Friday, May 28, 2010

SPAWN #22 - June 1994

The Hunt- Part Two

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story & art), Greg Capullo (art assist), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letterer), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Spawn visits Tony Twist’s accountant and takes his personal files. Later, Twist checks on the reconstruction of Overt-Kill. Terry Fitzgerald receives a dead rat in the mail. Fearing for his family’s safety, he returns home. FBI agents spy on him outside, as Tony Twist’s men pull up. A firefight breaks out, killing the FBI agents. Twist's men lie, claiming that they have Terry's family, ordering him to show up in the alleys at midnight. Spawn reads Twist’s files and learns that Twist is sending Over-Kill after Terry. Spawn searches for his hidden weapons, as Sam and Twitch approach.

Spawntinuity: Spawn has a throne made out of garbage now. This isn’t the one he spends an entire issue building; it’s a present from his homeless friends, who view him as a king.

Review: McFarlane was occasionally wordy in the previous issues, but this is the first time he’s decided to pack almost every page with as many captions as possible. The story opens with a lengthy description of the life of Tony Twist’s accountant (including a gory recap of what’s done to his body after Spawn steals Twist’s files), then presents wordy recaps of Jason Wynn’s recent past, Terry Fitzgerald’s dilemma, and the homeless’ current attitude towards Spawn. McFarlane is more comfortable with prose at this point, and he thankfully isn’t writing like a goth teenager this issue, but most of the script is unnecessary. McFarlane makes his point, establishes what the readers need to know, and then drones on for five or six more paragraphs each time. I do like the basic story, though, as Terry is drawn deeper into a mess Spawn created, and Spawn is too late to stop what’s happening.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

VIOLATOR #3 - May 1994

The World- Part Three

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Mark Penington (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Violator tricks Spawn into restoring his demon form. After Spawn transfers his magic into Violator, he reneges on the deal and kicks Spawn off the roof. The Admonisher continues his attack on the Phlebiac Brothers, as the revived Violator returns. The brothers run in terror, opening a portal to Hell. Meanwhile, Violator discovers Tony Twist and his assistant Alberto are within the forcefield. Twist tricks Violator into believing Alberto is really him; then Violator tricks the Phlebiac Brothers into believing Alberto is Violator in his clown form. Admonisher chases all of them into Hell. When the brothers disappear, the forcefield dissipates.

Review: I remember Bart Sears telling Wizard that he didn’t draw the final issue of the series because Todd McFarlane decided he wasn’t working fast enough. Greg Capullo isn’t as detail-oriented as Sears, but he can draw demons and gore quite well. This doesn’t look as labored as the previous issues, but it’s more energetic and it’s a nice example of Capullo’s “in-between” style, before his work grew more exaggerated. Like the previous issues, it’s an over-the-top comedy story with a few twists thrown in. The running joke that demons think all humans look the same is one of the best of the series, along with Vaporizer’s cry when running from Admonisher (“Let’s get the heaven outta here!”). McFarlane always envisioned Violator as a comedic character, even though he didn’t seem able to actually make him funny. Moore solves that problem very quickly, and gives the teenage audience all of the violence and gore of their dreams.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

VIOLATOR #2 - June 1994

The World- Part Two

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Bart Sears (pencils), Mark Penington (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: The Phlebiac Brothers create a forcefield around the area surrounding the mall. Their plan to kill Violator is interrupted when the Admonisher resurfaces and attacks. Violator hides from the violence and tells his life story to his new friend, the decapitated head stuck to his arm. Vaporizer swallows Admonisher, but he rips through the demon’s body. Violator gets an idea and leaves the mall. In the alleys nearby, he finds Spawn and asks for help.

Spawntinuity: Violator explains to his “friend” that he was born in 1589, after Dr. John Dee conjured his father, a Cthulu-style monster. Violator’s human mother died during childbirth, as did the mothers of all of his brothers. After Violator killed his father, he began working for Malebolgia. If Medieval Spawn lived 800 years ago, as we learned in Spawn #9, this origin makes Violator too young to have interacted with him. (However, I guess time and space are meaningless to Hell.) Another questionable plot element has Spawn’s alleys just a few blocks away from a clean, heavily populated shopping mall.

Review: More gross out humor and insane violence. I’ve always thought this mini was funny, but I really found it hilarious when I was fourteen, which is probably the audience Moore is going for. Violator is cast as the abusive older brother of the Phlebiac clan, allowing Moore to use Leave It to Beaver humor as the basis for jokes about Violator eating the human heads his brothers were using to play baseball. My favorite moment is Violator suddenly declaring that the disembodied head is his new best friend. He then has a back-and-forth conversation with the head, before the head reminds him that he’s a “terrible, rotten person who deserves everything he gets!” Violator responds by bashing it repeatedly against the ground, breaking his hand and turning the head into partial, bloody mush. This is also the first issue that allows Bart Sears to draw the Phlebiac Brothers for the entire story. McFarlane was wise to hire him, since Sears is probably the only artist outside of McFarlane who seems to get so much out of drawing the twisted anatomy, horns, teeth, scales, and tentacles of demons.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SPAWN #21 - May 1994

The Hunt- Part One

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story & art), Mark Pennington (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letterer), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Bobby sews Spawn’s face back together with an old shoelace. Soon, a skinhead enters the alleys and challenges Spawn. Spawn brutalizes him and forces him to confess that Tony Twist sent him as a warning. Nearby, Sam and Twitch continue their search for Spawn. Meanwhile, Jason Wynn learns that an investigation has cleared Terry Fitzgerald of stealing military hardware. Unwilling to admit his error and show weakness, Wynn orders his men to continue harassing Terry. Elsewhere, Tony Twist’s spies inform him that Terry Fitzgerald is the man suspected of stealing the weapons used against Overt-Kill.

Spawntinuity: Spawn’s face is being sewed up after Batman launched a batarang into it in Spawn/Batman. A footnote says that issues #19 and #20 (“Not out yet!”) will have the explanation. I wonder if McFarlane considered offering an alternate explanation for Spawn’s face injury in those issues, but later decided just to let Spawn/Batman be canon. Also, Jason Wynn is referred to as a CIA boss again, a few issues after McFarlane started referring to his agency as the fictional “United States Security Group.” A few issues later a narrative caption claims that the USSG is an “umbrella agency” incorporating the CIA and various other groups.

Todd Talk: In the letters page, McFarlane brags that he shares royalties with the creators who’ve worked on the book, and lists Neil Gaiman as one of the creators who will give a testimony about his experience on Spawn.

Review: This issue begins “The Hunt,” a multi-part storyline I remember enjoying during its initial release. Actually, I tend to remember this storyline as the highlight of my time buying the book, which makes me wonder why I kept going until issue #75 or so. The story opens with Spawn receiving makeshift surgery in the alleys, as one of his homeless friends sews his face back together. This creates “Shoelace Spawn,” a look that sticks around for years, and even becomes an action figure. That’s one aspect of Spawn from this era that I do enjoy. McFarlane’s free to stitch a dirty shoelace into the middle of his character’s face, and leave it that way for years, because it’s his character and he doesn’t have to worry about any other creators, editors, or marketing people telling him to cut it out.

The scene also develops Bobby as a character, as he tells the story of his wife’s brain cancer and his descent into alcoholism. McFarlane’s not exactly able to use it as a subtle character piece, but I think it does humanize Bobby and makes him feel like a more legitimate member of the supporting cast. Bobby also admonishes Spawn to be better than he was and not to feel sorry for himself. Wow, if only Spawn (and McFarlane) actually took that advice. It’s amusing that Spawn’s getting a “get off your butt” speech this early in the run, considering how many years he’ll go on to spend doing virtually nothing.

McFarlane’s goal with this arc obviously is to tie together some of the series’ ongoing plot lines. Spawn’s decision to steal CIA records and military hardware has inadvertently left his old friend Terry to take the blame, Jason Wynn is unwilling to admit that he’s wrongly accused Terry, and Tony Twist assumes that Terry must be the guy who used military hardware against Overt-Kill because that’s what Jason Wynn thinks. Meanwhile, Spawn’s impulsive decision to kill Billy Kincaid has angered Sam and Twitch, the cops wrongly accused of the crime. The threads are coming together, and Spawn’s friend, who’s also his ex-wife’s current husband, is caught in the middle. I don’t know if McFarlane had this planned out from the beginning, but the connections feel pretty natural. The first chapter of this storyline is essentially a recap of the ongoing plotlines with a few moves towards bringing the various threads together. It could be dull, but McFarlane creates a sense that things are actually happening. If I only knew how rare Spawn would generate that feeling…

Monday, May 24, 2010

VIOLATOR #1 - May 1994

The World

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Bart Sears (pencils), Mark Penington (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: From Hell, the Phelbiac Brothers spy on Violator. Tony Twist’s men are attempting to kill Violator, but he escapes after a bloody fight. During the fight, a mobster’s head becomes attached to Violator’s arm. Violator heads to a local mall to find a saw to remove the decapitated head. There, he’s confronted by the Admonisher, a hitman contracted by Tony Twist. Fearing a human could kill their brother and embarrass the family, the Phelbiac Brothers arrive on Earth to kill Violator personally.

Spawntinuity: The rest of Violator’s brothers are introduced. The Phelbiac Brothers include Vaporizer, Vacillator, Vindicator, and Vandalizer.

Review: According to the ads McFarlane later ran that year, this was the highest-selling comic of 1994. I’m glad an Alan Moore comic could be number one, but it amuses me that a book filled with guts, gore, and decapitations was the most mainstream product released in 1994. At this point, I’m not sure how seriously McFarlane expected people to take the gory elements of Spawn. He obviously wasn’t shy about blood-stained walls, dangling organs, or dismembered corpses, but was this supposed to be dark and scary or absurdly amusing? McFarlane later decides he’s doing serious gothic horror, but Moore knows how ridiculous all of this is. The Phelbiac Brothers spy on Earth by using human blood as an oracle, Violator punches through a man’s mouth and gets the head stuck on his wrist, Admonisher casually blows the heads off of Twist’s men, and a few of the bystanders to the carnage puke all over themselves. On the bottom of most pages, Violator is contorting his body “YMCA” style to match the page number. The Admonisher, clearly inspired by a certain Marvel vigilante and his legion of clones, wants to give his targets a “good talking to.” There’s a demon named “the Vacillator” who can never make up his mind. This isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. Moore’s later Image work is also pretty comedic, but I don’t think he ever matched the ridiculousness of this miniseries. Bart Sears’ extremely detailed art is appropriate for the blood bath, as he seems to enjoy drawing every tiny speck of gore. Moore also seems to have kept Tom Orzechowski in mind, since all of the Phelbiac Brothers have their own distinctive word balloons, and he’s going for the big, dramatic sound effects this time. It’s gross-out humor with great production values and Alan Moore jokes, which is really the best you could hope for in a Violator miniseries.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Sinister Bloodlines

Credits: John Francis Moore (plot), Brian K. Vaughan (script), Steve Epting & Nick Napolitano (pencilers), Al Milgrom (inker), Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Five years ago, Apocalypse’s men shot down an alien craft over Manhattan. Today, Christopher Summers escapes from Sinister’s custody and runs into the city. Sinister sends the Prelates to find him, but intentionally excludes Cyclops and Havok. When the Prelates fail, Cyclops and Havok search for Christopher. Christopher recognizes them as his children, and tells them the story of his alien abduction and eventual return to Earth. After facing a group of scavengers, the trio takes refuge during a storm. Later, infected humans attack their shelter. They’re rescued by Sinister, who explains that he hid Christopher from Cyclops and Havok because he was infected with alien DNA. Christopher suddenly mutates into a Brood Queen, and with his remaining humanity, begs Cyclops to kill him. As they dispose of his body, Havok declares he’ll never forgive Cyclops.

Continuity Notes: In the opening sequence, set five years ago, Beast is still human and Havok and Cyclops are training to become Prelates. Emplate and “the Monets” are Prelates in the present day, although Christopher Summers apparently kills Emplate. While on the run from Sinister, Christopher is aided by the AoA version of Joe Robertson. While under the Brood’s influence, Christopher kills him. He also infects Colleen Wing, who kills Misty Knight. During Christopher’s tale of his alien abduction, we see that the Brood have overtaken the Shi’ar in this timeline.

Production Note: This is a$5.99 prestige format book with no ads.

Review: Factor X was probably the most consistent of the AoA titles, so I’m glad Marvel revived these characters instead of presenting another underwhelming prequel story about the X-Men. Factor X’s John Francis Moore and Steve Epting return, aided by Brian K. Vaughn and Nick Napolitano. I know that Vaughn was a new writer Marvel was trying out in these days, but I’ve never heard of Napolitano. I can’t really tell where his art begins and Epting’s ends, which does at least give the book a consistent look.

The story is well-structured, taking advantage of the forty-eight page format. The opening “five years ago” scene is really only there to establish the arrival of Corsair (only called Christopher Summers in the story), but Moore also uses the space to establish the cast and set up the conflicts between Cyclops and Havok. The other cast members of Factor X aren’t the focus of the story, but they are at least given enough room to make more than cameos. Introducing the AoA version of Corsair is more significant than, say, the AoA Inhumans, which makes the one-shot feel like a legitimate story that’s perhaps deserving of the format.

I like the revelation that Corsair is actually a Brood Queen (for a second, I wondered if he would turn into the AoA version of Man-Wolf), although I have my continuity quibbles about the idea. The AoA diverged twenty years ago with Xavier’s death in Israel. Corsair was abducted by the Shi’ar a few years later, and as this story shows, they’re already Brood-infected by this point. How did Xavier’s death, years before he would’ve had contact with Lilandra and the Shi’ar, lead to the Brood taking over the Shi’ar? I realize this is kind of pedantic, but it goes against the basic premise of the Age of Apocalypse. The AoA isn’t just another alternate reality; it diverged from ours at a specific point. Xavier’s death would’ve had a large chain reaction on mutants on Earth, but it wouldn’t have impacted one alien race taking over another (especially if they’re doing it years before the X-Men had any contact with them). The inconsistency doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book, though. Besides, I’ve already come up with my own No-Prize explanation.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

PSYLOCKE & ARCHANGEL: CRIMSON DAWN #1-#4, August-November 1997

Before the Break of Dawn

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Thibert/Martinez/Parsons/Hack Shack (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Lichtner/Lusen/Liquid Colors (colors)

Hey, it’s an X-miniseries about actual members of the X-Men! Psylocke was written out of the book shortly after her misguided power revamp, and Archangel was an original X-Man who had been mostly ignored for years, so they weren’t a bad choice to star in one of the numerous ‘90s miniseries. The Crimson Dawn remained an unexplored mystic plot device, one Raab had already fleshed out a bit in Excalibur, so using it as the source of the superheroic action is understandable. Raab spends much of the issue establishing the main characters, dedicating a few pages to establish the state of their relationship, and having Wolverine stop by so Archangel can conveniently recap his origin and Psylocke’s origin. Raab picks up on the idea that the Crimson Dawn made Psylocke cold and distant, an UXM subplot that was never resolved, and explores Archangel’s feelings about his girlfriend’s personality change. Meanwhile, a new villain, Kuragari, is targeting beings associated with the Crimson Dawn. He’s killed Tar, and sent Undercloaks after Psylocke. This is all setup, but Raab dedicates enough room to the characters to make it work. Salvador Larroca could be pretty inconsistent during these days, but the figures don’t look so awkward now and the storytelling is mostly clear.

“-- When the Devil Comes A Callin’!”

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Thibert/Martinez/Parsons/Hack Shack (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Liquid Colors (colors)

As Gomurr disposes of Tar’s body, Archangel and Psylocke face the Undercloaks. They leave behind a ring, which Psylocke refuses to get rid of, despite Archangel’s warnings. While asleep, Archangel feels Psylocke’s psychic presence in his dreams. I like this scene, and it shows that Raab has given some thought as to what it would be like to sleep next to a telepath (of course they would end up in your dreams). Gomurr suddenly appears, warning of danger. Psylocke, for unknown reasons, has actually put on the ring, which enables Kuragari to enter their apartment and take her away. It’s a fun issue, and Raab seems to have a pretty firm handle on the characters. Archangel even wonders if being “twisted into harbingers of death and destruction” isn’t enough to base a relationship on, which could be a metacommentary on the almost arbitrary way they were paired together in the first place.

The Dark Side

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Thibert/Martinez/Parsons/Hack Shack (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Liquid Colors (colors)

Archangel spends the first three pages recapping the story thus far, and then suddenly remembers that Kuragari threw Gomurr out of the window last issue. Exposition used to be so important in comics, it was literally more valuable than human life. After Archangel finally checks on him, Gomurr reveals that Archangel must go save Psylocke. (Gomurr will be busy preventing the Crimson Dawn from invading our world, an idea you might remember from Raab’s first Excalibur arc.) Kuragari spends the issue romancing Psylocke through a martial arts fight. He finally beats her, allowing the Overcloaks to take Psylocke away for a Claremont-style conversion to the dark side. Gomurr sends Archangel to the Crimson Dawn realm, where he’s greeted by an evil, pupil-less Psylocke.

Throughout the action, Raab still keeps some focus on the characters. If Archangel’s “heart isn’t true” he won’t be able to save Psylocke, which plays into the (reasonable) doubts he’s had about their relationship in this series. Kuragari also taunts Psylocke about her thirst for action and desire to break away from her proper upbringing. This was the last internal conflict Psylocke had before becoming the character with different powers or a new identity every few years, so I’m glad Raab remembered it.

The Dawning Dusk

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Thibert/Martinez/Parsons/Hack Shack (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Lichtner/Lusen/Liquid Colors (colors)

Lots of mystic nonsense this issue. The spirit of Tar returns, naming Gomurr the new Proctor of the Crimson Dawn. He returns to the Crimson Dawn to aid Archangel, telling him that he must repay what he took from the Dawn to save Psylocke’s life. I have no idea what this means, but it inspires Archangel to declare his love for Psylocke again, which apparently weakens Kuragari’s power and allows Psylocke to fight his control. After defeating Kuragari and returning home, the characters nonchalantly discuss Archangel’s exchange in the Crimson Dawn, which will allow the Dawn to take his life at any time. The characters act as if all of this had already been established in the story, but I didn’t pick up on it at all. (I guess the idea is that Archangel had to give up a portion of his life in exchange for what he took from the Crimson Dawn to save Psylocke, although it’s not very clear.) Nonetheless, Archangel is happy for whatever time he has left, because he’s decided he really loves his Asian supermodel ninja girlfriend. Not that great of an ending, but this has been a pretty entertaining mini. Unlike most of the limited series from this era, I think this one had a strong enough premise to actually justify its existence, and it never feels as if the stars are just being shoehorned into a generic action story.

Monday, May 17, 2010

UNCANNY X-MEN ‘97 - October 1997


Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Duncan Rouleau (penciler), Troy Hubbs (inker), Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: In Africa, the X-Men defend Gene Nation from Humanity’s Last Stand. After fighting them off, Havok arrives with the Brotherhood, warning of another attack. Reluctantly, the X-Men and Gene Nation team with the Brotherhood to stop HLS. After a battle that leaves many Gene Nationals dead, Dark Beast devises a way to freeze HLS’s hi-tech Razor armor. Some Gene Nationals advocate executing their human captives, despite the X-Men’s objections. Dark Beast and Fatale stage a mock execution, secretly teleporting the men away without Havok’s knowledge. Two Gene Nationals, Boost and Tether, leave with the Brotherhood, while Storm names the honorable D’Gard as Gene Nation’s new leader.

Continuity Notes: Gene Nation has been in Africa since the Storm limited series. New Gene Nation members Boost, Tether, and D’Gard are introduced. Boost can enter a mutant’s body and amplify their powers, Tether is a reptile-human with a Cobra Commander speech pattern, and D’Gard is the judicious older member (he has a cane and wears a dashiki, so he must be the wise and noble one). He apparently has "empathic" powers. Unbeknownst to everyone, Dark Beast is teleporting the men away so that they can be used as “human chattel” in his secret experiments.

Review: It’s hard to believe this story showed up in an annual. While the X-books were supposed to be leading up to Bastion’s ruthless anti-mutant crusade in “Operation: Zero Tolerance,” Uncanny had the team rescue the Shi’ar Empire again, then get lost in space (and Antarctica), while X-Men wasted everyone’s time with another origin story for Storm’s ruby and a potential Legacy Virus cure that went nowhere. A story that follows up on Gene Nation (originally intended as a major threat in Uncanny), has Cyclops facing Havok again, and pits the team against an anti-mutant militia? We can’t have that in any of the main books! That space has already been allotted for the X-Men’s long-awaited team-up with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu.

Although the dialogue gets a bit rough, Gonzalez has many solid ideas here. Gene Nation was introduced as a coldblooded terrorist group with no qualms against killing innocents, so it makes sense that HLS would target them (even though this is apparently a new generation of Gene Nationals). One of the HLS members is related to a girl killed during Gene Nation’s initial terrorist attack at a New York nightclub, which puts a human face on what should’ve been a legitimate tragedy within the Marvel Universe, even if it was quickly forgotten. HLS isn’t fleshed out beyond this point, but at least they’re starting with a decent motivation.

Dark Beast has his own connection to Gene Nation, since he views himself as a “father” to their Morlock ancestors. He’s supposed to hate Storm for removing Gene Nation’s backbone, a plot thread Gonzalez briefly acknowledges. He seems to have put more thought into Dark Beast’s character and motivations than Howard Mackie did in X-Factor, as Dark Beast is still involved with human experimentation and scheming behind Havok’s back. Cyclops asks Havok how could he be dumb enough to trust Dark Beast, a question Gonzalez can’t allow him to answer since Mackie hasn’t bothered to explain it in X-Factor. The Havok-era Brotherhood will always be a dumb idea, but the story uses them in a valid way, and it’s nice to see that Cyclops’ relationship with Havok wasn’t totally forgotten during this period. If only this story could’ve been switched with one of the main titles in 1997. Let Duncan Rouleau draw that Shang-Chi team-up in an annual while Carlos Pacheco pencils a story that actually connects to the ongoing storylines.

Friday, May 14, 2010

X-MEN UNLIMITED #16 - September 1997


Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Melvin Rubi (penciler), Rob Hunter (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Shannon Blanchard (colors)

Summary: Banshee and Emma Frost debate over who should become the first human student of Xavier’s school. Banshee wants Adam Berman, while Emma is adamant that his classmate Ginny Mahoney be chosen. Ginny has recently returned to school after a mysterious absence. When she detects that Adam is a mutant, Ginny’s Prime Sentinel programming kicks in. Bastion encourages her to be patient, as he expects Ginny to infiltrate Xavier’s school soon. During Banshee’s lecture at their high school, Adam is unable to stop his transformation into a reptile form. Ginny transforms into a Prime Sentinel and attacks. When Adam points out that she’s a bigger threat to the public than mutants, she runs away confused. Bastion soon finds Ginny and kills her. Adam declines to join Xavier’s school, stating his desire to live within society. On the ride home with his friends, he adopts the name “Primal.”

Continuity Notes: It’s hard to fit this story anywhere in continuity. The Prime Sentinels weren’t activated until Bastion captured the X-Men, which lead to Banshee and Emma responding to their distress call. The duo was then stalked by Zero Tolerance agents, which is why they spent the OZT issues of Generation X in hiding. You could possibly place it before the OZT crossover begins and say that Ginny is a Prime Sentinel that Bastion is trying out, I guess.

Review: This is one of Unlimited’s rare crossover tie-ins, although no one bothered to put the OZT logo on the cover of this comic either. Even during a crossover, though, Unlimited is still filler. Using a Prime Sentinel in a high school story is actually fertile ground for a time-killer during a crossover, but this is a botched job. The unattractive, overly rendered art is bad enough, but the story is an even bigger mess. Xavier’s school is supposed to be a high school, so I don’t know why Banshee and Emma are looking to recruit graduating seniors for a “summer program.” I understand the premise, that adding human students will add cover for Generation X, but why are they going after kids who are already graduating? Why is Adam sometimes able to control his reptile form and other times not? Why does Ginny initially leave Adam alone, only to attack him anyway a few pages later? How exactly did the human kid Banshee tried to recruit turn out to be a mutant in the first place? Later on, Banshee says that Emma’s “suspicions” were right when he learns that Adam is a mutant, but we never saw Emma voicing any suspicions earlier. If she knew he was a mutant (which she should, considering that little program called “Cerebro” which is supposed to be looking for mutants anyway), why was she so adamantly opposed to him joining the school in the beginning? Plus, there’s the massive coincidence that the student Emma likes is a Prime Sentinel and the student Banshee likes is secretly a mutant. This has got to be the worst comic associated with the Zero Tolerance crossover.

CABLE #47 - October 1997

Moving Target Part Three: Man to Man

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Rob Haynes (layouts), Scott Hanna (finished art), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Summary: Bastion reveals to Cable that he’s stolen Xavier’s Cerebro files, and will terminate the relatives of the mutants if Cable attacks him. More of Bastion’s soldiers attack, but Cable fights them off and is able to draw his gun on Bastion again. Cable telepathically overrides the soldiers’ armor defenses and erases their memory of the X-Men’s mansion. They wander aimlessly out of the mansion, while the strain of using his powers causes Cable to black out. Bastion tries to shoot Cable, but learns Cable’s gun is empty. Cable later explains to G. W. Bridge that Bastion disappeared after emptying the mansion.

Review: Cable’s OZT tie-in wraps up, and the final chapter shows a few signs of editorial intrusion. The dialogue suddenly becomes extremely stilted in places (“You have caused too many innocents such woe already with your persecution of mutantkind…”), and much of the exposition feels awkward. I know Robinson’s reputation as a writer has taken a hit recently, but this reminds me of the clunkiness that often showed up in comics edited by Mark Powers during this era. The plot feels like it’s been partially rewritten as well, as Bastion’s threat to track down mutant family members is just forgotten, and the villain just decides to leave at the end of the story. Who cares if Cable’s gun is out of bullets? Isn’t Bastion a literal machine obsessed with hunting mutants? Why wouldn’t he at least keep Cable captive, just as he kept the X-Men prisoner? It’s a disappointing ending, and the three issues dedicated to this story amount to essentially nothing.

Years later, Bastion’s origin is revealed in a Cable annual. I wonder if that story should’ve appeared during this arc instead. Rather than teasing Bastion’s origin past the point where anyone cared, the actual crossover could’ve revealed his secrets. Placing it in Cable would’ve reaffirmed the title’s place as an “important” book, and justified the three issues dedicated to the tie-in.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

X-MAN #30 - September 1997

Coming Home

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Roger Cruz & Cary Nord (pencils), Bud LaRosa & Wellington Diaz (inkers), Tom Vincent (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: X-Man recovers at the home of the three mystery women. He suddenly receives a psychic message from Cable, asking him to protect Jean Grey’s parents and niece and nephew from Zero Tolerance. Cable has also contacted the Greys, who have traveled to X-Man’s Soho home. They’re joined by Roust, a boy who’s come to warn X-Man about another one of Abomination’s followers. X-Man arrives and uses his psychic powers to trick the Prime Sentinels into believing the Greys are dead. Roust disappears, leaving X-Man to wonder what his warning was about.

Continuity Notes: Cable’s conversation with X-Man is supposed to be the same one we saw in Cable #46. However, the dialogue doesn’t match up at all, a fact dismissed with an editorial note that reads “telepathy is all in the mind’s eye of the beholder.” Later on, Bastion wonders if X-Man could be the “Otherseed.” I assume this ties into all of that Cable-as-messiah nonsense, and it’s a hint that Bastion is from the future.

Review: X-Man gets an OZT tie-in too, although it seems like this was a last minute addition. The cover does reference the Prime Sentinels, but it looks like someone forgot the OZT crossover tag. The previous issue was clearly setting up the three mystery women, yet they’re dismissed after a few pages once X-Man receives Cable’s message. Cary Nord only draws the pages with the three women while Roger Cruz handles the rest of the issue, which is probably another sign the original plot was jettisoned (I wonder if Cary Nord finished an entire issue of X-Man that was never published). This issue would have us believe that Bastion wants to kill not only mutants, but their family members as well. He did use this as threat against Cable, but it doesn’t match up with his actions in any of the other titles that I can recall. Connecting X-Man to the Greys prevents this from feeling totally arbitrary, but this is clearly a wasted crossover issue.

GENERATION X #31 - October 1997

Rites of Passage

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Chris Bachalo (artist), Comicraft (letters), Digital Chameleon (colors)

Summary: As Gen X continues to fight the Prime Sentinels, Synch mimics M’s powers, which allows him to learn her secret. Skin’s cousin Gil blows up the garage, hoping to destroy the Prime Sentinels. The team emerges from the wreckage and discovers two girls where M used to be. Meanwhile, Banshee regains consciousness and punches Emma before she can hand Penance over to Emplate. A weakened Emplate disappears after Banshee uses his sonic scream. Emma claims that she was never going to give Penance to Emplate, but Banshee doesn’t believe her. Elsewhere, Daria sacrifices herself so that Jubilee can escape.

Continuity Notes: Skin learns that Tores is a mutant during the fight. Tores, who is apparently Skin’s ex-girlfriend, has the ability to “harness psychic energy and direct it as a weapon.”

Review: That cover is a lie! We don’t learn the secret of M in this issue; we just see her emerge as two girls after an explosion. At the very least, it is a step towards answering the questions about her past, but I’m not sure why exactly it shows up in this issue. James Robinson was apparently just a fill-in writer during the OZT crossover (which raises its own questions, since he was a new writer to the X-books and I doubt he had anything to do with the planning of the Bastion storyline), so it’s strange that he’s dropping origin hints in his final issue. This is Chris Bachalo’s last issue, so maybe he wanted to at least do something with the M mystery before he left.

Just like the previous issues, this is a competently handled action story with art that makes the cast look like background extras on Sesame Street. When M emerges as two different people, I can’t tell if they’re supposed to be little girls, or if Bachalo is just drawing teenage M like a pre-schooler again. And, just like Cable’s tie-in, I don’t think the story justified three full issues. I also wonder why Tores has to be revealed as a mutant, too. Can’t the X-related characters know any normal people? Not only do they currently only hang out with other mutants, but even the figures from their past turn out to be mutants. I do like the Banshee/Emma subplot, which shows Banshee responding realistically to one of Emma’s heel turns. The audience can probably figure out that she isn’t really a traitor, but the actual characters in the story aren’t going to automatically know that. It’s another storyline that’s set up and isn’t resolved, so I’m beginning to wonder if Robinson was supposed to have a longer run on the title.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

X-FACTOR #136-#137, August-September 1997

Nothing Lasts Forever

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert w/Sean Parsons (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: Mystique continues to explore her powers, and antagonize Wild Child. When Forge attempts to lecture her, she kisses him. Meanwhile, Val Cooper learns that people within the government know X-Factor is still alive, and that Sabretooth was a sleeper agent of the Hound program. She sends word to Forge, but he receives it too late. Sabretooth has broken free of his collar and attacked X-Factor. Val arrives to see an angry Mystique standing over the unconscious bodies of X-Factor.

Continuity Notes: Government agent Bowser is back, after disappearing in issue #134. He’s apparently behind the Hound program and is shocked Sabretooth has broken free and is seemingly working on his own. Sabretooth later tells Mystique that the offer he was given is still available to her.

Review: I hope you wanted more shadowy government conspiracies in X-Factor, because that’s what you’re going to get. It was inevitable that Sabretooth would turn against the team, just as it was inevitable that he would break out of the X-Men’s basement and attack them, also. The story goes for dark and scary, but there’s no way you’re going to get that out of Jeff Matsuda. His extremely cartoony style might’ve been appropriate for something like Generation X, but he’s the last guy who should be drawing a story about Sabretooth ripping through his teammates during a blackout. Overlooking his personal style, many of the pages just seem rushed. Sabretooth’s fight with Polaris in particular just looks like a page of rough sketches that were inked and colored. The dialogue is as awkward as usual, hitting its low point when Sabretooth clumsily declares that maybe in “a different time, a different world” Wild Child would’ve been a great partner for him. Geez…

It Was a Dark & Stormy Night

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Andy Smith (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Kevin Somers (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Val Cooper calls her ex-husband, Major Edmund Atkinson, for help. With Atkinson’s troops acting as support, they arrive with X-Factor at a local hospital. Val fears that either the Hounds or Operation: Zero Tolerance is coming to abduct X-Factor. Atkinson sends his troops away, but vows to stay and fight with Val. She sends a message to X-Factor’s headquarters for Bowser, offering to surrender. According to her plan, Havok intercepts the message and arrives with Fatale. They teleport away with X-Factor, although they arrive too late to save Atkinson from a laser blast to the chest. Meanwhile, Sabretooth arrives at Trevor Chase’s home. Another Hound, Stone, stops him from killing Trevor. Sabretooth instead targets Trevor’s family.

Continuity Notes: Shard is now missing after “depixelating” during Sabretooth’s attack. Apparently claw marks are fatal to holograms.

Review: You would think X-Factor would’ve been the ideal title to deal with the events of Zero Tolerance, but it seems like an afterthought Mackie had to slip into the book. The Hounds have been the generic government conspiracy against mutants for over a year in this title, and now we’re supposed to be worried about OZT, too. Val Cooper throws in a reference that essentially reads as “We’ve got to protect X-Factor from the Hounds! And, yeah, I guess Zero Tolerance, too.” All of the OZT material could’ve been incorporated into X-Factor’s never-ending conspiracy months earlier, but I guess the X-books are too fractured by this point to really pull that off.

Every issue of X-Factor needs some nonsense, so I’ll compile this month’s checklist. 1) Val Cooper’s ex-husband (a character briefly impersonated by Mr. Sinister during Peter David’s run) suddenly appears in-between issues. Previously, he was a federal agent who wore nice suits and performed lie detector tests. Now, he’s a platoon leader gifted by Andy Smith with ridiculous ‘90s anatomy. He’s also such a brilliant tactician that he sends away his troops as the bad guys arrive. Showing that Atkinson is willing to fight for Val but doesn’t want to put his troops in the unenviable position of fighting fellow soldiers could be a nice character bit, but instead it just comes across as a foolish decision. Mackie also tries to give Val and Atkinson Moonlighting style banter, but it’s incredibly awkward. 2) Mystique now declares that she hates Val for allowing Sabretooth to join the team. Val spends a few pages berating herself over what Sabretooth’s done. Aside from the fact that Val fought against his addition, Mystique didn’t seem to mind having Sabretooth around when they went off on their own adventures together. 3) Val’s plan is ridiculous, since she’s just inviting the Hounds to come on the off-chance that Havok might be monitoring their communication frequency. She really couldn’t think of a better way to contact Havok? 4) Havok also brags that he isn’t a killer, which is amusing given his willingness to kill everyone on a commercial airline, and the near-lethal blast he gave Polaris a few months back. 5) By the way, since when is Sabretooth working with the Hound program? Originally, the shadowy government agents behind his placement in X-Factor sent him to kill one of the Hounds.

To Mackie’s credit, at least the pace of the book is starting to pick up. Some of the inevitable events, such as Sabretooth turning on the team, are now out of the way and it almost seems as if the endless conspiracy subplots are headed somewhere. Even Havok, who seems to be undergoing yet another personality revision, is given something to do. This is still mostly terrible, but there is a small amount of momentum now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

CABLE #45 - #46, August - September 1997

Moving Target Part One: No Escape

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Randy Green (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Summary: G. W. Bridge contacts Cable, warning him of a threat. During their conversation, news coverage of Zero Tolerance’s attack on the X-Men begins. Cable heads to the mansion and fights against Bastion’s soldiers. He rescues the mansion’s only occupant, Caliban, and encourages him to fight back against the soldiers.

Continuity Notes: During an extended monologue, Cable reveals that he helped Xavier build the mansion (I think he means, specifically, all of the hi-tech gear the X-Men use). He also says that Xavier taught him how to live in this era, and what being a mutant meant. This was an idea originally hinted at by Jeph Loeb, but is now made official.

Review: Cable has been without a direction for a while, so it’s hard to complain about the OZT crossover disrupting many storylines. In fact, Robinson still uses this issue to provide hints about some upcoming stories (someone in the Hellfire Club has a grudge against Cable, another character from Cable’s past has a connection to the Black Panther, Cable’s uncertain about his future with X-Force, etc.). Robinson obviously has no aversion to narrative captions and thought balloons, so even when Cable is fighting against Zero Tolerance alone, there’s still an effort to flesh out his character and add some depth to the scenes.

Cable’s long inner monologue brings us confirmation of a rather ridiculous retcon -- the idea that Cable and Xavier used to be friends. There’s really no way to make this work in continuity (Cable and Xavier clearly didn’t know each other when Cable first appeared, plus he always preached against Xavier’s pacifism, while Robinson acts as if Cable has always had endearing respect for Xavier), and I have no idea what it’s supposed to add. We don’t even need an explanation for the X-Men’s hi-tech equipment -- it comes from the Shi’ar. As for the technology they used in the pre-Claremont era, was anyone under the impression that it came from someone two thousand years in the future? It’s a ridiculous retcon, but I don’t recall anyone making that big a deal out of it, even though X-fans during this era had a reputation for loudly decrying continuity screw-ups (see the response to the original Psylocke/Revanche story, for instance). Was no one paying attention to Cable, as a character or a regular series, by this point?

Moving Target Part Two: Siege

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Randy Green w/Steven Harris & Deodato Studios (pencilers), Scott Hanna & Deodato Studios (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Summary: Cable leads Caliban to the Morlock Tunnels where he can escape. Cable returns to the mansion and takes out the group of soldiers blocking access to Xavier’s computer files. While downloading the info, he wonders if Bastion would target Cyclops and Phoenix’s families. He sends a mental message to X-Man, asking him to look out for their relatives. Cable escapes with the backups and destroys the computer lab. Suddenly, he’s confronted by Bastion.

Review: Just as straightforward action, this arc works okay, but running it over three issues is a stretch. This is one of the problems with crossovers; peripheral books are still stuck with the storyline after they need to move on because the main titles haven’t resolved the major conflict yet. Robinson adds some characterization to the fight, as Cable shares a goodbye with Caliban and reflects on his time with his newfound family while downloading the X-Men’s files. It’s handled well enough, but the Bastion cliffhanger is just a reminder that there’s still another month of this story to go.

Monday, May 10, 2010

GENERATION X #29 - #30, August - September 1997

Previously…in Generation X: The students found themselves in Skin’s old neighborhood of East Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Jubilee was captured by Bastion. After getting separated during Black Tom’s attack, Banshee, Penance, and Emma Frost searched for the missing team.

No Surrender

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Chris Bachalo w/Pop Mhan (pencilers), Al Vey w/Eric Cannon, Tim Townsend, & Al Milgrom (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: In LA, Gen X heads to the home of Skin’s cousin, Gil. The next morning, they’re attacked by armed men led by Tores, Skin’s former gang rival. Bastion’s Prime Sentinels destroy the home, and target Tores when she chastises them for going too far. Skin grabs Tores and takes her along as the team escapes. Meanwhile, Banshee, Emma, and Penance hide out from the Zero Tolerance agents guarding Emma’s home. D.O.A. appears, offering to tell them where the students are if they hand Penance over to Emplate. Elsewhere, Jubilee helps Daria control her nanotech powers.

Continuity Notes: Tores is a mystery character from Skin’s past. She was contacted by Zero Tolerance and agreed to work with them when she learned Skin was alive. Gil is the only family member who knows Skin faked his death. After last issue, Banshee and Emma were supposed to be responding to the X-Men’s distress call (after Zero Tolerance shot them out of the sky). That’s briefly acknowledged, but the story has been dropped very quickly.

Review: James Robinson’s brief sojourn with the X-titles continues, as he follows up the Zero Tolerance subplots generated by Scott Lobdell before his departure. This probably isn’t the best storyline for Robinson to begin with (and the “Flashback” issues weren’t a great staring place, either) but he does a solid job. Actually, it’s hard to tell Lobdell is even gone at this point. While Robinson is writing the cast as younger and less cynical than Lobdell, he’s definitely following the template Lobdell established. Large sections of the book are dedicated to character interaction, Bachalo is given a lot of room to draw the random craziness he enjoys in the background, and the ongoing storylines continue unabated. We also see more of Bachalo’s multiple panels per page gimmick, which allows the various story threads to get at least a little room during the twenty-three pages.

Some Things Hurt More Than Cars and Girls

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Al Vey & Eric Cannon (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins & Digital Chameleon (colors)

Summary: Gen X follows Tores to her uncle’s auto shop. They hide inside the shop as the Prime Sentinels search outside. M convinces Chamber to pursue his relationship with Husk, and later shares her first kiss with Synch when they both realize they could die soon. Soon, the Prime Sentinels invade. Elsewhere, Emma and Banshee argue over turning Penance over to Emplate. When Banshee refuses, Emma psi-blasts him and asks Emplate if they have a deal. Meanwhile, Daria helps Jubilee escape Bastion’s custody.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this issue is a reference to a song I've never heard of, "Cars and Girls."

Review: If these covers didn’t give you enough of a clue, we’ve now reached the point where Chris Bachalo is in full-on kiddie mode. He was clearly headed in that direction in the previous issues, but #30 seems to be the tipping point. I like Bachalo’s art, especially his work in the early issues of this title, but I never understood this digression. Making the teenage characters more childlike might be defensible, but Emma Frost, their teacher, should not look like a member of Power Pack. As I’ve mentioned before, since Bachalo has always been a large part of this book’s appeal, the issues he doesn’t draw -- or he does draw, just in a radically different style -- don’t feel right.

I wonder if the kiddie redesigns influenced Robinson’s stories, since the cast now acts closer to thirteen than sixteen. Synch and M even share their first kiss, which seems like a pubescent right-of-passage that’s a little young for the characters Lobdell created. (At the same time, Peter David’s casual treatment of M’s sexual activity in the modern X-Factor book didn’t feel right, either). Even though the team might be acting too young, Robinson is still handling the book rather well. The crossover doesn’t feel like a pointless diversion, since he’s leaving room for character interactions and the ongoing storylines are allowed to continue. Like X-Force, the Sentinels are there to be the villains for a few issues, while the main titles are left to deal with Bastion and OZT. It’s not a big shock that Daria helps Jubilee and Emma attempts to fake-out Emplate, but the execution is fine.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

X-MAN #26 -#29, April -August 1997

Previously…in X-Man: X-Man wandered the world, irrationally angry with almost everyone he encountered. He eventually settled in New York City with Threnody, a mutant who escaped Mr. Sinister’s service. He also hooked up with his mother.

Innocence Lost

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Pascual Ferry (penciler), Jaime Mendoza & Hack Shack (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas & GCW (colors)

After his encounter with Madelyne Pryor in issue #25, X-Man’s powers are fading. He heads to Muir Island to ask Moira MacTaggert for help. She reveals that his powers still exist, but she suspects he’s subconsciously suppressing them. This small amount of information is wrapped around several pages of X-Man asking Peter Parker for advice, X-Man spying on Excalibur, and X-Man getting chased by Moira MacTaggert, who's wearing a cybernetic helmet and wielding a Liefeld-gun. So, more time is killed, X-Man is as bratty and unlikable as ever, and we get another storyline revolving around his powers. Making matters worse, the new Brotherhood, not content to drag just X-Factor into the dirt, shows up to recruit X-Man. Normally, I would say Pascual Ferry’s art is enough to alleviate the weak story, but this is far from his best work. His fill-in on Uncanny almost a year earlier was much better than this, so I’m assuming this was a rush job.

Blood Brothers

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

The issue opens with X-Man tagging along with the Brotherhood as they free Aurora from the Canadian government. Havok’s actions here kind of remind me of Cable’s portrayal in his early appearances. Havok shouldn’t have been chosen as the character to lead the new Brotherhood, but using them as a borderline terrorist group that’s honestly working to help oppressed mutants is a decent idea. However, as we learn later, the team was also after the cargo of toxic gas that was being transported along with Aurora. (Apparently, later issues of X-Factor will reveal that Havok was faking all along, which doesn’t sit well with this issue. X-Man telepathically probes Havok and learns that he believes in his cause and isn’t being brainwashed or possessed. Marvel really tried to sell the idea of Havok as a villain for a while there, which is probably why we’re seeing a telepath outright tell us that this is really Havok.) After X-Man grows suspicious of the Brotherhood, Havok proves his openness by unveiling the member he’s kept hidden, the Dark Beast. Really, this storyline is just a variation on the “Dark Beast sends goon to recruit X-Man” stories from the early issues of the book, but the addition of the Brotherhood actually makes things slightly more interesting.

Dance with the Devil

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

X-Man spends the entire issue with the Brotherhood, debating whether or not to join them. Kavanagh does use past continuity pretty effectively, remembering that X-Man knows most of these characters from the AoA and is well aware of their “darker” sides. There’s also an acknowledgment that Havok is technically X-Man’s uncle, which is a connection I don’t think anyone made before. Ultimately, X-Man decides that Havok and Dark Beast are too dangerous to be trusted with the toxic gas (now called “Coldsnap”) and goes behind their back to destroy it. This arc continues the series’ tradition of utter aimlessness, but at least X-Man is paired with characters that aren’t totally random selections. Going back to his time in Sinister’s pens in the AoA, X-Man does have a connection with Havok, Aurora, and Dark Beast. Meanwhile, the never-ending Hellfire Club subplot continues. Apparently, Selene is recruiting Fitzroy and Tessa to join her against Sebastian Shaw and Madelyne Pryor. Did a point ever emerge out of this?

Dead Ahead

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Roger Cruz (penciler), Bud LaRosa & Wellington Diaz (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

X-Man was never the sharpest knife in the drawer. His solution for disposing of the gas is to lock himself in a room with it before releasing it. That’s clever. To be fair, the story at least acknowledges how dumb this is when X-Man has a mental conversation with himself during a near-death experience (it’s hinted that he’s suicidal). Not surprisingly, he finds the inner strength to turn his powers back on and uses a telekinetic blast to escape. He emerges in Washington Square Park, where he collapses in front of a group of strange women. They’re probably not supposed to look like prostitutes, but that isn’t stopping Roger Cruz. A few pages earlier, a Jane Doe emerged from the morgue and a few animated corpses followed her in a cutaway scene. These might be the ladies in Washington Square Park, but you never know with this book. Also, one of the Abominaton’s followers has invaded X-Man’s home, looking for revenge. I am shocked that the Hellfire Club subplot isn’t advanced, or even briefly acknowledged, this issue. You’d almost get the impression that the creative team didn’t know where to go with the idea, so it was allowed to stay in the background and only occasionally emerged to kill a few pages every couple of issues. But, surely, X-Man was held to higher standards than that…

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

LOGAN: PATH OF THE WARLORD #1 - February 1996

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), John Paul Leon (penciler), Shawn Martinbrough (inker), Gregory Wright (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In Japan, Logan has begun work for Landau, Luckman, and Lake. His boss, Chang, has assigned him to protect a scientist, Dr. Carling, and his daughter Rose. Logan kills Carling’s pursuer, Kimora. Years later, Chang asks Logan, who now seeks peace, to rejoin LL&L and complete his mission. Chang unveils LL&L’s interdimensional transport system, explaining that Dr. Carling developed interdimensional travel years ago. In another dimension, he fell in love with a woman and fathered Rose. This world was ruled by the immortal Kimora, who wanted Carling’s technology. Carling’s wife was killed, and he fled the parallel dimension with Rose. Kimora followed him, and somehow survived his encounter with Wolverine. Now, Kimora has returned to his dimension through a small wormhole, but he still seeks Carling’s technology to make interdimensional transport stable. Logan travels with Chang to Kimora’s world, where they’re joined by the now-grown Rose. After breaking into Kimora’s fortress, Kimora kills Carling in front of Logan. Logan kicks Kimora into an unstable transport, trapping him in-between dimensions forever. Back home, Chang suggests Rose join Logan as his partner.

Continuity Notes: There are hints that Rose could be Lady Deathstrike, as she’s able to morph her fingers into claws. However, this was most likely a misdirection. Rose is apparently Rose Wu, Wolverine’s friend from Madripoor who can change shape.

Production Note: This is another $5.99 bookshelf format special with no ads.

Review: It seems like a six-dollar special about Wolverine’s past should connect with the character in some significant way. An early adventure with LL&L and his possible first meeting with Rose Wu don’t strike me as “significant.” Landau, Luckman, and Lake is the mystery organization that Wolverine uses to “handle affairs” that goes back to the Claremont days. Larry Hama began to use them regularly towards the end of his Wolverine run, playing up Claremont’s hints that the group had interdimensional origins. There are questions that could be answered regarding LL&L and Wolverine, but this story certainly doesn’t answer them. It’s also written by Howard Mackie, who had nothing to do with the character at the time, so it’s not as if he had some insight into Hama’s plans (as Hama told a fan on Usenet, he didn’t even know this comic was happening until it was published). You would think the regular Wolverine writer would be the person called upon to write one-shots about the character’s past, but clearly Marvel didn’t agree.

Now, if you are going to do a story about Wolverine’s life pre-Weapon X, I’m not sure if pitting him against an interdimensional warlord is really the best way to go. This era seems like prime material for crime stories, martial arts adventures, or just stories about Wolverine’s life in Canada with Silver Fox or any of the other interchangeable women from his past. Interdimensional travel is taking him into X-Men territory years before he’ll meet the team, and it’s not really suited for John Paul Leon’s art anyway. The story tries for a character arc, as Logan is warned by a generic sensei to control his animal urges and, shockingly enough, later has to control his rage while fighting Kimora in the climax. We’ve seen the old “Wolverine fights his animal rage” bit before, and Mackie doesn’t have a new angle for it. He also isn’t able to give the characters personality, or make the reader care if they live or die or not, as evidenced by Carling's emotionless death scene. Everyone’s there to fulfill their role in the story and that’s it. I’m not sure how well these prestige format books sold, but I think Marvel made a lot of fans reluctant to support the format with this one.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

X-MEN Vol. 5 & IRON MAN - The Complete Series

Review copies provided by the studio.

The final episodes of the original X-Men animated series are strange to watch in retrospect. Actually, they were kind of odd when they first aired, too. After the producers finished what was supposed to be the big series finale, FOX kept ordering new episodes. The final season began with a two-part adaptation of the “Phalanx Covenant” crossover, followed by another Longshot episode, another solo Cyclops episode, an episode about Omega Red and a submarine, a two-part adaptation of the Chris Claremont/George Perez Arkon story, and a loose adaptation of the infamous Nightcrawler origin story from X-Men Unlimited #4. Some of these episodes were supposed to air months, or even years, earlier but were delayed due to animation errors. “No Mutant is an Island” has Cyclops reacting to Phoenix’s death, even though her resurrection episodes had already aired. The scripts tend to be on par with most of the previous episodes, and some of the adaptations even exceed the original comics. “Phalanx Covenant” takes the basic idea behind the crossover but also incorporates the early Warlock appearances from New Mutants, and brings in Magneto and Mr. Sinister as unlikely allies against the Phalanx. “Bloodlines” is a vast improvement over X-Men Unlimited #4 because it uses Nightcrawler more effectively and actually makes a modicum of sense.

Some reports say that “Bloodlines” was supposed to be the last episode, others say it was the final chapter of “Beyond Good & Evil” (included in the last DVD set), and others claim the second part of “Storm Front” was the last produced. Regardless, even more episodes were ordered. For the final batch, the producers decided to redesign the show. Joe Madureira’s manga style had revamped the look of the comics, and interviews with the producers claimed it inspired the show’s new look. You would think Joe Mad’s style would translate to animation rather easily. The actual cel-to-cel animation might not work on a TV budget, but the designs should’ve been easy to emulate and it’s not as if the overly rendered Jim Lee style worked for animation either. If the animators were going for Joe Mad, I’m not sure how they ended up with the final designs. They are cartoonier, but I don’t see the Japanese influence that made Madureira’s art so popular. The highlight of the final episodes is “Old Soldiers,” a WWII Captain America/Wolverine team-up that’s written by Len Wein.

Now that all of these episodes are paired together on DVD, the dramatic style change is even more jarring. The “new look” episodes aren’t even separated on a different disc. I could mention the lack of extras again, but by the fifth volume, I don’t think anyone was expecting any by this point. At least the show is finally on DVD, and the entire seventy-six episode run has been released within a year’s time.

Just in time for, well, the second Iron Man movie comes the release of the ‘90s Iron Man cartoon. Packaged with Fantastic Four as the Marvel Action Hour, the show is probably best known by fans for the dramatic revamp it received during the second season. Although many of the voices remained the same, both Iron Man and Fantastic Four received new designs, higher-quality animation, and vastly improved scripts. The first season of Iron Man actually looks much better than Fantastic Four’s first season, but it still desperately needed a revamp. Even though it aired in syndication, the second season of Iron Man often looks better than the network X-Men series, and it certainly exceeds the vast majority of Spider-Man episodes. I wish the original character design of Tony Stark had survived, since it was apparently based on Paul Ryan’s artwork and allowed the character to maintain his short, black hair. The revamped Tony Stark has a blue mullet, which I guess is a small price to pay for an overall better show, but wow is that an ugly haircut.

The first season of the show is best forgotten. The stories are extremely simplistic, the scripts are filled with bad puns, the designs of Iron Man and War Machine look awful (which is odd, since the rest of the designs are mostly fine), and there’s an atrocious CGI “transformation” sequence that’s repeated in every episode. The show picks up on the early ‘90s Force Works comic (a.k.a. West Coast Avengers…Extreme!), giving Iron Man a supporting cast that consists of Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Woman, and (remember him?) Century. Aside from MODOK’s brief cameo in a baby carriage, there’s nothing memorable here. The second season offers more complex stories and characterizations, taking its inspiration from the Layton/Michelinie run, with a little bit of Len Kaminiski's stint as well. This is what an Iron Man cartoon should feel like, and it’s too bad the show couldn’t continue in this style. The ‘90s Fantastic Four series was released on DVD years ago, and is apparently out-of-print, so I’m glad Iron Man fans now have a chance to own the companion series. I’m even glad that first season is included for posterity’s sake, but I wouldn’t dwell on it for too long.

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