Wednesday, March 31, 2010

SPAWN #16 - December 1993

Reflections- Part One

Credits: Grant Morrison (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Dan Panosian & Art Thibert (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Jason Wynn shows off a town made out of Al Simmons’ memories, “Simmonsville,” to a colleague, Major Vale. The town rests above a portal to Hell and has demon residents. Meanwhile, Spawn travels to his grave to see what’s buried inside. He’s anguished to see his human body is inside the coffin. The agents of Heaven receive word to create an “Anti-Spawn” to destroy the current Spawn, who has been deemed special. They select Jason Wynn as the human receptacle.

Spawntinuity: Jason Wynn reveals that an A-bomb test in Nevada inadvertently opened a portal to Hell years ago. The site is now Simmonsville. Simmonsville is made out of psychoplasm, the substance of Hell. It was created by the memories stolen from Al Simmons after he died. The previous issues had Wynn arranging Simmons’ death because he was asking too many questions, but it’s now revealed that Wynn traded Simmons (who was “growing soft”) to Hell in exchange for psychoplasm. Later, McFarlane will rename psychoplasm “necroplasm.”

Review: Grant Morrison wasn’t quite GRANT MORRISON yet, but he had earned a reputation for his work on Animal Man and Doom Patrol. McFarlane obviously had a taste for the British style that would soon become Vertigo, so it’s not surprising that Morrison was hired as a fill-in writer. Morrison immediately introduces a string of ideas and only wastes a few pages on Spawn hanging around the alley, which was already getting old (in this issue, Spawn stops two punks from burning a bum alive, which is virtually identical to a scene in the upcoming Spawn/Batman crossover). Spawn moves on to investigate his grave, which he’s shocked to discover isn’t empty. I wonder if McFarlane suggested this scene to Morrison, since issue #10 already hinted at what Spawn would find inside his grave. This scene is later recreated in the Spawn HBO series and live-action movie (the cartoon had a particularly creepy spin on it, as the corpse talks back to Spawn and taunts him).

Spawn’s discovery at the grave has little to do with the main story, which is mostly carried by Jason Wynn. Wynn explains the concepts of Simmonsville and psychoplasm, which probably wouldn’t have been dreamed up by McFarlane, but do fit in with the established universe. Simmonsville, a town made up entirely of Al Simmons’ memories from his previous life, is a particularly great idea. McFarlane has put some effort into humanizing Simmons, but this leads the door open for numerous stories that could shed light on his character. Later, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Wynn is transformed into the Anti-Spawn. An “Anti-Spawn” is one of those ideas that’s obvious and clever at the same time. How exactly he’s created, by a laser sent by angels who’ve stolen the bodies of astronauts at a space station, shows more imagination than Spawn normally delivered in this era.

McFarlane wasn’t the only Image founder who needed fill-ins early on, but he seemed to have stricter quality control. Many of the early Image comics were written by friends or relatives of the creators who wanted to work in comics. McFarlane hired people like Alan Moore. He had the money, so why not? Aside from entertaining the readers who actually did care about the story, the guest writers opened up numerous story possibilities that McFarlane could’ve followed in the future. It’s possible that bringing in “name” writers could’ve trivialized McFarlane’s own efforts (which is definitely the case here, as the previous two issues were some of McFarlane’s weakest), but McFarlane seemed unfazed. The same attitude extended to the art, as this issue sees the debut of Greg Capullo. McFarlane recognized Capullo as one of the strongest artists at Marvel and snatched him away, while most of the Image founders were still building studios of no-name clones. Capullo is a superior artist to McFarlane who, at this point, is still drawing in his own style. Capullo moved away from the ‘80s Marvel look as the Image style became popular, but still maintained a grounding in plausible anatomy and solid construction. As Capullo moves on from guest artist to co-artist to artist, his art mutates into an odd combination of his old look and McFarlane’s cartooniness, but here he’s more restrained. This doesn’t read or look exactly like a standard issue of Spawn, but it’s not a wild departure, and I think the kids who only wanted McFarlane/McFarlane/McFarlane could still find an enjoyable comic.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SPAWN #15 - November 1993

Myths- Part Two

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, pencils, & inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Violator concludes his story, revealing that Medieval Spawn teleported out of his armor to avoid the fire. Medieval Spawn defeated Violator in battle and beheaded him. However, the maiden ran away in horror after seeing Medieval Spawn’s deformed body. She repeated the story of the incident, and as the details were altered, the myth of dragons was created. Malebolgia contacted Violator, congratulating him on turning the maiden against Medieval Spawn. In the present, Spawn defends himself against a violent restaurant employee who objects to him sleeping near their dumpster. Elsewhere, government agents continue to harass Terry Fitzgerald.

Spawntinuity: Violator reads a newspaper article that attributes his gangland murders to Spawn. He declares that he’s going to set the record straight with Tony Twist, which is a lead-in to the Violator miniseries. Why Violator is suddenly upset with Spawn for getting “credit” for his work makes no sense, as it’s reinforced on the very first page of this issue that he always intended to frame Spawn for the murders.

Review: The flashback story peters out, as predictably we learn that Medieval Spawn teleported away before Violator could burn him. Revealing that Violator became the inspiration for dragons also wasn’t hard to see coming, once he suddenly developed fire-breathing powers in the last issue. This could’ve worked as a one-issue story, since the basic setup is pretty sound and the ending works well (Violator is able to show Medieval Spawn he’s unlovable after the maiden abandons him, which is all Malebolgia wanted). There’s no way it should’ve stretched into two issues, a fact McFarlane apparently realized since he ends the storyline with page sixteen. The rest of the issue mainly consists of Spawn (who isn’t even wearing his cape and costume; he’s just dressed like a bum) having a pointless street brawl with a testy restaurant employee. I know McFarlane was in the awkward position of having almost a third of the issue to fill, but it’s hard to believe he settled on such a mundane action sequence. I bet Testy Restaurant Employee didn’t even get his own trading card or McFarlane action figure.

Monday, March 29, 2010

SPAWN #14 - September 1993

Myths- Part One

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, pencils, & inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Violator, still trapped in his clown form, pays a group of street kids to listen to a story of his past. He describes his encounter with Medieval Spawn, distorting the details and twisting himself into the hero’s role. Violator kidnapped a maiden to draw Medieval Spawn’s attention, but lost the first round of their fight. He retaliated by breathing fire on Medieval Spawn, which apparently killed him. Meanwhile, Sam and Twitch are removed from probation and go searching for Spawn. They catch a glimpse of his cape in the alleys before he disappears.

Todd Talk: The Todd McFarlane/Peter David debate is announced for the 1993 Philadelphia Comicfest. It’s my understanding that it didn’t go well for McFarlane.

The Big Names: Grant Morrison and Greg Capullo are announced as the creative team for issues #16-#18.

Spawn Stuff: A Violator medallion, which costs $149 for the sterling silver version and $595 for the gold version, is announced. Are there really people on this planet who paid six hundred dollars for what looks like a small Violator necklace?

Review: This begins a two-part flashback story with Medieval Spawn. It is kind of entertaining to watch McFarlane build up his own continuity by connecting Violator with one of the previous Spawns, but it comes at the expense of the ongoing storylines. The sole plot advancement comes from Sam and Twitch, and its only real purpose is to reintroduce the idea that they’re chasing Spawn. The gimmick that Violator’s details don’t match the actual events of the flashback gets old pretty fast, and while I understand that Violator is supposed to be crass and boorish, McFarlane isn’t able to convey this in a clever way. His insults and braggadocio just aren’t very funny.

Friday, March 26, 2010

DOMINO #1-#3, January-March 1997

Rise and Fall

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), David Perrin (penciler), Harry Candelario (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas (colors)

This is gratuitous X-miniseries #4,759 if you’re keeping track at home. I initially found it odd that Ben Raab, a writer who never touched the character was assigned a Domino mini, but then I remembered that she had only been written by Fabian Nicieza and Jeph Loeb in the past, and neither writer was around the X-office at this time (Loeb was leaving Cable and X-Force, and Nicieza was heading Acclaim Comics, I believe). Raab has decided to pick up on the hints that Domino was once married by introducing her ex-husband Milo Thurman. Milo is a brilliant scientist who can predict future events with almost one hundred percent accuracy, which means he’s being kept in a generic government holding facility with Henry Gyrich acting as his overlord. Domino learns all of this from Puck, who just happens to visit her in Carnavale after she’s attacked by another tiny tough guy, Pico. Pico is the forgotten henchman who worked for Tolliver back in X-Force #14. A lot of the material from the early issues of X-Force was dropped pretty quickly, which is understandable since much of it was terrible, but I think Pico is a reasonable villain to use for an opening sequence. His presence at least assures the reader that Raab is familiar with Domino’s past (although I believe he was officially dead, and even had a "sworn to vengeance" brother). Puck is there, I guess, to be the token “established character you didn’t know the mysterious X-character already knew.” He learned about Milo while snooping around Department H files. (It’s odd that he’s telling Domino about Milo, yet he doesn’t seem to know they have a past together. It’s quite a coincidence that the mercenary he asks to free an imprisoned man was once married to him.) Domino arrives to break Milo out of the facility, only to discover Lady Deathstrike waiting for her.

Now, why exactly is Domino in her own book? There is the justification that she was an established character with almost no backstory, so there’s a lot of room to explore. That could partially be the reason, but I imagine the ‘90s “Bad Girl” trend had a lot to do with this. Domino’s introduced in this story at the Carnavale festival, dressed in a string bikini that she doesn’t change out of until the end of the issue. Raab throws a few lines in acknowledging that this isn’t truly in-character and that she’s blowing off steam during a vacation, but you can’t deny this is gratuitous cheesecake. David Perrin is a much better artist than many of the guys working for Marvel during this era, so at least she actually looks human, unlike most of the females who used to populate Top Ten lists in the back of Wizard.

Death Be a Lady Tonight!

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), David Perrin (penciler), Harry Candelario (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas & Heroic Age (colors)

Lady Deathstrike and Domino spend much of the issue fighting, as a few cutaway scenes and flashbacks flesh out the story. It’s revealed Donald Pierce was behind Pico and Deathstrike’s attacks on Domino, and the kidnapping of Milo. For some reason, he wants to turn Milo into a cyborg. Pierce, and Skullbuster of the Reavers, are also alive for unknown reasons. I always thought the Reavers’ death scene in UXM #281 was horribly cheap and pointless, so I can’t complain about Raab resurrecting them. However, they really have nothing to do with Domino, do they?

The flashbacks reveal that Domino met Milo ten years earlier when she worked as a guard at the facility. He seduced her and the pair fell in love. We learn that Milo is actually in prison legitimately, as he used his knack for calculating probabilities to hack into government databases. Puck claimed in the previous issue that Milo was a target for extermination, which is never elaborated on. If he meant that the government now wants Milo dead, there’s no explanation in the story detailing why, and I don’t know how he would’ve learned of Pierce’s kidnapping plans by reading Milo’s Department H files. As it turns out, Pierce doesn’t want to kill Milo anyway. More plot holes ahead in the third issue…

Hard Luck!

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), David Perrin (penciler), Harry Candelario (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas & Heroic Age (colors)

The setting moves to the abandoned Weapon X facility, where Donald Pierce has set up shop. There’s no specific reason to bring Weapon X into this, and the story just ends with the facility exploding anyway (which also happened in the Maverick one-shot from this era; in fairness this is described as a Weapon X “installation,” so there’s the possibility that more than one exists). Pierce reveals that he wants Milo to join the Reavers, which will allow his massive intellect to live forever as a cyborg. Pierce thinks that Milo’s mind will allow him to rule the world, and he decides Domino would also make a good candidate for the Reavers. Domino of course escapes and defeats the Reavers, but Milo declares that it’s too late to save him. Pierce has been downloading his intellect into a computer, which has somehow left him near-death. Domino says goodbye and blows up the facility, although Pierce has apparently escaped with the download of Milo’s intellect.

So, what exactly is resolved in the final issue? Not much. In a flashback, Milo refers to Domino as his “wife” in quotes, which is logical since a guard probably wouldn’t marry a prisoner in custody. However, this doesn’t exactly work with Domino’s previous references to her ex-husband, so it’s hard to declare this a resolution to the old mystery. How did Pierce survive Fitzroy’s attack? He claims that he never died; that Fitzroy kidnapped him to steal data from his hard drive, then exchanged him to a mystery being. The “mystery benefactor” restored Pierce to health and sent him on a new, vague mission. Raab doesn’t reveal the benefactor’s identity, and I have a suspicion no one has followed up on this, or on the data Fitzroy took from Pierce’s hard drive. And, c’mon, Pierce was clearly dead in those UXM issues (wasn’t Fitzroy showing off Pierce’s decapitated head at one point?). Now, why did Pierce hire Pico in the first issue? He claims he wanted to keep Domino away from Milo, but she fought Pico before Puck gave her the info on Milo.

So, there are a few plot problems, and the introduction of more mysteries we didn’t really need. However, the story does get some mileage out of Domino’s luck powers, and Raab doesn’t wuss out with the ending. Milo tells Domino he loves her shortly before he dies, but she only responds with “I know.” The story makes it clear that she feels the same way, but Raab stays true to her character and doesn’t allow Domino to give in to any sentimentality. I’ll also compliment Perrin’s art, which looks much closer to 1980’s John Byrne than the manga and Jim Lee knockoffs of the ‘90s. The X-office should’ve used him more during these days.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Remove forever? (It can't be undone.)"

Due to this particular spammer, I'm going to have to alter my current comment system. I'm going to switch to moderated comments, unless anyone has a better solution. I'm not a big fan of this move, but deleting 20 comments of this nonsense at a time isn't my idea of a good time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MAGNETO #1-#4, November 1996-February 1997

Return of the Messiah

Credits: Peter Milligan (plot), Jorge Gonzalez (script), Kelley Jones (penciler), John Beatty (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Brad Vancata & GCW (colors)

Yes, it’s called Magneto, which is amusing considering the later revelation that the star was Magneto’s clone, but I guess biologically he is Magneto. Releasing this as Magneto was always a little odd, since this character didn’t view himself as Magneto and wanted to be called Joseph anyway. I’m sure Joseph wouldn’t have had the same commercial appeal, though. The creative team of Peter Milligan and Kelley Jones were mainly DC creators in the ‘90s, so I wonder what lead to them taking this assignment. As we’ve seen on some of the previous miniseries, Marvel could’ve done a lot worse, so I’m not complaining. Jones is known for his rather wacked-out interpretation of Batman, but this is more subdued. It’s reminiscent of Steve Epting’s work from this era, actually. Milligan’s plot puts the pieces in place, but Jorge Gonzalez’s script gives every character such stilted dialogue, it’s hard to care.

The story has Joseph searching the Andes, where the X-Men’s records show partial remains of Avalon have landed. There, he discovers a group of Acolytes waiting for Magneto’s return. He rejects their title of savior, but still saves them from the Humanity’s Last Stand soldiers who attack their camp. (Humanity’s Last Stand is the ruthless threat to mutantkind that never managed to make it into any of the main X-titles. They stayed on the periphery for a year until they were later absorbed into Operation: Zero Tolerance.) Joseph leaves the group and soon discovers the remains of Magneto’s private quarters. He reads Magneto’s private files and experiences every act of cruelty he committed.

Meanwhile, another group of Acolytes, lead by Exodus, hides out in the arctic. Exodus is prepared to kill Amelia Voght for treason because she opposes his dangerous plans for erecting a New Avalon. Fabian Cortez, who conveniently shows up alive and well after the “Bloodties” crossover, pleads for her life and wins. The two plots merge when Cortez finds Joseph and warns him of Exodus’ plan. He talks Joseph into taking on Magneto’s role in order to make amends for his past.

There is some intrigue here. I’m not sure how Cortez survived, if this is really even supposed to be Cortez, or what his real plan is supposed to be. Showing how exactly the Acolytes respond to Joseph is also a plot point that needed to be addressed, and this is a good place to do it. However, as I mentioned earlier, every page is just crammed with wooden, personality-less dialogue and dull captions.


Credits: Peter Milligan (plot), Jorge Gonzalez (script), Kelley Jones (penciler), John Beatty (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Brad Vancata (colors)

Joseph is now garbed as Magneto, and allowing Cortez to manipulate him fairly easily. Before traveling to the arctic to stop Exodus, he relents to the Acolytes and tracks down the remaining Humanity’s Last Stand soldiers. One of the soldiers dies in the fight, but not before he can condemn Joseph/Magneto for killing his brothers. I have no idea if this is intended as a retcon (Magneto’s only victims before “Fatal Attractions” that I know of are the crew of a Russian sub and Zaladane), or a reference to Magneto’s electromagnetic pulse in X-Men #25. The story is going out of its way to paint Magneto as a horrible monster, which unfortunately ignores the years of work spent making him a well-rounded character (which surely inspired the creation of Joseph in the first place). After Joseph saves the Acolytes from HLS’s nuclear attack, and builds a hi-tech jet out of the ground’s ore, they declare he truly is Magneto. Joseph decides that he wants to visit the soldier’s family before confronting Exodus, which is an understandable place for the story to go, but unfortunately creates another sidetrack from the main plot. How are we supposed to believe that Exodus’ plan is so dangerous if the protagonist seems so disinterested in actually stopping it?


Credits: Peter Milligan (plot), Jorge Gonzalez (script), Kelley Jones (penciler), John Beatty (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Brad Vancata (colors)

Because he’s just not in a hurry, Joseph visits the family of the deceased HLS soldier (his death scene was vague last issue, but apparently he died due to a mechanical failure in his suit). Joseph tries to comfort them, but they soon realize he’s a mutant, which creates a near-riot. Joseph returns to the Acolytes and declares that he isn’t Magneto, then changes his mind yet again when Cortez talks him back into the deception. I get that Joseph is supposed to be naive and confused, but the story often makes him seem too flakey to be taken seriously. Joseph finally reaches the arctic with his group of Acolytes, where they’re greeted by a skeptical Exodus. Joseph falls for Cortez’s manipulations and accidentally reveals himself as an imposter. Exodus declares Joseph a fraud, creating a civil war amongst the Acolytes. Cortez, because he’s so brilliant, didn’t expect this to happen; he just wanted Joseph and Exodus to eliminate each other so that he could take over the Acolytes again. Exodus sends Joseph to the Earth’s core, and Cortez pledges his allegiance to the victor. Later, an enraged Joseph emerges in Cortez’s chambers, declaring that he truly is Magneto now. Again…flakey.


Credits: Peter Milligan (plot), Jorge Gonzalez (script), Kelley Jones (penciler), John Beatty, Mark Heike, & Jim Sanders III (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Brad Vancata & GCW (colors)

So, now Joseph believes he really is Magneto, and he’s convincing enough for Exodus to declare a temporary truce. Humanity’s Last Stand (which I thought was a homegrown militia, but in this series is an actual military operation) sends fighter jets to attack the Acolytes. Exodus and Joseph team up to stop the jets, but even in his anger, Joseph can’t bring himself to kill the pilots. After defeating HSL, Joseph is confronted by Amelia Voght with pictures of Magneto’s family. Joseph switches personalities again and declares that he won’t allow the pain that drove Magneto infect him. Posing as Magneto one last time, he orders the Acolytes to disburse and abandon their plans for New Avalon. Joseph returns to the X-Men, just as bland as ever, and ready for more hints of an unrequited romance with Rogue.

This one went off the rails early and never managed to recover. Some of the blame goes to the ham-fisted scripting, although I’m reluctant to name Gonzalez as the culprit. Since much of the dialogue consists of characters bluntly stating things that are already clear in the artwork, or expressing the deep thoughts they’re supposed to be experiencing while processing the story’s events, I wonder if editorial dumbed things down a bit. For example, the final page has the widow of the HSL soldier reflecting on Joseph’s message of peace, which he tried to express before she went psycho on him. It’s a reasonable ending to the story, showing that Joseph’s quest for peace impacted at least one person. The actual script, however, reads: “Perhaps it is time to stop this violence…time to put an end to this cycle of hatred before it consumes the rest of my family…!” Milligan has already set this scene at night, as the woman watches her son sleep. A few words would’ve gotten the point across. Why doesn’t the script have more faith in the audience’s ability to grasp a very simple message?

A believable script would’ve been nice, but it wouldn’t solve many of the mini’s problems. Fabian Cortez is resurrected without explanation, doesn’t really have much of a plan, and just disappears at the story’s end. The Acolytes, aside from reverting back into ciphers, are incredibly dumb throughout the story. Joseph, the star of the blasted series, can’t even keep a consistent personality for more than a few pages by the end. If the story was truly about his descent into madness, that has potential (and seems more appropriate for Milligan’s style), but instead he just comes across as a sap. It’s another pointless miniseries, unless you just couldn’t wait for the resurrection of Fabian Cortez.

Monday, March 22, 2010

THE RISE OF APOCALYPSE #1-#4, October 1996 - January 1997

Hammer & Chisel

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales & Henry Candelario (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Chris Lichtner & Malibu (colors)

If you were wondering why X-Force had a run of terrible-looking fill-ins in late 1996, this is why. Taking one of the regular artists off his book and placing him on a miniseries was an unusual move, especially when you consider just how ugly Marvel was willing to allow these minis to look. I guess an origin of Apocalypse mini was considered important enough to justify a bigger-name artist like Pollina, although it seems like this still got lost in the sea of X-product Marvel unleashed in 1996.

The story opens five thousand years ago in Akkaba, a settlement near Egypt. The villagers have left a blue-skinned baby to die in the elements, but he’s rescued by Baal of the Sandstormers. Seventeen years later, the baby undergoes manhood rituals as En Sabah Nur. Nearby, a scholar named Logos informs Pharaoh Rama-Tut that Baal is mentoring the “child of destiny.” He sends Ozymandias to find the child, although Ozymandias just wants to kill him. The story ends with Baal taking En Sabah Nur to an underground lair, where a portion of Rama-Tut’s future technology is stored.

Linking Apocalypse to the old Fantastic Four foe Rama-Tut might seem forced, but if we’re supposed to buy Apocalypse as a world-class villain, I think he probably needs some connection to the “core” Marvel Universe. I’m not sure how consistent this is with Rama-Tut’s previous appearances, though, since Kavanagh doesn’t seem too concerned with keeping the details straight. Ozymandias was supposed to be a king in ancient Egypt, not an aide to Rama-Tut, and I could’ve sworn Louise Simonson established that Apocalypse spent his youth as a slave. I could be wrong, but I think previous flashbacks didn’t even show him with blue skin as a youth. Just judging this issue by its own merits, it’s a dull start to the story. Kavanagh does introduce enough action scenes to give Pollina something to do, but the stiff dialogue is often a challenge to endure.

Blood of the Father

Credits: Terry Kavanagh & James Felder (writers), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Chris Lichtner and Jennifer Schellinger & Co. (colors)

Ozymandias’ quest to find En Sabah Nur leads to a massive battle with the Sandstormers, which only Ozymandias survives. The battle creates a cave-in underneath their base, which is where Baal and En Sabah Nur were examining Rama-Tut’s technology. Both are nearly killed in the cave-in, but Baal stays true to his “survivor of the fittest” philosophy and offers his stronger son food to survive. Before Baal dies, he reveals that he was one of the villagers who discovered Rama-Tut after he arrived in this timeline (in fact, he named him Rama-Tut). Baal has held on to Tut’s “Eye of the Ages,” which predicted En Sabah Nur’s birth. En Sabah Nur is discovered by Rama-Tut’s vizier Logos, who has grown suspicious of Tut. Logos offers En Sabah Nur a chance to kill Ozymandias if he stops the wedding of Ozymandias’ sister, Nephri, to Rama-Tut.

The dialogue is still too uptight, but the story is more engaging. There is a novelty to seeing Apocalypse as a teenager, mourning the loss of the only person who ever showed him kindness. He’s also smitten with Nephri when he sees her for the first time, introducing an unexpected romantic element. Revealing that one of the peasants who discovered Rama-Tut (I assume a background character from one of his early appearances) went on to become Apocalypse’s foster-father is slightly absurd, but I like it. I do think revealing that Baal endowed Apocalypse with the “survivor of the fittest” philosophy is too much, though. It seems like Apocalypse should’ve developed this without anyone else’s influence, since it’s supposed to be his core motivation.

The Face of the Gods

Credits: Terry Kavanagh & James Felder (writers), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Christian Lichtner and Graphic Colorworks (colors)

And now we get to the slave era, as Logos sends En Sabah Nur to work undercover as a slave. Since Apocalypse is essentially an adult at this point, and this period doesn’t seem to last for more than a day, I question how well it fits into continuity, but at least some effort was made for consistency. When Ozymandias whips En Sabah Nur too hard, he falls from a great height. He sees a vision of the goddess Isis, which may or not be a hallucination. En Sabah Nur suddenly explodes with light and grows more powerful. The commotion draws the attention of Nephri, who decides to join En Sabah Nur’s cause.

I was surprised to see the Fantastic Four appear, placing this story at the exact time as Fantastic Four #19. Kavanagh/Felder tie the original Rama Tut story in with the wedding subplot, as Tut declares that Sue Storm will be his bride instead of Nephri. Logos is also placed into custody, as Tut has grown suspicious of him. Tut presents his captives Logos and Nephri to En Sabah Nur, and removes the mask that covers Nur’s face. Nephri recoils in disgust at that distinctive Apocalypse lip design, and because the story needs more of a justification to push Apocalypse over the edge, Tut kills Logos. En Sabah Nur tries to avenge the murder, but is quickly shot down by Tut’s future technology.

Rama Tut actually does seem like a logical choice to play the villain, as his future weapons can present a legitimate threat to Apocalypse. The duo of Tut and Ozymandias (who doesn’t seem to care that his sister is being crucified by Tut) make for a nasty combination, and the story has managed so far to present a believable interpretation of Apocalypse as a young man. He’s not at all villainous at this stage, but he’s driven by revenge and isn’t shy about using his powers, so it isn’t hard to see the direction he’s headed in.

The First Culling

Credits: Terry Kavanagh & James Felder (writers), Adam Pollina & Anthony Williams (pencilers), Mark Morales & Al Milgrom (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Christian Lichtner and Graphic Colorworks (colors)

As the story opens, Ozymandias leaves Nephri for dead in a snake pit. She’s rescued by En Sabah Nur, who’s seemingly risen from the dead. Nephri is still frightened of Nur, and when he tries to take her away with him, Ozymandias returns to reclaim his sister. She stands by her brother’s side (which is just ridiculous, since he left her for dead a few pages ago). En Sabah Nur is overcome with rage, declaring his new name Apocalypse. He grows larger for the first time, using his strength to defeat the army. Ozymandias escapes, but Apocalypse soon finds him deep in Rama Tut’s lair. Ozymandias tries to steal Tut’s future technology for his own power grab, but is thwarted by Apocalypse. After Apocalypse violently throws him into Tut’s “Memory Lock,” Ozymandias is overwhelmed with knowledge of the future. Apocalypse declares that Ozymandias will now serve him.

And what of Rama Tut and the Fantastic Four? Their story has played out off-panel. We only see Tut fleeing to the future as the Fantastic Four escape imprisonment. A giant explosion within the Sphinx, which the Fantastic Four assumed to be a booby trap, is actually Ozymandias crashing into the Memory Lock. Now that’s a retcon. I’m willing to defend the addition of Rama Tut to Apocalypse’s origin story, but I wish more was done with the idea. There’s no real reason for the story to be set at the very end of Rama Tut’s reign. While this enables a Fantastic Four cameo, it doesn’t add anything to the story, and in fact shortens the time Tut can participate in the events. I do like the origin of Ozymandias, though, since it explains how exactly he knows the future, and gets around the question of how Apocalypse could’ve endowed another character with powers this early on. The story concludes with Apocalypse visiting Nephri at the end of her life, fifty years later. She still rejects him, while he’s proud not to be a frail human. It’s a successful ending, providing closure and confirming the heartlessness of Apocalypse.

Anthony Williams, a routine X-office fill-in artist, finishes off a large portion of the issue. His style isn’t too dissimilar from Adam Pollina’s, yet this isn’t a perfect match. Pollina’s art has been more exaggerated than usual for much of the miniseries, as Rama Tut and Ozymandias were usually portrayed as barely human caricatures. Williams grounds the art closer to reality, and while this would’ve been helpful in telling Ozymandias and Rama Tut apart in the previous issues, it doesn’t match the established look. I’m not sure what role James Felder played in shaping the story, but thankfully the dialogue became less stilted and overblown after his arrival. Overall, it’s hard not to view this as yet another miniseries, but it does at least tell the story it set out to tell and has some fun along the way.

Friday, March 19, 2010

GENERATION X #-1 - July 1997

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship!

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Al Vey (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Sixteen-year-old runaway Emma Frost invades Manhattan high society. While using her telepathic powers to gain stock tips, she’s drawn to Harry Leland of the Hellfire Club. Soon, the strain of using her powers forces Emma to collapse. When she recovers, she’s harassed by the party guests’ bodyguards. They turn violent when she rejects them. Emma is rescued by the Dark Beast, who offers her a partnership. NYPD detective Sean Cassidy noticed Emma needed help and finally catches up to her as she’s about to shake Dark Beast’s hand. Sean attacks the Dark Beast, who responds violently. Sean’s partner arrives with Harry Leland, and Emma uses her psychic powers to send them home. When alone with the Dark Beast, she accepts his offer.

Continuity Notes: I’m not sure when Banshee’s tenure as an NYPD detective is supposed to fit in his backstory, but I’ve seen it referenced before. He’s following Harry Leland, who is suspected of murder. Emma Frost is described as sixteen, and if you go along with the premise that Flashback Month was supposed to be ten years ago, it’s fitting that Grant Morrison later had Emma declare she was twenty-seven in New X-Men. Dark Beast, for unknown reasons, is suffering from amnesia and is speaking with a simplified speech pattern. I guess the idea is that he’s still disoriented by coming to this timeline, but that happened ten years ago by this point. Also, it seems like he couldn’t have “created” the Morlocks in this mental condition.

Review: I’ve always liked the idea that Emma Frost used her powers unscrupulously to become wealthy at a young age, so I enjoyed the beginning of this story. However, as it progresses, the story seems to take a backseat to the gimmicky introduction of random characters. I guess you could get away with saying Emma Frost and Banshee first met years earlier (I don’t think they were in the same comic until the UXM issues that set up Generation X), but what is the Dark Beast doing here? A cameo by Harry Leland makes sense given Emma’s future with the Hellfire Club, but why does he come back in the end? Why establish that he’s being investigated for murder? Maybe there’s a significance here I’m not aware of, but judging this issue on its own merits, these elements just seem out of place. I do now remember a hint in the early Generation X issues that Dark Beast had a grudge against Emma Frost, so I guess his appearance here was a step in answering that mystery. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go very far towards resolving the dangling subplot, and I don’t think anyone’s touched the idea since. At the very least, this issue has solid work from Chris Bachalo. I actually had no idea Bachalo drew this issue. For years, for some reason, I thought this was a fill-in drawn in a Jeff Matsuda-style. Discovering it wasn’t a fill-in was a nice surprise.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

EXCALIBUR #-1 - July 1997

A True & Terrible Sacrifice

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Rob Haynes & Casey Jones (pencilers), Nathan Massengill w/ Rob Haynes & Casey Jones (inkers), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Nightcrawler invites his girlfriend Jimaine Szardos to leave the circus with him. Her mother Margali doesn’t want Jimaine to go, claiming that she must first teach her of the Winding Way. Margali shows Jimaine an image of the Soul Sword, which invokes a brief appearance by Belasco. Later, circus aerialist Sabu asks Jimaine if he can take her place during Nightcrawler’s final performance. Margali uses the opportunity to arrange Sabu’s death during the performance. Margali disguises herself as Belasco and delivers a warning to Jimaine. When Jimaine learns of Sabu’s death, she agrees to stay behind to gain revenge on Belasco.

Continuity Notes: “Jimaine Szardos” will later change her name to Amanda Sefton while spying on Nightcrawler, who was believed to be her brother's killer. Nightcrawler was working at the circus shortly before he joined the X-Men, so he had to have returned at some point over the years.

Miscellaneous Note: The cover is an homage to UXM #111.

Review: Nightcrawler was probably the best candidate to star in a Flashback issue, although Amanda/Jimaine ends up with much of the spotlight. Warren Ellis got a lot of mileage out of Amanda Sefton and Margali, so I can understand why Ben Raab would want to keep the characters around. I don’t know where exactly Raab intended to go with this, and I’m not sure if it really adds anything to the Amanda/Margali relationship. We already know Margali’s dishonest and manipulative, so the only new reason for Amanda to hate her comes from the death of a minor character. Raab does handle the characterizations of Nightcrawler and Amanda well, though, so this doesn’t feel like total filler. It’s also nice to see the return of Rob Haynes and Casey Jones, who are dynamic enough to pull off a dialogue-heavy issue. Either artist would've been a capable replacement for Pacheco.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

X-FORCE #-1 - July 1997

The Brothers Proudstar

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales, Jon Holdredge, & Al Milgrom (inkers), Marie Javins & Michael Higgins (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: John Proudstar leaves the Marines and returns home, where he’s greeted by his eleven-year-old brother James. John is saddened to learn his mother has cancer. Looking for a distraction, he takes James to a carnival. He runs into newspaper reporter Michael Whitecloud, who believes a conspiracy surrounds the camp’s cancer cases. James sneaks along as John and Michael infiltrate the Arroyo Medical Laboratory, where they discover Dr. Edwin Martynec’s experiments in radiation and cloning. Martynec morphs into a cat-creature and attacks. John fights back, but Martynec destroys the building to prevent the discovery of his research.

Continuity Notes: During the carnival scene, there are cameos by a young Meltdown, Ringmaster, Destiny and Mystique (Destiny is working as a fortune teller and Mystique is trying to convince her to put her powers to good use), and the ultra-obscure Chondu the Mystic. During a flashback, James Proudstar says he saw a fiery bird image in the sky after a helicopter crash, which he viewed as a totem. I don’t think Moore intended this to be Phoenix, since Jean Grey didn’t become Phoenix until after Proudstar had joined the X-Men and died.

Review: Even though this is a Flashback issue, John Francis Moore doesn’t allow the title’s ongoing storylines to stagnate. Although it won’t be apparent until later, many of these characters will resurface as it’s revealed that Martynec’s research is a part of a much larger story. The focus on the Proudstar siblings is also appropriate, as Warpath becomes a leading character in Moore’s run as the issues go on. Even though John Proudstar’s death was James’ driving motivation for years, this is one of the few stories that ever focused on their relationship and made his death seem like a tragedy. Moore’s plots tend to be dense anyway, but in fitting with the Silver Age aesthetic, each page is now crammed with even more story. Most of the pages have between six and eight panels, and along with the gratuitous cameos, Moore also works in an extra fight scene between John Proudstar and a tiger at the carnival. Adam Pollina has never drawn in this straightforward grid style before, but it doesn’t seem to hinder him at all. I skipped out on buying this when it was released, but this is a decent example of how to make the Flashback gimmick work.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CABLE #-1 - July 1997

The Devil’s Herald!

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Ladronn (penciler), Juan Vlasco (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In the past, Moira MacTaggert travels with Rahne Sinclair to Stornoway. Cable has just arrived in this timeline and cannot speak English. Moira defends him, as Rev. Craig declares him the Devil’s herald. Cable uses his telepathic powers to calm the crowd. At Muir Island, Moira examines Cable, whose powers inadvertently destroy her equipment. He saves her from falling debris; then uses his powers to learn English from her mind. Cable explains that he’s on a mission and asks if she can contact Charles Xavier. Meanwhile in Switzerland, Apocalypse senses Cable’s arrival and awakes.

Continuity Notes: Since Cable learns English in this issue, it has to take place before his mercenary days with the Six Pack. This is also another instance of Cable using telepathic/telekinetic powers before he should have them in-continuity (he developed them after founding X-Force). I don’t know if Cable and Xavier actually did meet during this era, but I do know that Jeph Loeb wanted to establish that Cable helped Xavier build the Danger Room, as vaguely hinted during his X-Force run.

James Robinson gives Cable a bizarre speech pattern during a flashback to his time in the future. I assume this is supposed to be an English translation of Askani, leading Cable to say things like, “Forward fight then…and quarter to none!” and “Worry gone, friend-fighters.” He’s never spoken like this in any of his previous flashbacks, though.

The presence of Wolfsbane, Rahne Sinclair, causes a lot of problems. Rahne is described as Moira’s ward, which isn’t accurate. Moira recognized Rahne in her first appearance in the New Mutants GN as a child she delivered years earlier. Chris Claremont later established that Moira spent time with Rahne as a girl during an added page in Classic X-Men #2, but the scene made it clear that Rev. Craig was her guardian. There’s also the question of Rahne’s age. If the story takes place before Fantastic Four#1, which was the intent of Flashback Month, it should be ten years ago. Rahne was established as fourteen in her early appearances, meaning she should be around four in this issue and not the junior high student she appears to be. To prove I can be even more pedantic, I’ll point out that a narrative caption describes Rahne as a future member of X-Force, which wasn’t true in 1997 (although I guess it’s become true in recent years). Finally, Stan Lee claims during his final page that Cable erased Rahne’s memory (but not Moira’s) of the events, since Cable apparently knew they would meet later on.

Review: What’s that you say? A Cable Flashback issue is a continuity mess? James Robinson was still very new to this title, so I’m sure having to keep Cable continuity straight and figure out where it relates to the start of the Marvel Universe wasn’t easy. This actually does answer the question of how Moira knew Cable (as established in one of his early appearances), leaving Rahne’s appearance as the major continuity offender. Robinson does seem comfortable with Cable’s makeover as a new age warrior from the future, giving the story an “epic” feel. I personally think this direction never fit Cable, but Robinson can handle it well enough. Making Cable inadvertently responsible for Apocalypse’s reawaking isn’t a bad idea; one that Fabian Nicieza took a step further a few years ago in Cable and Deadpool.

The issue’s true significance is the debut of Ladronn as artist. His Kirby-influenced art is obviously a perfect fit for Flashback Month, and he’s aided by Glynis Oliver’s colors, which even go back to the “tiny dots” look of the Silver Age. Ladronn’s depiction of Cable’s future, Muir Island’s technology, and the surroundings of Scotland are amazing. Each page is filled with intricate details that clearly required a real effort on Ladronn’s part. This might’ve seemed like an odd title to assign Ladronn, but he made it work.

Monday, March 15, 2010

X-FACTOR #-1 - July 1997

A Summers Tale

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Forge and Mystique talk about their feelings and embrace for a kiss. Suddenly, Stan Lee interrupts and tells a flashback story. Thirteen-year-old Alex Summers has been adopted by the Blanding family. Their son Todd has died, and the parents are unwittingly molding Alex into his image. Neighborhood bully Vince targets Alex, and with Mr. Sinister’s encouragement, kidnaps Alex and his foster-sister Haley. Vince admits to triggering the accident that killed Todd and boasts that he’ll kill the Blanding parents. Alex and Haley escape in time to discover Vince aiming a gun at their gas tank. Alex uses his powers for the first time and accidentally kills Vince. Mr. Sinister erases his memory of the event.

Continuity Notes: Mr. Sinister claims that young Alex could potentially be more powerful than his brother, but he lacks all control. This is presumably an explanation for why Sinister has focused more on Cyclops than Havok.

Review: This is one of the “suburban” Flashback issues, as it focuses on a character’s childhood before he developed powers and doesn’t involve superheroic action. As far as I know, no one had done a story about Havok’s childhood, so it’s a logical avenue to explore during Flashback Month. Howard Mackie’s dialogue is still unnecessarily clunky in places, but he is able to make Alex’s adopted family believable enough. Tying Alex’s conflict at home, his inability to live up the Blanding’s biological son, with the action elements that come later is a good idea. (How exactly Todd died isn’t very clear, but apparently Vince threw a rock which caused the car accident that killed Todd. I have no idea how a rock could do this, unless Vince was throwing boulders around.) Vince is more evil than the standard neighborhood bully character, but that works to the story’s advantage. Not only does Vince stand out amongst typical bullies, but his death also doesn’t come across as this horrible sin Havok committed in the past. That might have been the story’s intent, since Havok was supposedly a villain during this era, but instead it comes across as a fairly innocuous part of his backstory. Thankfully, they didn’t have him kill his sister or parents, which is where I could see this story going today.

Friday, March 12, 2010

X-MEN UNLIMITED #15 - June 1997

Second Contact

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Duncan Rouleau (penciler), Rob Hunter (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Shannon Blanchard (colors)

Summary: Iceman learns from Chris Bradley’s mother that their home has been firebombed by anti-mutant zealots. Iceman visits Chris, who is angry with the X-Men for ignoring his phone calls. Chris turns to Maverick, a fellow mutant suffering from the Legacy Virus, for support. They’re targeted by more anti-mutant zealots and go on the run. Iceman calls Maverick’s old friend, Wolverine, for help. They find Chris and Maverick and help them fight off the zealots. Chris refuses Iceman’s offer of help, and Maverick convinces Wolverine to let him aid Chris. Maverick uses his contacts to set Chris’ family up with a new identity.

Continuity Notes: Chris Bradley first appeared in Unlimited #8. A flashback reveals that Maverick met Chris at a clinic treating Legacy Virus victims. He saved Chris’ family from (of course) anti-mutant zealots, and gave Chris his contact information, not expecting to hear from him again. Maverick tells Chris he lost his mutant powers years ago (he had “energy absorption” powers in Wolverine#87, which apparently reemerged briefly because of Legacy Virus side effects). Another flashback from Wolverine reveals that Maverick killed his East German brother during a Cold War mission with Team X.

I Love the ‘90s: One of the anti-mutant thugs wants to be home in time for Xena, Warrior Princess.

Review: The short-lived Maverick ongoing is a few months away, which is presumably what this issue is setting up. Pairing Maverick and Chris as an odd couple fighting the same disease has potential, even if this specific story doesn’t get a lot of mileage out of the idea. Maverick’s character arc goes from grumpy to paternal over the course of a few pages, even though there’s nothing in the story to really evoke this change. Chris’ hatred of the X-Men also feels a little off. He claims that the X-Men have been ignoring his calls for weeks, and the only justification in the story is that they were too busy dealing with Onslaught. I guess this could work as an excuse, but it doesn’t seem to me that the Onslaught storyline lasted for an extended period of time, and the issues after the crossover mainly consisted of the X-Men hanging around their mansion or going to the movies. They couldn’t find the time to return the kid’s phone calls? If the idea is that the messages were lost when part of the mansion was destroyed, that’s not made clear at all.

The villains in this issue are obviously not a threat, but since the main goal of the story is to pair Chris with Maverick, it’s not much of an issue. I do think the last two issues of this series have effectively shown the new climate in America following Graydon Creed’s assassination. Unlimited did a better job than the main titles even, since UXM went into an extended outer space arc and X-Men mostly ran filler during these months. The country’s paranoid mood was supposed to be a natural segue into the Zero Tolerance crossover, but the increased anti-mutant sentiment fizzled out before the year was over. So, this isn’t great, but Unlimited has seen worse.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


By the Light

Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Ralph Macchio (script), Joe Bennett (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Gloria Vasquez & Digital Chameleon (colors)

Summary: Nightcrawler receives word from Mystique revealing Apocalypse’s location. He’s recuperating from injuries on the Blue Area of the Moon. Morph disguises himself as Sabretooth and talks the despondent Blink into teleporting the X-Men to the Moon. There, they encounter the Horseman Death, who has used the Terrigen Mists to mutate a new army of followers. Blink escapes the fight and finds an ally in Cyclops. Elsewhere, Death plans on mutating the X-Men and using them to overthrow Apocalypse. Cyclops takes Blink to the X-Men and releases Sunfire from his captivity. Sunfire unleashes his powers and kills Death, as Blink sends the X-Men home. Magneto wonders if Cyclops was merely defending Apocalypse or if he is a potential ally.

Continuity Notes: This is supposed to take place shortly after Sabretooth rescued Blink. The X-Men are stationed in a hidden base underneath the Guthrie family farm. Gambit is shown as a member during a group shot, but disappears from the rest of the story. He’s not supposed to be a member at this point, since he left the team after Rogue and Magneto became a couple. The story opens with Magneto rescuing “American statesman” Robert Kelly in Central America from Diablo and Absorbing Man. Ship appears as the vessel that takes Apocalypse to the moon. A narrative caption says he’s destroyed when Sunfire’s powers explode. Death is apparently supposed to be Maximus of the Inhumans.

“Huh?” Moment: Cyclops ponders if mankind could’ve reached the stars if the eugenic wars never began. This reality diverged from ours twenty years ago, as we’re told three different times in this issue. Even in 1996, man reached the stars long before the twenty-year divergence.

Production Note: This is a $5.95 bookshelf format special. Digital Chameleon is credited with separations on the inside front cover, and Graphic ColorWorks (GCW) is credited inside the comic. Is this what happened to Digital Chameleon?

Review: Hooray. It’s Marvel’s first attempt at going back to the “Age of Apocalypse” well, and unfortunately it comes across as a mundane cash grab. Assigning the script to Ralph Macchio, who normally did last minute fill-ins, and the art to a young Joe Bennett, who was still a fill-in artist, was the first clue this wasn’t a high priority, even though Marvel charged six dollars for it. The AoA was unique because it was a story with a specific point that had a clean ending. I’m sure there are a few more stories to tell in the AoA universe, but you’ve really got to have something compelling to justify reviving the brand. What does Tales bring us? Some pages of Blink feeling insecure and a glimpse of how the AoA affected the Inhumans. There’s no real character drama, no secrets revealed, and the central story is just dull. It’s not even particularly “dark.” The sense of hopelessness and dread the original issues captured remarkably well is gone. Shockingly enough, this reads like a fill-in. A six dollar one.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

THE BEAST #1-#3, May - July 1997

Bad Karma
Credits: Keith Giffen (writer), Cedric Nocon (penciler), Jaime Mendoza & Hackshack Studios (inkers), Marie Javins & Digital Chameleon (colors), Comicraft (letters)
I wonder, has Keith Giffen ever publically stated his thoughts on the X-titles? His fill-in on Excalibur hinted at some affection for the more obscure areas of X-continuity, and now we have a story that features Gateway, Viper, Spiral, Karma, and her little siblings, Coy Leong and Coy Nga. There’s even a flashback here I’m not familiar with -- the Australian-era X-Men, with Nightcrawler for some reason, facing an adult Leong and Nga (perhaps it's from New Mutants annual #2 ?). Maybe he’s just an old school pro who did a lot of research before delving into the X-universe, but it seems like you have to be a pretty hardcore fan to even think about Karma’s siblings.
The story opens with Spiral using Gateway to bring her Viper, her new partner in crime. Spiral has Leong and Nga, which comes as a surprise to Karma, who thinks the Hellfire Club is keeping them captive. After possessing Beast and forcing him into a pointless fight with Hellfire security, Karma calms down and agrees to let Beast and Cannonball help her in her search (the throwaway explanation for why the X-Men never looked for her siblings is that Karma never "gave (them) an opportunity”). Beast can’t find them with Cerebro (which allows Giffen to explain that non-telepaths can also use it, telepaths are just better with it), but that’s okay. Spiral conveniently shows up at X-Men’s door and kidnaps Karma, apparently because she needs all of the Coy siblings together.
As Spiral teleports away, Beast and Cannonball are brought along for the ride. And, yeah, this has precious little to do with the Beast. I honestly wonder if Karma and Beast have ever even appeared in the same comic before this. Giffen does build up enough intrigue for the first issue though, and with the exception of a comically exaggerated Cannonball, he does have a nice grasp on the characters. Cedric Nocon’s flat, two-dimensional Jim Lee impression is the biggest problem with the issue.
Body Shopping
Credits: Keith Giffen (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Cedric Nocon (penciler), Jaime Mendoza & Hackshack Studios (inkers), Ariane Lenshoek (colors), Comicraft (letters)
Giffen’s already halfway out of the door, and the drop in quality is noticeable. After arriving at Spiral’s Body Shoppe, the heroes learn that Karma’s siblings have been transformed into adult cyborgs. For reasons that aren’t clear yet, Viper and Spiral have brainwashed the siblings and unleashed them on the mutants. Aside from just being unpleasant to look at, Nocon’s art really drops the ball during the fight scene. Apparently, Nga bursts out of her “adult” shell, but she now resembles Karma and can duplicate her possession powers. It’s entirely possible that Kavanagh’s script isn’t conveying what exactly Giffen intended, but the art just makes things muddier. It’s hard to tell if Nga is supposed to resemble Karma if both characters barely look human. Plus, the art is so unclear, I can’t tell if Nga is supposed to be a kid again or not (the next issue clarifies that she’s still stuck in an adult body, but it’s unclear at this point). The style isn’t even consistent, as the art goes from a Jim Lee pastiche to a Joe Mad one over the course of a few pages. As for the Beast, he has a quickie flashback to the day he experimented on himself and turned blue and furry. I’m not entirely sure that even accurately represents the original story, and it’s a stretch to connect his transformation to what Spiral does in the Body Shoppe.
Closing Shop
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Cedric Nocon, Paul Pelletier, & Hector Collazo (penciler), Jaime Mendoza & Hackshack Studios, Harry Candelario (inkers), Ariane Lenshoek (colors), Comicraft (letters)
I’ve never read Karma’s first appearance in Marvel Team-Up #100, but apparently it introduced, and killed off, a twin brother I didn’t know about. Tran Coy Manh, Karma’s twin brother with the same powers, is dredged out of the past and becomes a major plot point. Viper wants to kill the Coy family because Tran forced her into some sort of Comics Code Approved white slavery in his sole appearance. As we abruptly learn this issue, Tran never really died, and a part of his consciousness resides inside Karma. This creates a conflict between Viper and Spiral, since Viper wants to take Karma back and use her as a means to torture Tran, while Spiral apparently wants to keep her for experimentation. Meanwhile, Leong and Nga are still grown-up, brainwashed cyborgs providing the token fight scenes. Spiral throws a tantrum, things blow up, and Beast, Cannonball, and Karma escape with the Coy siblings. What does Beast have to do? He un-brainwashes the siblings, but tells Karma that their new forms are permanent. (Are they still supposed to be cyborg adults? I know Claremont established that Karma was still taking care of them, but I don’t know if they’ve appeared “on-camera” since this mini.)
I’m glad someone out there had a great story that spoke to the Beast’s character and didn’t rely on a large cast of unrelated characters to work, don’t you? Seriously, who possibly thought this could be sold as a Beast miniseries? The Beast has served with the Avengers and the Defenders. He’s best friends with Wonder Man and has various connections throughout the Marvel Universe. He has an evil twin out there in continuity. So, of course his miniseries is a follow-up to a forgotten New Mutants subplot. And how is it that a three-issue miniseries can’t even keep a consistent creative team?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

EXCALIBUR #110 - June 1997

Hearts Bled Crimson

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Excalibur arrives in Hong Kong with Spiral to rescue Brian Braddock from the Dragons of the Crimson Dawn. Meggan sees a vision of Xiandu, a former associate of the Dragons, who offers her guidance. Inside their fortress, the Dragons use Sprial’s technology to draw magic from Brian and erase the barrier between the mystical and physical realms. Spiral distracts the Dragons as Meggan uses her elemental powers to draw energy away from the portal and into Brian. Brian unleashes the energy and discovers his superpowers are gone. The Dragons escape, swearing revenge.

Continuity Notes: Xiandu explains that he joined three fellow monks at the end of the Ming Dynasty in contacting the Crimson Dawn. His friends grew corrupted with their power and eventually killed him, becoming the Dragons of the Crimson Dawn.

Review: Wow, this was a long way to go just to write Captain Britain out of the book again. I do like the fact that Raab is expanding the Crimson Dawn into more than just a plot device, and he’s able to use Spiral’s constantly changing motivations and loyalties effectively, but I have no idea why Captain Britain is being tossed just a few issues after Warren Ellis revived the persona. The mechanics of how exactly he loses his powers at the end of the story are fairly nonsensical anyway. He’s overloaded with energy, grows large, there’s a flash of light, and he’s powerless at the end. It seems like the release of all of this mystic energy would’ve had some sort of consequence, rather than just conveniently taking away his powers. This isn’t a great conclusion to Raab’s first arc, but there have been moments I liked, so maybe things will pick up.

Monday, March 8, 2010

X-MEN UNLIMITED #14 - March 1997

Innocence Lost

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Jim Cheung (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Comicraft (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: Storm, Gambit, Artie, Leech, and Franklin Richards join the Beast for a vacation at his parents’ farm in Illinois. A drunken anti-mutant mob invades the farm and kidnaps Artie and Leech. Meanwhile, Franklin Richards uses his powers to force Joseph to materialize in the wheat fields. Franklin demands that Joseph bring his parents back, and grows violent when Joseph denies he is Magneto. After the police break up the mob, Beast arrives and helps Gambit talk Franklin out of harming Joseph.

Continuity Notes: Franklin wants Joseph to bring his parents back because of that whole “Onslaught is partially Magneto” thing.

Review: If Unlimited wasn’t going to do “important” stories, this is at least an acceptable alternative. As this issue demonstrates, Unlimited could’ve been used to assemble characters from the various X-spinoffs and resolve some of the dangling plotlines. Franklin Richards was supposed to join Artie and Leech as a part of Generation X’s cast during “Heroes Reborn,” which was as good a place as any to put him. Joseph was supposed to be dealing with the actions he committed as Magneto (back when Marvel still thought he was Magneto), so his role in Onslaught’s creation and its impact on Franklin should’ve been addressed. This issue doesn’t do anything remarkable with the setup, but at least the situation is acknowledged and executed in a competent manner. The drunken rednecks are stereotypes, and of course we get an inspirational speech about tolerance towards the end, but I think Franklin’s scenes and the character work at the start of the issue are enough to compensate for the more predictable elements. Jim Cheung delivers a solid job, drawing in an expressive cartoony style without going overboard. That’s obviously a style the editors wanted during this era, and Cheung was far better than most of his contemporaries.

Friday, March 5, 2010

STARJAMMERS #1-#4, October 1995 - January 1996

Cepheid Variable

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas & Malibu (colors)

The Starjammers occasionally show up in their own miniseries, usually with an X-Men branding on the cover. I believe one of the more ridiculous moments of the Jemas era was a Starjammers miniseries that was not only disconnected from the X-Men, but also disconnected from the existing Starjammers. (Remember Marvel’s sad attempts at launching new properties under old names?)

This is written by Warren Ellis, and not surprisingly, it has some connection with his work on Excalibur. The story has the Starjammers acting as rebels against the Shi’ar once again, ferrying Kree refugees to a neutral planet. I was disappointed to see the Shi’ar played as straight villains in the opening of the issue, but Ellis pulls back towards the end. Corsair (who wants to drop the name because it doesn’t suit him anymore) chides Hepzibah for destroying a Shi’ar ship when she didn’t have to, leading her to remind him of the Shi’ar slave camp where they first met. Corsair claims that Lilandra isn’t as bad as her mad brother D’Ken, which Hepzibah finds laughable. If you’re familiar with X-continuity, you know she’s wrong, but it’s true to Hepzibah’s character not to trust any Shi’ar after they conquered her race.

Why exactly the Shi’ar are occupying the Kree is attributed to their religion, which has two gods forced into an uncomfortable marriage that they eventually realize is beneficial. Religion comes up again as planets with religious systems are destroyed by the Uncreated. So, we’ve got Ellis working on his science fiction and religious themes, with Carlos Pacheco on art. There’s a little too much sci-fi babble for my tastes, but this does set up the conflicts well and there’s at least some variation on the ‘90s “Shi’ar-as-bullies” status quo.


Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas & Malibu (colors)

After losing a Shi’ar ship in battle, Lilandra declares war on the Uncreated. Soon, the Starjammers are caught in-between a Shi’ar battleship and an Uncreated vessel. The Uncreated fires on the Starjammers, forcing the Starjammers to respond, which announces their presence to the Shi’ar. Most of this issue consists of Carlos Pacheco drawing giant spaceships in combat, which suits his style very well. Ellis adds a bit of humanity, as the Starjammers spend a few pages fraternizing before going off on their mission. Corsair is upset that an alien beat him in a drinking contest because he has multiple bladders, and Raza gets angry at a coffee machine. There’s also more talk of religion, as Raza explains his people consider dying in combat the highest honor. Shi’ar experimentation has left him essentially immortal, which he considers a great insult.


Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors)

The last issue’s cliffhanger is dismissed quickly, as the Starjammers escape from the Shi’ar. There’s more character work, as Corsair and Hepzibah debate the merits of living as pirates. Corsair is beginning to suspect that Hepzibah just wants the lifestyle and isn’t concerned about any specific causes. She’s also just as interested in killing the Uncreated as the Shi’ar, as she disobeys Corsair’s orders and drops bombs on both races as the Starjammers escape. Elsewhere, Ellis shows Lilandra’s reluctance to act against the Starjammers, making her more sympathetic than Hepzibah at least. Later, there’s some more techno-babble that leads to Ch’od uncovering the origin of the Uncreated by examining the wreckage of their vessel. The Uncreated are on a “reverse crusade,” killing all religious cultures because they feel faith in deities is “dangerously backward.” Ch’od wonders if they should save the Shi’ar from the Uncreated with this information, which is a smart way to tie the conflict back to the first issue.

I should point out that the art, colors, and production values are very impressive this issue. This was a “Marvel Select” miniseries, costing twice the normal price of a standard Marvel book during this era. I always thought the format was a rip-off, but this does at least look contemporary with something published today.


Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas & Malibu (colors)

The Starjammers never get a chance to educate the Shi’ar on the Uncreated, as the team discovers the Shi’ar and Uncreated are headed for a battle right above the neutral planet that serves as their base. Fearing a battle that would destroy the planet, Corsair and the Starjammers intercept the fight and generate a hologram of the Uncreated’s god, which they believed destroyed. The Uncreated commit suicide in horror, thus ending their threat to the cosmos. This might come across as a cheap ending, but Ellis has spent the past two issues setting up the Starjammers’ ability to create holograms, and putting a few obstacles in their path, so it doesn’t feel too contrived. Lilandra resumes Shi’ar protection over the Starjammers, and is blackmailed into avoiding any future imperialistic activities by a representative of the neutral planets (since the Shi’ar shouldn’t have traveled to this sector in the first place).

The main conflicts are resolved, but there is an ominous ending with the Phalanx threatening the cosmos. The origin of the Phalanx continuity confusion from the later Lobdell UXM issues begins here. Ellis seems to have mixed the Phalanx up with the Technarcy. The Phalanx were humans who infected themselves with the transmode virus, which they stole from the body of Technarcy refugee Warlock. Basically, Phalanx = human, Technarcy = alien. I’m guessing now that Lobdell’s later use of the Phalanx as aliens was intended as a follow-up to this dangling subplot.

Aside from the science fiction elements, which Ellis keep interesting for most of the run and are flawlessly rendered by Pacheco, the story also has its fair share of character moments. Corsair is humanized in a way we don’t normally see, as his desire to have a normal life is contrasted with Hepzibah’s violent nature. Corsair de-arms her command of her ship without her knowledge, and watches her disobey his orders and attempt to fire on the Shi’ar. At the end Corsair tries to convince himself that Hepzibah now realizes that she’s become an extremist and can be saved, which Ellis paints as slightly delusional. I also like some of the political intrigue within the Shi’ar. Lilandra’s ministry of peace, T’Cahr, turns out to be a self-serving, imperialist thug who has to be arrested at the story’s end. This is a stock plot element, but T’Cahr stands out because he’s a friend of Lilandra’s late brother D’Ken. Realistically, the Shi’ar Empire couldn’t go from fascist to magnanimous overnight, so it’s reasonable that elements loyal to D’Ken (who are shown secretly plotting against Lilandra on the final page) would still exist. The idea that Lilandra is dealing with rogue elements within her empire, and the pressures of her own religious beliefs, makes her a more believable character. This interpretation of the Shi’ar Empire is much preferable to the bullies who occasionally showed up in the ‘90s.

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