Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Micro-Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION - “Justice is Served” (Part Three)


CAPTAIN AMERICA #324 - December 1986. Stunning Zeck cover! Mediocre Colletta finishes inside!

Colletta also appeared to be finishing half of the previous issue, but uncredited. Actually, this looks less rushed than last issue.

Now, half of the public is eager for Cap to kill again, and the other half has grown AFRAID of him. Gru really is taking this past the point of ridiculousness. Cap’s internal guilt is one thing, but the public caring this much is faintly absurd. Cap decides he needs the help of a PR firm to rebuild his public image, but somehow a fight with Trapster and Whirlwind convinces him otherwise.

The buzzsaw incarnation of Whirlwind I always thought was pretty cool. Trapster, however, is already defined by the perception he’s a loser. This will be the basis of EVERY TRAPSTER STORY for all eternity.

Meanwhile, Nomad has grown a Tom Selleck mustache and is determined to kill crimelord The Slug. Subplots!


CAPTAIN AMERICA #325 - January 1987.  Zeck crazy faces really are the best.

No double-sized anniversary issue here.  CAP wasn’t selling well enough to justify such a thing.

In the early ‘90s, one of Gru’s columns covered various narrative tricks, and the trendy first person caption style. I remember Gru as dismissive of the tactic, claiming thought balloons do that job just as well. I didn’t realize he’d already experimented with the style during this run. Both Cap and Nomad have alternating first person captions, and unfortunately, they slow the story down and only indulge Gru’s tendency to over-explain what’s obvious in the art.

The reinvention of Nomad begins here; unwilling to go along with Cap’s more “liberal” views on crime, believing that some criminals deserve to die. Clearly a response to the Punisher’s success, Cap’s put in position of having to rescue the crook that Nomad’s left to die in a fire. It’s actually a great use of a villain - the Slug isn’t only comically fat for the shock value, but his size is a plot point, as he’s so big it’s impossible to get him off the boat.

There’s a ton of plot in only 21 pages here. An opening fight scene to reestablish Cap’s killing dilemma, an origin for Nomad’s new attitude, and a lengthy account of how he ended up on this boat. This would easily be a five-parter today.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #326 - February 1987. Have you gathered that Cap feels real bad about killing someone yet?

This issue, the Red Skull’s ghost appears to tell Cap that his soul is now no better than his, having taken a life. Clearly, Gru’s going overboard with this, but I view it as preferable to modern Cap not caring at all about his body count.

Gru tries again with first person captions, and the results are still wooden and overwritten. Gru’s great at plotting, at understanding stories that suit the character; his dialogue is usually okay, when he isn’t doing exposition; but his prose…  Everyone wanted to be Miller/Claremont in these days, didn’t they?

Continuity corner - with the exception of Cap’s parents, every “ghost” he encounters this issue was later revived. Even Red Skull, who’s treated as an actual ghost, not a hallucination, is revived by Gruenwald himself.

Since the final page weirdly featured half-page content, half-page letter column, the Epic Collection leaves half the page blank.  You can see the original pages at the SuperMegaMonkey site.


MARVEL FANFARE #31 - March 1987. Is this another Hulk solo story?

So, is the goal of the Epic collections to reprint EVERY story starring the hero during a certain time period? Because that’s the only way to justify including this MARVEL FANFARE arc. And considering the content, it wouldn’t be a shock if Marvel wanted to forget this ever existed.

Since DeMatteis is the writer, it’s possible this arc was originally slated for his run as CAP writer. Kerry Gammill joins him as artist, and it’s a shame he never took over the regular book. Gammill has always been underrated; word came out that he’d fill in on X-MEN FOREVER, which would’ve been great, but nothing came of it.

DeMatteis again works in eastern philosophy, when a famous guru arrives in New York. Cap’s never heard of him, and after fighting some white guilt, decides to follow his suspicions and see if this guru is on the level.

As much as DeMatteis values this culture, it’s interesting that he’s willing to allow characters from it become villains, as seen in his Haven arc in X-FACTOR. The subject matter is still treated respectfully, but DeMatteis writes the characters as individuals, which means that some will be villains.

And this deceiving guru turns out to be…wow, he was still around in 1987? It’s the Yellow Claw. Funny that there’s been a conscious effort since the 1980s to treat Mandarin as less of a stereotype, yet Yellow Claw was still showing up.


MARVEL FANFARE #32 - May 1987. When Cap time-traveled for his guest spot in DETECTIVE COMICS #1.

Cap’s unwanted sidekick exposes Yellow Claw, various heroes show up for the final battle, and Cap finds inner strength from the spirit of the guru whose identity the Claw usurped. Fine Shooter-era superheroics.

Had it already been established by the '80s that some force transformed Yellow Claw into a monster? I believe Jeff Parker resurrected him 10 years ago as more realistic villain; clearly, this version isn't appearing anymore.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #327 - March 1987. Probably should’ve been the cover of this collection, but…

The SuperPatriot plot returns, and he’s brought a gaggle of 1980s music stars with him. Life in the ‘80s - charity concerts, anti-Libya sentiment, and a cartoon caricature of Reagan youth.

Funny to see the future US Agent as a slick conman. Charisma? The crowd eating out of his hands? That guy?

By the way, Cap reminds us he spent a literal million dollars to set up his hotline of tipsters. And a nosy IRS agent’s investigating how Steve Rogers earned a million last year discovers his secret ID. Was Gru throwing a bone to the other side, after heavily implying Cap’s an FDR Democrat earlier this issue?


CAPTAIN AMERICA #328 - April 1987. Pro wrestling! Steroids! More life in the 1980s!

D-Man debuts here, as an enhanced wrestler sporting a mohawk. He shaves it off to join Cap in his quest for the Power Broker. Gru wants us to like him immediately, although it’s hard to guess why Cap needs a new sidekick. If there’s any hook to D-Man, it’s that he’s an excessively nice guy, already a contrast to the new breed of hero emerging in comics.

A running theme in the story is Cap debating the Power Broker treatment, as he feels he’s the only adventurer left without superpowers. Interesting to contrast this with the LotDK “Venom” arc, only a few years away. Cap is only tempted for a few pages to enhance himself, but realizes it’s wrong. Batman, however, is placed in a situation where he “has” to do it, and becomes a drug addict for a few issues. Both stories represent the respective companies and eras rather well. Under Shooter, Marvel heroes were behaving more traditionally “DC” than DC at the time.

And, as a continuity hound, Gru has to remind us that Cap DID have super-strength briefly in the 1970s. He never explains what happened to it, though.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #329 - May 1987. This scene only occurs on the final page, for what it’s worth.

Paul Neary’s doing breakdowns for Colletta this issue. Funny that Neary’s known now for such slick inking, and here we see him finished by the most notorious inker in history. It’s not a pretty book; some of the pages look like Larsen when he tried those Kirby pastiches in SAVAGE DRAGON.

The story finds Cap & D-Man treading water until the Power Broker story wraps up. The sewer monsters are another diversion thrown in. Better art could’ve sold this, but the whole thing feels rushed.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #330 - June 1987. Was D-Man intentionally designed to trick gullible kids into thinking Wolverine was stopping by?

Making a surprise appearance this issue is the Night Shift, one of my favorite concepts from 1980s Marvel -- various horror characters duped into acting as a superhero team by the Shroud. Visually, they’re all interesting, and the concept is certainly unique.

And after what feels like 50 issues, Cap finally confronts the Power Broker, who turns out to be an obscure villain from a 100 issues ago (seriously.) Very Gruenwald, really.

Power Broker escapes, and Cap’s left performing CPR on D-Man, who he thinks he killed in battle. Cap feeling perpetually guilty, or placed in ethically thorny situations, is another recurring theme of Gru’s run. And, through it all, Gru doesn’t go the cheap route and “darken” the hero.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #331 - July 1987. Some of these Zeck covers look like hypothetical CAP/G. I. JOE crossovers.

This Power Broker arc finally reaches some sort of end. One problem with the story is Broker’s visual - he’s just an average looking guy with nice hair. Visually, Power Broker should have some angle. Since he’s the guy who gives people powers, maybe play up the irony by making him physically weak? Frail frame, hair falling out, leans on a cane; that’s be a better visual than ‘80s GQ model.

Another lame visual is G. I. Max, a goofy seven-foot-tall soldier Cap fights for a few pages. Interesting that Gru was creating this super-soldier gone wrong right after Miller introduced Nuke. One is a striking visual you’ll never forget; the other is utterly stupid.

And, making all of this worse, the action mostly occurs on the front lawn of the Broker’s house. It’s all pretty dull, visually, but Gru tries to sell an internal conflict for Cap. He thinks the US government might be in cahoots with Power Broker, and doesn’t know how to respond. And while the Night Shift are his allies, some are likely wanted criminals, so he isn’t sure if he should turn them in.

Shooter loved internal conflicts like this; per Byrne, he literally demanded one in each story.


The Epic volume concludes with CAPTAIN AMERICA #332 (and a few extras.) I’ve covered #332 in the past, so no recap required there. This means our journey through “Justice is Served” has ended. Overall, I’d rank it as midlevel Gruenwald. His devotion to keeping Cap firmly CAP is admirable, and the guest stars are usually fun. The villains tend to be weak, however, and this Power Broker arc feels endless. Also -- yeesh, did we need that many Colletta fill-ins?

But, even the weaker stories are setting up the next arc, Gru’s magnum opus on this book, so they’re more forgivable in retrospect. As a testament to this era of Marvel, the book is a fantastic artifact.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Micro-Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION - “Justice is Served” (Part Two)


CAPTAIN AMERICA Annual #8 - The comic every blogger was obligated to pull out of storage in 2005.

Marvel was pulling out all the stops to revive interest in CAP - the return of Zeck and a Wolverine guest shot! Surprisingly, their team-up against the Overrider & Tess-One runs pretty smoothly, until the end. Wolverine disobeys Cap’s orders, allowing a fall to nearly kill Overrider. Cap’s infuriated, telling Wolverine he’s lucky the X-Men tolerate him because “The Avengers would never have you.”

The fight we’re promised on the cover only lasts three panels, and Cap’s road trip with Wolverine in the middle is left off-panel. That would be its own full-issue chapter of the multi-part story today.

Much of the story has Wolverine solo, and Gru seems to be making an intentional choice to write Claremont-style captions in those scenes. It’s not parody, but it’s a nod to the older fans who get the reference. No first-person captions, though. Wolverine wasn’t defined by those yet, and Gru tended to dislike them anyway.

I Love the ‘80s Moment: Wolverine is allowed to smoke in the hospital room of an injured mutant.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #321 - September 1986. (Captain) America! &%#$ Yeah!

This is one of the defining stories of Gru’s run - the issue that has Cap gunning down a terrorist in order to save ULTIMATUM’s hostages. Gru’s adamant stance that Cap’s never killed before is central to his view of the character; and viewed as laughable by many readers…and comics pros. To Gru’s credit, the issue was addressed head-on in the letter column, just like his later stand against Cap using the Super Soldier serum.

The concept is a great moral quandary for the hero, and typical of the “I can’t, yet I must!” conflicts that Shooter advocated. Also, Flag-Smasher, a man who rejects all forms of patriotism is a nice foil for Cap (who can’t even conceive of how anyone could feel this way.)

Unfortunately, this specific issue is fairly disappointing. One of Gru’s quirks is to over-explain every tiny detail, so instead of a tense, multi-page action sequence of Cap sneaking around ULTIMATUM’s base, it’s a slog of giant word balloons, as Cap mentally fixates over every detail of his plan.

By the time you reach the climax, you’re just ready for the issue to end. Credit to Neary/Beatty for a nice-looking issue, though. And that cover…! You can see why Hasbro feared Zeck was too “intense” for G. I. JOE covers.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #322 - October 1986. Cap’s so upset after last issue he’s gone full first-person caption.

Part Two of the definitive Gruenwald CAP story, an entire issue devoted to Cap’s views on killing, one that ends with him risking frostbite or possible death in order to save the Flag-Smasher’s life.

This could come across as incredibly corny, but Gruenwald writes Cap’s stance as such a moral absolute, it does read as a fundamental aspect of his character. Not that everyone agreed, of course. And Marvel’s official stance now is certainly NOT that Cap has never killed. Gru might’ve gone too far with his stance that Cap didn’t even kill in WWII, but it’s essential to Gru’s view of the character.  Gru, coming of age during the 1960s peace movement, views killing in any circumstance as the ultimate violation of someone’s freedom. If Cap truly values freedom, he can’t justify killing.

Gru also has Cap reassert that he represents the ideals of America, not the government. This was an important distinction for Boomers who lived through Vietnam; it’s revived here perhaps to fight against fan perception that Cap takes order from the government. (Although, G. I. JOE was insanely popular then, so I don’t think most kids cared.) The distinction does play a major role in the next arc, so this could be intentional foreshadowing.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #323 - November 1986. Imagine the internet of 1986 reacting to those cover borders.

The Super-Patriot, later the US Agent, debuts this issue. Initially conceived as a strawman argument against perceived ‘80s excesses, we see Super-Patriot as desperate for fame as America’s new hero, but unwilling to stop a mugging, because it isn’t “glitzy” enough.

Gru’s plan all along was to replace Cap with this “’80s Captain America,” who initially reads as a hippie’s cartoon parody of Reagan youth. Later, Gru develops him into a more credible character; the US Agent we know today would NEVER allow an old lady to be mugged. If anything, that scene would be an excuse to show how intolerant he is of crime. If anyone did try to revive the fame whore element, it’d read as totally out of character.

Meanwhile, Cap is offered an official job with SHIELD, to avoid possibly facing trial in Switzerland for killing that terrorist. The threat of legal jeopardy, and outraged public opinion, is overplayed, and some fans were furious Gru took this story so far. I personally enjoy the pure moralistic view of Cap, who refuses to join SHIELD just to avoid legal jeopardy.

I hold the unpopular opinion that Brubaker got Cap’s character wrong from the first page of his first issue. Cap would not coldly kill a regiment of terrorists, regardless of the provocation. The lush colors and pretty Epting art can’t cover just how fundamentally flawed this interpretation is. It was, ironically, a very ‘90s reinvention of Cap, even as the ‘90s were being rejected across comics.

Cap killing people in the movies also feels wrong, aside from maybe the WWII montages. A much better alternative to the retcon of AVENGERS 2’s ending (which was all about the heroes SAVING innocents) would be for the indignant mom at the opening of CIVIL WAR to be the mother of one of the Loki-enchanted soldiers that Cap killed in AVENGERS. It would’ve played against his “brainwashing doesn’t count!” defense of Bucky, and not undermined the entire point of another film.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Did "Death of Superman" Survive Its Animated Adaptation?



This week at CBR, I look back on the 2007 attempt to adapt Death of Superman.  I get to gripe about a specific design choice that's bugged me for ten years now.  (And you can click the label below to relive my reviews of the original storyline, of course.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

An Unofficial Guide to NYPD Blue - On Sale Now



Pleased to announce that my next project on Amazon is complete.  An Unofficial Guide to NYPD Blue: A Comprehensive Exploration of the Legendary Drama is now on sale, for a measly ninety-nine cents! 

Now, why plunk down a near-full buck for this tome if you've already followed my reviews over on the Gentlemen of Leisure site?  Well, first of all, why are you so cheap?  C'mon, it's not as if I'm asking for much of an investment, buddy.  Seriously, if you're a fan of the show and you've already followed my retrospective, and you're not interested in having the entire archive easily located on your favorite tablet...there's still more to offer.

I've tweaked all of the reviews, adding some bits of information, but that's only the beginning.  This collection also includes my reviews of the NYPD Blue novel series by Max Allan Collins, a new afterword reflecting on the run of the series, an episode guide, links to numerous video interviews featuring the cast and crew, and an examination of the strangest piece of NYPD Blue merchandising ever -- the children's book published in the U.K.  (I'm absolutely not kidding.)

And, on top of that, I've included the ultimate bit of NYPD Blue trivia, one amazing tidbit that I'd somehow managed to exclude during the initial retrospective series.  If you're willing to throw some support my way, or maybe write a review, I'd appreciate it.  As always, thanks, folks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Micro-Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION - “Justice is Served”


As a testament to how thorough these Epic Collections are, the reprint opens with numerous pages from different books. It’s a collection of subplot pages introducing the Scourge, killing random “lame” villains. Interesting that Kraven was viewed as one of the losers at this time; although he escapes the Scourge, so perhaps Marvel realized that he shouldn’t go out like a chump.

The book would work just as well without these clips, but it’s a testament to the tight continuity of the Shooter-Gruenwald days, when everyone seemed to be singing from the same hymnal. There’s likely never been a point when continuity was 100% perfect, but Marvel did put a real effort in -- and often Gru would be the one to clean up someone else’s mistakes.

MARVEL FANFARE #29 - November 1986. Even the Editori-Al is reprinted!

Of course this CAPTAIN AMERICA Epic collection opens with…a Byrne inventory story from INCREDIBLE HULK.  (Okay, the Scourge subplot pages are inserted before it, but this is the full opening issue.)

This turns out to be another subtle Scourge appearance, as he uses the Hulk in an absurdly complicated plot to kill D-listers Hammer & Anvil.  Don’t know why this was reprinted in full, when other Scourge cameos just had the relevant pages excised.

By the way, there’s no credible reason for every page of this to be a splash. Didn’t Shooter refuse to run this story initially?


CAPTAIN AMERICA #318 - June 1986. No clue who Bluestreak is, but his costume is cool.

No villain with a rollerskate gimmick is going to go far, but this is a strong design. They could’ve dropped the skates and been left with just a nice armored villain.

This begins Gru’s first reinvention of Cap, who now travels America in a van, looking for people to help. Much of the story is a justification for why Cap would do this, when he could just fly around in a jet. Gru, a Midwesterner, wanted Cap to literally represent America and see all of the country, not only New York. I personally think it’s taking the concept too literally, but CAPTAIN AMERICA was a poor seller at the time, and Gru was looking for some hook to draw people in. Gru also seemed wary to give Cap a firm supporting cast, so treating him as a nomad fit his sensibilities better.

The plot has Bluestreak learning of the Scourge’s threat, ignoring it, then dying at the end (after a random encounter with Cap.) I’ve never read the Scourge story in full; I’d be curious to know if Scourge’s ability to magically appear and kill these Morts is ever explained. That’s taxing my suspension of disbelief at the moment.

Best moment: Bluestreak calls Cap a “Son of a bimbo.” I maintain Gru had the best replacement swears.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #319 - July 1986. Spoiler Alert: He fails.

The real significance of this issue is Cap truly meeting Diamondback for the first time, while both are chasing Scourge. It ends with Cap literally running away from a woman who wants to sleep with him. Now, before that, she did threaten to crash her jet and kill them both if he didn’t put out, so he’s understandably upset.

Diamondback also heavily implies that she prostituted herself to pay for her diamond weapons. Funny to think of her as a future Cap love interest.

Scourge claims his highest score yet, killing 18 supervillains Gru dismissed as crap. I wouldn’t throw Ringer or Cyclone in there, but likely Turner D. Century wasn’t missed.

How many of these dead villains stayed dead? I know Titania was a victim, yet she was already appearing regularly by the late ‘80s.

Another great replacement swear: the Scourge is a real “sonuvafish.”


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #278 - July 1986. Another full-issue Scourge tie-in. This should’ve been placed before the previous CAP issue, actually.

A later lettercol acknowledges the continuity issues with this crossover. They not so subtly pin them on the ASM team.

This issue, Scourge plots to kill Flash Thompson, recently arrested as the Hobgoblin, in prison. He ultimately settles for icing Brian DeWolff, the Wraith, a.k.a. Jean DeWolff’s forgotten brother.

For someone who hates criminals, it’s odd to see Scourge trigger a prison break in order to cover his own escape.

Is there a compelling reason to reprint this in a CAP collection? I wonder why some Scourge tie-ins only have a few panels reprinted, and others are presented as full issues.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #320 - August 1986. This ain’t no X-book! The Scourge mystery revealed!

Cap disguises himself as a Scourge target, drawing the vigilante out into the open. Reading this issue, I just realized that a Scourge regular series, in the style of DEXTER, could be interesting.

We learn Scourge’s origin, that he grew up on the backlots of Hollywood westerns, and was inspired to dole out frontier justice after his brother became a supervillain. It’s “meta” in a subtle way, like much of Gru’s writing.

What we don’t learn is how Scourge could often disguise himself as females…females with comic book anatomy.  Also, a mystery man kills Scourge at the end, using his catchphrase and disappearing into the night. Cap’s not certain the mystery truly is resolved, making this reminiscent of an X-book in the end after all.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - Driving Batman Mad as a Hatter...


Newest piece on CBR, looking back on the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode "Perchance to Dream" and an issue of the tie-in comic that explored the same concept in a very different way...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Superman: The Animated Series & Its Tie-in's Totally Tiny Adventure



My latest Adventure(s) Time article, looking back on the two Krypton refugees who were most certainly not General Zod.  Plus, one of the hoary kids' TV cliches the producers never wanted to touch...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

When Batman Beyond Took A ’90s Trend Too Far



My latest Adventure(s) Time post, featuring the beginning of the second era of Batman Beyond -- less corporate espionage, more high school drama that somehow involves supervillains.  Evan Dorkin, who co-wrote the episode, was nice enough to stop by the comment section, in case you're interested in his thoughts.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Batman: The Animated Series – When Two-Face Became a Crimefighter (Twice)



I examine one of the darker episodes of the New Batman Adventures era, an impressive comics follow-up by Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett, and discover a link to Mask of the Phantasm that I've never noticed before...all in the latest Adventure(s) Time.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - When Harley Quinn Couldn’t Shake Batgirl



The latest CBR piece is up, featuring another Harley Quinn/Batgirl story from the tie-in comics, and a look at the "Girls Night Out" episode of The New Batman Adventures.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I Don't Do Anniversary Posts



Working under the assumption that I would be the only one to care, I've never written an anniversary post for this site.  Yet, somehow, today marks the tenth anniversary of Not Blog X and I feel compelled to at least say something.  I announced around two years ago that updates would be sporadic on this site, given that the mission statement was increasingly irrelevant, and the days of blogging seemed to be on the wane anyway.

Since then, I've been able to contribute to CBR, first chronicling the early years of Wizard (kind of an obvious aspect of fandom from this era to examine, even though I'd previously given it only minimal attention), and continuing now with a look at the DC Animated Universe and the Adventures titles of the day, along with the occasional article on some varied topics.  Clearly, that's where the bulk of my attention is spent, and the link posts here reflect that.  I'm also in the final months of reviewing the television work of David Milch over at Gentlemen of Leisure, in case anyone hasn't checked that site in a while (which is also in the midst of looking back on 1990s X-Men at the moment...crazy, huh?)

I also published a novel through Amazon over a year ago, recently finished a second novel that may or may not be self-published, and I'm around 25,000 words into my third novel.  This is in addition to a non-fiction project I'll likely be publishing on Amazon before the end of the year.  I'm writing as much now as I was back in the era of two posts per day, but in different formats.

Do I have any deep reflections on my decade of doing this?  Not particularly.  I could ramble on about my obsessiveness with fonts (only recently did I let go of adamantly insisting every post be Times New Roman), the formatting quirks of those original posts (writing in Word, copying the text, emailing it from a Yahoo account to a Gmail account, then copy and pasting in Blogger's template...which, bizarrely, was the only way to get the spacing between paragraphs the way I liked), the confusion over why my posts sometimes appeared in a gray typeface and sometimes in a black typeface, or the sheer surprise of having the occasional creator stop by to comment on something they worked on years and years earlier.  I should thank all of the commenters who let me know I wasn't speaking into a void for all of these years, truthfully, because doing this without comments can get lonely.

I've mentioned earlier that I was inspired by writers like Paul O'Brien and Dave Campbell when starting this blog, but one major influence on this site was totally subconscious and only recently revived.  This thing...the 1997 The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family paperback, is actually the template for my style of comics writing.  Starting with a summary of the story, listing the creators and release date, and chopping up much of the commentary into separate segments with allegedly clever headings...this was all inspired by A Complete Guide, and to be honest, I'd totally forgotten this until I stumbled across the book when going through some things at my parents' house. As it turns out, many TV bloggers (if that term even existed then) were doing similar bits on Usenet groups going back over twenty-five years ago, but I was totally ignorant of this.  My inspiration really is that paperback book, one forgotten at the bottom of a plastic storage bin years ago.

In 2007, the most popular website in the world was Myspace.  Comics blogging had exploded around three years prior, and I was one of the last guys to receive a tiny amount of attention in the crowded field, via Mike Sterling linking to me in the first week, and the late, lamented Newsarama blog linking a few days after that.  Even when I started this site, Blogger was falling out of favor as more writers embraced Wordpress, a move I didn't make simply because I found Wordpress' main page too confusing on a cursory glance.  I wasn't expecting this project to last that long -- maybe one year -- and as Wordpress gave way to Tumblr, which gave way to Twitter, I assumed everything in this platform would be going the way of Tom's over-the-shoulder profile shot soon enough.

I used to include dozens of links to comics blogs in my sidebar, partially because it was considered just a basic courtesy in those days, but also out of respect for the amount of work it takes to keep something like this going.  When I stopped updating regularly with new content, I decided to drop the links to various graveyards and have Blogger update the sites that are still going.  The eagerness to begin these ventures died years ago, and while fans of a certain era thought nothing of dedicating hours out of their week to spread their love for the medium, you're not likely today to see someone start a new blog with an enthusiastic nod towards Wednesdays in the title.

The love for these characters still exists, but we all know what's happened.  These franchises aren't "ours" anymore, and the generation that entered the hobby during the booms of the '80s and '90s probably doesn't speak the same language as a fan who wasn't even born the first time Ain't It Cool ran grainy photos of the X-Men in those black motorcycle outfits.  Fans introduced to these characters through the DeFalco Marvel years or Levitz DC years are likely too old/jaded to care that much about the latest shocking event storyline, let alone willing to write lengthy essays about this kind of material.

Blogging isn't totally dead, and so far the content on Blogger hasn't been scrubbed from the internet, but as of now, commentary has morphed into microblogging on Twitter, or vlogging on YouTube.  I reluctantly participate in one and eschew the other.  I'm not judging anyone who works in these formats, but don't expect too much from me in this area.  And I do respect the handful trying to keep traditional comics blogging alive; I rode this thing about as far as it can go, but for everyone still having fun out there, (not that anyone's seeking my permission) go for it.

So, ten years.  Thanks to everyone who's stopped by over the years.  Perhaps I'll never find out if Dick hated my blog, but for those of you who got something out of this, you have my sincere gratitude for your support.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Milch Studies: Deadwood



In case anyone's interested, my look back at the first season of Deadwood is now up at Gentlemen of Leisure.  It's a fascinating show, not only for the themes it explores, but also for the chaotic process behind its production.  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Micro-Reviews: WOLVERINE EPIC COLLECTION - MADRIPOOR NIGHTS: Part Three




WOLVERINE #11 - Early September 1989
If you thought you weren’t getting enough Wolverine before his solo series, now you’re getting WOLVERINE twice a month! No wonder Claremont left.

Peter David returns, while Buscema is joined by Sienkiewicz, reinventing the book’s visuals. The lushness is gone, replaced by sketchy lines. I’m happy either way, although the darker art doesn’t match the story. David is going for comedy for much of the arc, with Wolverine as the well-intentioned friend who’s thrown into a wild adventure.

Archie Corrigan’s past is fleshed out a bit, as we discover that his brother has mental problems and is soon to lose the family’s wealth. Burt Corrigan routinely convinces himself that he’s movie heroes, and this time it’s Indiana Jones. Who knew that the public would become so sensitive to these issues one day that this story might be deemed offensive? Who knew that a massive media conglomerate would own both Marvel and the Indiana Jones property?


WOLVERINE #12 - Late September 1989
More of Wolverine and friends being chased around San Fran by vampires. Supposedly, there’s a long-unspoken ban on car chases in comics, but this one isn’t so bad.  David’s script is thick with one-liners, although he manages to keep Wolverine’s character pretty consistent throughout.  There’s a flimsy excuse for everyone to return to Madripoor at the end, but I get the sense that David couldn’t care less about the setting.


WOLVERINE #13 - Early October 1989
More Gehenna Stone, more PAD jokes, more Nowlan covers that I didn’t like as a kid…

This issue, Wolverine confronts the leader of the Gehenna cult, while two brothers who’ve acquired a piece of the stone end up in Madripoor, coincidentally. They end up killing each other in the Princess Bar.

All of these chapters on their own have been fine. The art’s great, and the story keeps moving at a decent pace. Overall, though, there’s a sense that any hero could’ve been plugged into this story, which is often a problem with these WOLVERINE fill-ins. There haven’t been enough solo tales to define what a Wolverine story really is, so the title suffers while Marvel decides what to do post-Claremont.

Another note about the issue -- it’s the final one to feature Wolverine out of costume. The experiment lasted just under a year.



WOLVERINE #14 - Late October 1989
As the cover indicates, Wolverine is now dressing like Wolverine.

Story-wise, there’s no justification for this. Logan declares that he wants to change into something “apropos.” This happens while on a plane ride to Madripoor, where he’s explicitly hiding his Wolverine identity -- so, this makes zero sense. Clearly, this had to be editorial fiat. I don’t know if sales were harmed by the initial decision to downplay the superhero element, but I wonder today if perhaps I wasn’t so excited by this book as a kid because it didn’t truly resemble other Marvel books. Were there legions of kids not buying WOLVERINE because they didn’t see that costume on the cover?

The big revelation this issue - Jessica Drew has always known Logan is Patch. Certainly not what Claremont intended, although I’m not sure if it harms the status quo. Jessica can keep a secret, so the X-Men will remain “ghosts.” It’s amusing Marvel launched WOLVERINE during the time Claremont was adamant about keeping them “dead” to the world.


WOLVERINE #15 - Early November 1989
Apparently, this cover gave us the standard WOLVERINE corner box art.

I’ve never understood why this figure was selected. Nowlan’s style doesn’t match any of the regular artists on this title, the pose is awkward, and the recycling just feels cheap. Was Marvel in a hurry to reassure fans that, no, Wolverine really does wear his real outfit in this book?

This issue - Wolverine is mocked thoroughly for his Patch disguise, the Madripoor cast is enchanted by the Gehenna Stone and tries to kill each other, and the Prince joins forces with Ba’al, the ancient evil god who created the stone. No real justification for this story to still be going, but it’s mindlessly entertaining. Peter David has Wolverine utter his first pun, which is also the first time David’s attempt at a jokier Logan falls flat. The rest of this story has actually managed to keep Logan jokey and in-character.


WOLVERINE #16 - Late November 1989
The final issue in the collection, and the storyline. Thankfully, this Epic reprint doesn’t drop off on a cliffhanger, which I wish was a basic rule.

There’s an attempt at making this specifically a Wolverine story, and fan reaction was mixed. David never outright says that Wolverine represents the “Hand of God,” but he steps right up to the edge. Not only does Wolverine feel in touch with a higher power, and is compelled to offer an earnest prayer, when facing Ba’al, but he’s remained immune to the Gehenna Stone throughout the arc. It is a role that you couldn’t place Spider-Man into, and I suppose Wolverine’s healing power leaves the door open to this interpretation. But that’s not really how people want to see Wolverine, is it?

The rest of the trade is a thick collection of promo interviews and art for the series. I love seeing this stuff reprinted. The people working in Marvel’s trade department deserve immense credit for the work that they’re doing. Not only is the fanzine press of the era represented, but even unused covers that appeared in MARVEL AGE are slotted in. As a reprint collection (an affordable one!), this is a fantastic package.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Micro-Reviews: WOLVERINE EPIC COLLECTION - MADRIPOOR NIGHTS: Part Two


MARVEL AGE ANNUAL #4 - 1988
I’ve never seen that Art Adams cover before. Surprised it hasn’t been recycled endlessly like his CLASSIC X-MEN #1 cover.

This was a preview for WOLVERINE #1, that’s actually been placed after issue #3 in this collection. I like the way the editors don’t just toss stories out there; they want to make them fit. I’ll play “umm, actually” and point out that it should be placed sometime after #4, however, because Logan doesn’t know Gen. Coy is in Madripoor at this point.

Calling this a story is generous. Wolverine wanders Madripoor, and all of the X-teams somehow make quick, unexplained, cameo appearances. It’s worth reprinting, though, because it’s by the original creative team, and I love when the Epic collections find these obscure pieces that no one remembers. 


WOLVERINE #4 - February 1989
These opening pages are Orzechowski at the height of his hand-lettering days. There’s just as much character in the lettering as the art, but it isn’t distracting at all. It’s also Orz’s last issue as letterer, which I suppose helped to give WOLVERINE an identity separate from UNCANNY X-MEN, but it feels like a real loss.

This issue, Claremont makes his greatest strides in establishing the world of the series. New villains and supporting cast members, like the pilot Archie Corrigan, are introduced, while Claremont leftovers from SPIDER-WOMAN and NEW MUTANTS also join the cast. I’ve always admired the way Claremont seems to have a plan for any character who had more than a walk-on appearance in one of his books. Allegedly, he has notebooks packed with plot ideas for all of these obscure characters.

I’ve never heard of a clear reason why Bloodsport’s name was changed to Bloodscream. Was it really to avoid a lawsuit from the “Bloodsport” movie producers?

Not that this goes anywhere, but having Jessica Drew play against Logan’s acceptance of Tyger is a smart idea. Wolverine figures she’s the “good” crimelord, because she doesn’t deal in drugs or slaves. Jessica doesn’t want to side with any criminal. 

What Tyger actually DOES do for money isn’t clear, aside from some scenes establishing that she runs joyhouses (Code-approved brothels). We’re told she’s a crimelord, but what that entails is murky.


WOLVERINE #5 - March 1989
The debut of Hardcase & the Harriers, some of them at least, a paramilitary team that didn’t take off. Even though the Harriers all resemble background GI JOE players, Hama had no use for them. Hardcase later appeared in WOLVERINE as a parody of Cable clones, even though Erik Larsen didn’t seem to know that Hardcase predated Cable’s debut.  

Another oddity this issue - Psylocke’s Inferno-era armor debuts…months after it’s already appeared in UNCANNY X-MEN. Jessica and Lindsay discover it in the offices of Landau, Luckman, & Lake, which also debuts here. I’m assuming Claremont had some secret origin in mind for the armor, and LL&L, but I doubt we’ll ever discover it. I’ll repeat again that it’s a shame X-MEN FOREVER didn’t cover this territory. 

While Hardcase offers no real threat, Wolverine spends much of the issue fighting Coy’s hired guards. An extended fight scene featuring an Anglo hero fighting minority foes, and there’s no scene like this to make it okay. 



Oh, how backwards we were in 1989. And 1999. And 2009. Comics had yet to reach peak wokeness.


WOLVERINE #6 - April 1989
Tyger is rescued, while Karma joins Wolverine’s side and Claremont drops very Claremontian hints that never paid off.

Karma’s working with her criminal uncle in order to rescue her missing siblings. No payoff (from Claremont).

The armor that appears to be Psylocke’s was apparently not forged by “mortal hands.” No payoff.

Archie Corrigan is somehow a “disgrace” to his uniform. No payoff.

I’m convinced that Claremont did have resolutions in mind, it’s just clear that they weren’t deemed a priority at the time.

One continuing theme of the series is the thin line between heroes and villains in Madripoor. This issue, Karma is inspired to become a hero again, thanks to Wolverine’s influence. (Wolverine’s arc from rebel to mainstay had already been completed. And it’s a testament to Claremont’s skills that fans still embraced the character.) Meanwhile, their big heroic mission is to save one crimelord from another.

The promise of seeing Wolverine “cut loose” has him slicing Bloodsport’s throat…off-panel. It’s all amazingly tame today, but it was as close to edgy as Marvel was going to get in 1989.


WOLVERINE #7 - May 1989
The status quo continues to evolve - the Prince declares that Coy & Tyger will both serve as crimelords. Since Tyger doesn’t touch drugs or slaves, Coy can handle the nasty stuff. Wolverine gives some rationale on why this is okay. It’s another way duality is introduced into the series. Both Tyger & Coy are morally flawed, but only together can they make life work in Madripoor.

Meanwhile, the Hulk appears, in scenes that were supposed to be colored as night, but weren’t. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be that big a deal, but Hulk only comes out at night in these comics, and that plays to the issue’s cliffhanger.

Another sign this was intended as an “older” Marvel book of the era - two attempted rape scenes in one issue. Not that anything happens, of course. We also learn the Prince is an obsessed fan of Lindsay’s and it’s played as a joke. Jessica questions if this is a man who would ever accept “no,” however.

More odd continuity - Lindsay can remove Psylocke’s (?) armor, but Tyger can’t. Wolverine has the “ultimate key,” because he commissioned it from “a friend.” 



WOLVERINE #8 - June 1989
Hulk, split between Joe Fixit and Banner, is here for a silly guest spot, but Claremont is still mindful of the theme. Just as Madripoor’s Lowtown and Hightown represent the two sides of Wolverine, and Tyger and Jessica Drew represent his dueling animal/hero natures, Hulk is also two people residing in one body.

I always liked this issue as a kid. Wolverine spends much of the story conspiring ways to put the Hulk back into purple pants. And in the closing pages, it’s heavily implied that Hulk has seen through the “Patch” disguise, so he ends up with a small victory over the hero. 


WOLVERINE #9 - July 1989
The first of many, so many, WOLVERINE fill-in issues.

It’s possible this was inventory, maybe a MARVEL FANFARE story, that was slotted in. The final page reveals that the entire story’s been a flashback, and there’s some attempt to have Logan declare that he isn’t the same man we see in the story.

The plot treats Wolverine as the Punisher, methodically tracking down mercenaries and killing them for their actions in Iraq five years ago. Wolverine says he was “Weapon X” then, and then claims the flashback was also years ago, so…how long were we to believe Wolverine’s been an X-Man? He also appears in his yellow outfit, another hint that the story might’ve been lying around for a while. Then again, I don’t think Peter David was writing freelance for Marvel during the yellow costume days, so maybe this was intended for WOLVERINE.

While the story plays out like an EC morality tale, David still makes an effort to maintain Wolverine’s unique moral code. He assures the reader that he takes no joy in killing, and only finds happiness in innocence. The mercenaries have to die because they stole that innocence from someone, and he’s keeping a promise he made years ago. This was all pretty daring stuff for Marvel in the ‘80s…now, it reads as a template WOLVERINE solo tale from the early Quesada years.


WOLVERINE #10 - August 1989
The comic that cemented Sabretooth’s place as Wolverine’s major villain. The seeds were planted during “Mutant Massacre,” but this was the moment that a generation of kids forgot that Sabretooth was a lame henchman character, along the lines of the Constrictor, and embraced him as Wolverine’s evil opposite.

It’s still so early in Sabretooth’s development, his name is spelled “Sabre-Tooth.”

The fight here has been revisited numerous times. And, done properly, it could’ve been an excellent set piece in one of the movies. Instead, it was thoroughly botched in that first WOLVERINE movie.

Another significance of the issue is that it’s one of the extremely rare Wolverine flashback stories from this era. One of the first ever -- I think the KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE mini might’ve had a flashback, but other than that, Claremont tended to avoid them.

It’s also the final Claremont issue, although he leaves with no fanfare. His return is over 100 issues away, and perhaps the less said about that the better. The internal politics of Madripoor are still in play, as we learn that Jessica & Lindsay have set up shop in a “bawdy house” under the Prince’s command. None of the post-Claremont writers wanted to touch this stuff. The closest anyone came was the Goodwin run, which used Madripoor effectively as a setting, but I believe avoided the politics.

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