Thursday, September 30, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #48 - March 1989

Eyes of the Demon

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janice Cohen (colorist)

The Plot: Following his battle against demons at the Daily Bugle offices, a disoriented Spider-Man tries to find MJ. Tracing her steps, Spider-Man investigates the sewers underneath a photography studio. Soon, he’s attacked by the Hobgoblin, who now has demonic powers. MJ ignites a scrap of her dress, hoping to spark a gas explosion that will destroy the sewer’s demonic sludge. Spider-Man accidentally throws Hobgoblin into the gas-filled tunnel. He disappears in the explosion.

The Subplots: Harry Osborn visits Aunt May, who later decides to go into the city to check on Peter and MJ. Eduardo Lobo protects Glory Grant from more demons. Kingpin also protects his employees from a demon, annoyed that the Arranger couldn’t take care of the problem.

*See _________ For Details: Spider-Man teamed up with the Daily Bugle staff to fight demons, while Hobgoblin made his deal with N’astirh for demonic powers, in Spectacular Spider-Man #147. Aunt May’s story is continued in Amazing Spider-Man #313.

Review: This is the conclusion to the Hobgoblin mini-arc that ran during “Inferno.” After failing to capture the original Green Goblin’s formula, Hobgoblin makes the wise decision to make a deal with a demon and get what he wants. Surely, we’ll never see the day when the hero of this series makes a similar choice. Now, Hobgoblin has demon powers, and thankfully no one’s twisted him into a crazed religious zealot yet. Turning Hobgoblin into an actual goblin could be too much of a literalization, but I’ve always liked his early appearances with the demon powers. Jason Macendale was a third-string villain who stole another villain’s gimmick, and was a bit of a joke during his early appearances. Now, he has more of an identity to set himself apart…he’s the guy who was crazy enough to make a deal with a demon. In this issue, we only have a few scenes of him ranting about his great power, then angsting about his hideous new face, but in later stories, Gerry Conway will develop a firm personality for Macendale that worked great. He didn’t care if you thought he was ugly; he got the power he wanted and now he’s going to exploit it for all that it’s worth. As for this issue, it works better when read with the rest of the Spider-titles from this month, but Alex Saviuk handles the Hobgoblin/Spider-Man fight well, and although they don’t really go anywhere, Conway still tries to work in as many of the ongoing subplots as he can.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #47 - February 1989

The Face in the Mirror

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janice Cohen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man finds Hobgoblin rummaging through the remains of the Osborn Chemical Factory. While he faces a monster that spontaneously emerges from the wreckage, Hobgoblin escapes. Later, Hobgoblin attacks the Osborn home, as Peter Parker arrives for a visit. In order to get rid of him, Harry Osborn tells him that what he wants is at his father’s old office in Manhattan. Later, a distressed Harry digs his father’s Green Goblin costume out of the attic.

The Subplots: Glory Grant has begun dating Eduardo Lobo, a man Ben Urich believes is a mobster. Their date at a shopping mall is interrupted when the escalator comes alive and attacks the patrons. Peter and MJ spend the weekend at Aunt May’s boarding house. They suggest MJ’s cousin Kristy stay with May, since she has more time to care for a teenager.

Web of Continuity: Due to the events of “Inferno,” demons are invading New York and inanimate objects are coming alive. The darkness that’s engulfing Manhattan is also apparently responsible for Harry’s visions of the Green Goblin in the mirror. Kristy Watson first appeared in Spectacular Spider-Man #145, claiming that her parents sent her to New York to spend a few months with the Parkers while they vacation in Europe. Kristy can never stop eating and has a massive crush on Peter. One of those plot points becomes important later on.

*See _________ For Details: The Osborn Chemical Factory was destroyed by “Inferno” related chaos in Spectacular Spider-Man #146.

Creative Differences: Page four of the story (a splash page of the debris-monster clutching Spider-Man) was clearly intended to be the original cover. Not only is the top of the page blank, leaving enough room for the logo and corner box, but you can find a hidden spider in the wreckage.

Review: Following literally years of fill-ins, Web of Spider-Man now has a regular monthly writer. And it’s Gerry Conway no less; the writer who guided the original series through much of the ‘70s, and was doing great work on Spectacular Spider-Man at the time. His first official issue is designated as an “Inferno” crossover, but that doesn’t get in the way of any of the ongoing storylines Conway’s developing. I’ve heard people dismiss “Inferno” offhand over the years, but I’ve never heard a clear explanation of why you’re supposed to hate it, outside of the fact that it’s a crossover and comics fans are obligated to hate crossovers. “Inferno” is about demons attacking Manhattan; if you want to know why, read the X-books. Otherwise, just accept that Manhattan is overrun with demons and enjoy the ride. This is the crossover that brought us a nearly dead Daredevil fighting a demonic vacuum cleaner for an entire issue. It can’t be all bad.

Aside from using the demons as antagonists for a few issues, the Spider-books found a way to tie a few supporting cast members into the crossover event. In Amazing Spider-Man, Curt Connors is unable to control his Lizard persona due to “Inferno,” as Web and Spectacular show a similar reversion for Harry Osborn. It was inevitable that someone would revive the Green Goblin as Harry, but doing it as a part of “Inferno” works with the premise of the crossover, and it makes the event feel more like a legitimate story and less like an infringement on the ongoing series. The path taken after Harry dons the Goblin mask also works against expectations, and I’m glad the creators of this era didn’t go down the predictable route (as much as I enjoyed J. M. DeMatteis' later run on Spectacular Spider-Man, I don’t think the books were well-served by Harry becoming a villain again and dying).

Along with working in the crossover material and giving Spider-Man a few foes to punch, Conway expands on the character arcs he’s begun in Spectacular. Glory’s dating a mobster, who has a secret you’re only going to find in the Marvel Universe, or a really bad soap opera. Kristy Watson is stuck in Queens with Aunt May, although she’s intrigued by the potential baked goods she’ll get out of the deal. J. Jonah Jameson watches the bedlam in New York and wonders if this is the “End of the World” story he’s always planned. Mary Jane remarks that she’s glad she doesn’t have to live at Aunt May’s, foreshadowing the next turn in her life with Peter. This really feels like a Spider-Man comic, written by someone who knows his way around that world.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #46 - January 1989

The Power of…Hate!

Credits: Richard Howell (writer & penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Janice Cohen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter’s book tour takes him to Shriver Cove, Massachusetts. The locals have an irrational hatred of outsiders, which culminates in a mob attacking Peter’s hotel during the night. While investigating as Spider-Man, he learns that the Hatros Clinic is brainwashing the locals while allegedly treating them for stress. Hank Pym answers Spider-Man’s call for help, and the heroes soon face Nekra, High Priestess of the Hate Cult. Nekra escapes, but Pym is able to chemically counteract the locals’ hypnosis.

The Subplots: None.

*See _________ For Details: Wow, the issues footnoted in this issue include Vision and the Scarlet Witch vol. 2 #11, the West Coast Avengers arc that revived Maria Pym, Avengers #58, Spider-Woman #16, and most impressively, Shanna the She-Devil #5.

Review: Gerry Conway’s run officially begins next issue, so the title’s stuck with another one-off fill-in in the meantime. This is a story about Nekra brainwashing New England suburbanites into turban-wearing cultists as a part of her scheme to resurrect her lover, the Grim Reaper. With the exception of a few corny jokes and puns, this isn’t played for laughs, so we’re left with pure cheese. At the end of the story, Spider-Man and Hank Pym reveal that they actually feel sorry for Nekra since she can’t be with the one she loves, which I guess is supposed to tie in to the alleged theme of the story. If this is supposed to be a “love is stronger than hate” story though, why are the Hate Cultists saved by science, and why does Peter Parker spend the entire issue dealing with his annoying tour guide instead of thinking about his wife? This is all very forgettable, but thankfully this marks the end of the fill-in days.

Monday, September 27, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #4 - 1988

Sweet Poison!

Credits: Steve Gerber (writer), Cynthia Martin (artist), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

The Plot: While on his book tour in Miami, Peter’s spider-sense is provoked by hotel maid Cecilia. Unbeknownst to Peter, Cecilia hears a mysterious voice that transforms her into the hero Poison. Peter meets her again as Spider-Man, while investigating Miami’s drug war. High Evolutionary’s men, the Eliminators, are choking the city’s cocaine supply and replacing it with a synthetic substitute. Miami mobster Slug orders his men to stop the Eliminators, leading to a fight with Spider-Man, Poison, and Man-Thing in the swamps. After the fight is over, the mystery presence leaves Cecilia and Peter is reunited with MJ at his hotel.

The Subplots: None

*See _________ For Details: A footnote points towards the first twelve issues of Marvel Comics Presents, which I’m assuming featured a Man-Thing story by Steve Gerber.

I Love the ‘80s: Cecilia’s son Carlos is obsessed with the G. I. Joe cartoon, which featured Steve Gerber as story editor for most of its run.

Review: The cover teases us with a Spider-Man/Slug confrontation, yet he only appears in one page in the story. During that one page, Slug demonstrates his ability to suffocate opponents in the folds of his fat, which makes the bait-and-switch even more painful. Why tease us with pure gold like this and then fail to deliver? Aside from tying in with the “Evolutionary War” crossover, the main goal of this issue is the introduction of another future Marvel Comics superstar, Poison. Poison might have the distinction of being the first Marvel heroine to flagrantly dress like a prostitute. She’s a Cuban immigrant, working as a maid, and her English isn’t exactly perfect. Gerber doesn’t give her an exaggerated, phonetically spelled accent, but she’s politically incorrect enough for me to question if she could’ve been created today. The story’s a bit of a mess, although it might seem that way to me because I’m not familiar with “Evolutionary War” or the Nexus of All Realities storyline from the early issues of Marvel Comics Presents.

Night Stalking!

Credits: Steve Gerber (writer), Alex Saviuk (artist), Rick Parker (letterer), Janet Jackson (colorist)

The Plot: Poison recalls her affair with a Soviet soldier and her subsequent exile to America. She believes that a trace of the spirit Ylandris is still within her. Looking for vengeance, Poison searches for men who resemble her former lover, but abandons the mission to be with her son.

Review: Wow, Poison’s already starring in her own annual back-up. She’s right up there with Silver Sable and the Rocket Racer. Gerber does make a Poison an intriguing character over the course of her origin story, but I have no idea what direction he might’ve been planning to take her. Thankfully, she wasn’t revived during the ‘90s Bad Girl fad, although I’m sure she’s shown up in Civil War or one of the other Marvel events from recent years that drag in everyone from the old Handbooks. The rest of the annual consists of a recap of the past year’s storylines from the various Spider-books, and another chapter in the High Evolutionary’s serial that ran in all of the 1988 annuals. Not a lot here if you really wanted original Spider-Man material.

Friday, September 24, 2010

SPAWN #38 - December 1995

Mind Games

Credits: Todd McFarlane & Julia Simmons (story), Tony Daniel (pencils), Kevin Conrad (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Todd Broeker and Roy Young (colors)

Summary: A mysterious man named Chris kills a security guard and breaks into a secluded mansion. Chris watches the video diary of Frederick Willheim, a doctor who began neurology experiments after his wife Anna grew ill. The government learned of his research and hired him to work on its Cybernetic Simian Project, which grafted human intelligence and cybernetics to apes. Chris explores the mansion and soon finds himself a victim of Cy-Gor. Meanwhile, Cagliostro talks Spawn out of killing Jason Wynn before he learns all of the answers. Spawn visits Granny Blake, who asks him to protect the family from the “demon” that visited Wanda.

Spawntinuity: Spawn digs the guns he stole from the Army out of the garbage. He claims they’re right where he left them, even though he couldn’t find them in “The Hunt” storyline or Blood Feud miniseries. Cagliostro reveals that people within the government set up President Reagan’s assassination attempt. When Al Simmons saved him, he became too high-profile to be terminated, so he was brought into Jason Wynn’s employ. Granny Blake’s first name is revealed as Rosemary.

Spawn Stuff: Pressman has released a Spawn board game. Apparently, an option called “Memories” can prevent Spawn from reaching his destination, which is a nice connection to the comic book.

Review: God help me…Cy-Gor. This begins Spawn’s bi-weekly stretch, which was supposed to pick up the pace and develop the Cy-Gor storyline while setting up the pieces for Spawn #50. The bi-weekly schedule means Tony Daniel now alternates art chores with Greg Capullo. Daniel really begins to depart from reality and embrace cartooning during this run, which occasionally works, but often comes across as rushed as his Blood Feud art. I remember the book getting just dire during this run, and that’s coming from a young reader who thought most of the previous issues were pretty entertaining. From what I remember, Cy-Gor, who gets issue after issue of a slow build, doesn’t even confront Spawn when the arc is over. He disappears for months and only reappears, essentially as an afterthought, several issues later. And what is Cy-Gor anyway? I’ve mentioned earlier that McFarlane had an odd aversion to introducing characters from the toy line into the book, but for some reason he singled out Cy-Gor for a starring role. The guy who’s convinced his superhero book should move closer and closer to urban horror every month, who’s produced line after line of monster and zombie toys, chooses his cyborg ape action figure as Spawn’s new nemesis? You’ve got to wonder what he was thinking.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

SPAWN #37 - November 1995

The Freak

Credits: Todd McFarlane (plot), Alan Moore (script), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Steve Oliff, Quinn Supplee, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: In the alleys, Spawn rescues the Freak from a violent gang. The Freak explains that he was once a secret agent, until his family was murdered by a scientist nicknamed “Doctor Delirium.” Spawn agrees to help Freak stop the doctor and accompanies him to a mental institution. After fighting through security, the Freak targets a Dr. DeLeorean and throws him out of the window. Spawn wishes the Freak good luck and departs. Meanwhile, a Mrs. Kulbicizi is asked by a social worker to help locate her husband, who’s escaped from the institution again. His doctor, Dr. DeLeorean, hasn’t been answering the phone.

Review: If you were a millionaire, wouldn’t you hire Alan Moore to script an old plot you had lying around? The one that stars a character you still haven’t gotten around to introducing, but want to make into an action figure? If you add this to Blood Feud, Violator Vs. Badrock, and the upcoming Spawn/WildC.A.T.S. miniseries, you would have over a year’s worth of Alan Moore Spawn-related comics. I bet 1995 was a good year for the magic rings industry.

So, the Freak is finally introduced, and I have no idea why McFarlane was so determined to bring him into the Spawn mythos. He has no connection to Al Simmons, Heaven, Hell, or any other element of the series so far. If Spawn were the kind of protagonist who actively looked for action, people to help, or problems to solve, Freak’s introduction wouldn’t be so jarring. However, McFarlane has established pretty well by this point that Spawn just wants to be left alone, and is only defensive of a few of the bums who view him as their king (what a hero). Now, he’s jumping to the aid of a mysterious stranger, acting as an accessory as the weirdo murders several security guards, not to mention the innocent doctor he drops on top of a police car. The ending does turn things around a bit, showing just how absurd it is when heroes team up with mystery characters and blindly take them at their word. It’s not a good enough twist to justify the entire issue, though (and it certainly seems as if McFarlane is going out of his way to portray Spawn as a moron at this point). The Freak is a “crazy-is-a-good-enough-motivation” villain who doesn’t really fit into the series, as evidenced by his quick exile into limbo. He did become an action figure, although I’m not even sure why McFarlane thought the design was strong enough to justify a toy. He’s skinny, has frazzled hair and low-rider jeans. Was there a huge demand for a zombie Steven Tyler on the K-Mart shelves?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

SPAWN #36 - October 1995

Set Up - Part Two

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Steve Oliff, Quinn Supplee, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Spawn escapes with Jason Wynn and is pursued by Terry Fitzgerald and the security force. When Spawn and Wynn land inside a nearby building, Wynn kills a security guard and pins the murder on Spawn. Spawn is forced to retreat to the roof, where a helicopter fires a missile that destroys the top floors. Soon, a hospitalized Wynn is visited by Violator, who promises that he’ll restore Wynn’s reputation. Spawn visits Wanda, to warn her that Terry is aligned with Wynn. He reveals his true identity to her, which she refuses to believe. When Cyan walks in, Spawn reluctantly exits. Meanwhile, Sam and Twitch learn that Chief Banks has been cleared of all wrongdoing. They vow to learn who’s covering for him.

Review: We have another “big event” issue, just four issues after the previous one. McFarlane actually has quite a few pieces in place now; Spawn knows who ordered his murder, he mistakenly believes his best friend is aligned with the killer, and he’s revealed his identity to his wife. Does this actually go anywhere? Let’s just say that I honestly forgot Wanda learned Spawn’s identity in this issue. Since she doesn’t seem to believe him during the big revelation scene, I now have a suspicion that she’ll dismiss Spawn as an imposter and the whole affair will be forgotten in a few months. I am glad McFarlane is starting to tie some threads together, but some of this is rather awkward. We’re now supposed to believe that pencil-pusher Terry is leading a heavily armed security force? And Jason Wynn is just so powerful that he can cover for a corrupt police chief even when he’s implicated by Wynn’s internal files? Sam and Twitch also have an odd reaction to the cover up, since they only threaten to release the files to the media if Chief Banks threatens their jobs again. Gee, what selfless, stand-up civil servants these guys turned out to be. As ridiculous as the opening action sequence can be, I do think it looks great. Capullo’s storytelling adds a lot of tension to the chase scene, and it’s fun to see Spawn running around evading gunfire like a traditional superhero. He’s usually stuck skulking around dank alleys for months at a time, which is unfortunately the direction McFarlane returns to soon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

SPAWN #35 - September 1995

Set Up

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils) Todd McFarlane (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Steve Oliff, Quinn Supplee, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Twitch returns to work, as Chief Banks is ordered by Jason Wynn to take down Spawn. Sam and Twitch learn Banks is interfering with their case and head for the alleys. Terry Fitzgerald is drawn deeper into Wynn’s circle, as Wynn uses his influence to help Terry’s family. Cagliostro prods Spawn into realizing that Wynn set up his murder. Before he can confront Wynn, the alleys are surrounded by policemen. Spawn intimidates Chief Banks into revealing that Wynn is behind the sting. When Spawn faces Wynn in his office, Terry enters with a group of armed guards.

Spawntinuity: Spawn is shocked to learn from Sam that Chief Banks has a connection to Billy Kincaid. Apparently, Spawn never even read the files he gave Sam earlier in the series.

I Love the ‘90s: Readers are advised to use Netscape when viewing the upcoming Spawn website.

Review: So, Spawn is just now realizing that Jason Wynn ordered his murder? And this is only after he’s tapped on the head by the mysterious Cagliostro? Considering that Spawn and Chapel both worked for Wynn, and many of his early flashbacks involved intense arguments with Wynn, and Spawn’s repeated insistence that Wynn is evil…you’ve got to figure this guy isn’t the World’s Greatest Detective. In the movie and animated series, Spawn knows essentially from the beginning that Wynn was behind his death, so it’s a little telling that McFarlane waited years before getting to this point. I believe the movie and television show also had Violator and Wynn forming an alliance, so I’m starting to wonder if McFarlane’s reading the scripts for the other media adaptations and incorporating ideas into the comic. I wouldn’t blame him for doing so, especially if it means the pace of the comic picks up. This is the first issue since #32 that actually advances any of the plotlines, and the cliffhanger even creates the impression that something is going to happen next issue.

Monday, September 20, 2010

SPAWN #34 - August 1995


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

Summary: Violator is rescued from the flood by a mystery figure. He then morphs into his human form and approaches Jason Wynn. The two form an alliance based on tormenting Spawn. Meanwhile, Sam meets Twitch’s surprisingly attractive wife, Helen. Spawn kills Stinky, a man supplying drugs to a young dealer named Tyrone. Cagliostro chastises Spawn for falling for Hell’s trap, revealing that Tyrone was selling drugs and guns long before he met Stinky.

Spawntinuity: The mystery man who rescues Violator is the Freak, who makes his first full appearance in a few issues. Also, shouldn’t this issue be named “Shadows Part Two”?

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Spawn kills Stinky in the private booth he uses to watch topless mud wrestling.

Review: Boy, this is aimless. I guess the major goal of this issue is to establish Violator’s new partnership with Jason Wynn, but it’s surrounded by a load of filler. Wanda visits her Granny Blake again, eating up an entire page that advances nothing (shouldn’t Wanda be curious about Granny’s revelation that she met Al a few months ago?). Another page is dedicated to the recurring newscaster feature, which has a CNN anchor, an E! anchor, and roaming opinion journalist reporting on current events. These pages were a clever way to fill in Al Simmon’s backstory in the early issues, but now it seems as if they appear just because McFarlane thinks they’re supposed to every couple of issues. We’re also supposed to believe that E! Entertainment Television is going to report on murders in New York and the Bosnian conflict, just because McFarlane wrote himself in a corner and established E! as one of the three recurring stations in the early issues. Another page is wasted on Malebolgia spying on Spawn and laughing, which I guess he hasn’t done since #26. More pages are consumed by the thrilling adventures of Terry Fitzgerald doing paperwork, while Jason Wynn smokes a cigar and smiles maliciously. It’s boring, and the mountain of superfluous narrative captions just make the issue harder to get through.

Friday, September 17, 2010

SPAWN #33 - July 1995

Shadows - Part One

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

Summary: Spawn contemplates moving away from the alleys, but his friends protest. One of the homeless, a plant from the Violator, later stirs Spawn from his sleep by speaking his real name. Spawn chases him to the Violator’s location, where Violator demands he stay nearby or his friends will pay a price. Their fight takes them to the sewers, where they’re separated by a flood of water. Meanwhile, Terry Fitzgerald begins working for Jason Wynn, as Sam visits Twitch in the hospital, and the angels’ headquarters is repaired.

Spawntinuity: Violator left for Washington in Blood Feud, which is where Badrock Vs. Violator finds him. How exactly he escaped from Hell after the final issue isn’t explained. Another dubious continuity point has Sam accusing Spawn of Twitch’s attack, even though Sam’s willing to help Spawn clear his name by the end of Blood Feud. Violator is shocked Spawn’s costume can morph at this point, claiming it should still be incubating. According to a narrative caption, Spawn still needs oxygen, even though his body is made of necroplasm.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: Todd Toys is now McFarlane Toys, following a helpful letter from Mattel that informed the company a “Todd” doll is a part of the Barbie family.

Todd Talk: A sixteen- year-old letter writer complains that the storylines have started to drag and nothing is happening. McFarlane’s defense is that he needs to build up suspense.

Review: This issue does raise two questions about what exactly McFarlane is trying to do with Spawn. First of all, is he actually trying to make a serious point about homelessness? If we’re supposed to care about these guys, it would help if McFarlane made them remotely human. Bobby is the only one that’s been fleshed out so far, and this issue he returns to give Spawn another inspirational speech about actually doing something. Meanwhile, the rest of the homeless just declare their undying love for Spawn, the guy with magic powers who just hangs around their alleys and does absolutely nothing to help them. Those bums who thought he was a vampire in Blood Feud weren’t really friends with Spawn’s crew, as we learn this issue. These guys just love Spawn unconditionally and can’t bear the thought of seeing him leave, even after he’s attracted angels, demons, cyborgs, police, and mobsters to their alleys. Violator even has his own homeless follower; not to be confused with one of the vagrants that follows the Curse. Apparently, McFarlane thinks that the homeless are dimwitted children who roam the streets, desperate for a “leader” to worship. Going back to his Spider-Man run, McFarlane clearly has an attraction to the homeless, but his message has gone from generic “Another Day in Paradise” advocacy to this odd desire to portray them as subhuman.

You also have to wonder what role Violator is supposed to play in the series by this point. Originally assigned to “train” Spawn, Violator seems to go months at a time without even thinking about the guy. I suppose this issue could be a return to his original motivation, but I would hope Spawn’s training consists of more than just random fights. Why exactly Violator is still following his original orders when his relationship with Hell is strained is also unclear. I actually can’t complain about this issue’s fight scene, since it looks great and it at least gives Spawn something to do for a few pages, but it’s clear Violator needs better definition as a villain. I believe McFarlane soon goes in the direction of Violator working behind-the-scenes to wreck Spawn’s life, mostly by harassing Wanda's family, but I don’t recall it going very far.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

VIOLATOR VS. BADROCK #1-#4, May-August 1995

Rocks and Hard Places

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Brian Denham (penciler), Jonathan Sibal (inker), Bill Oakley (letters), Oclair & Extreme Colors (colors)

There is an odd significance to this miniseries, which was revealed during an online spat between Erik Larsen and Brian Denham. According to Larsen, retailers assumed this series would be produced out of Todd McFarlane’s offices at Image, and weren’t thrilled to discover it was an Extreme Studios job when the first issue arrived. Following this miniseries, Image solicitations specified which studio created each individual title. Using a novice artist on a high-profile miniseries, written by Alan Moore no less, seems to be the major criticism leveled against the title. The first issue mainly consists of Badrock and Violator fighting each other, then striking poses while Badrock taunts the incarcerated Violator. Badrock and Violator have such inhuman designs, it’s hard to say anyone could actually draw them wrong, so Denham’s artistic shortcomings aren’t obvious for most of this issue. Violator specifically looks consistent with McFarlane’s design, down to the inking of the texture of his disgusting skin.

The story opens with Badrock ambushing Violator in Washington, DC (Spawn Blood Feud has him leaving New York when Sankster causes too much trouble for supernatural beings). He’s taken in for study by a research institute named after real life “rocket scientist and occultist” John Whiteside-Parsons. Badrock, who’s leading the institute’s security, has a crush on Dr. Sally McAllister, but she’s only interested in demons. After news of Violator’s capture is made public, an angel named Celestine invades the institute and marches towards Violator. The story isn’t as over-the-top as the Violator miniseries, but Moore’s still keeping the tone light. The jokes are pretty funny, and Moore’s attempts at writing American teenager Badrock are unintentionally amusing.

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Brian Denham (penciler), Jonathan Sibal (inker), Kurt Hathaway (letters), Donald Skinner & Extreme Colors (colors)

That pair of beach balls attached to a crude rendering of the female anatomy on the cover is supposed to be Celestine. According to the indicia, Alan Moore owns her copyright, so I’m sure he can expect a call from Neil Gaiman’s lawyers any day now. Denham’s rendition of Celestine is slightly less inhuman than the Liefeld version on the cover, which means it’s still pretty bad.

As Celestine draws closer to Violator, he convinces Badrock to free him from his shackles so that he can stop Celestine’s killing spree. Violator promptly changes into his human form and tells Celestine that Badrock is the demon; a Bugs Bunny trick that actually works. While Celestine’s distracted fighting the wrong monster, Violator comes from behind and rips her heart out. If you thought the imagery on the cover was gross, wait until you see the same character mutilated and covered in blood for several pages. With her last breath, Celestine opens the institute’s dimensional portal, hoping to send Violator back to Hell. A few hours later, Violator’s missing and Badrock and Dr. McAllister discover that the institute is in Hell. I like the cliffhanger, and Moore’s script still has a few laughs…but what an ugly, dumb comic this is.

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Brian Denham (penciler), Jonathan Sibal & Danny Miki (inkers), Bill Oakley (letters), Byron Talman & Extreme Colors (colors)

Now in Hell, Badrock encounters some of the demons Alan Moore created for Spawn #8 before catching up with Violator. The remaining Phlebiac Brothers also find Violator and try to kill him again. Badrock screws everything up by insulting Violator, which causes the paternal Phlebiac Brothers to attack instead the man who just slighted their brother. This issue is actually really funny, rivaling the first Violator miniseries in clever one-liners. Dr. McAllister’s clear disinterest in Badrock’s safety as she investigates Hell is also well played. The art’s not good enough to compliment the humor, though, and it’s a shame Denham can’t render the Phlebiac Brothers with the care Bart Sears put into their initial appearances.

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Brian Denham (penciler), Jonathan Sibal & Danny Miki (inkers), Bill Oakley (letters), Extreme Colors (colors)

Celestine’s body is withering away, and once it’s gone the institute will return to Earth. Badrock has to find Dr. McAllister before time is up, which leads to more confrontations with the demons that apparently appeared exclusively in Moore’s comics. This issue introduces the “snotty Second Level hyper-shrimp” -- demon intellectuals who wonder why they’re so attracted to blonde, white female victims. Violator returns for a few more fight scenes, eliciting Badrock to comment on how “monotonous” this is getting. After getting the shrewish Dr. McAllister back to safety, the energy drained from Celestine dissipates and the institute returns to Earth. Surprisingly, Violator is left in Hell; although he can’t stay there for long since he’s appearing in the concurrent issues of Spawn. A dialogue exchange establishes that the Admonisher snuck his way back to Earth, but I don’t know if Moore ever used him again. This is essentially the same comic as the previous three issues, only now Denham’s art is really starting to deteriorate. I remarked earlier that it would be hard to truly get the title characters off-model, but Badrock and Violator do look terrible during a few of the scenes. And the human characters have always looked odd during this series, so it’s not a surprise this issue is no exception.

Monday, September 13, 2010

SPAWN BLOOD FEUD #1-#4, June-September 1995

Blood Feud Part One

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Tony Daniel & Kevin Conrad (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Todd Broeker (colors)

Todd McFarlane used to say he was reluctant to do spinoffs, even though retailers vocally demanded more Spawn product during the ‘90s. At this point, McFarlane still seems to be operating under the principle that miniseries should be special, so we have the return of Alan Moore, paired with the latest artist poached from X-Force, Tony Daniel. The story opens with a mystery figure preying on New York’s citizens, as Spawn is hearing the voice of his demonic costume (K-7 Leetha) in his dreams. Meanwhile, monster-hunter John Sankster arrives in town to stop the murders. Sankster declares that vampires are the likely culprit, and this Spawn character clearly must be a vampire. After a particularly trippy dream, a blood-covered Spawn awakens on top of a dead body, surrounded by police.

I guess Spawn is better suited for this story than, say, Wolverine since it’s possible that his costume could be revealed as a murderer, which would enable the lead character to get off the hook. But, really, anyone who’s remotely familiar with the genre tropes should be able to figure out where all of this is headed. I do like the crazy design Daniel gives Spawn’s costume (if you’re wondering why Spawn’s so skinny on the cover, that’s supposed to be his empty suit). Whenever Daniel has to draw civilian characters, they looked rushed and carelessly constructed, but he does make the supernatural elements look cool.

Blood Feud Part Two

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Tony Daniel & Kevin Conrad (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Todd Broeker (colors)

After escaping from the police, Spawn suddenly remembers the stolen weapons he “misplaced” in the alleys. He reasons that his old friend, and CIA arms dealer, Jason “Sonny” Groenfield must’ve retrieved them by now. This is where the shared continuity between two writers gets weird. Obviously, Moore knows about the weapons Spawn stole early in the series’ run, and that they went missing during “The Hunt” storyline. However, he seems to think that Spawn freely shares his secret identity with all of his old friends, since he casually visits Groenfield, talks about the old days, and asks him if he’s seen the weapons. The only character McFarlane has allowed Spawn to reveal his identity to is Chapel, and he did that out of pure anger. Terry Fitzgerald is supposed to be Spawn’s best friend, yet McFarlane has gone out of his way to keep Terry from learning Spawn’s identity.

Sankster also seems to know Spawn’s secret identity, as he’s already been in contact with Groenfield and intimidated him into giving up Spawn if Groenfield sees him. Either Moore is doing this to portray Sankster as a shrewd foe who’s studied Spawn and learned his secrets, or he’s under the impression that Spawn’s identity is somewhat public knowledge. As a villain, Sankster isn’t properly fleshed out yet. Moore emphasizes his preppy qualities, while dropping a few obvious hints about his true identity. He wears fake tanner, and refuses to continue his hunt for Spawn during daylight hours. He’s essentially a joke character with a very obvious secret, and he doesn’t seem to have enough weight to be the main villain of the series.

The rest of the issue is dedicated to Spawn ripping off his costume, which is causing blackouts and giving him bad dreams. He tries to drown it in the bottom of the river, but still can’t escape their mental connection. The next time Spawn awakes, his homeless friends have driven a stake through his chest. Moore’s handling of Spawn’s relationship with his costume and his friends is the highlight so far. While McFarlane tends to portray the homeless as childlike followers, I like Moore’s willingness to show that at least some of them could buy into the vampire hysteria.

Blood Feud Part Three

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Tony Daniel & Kevin Conrad (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Todd Broeker (colors)

Oh, John Sankster is actually a vampire! What a crazy twist. Twitch discovers Sankster’s secret, and is brutally attacked as soon as he puts the evidence together. Meanwhile, Spawn stumbles across the Violator, who helps him recover from the staking. Violator reveals some helpful information about his costume, which clears it of the murders (it only feeds on souls, not blood) and establishes that it is a female. For some reason, this reminds me of the television censors that only allowed Hill Street Blues to do a bestiality story if the pervert was involved with female sheep.

Spawn’s physically ill without the costume, so he must travel across town to retrieve it. Moore actually tries to answer a question McFarlane always skirted over -- how does Spawn travel across New York? Moore has him magically hotwiring an abandoned car, which marks the first time Spawn’s ridden in a vehicle (discounting the comic that was packaged with the Spawnmobile toy, of course). Sankster catches up with Spawn again, traps him inside the car, and drives it off the docks. That’s what I think is supposed to be happening, but Daniel’s storytelling is almost incoherent during the sequence. His work looks increasingly rushed as the series goes along, and I can’t tell if it’s an intentional choice or his response to deadline pressures. This is probably the weakest chapter so far, but it has one of my favorite moments. Moore has at least one bum cuss Spawn out for sitting on a throne and declaring himself the king of the alleys. Was McFarlane not aware of how bizarrely egotistical that setup was?

Blood Feud Part Four

Credits: Alan Moore (story), Tony Daniel & Kevin Conrad (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Todd Broeker (colors)

Spawn’s reunited with his costume, just in time to rescue Sam from Sankster. Sankster tries to explain why he’s framing Spawn, but the only real explanation we get is that he wants to take out the other supernatural competition. In fact, his entire operation in New York has just been a test run for his planned conquest of Hong Kong in 2070. Spawn refers to him as “an undead Donald Trump,” which is apparently all of the development we’re going to get out of Sankster. The sun comes up, he turns into a snake creature, then disappears in the sewers. Spawn decides that only darkness accepts him now and jumps back into the river, even though Sam’s willing to clear his name now.

So, it turns out the villain never had much of a motivation, and the question of how he knows Spawn’s identity is never answered. Spawn embraces the darkness, just like he usually does at the end of McFarlane’s stories. For this, we needed a four-issue miniseries? I could buy it as a two-part fill-in, but releasing it separately as a miniseries just emphasizes that it’s not up to the levels of the Violator and Angela limited series.

Friday, September 10, 2010

CABLE #53-#54, April-May 1998

The Hellfire Hunt Part 6 - Beautiful Friend

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Ladronn (penciler), Juan Vlasco (inker), Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: Ch’vayre leads Shaw and Pierce to Apocalypse’s hibernation chamber. They’re shocked to discover it’s empty. Cable appears, provoking Pierce into a fight. Shaw angrily places Ch’vayre into one of Apocalypse’s cocoons, as the fortress begins to collapse. Cable tries to free Ch’vayre while Shaw and Pierce escape. Shaw flees in a helicopter, refusing to take Pierce along. Cable is unable to free Ch’vayre and is shot into the sky on a pod as the fortress collapses. In Egypt, Apocalypse watches the skies and prepares for the future.

Continuity Notes: Ch’vayre’s imprisonment inside the cocoon sets up his role as Apocalypse’s follower in the original Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix miniseries. During the final scene, Apocalypse frees Ozymandias and Caliban from his service, although I’m not sure what the significance of this is supposed to be.

Miscellaneous Note: I'm assuming the title of this issue is a reference to this song.

Review: After a few detours, the “Hellfire Hunt” storyline comes to an end. Not a total end, as Cable’s fate is left as a cliffhanger, but the Hellfire Club/Apocalypse story does finish up. I’m not sure if anyone really expected Apocalypse to play a major role in this story, as Marvel had decided at this point that he should be saved for giant crossovers, so the real drama comes from the Hellfire Club’s involvement. That’s a bit of a dud, as Shaw and Pierce just bicker for a few pages before Shaw predictably abandons Pierce again. However, Ladronn does get to draw some intense action scenes, and I love his rendition of the Hellfire soldiers (and those weird sky-skimmers they’re flying around on).

I’ve reread the ending to this issue a few times, and I’m still not sure what’s going on. Is this Ch’vayre’s pod that’s shooting out into the sky? That would make sense, assuming that Apocalypse wants to preserve whoever’s inside it. However, it blows up just a few pages later. I know this is setting up a “did Cable survive?” cliffhanger (I’m going to go with “yes”), but the setup doesn’t make sense, especially since Ch’vayre is supposed to survive into the future. I’m not sure if Ladronn, Casey, or an editorial hand is responsible for the confusion, but I think the ending of a six-issue arc should be a little clearer.

Jungle Action

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Ladronn (penciler), Juan Vlasco (inker), Comicraft (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: Cable lands in Wakanda, where he’s nursed to health by the Black Panther’s cousin, Dr. Joshua Itobu. Itobu has secretly lead Klaw into Wakanda, believing that Klaw’s presence will convince the Black Panther to militarize their Vibranium supplies. Klaw turns against Itobu and invades Wakanda's Techno Jungle, hoping to find a replacement for his hand-blaster. Cable and Black Panther team up to defeat Klaw, who is discorporated by a vacuum chamber. Meanwhile, Irene visits Cable’s Hell’s Kitchen hideout, but runs away after seeing Blaquesmith.

Continuity Notes: The Black Panther recognizes Cable from a previous encounter, but says the memories evaporate whenever he concentrates on them. Cable doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Review: James Robinson’s run had a very brief subplot scene set in Wakanda, which clears the way for Joe Casey’s first indulgence in ‘70s nostalgia. Ladronn should be allowed to draw as many Kirby characters as possible, and it doesn’t hurt to have Cable interact with characters from outside of the X-Universe, either. There isn’t much of a plot to dwell on here (Dr. Itobu’s plan really makes no sense), but as an excuse for Ladronn to draw these characters and surroundings, it works well enough. Not only does Ladronn deliver the coolest Klaw I’ve ever seen, but his interpretation of the Techno Jungle rivals Kirby’s original rendition from the Black Panther’s first appearance. Casey does try to develop Cable’s character through a few pages of inner monologues, but this isn’t much more than a Silver Age action story, and it’s pretty enjoyable on that level.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

EXCALIBUR #114-#115, November-December 1997

For the One I Love

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Pete Woods (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Shadowcat searches the tunnels under Muir Island for Lockheed, as Colossus and Meggan return from France. In her lab, Moira notices an email on their private account from SHIELD. It’s addressed to Shadowcat. Meanwhile, Peter Wisdom is tortured by his ex-girlfriend, and current Black Air agent, Sari St. Hubbins. He escapes his shackles and defeats her in a fight. He offers to leave her alone if Black Air calls off its hits on Excalibur.

Continuity Notes: Wisdom reveals that Sari St. Hubbins was an assassin, and he had to turn her in after her failed attempt on Queen Elizabeth. She’s also supposed to be mentally deranged, as Wisdom hoped that she would get better in rehab. St. Hubbins claims that Black Air was behind the suicide pilot that nearly killed Colossus and Meggan.

Review: The Peter Wisdom subplot finally becomes the main story, and while this resolves one mystery, it also gives us even more pages of Raab accents. Actually, Wisdom’s dialect is slightly subdued here (by Raab standards, at least), but Raab’s interpretation is still a pale imitation of the character Ellis created. Sari St. Hubbins is also a weak villain; a jealous ex-girlfriend with a bit of insanity thrown in…is this really the culprit behind the dark conspiracy Raab’s been setting up since the beginning of his run? The rest of the issue consists of set ups for the New Mutants and Kitty Pryde: Agent of SHIELD miniseries, along with a few references to the ongoing subplots. Not that any of those subplots actually go anywhere, of course. I’m starting to notice a pattern in these issues…


Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Mel Rubi (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Banshee responds to an urgent message from Wolfsbane. He learns that Moira plans on keeping herself in quarantine until a cure for the Legacy Virus can be found. As he tries to talk her out of her decision, Douglock and Wolfsbane grow closer. Meanwhile, Meggan receives a letter from Captain Britain, promising to return soon, as Peter Wisdom unsuccessfully uses Cerebro to search for Nightcrawler. Later, Moira says goodbye to the team and heads into quarantine. Wolfsbane impulsively follows her, and Douglock is unable to unlock the door.

Continuity Notes: According to the recap foldout, Shadowcat left in a SHIELD helicarrier last issue, and Lockheed escaped his shadowy captors by hiding in her suitcase. Neither of these events happened last issue, so I’m assuming these are references to the Kitty Pryde: Agent of SHIELD miniseries.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average yearly sales at 112,177 copies with the most recent issue selling 94,672 copies.

Review: Ben Raab and Mel Rubi reunite on another story co-starring Banshee…could it top the sheer awfulness of their X-Men Unlimited issue? Well, it’s close, but the slight improvement in Rubi’s art prevents this one from reaching the depths of Unlimited. Not only are we treated to entire issue of Banshee and Moira’s insane accents (“The human race is gaunnae be extinct!”), but the plot is probably the weakest Raab’s produced so far. Apparently, Moira’s quarantine chamber can’t be opened period. Not even from the inside, as Banshee exclaims after Wolfsbane jumps behind the doors. I’m all for exploring Moira’s reaction to her Legacy Virus infection, especially if it means dealing with unpleasant issues like how to prevent the victims from spreading the disease. But Moira locking herself in a room that she can never leave? That’s too dumb for words. The subplots are also disappointing, as Wisdom fruitlessly searches for Nightcrawler (why didn’t he get the info out of Sari St. Hubbins after they made a truce last issue?), and Colossus hints that he has a crush on Meggan…the same dilemma Nightcrawler found himself in during the early issues of the series. Maybe some great twists are on the way, but I’m starting to wonder how bad this series is going to get.

Monday, September 6, 2010

X-FACTOR #140-#141, December 1997-January 1998

Going Home

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Duncan Rouleau (penciler), Jamie Mendoza & Hackshack Studios (inks), Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne (letters), Glynis Oliver & Matt Webb (colors)

Summary: Following her apparent death at Sabretooth’s hands, Shard is lost in time. She relives her first meeting with renegade XSE officers Fixx, Greystone, and Archer. Shard is invited to join them as a member of Xavier’s Underground Enforcers. With her help, they abduct Bantam from custody, in the hopes that his connection to Trevor Fitzroy will allow them to travel through time and correct a past mistake.

Continuity Notes: Fixx can create tiny psychic “fairies” that allow her to read minds. Greystone morphs into some sort of monster (that appears to be what Duncan Rouleau is drawing, at least). Archer can apparently cover his body with some kind of metal, and for some reason bears a strong resemblance to Cable. Shard first meets the XUE members while fighting the Exhumes, which are an undead group of mutants from her future. Based on her dialogue, Alaska is apparently as hot as a desert in her time, which I guess is a global warming reference, even though the New York of her era has never been portrayed as particularly warm. The XUE have a mysterious leader in the shadows (naturally), who declares that Xavier’s dream has failed and the X-Men are responsible.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average yearly sales at 143,508 copies with the most recent issue selling 123,227.

Review: A solo story dedicated to Shard, the hologram-you’re-not-supposed-to-call-a-hologram who joined the team for no apparent reason months earlier. How lucky we are. I have no idea why this character was ever brought into this title, other than as a love interest for Wild Child, another cast member introduced for dubious reasons. Wild Child at least had a tenuous connection to the popular “Age of Apocalypse” event; Shard just has Bishop as a brother, and Bishop wasn’t really setting the world on fire by the mid-’90s. Shard and Bishop’s future is still underexplored by this point, so if you’re going to do a Shard solo story, it’s a reasonable enough place to start. The XUE are treated as a big deal, but the characters have little personality and the entire concept just feels like pandering. The XSE are already supposed to be the extreme future X-Men. Now we have the double-extreme splinter group of the XSE that takes orders from a mystery man in the shadows, who has some vague information on the X-Men that of course isn’t revealed yet. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that their mysterious leader is Forge (Rouleau partially reveals his face on the last page, but I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a character we already recognize). None of this is original, but a story that connects Shard’s future to X-Factor’s current status quo has potential. This, however, is X-Factor. The book hasn’t had a coherent direction or logically followed through with a storyline for years by this point. I’m not optimistic.

Dreams of Tomorrow

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Duncan Rouleau (penciler), Jamie Mendoza (inks), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: With Bantam’s reluctant cooperation, the XUE locate Fitzroy. After abducting him, Shard explains their need of his time travel powers, and hints that their romance could be rekindled. Greystone walks in as Shard releases Fitzroy and tries to stop her. Fitzroy absorbs Greystone’s life force and creates a time portal, but Shard prevents his escape. Fixx reveals that with her psychic powers, they don’t need Fitzroy’s willful cooperation anyway. Shard begins to question changing the past and breaks away from the XUE. She’s later killed in battle with Exhumes, and brought to life in the past as a hologram. Shard suddenly awakens inside Polaris’ body. Realizing that the XUE have now traveled to the past, Shard leaves X-Factor to find them.

Continuity Notes: Shard describes Archer as a straight “by the book” officer and wonders why he joined the XUE. Last issue, she grouped Archer in with the “XSE rogues…rejected and feared by the rest of the corps…good, but mavericks…regular Logans” during their first encounter. As for Sabretooth’s attack, Shard survived it by phasing through Polaris as Sabretooth “killed” her. She’s been inside Polaris’ body ever since the attack. Fitzroy is shown creating a portal after draining Greystone, but Greystone apparently survives. I seem to recall Fitzroy needing all of someone’s life energy in order to create time portals, but it’s possible he was always taking more than he needed because he’s sadistic.

We Get Letters: The editorial response to rumors that X-Factor is getting cancelled is “X-Factor being canceled? NOT!” They go on to promise a great new direction for issue #150, an issue that was never published (and was supposed to reveal the identity of Graydon Creed’s assassin, according to the ads Marvel ran). The X-Factor letter column has now been renamed “Factor Reactor” which I think we can all agree is terrible.

Review: Yeah, what a surprise. X-Factor can’t do time travel stories, either. For some reason, Mackie feels the need to overly complicate the way Fitzroy’s time travel works, even though we’ve already seen the way Fitzroy creates time portals and it’s not that difficult to grasp. He absorbs someone’s life energy and makes a portal. Other people can go through it. The end. Whilce Portacio didn’t even screw that one up. Now, Mackie gives the XUE the odd plan to only send one member back in time. He or she will serve as a psionic anchor for the others, and “should, in theory, be able to pull the others through.” What does this mean? Why don’t all of them just walk though the stupid portal?

On top of that, the ending reveals that the XUE actually need “the bodies of people alive in this time to travel back to it.” Where did that come from? I can’t make any sense of this, but because Shard was inhabiting Polaris, the XUE can now travel back to this era, which leads to the issue’s cliffhanger. It’s really hard to believe how dumb this book gets from month to month.

Friday, September 3, 2010

X-MEN UNLIMITED #17 - December 1997

Alone in his Head

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Tom Lyle (penciler), Perotta/Parsons/Wong (inks), Comicraft (letters), Ariane Lenshoek (colors)

Summary: Wolverine falls for a trap set by Sabretooth and his new associate, Hoo. Hoo uses her powers to swap Wolverine and Sabretooth’s bodies. Before the switch is completed, Sabretooth mortally wounds himself, leaving Wolverine to die in his new body. Posing as Wolverine, Sabretooth informs Archangel that one of his research firms is developing a mutant power neutralizer. They travel to the plant, where the true Wolverine reveals the truth. During their confrontation, the neutralizer prototype is destroyed. Suddenly, the two mutants return to their original bodies. Hoo informs her employer, Sebastian Shaw, that the prototype has been destroyed, as Wolverine decides he must trust that Archangel didn’t know about the research.

Continuity Notes: The neutralizer is based on the one Forge created in his early appearances. Archangel swears he didn’t know about the research and that all of the information has been destroyed. This issue also establishes that Archangel is spending more time at Worthington Industries following his departure from the team.

“Huh?” Moment: Sabretooth (while posing as Wolverine) hints that Archangel might be racist for using his image inducer to replicate white skin.

I Love the ‘90s: Archangel is given a “Dutch boy” haircut reminiscent of the one sported by the blonde member of the Backstreet Boys.

Review: As the recap foldout points out, this is Wolverine’s first confrontation with Sabretooth since Wolverine gave him a partial lobotomy in 1994. You would think this would’ve been a big deal, and X-Men Unlimited was originally created to showcase “event” stories, yet the two concepts aren’t a match. Unlimited has deservedly earned its “filler” reputation by now, and Sabretooth has been so poorly used in X-Factor his appearances are nothing special, so this is just more X-product. By the standards of Unlimited, though, it is an improvement over the previous issues. The rushed inking doesn’t do Tom Lyle any favors, but his yeoman work here is easy to follow and doesn’t sear your eyes with freakish, deformed figures or a bad Jim Lee impression. The story uses the premise pretty well, opening with a just out-of-character Wolverine berating Archangel for a few pages, before a flashback reveals the truth. Archangel is a good choice as the third star, given his relationship with Psylocke and anger with Sabretooth over her assault (plus, Sabretooth nearly killed Archangel in X-Factor, although everyone seems to have forgotten that by now). The story predictably tries to introduce some identity issues, which don’t go very far, but at least the idea is more ambitious than the usual Kavanagh script from this era. I would complain about Wolverine (in Sabretooth’s body) managing to discreetly tail Sabretooth for hours by staying “downwind,” but Sabretooth’s always been able to do that to him, hasn’t he?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

GAMBIT #4 - December 1997

Heaven’s Promise

Credits: Terry Kavanagh w/ Howard Mackie (writers), Klaus Janson (penciler), Bill Sienkiewicz (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Christie Scheele (colors)

Summary: Anielle bathes Sibyl in light, rescuing Gambit. They arrive in Rome, where they’re soon confronted by Oliver Stoker and his demonic army. Stoker unveils his newest follower, Katrina, who has been perverted into the “Black Kat.” Katrina turns on her mentor, Padre Bonavita, and prepares to kill him. Gambit agrees to give Stoker Anielle in exchange for Katrina’s soul. Stoker disappears with Anielle, as Katrina returns to normal. Padre Bonavita explains that Anielle was created for this specific purpose and only has a short lifespan. Stoker gave up the true prize, Katrina’s soul. Later, Gambit visits the Vatican, where Katrina is praying, but not as a nun. He returns the Cross of Redemption and kneels to pray.

Review: So, after four issues of adventures with an angel and demonic forces, Gambit decides that he really does believe. Doing any story about faith can be tricky, but the idea of an atheist in the Marvel Universe, in the middle of a literal battle between Heaven and Hell, is faintly ridiculous. Fabian Nicieza kept the idea of Gambit as a believer during his solo series, so I guess Gambit is out of the Marvel Universe Atheist Club, which might be helpful information for Jim Starlin if he writes any more cosmic miniseries.

The story ends with a slight copout, as Gambit turns the angel over to the demon, only to learn she’s going to fade out of existence soon anyway. Revealing that Katrina, an actual human soul, was the true prize all along actually works pretty well as a twist ending, though. The story does take some advantage of Gambit’s role as a darker hero, as it’s revealed that Stoker needed someone between good and evil to handle Anielle (pure good wouldn’t be inclined to turn her over, and pure evil would’ve burned at her touch). One idea that isn’t very clear is Gambit’s role in Katrina’s corruption. Apparently, growing close to him lead her to reconsider becoming a nun, yet the two characters have barely interacted during most of the series. Maybe the original idea was to do a full-blown love story between the two, but someone reconsidered, perhaps because they weren’t sure if Gambit was supposed to be with Rogue at this point (again, this mini doesn’t comfortably fit anywhere in continuity). Having Gambit influence someone into exploring the line between right and wrong would be a nice use of the character, but if that was an intentional plot point, the execution is flawed (and, really, "The Black Kat"?). Overall, I did find myself enjoying this more than the initial miniseries. The story does try to use Gambit’s character as a means to explore a few ideas, which is preferable to more torturous “revelations” from his past. Plus, we’re spared the Thieves Guild.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

X-MAN ‘97 - February 1998

Common Ground

Credits: Christopher Golden (writer), Ramon Bernardo (artist), Comicraft (letters), Tom Vincent (colors)

Summary: Shi’ar agents arrive on Earth, hoping to stop a drain on the M’Kraan Crystal. They locate Dark Beast, Holocaust, and X-Man. Using their powers against them, they abduct the mutants and hold them prisoner on their spacecraft. Onboard, the mutants learn that their fellow refugee from another reality, Sugar Man, has already made a deal with the Shi’ar. Forming a temporary truce, X-Man is able to escape with Holocaust and Dark Beast. Realizing that the Shi’ar want the shard of the M’Kraan Crystal inside Holocaust, X-Man telekinetically removes and destroys it. Dark Beast and Holocaust teleport back to Earth, as X-Man uses his powers to repair the damage to the spacecraft. The Shi’ar send X-Man and Sugar Man back to their homes, content that the duplicate M’Kraan shard has been destroyed.

Continuity Notes: Holocaust was stabbed with a shard of the M’Kraan Crystal in X-Men Omega. Following its removal in this issue, he suddenly switches back to his human form (which is a blonde white guy). Dark Beast explains that his armor allows him to change shape, but the M’Kraan Crystal was interfering with its functions. X-Man reminds us that Holocaust is invisible to psionics since working with Onslaught. Dark Beast is also invisible to his scans at the end of the issue, but X-Man doesn’t know why.

Holocaust is called “Nemesis” for much of this issue. Dark Beast explains that it’s the birth name given to him by Apocalypse, and that he should use it because he’s going to be a “nemesis for mankind.” So, Apocalypse gave his son “Nemesis” as his Christian name and then code-named him Holocaust, which is one of the dumbest retcons I’ve ever read (made worse by the issue’s insistence on constantly reminding us that he has two names). The behind-the-scenes reason for the name switch is that the character apparently had to be renamed when his action figure was released, because “Holocaust” was a bit too intense for Wal-Mart and Toys ‘R Us.

I Love the ‘90s: X-Man asks the Shi’ar why they’re wearing “Arnold’s freeze armor.”

Review: It’s hard to believe X-Man was still getting annuals in 1997, but here we are. Actually, the determination of which titles did and did not receive annuals during these days is kind of confusing. Looking at the Top 100 list from an issue of Wizard from around this era has Generation X at #20, X-Force at #24, X-Factor at #25, X-Man at #27, Cable at #30, and Excalibur rounding out the X-titles at #45. Looking around, it seems like X-Force didn’t have an annual after 1996 (although I seem to recall one popping up in 1999), Cable never had one, and X-Factor and Excalibur dropped the annuals after 1994. X-Man is still charting fairly high at this point (surprisingly above Cable), so that could justify an annual. I'm only now learning that X-Men vol. two had an annual in 1997; I'd never seen a reference to it anywhere before researching this post.

The previous annual focused on X-Man’s connection with his fellow Age of Apocalypse refugees, which is also the starting place for this story. The basic premise isn’t bad, as it uses the character in a far more logical and coherent way than his regular series has at this point. The story even opens with X-Man actually doing something proactive -- he’s scanning for Dark Beast, the horrible villain who keeps sending minions after X-Man while he does nothing in retaliation. Connecting the M’Kraan Crystal, the AoA characters’ ticket to this world, and the Shi’ar is another practical use of continuity. However, the story quickly descends into pointless fight scenes, bogged down by excessive word balloons and captions. Joe Kelly could over-write a page in his early days, but at least his writing had a viewpoint and personality. Golden’s scripting is extremely mannered and often redundant. It’s hard to care about X-Man as a protagonist when he spits out this kind of dialogue with a straight face: “Could I have survived the destruction of my own reality just so there would be someone with the power and knowledge to save this one from the same horrors?” Is that his awkward way of telling us that he’s trying to prevent our Earth from becoming the AoA? If that’s the case, why does this guy waste so much time wandering aimlessly and getting into pointless fights?

GAMBIT #3 - November 1997

True Colors

Credits: Terry Kavanagh w/Howard Mackie (writers), Klaus Janson (penciler), Bill Sinkiewicz (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Christie Scheele (colors)

Summary: Gambit escapes with Anielle, as Oliver Stoker kidnaps Katrina. Gambit follows Katrina’s orders and travels to the Vatican with Anielle, while Stoker tortures Katrina with images of the late Marcelo as a demon. While on a train to Rome, Sibyl and Stoker’s demonic hound Cerberus track down Gambit. A plague of locusts emerges from Sibyl’s mouth.

“Huh?” Moments: The nun in the church Gambit crashed into at the end of the last issue is now supposed to be Katrina. Aside from the fact that Gambit didn’t recognize her voice last issue, how exactly she managed to be at the right church at the right time is unclear (if she’s supposed to have powers, she hasn’t shown them so far; plus, Stoker consistently refers to her as a “mortal.”) Also, Anielle is suddenly wearing clothes under Gambit’s trenchcoat in-between panels.

Review: This issue is light on plot, but it’s heavy on running. The first third of the issue is entirely dedicated to Gambit running away from Stoker, while the majority of the rest of the story focuses on his escape to Europe with Anielle. The story does introduce the idea that perhaps Marcelo (and even Gambit) have been doing Stoker’s will all along, but this comes from Stoker himself so there’s no real reason to trust the revelations. The angel mystery advances slowly, as Gambit spends more time with Anielle, who still doesn’t speak but now seems to have some telepathic communication with Gambit. She offers some vague clues about him making her “special,” just before Sibyl pops up to show off her freaky new powers. It all looks appropriately dark and gritty, which helps a rather mundane plot.

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