Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors),  Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: A young vampire attempts to recruit a new bloodsucker by describing the excessive lifestyle they live thanks to Deacon Frost. The only downside is the vampire hunter Blade, who suddenly appears and kills the vampire and his female companions.

Review: Confession -- I’ve never seen any of the Blade films. I have no good reason for never seeing them, either. (And I realize that Blade is significant for being the first Marvel movie that didn’t look embarrassing and actually turned a profit.) I’m sure I had an opportunity to see the first one, but didn’t feel like it at the time and never bothered to go back to it. Every few years, a new sequel or TV series would continue the franchise, and I ignored them because I never saw the first movie. For some reason, the sequels are rerun continuously on various cable channels, but the first movie always seems to be ignored. Of course, if I really wanted to see the movie, I know I could at any time, but I’ve never felt any real motivation to do so.

As you might’ve guessed this was a short created to promote the 1998 Blade movie. There are a few vague references to the Book of Erebus, which I’m assuming is a plot device in the film, but aside from this brief diversion, this could easily be read as a standalone story. Chichester has a clever premise for the short; a bratty young vampire recruits you, the reader, into the world of vampirism. Apparently, you rule the city, “recruiting” all of the women you want, with a compliant police force that’s too cowardly to stand in the way of your fun. The only snag is someone called Blade, though, who conveniently arrives to kill all of the characters in the final few panels. And, as crude as this animation can be, the sequence of Blade’s stakes and shuriken (?) hitting the vampires does look pretty cool. I wasn’t expecting much from a quickie move tie-in, but it’s actually worth reading.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Chapter One
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: Daredevil meets with Federal Prosecutor Malper, who informs him that a Southwestern racketeer named Badlands is moving into New York. He seeks to make a name for himself by killing the Kingpin. Meanwhile, Badlands hires Bullseye for the job.

I Love the '90s: Daredevil asks Malper if the Justice Department has gotten tired of going after Microsoft.

Review: I have mixed feelings about D. G. Chichester’s Daredevil run, but I’ll readily admit that I enjoyed several of his issues. The cybercomic format doesn’t exactly indulge his propensity for overly complicated plotlines narrated by stream of consciousness rambling, so hopefully we’ll get a simple, clean Daredevil story out of this. The opening chapter mainly serves to introduce the concept of Daredevil and his alter ego. The conflict that’s created has a lot of potential, though; a part of Daredevil absolutely wants Kingpin dead, making this a mission he’d rather not take. Bullseye’s relationship with his former employer is another avenue Chichester can explore. I seem to recall Bullseye still trying to win Kingpin’s favor back in the ‘90s, so I’m interested to see where Chichester goes with this.

Chapter Two
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: Daredevil sneaks into the Kingpin’s office, warning him of Badlands. Kingpin ignores his warning and leaves his skyscraper. On his way out, Bullseye strikes his limo with a rocket. Daredevil attacks Bullseye as Kingpin tries to escape the car.

“Huh?” Moment: Police Commissioner Tanner appears on the news, openly calling the Kingpin a criminal and stating that the police won’t protect him from Badlands. If the police are so confident in Wilson Fisk’s guilt, why are they putting no effort into arresting him?

Review: Well, Bullseye certainly got to the Kingpin fast. There isn’t a great confrontation between the pair in this installment, and the acknowledgment of their past together consists of Kingpin calmly telling Bullseye he’s chosen the wrong side of the fight this time. No great surprises in the Daredevil/Kingpin confrontation, either. On a very basic level this is fine, but I wish Chichester was getting more depth out of the material. (And some of the corny dialogue is cropping up again: “Just ‘cause you dress like a devil doesn’t mean you can stand the heat, red!” “Let’s see who gets burned…”) I did enjoy Daerick Gross’s artwork in this chapter, though. Since this was originally posted in 1998, I’m assuming that the Joe Quesada rendition of Daredevil was considered the “official” one; it’s a style Gross handles quite well.

Chapter Three
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: Daredevil rescues Kingpin from Bullseye, but is maimed by one of Bullseye’s projectiles. Later, Bullseye assures an annoyed Badlands that Kingpin will die.

Review: Wow, if the previous chapters didn’t make the Quesada influence obvious, you’d have to be blind not to see it here. Regarding the story, this is the fight chapter, and it’s executed well enough. Chichester actually does manage to work in some of his stream of consciousness ramblings in this chapter, but it works as an effective dramatization of Daredevils’ wound.

Chapter Four
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: Bullseye kills the hospital’s power, sneaking into the Kingpin’s room as Daredevil has his wound examined. Daredevil reaches the Kingpin in time to save him from Bullseye, and afterward threatens to make Kingpin pay his debt at a later date.

Review: Oddly enough, Chichester throws out an idea in the final chapter that could’ve carried its own story. A doctor informs Daredevil that he has “synesthesia” following the hit on his head in the previous chapter. The temporary condition causes his senses to become cross-wired, causing him to “feel” shapes, “see” colors, etc. Why Chichester introduces this idea and does nothing with it, I don’t know, but it could make for a great Daredevil story (for all I know, someone might’ve already used the idea in the past.) Regarding the conclusion of the story, there’s not much here. Daredevil defeats Bullseye with barely any effort, tells Kingpin that he now has a marker against him, and that’s the end. I wasn’t honestly expecting a full Frank Miller angst parade regarding Daredevil’s decision to protect the man who’s previously destroyed his life, but a little more depth would’ve been nice.

Friday, October 26, 2012

SCARE TACTICS #8 - July 1997

Weird Load (Convergence Part Four)
Credits: Len Kaminski (writer), Anthony Williams (penciler), Andy Lanning (inker), Pat Prentice (letterer), James Sinclair (colorist)

Summary: Fate and Sentinel explain to the Scare Tactics that the Conclave’s power is being usurped by a mystery entity. Etrigan, who’s already met the team, senses Topaz is spying on the group as an insect. He forces Topaz to reveal himself, just as “Sentinel” reveals himself as an Emerald agent. He unleashes an army of Emerald Shocktroopers that are soon defeated. However, Scare Tactics member Jimmy is left mortally wounded.

Irrelevant Continuity: Fate already knows the Scare Tactics team, and apparently had a role in their creation when he broke them out of something called the “R-Complex.”

I Love the ‘90s: Nina of the Scare Tactics likes Fate’s outfit. Not.

Total N00B: I have no idea if this group is actually called “Scare Tactics,” and at no point in the story is their connection to Fate and Etrigan made clear. In fact, the basic premise of the series is never explained.

Review: How could this be the final chapter of the crossover? Absolutely nothing is resolved! I sometimes wonder if DC even wanted new readers in the first place…honestly, if you’ve never read Scare Tactics before, why would you ever want to buy another issue after reading this? And I say this as a fan of Len Kaminski. The reader is left with no clear idea on what the premise of the title is, what most of the characters are named, or why any of these events are happening. I remember ads for Scare Tactics that promoted it as a group of monsters that pose as a rock band…a ridiculous premise, but one that could work well as a comic. (I certainly hope the werewolf with a nose ring is supposed to be a joke, though.) Imagine what any reader who was curious about the title must’ve thought if he picked up this issue in order to complete the crossover. Not only do you learn essentially nothing about the book, but the main story that’s supposed to be concluding in this chapter isn’t anywhere close to being resolved. At least the Challengers of the Unknown chapter told a story that was engaging on its own merits, even if the issue did little to spell out what the Challengers are supposed to be. This is essentially an issue long fight scene, starring a group of characters the creators just assume you already care about.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Shattered (Convergence Part Three)
Credits: Steven Grant w/Len Kaminski (writers), John Paul Leon (penciler), Shawn Martinbrough and Bill Reinhold (inkers), Ken Lopez (letterer), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist)

Summary: One-twelfths of the world’s population lapses into a coma. The Challengers of the Unknown investigate, and member Kenn develops a theory that the victims’ astrological sign, Scorpio, is the key to the case. He goes to visit his daughter, Danni, who is one of the victims. When he sees her topaz locket, he realizes that topaz holds the cure. Following his instructions, the Challengers create a “Topaz Man” in the desert and hold hands. The energy that’s contained within the victims is released, creating an apparition that flies into the sky. Danni and the rest of the victims awaken from their coma.

Irrelevant Continuity: The other Challengers are shocked to discover Kenn has an ex-wife and daughter.

Review: It’s another chapter of the crossover that really couldn’t care less if you’ve never read this book before. I do know that the Challengers are a Jack Kirby concept that predates the Fantastic Four, and like many of DC’s Silver Age titles, the book’s been relaunched several times throughout the decades without finding much of an audience. This incarnation of the Challengers, according to the letters page, brings an X-Files influence to the concept (I don’t know if the creators actually had that in mind, but I’m sure DC had no problem marketing the book this way.) Everything had to reference X-Files at some point in the ‘90s, but I guess Challengers of the Unknown isn’t much of a stretch for an X-Files connection. Unfortunately, you learn more about the title from the letters page than the actual story. I realize the creators are following “show, don’t tell,” but just a small amount of exposition would’ve helped any new readers brought in by this crossover.

For starters, the story doesn’t identify the four leads as the Challengers until page sixteen. We see that they’re a group of investigators, but their actions don’t exactly bring the word “challenger” to mind. The only character who’s clearly named for most of the story is Kenn, while most of the cast seems nameless until page nineteen. Even then, it’s hard to discern their roles in the book. (And, occasionally, the murky artwork makes it difficult to tell the characters apart.) Apparently, Marlon is the leader, Kenn is the eccentric, Clay is the arrogant cynic, and Brenda is the rational skeptic. This is based on just a few lines of dialogue, so I could be wrong. The relationships between the characters, and the basic setup of the organization, are glossed over, so a new reader still knows very little about the concept of the series by the end of the issue.

All that said, I did enjoy the comic. The only cast member who receives any real characterization is Kenn, but he’s a strong enough protagonist to maintain the reader’s interest. The scenes between Kenn and his family feel real, and the resolution of the mystery is quite clever. I like the connection between topaz, the birthstone of Scorpio, and the character of Prince Topaz, whose presence is likely an editorial requirement. I suspect Grant/Kaminski didn’t have a great interest in the crossover, or perhaps weren’t even aware of the specific details of the main plot, so they’ve created a story that works independent of the main storyline while also putting one of the characters where he needs to be for the next chapter. If you were a regular reader of Challengers of the Unknown, the crossover isn’t hindering the book in any way. If you’re a new reader who’s buying the issue simply to get the next chapter of the “Convergence” crossover, however, your patience is likely to be tested.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NIGHT FORCE #8 - July 1997

Gems (Convergence Part Two)
Credits: Marv Wolfman (writer), Matt Smith (penciler), Steve Mitchell (inker), John Costanza (letterer), Lee Loughridge (colorist)

Summary: A pregnant runaway named Lea crashes her car into a young man. She takes him to the nearest home, the mansion that belongs to Baron Winters. Winters treats the young man, discovering that he has no pores, nipples, or sex organs. While Winters is distracted with Lea, the young man, Child, awakens and searches the manor for a link to the Conclave. Members of the Infinity Cult watch through Child’s eyes as he attempts to trap the manor inside limbo. Topaz suddenly appears and fights Child. Baron Winters interrupts the fight and casts both of them out, ignoring Topaz’s warnings of Amethyst’s plans. When Winters returns to his room, he discovers the Infinity Cult has removed Lea’s child and killed her.

Irrelevant Continuity: Lea was first introduced to the Infinity Cult by her local Senator, who is presumably the same Senator we saw in the previous chapter of the crossover. What exactly the Infinity Cult is isn’t explained, but the story helpfully explains how they gang-raped Lea and impregnated her with twins “one light, one dark” that could be the saviors of the universe.  Remember, any comic without gang rape is at least 40% less daring and relevant.

Review: “Convergence” continues through three other DC Casualties from the ‘90s, making this a strong contender for the “Crossover Least Likely Ever To Be Reprinted” prize. My knowledge of Night Force is that it was an early ‘80s DC series created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan after both left Marvel. It didn’t have a lengthy Tomb of Dracula run, but it was revived by Wolfman and a rotating series of artists in the late ‘90s. This issue is penciled by Matt Smith, an artist who bravely blends Mike Mignola with more Mike Mignola to create a look that’s oddly reminiscent of Mike Mignola. His characters can be hard to tell apart, and while most of his storytelling is clear, his depiction of Topaz’s exit from his fight with Child leads me to believe the character has spontaneously exploded, which I don’t believe was the writer’s intent. Not that Wolfman’s plot is perfectly clear, either. The concept of Night Force is never explained during the story, nor is the Infinity Cult or the elements from Book of Fate that precede this issue. New readers picking up this comic for the crossover have to be confused, possibly just as much as the existing readers who don’t follow Book of Fate (which is often impenetrable anyway.) I hate it when fans declare that a book “deserved” to be cancelled, but it’s not hard for me to discern why DC’s fringe titles couldn’t maintain an audience. This is far more reader-unfriendly than the average X-book from the ‘90s.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE #6 - July 1997

All that Glitters…(Convergence Part One)
Credits: Keith Giffen (writer), Ron Wagner (penciler), Bill Reinhold (inker), Gaspar (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

Summary: Following a series of disagreements, the Conclave dismantles. Later, Fate’s apartment is invaded by shock troopers for the House of Emerald. They claim he’s harboring a fugitive, but can’t find any evidence. After they leave, Fate discovers a gem in his refrigerator. The gem turns into Topaz, who warns Fate of a conspiracy to destroy the Conclave. The Emerald soldiers return to fight, and once Topaz realizes Fate is unwilling to help him, he disappears. When the Emerald soldiers also leave, Fate is arrested by local police.

Irrelevant Continuity: This begins a crossover with the other DC “weirdoverse” titles, Night Force, Challengers of the Unknown, and Scare Tactics.

Review: Perhaps the most enjoyable issue of the series so far, the reader now has an idea of what Keith Giffen can do when he isn’t indulging in endless weirdness for weirdness’ sake. The Conclave, for the first time in this specific series, are actually clearly defined (an arbitrating body dedicated to resolving “disputes of any mystical nature”), which goes a long way towards making this issue tolerable. Not every aspect of the story makes perfect sense yet (Sentinel has discovered two peaceful alien races who’ve slaughtered each other, while a U.S. Senator is apparently puking out these aliens in his toilet), but there’s a basic plot here that’s easy to grasp -- a group called the “Gemlords” have manipulated the Conclave and staged a coup, which is setting the stage for their bid for world domination. This works as a painless premise for a storyline, and there’s enough room for Giffen to showcase more of Fate’s obnoxiousness, which is actually entertaining this time (his continued attempts to brush Topaz off and just ignore this mission are pretty funny). This is the rare occasion that a crossover helps a title gain focus; not that I’m particularly interested in a “weirdoverse” crossover, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, October 22, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE #5 - June 1997

Last Dance
Credits: Keith Giffen (writer), Ron Wagner (penciler), Bill Reinhold (inker), Gaspar (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

Summary: Two-Face abandons his fight with Fate, allowing a new superhero, the Image, to make his presence known. Fate forces Image to fly him to a Chaos area; he then enters the strange world and punches out Chaos. Order suddenly appears with the Image at his side. He demands Image and Fate fight, but is knocked unconscious by Image’s body after Fate throws his superhero representative at him. Suddenly, Fate stands next to an adolescent boy in the middle of a theme park.

Irrelevant Continuity: Letter writers are complaining that the origin of Jared Stevens has been revised from the Fate series without any Crisis/Zero Hour efforts to justify the change. The editorial response is essentially that Keith Giffen wanted to start over and they let him.

Review: More random, not particularly entertaining, nonsense. Two-Face is dismissed after a handful of pages in order to introduce Not Funny Generic Superman Parody #629, the Image, into the illogical plot. (And why is he named “the Image” if he’s meant to represent traditional superheroes? Image’s heroes were far closer to Fate than this hero back in the ‘90s.) Casually dropping Two-Face is a terrible move; not only does Ron Wagner draw him incredibly well, but an adventure with Two-Face could’ve served as a nice non-hallucinogenic change of pace for the book. Instead, we get more unfunny scenes of random gibberish that are supposed to make Fate look cool, when in truth, Fate’s one of the more annoying “attitude” characters in comics. Pairing him with a Superman analogue solely to make fun of traditional heroes doesn’t make Fate seem edgy or daring, it just exposes his dull wit and irritating persona.

Friday, October 19, 2012

X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM #2 - December 1999

All Children Wear the Sign
: Joe Casey (writer), Steve Rude (pencils), Andrew Pepoy (inks), Paul Mounts (colors), Jim Novak (letters)

Summary: Professor X futilely reaches out to Cyclops, who’s secretly living with criminal Jack Winters. Meanwhile, a group of anti-mutant teens is armed by a militia leader. After Beast stops them from harming Iceman at school, he’s targeted by the bullies with a sniper rifle. When Beast knocks one of them off the top of the stadium’s bleachers, the teen dies. Beast becomes an outcast, but still resists Professor X's help. Later, one of the bullies, Starkey, develops mutant powers. Elsewhere, Jack Winters plans the robbery of a nuclear plant.

Continuity Notes:
· The Sentinel from the previous issue is dismissed as a prototype. Fred Duncan tells Xavier that Trask denies the robot was his creation, but he knows Trask is lying. This might be an attempt to ease the series more closely into continuity, but I don’t know why the creators would’ve bothered.
· Jack Winters is the Silver Age villain Jack O’Diamonds. Jack O’Diamonds was a diamond-themed supervillain who played a role in Cyclops’ original origin story; he’s been recast as an average thief for this miniseries.

Review: Joe Casey has said before that Bill Jemas would’ve released Children of the Atom as Ultimate X-Men if the line had existed in 1999. It’s easy to see how this miniseries influenced the line; the slow-motion formation of the team, the constant attempts to show realistic reactions to mutants, and the “grounding” of some of the more fantastic and/or ridiculous characters, such as Jack O’Diamonds. At best, this is a modern reinterpretation that makes decades-old stories more palatable to a modern audience. At worst, it’s a needless apology made by creators embarrassed to be working on this material in the first place. I wouldn’t throw Joe Casey into that crowd, but many of the people brought into Marvel in the subsequent years clearly couldn’t hide their contempt.

I wasn’t as adamantly opposed to the Ultimate line as some fans were, but I quickly realized it served no real purpose, and I think it was obvious within a few years to everyone that Marvel had no idea where to go with it. It’s easy to start over. It’s even easier to “ground” all of the superhero elements, as if you were on a cable TV budget. It’s hard to keep the audience’s attention for more than a few months with this approach, though. I think time has shown the faux-Bryan Singer approach to superhero comics is just another gimmick that should be used sparingly.

And even though I cite Bryan Singer, I have to acknowledge that Casey wrote this at least a year before the first X-Men movie was released. He was clearly on to something; a segment of the audience wanted to see “fresh starts” for the books, and was more than happy to dismiss anything from the past that could be viewed as silly. The success of the first X-Men movie in 2000 unfortunately gave Marvel license to “ground” everything (overlooking one of the major reasons why Singer downplayed many of the fantastic elements of the X-Men was due to budget concerns), and since continuity was something too dorky to be concerned with, it seemed like almost everything Marvel published was a retelling or reimaging of an already published story with some absurd “relevance” tacked on to it. None of those comics had Steve Rude art, though.

Have I gone on a prolonged tangent that has little to do with Children of the Atom? Probably. But there isn’t a lot to say about this issue. The X-Men are moody teens who are too dumb to accept help when they clearly need it, Fred Duncan grows more sympathetic towards mutants, and some bigots do bigoted things. The pace is excessively slow, especially when you consider that everyone knows how the story is going to ultimately end. But, again, Steve Rude’s art makes even the most mundane scenes more tolerable.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

X-FORCE #96 - November 1999

Family Secrets
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Anthony Williams (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Summary: Cannonball breaks his uncle Lucas Guthrie out of prison in order to learn the truth behind the images he saw in Genosha. Lucas reveals that he was duped into stealing a Celestial Golem from a warehouse. When Lucas realized he was in trouble, he asked Cannonball’s father for help, which lead to the eleven-year-old Cannonball sneaking into the back of his truck. They delivered the Golem to a Deviant facility, shortly before Sledge suddenly appeared and destroyed the Golem. The Deviants killed during the melee were buried by the Guthrie brothers, and Cannonball’s memory was erased by one of Sledge’s devices. With Domino’s help, Cannonball returns Lucas to jail. Meanwhile, Meltdown is being stalked by Triune Understanding followers, Selene reveals to Sunspot that a SHIELD agent is actually a plant for the Damocles Foundation, Moonstar sees an image of the Demon Bear, and the remains of Reignfire are delivered to Indigo.

I Love the '90s: Jesse Bedlam tells Meltdown that her powers are literally “da bomb.”

Creative Differences:  Kurt Busiek revealed on Usenet that John Francis Moore's portrayal of the Triune Understanding openly breaking the law did not match the instructions he gave to Marvel editors at the time.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year as 76,034, with the most recent issue selling 61,372 copies. It’s not hard to guess why Marvel began considering a relaunch around this time.

Review: Yes, more Deviants. Moore does handle Cannonball’s relationship with his criminal uncle fairly well, and there are a few nice moments that center on Cannonball’s embarrassment when Lucas takes him to a strip club, but…will this ever end? If Moore wanted to do a story with the Deviants in X-Force, fine, but I don’t think he needed two to three years to set the idea up. I also don’t understand why it’s necessary to drag Cannonball’s past into the story, going so far as to reveal that he had a secret adventure with the Deviants that was erased by Sledge, of all people. Isn’t Cannonball’s past much more effective if he simply had a normal life in Kentucky before discovering he had mutant powers? What are the odds that he would’ve run into the creations of the Celestials, the cosmic beings responsible for human mutation in the first place? And that his life would be saved by Sledge, a mystery character his future teammate Proudstar will one day encounter following an X-Force adventure? There’s no obvious point to this; it needlessly complicates Cannonball’s past and doesn’t offer any significant advancement of the Deviant storyline. To Moore’s credit, he’s still keeping numerous subplots alive, but it’s not a good sign when the main story is much less appealing than all of the subplots.

Monday, October 15, 2012

X-MEN UNLIMITED #28 - December 1999

In Remembrance
Credits: Joe Pruett (writer), Brett Booth (penciler), Sal Regla (inker), Marie Javins & Jessica Ruffner (colors), Sharpefont & PT (letters)

Summary: After discovering Wolverine is alive, the X-Men reflect on his past with the team. When Jubilee learns that the X-Men were unable to rescue Wolverine from Apocalypse, she angrily walks out. Marrow volunteers to speak to her, which inspires Jubilee to write a letter detailing what Wolverine means to her.

Review: This is the first issue of X-Men Unlimited’s new direction as non-filler, and it’s a weak start. Aside from the fact that Brett Booth is not an artist suited for quiet conversation scenes, the story largely consists of unimaginative flashbacks to old stories and lengthy homilies about Wolverine’s importance to the team. It seems like the X-Men would be more likely to be having these conversations back when they still thought Wolverine to be dead, but even overlooking that, the dialogue is too wooden to make the characters believable. Actual dialogue from this issue: “Chere, th’ look on your face reveals a lot ‘bout th’ passion in your soul. I know in times like t’is it’s best t’let you work it out for yourself -- don’t mean I gotta like it, though.” There are a few decent ideas, such as Marrow unexpectedly volunteering to calm Jubilee, or Jubilee writing a letter to Wolverine similar to the one he left for her in Wolverine #75, but the execution is faux-Claremont at its worst.

Credits: Doug Moench (writer), Mark Texeira (art), Marie Javins (colors), Sharpefont (letters)

: Wolverine encounters a group of illegal trophy hunters in Canada. He scares them off into the woods and creates a funeral pyre for the animals they’ve killed. Reflecting on the differences between animal and man, Wolverine decides that he doesn’t want to go to Heaven if animals don’t have souls.

Continuity Notes: There’s no effort made to identify when this story is supposed to take place, although Wolverine does have his adamantium claws.

Review: It’s another Wolverine vs. Hunters story, although this story puts more effort into elucidating Wolverine’s stance on hunting. His issue with the “hunters” in this story is the callous way they kill animals only for sport, leaving the actual meat behind for scavengers. The fact that they’re doing this illegally gives Wolverine a nice Comics Code approved excuse for attacking them. Throughout the story, Wolverine reflects on the differences between animal and man, debating under which group he belongs. It’s a fairly stock Wolverine plot, but it’s executed inoffensively, and it’s always great to see Mark Texeira draw Wolverine.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Uncanny X-Men #375, X-Men #95, Wolverine #145 - December 1999

In case anyone missed these the first time around, I'm reposting the reviews that cover the "main" titles from this era, back when I was blissfully unaware of the details of Astonishing X-Men. That way, anyone who cares won't have to search the archives to see how and when the X-Men discovered Wolverine was Death, when the adamantium returned, etc...

UXM #375 & X-MEN #95 – December 1999

Uncanny X-Men #375
I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…
Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Adam Kubert (penciler), Batt w/Tim Townsend (inkers), Liquid! & Chris Sotomayor (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The X-Men reunite at the mansion and learn that Wolverine has been killed. Xavier continues to behave erratically, chastising Cyclops for Wolverine’s death. He suddenly declares that Phoenix is controlling Cyclops’ mind and attacks her. Soon, the X-Men split into groups and fight one another. After most of the team dies, Onslaught and Dark Phoenix suddenly emerge. When the final X-Men are killed, the team awakens and learns that the fight was a “psycho-drama” created by Xavier, with the help of Phoenix, Cable, and X-Man. Xavier explains that he was trying to locate an imposter by driving the team apart and staging the fight. Shortly, while performing Wolverine’s autopsy, Beast learns that he was a Skrull duplicate. Meanwhile, Archangel and Psylocke are attacked by an Archangel imposter.

Continuity Notes: Wolverine, or at least the Skrull impersonating him, was killed in the Astonishing X-Men miniseries while defending the Mannites from Apocalypse’s newest Horseman, Death. I’m assuming Cable and X-Man were in the miniseries, explaining their presence in this issue.
Xavier explains that he sensed an imposter amongst the team after their return from space. He hoped that distracting the team with exhaustive training sessions would help him locate the imposter, but it didn’t work. Interrogating each member individually would be too obvious, so he entrusted Storm (whose thoughts “have always been particularly uncluttered and open”), Cyclops, and Phoenix with his secret. He drove the team apart “to limit the damage an infiltrator might inflict”, then recruited Cable and X-Man to help him find the imposter. The fight was designed to expose the team’s “deepest loyalties and most primal emotions”.

Production Note: When originally solicited, Wolverine’s face was blurred on the cover. This actually was a well-kept secret at the time.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 207,381 with the most recent issue selling 183,330.

Review: The big revelation here is that Wolverine has secretly been a Skrull for the past few months. Since that’s a plot point that takes around two pages to establish, the rest of the issue is a giant X-Men vs. X-Men fight. It doesn’t serve much of a purpose, but it’s the type of thing you often see in oversized anniversary issues, and Davis manages to use it as a very loud cap on the “Shattering” storyline. It’s so ridiculously over the top, as long-established characters are killed off on every other page, it’s obvious you’re not supposed to take it seriously, so it’s easier to just enjoy it as mindless mayhem. The revelation that Wolverine is actually a Skrull was a genuine surprise at the time, and Marvel does deserve credit for keeping it a secret until the issue came out. Xavier’s explanation for his behavior in the previous issues is explained fairly effectively, and I’m glad it wasn’t dragged on for much longer. Some of the art looks rushed, but this is still a fun issue.

X-Men #95

Do Unto Others
Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Chris Claremont (script, uncredited), Tom Raney (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: A Skrull scientist tells his commander that he can create an army of Skrull Wolverine imposters. The commander kills one of the imposters, telling the scientist to do a better job. Later, the Skrull commander impersonates Havok and kidnaps Polaris. The commander decides that he can use Polaris as a bargaining chip against Apocalypse since she is one of the Twelve. When he returns to Skrull headquarters, Polaris hits him with optic blasts, revealing herself as Cyclops, disguised with an image inducer. The rest of the X-Men attack, as Death sneaks in and plants a bomb. Phoenix and Storm combine their powers to deaden the blast, and Colossus attacks Death. When Death’s mask is removed, he’s revealed as Wolverine. Suddenly, he teleports away.

Production Note: No credit for scripter appeared in this issue. Editor Mark Powers later confirmed that Claremont ghost-scripted three issues during this run, and Claremont mentioned in an interview that he worked uncredited on some comics that were running late, so I’ll give him credit for it. (EDIT: Also, Marvel's trade paperback of this storyline now lists Claremont as one of the writers.) By this point, X-Men #100 was already announced as Chris Claremont’s return to this title, so I’m assuming he worked uncredited to keep the attention on #100.

Continuity Notes: It’s revealed why Xavier’s telepathy couldn’t peg Wolverine as an imposter. The Skrulls’ “ally” (I assume Apocalypse) gave them a complete record of Wolverine’s psyche, enabling them to establish “a comprehensive personality matrix” that can survive telepathic examinations. The Skrull commander thinks the matrix works too well, since the imposter now thinks he really is Wolverine and is too independent. I don’t think it was ever confirmed on-panel, but Apocalypse was supposed to be the behind-the-scenes power in Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X serial, so it’s possible Apocalypse has had a map of Wolverine’s psyche for years.

This is the first appearance of the young Skrull Fiz, who will play a role in future issues. He’s one of the Skrulls that’s been experimented on, in the hopes that the genetic strain of the Warskrulls can be recreated. The Warskrulls were Skrulls who could imitate powers naturally, and first appeared during the Claremont/Lee run of Uncanny X-Men.

Review: It’s interesting that this is one of the issues Chris Claremont ghost-scripted, since it directly mirrors a storyline he was going to do during his initial run. Before Claremont was forced off the titles in 1991, he planned to do a story that had Wolverine killed and later resurrected as a brainwashed Hand assassin (as detailed in this Comic Book Legends column). Bob Harras rejected the story, because the plan was to keep Wolverine dead for a year before his resurrection, which would’ve put a kink in the two other books he starred in, Wolverine and Marvel Comics Presents. Claremont was Editorial Director at Marvel by 1999, so it’s possible that he was involved with the planning of this storyline and suggested resurrecting the basic idea, with a Skrull version of Wolverine used to cover the character while he’s brainwashed. (Then again, other discarded Claremont ideas such as Wolverine losing his adamantium, and Gambit having a connection to Sinister, ended up being used before he returned to Marvel, so it could be a coincidence). It’s interesting that five years after this story, the idea was resurrected yet again by Mark Millar in Wolverine’s “Enemy of the State” arc. This time, Hydra did the brainwashing after “killing” Wolverine. If Claremont really is going to be continuing his originally planned storylines in X-Men Forever, even the ones he’s already spoiled in interviews, it’s possible this idea could show up for a third time in ten years. (EDIT: He didn't. Although he did kill Wolverine in a different manner, and seemed adamant about keeping him that way.)

This issue is filled with “Claremont Clichés”, and it’s crammed full with dialogue and narrative captions. If Claremont really were writing this at the last minute, you would think the script might’ve been fairly sparse, but that’s definitely not the case. The Skrulls have the majority of the dialogue in the issue, and I guess it’s justifiable to give them long-winded, uptight speech patterns, but they start to get tedious after a few pages. There are some signs this was an eleventh-hour scripting job, as third-person narrative captions unequivocally state the Skrull commander’s captive is Polaris (even describing how her powers affect her sleep patterns), and a few pages later we learn it’s actually Cyclops with an image inducer. Death’s speech patterns are also inconsistent, as he goes from speaking like Wolverine (“Sorry, darlin’ -- but that an’ more won’t even come close!”) to saying things like, “The name you speak -- the man it belongs to -- are no more!” It seems like it was scripted as the pages were coming in and nobody went back and looked too closely at the finished product. The script isn’t all bad, though, as Xavier and Storm have a nice moment together and the narrative captions do tend to have a decent rhythm. The actual plot advances the main storyline effectively, and I like the way the various story threads are coming together. Tom Raney handles the action scenes well, and his interpretation of the Skrulls is pretty cool. Even if we are heading towards another “event”, this is much more coherent than crossovers tend to be.

WOLVERINE #145 – December 1999

Wolverine #145

On the Edge of Darkness
Credits: Erik Larsen (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Dexter Vines (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In the past, Skrull agents invade the X-Men’s ship after the team is knocked unconscious by Magneto’s electromagnetic pulse. They take Wolverine, and leave a Skrull imposter in his place. Wolverine is brought to Apocalypse’s headquarters, where he’s forced to fight Sabretooth. After Wolverine proves himself the strongest, Apocalypse removes Sabretooth’s adamantium skeleton and attaches it to Wolverine, who is brainwashed into becoming Apocalypse’s Horseman Death. Later, he’s sent to kill Apocalypse’s previous agent of War, the Hulk. After a lengthy battle, Wolverine begins to hesitate. The Hulk realizes the fight is over and leaves.

Continuity Notes: Hulk was transformed into War back in Incredible Hulk #456.

Gimmicks: An enhanced $3.99 version of this issue has foil claws on the cover. There's also a version with silver claws, and a reprint with gold claws.

Review: Seventy issues after it was taken away, Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton returns. You would think Marvel would’ve waited until issue #150, but #145 was designated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the character, so it was given the honor. I was a reader of Savage Dragon at the time Erik Larsen’s Wolverine run began and wanted to give him a chance, but I gave up on the run after a few issues. Even while the issues were being released, Larsen was very upfront about editorial rewrites of his script, which often resulted in clunky, exposition-filled dialogue and redundant narrative captions. This issue isn’t as bad as some of the issues I’ve read from his stint, but it does have more than its fair share of dry, repetitive captions.

The story intercuts Wolverine’s battle with Sabretooth in the past with his current fight with the Hulk, which prevents either fight from being too tedious. Lenil Francis Yu keeps the action pretty energetic, and his hyper-realistic style actually works very well on the Hulk. As a straightforward action story, all of this is fine, but it doesn’t feel like a satisfactory conclusion to such a long-running storyline. Hama began dropping clues about how Wolverine’s adamantium might be returned almost as soon as it was taken away, but the event didn’t happen until years after Marvel removed him from the book. It feels as if the event has had no setup at all, and it’s only happening now in order to make the latest Apocalypse storyline seem like a bigger deal. Wolverine losing his adamantium was an event-driven, gimmicky idea, but Hama took the story seriously and used it as an opportunity to do something with Wolverine’s character. This issue might be an entertaining action comic, but its lack of depth just makes it forgettable.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

ASTONISHING X-MEN #3 - November 1999

In the Shadow of Death!
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Brandon Peterson (breakdowns), Tim Townsend & Dan Panosian (finishes), Liquid! (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

Summary: Death forces the Blackbird to crash, but Phoenix manages to save the crew. The team regroups to fight Death, who kills Wolverine in the battle. Darco emerges from his cocoon with massive telepathic powers. Death retreats, teleporting away. The Mannites also teleport away to face their upcoming mutations.

Continuity Notes: Death is unable to kill Phoenix, which is a big hint that he’s Wolverine in disguise.

Review: Not surprisingly, Astonishing X-Men’s ending is just as disappointing as its beginning and middle. For the first time in the miniseries, Mackie acknowledges most of the cast’s connection to Apocalypse (Cable raised in a future ruled by him, X-Man raised in an alternate reality ruled by him, Cyclops and Phoenix lost their son to him, Archangel was horribly mutated and tortured by him, and Wolverine…well, there's nothing for Mackie to acknowledge here, but Wolverine did receive his adamantium from Apocalypse, if you believe Barry Windsor-Smith), and then does absolutely nothing with the concept. It’s treated as just more text to fill up a few more pages. With all the goodwill in the world, it’s hard to argue this miniseries ever had a point, but at least the hook of using X-characters with connections to Apocalypse could’ve been exploited. Oh, and maybe the alleged death of Wolverine might have just an ounce of honest emotion in it. Instead, this is just a dumb fight scene, followed by a lazy resolution that centers on the increasingly annoying Mannites as the saviors of the day. It’s not hard to remember why people hated this so much. (Paul O’Brien’s old review of this issue has been mentioned in the comments here in the past. It’s worth reading.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ASTONISHING X-MEN #2 - October 1999

The Trouble with Mannites
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Brandon Peterson w/Brett Booth (pencilers), Tim Townsend w/Dan Panosian (inkers), Liquid!/Buccellato/Kubina (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

Summary: Nina senses that Darco of the Mannites is undergoing “the changing” and needs help. Phoenix, Wolverine, and X-Man travel with Nina to the abandoned carnival where the Mannites are hiding. Cyclops, Archangel, and Cable stay behind to face Death if he reappears. Death does return, and battles them only long enough to intercept a telepathic message sent by Phoenix. Death teleports away to finish his mission. The team flies to Phoenix’s location, unaware Death’s snuck on top of the Blackbird.

Continuity Notes: “The changing” is some sort of violent metamorphosis that the Mannites must go through. Darco’s leaves him in a mysterious cocoon.

Review: More fun with Mannites. Yay. If the first issue didn’t make it obvious, this miniseries is largely time-killer. The big event is of course saved for the last issue, leaving the reader with endless scenes of filler starring the Mannites and an incompetent group of X-Men trying to fight Death. To further insult the idea that this series was meant to be “important” in any way, half of the pages are handled by Brett Booth, who isn’t a match for Brandon Peterson even when he’s slumming. It was impossible at the time to find anyone willing to defend this series, and I can’t imagine a second reading would make anyone more favorable towards it. This is a shameless cash grab, only meant for the most hardcore of completists or the most susceptible to Marvel’s marketing tactics.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 - September 1999

Call to Arms
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Brandon Peterson (penciler), Tim Townsend and Dan Panosian (inkers), Liquid! (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

Summary: Following the dissolution of the X-Men, only Cyclops, Phoenix, and Wolverine remain. When Nina of the Mannites sends a distress call, Phoenix calls upon Cable, X-Man, and Archangel for help. They travel to Bastion’s former headquarters in New Mexico, only to discover that all of the government agents stationed there are dead. Inside the complex, the team finds the Mannites, along with the dismembered head of Bastion. When a mystery figure wrecks havoc through the facility, Nina teleports the Mannites away and then leaves with the team. Eventually, Death emerges from the rubble, holding Bastion’s head.

Continuity Notes:
· Cyclops questions how Bastion is still alive, following the events of the Machine Man/Bastion annual.
· The Mannites have returned to Bastion’s former base because they couldn’t deal with the outside world. No mention is made of Renee Majcomb, who was last seen caring for them. As for the Mannites that go missing in the final pages of the story, Nina claims: “They didn’t want to be here, Jean. They had to go…somewhere else.”

Review: Astonishing X-Men was hyped months in advance as a mystery project that would have massive repercussions for the entire X-line. Long before its release, Marvel ran a series of house ads, teasing all of the potential members of the all-new X-team. Polaris? Sunfire? Forge? Longshot? Sabretooth? Blink?! What did it all mean? All the audience knew was that Brandon Peterson was assigned as the artist, and Magneto Rex aside, this indicated at the time that Marvel was pretty serious about the project. Then Howard Mackie was announced as the writer. And then the readers saw that the team consisted mostly of current members of the X-Men, or other mutants with their own books. Plus, the story centered on the Mannites. And the collective response seemed to be “Forget it!” (or any vulgar variation of that phrase you can think of.)

So, yes, Astonishing X-Men turned out to be largely filler, designed to run simultaneously with the “Shattering” crossover. There is a “major” event during the miniseries, one that could’ve easily run in the regular titles, and it was hardly a great surprise by the time the story was actually published.

The first issue of the book sets up the premise, as clumsily and blandly as you might expect a Howard Mackie story to do the job, reintroducing us to Bastion and Mannites. Bastion’s back to life without explanation, and the Mannites have apparently returned to the facility that created them with barely a reference to their ongoing subplot in Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. Apocalypse’s Horseman Death seemingly wants them dead, and somehow they’re able to hide from him during the numerous hours it takes the “new” X-Men team to assemble from across the globe and arrive. Conveniently, he returns right after the team lands, and this time manages to destroy the entire facility. That’s not much of a plot, but it could’ve been salvaged if Mackie could somehow create an entertaining dynamic for the team. Instead, they’re generic heroes just going through the motions, waiting for the shocking event that’s allegedly going to justify this miniseries. Even if Brandon Peterson was at the top of his game (and, judging by that cover, he clearly isn’t), he couldn’t do enough to save this.

Friday, October 5, 2012

NEW MUTANTS #87 - March 1990

A Show of Power!
Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Mike Rockwitz (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary: The Mutant Liberation Front attacks another research facility, and Cable arrives just as their bomb detonates. Fifteen people die. Later, Cable tracks the MLF to another attack, only to have his metallic hand burned off by Strobe. When the government refuses to meet the MLF's demands, Stryfe orders them to kidnap Rusty and Skids directly. When overzealous guards shoot Rusty, Skids has no choice but to leave with the MLF. Meanwhile, the New Mutants return to Earth, as Cable is kept in federal custody.

Continuity Notes:
· As you might've guessed, this issue marks the first full appearances of Cable and Stryfe. More members of the Mutant Liberation Front also debut, including Strobe and Thumbelina.
· Some specific MLF continuity is introduced that's later ignored: Tempo has a Southern accent, and her time warping powers have a side effect on her teammates that lasts for days. It's established that Zero can only teleport to places he's already been. And Wildside has "reality warping" powers I don't recall him using in his later appearances.
· Stryfe and Wildside have a conversation revealing that their demand of Rusty and Skids' release is a "smokescreen" for their real objective. This works with Stryfe's later claim that he never cared for the MLF's cause, yet he also tells Wildside that the mission must be pursued in order to make a statement about mutant rights, so he's still portrayed with some level of sincerity at this point.
· Allowing Strobe to melt off Cable's metal hand isn't easily reconcilable with the later revelation that his metal components are actually the techno-organic virus.

"Huh?" Moments: Stryfe punishes Wildside for being injured during the story's opening fight scene. However, he's never shown getting hurt; Forearm is the one that's injured. As for Cable, he's somehow able to survive a giant explosion that kills fifteen other people (I'm sure the retcon explanation is that he used a telekinetic field to protect himself). Later, he's being kept in federal custody, under doctor's supervision, after the MLF's second attack. When was he captured? How is losing his hand more traumatic than being blown up?

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: The blood covering the walls and floors of the facility the MLF has invaded is colored white.

Review: This is, arguably, the comic that launched the '90s. Some might claim it's the first Jim Lee Uncanny X-Men issue, or McFarlane's first Amazing Spider-Man, but I don't think there's any comic that came absolutely out of nowhere to launch a new character and a new creator on this level. Uncanny X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man didn't necessarily need a Jim Lee or a Todd McFarlane, but New Mutants desperately needed someone to attract eyes to the book. And while Jim Lee, and of course Chris Claremont, deserve credit for Gambit's early '90s popularity, no other new character captured young readers' imaginations like Cable. I won't say he surpassed Wolverine in popularity, but he was darned close for a while there. New Mutants #87 was impossible to find for years because, honestly, who was saving New Mutants comics in 1990? The glory days of the title were considered over, and even the book's most devoted readers seemed to be burned out on the material. The book needed something new, and the "new" Rob Liefeld provided practically made New Mutants an entirely different series. I'm sure many of the existing readers bailed, but more than enough new readers were brought in to commercially justify Liefeld's work.

I'm not saying any of this to dismiss Louise Simonson's contributions; she helped to bridge the gap between the old and new directions, and put real effort into making Cable a sympathetic (or, at least, "remotely human") figure in his early appearances. However, her exact role in creating the character remains unclear (some give her almost all of the credit, some say it was all Liefeld, some say Bob Harras deserves much of the credit), and it's obvious that the new elements fans were responding to had "Liefeld " written all over them. What Simonson brought to the title is a fundamental understanding of how a story is constructed; an ability Liefeld couldn't exhibit in X-Force or Youngblood. If there are elements in this issue that don't make sense, my initial bias is to believe that Liefeld either changed the plot or wasn't able to accurately convey what Simonson asked of him.

As an introduction to Cable, the issue works quite well. We meet Cable as he continues his crusade against the MLF, one that's apparently brought him into conflict with the law before. As he sits in custody, recuperating from his wounds, he reflects on his age and his need to recruit new soldiers to fight this battle. Most of the elements are already there: He's a gruff, older man, he carries giant guns, he has an unrevealed grudge against Stryfe, and some shady past with law enforcement. Plus, he's a cyborg. Cable isn't talking like Dirty Harry yet, but he's almost there. This basic template of the alpha-male mystery character hadn't been done to death yet, so it's easy to see why kids responded to Cable so enthusiastically. And it's worth noting that Liefeld is far from self-parody at this point. I'm sure having an inker helps, but it looks as if Liefeld’s focusing more on getting the basics right than on excessive detail lines. He's really no worse here than McFarlane was when he started on Amazing Spider-Man. Are there missing backgrounds, odd poses, uneven eyes, etc.? Yes, but the weaknesses aren't screaming out at you on every page. For the most part, this is typical of the post-Art Adams artists of the era. Even if this comic is a relic from another time, that doesn’t automatically make it a joke. Maybe none of these tricks would work today, but viewed in context, it’s easy to see why the audience had a new favorite hero.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NEW MUTANTS #86 - February 1990

Bang! You’re Dead!
Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Joe Rosen (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: The Tinkerer mails the Vulture a replica of his wings, allowing him to escape federal prison. The Vulture refuses to follow the plan established by Tinkerer’s mysterious employers, and instead forces him to develop a device that will free Nitro from his cage. They travel to Nitro’s court hearing, as Rusty and Skids escape prison. Rusty and Skids know of Vulture’s plan, and hope that publicly stopping him will draw attention to their unjust imprisonment. When Vulture does free Nitro, he predictably uses his powers to explode, but is stopped by Skids’ forcefield. Freedom Force arrives to apprehend the mutants. Later, a research facility is hit by the Mutant Liberation Front, who demand Rusty and Skids’ freedom.

Continuity Notes: This issue marks the first appearance of the Mutant Liberation Front. The identifiable members we see are Tempo (incorrectly called “Strobe” here), Wildside, Forearm, Reaper, and Zero. Stryfe gives demands over the phone, but only his arm is seen. Cable also makes a cameo in the “Next Issue” box.

Review: I wonder if Todd McFarlane was asked to ink this cover because it’s an Amazing Spider-Man homage, and this led to him regularly inking Liefeld’s New Mutants covers, or if he was always intended as the regular cover inker. Regardless, McFarlane and Liefeld are both heavily inspired by Arthur Adams at this point, so they mesh together fairly well. McFarlane doesn’t have the strongest anatomy skills in the world, so I guess there wasn’t much he could do to save that drawing of Rusty, but their collaboration on the Vulture looks fine (if you ignore the diaper he seems to be wearing under his costume.)

So, Rob Liefeld’s run on New Mutants officially begins, and it’s an “Acts of Vengeance” crossover issue. Consequently, it has almost no significance to the specific world of the X-titles, even though we already see the Liefeld influence creeping in on the final two pages. I realize that “Acts of Vengeance” was held in pretty low regard for years, but I think there’s a solid concept at the core of it. It’s conceivable that a cabal of villains would unite and switch opponents, and as a reader, it’s just fun to see Wolverine fighting Tiger Shark or Spider-Man facing Graviton. Nominally, Vulture’s mission in this issue to fight Speedball, but Simonson has him ignore his assignment immediately and pursue this Nitro scheme that he’s apparently had since the previous issue. I’m not sure if this was her intention or not, but Vulture comes across as shockingly dumb in this story (he thinks kidnapping a living bomb, one that he can’t control, will somehow make people “respect” him more), so dumb it’s impossible to take him seriously as a threat. Skids does have a nice “heroic sacrifice” scene at the end of the issue, though, and her injuries do have some impact on the future issues, so it’s not a total loss. I’ll also mention that Liefeld’s interpretations of Vulture and Tinkerer are heavily reminiscent of the way Erik Larsen will go on to draw the characters when he takes over Amazing Spider-Man. And Liefeld’s Skids resembles a decent impression of an Art Adams female in a few panels. Many of the Liefeld clichés haven’t appeared yet, which may or not be due to Bob Wiacek’s inking.

Monday, October 1, 2012

NEW MUTANTS Annual #5 - October 1989

Here Be Monsters
Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Tim Dzon (inker), Joe Rosen (letters), Tom Vincent (colors)

Summary: Ghaur frames the New Mutants for the abduction of an Atlantean horn that can summon sea monsters. Namorita and a group of young Atlantean mutants named S.U.R.F. locate the New Mutants on the surface and attack. When she realizes they’re innocent, the heroes team up to stop the monster that Ghaur has summoned. They’re able to bury the monster in the Hudson Canyon, but not before it decimates Atlantis. The New Mutants return to the surface, still looking for a home, but grateful to be alive.

Continuity Notes: The New Mutants are chosen as red herrings by Ghaur because they briefly possessed the horn months earlier in New Mutants #76.

Creative Differences: Looking at the cover, I think it’s obvious that Namorita and the members of S.U.R.F. were added by another artist.

Review: New Mutants annual #5 was never a hot back issue collector’s item, even though it does mark Rob Liefeld’s debut on the title. Considering the massive impact Liefeld’s New Mutants run would have on the entire industry, it’s kind of surprising that so few people seemed to care about tracking this one down. Was Liefeld’s popularity on the title inexorably linked to the debut of Cable? If Liefeld had penciled the entire year of New Mutants stories preceding issue #86 without submitting any of his own ideas, would those issues also languish in obscurity?

My stance when reviewing the early issues of X-Force was that I wouldn’t comb through every panel looking for any artistic shortcoming that could be ridiculed. I wouldn’t ignore the art, either; I just wouldn’t dwell on Liefeld’s weaknesses, since entire websites have already been dedicated to this cause. That’s also my stance on the Liefeld run of New Mutants. Looking through this issue, it seems that Tim Dzon (also credited as “Tom” in the issue) has “mainstreamed” much of the art, even though it’s clearly a Liefeld job. Some of the poses are impossible, many of the facial expressions are inhuman, and occasionally a narrative caption or two has to detail events that simply aren’t depicted by the art. I don’t know if Liefeld is responsible for designing S.U.R.F. (nor do I know what that acronym is supposed to represent), but the team surprisingly doesn’t fall into any of the famous Liefeld clichés…with the exception of Undertow, who might be Liefeld’s first hair-metal warrior figure. (Nice suspenders, bro.)

As a story, this is reasonably comprehensible, even if it is a follow-up to a long-running New Mutants storyline (presumably, this takes place after issue #86, even though it was published months before it), and chapter eleventeen of the endless “Atlantis Attacks” crossover. The premise that Ghaur just so happens to have three followers who look exactly like Sunspot, Warlock, and Wolfsbane is stretching credibility even by 1980’s standards, but the story is still enjoyable as a basic superhero adventure. I purchased this issue as a kid, new to the concept of such things as “annual events,” and I can’t say Liefeld’s art hindered my enjoyment of the story. I certainly thought his style was unusual, but I didn’t think he was killing comics or anything. The next installment of “Atlantis Attacks” is a John Byrne/Walt Simonson collaboration, though, and I easily recognized that issue as one of the “good ones.”

A Case of the Cutes
Credits: Judith Kurzer Bogdanove (writer), Jon Bogdanove (penciler), Hilary Barta (inker), Joe Rosen (letters), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: In a dream, Boom Boom asks the artist drawing her adventures to hook her up with a cute guy. After rejecting Hulk, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Dr. Doom, and more, she asks for someone who’s cute and loveable. He pairs her with Franklin Richards.

I Love the '80s: Boom Boom has posters of Terrance Trent D’Arby, George Michael, and Dirty Dancing on her wall.

Review: No lie, I love all of the late ‘80s annual back-ups that focus on heroines finding dates or ranking the hottest bodies in the Marvel Universe. Jon Bogdanove’s cartooning fits the story perfectly, and it’s a great excuse to see his interpretation of several Marvel heroes. Plus, it’s honestly funny, without coming across as snotty or condescending.
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