Monday, February 28, 2011

SPAWN #61 - May 1997


Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Chance Wolf (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Cogliostro visits Spawn, confirming that Chapel was not his killer, and warning him not to abandon his friends. After visiting Granny Blake, Spawn returns to Rat City and discovers his homeless followers have built him a new throne. He chastises them for following him, but accepts their gift. Spawn goes into a trance, where he receives a vision from Violator. He sees the image of the woman who actually murdered him, and learns that Wanda has been Hell’s prize all along.

Spawntinuity: According to Violator, the majority of Spawn’s memories are false ones implanted by Hell.

The Big Names: Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, and Martin Sheen, the stars of the Spawn movie, are profiled.

Review: Now the title’s turned into a dismal amalgam of Alan Moore’s “everything you know is wrong” approach to superheroes and the “implanted memories” arc from Wolverine. You almost expect a corporate-owned superhero’s origins to be periodically revised, but Image was supposed to be bringing us the creator's pure, unadulterated vision. It’s very obvious that Chapel was supposed to be Spawn’s killer, and Spawn’s flashbacks have never been circumspect in the past. Wolverine’s fake memories were only introduced in order to explain away any inconsistencies that arose from various creators making vague references to his past. Spawn has only had one regular writer at this point, his own creator.

Telling the reader that everything they’ve learned about the character is potentially a lie just comes across as a cheat, unless a skilled writer like Alan Moore is involved (and even his track record isn’t perfect when it comes to these things). Revealing that Wanda has been Hell’s prize all along also feels like a botched attempt to mimic Moore. If you wrote a list of bad plot twists for the series, this would have to be towards the top. (Reading the early issues of this book as a teen, I wondered if we would someday learn that Wanda and/or Cyan are actually Hell’s targets, or if Spawn would be eventually revealed as Heaven’s agent all along). Are we supposed to ignore all of the talk about Al Simmons’ proficiency for killing that drew Hell’s attention in the first place? Is it just a coincidence that this skilled killing machine happened to be married to a woman (who’s never been shown with any connection to the supernatural) that’s been targeted by Hell?

The lame retcons only make up the final few pages of the book. The rest of the issue is more of a regurgitation of scenes McFarlane’s already covered. Wanda worries about Spawn. Jason Wynn declares that Spawn must be killed. Cogliostro gives Spawn advice that he mostly ignores. Spawn visits Granny Blake, who reminds him that he still has good inside of him. The bums try to connect with Spawn, and he rejects them. Spawn spies on Wanda from that tree outside of her bedroom. All that’s missing is Spawn crouching on top of a church or beating up more of the thugs who bully the homeless.

It's even more frustrating is to see McFarlane going for a specific character arc, only to veer back in the opposite direction just a few pages later. Spawn’s almost sympathetic during his conversation with Granny, who senses that he’s grown more distant and advises him not to give into the darkness. It looks like he’s taken her words to heart and is reflecting on his current state of mind, until he runs into his homeless “friends” a few pages later. He cusses them out for following him to his new lair, reminds them that he doesn’t need companionship, and only reluctantly accepts their gift of a new throne. (And yet none of the homeless are offended; in fact, they rejoice when their “king” gives his unenthusiastic approval of the chair. By the way, this new chair is still made out of bones and dead humans, which makes the standard homeless supporting cast members pretty ghoulish.) Also, it’s sixty-one issues into this series and Spawn is still spying on his former wife from outside of her bedroom. This exceeded “creepy” a long time ago. Plus, McFarlane said that this “phase” of Spawn’s life would be over after issue #50, when he finally accepted Terry as her new husband.

Friday, February 25, 2011

X-MAN #34-#36, January-March 1998

Messiah Complex Part One: The Ride

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

Apparently, this storyline is supposed to mark a new direction in the life of X-Man, the outcast mutant hero who resists “direction” the same way Gary Busey resists sanity. Kavanagh is following up on the idea that X-Man is a local celebrity in Washington Square Park and pushing it into full-on hero worship. Everyone wants X-Man to use his psychic powers to help them out, resulting in a mob scene every time he appears in public. This setup does have actual potential, as opposed to earlier status quo of aimless wandering and random violence.

One of X-Man’s new “bad girl” friends, Jam, is hospitalized after a drunk driving accident, which sets the story into motion. X-Man visits her in the hospital, wishes his vast powers could reattach her severed arm, and is then rushed out of the room by her doctor. Dr. Arlington soon realizes that Jam’s arm has indeed grown back. Later in his rounds, Arlington discovers another patient’s nearly fatal gunshot wound has been healed. Perhaps not coincidentally, X-Man is standing outside of his hospital window, lost in thought. This is, gasp, an intriguing premise for a story. The dialogue is still awkward and X-Man remains fairly unlikable, but I have to give Kavanagh credit for a strong principal idea for the story arc. In the background, a mystery man is monitoring X-Man’s actions. On the final page, we discover that he is none other than longtime Alpha Flight nemesis, Purple Man. Well, of course he is.

Messiah Complex Part Two: Media Blitz

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

Extended fill-in artist ChrisCross makes half of a debut, penciling a good portion of the pages while Roger Cruz handles the midsection. In a sign of the times, Kavanagh has chosen a WNBA game as the venue for X-Man to perform his most public act of heroism yet. The Destabilizers, a political terrorist group, invade the stadium and are easily defeated by the mutant.

Later, X-Man reconnects with Dr. Arlington, who theorizes that their brief physical contact in Jam’s hospital room gave X-Man the subconscious knowledge necessary to reattach her arm. When he suggests they work together to develop his skill and help people, X-Man acts like the irrational brat he always reverts to and abruptly leaves. He flies past the sea of fans that are now camped outside of his home, a two-page spread that marks Roger Cruz’s temporary exit.

The Destabilizers plot thread returns on the next page, and perhaps not coincidentally, ChrisCross is back as the artist. Remember the Zero Tolerance crossover issue that opened with Cary Nord art before shifting to Cruz’s pencils when the crossover material began? I wonder now if Cruz drew a sequence of pages for this issue that were later rewritten and given to ChrisCross to handle. As the issue closes, hidden devices in the Destabilizers’ skin create a massive explosion when they go through the NYPD’s metal detector. Because the terrorists didn’t know about the devices, X-Man didn’t learn about them during his earlier psi-scan. The police are now accusing X-Man of sending Trojan horses into One Police Plaza, and they’re not thrilled. Finally, it’s revealed that Purple Man has been setting up these events with Flag Smasher, a partner he’s already bored with by the final page. I have to admit that the utter randomness of these villains is fun, and just look at the sheer amount of story we’re getting this issue. Things are happening! What a thought.

Messiah Complex Part Three: Falling Star

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), ChrisCross (penciler), Bud LaRosa & Harry Candelario (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Now a suspected terrorist, X-Man lives on the streets, hiding from the authorities and eating out of dumpsters. I wouldn’t mind this as a new status quo for the book, although I don't think we're going to be lucky enough to see X-Man eating garbage for too many issues. While spying on his former friends, X-Man learns that one of the girls, Bux, has been acting odd lately. Searching for her telepathically, he learns that she’s been used as a dupe by the Purple Man. The story isn’t very clear, but apparently this is how Purple Man got close enough to X-Man to influence his actions. Jam’s new arm is actually an elaborate psionic illusion, and presumably, (the story isn’t very clear about this either) the patient he brought to life was also a telepathic hoax. Purple Man thinks that X-Man is powerful enough to reunite him with his family, and that they can spread love throughout the world together. Umm…okay. X-Man sees that Purple Man is simply deluding himself, they get into a fight, things blow up, and Purple Man disappears. X-Man considers wiping the city’s collective memory of the past few weeks, but a mystery voice from behind urges him not to.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the finale doesn’t live up to the premise’s potential. Since Purple Man and X-Man have similar powers, he is a credible choice for a villain, but X-Man’s so powerful Kavanagh has to spend several pages merely providing a justification for how Purple Man could influence him in the first place. And, even then, it doesn’t really make sense. I am glad to see ChrisCross come aboard as artist. While Cruz was improving with each issue, his work could still look rushed and a little sloppy on occasion. ChrisCross’ solid draftsmanship brings more consistency to the book. He also makes X-Man look more like a teenager and less like a steroid-enhanced ‘90s superhero with veins popping out of his neck. So, despite the weak ending, I have to acknowledge “Messiah Complex” as an improvement for the series. Now, do you think anyone working in the X-office today knows/cares that the name of one of their crossovers was already taken?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GENERATION X #40 - July 1998

Pride & Penance!

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Felix Serrano (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: At the hospital, a comatose Synch subconsciously mimics the powers of Emma and the St. Croix twins. The revived Synch refuses to implicate Dorian and Weasel in his beating, and insists that the St. Croix twins reveal their family’s secret when they get home. Later, the twins reveal that their brother Emplate transformed Monet into the mute Penance in a fit of anger. The twins used their powers to banish him to another dimension, unaware that Penance would actually follow him. To cover Monet’s disappearance, they merged bodies and imitated her form. Later, “Monet” would become Generation X’s M. The twins decide to return Monet to her true body, but in the process are merged into Penance’s form. Meanwhile, Bianca Laneige transforms seven aliens into obedient dwarves and sets course for Snow Valley.

Continuity Notes: Bianca Laneige is a white-skinned super-powered being who’s escaped from another dimension. She blames her exile on her former Hellfire Club compatriot, Emma Frost. When Synch mimics Emma’s powers, he suddenly becomes telekinetic. Fans complained, but Larry Hama’s defense was that Emma has done things in the past that could only be explained by telekinesis. (I’m not sure which scenes he’s referring to, but I don’t pretend to have every Emma Frost appearance ever, either.) At the issue’s end, Husk speculates that the autistic twin, Claudette, is controlling Penance, which is apparently the new explanation for why she doesn’t speak.

Creative Differences: So, what was Scott Lobdell’s original plan for these characters? Via the interview at

M - “Well, it unfolded pretty much the way I wanted it too up until the moment that M split. From BEFORE her first appearance, the plan was to have her split after that wall fell on her . . . they would go through the wreckage and find the TWINS! After that, EMMA and SEAN were going to be forced to make a truly difficult decision: Do you allow the TWINS to stay together as the supper powered M--thereby putting their lives in constant danger--or do you force them to stay apart and live relatively normal lives (except that would mean the autistic one would never know the freedom she enjoyed as M! Ahhhh, the tragedy.) As you can see, they strayed as FAR away from the original idea as possible.”

Emplate -“ It was short for TEMPLATE--the idea was going to be, as we saw in his first appearance, that he was going to be something of a tabula rasa . . . so that as he feasted on the genetic marrow of mutants, he would eventually take their powers from them as well. Imagine a vampire who could become the person he bit, so to speak.”

Penance - “Penny was short for PENANCE -- the only word GATEWAY spoke when he dropped her off after kidnaping her from EMPLATE. But it wasn't her name, it was GATEWAY explaining this was his penance for his part in the murder of the Hellions. It would ultimately have been revealed that her name was YVETTE, and that she was a sixteen-year-old survivor of the warring in Yugoslavia. She was deaf since birth, which explained her childlike naivete as well as he inability to communicate with others. She was supposed to be the first deaf mutant . . . I think it is kind of sad that she was never allowed to be who she is.”

Review: Well, what can you say about this one? People hated it, the snide comments carried on for years, and Larry Hama was tarred with a “Worst Writer” label that he didn’t really deserve (considering all of his previous work, and his assertion that he revealed M’s origin as it was explained to him by editorial), but that’s the way online fandom goes. I’m surprised this story hasn’t been retconned over the years, but that’s likely because the two writers who’ve penned most of the subsequent M stories (Jay Faerber and Peter David) had a “just move on” attitude regarding the mess.

It’s a silly explanation that’s needlessly confusing, and requires the twins to suddenly develop whichever superpowers might be necessary in order for the idea to work. Even if you take the story at face value, some elements still make little sense. Most notably would be the beginning of the flashback, which has the twins reiterating the conversation between Monet and Emplate that took place in her bedroom. They weren’t there, so how do they know what happened? They weren’t telepathically eavesdropping, since they didn’t know a few seconds later that Monet was now Penance, so that can’t be the explanation. I could buy the merged twins learning the details later from Penance after she joined Gen X, but I think it’s been fairly well established that Penance’s mind is a virtual blank that can’t be penetrated.

Another continuity problem is the fact that the M that exists from Generation X #40 on isn’t the same M from the previous thirty-nine issues of the book. She’s not going to have the memories or emotional connection that go along with all of her previous adventures in this series, or the original “Phalanx Covenant” crossover that introduced the character. All of those feelings are now inside the new Penance, who’s still mute, and isn’t the same Penance from the past thirty-nine issues, either.

While Lobdell’s original idea had more potential, I’m not entirely sold on it either. His initial idea was that the St. Croixs’ father was obsessed with the number two after the loss of his twins. If his twins were really Monet, then where did Monet come from? Mr. St. Croix treats Monet as his daughter, but are we to believe that he’s raised her from birth? If so, what happened to the original Monet after the twins merged and took on her identity? Perhaps this was all a part of a plotline he’d already worked out, but I wonder just how long it would’ve taken him to spell out all of the details.

This is comics, folks. You can’t just introduce a “mean girl” with superpowers and let her agitate her fellow teammates as a part of an entertaining group dynamic. You have to add mystery, and you have to drop vague hints for years, hints that will later be misinterpreted by future creators, leading to the mess you see above. That’s how comics should be done, and you know you’re doing it right when you’ve lost around a quarter of your audience along the way.

Monday, February 21, 2011

MAVERICK #12 - August 1998

Red Reign Part 3 - Mortal Coils

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Jim Cheung & Leo Fernandez (pencilers), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & VC (letters), Kevin Somers (colors)

Summary: Inside Pushkin’s aircraft, Maverick and Red Guardian are discovered by Omega Red and Sickle. Turbulence throws the heroes off the plane, but they’re soon able to locate the AIM base Pushkin has targeted. While Red Guardian disables the chemical weapons, Maverick has a second confrontation with Sickle, but refuses to kill him. Red Guardian is caught by Hammer, who smashes his leg. Maverick sends Red Guardian away in an escape pod as the AIM base self-destructs. After fending off Omega Red, Maverick sneaks back onboard Pushkin’s plane and destroys the stolen missiles. Sickle strikes again, gouging Maverick’s left eye out and throwing him out of the plane. Maverick survives the fall, and uses his powers to cauterize his wound.

Continuity Notes: For some reason, it’s important the editors tell us this story takes place before Quicksilver #6. Chris and Elena make a brief appearance, as Elena lies comatose in the Bradleys’ home. The pain Maverick experiences at the end travels through their telepathic bond and forces Elena out of her coma.

“Huh?” Moment: Apparently, you can “permanently neutralize” chemical WMDs “forever” by pressing a button on a computer console that will deactivate their biological agents.

Review: I don’t remember people talking about the Maverick series when it was new, but I do recall some speculation that its cancellation was significant because it was the first X-spinoff to be cancelled due to low sales. (I guess the 99-cent Professor Xavier and the X-Men book didn’t count, as it wasn’t strictly in-continuity and a part of an entire line that folded.) An X-association was no longer enough keep a title afloat, and surely Marvel would learn a lesson from this and be more careful about exploiting the brand in the future. And that is exactly what happened, because unquestionably no X-titles have been cancelled since 1998. Readers just can’t get enough spinoffs about new teenage mutants, or solo books with popular characters like Rogue and Nightcrawler. That X-brand is still a healthy cash cow, here on Bizarro World.

I do feel a little bad for Maverick. I can’t say it’s been an exceptionally great book, but it’s tended to hold a higher level of quality than many of its spinoff brethren. Had it launched just a few years earlier, I could see it making it past the twenty-five issue mark quite easily. However, Maverick had the misfortune of being released in the summer of 1997, a solid year after the X-brand started to lose its shine as the overall industry continued to collapse. Maverick probably would’ve performed just as well as, say, Cable’s solo title, had it been released within a year of his first appearance. This was a Jim Lee character with mysterious ties to Wolverine! He shoots people and has a bad attitude, just like the Punisher! In 1993, that’s printing money. In 1997, you’re hoping that the people who still remember/care about that stuff will give the book a shot.

And if someone actually wanted to see the original, tough-as-nails merc Maverick, the series didn’t exactly deliver. At this point, he’s mellowed out so much that he doesn’t even kill the assassin that’s obsessed with killing him, the one that helped to murder his mentor earlier in the series, and is in the process of stealing WMDs, when he has the chance. Maverick doesn’t want to be brought down to Sickle’s level, so he lets the guy live to terrorize and murder another day. Or just another hour, as Maverick has to face him again a few pages later, which ends with Sickle gauging his eye out. Sickle lost an eye to Maverick earlier in the series, so maybe this is a play on the old “eye for an eye” axiom, although it’s a little odd that Maverick loses his eye after he’s already decided to spare his opponent’s life. Maybe this was intended as a cynical message; a warning that doing the right thing could also have tragic consequences. The final pages are rather dark, as Maverick tends to his wounds while stranded in the frozen wilderness, so perhaps Gonzalez really was going for a totally downbeat ending. However, given the more traditional tone of the rest of the series, I wonder if the ending was originally intended as a cliffhanger that just became the closing after the pink slips went out.

I’m not sure why exactly Maverick was softened up for this series, but it’s one of the choices that could’ve led to the title’s demise. Maverick’s the guy who shot a flunkie seven times in the face in his first appearance for no compelling reason, outside of it making a nice quip after the goon told him he needed to go to Level Seven (“Seven, huh?” BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM). He’s not the type of character you put through a “true heroism” arc, unless there’s a skilled writer at the helm who can really pull it off. Nothing in this series leads me to believe Jorge Gonzalez is that man. His stories mostly make sense, his action sequences can be fun, and he tends to give Jim Cheung interesting things to draw, but he isn’t someone you turn to for intense character development. Gonzalez’s characterizations are just too flat to execute that kind of an arc, which leaves Maverick as a slightly dull superhero by the time the final issue arrives, rather than the cold-blooded mercenary with a dark sense of humor that Scott Lobdell and Jim Lee introduced to fans. If you wanted that Maverick, you were probably better off reading Joe Kelly’s Deadpool.

Friday, February 18, 2011

CABLE #57 - August 1998

Momentary Lapse

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Ryan Benjamin (penciler), Scott Hanna w/Banning & Holdredge (inks), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: Cable responds to Blaquesmith’s telepathic cries, eventually tracing him to Egypt. He discovers Blaquesmith is the captive of Rama-Tut, who needs his knowledge of time travel to escape this era. While battling Rama-Tut, a disturbance in the Astral Plane robs Cable of his telepathic powers. He knocks Rama-Tut unconscious with one of Tut’s weapons and escapes with Blaquesmith. The chronal distortion wave that followed Tut collapses on itself, launching him back into the timestream.

Continuity Notes: The disturbance in the Astral Plane comes from X-Men’s “Psi-War” storyline, circa X-Men #77. Cable notes that he’s lost his telepathy, while his telekinesis is just “severely curtailed,” which is apparently a quickie explanation for why his techno-organic virus isn’t freaking out again. Rama-Tut’s appearance fits in chronologically right after his debut in Fantastic Four #19. He claims a “time storm” has prevented him from returning to the thirtieth century and left him in this period.

Review: Well, I don’t think anyone saw Rama-Tut coming. One advantage Joe Casey has over many of this era’s X-writers is his eagerness to bring in the more “mainstream” Marvel Universe, which adds an element of unpredictability to the book. Connecting Rama-Tut’s time travelling gimmick with Blaquesmith’s even makes a decent amount of sense, so the story doesn’t feel totally out of place in Cable. Once you get past the novelty of using Tut, however, there isn’t much to the story. Casey’s aware of this, so he spruces the plot up by skipping backward and forward in time, a gimmick Christopher Priest was using in Quantum & Woody at this time and would soon bring over to Black Panther. He also gives each segment Frasier-style titles, presented as white text on black backgrounds. That’s another idea that will show up in Priest’s Black Panther, oddly enough.

While Casey was probably hoping to have Ladronn pencil a classic Fantastic Four villain, unfortunately the editors have selected Ryan Benjamin for another fill-in. It’s a pretty ugly job, one that doesn’t even match his mediocre work in the previous issue. I recall Benjamin as an okay Jim Lee clone from the early days of Wildstorm, but his work here is unrecognizable. I can only assume this was a rush job, because I don’t recall any of the early Wildstorm books looking so shoddy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

X-FORCE #79 - July 1998

Set My Soul on Fire

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales & Rob Stull (inks), Guillermo Zubiaga (background assists) Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: An employee of the Damocles Foundation, Dr. Joshua, steals a molecular disruptor cannon and heads for Las Vegas. His target, Reignfire, is holding X-Force captive with the help of his misguided flunky, Short Circuit. Proudstar frees the team, but in the ensuing fight, Skids and Locus disappear when their powers have a negative reaction. Dr. Joshua arrives with the cannon, which destroys Reignfire’s human form. Now disembodied, Reignfire swallows Sunspot in blackness and overtakes his body.

Continuity Notes: Short Circuit, who can cancel mutant abilities with his own powers, is a middle-aged man with a childlike intellect. His real name is given as Henry Wallinger, and according to Locus, he was a patient at the Weissman Institute before Reignfire freed him.

Through a series of flashbacks, Reignfire’s origin is revealed. He was Project Nineteen, a subject in Gideon’s lab suffering from “an unusual and slow physical deterioration.” While Sunspot was Gideon’s captive (circa X-Force #12-#15), Dr. Joshua transferred his blood into Project Nineteen for unknown reasons. Project Nineteen used the blood as a template to regenerate and emerged as a virtual clone of Sunspot. Exploiting their telepathic connection, Reignfire convinced Sunspot that he was actually Reignfire. When Cable “exorcised” Reignfire from Sunspot, he actually severed their telepathic link, which left Reignfire as an amnesiac for months. As for the possessed Sunspot’s claim that he had spent months in the future with Locus, Reignfire says this was a diversion he felt the team would easily believe, given the various X-groups’ history with time-travelers.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this issue is a reference to an Elvis song. Guess which one.

Review: We’ve reached the origin of Reignfire, which is the point I seem to recall the internet consensus turning against John Francis Moore’s X-Force run. I’ve heard this story described as needlessly confusing for years, but it shouldn’t be too hard to follow for anyone familiar with the average nonsense fake science that’s often found in superhero comics. What really made fans angry, I assume, is the blatant rewriting of history the origin requires. Moore seems to have covered his bases continuity-wise, so we’re at least getting retcon explanations for all of the revelations, but X-fans (fandom in general, really) always hate having the rug pulled out from under them.

It’s obvious from Fabian Nicieza’s run that Reignfire was intended as an evil Sunspot from the future, and as cliché as that origin might be, the fans had already accepted the idea. When a writer promises the origin of Reignfire, you want to learn how exactly all of the time travel shenanigans occurred, and not see the entire concept dismissed as a misdirection. And yet, I’m okay with the left turn. Time travel really has been done to death by this point, and unless Nicieza had an ingenious twist in the works, I don’t see any compelling reason to stick to the original plan. Moore does address the time travel aspect in a clever way, and longtime fans even get to see a payoff to the “Gideon experiments on Sunspot” subplot from the early issues of the series. The new origin isn’t that great as a resolution to the mystery, as it involves the introduction of a new character the readers couldn’t have known about, but it does make sense within the (admittedly weird) internal logic of the series. Reignfire is a bodiless (presumed) mutant, he was injected with Sunspot’s blood, he mimicked Sunspot’s body, and now he can take it over. I’ve read worse. Seriously, I don’t think anyone can tell me Vision’s origin makes more sense than this.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

EXCALIBUR #120 - May 1998

Current Events

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

Summary: Douglock hacks into Moira’s quarantine, hoping to free Wolfsbane. In the process, he discovers the Legacy Virus information given to him by Zero might still be accessible. Wolfsbane, however, is incensed that he’s potentially ruined Moira’s research. Meanwhile, Meggan ponders her feelings for Colossus, as Peter Wisdom prepares to leave. After learning of Kitty’s doubts about their relationship, he’s decided to quit the team. Later, as Nightcrawler questions Excalibur’s direction, he receives a message from Sabra informing him that Legion has returned.

Continuity Notes: According to a footnote, this story occurs simultaneously with X-Men #75 (Nightcrawler tries to call the X-Men and only gets an annoyed Marrow on the line). Douglock was given the secrets of the Legacy Virus back in Excalibur #80. The idea has largely been ignored, although Warren Ellis teased the possibility of Black Air stealing the data from Douglock’s brain during his run.

Review: It’s another plot-lite issue from Ben Raab, although we do see the exit of a notable cast member, so something does happen to alter the ongoing continuity. I’m not sure if anyone really bought into the Pete/Kitty breakup, and I suspect it’s one reason why Raab’s run was so detested by internet fandom in the late ‘90s. Even if Wisdom would break up with Kitty after learning about her crush on someone else, I doubt he would leave the team over it. Besides, Pete and Kitty as a bickering ex-couple has loads of possibilities. The only aspect of his departure that works for me is his final conversation with Meggan, who uses her empathic powers to explicitly list all of Wisdom’s character flaws, while still reassuring the readers that he’s a decent guy. The two characters play off each other well, and now I wonder why they rarely had scenes together.

Unfortunately, we’re still dealing with Moira’s utterly idiotic quarantine. It is over as of this issue, and there’s even the revival of Douglock’s forgotten Legacy Virus info, but this was such a stupid idea I don’t think I could accept any solution that doesn’t reveal Moira’s been mind-controlled, or perhaps possessed by a dimwitted ghost, this entire time. And while I’m glad a long-ignored plot thread has been resurrected, with the benefit of hindsight, we all know that the final issues of Excalibur have nothing to do with the Legacy Virus’ eventual cure.

I wonder if Raab knows the axe has fallen on the series by this issue, since he isn’t shy about adding some meta-commentary concerning Excalibur’s lack of luster. Nightcrawler questions why the X-Men haven’t contacted the team about finding the missing Professor Xavier, while Colossus wonders if Nightcrawler is disappointed that Excalibur didn’t seem important enough for Bastion to target. (They weren’t, by the way.) “It’s like we don’t even count anymore,” Nightcrawler moans. It’s as if he can look into the mind of an X-completist. If you’re hardcore enough, you’re still going to buy Excalibur, but who’s really excited by the book at this point?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

X-FACTOR #145 - May 1998


Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Duncan Rouleau & Trevor Scott (pencilers), Jaime Mendoza & Scott Hanna (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: Greystone learns of the kidnapping of a boy, Micah Leash, whom he believes will grow up to become the overseer of a mutant death camp. The XUE reluctantly goes along with his search for Micah, which leads to them rescuing the boy from a cult. Fixx declares that saving Micah from the cult will change his path, which sates Greystone’s bloodlust. Meanwhile, Forge gives Havok access to a secret base on the condition they never speak again.

Continuity Notes: The future Micah is described as a “betrayer to mutant and human alike…a Hound who wore no collar and no mark.” Half of his face is scarred, presumably by the cult that kidnapped him as a child. Greystone’s mother was killed by Micah, just as Greystone’s powers emerged while receiving his “M” mutant brand. Coincidentally, all of this happened at the exact moment the Summers Rebellion began, which freed the mutant camps.

Now, in the present, we learn that most XUE members have retained their host body’s memories (Fixx appears to be in the body of an amnesiac). Archer inhabits the body of international terrorist Jude Black. Desperate for some kind of family, he calls a woman named Rachel. She wants nothing to do with Jude and hangs up.

I Love the ‘90s: The cult that kidnaps Micah is a new millennium doomsday cult.

We Get Letters: A fan remarks that he hopes the series isn’t cancelled, which is responded with “The rumors are totally false, Mike. By issue #150 the core team will be decided and man, are you going to be happy!” In response to another letter that criticizes the book’s lack of direction, the editors assure the reader, “Don’t worry, though, we have a direction! It will all come to a head in issue #150 so stay with us.” Could you ask for a better demonstration for the mess this book has become?

Review: I wonder if the creative team honestly thought people cared about the XUE characters, or if this was a final, desperate shot in the dark. They’ve become the stars of the book too fast for the move to be a reaction to reader response, so it seems obvious that they were created specifically to be the new leads. Were they created as the saviors of this flagging title? They’re x-treme, they’re from the future, and they all have wacky manga haircuts. Had this been published earlier in the ‘90s, the scheme might’ve worked. By the late’90s, all of this had been done to death, especially in the X-books, and the kind of audience that elevated Cable and Bishop to superstar status wasn’t really around anymore. This issue, they’re given the token “Would you kill baby Hitler?” plot that virtually every time-traveler is assigned, and not surprisingly, Howard Mackie doesn’t bring a lot of originality or emotional resonance to the concept. The inexplicable idea that their time traveling is tied into “host bodies” is also revived, so now we’re expected to care about the XUE and the random identities they’ve assumed. What part of this is X-Factor? I’m sure most readers were relieved that the existing cast wasn’t being subjected to the horrible writing anymore, but did Marvel really think the audience wanted a soft reboot by the same creative team?

Monday, February 14, 2011

MACHINE MAN/BASTION ‘98 - August 1998

Deus X Machina

Credits: Mike Higgins & Karl Bollers (writers), Martin Egeland (penciler), Howard M. Shum (inker), J. M. Baggins (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Having merged with Master Mold, Bastion’s memories are now unblocked. Machine Man attacks Cable, as Bastion recounts his origin. Cable eventually undoes Bastion’s reprogramming of Machine Man telepathically, and the two heroes unite. They trap Bastion inside the Prospero Clinic, where human test subjects are still held captive. Machine Man wants to rescue them, but Cable confirms that they have no brainwave activity. The duo triggers the clinic’s self-destruct sequence and escapes.

Continuity Notes: This issue establishes that Bastion is the amalgam of Nimrod and Master Mold, created after the two were sucked into the Siege Perilous in Uncanny X-Men #247. A “higher authority” judged their consciousness and stripped them of their “artificiality” before sending them back to Earth as one being. Bastion was discovered by Rose Gilberti, who took him in and taught him human kindness. As Bastion learned more about mutants, his programming drove him to develop new Sentinel designs. He abandoned Rose and sought out high-profile mutant critic, Graydon Creed. Soon, he amassed power within the government and formed Operation: Zero Tolerance.

Review: When the mysterious Bastion debuted as the latest and greatest threat to mutantkind, I don’t think anyone expected his origin to be revealed a year or so later in a Machine Man annual. Some characters, like Omega Red, are just made to be disposable cannon fodder for the lower-tier spinoffs. Bastion was supposed to be the personification of the anti-mutant threat, taking his place alongside the likes of mutant supremacists Magneto and Apocalypse as one of the X-Men’s major foes. And as muddled as his debut might’ve been, Scott Lobdell was on to something with the character.

Who were the major anti-mutant figures in the Marvel Universe? None of the Trasks could ever last for long. Senator Kelly had already mellowed out. Graydon Creed was dead, and was usually portrayed as a joke anyway. The X-Men do need an iteration of “The Man” to fight against, and making him a Sentinel masquerading as a human allows him to be an actual physical threat to the team. That Nimrod/Master Mold dangling thread had never been resolved anyway, so there’s even a door already open for his debut. Unfortunately, Marvel’s half-hearted delivery of the OZT crossover didn’t capture the scale Lobdell was going for, and the story actually ended with Bastion getting talked into surrendering. We also learned he had a mommy fixation with some old lady in the woods. Bastion was now the overhyped Next Big Thing, a subject of contempt and mockery by the nascent online fandom.

Marvel could’ve let him rest for a while before trying again, but instead he’s revived for two of the next year’s forgettable “team-up” annuals. And he didn’t even merit an Uncanny X-Men or X-Men annual. He got Cable. Cable was drawn into the OZT crossover for a few issues, but the story had no real impact on the main storyline, and his interactions with Bastion weren’t particularly exceptional. And it’s obvious Machine Man’s here because Marvel doesn’t want that trademark to lapse…and, oh yeah, he’ s a robot too, so that’s a perfect fit. The story’s filled with holes (how did Machine Man come to the Prospero Clinc in the first place…why didn’t SHIELD discover the human test subjects months earlier during the initial raid…where did Master Mold come from…?), and since large sections of it are narrated by Bastion, the reader’s forced to endure a hideous “robot” font that’s hard to read for much of the issue. The dialogue is stilted, and the only idea that’s close to being a compelling conflict is quickly dismissed. Cable wants to destroy the clinic with Bastion inside…without rescuing the human test subjects. Machine Man objects, but Cable assures him that they’re brain dead. Machine Man politely agrees, killing any debate on the nature of “life” -- which is a subject Machine Man might have an interesting take on. The building blows up, the heroes escape, no one mourns the dead SHIELD agents or test subjects, the end. Oh, well. At least no one can steal the name “Machine Man” from Marvel for a few more years.

Friday, February 11, 2011

BISHOP: XSE #3 - March 1998

Final Ploy

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Andrew Pepoy & Mark Prudeaux (inks), Comicraft (letters), Brad Vancata (colors)

Summary: Bishop convinces Malcolm to disobey orders and help him stop the Rook. At Rook’s HQ, the Fanatix plan to impersonate the XSE and assassinate the anti-mutant crusader, Trask. Malcolm springs Shard, as the Fanatix bring a captive Randall to a gathering of disaffected mutants. Soon, the reunited XSE rescue Randall and chase Rook back to his headquarters. There, they discover his true identity. Rook is Jimmy Knox, the adolescent son of philanthropist Jerome Knox. Using his possession powers, which also work on LMDs, he hoped to spark a human/mutant war. Knox is arrested and Bishop is cleared.

Continuity Notes: The Rook kills Fanatix members Pulsar and Shadowbox during the story. Pulsar is killed for siding with Randall and refusing to murder him, but Shadowbox is killed for no obvious reason.

“Huh?” Moment: Bishop punches Malcolm in the face to make his escape look convincing. Later, Malcolm tells Shard to look at his chin as proof. His chin is actually covered with that metal face gear he wears, so it’s fine. His cheek, on the other hand, is swollen.

Review: First, an apology. So far, I’ve neglected to mention that every male protagonist in this series has a beautifully coiffed mullet. Overlooking a mullet reference is clearly a violation of Blogger’s Terms of Service, so I regret waiting until the final issue to use such references as “Tennessee Top Hat,” “Neck Warmer,” “Canadian Passport,” “Camaro Cut,” and “Mississippi Mudflap.” (I can’t speak for Wordpress, but I imagine they have a similar statute.) If you’ll accept my apology, we can move on.

Bishop: XSE concludes with all of the pieces put back into place, which isn’t surprising since it’s a prequel story. The finale introduces two new characters, a generic member of the Trask family and the junior Knox, that end up playing major roles in the conclusion. Actually, the unnamed Trask doesn’t even make a real appearance, but he’s mentioned on the final page to illustrate the irony of the XSE’s mission enabling him to continue preaching mutant hatred. I don’t mind the sudden reveal of evil little Jimmy Knox, since it’s obvious Ostrander was setting up Annabella Knox as a red herring in the previous issues. It is a bit of cheat that the Rook’s identity belongs to a character we’re only seeing now, but this is only a three-issue miniseries, and not a “Who Is the Hobgoblin?” prolonged mystery. Revealing that Rook’s power is possession, and that the shapeshifting only belonged to the LMDs he controlled, is rather clever. Like the previous Bishop and XSE minis, some of the dialogue is clunky and there’s of course a sense that this was a slot on the schedule waiting for a story, but overall, this is the strongest of the Bishop solo minis.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

X-FORCE #78 - June 1998

Burning Desires

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: Reignfire and Locus terrorize DaCosta International’s board members, before heading to Denver to attack Moonstar, who’s visiting her parents. In Boulder, the rest of X-Force visits Skids, who now lives as a normal college student. Inside a coffee bar, Locus kidnaps Siryn, but doesn’t notice when Proudstar sneaks into her teleportation portal. Soon, Reignfire targets Sunspot, killing the new friend he made while playing soccer. Skids joins the fight, and is transported to Las Vegas with the rest of the team. Only Proudstar remains free, as Reignfire plots X-Force’s death.

Continuity Notes: Skids can now expand her forcefields to cover more than herself. Reignfire, who now declares that he isn’t Sunspot, takes credit for the lawsuit that’s kept Sunspot from claiming DaCosta International’s money, and reveals himself as the shadowy figure that’s stalked the team for weeks. Locus is now colored with dark skin and given an “afro-puffs” hairstyle (as seen on ‘90s rapper Lady of Rage). In her initial appearances, she had tan skin and blonde hair, and was portrayed as something of a Valley Girl.

As a future letter writer will point out, the exposition in the issue is off. Cypher is shown in a group shot of the New Mutants that includes members who joined after he died. Skids makes a comment about always having to follow Xavier or Magneto's orders, yet she joined after the team broke away from the school. Holocaust is shown in his armor during the flashback to Rusty's death, which he wasn't wearing in that issue.

Review: After months of build-up, Moore finally begins to pay off the Reignfire subplot. My memory is that the eventual resolution wasn’t very popular online, and began the critical turn against Moore’s run. It’s hard to fault this specific issue, though, as it’s filled with character moments, the action ties into the story well, and you’re given a sense that a few of the long-running threads are coming together. It’s obvious this run is about showcasing the cast as teenagers as much as it’s about fight scenes, so it’s not surprising to see X-Force in a college setting. Moore’s still getting mileage out of the “X-Force is poor” idea, so the team is forced to stay in Skids’ cramped dorm room, leading to a mix-up in the shower between Siryn, Sunspot, and Meltdown. The romantic subplots are nurtured, as Meltdown declares that Sunspot was never her boyfriend and she isn’t even sure she wants a relationship, while Skids’ roommate Desmond makes a play for Siryn, and Proudstar barely seems to care because he’s convinced they really are “just friends” now. Sunspot’s past as a soccer (or “futbol”) prodigy is also revived, which serves as a continuity reference for the hardcore fans and an honest characterization moment.

Moore tries a trick of providing “X-Force Fun Facts” for each member, detailing their choice in breakfast cereal, favorite TV shows, and high school experiences. The Fun Facts also reveal pertinent back issue details, which helps to explain who Skids is, and why she’s so determined to live a normal life. Skids has barely appeared, if at all, since her boyfriend Rusty was killed in X-Men #42, so I’m thankful Moore hasn’t left her in obscurity. She’s forced to out herself as a mutant during the story’s climax, which in a standard comic indicates she’s about to join the team, but what’s fun about this run is that there’s barely a status quo, so many of the things that are supposed to happen, don’t. Skids is here because she has a past with the characters and some potentially interesting emotional issues; whether or not she joins the team in the future is irrelevant. She has a role to play in this issue and she does it well, and the ambiguity over her future is just a part of the series’ appeal.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

BISHOP: XSE #2 - February 1998

Rook vs. Bishop

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Steve Epting & Nick Napalitano (pencilers), Mark Prudeaux, Robert Jones, Andrew Pepoy, & Steve Moncuse (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Brad Vancata (colors)

Summary: Posing as Bishop, Rook leads the Fanatix in a strike against the new Statue of Liberty. The real Bishop is notified of Rook’s machinations by Anthony Shaw, while the XSE targets their apparently renegade teammate. Bishop sneaks into their headquarters and convinces Shard to send him information on Annabella Knox. From Shard, Bishop learns that Knox is going to the courthouse to finalize her inheritance. Bishop’s partner Malcolm arrests Shard for insubordination, then confronts Bishop outside of the courthouse.

Continuity Notes: The original Statue of Liberty was destroyed during the Summers Rebellion, when humans and mutants united against the Sentinels. “Morlocks” is revealed as the name of a bar populated by deformed mutants in this future. According to Shard’s research, Rook’s shapechanging abilities come from organic Life Model Decoy technology from the final days of SHIELD.

Review: Remember when people actually wanted to see more of Malcolm and Randall? I think those days were over by 1998, but Ostrander is still trying to make use of Bishop’s established supporting cast. Ostrander dutifully goes through with the assignment, staying true to what we know about Bishop’s timeline, rather than going off on a tangent and just writing his own futuristic, sci-fi setting and cramming Bishop into it. The story covers some well-worn territory, but Ostrander to his credit does establish that none of Bishop’s friends believe he’s guilty, they just have an obligation to enforce the law. Malcolm doesn’t have any major internal conflicts about what’s he doing, he just doesn’t like doing it, which seems to fit the way XSE officers have been portrayed in the past. Seeing Bishop on the run also works as an inversion of his usual role. His solo stories usually involve him tracking down a fugitive he’s either going to arrest or kill, so there’s a bit of twist this time. Steve Epting drops out of the art chores halfway through the issue, leaving Nick Napalitano to finish the rest. Napalitano seems to be mimicking the worst elements of Andy Kubert’s early X-work, and I’m sure having four inkers rush to finish the pages doesn’t do him any favors, either.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

CABLE/MACHINE MAN ‘98 - June 1998


Credits: Mike Higgins & Karl Bollers (writers), Rick Leonardi (penciler), Dan Green (inker), J. M. Babgins (letters), Matt Webb (colors)

Summary: When Bastion breaks free of his imprisonment, G. W. Bridge sends SHIELD agents to investigate his former base, the Prospero Clinic. When the agents break contact, Bridge asks Cable to search the clinic. Meanwhile, a confused Bastion returns to the home of his mother figure, Rose. She’s accidentally killed by the authorities, which sends Bastion into a rage. When Cable reaches the clinic, he’s attacked by Machine Man, who’s lost touch with his humanity. Bastion arrives and makes contact with the clinic’s Master Mold unit. Master Mold is drained of its energy as Bastion is transformed into Nimrod.

Continuity Notes: A scan of Bastion’s body reveals that he isn’t human, but is made up of “complex inorganic systems” which are constantly being recreated by “microscopic robots called nanotechs.” When Master Mold is found in the Prospero Clinic, Cable isn’t surprised at all, and even knows for a fact that Master Mold was responsible for the clinic’s “bio-engineering” that turned people into Prime Sentinels. However, Master Mold never appeared in the Zero Tolerance storyline, so there’s no reason for him to know this.

Review: I guess Marvel’s ‘70s nostalgia craze wasn’t quite over yet, as now Machine Man is being dusted off. This is the same writing team behind his short-lived 1999 series, so it’s possible that Machine Man was slated for a monthly title during 1998, but was held back to be a part of the M-Tech line. M-Tech was based on the assumption that the audience automatically cared about a concept if it tied into “technology” in some way, which makes as much sense as assuming that nostalgia alone could revive interest in concepts like Devil Dinosaur, Shang-Chi, and Machine Man (I doubt most of the audience was old enough to actually remember these characters…yes, Machine Man did briefly join the Avengers during the ‘90s, but I don’t think his membership left much of an impression).

The story opens with Machine Man apparently killing a room full of SHIELD agents, which is quite an attention-getter, but the full significance is only felt if you know this obscure character is actually a kind-hearted hero who understands the concept of love better than most humans (I’m basing this on the recap given to him at the very end of the issue). The image of Machine Man, not exactly one of Kirby’s most inspired designs, going on a murderous rampage is faintly ridiculous. Just looking at him, it’s obvious this character is from a different era, one with a significantly lower amount of blood splatter in its superhero comics. Cable’s from the opposite end of the spectrum, although he’s mellowed out by this point in the ‘90s. Aside from his own vague connection to technology, Cable doesn’t have much of a compelling reason to be in this story, and his role probably could’ve been played by any X-character. He’s also adamant that this is his mission and he won’t bring in any of the other X-teams, which is patently absurd. Bastion led a nationwide manhunt of mutants, looted the X-Men’s database, kept Professor Xavier prisoner, revived the Sentinels, and nearly killed his father…Cable shouldn’t be concerned with “needlessly worrying” his allies. He should be leading his own crossover-worthy cadre of mutants against the menace.

Monday, February 7, 2011

BISHOP: XSE #1 - January 1998

Rook Takes Pawn

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Mark Prudeaux (inker), Comicraft (letters), Brad Vancata (colors)

Summary: The XSE confront Fantix, a mutant terrorist group that’s targeted Jerome Knox, a businessman who wishes to unite humans and mutants. After Fantix is defeated, XSE member Randall suddenly kills Knox without explanation. He’s placed in prison, but is soon broken out by Fantix’s Shadowbox and Pulsar. At Fantix’s hideout, Randall begins to regain his true personality. He encounters the leader of Fantix, a shapechanger named the Rook.

Continuity Notes: A brief scene establishes the future Hellfire Club is led by a man named Anthony Shaw. As “Annabella Knox” (which might actually be his/her true identity), Rook is auditioning to join.

Review: There was a third Bishop miniseries? And Steve Epting drew it? Huh, who knew. Ostrander’s first Bishop mini had nice art and a thin story, while the second had more ideas but wretched artwork, so it’s not as if these limited series have a great track record behind them. Bringing in Steve Epting (who the ‘90s X-office didn’t seem to know what to do with, for some reason) gives me some confidence that the quality will be improving. There is more to the plot than “Bishop chases bad guy,” so the story’s already ahead of the first miniseries. I’m not sure if we need another story set in his future, especially when the character had been left on a cliffhanger in the current continuity at this point, but Ostrander is making an admirable attempt at world-building. The relationship between humans and mutants in Bishop’s time, following their united opposition against the Sentinels, hasn’t been explored in any of the flashback stories yet, so there’s room for Ostrander to explore. I wish Marvel itself showed some interest in the comic, though. Aside from its nonexistent promotion, the first issue also suffers from some flagrant typos any proofreader should’ve caught (the opening scene’s society dinner is apparently for a “good causel.”)

Friday, February 4, 2011

WILDC.A.T.S/X-MEN: THE GOLDEN AGE #1 - February 1997

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Travis Charest w/Homage Studios (art), Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Dave Lanphear (letters), Wildstorm FX (colors)

Summary: During WWII, Wolverine runs into Zealot while pursuing the Nazi, Eikert. He discovers Eikert is actually a Daemonite, who is in possession of the mysterious Lazarus Scroll. After Eikert is killed, Zealot sneaks away with the scroll. Wolverine follows her on a train, where they’re soon attacked by more Daemonites. Daemonite agent Kenyan steals the scroll and takes it to their hidden lair. Wolverine and Zealot follow, as the scroll is used to resurrect the Daemonite queen Ebron. Zealot uses the Daemonite’s magic crystal to kill Ebron, then disappears.

Continuity Notes: This is another one of the Marvel/Image crossovers to come out of the “Heroes Reborn” deal. These crossovers never count in Marvel continuity, but it’s worth noting that Zealot gives Wolverine a glove with metal claws grafted to it before they face the Daemonites. At this point, everyone was working under the assumption that Wolverine didn’t have bone claws in the past, and their emergence after the loss of his adamantium was a mystery.

Production Notes: This is a forty-eight page one-shot, with no ads and a $4.50 cover price.

Review: The premise behind the WildC.A.T.S/X-Men one-shots is that each one would take place in a different era of comics history. Appropriately enough, the first installment is set in the Golden Age, and it stars the seemingly immortal members of both teams. The actual style of the comic, however, has nothing to do with the Golden Age, even if the story is set in the 1940s. I’m not sure if anyone wants that look out of Wildstorm anyway, and it’s a thrill to see Travis Charest in one of his early, “Jim-Lee-clone-no-more,” jobs.

Charest’s work combines stylized art, hyper-detailed rendering, and photorealism without falling into the same morass that ensnares many of the artists who try just one of these looks. Imagine Lenil Francis Yu’s work at its best, without any of the rushed detours that often drag it down. The colors compliment Charest’s art perfectly, using a limited palette and a watercolor style that adds even more depth to the images. This comic is over thirteen years old, yet it still looks better than the vast majority of titles the major companies are putting out right now.

There’s also a story in-between the pretty pictures, one that doesn’t aspire to be more than an action thriller with some clever dialogue. Outside of giving Wolverine and Zealot an argument over civilian casualties, Lobdell doesn’t do a lot of character work, but he at least establishes the protagonists’ personalities quickly and gets on with the story. If you’re not already a fan of the Wildstorm Universe, this probably won’t make you a convert, but I’m sure a Wolverine/Zealot team-up is what WildC.A.T.S readers had been demanding for years. If this had been published in the earliest days of Image, before the market’s collapse, I could see Wizard going absolutely insane over this book.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

NIGHT MAN/GAMBIT #1-#3, March-May 1996

Shredding Skin

Credits: David Quinn (writer), Dietrich Smith (penciler), Norm Rapmund (inker), Patrick Owsley (letters), Andrew Covalt & Malibu (colors)

Summary: Candra calls Gambit, asking him to join her in a new world she’s discovered. Outside of the mansion, a sickly Night Man arrives, hoping to find Wolverine. Gambit, the mansion’s lone occupant, takes Night Man in and discovers his skin is falling off. Meanwhile in the Ultraverse, another ailing Night Man faces death. The sorceress Rhiannon takes him to the Marvel Universe, but is shocked to discover he isn’t with her when she arrives at the X-Men’s mansion. Unbeknownst to her, this Night Man landed in Candra’s home.

Continuity Notes: As a result of the Ultraverse’s “Black September” event, there are now two Night Men. One lives in his original universe, and the other has been sent to the Marvel Universe.

Review: Who knew this even existed? Seriously, I loyally followed everything X-related well into the ‘90s, and never even saw an ad for this one. Why go through the effort of producing a gratuitous team-up miniseries with an X-Man if you’re not going to promote it within the X-books? And people actually did buy Gambit comics in these days! At any rate, this miniseries continues the adventures of the reality-displaced Night Man, who previously crossed over with an X-Man in Night Man vs. Wolverine #0. Existing in the wrong universe is apparently killing the poor guy (much like the actual publication of his ongoing series), so he’s turned to the X-Men for help. He somehow thinks that tampering with their alarm system will help his case, which leads to a pointless fight with Gambit. This fulfills the issue’s mandatory fight scene, while the rest of the issue is spent establishing the two Night Men concept and checking in on the Ultraverse. There’s an elaborate storyline going on with Night Man, his father who also used to be Night Man, and Rhiannon, who I gather is a Night Man villain. There’s no real effort put into explaining any of this for new readers, so if any hypothetical Gambit fans stumbled across this book and bought it, I can’t see them getting drawn into the story.

Wilder Hearts

Credits: David Quinn (writer), Andrew Wildman & Dietrich Smith (pencilers), Stephen Baskerville & Norm Rapmund (inks), Patrick Owsley (letters), Andrew Covalt & Malibu (colors)

Summary: The second, feral Night Man arrives at the X-Men’s mansion. Gambit leaves Night Man and Rhiannon behind to investigate and is soon attacked by the doppelganger. Rhiannon stops the battle and takes both Night Men and Gambit prisoner. She prepares to feast on Gambit’s heart and steal his energy, when Candra suddenly appears.

Review: Just to bump up the level of generic ‘90s-ness, X-Men Adventures artist Andrew Wildman arrives to fill in for much of the issue. To be fair, neither Wildman or Smith are as bad as the cover would lead you to believe, but I don’t think anyone is going to mistake which decade produced this comic. I’m not familiar with writer David Quinn, and only remember his name from a Bullpen Bulletins piece that hyped a new, darker direction for Dr. Strange. He’s latched on to the idea that Gambit resents the X-Men’s unwillingness to trust him, and connects it to Rhiannon’s refusal to reveal her plan to him. This is the extent of Gambit’s characterization this issue, while Night Man I recaps some plot points and Night Man II growls repeatedly.

A subplot scene set on the Ultraverse fleshes out the Night Man supporting characters introduced last issue, which is appreciated. Gale, the woman hanging around Night Man’s father, is revealed as the hero’s girlfriend. I assumed she was his father’s wife, last issue. The father also lapses into a flashback, revealing that Rhiannon is Night Man’s mother, who stays eternally youthful by feeding on young men’s hearts. He discovered this when he came home from work early, only to discover her semi-nude, straddling a young man and literally chewing on his heart. That’s a helpful bit of info, and I have to say that revealing it here instead of the first issue actually does work to the story’s advantage.

One of You

Credits: David Quinn (writer), Dietrich Smith (penciler), Norm Rapmund (inker), Patrick Owsley (letters), Andrew Covalt & Malibu (colors)

Summary: Rhiannon invites Candra to join her in the Ultraverse, after she sacrifices Gambit and uses his energy to unite the Night Men and open an interdimensional rift. Gambit breaks free, as the two Night Men begin to realize they can’t live independent of the other. When Candra throws a knife at Rhiannon’s heart, the feral Night Man stands in the way and is killed. The sickly Night Man convinces Rhiannon to use the energy left by his counterpart to return home. They arrive in the Ultraverse, just as a funeral is being held for Night Man’s alter ego. Meanwhile, Gambit promises to help Candra find a new start in their home reality.

Review: And now this miniseries has devolved into total nonsense. Why exactly Candra wanted to live in a new world in the first issue wasn’t very clear, but it’s an important plot point in the final issue. Apparently, she wants “freedom,” which she can’t get due to her relationship with the Thieves and Assassins Guilds. They’re the ones who offer tithes to her, so I don’t understand what hold they’re supposed to have over her. Quinn also seems to have picked up on the hint in the first Gambit miniseries that Candra had a fling with Gambit, which is why she wants him to join her in a new world. The implication in this story, at least on a few pages, is that she’s in love with him, which doesn’t exactly gel with the allusions from Howard Mackie’s original story.

When Candra isn’t swooning over Gambit, she doesn’t care if he lives or dies, as she goes along with Rhiannon’s plan to sacrifice him. Then, just a few pages later, she switches sides again and tries to kill Rhiannon. She’s also established a strong bond with the feral Night Man, which comes and goes in-between pages. Aside from motivations that shouldn’t be scrutinized, the issue’s also filled with nonsensical justifications for interdimensional travel, and an ending that has Night Man returning to his world as some kind of ghost. Even more confusing is the declaration that this storyline has ceased all of the extradimensonal problems created by the “Black September” event, a crossover stunt that’s never been explained during this specific miniseries. Okay, Gambit fans…you’ve gotten a taste of the Ultraverse! Don’t you want more?!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...