Friday, April 29, 2011


Credits: Ted Adams (script), Carlos D’Anda (pencils), Mark Irwin (inks), Alex Sinclair (colors), Amie Grenier (letters). Based on Mark Dippe and Alan McElroy’s movie script.

Summary: A-6 agent Al Simmons is betrayed by his boss Jason Wynn and his bodyguard, Jessica Priest. The murdered Simmons awakens five years later as Spawn, discovering his wife is now married to his best friend Terry. Hell’s agent, Violator, plays both sides, manipulating Spawn into pursuing Wynn while convincing Wynn to implant a pacemaker that connects his heart to the release of “Heat-16” bombs. Unbeknownst to Wynn, the release of Heat-16 will exterminate life on Earth and begin Armageddon. All sides convene at Terry’s home, where Spawn joins with Cogliostro and turns on Violator. After briefly chasing Violator back to Hell, Spawn returns to Earth. Wynn is arrested after Terry releases info on his activities to the press.

Spawntinuity: For unknown reasons, the movie doesn’t use the name of Jason Wynn’s fictional United States Security Group, or refer to Al Simmons as a CIA agent. Now, they're "A-6." Another deviation from the comic has Malebolgia promising to give Wanda to Spawn if he leads the army, as opposed to simply getting to see her again.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Violator proudly shows off his “skidmarked” underwear to Spawn. He also asks Wanda for “a little head” after getting decapitated.

I Love the ‘90s: Violator tells Spawn that the cast of ER wouldn’t be able to fix his face.

Production Note: This is a forty-eight page bookshelf format special, priced at $4.95.

Review: Here’s another modern classic that I had to discover through a commenter. If you followed the monthly Spawn comic during the promotion for the movie, you were bombarded with an endless series of merchandise you could purchase to commemorate the film’s release. Who wouldn’t want a keychain as a constant reminder of House of Buggin’ star John Leguizamo’s turn as Violator? No mention of a movie adaptation in comic form was ever made, but considering that the animated series was never adapted as a comic, this wasn’t a shock. I am stunned, over thirteen years later, to learn that a comic adaptation does exist, and it was produced by Jim Lee’s Wildstorm imprint. What? I guess it’s not as unusual as Archie or Gladstone doing the adaptation, and it’s still an Image comic, but it’s hard to believe Todd McFarlane wouldn’t publish the tie-in to his own movie. As far as the Spawn comic was concerned, it didn’t even exist!

I’m sure this will come as a shock to anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the Spawn movie is terrible. Although I can’t fault the casting of Michael Jai White as Spawn, and some of the special effects are great, the film is a collection of ‘90s “comic book movie” clichés wrapped around a sanitized retelling of the early issues of the comic. No mystery is involved with Spawn’s introduction; we’re bluntly introduced to Al Simmons, Wynn, Chapel Priest, Wanda, and Terry in the film’s opening sequence, watch Simmons die, then see him travel to Hell and make a deal with Malebolgia. Spawn isn’t given amnesia in the movie, so he promptly goes about spying on Wanda, killing Priest, and targeting Wynn. While the comic took forever to get past the setup, the movie rushes through the origin so fast it’s impossible to care about any of the major characters or events. There’s still plenty of room for fart jokes, though.

Essentially every comic book movie in the ‘90s required a villainous plan that would destroy either the city or the entire planet, so of course that’s Jason Wynn’s plot. Before Spawn saves the day, he’s given a kid sidekick (who appears for maybe one panel in the comic adaptation), a motorcycle to ride, and an endless series of painfully unfunny scenes with John Leguizamo. The producers deserve credit for radically altering Leguizamo’s appearance with makeup to match his character, but the end result still looks ridiculous. Movie Violator is inhumanly obese, his head’s too small for his body, and for some reason he has a poofy cowlick. Even more embarrassing is the CGI rendition of Malebolgia and the depths of Hell, which were apparently thrown in at the last minute when New Line expanded the budget. Robot Chicken did a better job on Malebolgia using only stop motion and the McFarlane Toys action figure.

No comic adaptation could save this mess. Like virtually all adaptations, it’s a rushed Cliff’s Notes version of the film that moves too quickly to engage the reader. All of the tired action movie dialogue from the movie is preserved, along with a decent amount of dry exposition that tries really hard to explain every plot point in excruciating detail. The art is a pleasant surprise, though. Carlos D’Anda merges the actors’ likenesses with an early Bart Sears style, which manages to avoid the sheer blandness you often see in movie adaptations. The layouts are also fairly imaginative, working in as many as eight panels a page without looking cramped.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Credits: Garth Ennis (story), Brandon Peterson (pencils), Batt w/Joe Weems (inks), Dennis Heisler (letters), Ashby Manson (colors), Richard Isanove w/Jonathan D. Smith, Steve Firchow, & Tyson Wengler (computer colors)

Todd McFarlane seemed to have plans for Medieval Spawn, yet this crossover miniseries turned out to be the character’s last gasp. Perhaps due to Neil Gaiman’s lawsuit, he was essentially erased from the franchise by the late ‘90s. Later, another Middle Ages Hellspawn, “Dark Ages Spawn” debuted, possibly continuing whatever plans McFarlane had for Medieval Spawn. (Recently, a judge deemed Dark Ages Spawn to be derivative of Medieval Spawn, and even a continuity error.)

At this time, the Witchblade series was only a few months old, but it was already a hit for Top Cow. Marc Silvestri’s division of Image had yet to do a Spawn crossover, so it made sense to pair their hot new character with Image’s biggest franchise. Just as McFarlane established that his hero was the latest in a long line of Spawns, Sara Whatshername was only the latest possessor of the Witchblade. Why not do a flashback story that brings their pasts together?

The story is provided by Garth Ennis, who was receiving a lot of attention from Top Cow during this era. Not surprisingly, most of the characters are profane and nasty, and the comic can’t go three pages without a rape reference. After establishing that a mystery man is waiting for the apocalypse in 1996, the story flashes back to the Pyrenees, circa 1175. An alleged sorcerer named Matthew Royale convinces the evil Lord Cardinale to invade the “Otherworld of Faerie.” After a few pages of gruesome violence, the action spills out of the Faerie’s dimension, drawing the attention of Medieval Spawn. Unlike the moody, self-absorbed Spawn of the ‘90s, Medieval Spawn views himself as a chivalrous knight, so he aides the Faeries. Their fight brings them to a nearby inn, where the irascible young Katarina is working off her bill.

Katarina receives two surprises: Medieval Spawn recognizes her, and she somehow possesses the power of the Witchblade. She joins the fight, and later watches as Medieval Spawn enters a portal into the Faerie’s dimension. Her friend, and debt-holder, Stalker has heard stories of Faerie gold and wants to follow. A subconscious prompt, apparently from the Witchblade, convinces Katarina to join Stalker. This brings the first issue to an end, and while the story so far seems like an excuse for the heroes to cut up demonic soldiers, I am curious to see how the mysteries surrounding Katarina play out.

Credits: Garth Ennis (story), Brandon Peterson (pencils), Batt w/Joe Weems & Tim Townsend(inks), Dennis Heisler (letters), Ashby Manson (colors), Richard Isanove w/Jonathan D. Smith, Steve Firchow, & Dan Kemp (computer colors)

Katarina and Stalker join Medieval Spawn, who is unaware of their motive to loot Faerie gold (notice that the only noble character so far is the one not created by Ennis). Meanwhile, Lord Cardinale’s witch-queen Elinor, who’s somehow stolen the outfits from a 1996 Playboy pictorial, questions Matthew Royale’s loyalty. Royale proves his deceptiveness a few pages later by bringing Katarina, Stalker, and Medieval Spawn to the battle at the Faerie capital. While Lord Cardinale and the heroes fight, Royale pursues his own agenda. Sprinkled throughout the story are more hints that Medieval Spawn knows Katarina, some “humorous” leprechaun bashing, and more graphic violence. Brandon Peterson is given some insane things to draw, but the story is obviously thin.

Credits: Garth Ennis (story), Brandon Peterson, Billy Tan, Mung Khoy, Mike Turner, & Anthony Winn (pencils), Batt, D-Tron, Brandon Peterson, Aaron Sowd (inks), Dennis Heisler (letters), Ashby Manson (colors), Richard Isanove w/Tyson Wengler, Catherine Burch, Dean White, Nick Kozis, & Teresa Bellman(computer colors)

Now that’s a list of credits. I wonder if anyone working at Top Cow during this era didn’t touch this issue? (Oh, yeah. Marc Silvestri.) Occasionally the book does resemble a rushed jam comic, but most of the issue maintains the rather high production values associated with Top Cow. The most grievous example of deadline fighting comes in a two-page "vision of the future" in the middle of the book, which is actually recycled art from an ad for another Top Cow comic (I forget the name, but it was the ad that referenced “It's the End of the World as We Know It”).

As it turns out, this mini is actually a lengthy promotion for a 1996 Top Cow crossover, which somehow involved the apocalypse (given as October 2, 1996 in this issue). Matthew Royale predictably turns against everyone, steals the Darkness power from Lord Cardinale (yup, it’s a Darkness crossover as well), and survives to the age of Real World Miami, free AOL trial discs, and Keri Strug mania. He explains the full story behind Katarina and Medieval Spawn to the disembodied head of Cardinale before the story closes: Before his rebirth as a Hellspawn, Medieval Spawn and Katarina had a drunken one-night stand. Katarina apparently didn’t remember it because she’s something of a slut. Later on, she promises to give Stalker a shot until she discovers the Faerie gold they’ve stolen is just lead in our dimension. There’s your Medieval Witchblade, Top Cow fans.

This is even less of a Spawn story than Wildstorm’s Spawn/WildC.A.T.S limited series. I can understand the story leaning towards the Top Cow side since they produced it, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the mini to turn into a prelude to some forgotten crossover. It’s a shame this is Medieval Spawn’s only starring role. Neil Gaiman’s brief introduction of the character had potential, and his design still holds up well. Here, he's mainly treated as a joke. It's almost as if Garth Ennis thinks these characters are...dumb.

Monday, April 25, 2011

GLORY/ANGELA #1 - April 1996

Angels in Hell

Credits: Rob Liefeld (story), Jim Valentino (script, layouts), Andy Park & Pat Lee (pencils), Sean Parsons & Marlo Alquiza w/Alan Martinez & Kyle Roberts (inks), Christian Lichtner & Extreme Color (colors), Steve Dutro (letters)

Summary: Metatron informs Glory and Angela that Celestine has been possessed by Malebolgia since her resurrection. They travel to Hell to rescue the captive Celestine, discovering that Malebolgia has expanded his rule past the Eighth Circle. Glory and Angela are unable to defeat Malebolgia, but they receive help from an unexpected source -- Lucifer. Lucifer sends Malebolgia back to the Eighth Circle and returns Celestine’s soul. He takes the heroes to his posh lair and opens a doorway to the previously unknown Tenth Circle, the Elysium. Celestine is restored as an angel, while Glory and Angela are returned to Earth by Metatron.

Spawntinuity: Malebolgia declares himself second only to Lucifer, which is a more specific categorization of his place in Hell than Spawn has revealed so far. Lucifer is portrayed as a handsome, middle-aged man in a business suit. He tells Angela they’ll meet again soon.

The Big Names: Future "controversy" magnet Pat Lee is the co-artist. Randy Queen’s Darkchylde is previewed in a backup story.

Creative Differences: The title of this one-shot was originally solicited as “Hell’s Angels.”

Review: Hmm…this final chapter of an Extreme Studios crossover looks like a rushed mess. I just can’t believe it. Judging by the recap of the middle issues of the crossover, all we’ve missed is a fight scene between the Extreme heroes and an army of undead soldiers resurrected by Celestine with the angels’ satellite, and the “shocking” revelation that Malebolgia’s possessed her the entire time. The finale consists of more pointless fights, a few splash pages of Malebolgia (the only character the artists seem interested in drawing), and the introduction of Lucifer. I guess there’s some irony in having Lucifer play the Deus Ex Machina role, but it’s hard not to view this as a stereotypically bad Extreme comic.

As far as ‘90s crossovers go, this one was remarkably low-key. I don’t recall any promotion in Spawn whatsoever for it, and don’t remember any hype in Wizard for the event, either. Clearly, this was an attempt to cash in on the “Bad Girl” fad, but it’s also the first major storyline to bridge the Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld corners of Image (Spawn and Chapel have a history, and Badrock faced Violator, but they never triggered a crossover event). It seems like it should’ve been a bigger deal. In terms of Spawn continuity, it’s Angela’s first appearance since her miniseries, the introduction of Malebolgia’s boss Lucifer, and the final confirmation of an idea hinted at in Alan Moore’s first fill-in…the Tenth Circle of Hell is actually Heaven. McFarlane was even introducing a new angel, Tiffany, into the mythos at this time. Couldn’t he have coordinated it with this event? This storyline opened with a decent premise; unfortunately, no one seemed too interested in the execution.

ANGELA/GLORY #1 - March 1996

Rage of Angels

Credits: Rob Liefeld & Robert Napton (story), Robert Napton (script), Roger Cruz (pencils), Danny Miki w/Alan Martinez & Kyle Roberts (inks), Christian Lichtner & Extreme Color (colors), Kurt Hathaway (letters)

Summary: The angel Astra recovers Celestine’s heart and uses forbidden technology to revive her. Celestine returns to life insane, recruiting an army of rogue angels and destroying the Elysium. On Earth, she uses her powers to brainwash the Amazonians on the Isle of Paradise into joining her. Lady Demeter asks her daughter Glory for help. On the Isle, Glory encounters Angela, who’s hunting Celestine. They unite to defeat Celestine, but Glory is reluctant to harm her sisters. She summons a cleansing storm to counteract Celestine’s influence. Celestine flees, but reemerges on the angels’ orbital satellite and kills its crew.

Spawntinuity: Celestine first appeared in the Violator Vs. Badrock miniseries (written by Alan Moore, as a footnote in this issue reminds us), which ended with Violator ripping her heart out. Angela is hunting Celestine as a favor to Metatron, “ruler of all angels,” who has been willing to ignore Angela’s freelance work.

Gimmicks: Rob Liefeld provided an alternate cover for the book.

Review: Oh, yeah…Todd McFarlane did loan Angela out to Rob Liefeld, didn’t he? Only in the days of early Image would you have Rob Liefeld plotting a story that incorporates the works of Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison, starring a heroine flagrantly lifted from Wonder Woman’s origin story. If I’m not mistaken, this was Angela’s first appearance not written by Neil Gaiman. Luckily, the comic happened to be published during Roger Cruz’s short association with Extreme Studios, so there isn’t a hideous Liefeld clone in sight. Cruz is still working in the style you might remember from X-Men Alpha, which is short on originality but is at least tolerable.

Cruz’s main fault here is his insane reliance on awkwardly inserted cheesecake. Not only are dramatic statements declared while the “camera” focuses on the speaker’s butt cheeks, not only does every female character proudly wear a thong, but the army of murdered angels have a bad habit of lying prone, smugly displaying those thongs to any reader interested in checking out dead chicks. Cruz is still oddly appropriate for the book, given that his look at this time is an amalgam of Jim Lee, Joe Mad, and J. Scott Campbell. All of those guys have Arthur Adams in common, who was one of McFarlane’s dominant influences for years. Although the Spawn series doesn’t have this particular “cartoon” style at this point, Cruz’s look fits the McFarlane-designed characters. I wonder now how the Spawn series would’ve turned out if McFarlane had hired Cruz away from Marvel in the mid-‘90s.

I’ve never read a Glory comic before, but it seems as if the story brings together her mini-universe with Angela’s in a plausible way. As much as there is continuity in the Image Universe, it’s used well. (I’m not sure if McFarlane ever even read this storyline; it’s kind of ridiculous that the destruction of “Heaven” was never mentioned in Spawn.) Angela doesn’t care that much if her former angel friends are getting massacred, but she feels she owes a favor to Metatron. This would also allow her to test her strength against Celestine, which matches Gaiman’s original characterization. Glory doesn’t want to kill her Amazonian sisters, which Angela finds laughable, but of course she finds a better way in the end. The cliffhanger is a nice surprise, as the angelic satellite from Morrison’s Spawn run has been criminally underused since its debut. Unfortunately, this one-shot is merely a prelude to a “Rage of Angels” crossover. Check out Youngblood #6, Team Youngblood #21, Glory #10, and something called Maximage #4 for the rest of the story, before returning for the second Angela/Glory team-up special. Or don’t. I think I’ll risk missing them.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Review copies provided by the studio.

Yes, a mere seven months after its debut, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes is coming to DVD on April 26th. These kids today don’t know how lucky they are. It took twelve years for Batman: The Animated Series to be released on season sets. Sixteen years for X-Men! Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes Volume One collects the original seven episodes (with the “micro-episode” compilations counting as five episodes), while Volume Two has six more episodes, ending with the “Gamma World” two-parter. For the first time, Disney has included special features in a Marvel animated series season set. Both volumes have interviews with Joshua Fine and Christopher Yost, teasing future events for the upcoming season. We learn that Vision is coming soon (yay), while Captain America is getting an Ultimate redesign (boo).

As an entitled fanboy, I proudly reject virtually all post-2000 Marvel continuity, along with the Ultimate Universe. As such, I have numerous nitpicky complaints whenever a “contribution” by Brian Michael Bendis or Mark Millar makes its way into the series. Luckily, the show borrows from almost every corner of Avengers continuity, so the use of an “Ultimate” version of a character is usually balanced out by a classic Hawkeye, or an appearance of an obscure villain or B-lister. One thing I can’t get past is Iron Man’s horrific voice acting, which is the worst Robert Downey, Jr. impression I could imagine a professional actor getting paid to do. I like the Iron Man movies, but I’m afraid they’ve cursed future generations with an endless steam of “witty” quips and smirky performances. On the other hand, Jeffery Combs is playing the Leader, so the casting department has at least one major score going for it. Actually, most of the voice acting is at the very least competent, which makes the casting of the subpar RDJ clone even more confusing.

The animation is provided by Film Roman, generally regarded as the best studio currently doing American television animation. The early episodes look a bit rough, the character designs are all over the place and the colors are just too bright, but the quality improves as the season continues. By “Gamma World” you can see a marked improvement, putting the show on the same level as Film Roman’s other Marvel cartoons, X-Men Evolution and The Superhero Squad Show. (Although, for some reason, Superhero Squad’s digital coloring still surpasses almost every Avengers episode.)

The stories on these episodes broadly follow the original Stan Lee issues, right down to the original Avengers line-up. They don’t even cheat and let Captain America in as a founder. He’s got to wait until the team forms, moves into the mansion, and fights Hulk a few times before his body is unfrozen. Surely, this is the way The Man intended. The villains range from Klaw to Baron Zemo to Man-Ape. It’s hard to think of a villain who doesn’t show up (King Cobra, Purple Man, and Wendigo are in the same episode!), and most of them have solid designs. I don’t know which animator designed Abomination, but I would say his look rivals any design from the comics. I’m not sure when the next DVD set is due, but future episodes continue to borrow heavily from classic Avengers storylines, so Kang and the Masters of Evil make appearances, as the show drops some hints regarding a war between two certain alien races. Allegedly, the plan is for the series to run 52 episodes; hopefully they’ll continue to lean towards the classic Avengers and stay away from “New” or “Ultimate” anything (although Cap’s redesign doesn’t give me a lot of hope). Even if I personally dislike some of the material chosen to be adapted, it’s still fun to see an Avengers cartoon that gets so much right. And, none of the characters are stuck wearing animal-themed cybernetic armor, which is always a plus.

X-MAN #39-#40, June-July 1998

If Tomorrow Never Comes…

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Mark Pajarillo (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Joe Andreani (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

Apparently, X-Man’s life in New York is now over, which ends whatever semblance of direction or purpose the book ever had. The story opens with Nate meditating, envisioning his own death, which of course is cryptic and light on the details. He fights a man in an armored suit that somewhat resembles Stryfe’s, apparently to prevent Apocalypse’s resurrection. Their psychic battle creates a massive feedback that kills half of the Earth’s population. That’s one way to oversell a premise.

Nate awakens in the Canadian wilderness, which we learn is where Madelyne Pryor took him after the previous issue. For the first time, Nate has a justifiable mood swing, as he suddenly realizes that his relationship with Madelyne is creepy and she should just leave him alone. Before their conversation can go anywhere, she points out that Nate inadvertently created a psychic explosion while meditating, which has unleashed a monster named Tundra. Nearby, two other Great Beasts approach. I’ll again give Kavanagh credit for pulling some unexpected villains out of the air, but he unfortunately ties their resurrection to a mystery man called “the Witness.” He somehow senses…either the Great Beasts, or X-Man’s vision (the story isn’t very clear). Every X-fan of this era knew the Witness as the-man-who-might-be-Gambit from Bishop’s origin story, so teasing them with an unrelated character is just wrong.

Nothing Left But the Screaming

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Richard Pace (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

With Madelyne’s help, X-Man defeats the ancient Alpha Flight enemies, while Kavanagh revives the Gauntlet for a few subplot scenes. He doesn’t offer much detail on the mystery group, although we do learn that they’re lead by a Commander Scanlon, a telepath apparently obsessed with detaining Nate Grey. Finally, the new Witness from the previous issue makes a brief cameo. The narrative captions now refer to him as “the man named Ness,” and the implication is that he’s witnessed X-Man destroy the Earth before. He might even be intended as an older, alternate reality version of Nate (he has a similar face and haircut), but it’s possible the guest artist isn’t so great at drawing distinctive faces. I will say that he draws wonderful monsters, which helps the issue tremendously. It’s still vague and aimless, but at least the action scenes look terrific.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WOLVERINE: BLACK RIO - November 1998

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Oscar Jimenez (penciler), Eduardo Alpuente (inker), Comicraft’s Emerson Miranda (letters), Gina Going (colors)

Summary: Wolverine arrives in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival. He reconnects with his old friend, detective Tony Vargas, who’s investigating a series of rumored vampire murders. The culprits, St. Cyrus Leviticus and Tony’s undead wife Ezra, soon confront Tony in his home. While Wolverine is knocked unconscious, Ezra kills Tony. Wolverine pursues the killers, and learns Leviticus is possessed by an alien symbiote that he believes will grant him immortality in exchange for human souls. Wolverine kills Leviticus and the symbiote, saving the participants in Carnival. Wolverine mourns the loss of Tony and vows vengeance on Ezra.

Continuity Notes: Decades earlier, Wolverine worked as a bouncer for Tony, who once owned a bar called Devil’s Grill.

Production Notes: This is a $5.99, prestige format one-shot. Inker Eduardo Alpuente is incorrectly credited as a writer on the inside front cover.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Even though the bookshelf format books weren’t submitted to the Code, Marvel still felt the need to color all of the blood in this comic purple.

Review: It’s obvious Marvel was quite pleased with Joe Casey’s work on Cable, as he was assigned one of the Wolverine bookshelf titles less than a year after breaking in. Black Rio follows the basic Wolverine template of introducing a heretofore-unknown friend from the past, the death of said friend, and a group of villains who can survive at least a few pages of slicing and dicing. Casey also seems found of the slightly sleazier interpretation of Wolverine that often showed up in the ‘80s, so he ends up spending almost as many pages partying in Rio and drinking with Tony as he does chasing the bad guys. While Wolverine is a character better suited for Rio than, say, Spider-Man, this is the first flaw in the story. Wolverine learns of a series of vampire murders, vows to help his friend, and then spends the next several pages getting drunk out of his mind. That’s commitment.

The villains are also a problem. The story repeatedly sets up a vampire menace, only to reveal that the vampire is a subordinate/possible lover of another character -- a mystery man with a Lovecraft-style monster attached to his chest. Since she’s creating legions of the undead, do they count towards the souls St. Cyrus Leviticus is supposed to be feeding his master? And why do some of Ezra’s victims become vampires, but others, like Tony, simply die? How exactly Ezra became a vampire is also left as a mystery, and while this kind of thing isn’t wildly unrealistic within the Marvel Universe, it still feels like a glaring omission. The wife of Wolverine’s friend, who went on to become a detective, is actually the vampire responsible for the series of murders he’s investigating? It feels like too much of a coincidence, and considering that she isn’t even the main threat, I’m wondering if the character needed to be in the story.

Thematically, Casey explores the idea of mortality. Wolverine, although he knows better, feels that people like Tony should live forever, and isn’t prepared for his death. Ezra has cheated death by becoming vampire, while Leviticus feeds souls to a monster to stay young. Wolverine achieved his virtual immortality by an accident of birth, and is forced to watch the impact of time on his loved ones. Casey doesn’t seem to have a lot to say on the specific topic; apparently the idea is broached simply to parallel Wolverine’s character with that of Leviticus and Ezra. Perhaps Casey felt a need to make the villains feel less like random selections, but their interactions with Wolverine really go nowhere. I don’t want to be too hard on the book, as Casey writes a respectable Wolverine and the early scenes with Tony are nice. The story just feels disjointed, which doesn’t seem appropriate for a prestige format book that costs six dollars.

Monday, April 18, 2011

X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT #2 - June 1998

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot…

Credits: John Cassaday & Ben Raab (writers), John Cassaday (artist), Steve Oliff (colors), Moon Monkey Graphics (letters)

Summary: Professor Xavier trains Alpha Flight in the Danger Room, in preparation for their attack on Hydra. Using Cerebro, the X-Men are tracked to Hydra’s hidden base. Before the battle, Shaman has a vision of Guardian’s death, which he fears is coming true when Guardian is locked in a room with Strucker and his men. The rest of Alpha Flight frees the X-Men, and the teams unite to rescue Guardian. Strucker escapes, but the heroes depart on good terms.

Continuity Notes: Someone noticed last issue’s continuity mistake, as Vindicator is now being called Guardian. The premonition of Guardian’s death comes true, spoiler alert, in Alpha Flight #12.

Review: This is the big action finale, so it’s a much quicker read than the previous issue. The story begins with Alpha Flight inexplicably fighting the original X-Men for several pages, before the audience is informed that it’s merely a Danger Room scenario. This sets the pace for the rest of the comic, as the action barely stops until the final few pages. The big action is also an excuse for Cassaday to let out the giant panels he’s now known for, making this even more of an Astonishing X-Men prototype.

Woven into the violence are a few attempts to humanize the teams, such as Shaman’s premonition of Guardian’s death. This leads to some amount of tension in the climax, even if you have to know it's a red herring, as Sasquatch bangs futilely on the locked doors while Guardian is trapped inside with Strucker. When the teams unite and rescue Guardian, Shaman is grateful the premonition was wrong, but wonders if his vision might come true some other day. If you’re an Alpha Flight fan, you know what’s coming next. Really, this is a two-part tribute to Marvel fans of that era. It’s certainly enjoyable on its own merits, but if you grew up with ‘80s Marvel, it works on a different level. It’s hard not to like any story that opens with the classic Alpha Flight lineup training in the Danger Room against the original X-Men, especially when Cassaday is drawing it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

X-FACTOR #147 - July 1998


Credits: Joseph Harris (writer), Mike Miller (penciler), Nghia Lam (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Shard rescues an accused mutant on the subway, and later tracks him to his school. She discovers the boy, Kevin, isn’t a mutant, he’s simply double-jointed. Shard befriends Kevin, but when she visits him the next day, discovers he’s joined the anti-mutant clique. The kids throw rocks at Shard, forcing her to use her powers and scare them away. Kevin returns to school, only to learn he’s still an outcast.

We Get Letters: Does this surprise you? The editor says issue #150 “promises to be a shocker!” and “you’ll just have to be here for #150!” when a fan demands the death of the XUE.

Review: When a series reaches the end, the inventory stories sitting in the drawer are occasionally brought into the light. If only the poor soul stuck writing responses for the letter column was given the memo. The X-office was trying out Joseph Harris on a few projects during this era, so I’m not surprised to see him on this job. I realize there’s no real objective standard to judge this material, but you would think someone working at Marvel would’ve realized that the new kid had, at the very least, a better ear for dialogue than the regular writer. His story isn’t a byzantine, nonsensical mess either. Harris did pick up more work from Marvel during the final days of the Bob Harras era, but shockingly enough, he never received the plump assignments given to former Marvel staffers working as freelancers.

Since the ongoing storylines of this title are impossible to jump into (as the motivations and characterizations change from issue to issue, and the overall direction seems made up on the fly), Harris pens a standalone Shard solo story. He starts with a boilerplate X-premise, team member discovers a neophyte mutant, and throws in a few twists. Not the “I secretly wasn’t a villain” kind of twist that ruined this comic, but ones that work as honest surprises. Although the idea of kids mistaking a double-jointed classmate with a mutant might seem implausible, I really have known teenagers that dumb. The rest of the twists don’t require any suspension of disbelief. Maybe Kevin does like Shard, but when he’s offered a chance to join a popular clique and save his own skin, of course he turns against her. And if he thinks the cool kids will stay with him, he’s deluding himself. There’s no great physical drama in the story, but there are enough twists and at least plausible characterizations to keep it entertaining.

X-FORCE #81 - September 1998

Hot Lava

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales w/Guillermo Zubiaga (inks), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: While on vacation in Hawaii, X-Force is caught in a conflict between the Lava Men and Risque, Sledge, and Vanisher. They retrieve the mystical Heart of Pele, only to discover that “Risque” has been the goddess Pele in disguise. After Siryn destroys the Lava Men’s Firebringer weapon, Sunspot uses his powers to return the Heart to the depths of the volcano. Pele is made whole again, and thanks the team by granting them a peaceful vacation.

Continuity Notes: The Lava Men discovered the plans for the Firebringer in the ruins of ancient Lemuria. This foreshadows more Eternals continuity making its way into Moore’s run. According to Pele, she took Risque’s place after her partners stole the Heart. She learned of X-Force from Risque, and sensed that they were the “warriors of noble heart” she needed to return the Heart to its proper place.

Gimmicks: This issue has a free poster, in honor of Adam Pollina’s final issue of the title.

We Get Letters: In response to a reader’s comments about Locus’ race swapping: “As far as Locus is concerned, her new look is nothing more than a tan and a wacky new ‘do’”.

I Love the ‘90s: Sunspot tells Siryn that, being Irish, she should know how to “get jiggy with it.”

Review: It’s a vacation issue (literally), although Moore seems more interested in giving the characters a wacky adventure than conversation scenes. The plot has X-Force being forced into helping the Lava Men retrieve an item stolen from them by the Vanisher, only to learn that the Lava Men are pretty awful too. The odd combination of characters, from Silver Age Marvel to Jeph Loeb’s run to ancient Hawaiian folklore, works to the story’s advantage, and Moore as usual handles the cast well. Unfortunately, this marks Adam Pollina’s final issue. Pollina had one of the longest runs on the ‘90s X-books, and it’s to his credit that he stuck with the book for so long when he certainly had plenty of competing offers. I know he did some creator-owned material, and returned for the occasional one-shot or miniseries over the years, but I don’t know why he disappeared from monthly comics after this run. It’s a shame he never had a lengthy stint on Amazing Spider-Man or Superman.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

PINT-SIZED X-BABIES #1 - August 1998


Credits: Ruben Diaz & J. J. Kirby (story), J. J. Kirby (penciler), Sean Parsons w/Koblish, Perrotta, Vines, Russell, Williams, & Ramos (inks), Comicraft’s Dave Lanphear (letters), Ruffner, Hicks, Schigiel, Smith, & Tutrone (colors)

Summary: The X-Babies defeat the Brotherhood of Mutant Bullies in battle, but their victory is short-lived, as Mojo and Arcade develop a new game show to exploit the team -- Murderama. The X-Babies are pitted against the BoMB in a rigged trivia contest, which has the team split up and sent on numerous quests. Cyke sneaks off the set and returns with Charlie X and the extended X-Babies family. The heroes escape, leading Mojo to transform “Arcade” into his true form…the child doppelganger Funhouse. Funhouse is sent to have his spine removed.

Continuity Notes: For perhaps the first time, the X-Babies are given individual names instead of sharing names with their adult counterparts. The team consists of Cyke (Cyclops), Shower (Storm), Wolvie (Wolverine), Creepy Crawler (Nightcrawler), Colossusus (Colossus), Boyo (Banshee), and Charlie X (Professor X). Their archenemies are the Brotherhood of Mutant Bullies, which include Mysti Q (Mystique), Slob (Blob), Phyro (Pyro), Snaggletooth (Sabretooth), Juggernut (Juggernaut), Toadpole (Toad), and Magneato (Magneto).

Production Notes: This is a forty-eight page, standard format one-shot.

Review: Around the time Marvel had the gall to release a second X-Men spinoff comic, Chris Claremont created the X-Babies as a parody of the over-commercialization of the franchise. I’m sure the last thing on his mind was the actual existence of X-Babies one-shots and limited series (or something like Cartoon Network’s The Superhero Squad Show), but that’s where we are by the late ‘90s. What makes this one-shot immediately stand out is J. J. Kirby’s artwork, which resembles a blend of modern-day Skottie Young and Ed McGuiness. The inking begins to give out before the comic is over, but much of the issue has bold, Tim Townsend-style inking that complements the short, boxy figures very well.

The story is, of course, not intended to be taken very seriously, but there’s a surprising lack of jokes, and most of the focus seems to be on zaniness rather than parody. When the X-titles delved into comedy in the ‘80s, Claremont was usually willing to make fun of Marvel or even himself. Maybe the culture of Marvel at this time wouldn’t allow that kind of comedy, but it’s disappointing that the extent of meta-humor we get is a parody of Banshee’s phonetic accent. It’s still a fun read, though. It’s hard to dislike a comic that has kid X-Men living in a treehouse mansion, fighting against Magneato and his Brotherhood of Mutant Bullies.

Monday, April 11, 2011

X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT #1 - May 1998


Credits: Ben Raab & John Cassaday (writers), John Cassaday (artist), Heisler & Heisler (letters), Jason Wright (colors)

Summary: Vindicator visits Gary Cody, who informs him he’s trying to resume Department H’s funding of Alpha Flight. Meanwhile, Colossus and Kitty Pryde go on their first date. They’re abruptly attacked by armored men. The X-Men join the fight, but are teleported away. Watching on television, Vindicator recognizes the designs as his own. He discovers that Cody sold the designs to Hydra in order to fund Alpha Flight. Professor Xavier calls Vindicator for help, who in turn contacts Alpha Flight.

Continuity Notes: This story is set during Cyclops’ return to the team, following his sabbatical after Phoenix’s death, circa Uncanny X-Men #150. Xavier assumes Baron von Strucker from Hydra wants revenge for their encounter decades earlier, recounted in Uncanny X-Men #161. Alpha Flight’s battle with the Master from Alpha Flight #4 is also referenced in a footnote, which means Vindicator should be going by “Guardian” at this point.

Production Note: This is a two-issue miniseries, each issue is forty-eight pages with ads and a cover price of $2.99.

Review: A John Cassaday penciled X-Men story with strong nostalgic ties to the ‘80s…why does that sound familiar? Since Marvel rarely released X-Men comics entirely set in the past during this era, I have a feeling this was intended as something of a special project. Bringing in John Cassaday is another indication someone viewed this as unique, even if he wasn’t nearly as well-known during these days. The unusual two-issue format was, I suspect, also a nod towards the original X-Men/Alpha Flight limited series. Unfortunately, the market had been thoroughly flooded with X-product by this point, so I have a feeling much of the target audience missed out on it.

It’s obvious Ben Raab has a true affection for the Claremont-era X-Men, and while his callbacks in Excalibur were hit-or-miss, this issue really captures the feeling of that era. The bulk of the issue is spent on character moments as the action story develops in the background, allowing the reader to touch base with Cyclops and Wolverine as they deal with the loss of Phoenix, Nightcrawler and Storm discussing his insecurity over his place on the team, and Colossus and Kitty’s first date. The sense of family is evoked as Cyclops and Professor Xavier worry about letting Kitty go out at night, while Storm and Wolverine defend her right to be a kid.

I’ve never read a comic written by John Cassaday solo, but I wonder if he’s responsible for the credible dialogue and more coherent plotting. This is one of the few times I’ve seen Raab paired with an above average artist, so I’m sure that’s already helping his script. While this isn’t quite the Cassady famous for Astonishing X-Men (there’s less of an Adam Hughes influence, and presumably not as much photo referencing), it’s still an outstanding job. He draws an iconic rendition of the early ‘80s X-Men, and the action sequences are just as interesting as the conversation scenes. My one complaint would be the portrayal of Canadian bureaucrat, Gary Cody. I haven’t read all of John Byrne’s Alpha Flight run, but I do recall Cody as a decent guy who tried to do right by the team. Unless later stories revised his character, I have a hard time believing he would be dumb, naïve, or corrupt enough to sell armored battle suits to Hydra.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Yes, Jubilee, There Is a Santa Claus

Credits: Joseph Harris (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Morales, Faber, Leigh, Wong, & Wiacek (inks), Comicraft (letters), Paul Tutrone (colors)

Summary: Generation X goes shopping on Christmas Eve, as the Orphan Maker invades the mall. Jubilee is left behind as the team is kidnapped. Nanny sends Orphan Maker back into town to abduct another mutant, but he kidnaps a normal child, Stephen, by mistake. Jubilee tries to grab on as he flies away, but lands on a nearby rooftop. Santa’s reindeer are on the roof, leading Jubilee to investigate inside. A mutant child, Matthew, has kidnapped Santa with his ability to force people to obey his commands. As Gen X escapes captivity and frees Stephen, Santa talks to Matthew until he falls asleep. Jubilee realizes that Santa could’ve escaped anytime he wanted, which stuns her since Matthew’s powers don’t work on mutants.

Review: I’m surprised there weren’t more Christmas specials from the X-titles during the ‘90s. Marvel did publish several holiday specials (intended to represent the entire line) throughout the decade, but given the glut of ‘90s X-product, I could easily see a Wolverine: Bloody Nativity bookshelf one-shot being released one December. Instead, the X-titles waited until the late ‘90s to exploit the holidays with a Generation X special.

The marketing hook for this story was the revelation that the Marvel Universe’s Santa is actually a mutant, which I remember creating a few eyerolls when the solicitations were released. Santa actually doesn’t play much of a role in the story; instead, it reads more like a standard Lobdell-era Generation X story that happens to take place on Christmas. Jubilee receives the bulk of the attention, as Harris utilizes her often-ignored status as an orphan. She feels lonelier than usual during the holidays, and given her habitual bad attitude, she’s not inclined to get into the Christmas spirit anyway. I like Jubilee as a character because, in spite of her past, she isn’t angsty or overly serious, so stories that focus on her as an orphan are tricky. The fact should be explored occasionally, but losing her parents shouldn’t define Jubilee. Harris, to his credit, is able to keep her in-character while exploring her feelings as an orphan. She of course finds solace in her friends on Christmas Day, which is how these stories are supposed to end.

The rest of the story revolves around a mutant kid, his bully, Nanny, the Orphan Maker, and Santa. Harris revives the Orphan Maker’s original, literal motivation (the one that frightened Toy Biz), which is a little intense for a Christmas special, but doesn’t allow him to actually finish the job. Chris Bachalo’s wonky redesign is still being used, but Pollina manages to handle it fairly well. Orphan Maker’s run-in with Santa is played for laughs, and it’s possibly the best use of the villain’s true identity as a kid yet. As for the revelation that Santa is a mutant, I’ve always thought it was silly, but see now that it’s only a small part of the story. I’m sure it’s been established in Howard the Duck or some other corner of the Marvel Universe that Santa is real, so I guess making him a mutant isn’t that big a deal. Santa Claus still shows up in some of those Mutant Handbooks, doesn’t he?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

EXCALIBUR #121 - June 1998

With Friends Like These…

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Trevor Scott (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Moira decides to leave her quarantine, while Douglock unsuccessfully tries to reconcile with Wolfsbane. In Jerusalem, the rest of Excalibur joins Sabra to fight Legion. Nightcrawler realizes that their opponents are actually the ghosts of Legion’s multiple personalities, striking out in anger after losing their host body. With Meggan’s empathetic help, the three personalities are able to cross over to the afterlife. In exchange for their aid, Sabra gives Excalibur a disc she claims has information on Xavier’s whereabouts.

Review: With only a few issues to go, Ben Raab assigns the team two missions that didn’t seem to bother the main titles much. The question of what happened to Legion following “The Age of Apocalypse” was never satisfactorily addressed, which didn’t seem appropriate for the character that initiated the largest X-crossover ever, and just happened to be the son of Professor Xavier. Legion’s death was ignored as soon as it happened, and wasn’t even used on the list of growing heartbreaks that led to Xavier’s transformation into Onslaught. Judging solely on the contents of the books, Xavier was shaken more by the murder of the mutant stranger in X-Men: Prime than his own son’s death.

Since Legion’s multiple personalities were much more than creations of his own mind, presenting them as ghosts makes a certain amount of sense, and bringing in Sabra is a nice use of a guest star. Raab actually posits that Xavier asked Sabra to join Excalibur in the past, but she refused the offer. That’s one way of explaining why one of the Marvel Universe’s unaffiliated mutants rarely appeared in the X-books, although the continuity is a little iffy, since Xavier was never involved in deciding Excalibur’s membership. Raab writes Sabra as rude and arrogant, which I believe is supposed to be her default personality, and it makes her a good foil for the team.

The story closes with Sabra handing Excalibur information on Professor Xavier’s location, which was supposed to be a major mystery at the time. Not that the main titles would ever let you believe it, since the X-Men themselves didn’t seem that interested in finding their mentor. Why exactly Nightcrawler assumes Sabra has that info is unclear, unless Raab is riffing on the idea that Mossad has spies within the US government. She later tells her superiors she was lying, which likely means the next issue won’t bring us anywhere near Xavier. Still, it’s amusing that poor, forgotten Excalibur got around to a story called “The Search for Professor Xavier” a few months before the main titles bothered with “The Hunt for Xavier” crossover.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CABLE #58 - September 1998


Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Ed McGuinness & Ladronn (pencilers), Nathan Massenbill &Juan Vlasco (inkers), Gloria Vasquez (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Blaquesmith examines Cable, informing him that with most of his powers gone, his techno-organic virus will continue to spread internally. He sends Cable and Irene to Greece, where they encounter the Askani order formerly led by Ch’vayre. When they realize who he is, most of the order bows to Cable. Only one member, Caesar, is skeptical. They give Cable his Psimitar staff as a gift, and he orders them to end their seclusion and join the real world. They follow his command, but Caesar vows revenge. Meanwhile, SHIELD agents Jasper Sitwell and Clay Quartermain meet with scientists and industrialists to discuss Cable.

Continuity Notes: The Askani order relocated to Greece after Ch’vayre disappeared. Following his orders, they burned their former monastery and moved to a group of islands known as the Dodecanese, which translates to “the Twelve.” This begins Casey’s series of hints surrounding the long-forgotten X-Factor subplot.

Both Jasper Sitwell and Clay Quartermain are long-established SHIELD agents, going back to the Silver Age. They’re meeting behind G. W. Bridge’s back to discuss the military and commercial applications of Cable’s techno-organic flesh. The words “Nemesis Program” and “Agent 18” are thrown around, but no information is given.

Review: Casey’s run has been fairly light reading so far, but this one is dense. Following the aftermath of the “Psi-War” mini-event, Cable’s left without his psychic powers again, which leaves Casey in an odd position. If you strictly follow continuity, that means that Cable’s body should be freaking out and becoming consumed with the techno-organic virus. However, Jeph Loeb already covered this territory in the “Onslaught” aftermath issues, so revisiting that idea seems pointless. Instead, he cheats a bit by allowing Cable to have a small amount of telekinesis, and by revealing that the virus is now attacking internally and not appearing as physical manifestations. This also becomes an excuse to revisit the Askani order subplot from James Robinson’s run, and to reintroduce the Psimitar staff from the Askani’son miniseries. This is making lemons into lemonade, which is a position X-spinoff writers often find themselves.

On top of all this, Casey’s setting up the pieces for the next four-issue arc. Having a few SHIELD agents meet with a couple of scientists really doesn’t have to take up too much space, but Casey dedicates half of the issue to the idea. Making the story more cramped is the lengthy recap of almost every public battle and SHIELD run-in Cable and X-Force has ever had. It’s nice to know Casey’s done his research, but the flashbacks have to be crammed into tiny panels in order to fit, and the new “artsy” lettering font Comicraft is using isn’t easy on the eyes, so the overall design of the pages is rough. (I’m assuming Comicraft changed to a more ostentatious font to match Ladronn’s style, but it’s always looked ugly to me.)

The secret military-industrial complex conspiracy stuff is well-worn territory, and it doesn’t really work with the characters Casey's selected. As future letter writers will point out, Jasper Sitwell and Clay Quartermain have never exhibited villainous traits before. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on SHIELD continuity, but just knowing that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Sitwell and Steranko created Quartermain back in the ‘60s leads me to believe that these guys were never intended as the dark conspiracy types. If Casey needed rogue SHIELD agents, I don’t know why he didn’t create new ones. Rogue SHIELD agents show up all the time, usually as new cannon fodder created for specific stories. Casey didn’t need to drag any established characters into this. Also, it’s strange that these specific characters care so much about exploiting Cable’s T-O virus for military gain. That’s usually the role given to generically evil army generals or corrupt politicians.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

X-FORCE #80 - August 1998

The Fire Within

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Guillermo Zubiaga (background assists), Mark Morales (inker), Comicraft (letters), Gloria Vasquez (colors)

Summary: X-Force continues to fight Reignfire, and is eventually able to separate Sunspot from the protoplasmic entity by combining Siryn’s sonic scream with Dr. Joshua’s cannon. SHIELD takes Reignfire into custody, while Sunspot flies to DaCosta International’s San Francisco office. He agrees to stay out of DaCosta International affairs in exchange for a warehouse in the city. He flies the team to San Francisco, where they set up their new base. Meanwhile, Locus and Skids awaken on a mountain in Latveria. They’re neutralized by a mysterious figure.

Continuity Notes: Reignfire drops another hint about Meltdown’s past. Initially, it seems like another intimation that she used to be a prostitute (“I know what you did when you were a runaway, living on the streets of New York…scared…vulnerable”), but a new bombshell is dropped when he adds, “You don’t want to kill again, do you?”

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: DaCosta International’s secretary discusses going to a bondage club on a bad date during a telephone conversation.

I Love the 90s: Meltdown says she feels just like “those guys on Road Rules” when boarding the plane to San Francisco.

Review: The Reignfire storyline wraps up, and Moore uses the conclusion to segue into the book’s new status quo. Of course, even in 1998, an X-team moving to San Francisco wasn’t an original idea, as Chris Claremont briefly relocated the team there during his run. The circumstances that lead X-Force there are actually the highlight of the issue, as the DaCosta International board is convinced that Reignfire is coming to kill them. The reaction of the secretary to Sunspot casually walking in through the front door is priceless, and the cameo by the Heroes for Hire (the security team hired by the board to protect themselves from Reignfire) is a lot of fun.

The rest of the issue kind of drags, to be honest. Dr. Joshua’s motivation for injecting Project Nineteen with Sunspot’s blood is fleshed out a bit, and Moore gets some mileage out of Sunspot and Reignfire inhabiting the same body, but little else is going on. Moore’s also decided to include newspaper clippings that are slightly relevant to the events (like an ad for a psychic hotline as Moonstar tries to psychically disrupt Reignfire) throughout the story, which unfortunately doesn’t add anything. Moore’s plotting is already rather dense, so there’s a lot going on in each page. The added text of fake ads and news articles just makes the issue an even longer read, and often distracts from the action.

Monday, April 4, 2011

X-FACTOR #146 - June 1998

Fairie Light

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Lee Moder (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: Fixx uses her sprites to monitor Greystone, Archer, and Havok as they depart in different directions. Havok meets with Madrox, who’s unexpectedly invited Polaris to join their conversation. Greystone assumes his civilian identity of Brian Young and attempts to rescue Brian’s sister from their abusive parents. Archer takes the human form of Jude Black, a wanted terrorist with an estranged family. When he tries to reconnect with Jude’s family, he’s attacked by revenge-obsessed Genoshan Mutates. Fixx calls the team together, and the Genoshans quickly exit.

Continuity Notes: Fixx says that by touching Havok with one of her sprites, he’s now telepathically connected to the other XUE members.

We Get Letters: In response to a letter, optimistic about the book’s future, “We’ll say it again as we head up to issue #150, old fans and new will be enjoying X-Factor again!” Aside from the continuing misconception that the book will make it to #150, I think the “again” is slightly amusing.

Review: I wonder if the creative team ever realized that the occasional callbacks to the “classic” X-Factor just reminded people of how bad the later issues looked in comparison. Howard Mackie is still trying to sell the XUE characters as the new stars, but it looks like someone has recognized that the book can’t abruptly drop all of the established regulars. For some reason, Havok, the character who suffered the most during Mackie’s bewildering run, is going to be the bridge between the old and new teams.

If you really are a Havok fan, do you really want to see the same writer responsible for abusing the hero beyond recognition using him as a means to pass credibility on to a group of new characters? If any character represented the low point of Mackie’s writing, it would have to be Havok. And now that Marvel’s twisted him into a dupe/villain/retroactive spy over the past few years, apparently because they had no idea what to do with him, the readers are expected to keep following the book that’s dragged him into the mud? That’s even more naïve than believing people care about the XUE’s human identities.

One’s an ex-terrorist with marriage issues (and he’s named “Black”…as in “dark,” like a villain, get it?), and the other’s a kid from an abusive family (his last name is “Young”…and he’s a kid, which is a crazy coincidence). Yes, the fans really wanted this instead of a reunion of Havok, Strong Guy, Polaris, and Madrox. Heck, at this point in continuity, Marvel could’ve easily brought back the original X-Men cast to revive interest in the title. Why this book continues to go in such misguided directions is mystifying.

Friday, April 1, 2011

X-MAN #37-#38, April-May 1998

Breaking Point

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), ChrisCross (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas & Mark Bernardo (colors)

Huh, this one is a little odd. Continuing the editorially mandated friendship of X-Man and Peter Parker, Spider-Man is revealed as the mysterious voice from the end of the last issue. He tries to talk X-Man out of erasing the city’s memory of him, but it doesn’t work. X-Man sends his presence over New York and wipes out everyone’s recollection of him, but he decides his friend Jam should keep her memories. (She’s the one who lost her arm, only to have it temporarily replaced by one of X-Man’s psionic illusions.) The story tries to present this as deep and meaningful, but it comes across as more capricious than anything.

While X-Man is spacing out, completing his mission, Spider-Man fears he’s near death and socks him back into consciousness. Conveniently enough, last issue X-Man chose the top of the Brooklyn Bridge to perch dramatically, the location of Gwen Stacy’s death (after the lettering was corrected in the reprints). Spider-Man emotes appropriately, but X-Man isn’t moved. He creates a psychic whirlwind, which somehow touches on Spider-Man’s memories to produce…the AoA Gwen Stacy!

That’s the type of slightly insane/brilliant idea we don’t see enough in this book. It’s unfortunately marred by a continuity error -- for some reason, Spidey remembers Gwen as his friend during his nerdy, bespectacled, high school days -- but what a use of the character! Spider-Man tries to talk to Gwen, but wouldn’t you know it, three mysterious armored hitmen choose this moment to attack. And, surely no one saw this coming…but Gwen’s knocked off the bridge! Spider-Man saves her this time, but she disappears after X-Man collapses during the fight. Spider-Man’s now lost “a dream come true” and is ready to take his pain out on the remaining goons. Like many of the events in this comic, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but Kavangh is using the powers and backstory of X-Man in unique ways, making this issue more entertaining than usual.

Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide…

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), ChrisCross & Ariel Olivetti (pencilers), Mahlstedt, Bobillo, Caesar, & Sosa (inks), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Did you want to see the repercussions of X-Man erasing New York’s memory? Sorry. Were you interested in Spider-Man’s reaction to X-Man’s ability to recreate his dead girlfriend? Eh, we’ll pay it some lip service. The bulk of this issue is dedicated to Spider-Man and X-Man fighting the armored henchmen, because that’s the most engaging aspect of the previous issue.

ChrisCross handles the action capably, and his interpretation of Spidey beats most of the artists assigned to his monthly books at this time, but the lengthy fight is ultimately a disappointment. The only information given on the villains is that they’re from a group called “The Gauntlet.” After a protracted fight that’s stretched over two issues, they simply teleport away, leaving the readers with no insight into who they are or what they want. Considering that Kavanagh has let a Hellfire Club subplot languish in the background for over two years at this point, I don’t think he’s generated enough goodwill to pull this kind of stunt. Speaking of the Hellfire Club, Madelyne Pryor, who was supposed to be doing something evil with the club by now, abruptly shows up at the end. The narrative captions make it clear that she’s genetically X-Man’s mother, which doesn’t stop the issue from concluding with a silhouette of the two sharing a romantic embrace. What can you even say at this point?

Meanwhile, Dr. Arlington, the doctor from the previous arc, somehow has been blessed with healing powers from X-Man. He’s traveling the world with Roust (a character Kavanagh seems determined to add to the supporting cast, even though he’s barely had anything to do with X-Man and hasn’t played a real role in any of the storylines so far), helping the sick. That’s one way to emphasize what a petulant twerp your lead character is -- let a minor member of the cast who was just introduced actually use the hero’s powers for good.

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