from book to book with him. I bet they’re even in his Moon Knight run, aren’t they? Just like their portrayal in X-Man, this is too vague to really be engaging, although Kavanagh does work an admirable amount of plot into just a few pages. The structure of this annual is odd, as we’re getting a short story spotlighting the new characters before the main story, starring the title hero, appears.

Chaos Is the Cadre!

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Chris Marrinan (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Jon Babcock, Joe Rosen, & Rick Parker (letters), Joe Rosas (colorist)

The Plot: Peter and MJ’s romantic dinner is interrupted by the Cadre, who are running amok in Manhattan. Spider-Man tries to run interference between the teens and Code: Blue, but the violence doesn’t stop until one of the Knight Templars, Chloe, arrives. She takes the Cadre away with her, declaring “the Shadowspawn” her responsibility.

The Subplots: Peter is still concerned with MJ’s smoking.

I Love the ‘90s: Peter refers to himself as “a ‘90s husband” when MJ questions if he’s okay with her paying the bill.

Review: The “real” story begins, but calling this a “story” is generous. Peter and MJ have their token domestic scene, MJ behaves irrationally because that’s how she tended to behave during this era of the books (although the in-story explanation has everyone in the area affected by Dementia’s powers), Spider-Man has a misunderstanding fight with the Cadre, and a mystery lady appears to take them away. Why, it’s almost as if this story has nothing to do with Spidey. I am glad to see Chris Marrinan on art, since I like his interpretation of Spider-Man and the action scenes look nice, but even he can’t save the ridiculous designs of the Cadre.

Things to Come

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Vince Evans (penciler), Bill Anderson (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Mark Bernardo (colorist)

The Plot: Following the massacre at the monastery, the Cadre attempt to adjust to life with Chloe. Unbeknownst to her, the teens are determined to learn the identity of their mother.

The Subplots: Chloe is fearful that the Cadre will be recruited by Seth the Immortal.

*See _________ For Details: An event involving the Hellbent called the “Bloodline Agenda” is set to occur in Moon Knight #50. (A-ha! And are there any guesses as to who was writing Moon Knight at this time...?)

Review: Labeled the epilogue to the main story, this is presumably a character-building piece starring the Cadre. All we learn about them is that they’re sad the Knights who raised them are dead, and they want to find their mother. Also, Dementia seemed to be going nuts for a little while there, but she’s getting better now. I’m certainly riveted. Chloe gets a few pages of internal monologue to spell out the internal politics of the Hellbent, but the plot still seems needlessly confusing. Is this Hellbent stuff over with now?

Mayhem in the Streets

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Fred Haynes (penciler), Tim Tuohy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Dana Moreshead (colorist)

The Plot: Cloak and Dagger reluctantly face their former friend, Mayhem, who is killing local hoods. During their fight, Mayhem is apparently killed by one of Dagger’s light-daggers.

The Subplots: None.

Review: I’ll take a wild stab in the dark and guess that Mayhem is also a Terry Kavanagh creation that predates his run on Web of Spider-Man. I actually don’t mind Kavanagh pulling his past continuity into this book, assuming he’s telling stories that actually make sense and aren’t filled with vague, mystic nonsense. Perhaps Mayhem was supposed to have an extended arc that was cut short when Cloak and Dagger was cancelled, so he’s resolving it here. Fine. I’m not given enough information on Mayhem to actually care about the character, but maybe Cloak and Dagger fans got something out of this.

Opening Gambit

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Mark Powers (penciler), Hector Collazo (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Rob Tokar (colorist)

The Plot: While investigating the origins of his costume at ESU, Nightwatch stumbles across a burglar in a hi-tech, invisible suit. After defeating him, Nightwatch is shocked to discover he’s in the office of the girlfriend he believed dead.

The Subplots: None.

Review: How many stories are in this book?! Another story starring a Kooky Kavanagh Kreation, we’re now treated to Nightwatch recapping his origin and beating up someone who might be a member of the group his future self warned him of -- the Camouflage Cadre (which word does Kavanagh love more, Gauntlet or Cadre?). And, yes, that’s future X-editor Mark Powers providing the art. If you’re curious to see more his work, he also drew a Constrictor serial for Marvel Comics Presents. His art is a little too soft for my tastes, but it’s perfectly fine for an annual back-up, and it’s certainly easier on the eyes than the sloppy work displayed in the Cloak and Dagger piece. Nightwatch’s solo book is only a few months away, but we’re advised to see more of this arc in Web. It’s nothing special, but the revelation that Nightwatch’s beloved Ashley is still alive is potentially interesting. Is there anyone on the planet who read Nightwatch’s series? I realize this is probably a ridiculous question, but is it any good?

Monday, August 29, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #100 - May 1993

Total War

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: After escaping the android members of the New Enforcers, Spider-Man heads to ESU and develops a new hard-web agent. Donning his spider-armor, he heads for the Foreigner's mansion. There, Spider-Man is caught in a fight between Blood Rose and the New Enforcers. Stalking Blood Rose, Gauntlet arrives. Before he can gain revenge, Gauntlet is confronted by Nightwatch. Nightwatch takes back his power-glove, leaving a wounded Gauntlet for Spider-Man to discover. With the Enforcers defeated, and two Richard Fisks unmasked, a confused Spider-Man allows the police to sort matters out.

The Subplots: After the New Enforcers are sent to prison, another group of criminals calling themselves the New Enforcers is thrilled that “the outer circle took the fall.” They’re now prepared to rule the underworld.

Web of Continuity: The final tally of New Enforcers members includes…Dragon Man, Dreadnought, Super-Adaptoid, Vanisher, Eel, Blitz, Thermite, Plantman, and Tangle. The secret members who aren’t arrested in the end are Mr. Fear, Madame Menace, the Controller, the Fixer and Mentallo.

Richard Fisk reveals that his best friend Alfredo Morelli was actually posing as him during the “Name of the Rose” storyline. His verbatim explanation: “You volunteered your combat experience, Alfredo…to help me try to destroy the Fisk Syndicate without setting off a mob war. But the plastic surgery -- the pressures of the puppet position -- unhinged your mind…you eventually refused to acknowledge any identity other than ‘Richard Fisk.’”

*See _________ For Details: Empire State University was damaged by the Human Torch in Fantastic Four #373.

Gimmicks: This is a double-sized issue with a cardstock holo-graphix cover. The cover price is $2.95.

Review: There are no words to describe the utter inanity of this comic. It’s horrible. I don't think that's much of a revelation. I don’t have the energy to detail fully just how bad this is, so I’ll try to list the low points in a simple bullet-point form.

* There is absolutely no justification for the “spider-armor” gimmick. It’s not even armor; it’s just hardened webbing that gets destroyed during the fight anyway. The armor is a dumb, gimmicky premise that’s only here to chase a fad and get on the cover. I would say it was created to sell action figures, but Marvel wasn't producing any new Spider-Man action figures at the time.

* Why do the Enforcers now consist of around thirty-eight members? It’s a random collection of characters that don’t mesh well together, and they’re all cheapened because Kavanagh can only use them as cannon fodder. The whole premise of a “New Enforcers” is flawed. Even during the early ‘60s, the original Enforcers were already an outdated, old-timey take on mobsters. I can’t imagine Stan and Steve really wanted the audience to take these guys seriously. The Enforcers are a fun premise, not an excuse to cram together any C-list villain that has an opening this month. And am I a total cynic for assuming that the secret cabal within the New Enforcers never appeared again?

* Nightwatch is a flagrant Spawn rip-off. There, I said it. I realize this fact sailed right past many readers, but you can’t slip this stuff by me.

* Richard Fisk was really Alfredo Morelli, and Blood Rose, who we were led to believe was Alfredo Morelli, was actually Richard Fisk. Oh, were there thought balloons that indicated “Richard Fisk” was Richard Fisk in “Name of the Rose”? Well, that just means Alfredo was nuts by that point. And his appearance? Plastic surgery, of course. If it works in the soaps, it’s good enough for superhero comics. Who cares if this plot point is nonsensical and needlessly confusing…it’s a twist. It’s always important to screw the audience around keep the readers on their toes.

Okay, maybe this was terrible. But surely Terry Kavanagh won’t be making any more contributions to Spidey continuity, right?

The Origin of Nightwatch

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Derek Yaniger (artist), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: During an AIM hijacking, Dr. Kevin Trench is rescued by Nightwatch. When Nightwatch is killed, Trench is shocked to discover an older version of himself inside the costume. Donning the outfit, Trench tries to rescue his girlfriend Ashley, but inadvertently kills her in an explosion. Determined never to complete the time loop, Trench exiles himself to an island and rejects the Nightwatch identity.

Review: As horrific as this issue’s main story is, I have to give Kavanagh credit for creating an intriguing origin story for Nightwatch. A man is given an organic superhero outfit by his future self, only to botch his first mission and kill his girlfriend? Ouch. Trench knows that he’ll die in the Nightwatch identity, so he thinks he can outwit fate on a deserted island, only to find himself wearing the costume again years later in New York City. There’s a decent amount of potential there. It actually reminds me of the more interesting time travel plots on LOST, before the show descended into nonsense. Still, nothing excuses that outfit, and emphasizing its “living” qualities is just provoking a lawsuit from McFarlane.

Friday, August 26, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #4 - September 1997

Cry Me A River of Nigh-Irresistible Beams!

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Mike Manley (penciler), Keith Champagne & Ande Parks (inks), Bill Oakley & NJQ (letters), Scott Baumann (colorist)

The final member of the team, Zip-Kid, makes her debut, covering for Hard Drive as he runs away crying. She explains (i.e. lies) to Superman that Hard Drive has a tragic history with mummies, so he’s a little emotional. Superman feels a little better about the kid’s mental stability and flies off. Zip-Kid explains to the others that she saw their battle on television and just had to meet them. She’s invited to join the team, but she’s not sure how her boyfriend would feel. Later, after the team grows tired of Junior’s squeaky little voice, he’s forced to admit that his powers don’t allow him to grow or shrink. He’s stuck at four inches tall. Meanwhile…

Hard Drive continues to mentally force Bonfire into a relationship with Thunderhead.

Monstergirl doubts Hard Drive’s leadership ability in front of the rest of the team, while still massaging his ego in private.

Bonfire briefly resumes her flirtation with Frostbite, until Hard Drive’s mental commands send her back to Thunderhead.

Thunderhead is caught making out with Bonfire in the gym by Frostbite and Junior at the issue’s end.

Off-Ramp continues to behave as the most responsible member of the team, in spite of his grungy appearance.

Junior reveals that he was a normal-sized scientist until he fell into the “world’s largest ionic centrifuge.” He also expresses an interest in Zip-Kid, the only other four-inch girl he’s ever going to meet (barring another Marvel/DC crossover), and is devastated when he learns she has a boyfriend.

Frostbite is suspicious of Hard Drive, dubious about Junior’s ability to be a hero, and distraught when he catches Bonfire and Thunderhead hooking up.

My first thought upon opening this issue: Mike Manley! Not only is Manley one of the finest “Adventures” style artists, but he’s also the man responsible for the “Babyman” rant, one of the funniest creator-versus-fan tirades I’ve ever read. With all due respect to Dev Madan, this is the strongest looking issue of the book so far. Manley just has a knack for giving weight to stripped down “animated” figures, and his use of shadows is impeccable. As for the story, I wish more time was devoted to Hard Drive’s bizarre meltdown in the previous issue’s cliffhanger, but the remaining character subplots are still intriguing. The little moments, such as Zip-Kid realizing that she just lied to Superman, and Junior’s revelation that he isn’t a size-changer at all, are great.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #3 - August 1997

Two Hearts Beat as One Giant Undead Guy!

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Scott Baumann (colorist)

The Young Heroes keep Totenjaeger the Mummy’s sword as a trophy, but it disappears shortly after it’s hung on the wall. Reasoning that Totenjaeger has rematerialized, the team returns to the Army base he recently attacked. They’re shocked to discover Superman fighting the mummy. After Frostbite finishes Totenjaeger by trapping him in ice, Hard Drive offers Superman a place on the team. When Superman refuses, Hard Drive runs away crying. Seriously. In more important news…

Monstergirl sets up Hard Drive to be humiliated, knowing that Superman will refuse his offer. She makes sure he asks Superman in front of everyone, so it will be “really impressive.”

Bonfire is still involved with Thunderhead, but she’s excited over a secret heat-sensitive message left for her by Frostbite.

Frostbite spends much of the issue creating an elaborate ice sculpture, after nastily rebuffing Hard Drive’s attempts to become friends.

Following the establishment of the CCA, I wonder how often Superman appeared in non-Code approved comics. Dark Knight Returns is the most obvious example, so I guess DC wasn’t overly protective of their mom-friendly icon, but it is a little odd to see him guest starring in a comic that opens with three pages of penis jokes (Thunderhead and Frostbite are hanging up Totenjaeger’s sword, “the team’s first official phallic symbol”).

The previous issues made it clear that this would be a slightly racy, non-action oriented superhero book, but this issue plays up another angle of the series -- the heroes themselves are big superhero fans. Not only do they admire the likes of Superman and Green Lantern, but they also have strong opinions on their costumes and hairstyles. If you thought it was ridiculous that Superman grew a mullet, you now have Bonfire on your side. No one’s overly critical of his new electric-blue look, perhaps because DC wouldn’t appreciate spiteful comments about a current event, but the story does acknowledge the team’s bewilderment over the change. They’re not in the JLA/Titans loop, so while they’re left speculating about his new look and powers, that doesn’t lessen their enthusiasm when the icon shows up to fight a member of their nascent rogues gallery. In certain respects, this is a comic about comics, but it’s nice to see metacommentary that isn’t snarky and condescending. Emphasizing how much the Young Heroes admire the JLA humanizes the cast, and gives the book a unique place within the DC Universe.

Finally, I present to you the heroes OF the Young Heroes, a list that hasn’t aged at all

The next caption simply reads “Superman” in case you were wondering.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Look Before You Leap Into the Telekinetic Proto-Bomb!

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Scott Baumann (colorist)

Dismissing Monstergirl’s assessment that the team needs two weeks of training before facing a villain, Hard Drive demands action. Monstergirl ignores his orders for something “not too serious,” and asks Off-Ramp to use his teleportation portals to find news reports of major events. Yes, it’s a plot point that could easily be covered by a Google News Alert today. Off-Ramp discovers a mummy attack at an Army base, and soon enough, the Young Heroes are on the scene. Everyone takes turns fighting the mummy, but the fight ends when Hard Drive uses his telekinetic powers to destroy the monster. But what really matters is this…

Hard Drive isn’t angry with Monstergirl for disobeying his orders. They’re still hooking up behind the team’s back. When Junior catches them together, Hard Drive erases his memory.

Monstergirl is going out of her way to puff up Hard Drive’s ego.

Bonfire is enthralled with Thunderhead.

Thunderhead is enthralled with Bonfire.

Frostbite is jealous.

Off-Ramp…doesn’t do much this issue. We do learn that he can look into his teleportation portals as if they’re TV screens, though.

Junior is dizzy after having his short-term memory erased.

The book is still developing its cast and mysteries, with Hard Drive and Monstergirl stealing the show. They’re both playing the team to some extent, but they’re also keeping things from each other. It looks as if Monstergirl has some sinister motives, but who’s to say what Hard Drive is up to at this point? A solid second issue, and while it barely plays a role in the story, Dev Madan’s design of the mummy is great.

By the way, all of the scans are borrowed from the original Young Heroes fansite, which is still online.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Your Lips! Your Eyes! Your Nuclear Breath Vision!

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Scott Baumann (colorist)

I realize they’re under the covers, but I wonder if this was the first and only time DC ever presented two coital characters on the cover of one of their comics?

Young Heroes in Love opens with the resident dimwitted tough guy, Thunderhead, badgering chain-smoking bad boy, Off-Ramp, for an opinion on his costume. Off-Ramp is too busy leering at Monster Girl to notice. If you’re looking for action, you’re out of luck, because the issue has fewer fight scenes than Superman Returns. In fact, there’s no fighting at all, and the only action takes place in a brief flashback. If the title and cover didn’t make it clear, you’ll know by the end of this issue that the series is aimed at readers who care about characters first and action second (a distant second, at that). Some might argue that those readers really shouldn’t be looking for these stories in the superhero genre, but it’s hard to deny the draw of the soap opera dramatics. A large portion of the audience is bored with the fights by the time they reach adolescence. They need something else to keep them coming back month after month. Young Heroes is all about the drama, and not the implanted memories/swapped bodies/exiled from the future kind.

The plot of issue one details the seven cast members coming together for the first time; some of the characters already know each other, and others have secret relationships that will be unveiled in future issues. Thunderhead, Off-Ramp, and Monster Girl are already friends. They’re waiting to meet Hard Drive, the square-jawed, blonde leader with telekinetic powers. Hard Drive suggested forming a superhero team to Off-Ramp after they met during a road show (using their powers to save drivers from a massive pile-up, the lone action scene in the issue), so Off-Ramp has brought his two friends along. Meanwhile, Hard Drive is training Bonfire, the young superhero fangirl with pyrokinetic powers. They’re joined by Junior, a diminutive hero who still gets rides from his mom.

Eventually, the six heroes meet on a rooftop. For the benefit of themselves and the audience, the characters recite their powers to one another. This could’ve been Secret Wars level corniness, but Raspler has a knack for natural dialogue, and the light tone makes the exposition fairly painless. We discover that Monster Girl can literally change into a monster, but she’s insulted when anyone refers to her as a “shape-shifter.” After everyone is introduced, and the two female members gossip behind the male members’ backs, Off-Ramp uses his powers to open a teleportation portal to remote Canada. Riding in his pet car, Roadshow, the team arrives in Chicoutimi. There, they meet Hard Drive’s final recruit, Frostbite.

Frostbite’s affinity for the cold has an odd reaction to Bonfire’s heat powers. It’s an instant attraction, which doesn’t bode well for Thunderhead, who already has a crush on Bonfire. Oddly enough, Hard Drive isn’t so happy about this either. He’s so bothered by their connection, in fact, that after he introduces the team to their warehouse headquarters, he pulls Bonfire aside for a “conversation.”

After their little chat, Bonfire’s forgotten all about the freak with the nipple rings and speedo. She’s moved on to Thunderhead. They’re going out on patrol and everything, you guys! Hard Drive’s pleased, Frostbite’s upset, and Thunderhead is ecstatic. Regardless, the team’s ready to begin adventuring, but there’s only one page left in the comic. In case you thought that cover was merely symbolic, Raspler and Madan wheel out the sex on the final page. (I’ll avoid any obvious “climax” jokes.) And which characters are under those sheets? None other than Hard Drive and Monster Girl. But wait, didn’t they just meet?

It’s a first issue without any fights, no one gives a lengthy angst-ridden origin story, and not a single established superhero shows up to guest star. It makes you care the old-fashioned way, by presenting engaging characters and pairing them off in interesting ways. Anyone in the book may or may not be what they seem, and the stories could go in any conceivable direction. Isn’t this what you liked about comics in the first place, before you discovered what “illusion of change” meant?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The First Casualty - YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE

A “garage band” team of superheroes, starring in a series that focuses on their interpersonal drama and skimps over that tired action stuff. Sounds like something from the Bill Jemas era of Marvel, doesn’t it? It’s actually Young Heroes in Love, a short-lived DC title from 1997, written by editor Dan Rasplar and penciled by former Batman Adventures artist Dev Madan. My first impression of the book is that it’s the kind of title fans always claim to want, but never actually buy. Gen 13 and Generation X had great success in the ‘90s downplaying the superhero fights and spotlighting the character interactions, but those titles had connections to larger franchises, and insanely popular artists for most of their runs (Gen 13’s relentless cheesecake also didn’t hurt sales.)

Young Heroes was set in the DC Universe, but was clearly not intended to be required reading for continuity obsessives, and the art style was probably dismissed as “too kiddie” by fans who still wanted 1,000 detail lines per square inch of artwork. It’s a shame, because the art breathes a lot of personality into the characters, and the actual content of the book is anything but “kiddie.” In fact, it’s not Approved by the Comics Code Authority, placing it in the vague No Code/No Mature Readers Warning category a few other ‘90s DC launches fell into. It’s a PG-13 book with “Sex” right there on the cover. Isn’t this what the aging audience wants? While the book attracted critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base, it couldn’t make it past issue seventeen. I was curious about the book, especially after reading a Wizard review that praised the title while questioning the “racy” material, but never gave it a shot. Now, I’ve acquired a stack of back issues and I’m ready to discover what I missed in 1997. Coming soon, Young Heroes in Love #1.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The DC Casualties

As you might have gathered, I didn’t allocate a large portion of my comics budget to DC in the ‘90s. I didn’t have an aversion to DC, I liked their main characters just fine and was more than willing to at least sample most of the Batman and Superman events, but there are only so many comics you can expect any fan to buy, let alone an adolescent one on a limited budget. As the ‘90s wore on, I did notice that DC was attracting a lot of attention from the fan press. Not just for the latest crossover event, or stunt relating to crippling a major character or changing his hairstyle, but attention for the actual content of the books. Wizard, which built most of its fanbase on incessantly hyping Marvel, Image, and whichever indie publisher had the most audacious T&A comic that month, even ran in article in 1996 praising DC as the "new house of ideas." Soon, it seemed as if any literate fan of mainstream comics couldn’t stop talking about Aztek, Major Bummer, Xero, Chase, or Chronos.

And yet, all of the praise in the world couldn’t save most of these books from dying after a handful of issues. As a fan looking in on the outside, it seemed as if DC cancelled a lot of books in the ‘90s. Every issue of Wizard would dedicate numerous pages to promoting all of DC’s promising new ideas, while the back-of-the-book solicitations informed us of the final issues of last year’s hot launches. I suppose I shoulder some of the blame. After all, I never bought these books. I bought dozens of X-Factor issues I hated and knew were garbage, but I didn’t give the critical darlings the time of day. So, now, I will dedicate a few weeks of my review schedule to DC’s low-selling yet highly-praised ‘90s output. It’s a meager penance.

(And, if someone out there were to take up my challenge and do index-style reviews of the ‘90s Superman and Batman franchises, I could guarantee you at least one follower...)

Friday, August 12, 2011

X-MAN #47 - January 1999

Blood Brothers Part Three - Dreams End

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), J. H. Williams III (penciler), Mick Gray (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Madelyne joins Stryfe’s side, prompting Cable to grab X-Man and escape the pyramid. X-Man impulsively rushes back into Stryfe’s headquarters, forcing Madelyne to blow her cover and defend him. Stryfe responds by siphoning Madelyne’s psychic energy, nearly killing her, until Cable arrives and telekinetically holds her body together. Ness finally makes his way to the pyramid and urges X-Man not to live out the apocalyptic vision they shared. Rather than continue his dangerous telekinetic fight with Stryfe, X-Man attaches the power-siphon to Stryfe and leaves it on a feedback loop until it explodes. With the world saved, Cable and X-Man begin to grow closer.

Continuity Notes: X-Man’s telepathy is gone, although the previous issue strongly hinted that it returned after his encounter with Psynapse. He does receive one new power this issue, as he can now use telekinesis to shift his molecules and phase like Shadowcat. Also, a narrative caption describes Ness as a “recent exile of the long-hidden race known as Hellbent, last of the Night-Tribes, according to legend unspoken -- reduced to a single, secret Nest now -- people of the shadows, one and all.” Doesn’t that clear everything up?

I Love the ‘90s: X-Man’s costume now consists of the long, baggy shorts you might remember from the days of Korn and Limp Bizkit.

Review: So “Blood Brothers” ends, not with a horrific, population-clearing bang, but with a tiny whimper. Just as I’m unconvinced that the Techno-Gnomes were always a part of this storyline, I doubt the vision of X-Man killing half the planet from issue #39 was originally meant to play a role in the crossover. The details just don’t fit, down to the armor worn by X-Man’s opponent (it vaguely resembles Stryfe’s outfit, but is far from a match), to the design of the pyramid, to the clothes Ness wore in the vision. Plus, X-Man had long hair in the vision, which he only grew right before this arc began. The story has to stretch to make the connections work, such as X-Man’s realization that Cable’s arm resembles the armor worn by the man in his vision (not quite, it appears that he had metal arms underneath the gold and purple armor), and then dismisses all of the elements that don’t fit. There’s certainly no talk of reviving “the sleeper” a.k.a. “the world ender” a.k.a. character-probably-meant-to-be-Apocalypse, which is what the fight in #39 is all about. It reads as if Kavanagh had one of those epic-yet-vague plans for a future storyline, but later decided to cram them into an editorially mandated Cable crossover in order to give the story some significance. The vision material never worked anyway, because no one could possibly believe the comic’s ever going to have X-Man destroy half of the planet. Marvel can’t even keep Morlocks in the ground.

The strength of this storyline came from the pairing of the characters, which is where the final chapter falls short. Jean Grey and the Dark Riders have disappeared in-between chapters, Stryfe is a ranting loon like always, only now less entertaining, Madelyne makes an unconvincing turn to the dark side again, and Cable and X-Man spend most of the issue in a fight scene. This started as a promising examination of the Summers bloodline and all of the insanity it’s attracted, but ends with a bland fight scene. And, how exactly is Stryfe alive again…?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

CABLE #63 - January 1999

Blood Brothers Part Two - Illusion of Doom

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Stephen Platt w/Andy Smith (pencilers), Matt Banning w/Rodney Ramos (inker), Gloria Vasquez (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Cable returns to the diner and reveals to Stacey that he’s a mutant. They talk, and Stacey promises Cable that she can handle his life. Cable returns home to rest and is greeted by Blaquesmith, who sends him on a mission to Latveria to stop Stryfe. Cable arrives, saving Madelyne from a mob and fighting Doombots until he meets Stryfe. Cable tries to rescue X-Man, but is soon defeated by Stryfe. Meanwhile, Irene is hired by the Daily Bugle and Ness meets with Blaquesmith in Tramahoi.

Continuity Notes: X-Man was nude when last seen as Stryfe’s prisoner. Now, he’s wearing the traditional superhero outfit (the one with a giant “X” on his chest) that he’ll later adopt in his regular series.

Review: This advances the plot of “Blood Brothers” by a mere four pages or so, but it does work as a continuation of Casey’s ongoing storylines. Following his near-death at the hands of SHIELD, Cable’s reevaluated his life and decided not to keep secrets from the people he cares about, which now includes Stacey. Casey still isn’t moving them into a romance, but he is building up their friendship in a believable way. Giving Cable a normal person to interact with is a reasonable idea, and using the events of the previous arc as the impetus for Cable to open up to her makes sense.

The story then moves into crossover territory, as Casey addresses what exactly Cable was doing before he abruptly dropped into the previous issue of X-Man. Casey pays some lip service towards Cable’s feelings about Stryfe’s resurrection, and his strained relationship with his mother Madelyne, but doesn’t get a lot of material out of the scenario. This is mostly about the fighting, and getting Cable in place for the final chapter of the story. It’s not as interesting as the first half of the issue, and it goes without saying that Stephen Platt isn’t anywhere near J. H. Williams’ level, making this an odd-looking crossover.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

X-MAN #46 - Late December 1998

Blood Brothers Part One - Stormfront

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), J. H. Williams III (penciler), Mick Gray (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The pyramid that’s crashed into Latveria opens up, revealing Stryfe and the Dark Riders. X-Man discerns that Jean Grey is also a target, so he convinces Madelyne to teleport to America and protect her. As X-Man battles the Dark Riders, his full telepathic awareness is awakened by Psynapse. His mind touches Stryfe’s and he senses their connection. Stryfe captures X-Man and attempts to use one of Dr. Doom’s inventions to drain his power. Meanwhile, Madelyne rescues Jean Grey from the remaining Dark Riders, then teleports back to Latveria. She’s targeted by a mob, but rescued by Cable, who’s responded to Blaquesmith’s call. Elsewhere, Ness arrives in Tramahoi.

Continuity Notes: There’s no explanation yet for Stryfe’s return, but apparently being in Hell enabled him to avoid losing his telepathic powers. How exactly Psynapse retained his is unclear. The pyramid Stryfe arrives in is allegedly the same one X-Man saw in his apocalyptic vision.

Review: J. H. Williams III drew X-Man? That’s certainly a step up from the past few issues. Although this doesn’t look as good as Williams’ current work, or even his ’95 Wolverine annual, it’s still a nice job. His Stryfe looks particularly great. And why exactly is Stryfe in this comic? Since he’s genetically the same person as X-Man, it makes sense for the two to meet, but it would be nice to have some explanation for his resurrection. I seem to recall people ridiculing the dismissive justification for his return when this arc was published, so I’m not looking forward to the details. The idea that he would attack while Earth’s telepaths are at their weakest makes sense, though, and it manages to get some mileage out of “Psi-War.” I also confess to some fondness for the original Dark Riders, so I don’t mind seeing them again. I also received some nostalgic enjoyment from Madelyne Pryor’s solo mission, which had her recounting all of the reasons she hates Cyclops and Jean, yet still doing the right thing. The prelude issue for this crossover was weak, but the first official chapter definitely has its moments. Ignoring Stryfe’s abrupt resurrection, there’s a lot to like about the premise of this storyline, assuming you’re not afraid of certain areas of X-continuity. I just wonder why a story involving Cable, X-Man, Stryfe, Jean Grey, and Madelyne Pryor was so thoroughly ignored by the main X-titles.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

GENERATION X #1/2 - 1998

Pistolas y Corazones

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Alé Garza (penciler), Sean Parsons (inker), Mike Rockwitz w/McNabb Studios (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Skin, Jubilee, and Husk accompany Emma on a business trip to Los Angeles. They travel to Skin’s old neighborhood, where he confronts Tores, the ex-girlfriend who recently tried to kill him. He learns that she mistakenly believed Skin responsible for tricking her into participating in a drive-by shooting. The real culprit, Lupo, appears. Tores teams with Gen X to defend Skin from Lupo, just as Skin’s mother walks into the alley. She sees Tores’ powers and calls her a freak. Skin overhears this and decides he can never tell his mother that he’s still alive.

Continuity Notes: Skin reveals that his powers manifested after he was duped into riding along with Lupo’s gang during the drive-by. He was abandoned by the others and awoke shortly before the car exploded. Assuming Tores was the shooter, he kept the gun to protect her, and allowed the police to think he died in the explosion. In this issue, it’s revealed that Tores’ powers also manifested during the shooting, which caused the car to catch fire. Lupo initially planned to pin the shootings on Tores, but settled on Skin after he disappeared.

Production Notes: This is one of the many #1/2 issues published by Wizard (or “Gareb Shamus Enterprises” to be more specific) during the ‘90s. The #1/2 comics could only be ordered through Wizard issues with coupons for the specific comic. They cost an inordinate amount of money and were allegedly “rare,” although the print runs probably match those of a mid-level Marvel or DC book published today. The credits page incorrectly lists the writer as “Lara Hama,” by the way.

Review: I don’t plan on reviewing all of the Marvel/Wizard #1/2 books, but this one resolves a long-running character subplot, so I feel like it’s worth mentioning. Scott Lobdell never got around to revealing why exactly Skin faked his death, or what his connection to Tores was, so it’s now up to Larry Hama to resolve the mysteries. Thankfully, this works a lot better than the M/Emplate resolution. It still debatable if this is what Lobdell had in mind when establishing the subplot, but it manages to provide a credible explanation for Skin’s “death” and explain away James Robinson’s characterization of Tores (she inexplicably wanted to kill Skin during the “Operation: Zero Tolerance” crossover issues). On top of that, the story resolves the “gun in the cigar box” mystery from Hama’s early issues (Skin kept the gun, wrongly assuming it had Tores’ prints), and conclusively states that Skin never killed anyone in the drive-by.

While some of Hama’s annoying “teen speak” is still present, the doomed romance between Tores, a rebellious girl drawn to the local gangs, and Skin, a nice mama’s boy who doesn’t want any trouble, still feels authentic. Ending the story with Skin realizing that even with the real culprit revealed, he still can’t tell his mother he’s alive because of her prejudices, works as an unhappy ending because the angst isn’t overplayed. There’s actually more story here than in the previous three issues of the regular Generation X series combined. It’s also one of the strongest stories Hama’s written for the characters, and continuity-wise, the most important Skin story yet. If you were a regular Generation X reader and just assumed this was filler, the joke was on you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

X-MAN#45 - December 1998

Crossing Borders

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Mark Pajarillo (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Summary: X-Man has another vision that shows him accidentally destroying the Earth. He awakens to discover a Techno-Gnome inserting the dream into his mind. After destroying the gnome, Madelyne teleports him to the location he sensed in his dream, the island of Tramahoi in the Philippines. After facing more Techno-Gnomes, X-Man discovers their creator, Blaquesmith. Blaquesmith tells X-Man and Madelyne that “he” has returned. They’re transported to Latveria, where they witness a pyramid falling out of the sky. Meanwhile, Slaine examines the remains of a Techno-Gnome for Ness. Suddenly, they’re attacked by Manx and the Shadow-Sisters. Following Slaine’s dying request, Ness doesn’t pursue the fight, but instead travels to Tramahoi.

Continuity Notes: Ness and Slaine are apparently members of a group called the Hellbent. Manx and the Shadow-Sisters consider them traitors, but no more information is given on their rivalry.

Production Note: Alan Davis receives a “special thanks” credit. He apparently drew the final page of the story, unless Mark Pajarillo radically changed his art style for the sake of one page.

Review: This is the prelude to “Blood Brothers,” a crossover between X-Man and Cable that consumes three issues of X-Man and only one issue of Cable. I can’t imagine anyone really wanted to participate in this, but Marvel still felt the need to connect Cable and X-Man periodically during this era, so this is what we’re stuck with. I doubt Kavanagh always intended Blaquesmith to be the mastermind behind the Techno-Gnomes when they were introduced several issues ago, but given the vague nature of the storyline so far, it’s impossible to tell where any of this was originally going. We’re now supposed to believe that Blaquesmith used the robots to “test” X-Man in preparation for this fight, and that no one was really in danger so long as Blaquesmith controlled the gnomes, which is a copout if nothing else. Given Blaquesmith’s previous appearances, this doesn’t sound like something he would do; but then again, Blaquesmith is still something of a cipher, so I guess it’s possible.

What’s really frustrating about the issue is the introduction of yet another shadowy mutant (?) group. We still have no idea who (Wit)Ness is, his new friend from last issue, Slaine, hasn’t been fleshed out, and now we’re exposed to Manx and the Shadow-Sisters -- a werewolf and two robed bald girls. Maybe they’re also “the Hellbent,” maybe they represent another organization, maybe Ness burned them on a coke deal…who knows, who cares. The amount of random crap Kavanagh throws against the wall in each issue of this book is staggering. I just can’t wait until the secret origin of the Gauntlet is revealed…and the doctor with X-Man’s powers returns…and the Hellfire Club makes its move…and Threnody makes her epic comeback…

Friday, August 5, 2011

TEAM X 2000 #1 - February 1999

Paradox Lost!

Credits: Sean Ruffner & A. Smithee (writers), Kevin Lau (penciler), Sean Parson, Marlo Alquiza, & Cabin Boy (inks), Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley & Sean Ruffner (colors)

Summary: While stranded in space, Bishop and Deathbird pass through a Jump-Gate. They arrive on a future Earth, ruled by the Shi’ar Empress, Alanna. After studying her aunt Deathbird’s journals, Alanna was inspired to kill her parents, Professor Xavier and Lilandra. Now, she rules the Earth, but a group of super-powered revolutionaries, the Morlocks, fights against her. While Deathbird is courted by Alanna, Bishop is recruited by the Morlocks. Deathbird sees through her niece’s deception and turns against her, as the Morlocks destroy a portion of Alanna’s palace. Deathbird decides to set an example by sparing Alanna’s life, inspiring Bishop to kiss her. Later, the Morlocks send the duo through the Jump-Gate and back to their timeline.

Continuity Notes: The team of superheroes (and Dr. Doom) united against the Shi’ar originally went by the name Team X, according to the flashback, which accounts for the comic’s name. What’s never explained is why they’ve now chosen to call themselves “Morlocks.” Regardless, the Morlocks consist of Cable, Wolverine, Falcon (killed in battle), Longshot, Dr. Doom, and Jubilee (who now goes by “Vertigo” in honor of her deceased mentor).

I Love the '90s: The story is set in the faraway future of 2018, giving Xavier and Lilandra enough years to marry and give birth to an eighteen-year-old daughter.

Production Notes: This is a forty-eight page, standard format, one-shot. The co-writer, A. Smithee, is presumably a reference to Alan Smithee, the pseudonym screenwriters used to adopt when they disagreed with changes made to their script.

Review: I remember this one getting a very icy reception, although I think most of the indignation was directed towards the art. Kevin Lau draws in the stereotypical manga style, the one imitated by ten-year-old Pokemon fans everywhere, which didn’t sit well with the traditional X-fanbase. I see their point; Deathbird has never had giant eyes, a pointy noise, pointy mouth, and pointy chin before, nor has she ever looked like a pre-schooler. I don’t know why Lau feels the need to rely on this generic face, but it’s the one he’s attached to all of the female characters; even Jubilee, who’s supposedly aged twenty years by this point. Oddly enough, Lau’s male characters have a heavier Western influence, which means Bishop looks essentially on-model from his previous Uncanny X-Men appearances. When Lau isn’t drawing those creepy-eyed, triangle-nosed females, the art’s fine, but it’s hard to find a page without those weird girls.

Considering the likelihood that this story was heavily rewritten, I was expecting a mess, but it actually hangs together fairly well. Ruffner’s chosen what appears initially to be an arbitrary cast of characters, but as the story goes on, it becomes obvious that in most cases, he’s pairing the Shi’ar Empire with Earth’s avian heroes and villains (Archangel is Alanna’s unwilling consort, Falcon is using his birds as spies against the empire, and Vulture and Sauron are Alanna’s flunkies). That doesn’t explain some of the random cast members, like Longshot (Although he does have hollow bones, like a bird, right?), and Jubilee’s capricious transformation into Vertigo, but it’s hard to complain about randomness in an alternate reality story. That’s just a part of the genre. Ruffner shows some understanding of the characters, and actually gives Bishop more resistance to a relationship with Deathbird than the preceding Uncanny X-Men writers ever did. I still think it was a bad idea, but I’m glad this story has Bishop acknowledging that he really should not be hooking up with a lunatic like this. Making Deathbird realize that she’s partially to blame for this world also provides some justification for her to reform, which is an aspect the earlier Bishop/Deathbird stories didn’t really have.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

X-MEN UNLIMITED #21 - December 1998

Devil’s Haircut

Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Andy Smith (penciler), Andrew Hennessy (inker), Felix Serrano (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: After receiving word that the Earth is under attack, Guido convinces Lila Cheney to teleport him back home. After failing to contact X-Factor, Guido reaches Muir Island. The island’s inhabitants, Beast, Madrox, and Wolfsbane, fly out to meet him. Beast detects extraterrestrial activity in Vermont, leading the mutants to a country club that is simultaneously hosting a wedding reception and Halloween party. Donning Halloween disguises, the team searches the club and eventually stumbles across a demonic invasion led by Melvin J. Weals, a disgruntled video store clerk who’s disrupting the wedding reception. Powered by the Hell Toupee, Melvin tries to steal the bride away from the groom, but is thwarted by Guido. After returning to space, Guido learns that his source on the alien invasion was actually listening to an old broadcast of “War of the Worlds.”

I Love the '90s: The title of the issue is a reference to one of Beck’s biggest hits in the ‘90s. Plus, Guido tries on a costume reminiscent of the one worn by Shaq in the abominable Steel movie.

Review: A holiday-based humor issue starring characters forsaken by the major titles. By Unlimited standards, that isn’t so bad. This is loosely a sequel to Todd Dezago and Andy Smith’s Strong Guy Reborn one-shot, although thankfully this one is funnier and more competently drawn (Andy Smith also seems to have worked his own wedding into the story, so maybe this issue had some sentimental value for him). The laughs are interrupted by Guido’s discovery of Havok’s “death” at the end, but those kinds of scenes are necessary if you’re trying to maintain a consistent cross-title continuity. As a sign of just how disjointed the X-office could be in these days, Guido’s given an on-panel notification of Havok’s death while Cyclops’ reaction was never shown.

I get the sense that Dezago also misses the days of Peter David’s X-Factor, given the characters’ reminiscence for a time when not everything in the X-universe had to be deathly serious. Considering the numerous titles within the line, I think David was absolutely right to set his book apart by giving it a humorous slant. Marvel didn’t seem to like it, but that’s never stopped fandom’s nostalgia for what, in retrospect, was a short run of issues. While this doesn’t live up to classic X-Factor, it is the funniest Todd Dezago comic I’ve read at this point. I would be remiss for not bringing up another X-Men story set during a Halloween party, though. Classic X-Men #28’s “Who Am I?”, a back-up story by Ann Nocenti and John Bolton that’s light on laughs, but heavy on the psychodrama and general weirdness.

Monday, August 1, 2011

X-MAN & THE INCREDIBLE HULK ‘98 - August 1998

Call of the Wild

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), ChrisCross (penciler), Caesar, Keith Williams, & Hector Collazo (inks), Comicraft (letters), Mark Bernardo (colors)

Summary: Still enraged after the death of Betty Banner, the Hulk tears through the Southwest until he reaches the Grand Canyon. Simultaneously, X-Man reaches Stonehenge while touring Europe. Both hear messages from Thanos, who is trapped in another dimension. X-Man uses his telekinesis to reach through the dimensional gap and strike Thanos. Hulk, who’s considering Thanos’ partnership offer, jumps through the dimensional breach and attacks X-Man. When Hulk realizes that Thanos always intended to double-cross him, he joins forces with X-Man. United, the heroes send Thanos back to his shadow dimension and return home.

Review: Another forgotten team-up annual, this one pairs the post-Peter David/killing-time-until-the-John Byrne-relaunch Hulk with…X-Man. Sure, why not? Before Kavanagh gets to the plot, he spends several pages establishing the respective status quos of the heroes, which is rare for an annual, since scheduling demands usually force them to use “light” continuity. As Kavanagh is the regular writer of X-Man, and Incredible Hulk is stuck in filler mode, this story doesn’t have to take place in a generic “recent past,” because Kavanagh has a pretty good idea of what will be going on when the issue is released.

Kavanagh doesn’t give the Hulk a lot to do -- he talks to Rick and Marlo, gets mad when he thinks about Betty, then jumps around for a few pages -- but in one poignant scene, Kavanagh does toss out the idea that the Hulk is starting to forget Betty’s face. This isn’t the dumb, childlike Hulk who might forget those details, this is the Hulk who…well, no one seemed to know how to define the Hulk after Betty’s death. He appears to be the surly, angry Hulk of the early issues, with Banner’s intellect perhaps subdued by the rage he feels following Betty’s death. However, he’s still able to make jokes, which isn’t indicative of someone blinded by anger. (I don’t think Hulk’s state of mind is conclusively dealt with until Paul Jenkins’ run, over a year later.) X-Man, meanwhile, is bumming around Europe, dealing with the loss of his telepathic powers. These scenes are surprisingly readable, considering how poorly the idea was conveyed in the monthly series. Instead of throwing X-Man into pointless fight scenes, Kavanagh spends some time exploring how X-Man gets around Europe without his usual tricks -- instantly translating everyone’s speech and telepathically sneaking his way past the border guards. He also has to wonder now if everyone’s secretly laughing at his hair.

When the story really begins, we’re expected to believe the Hulk is willing to join forces with Thanos in order to gain control of the vague “power” that’s being offered to him. Presumably, he wants to use this power to revive Betty, which would work as an understandable motivation. The story never explicitly says this is his goal, though, and based solely on Thanos’ spiel, it could be interpreted that Hulk is joining him on a “rule the world” quest. Either way, the Hulk looks foolish for siding with him. When X-Man senses Thanos’ evil, he’s adamant that the Hulk can’t join him, which leads to the obligatory hero vs. hero fight. This lasts until the Hulk realizes that Thanos was using him all along (!!!!), the heroes team up, and the bad guy is defeated. No surprises there, but ChrisCross’ kinetic art suits the fight scenes perfectly, and I have to admit that I like the sheer ridiculousness of X-Man creating “psionic armor” for the Hulk during the final battle. Clearly, this isn’t profound, but it works as a “big fight” comic, and the artist is perfectly suited for the material.

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