Friday, July 29, 2011

GENERATION X #43 - October 1998

An Eye for an Eye

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

Summary: Following the psionic pulse, Banshee trains the team in hand-to-hand combat. Soon, the pizzas Jubilee ordered arrive, delivered by Dorian and Weasel. Bianca LaNiege’s spacecraft crashes on top of their car. Bianca’s dwarves attack Generation X, while Emma leads Bianca into the kitchen. The dwarves surrender after witnessing Chamber’s power, as Emma knocks Bianca unconscious with a watermelon.

Continuity Notes: Bianca reveals that her company, LaNiege Industrial Concepts, was acquired by Emma in a hostile takeover. Hoping to discover new technology that would drive Emma into bankruptcy, Bianca used one of her inventions to travel to another world. Instead, she was “trapped in a hellish dimension” where she “endured unspeakable torments” but somehow gained psionic powers.

Review: A lot of action, much of it slapstick, in this one. Since Hama’s well versed in martial arts, the rules of fighting Banshee and Emma teach certainly sound plausible, and he’s able to connect the training sequence to the actual fight scene in a clever way. It’s obvious this isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, which probably didn’t make the people who already hated this run feel any better, but I personally found it amusing. I like the occasional kidney-punch in my comics, especially when it’s Emma beating Banshee up during a training session. While the Danger Room rarely feels dangerous, Hama’s going with the idea that these training sessions are actual fights with real consequences, so the Banshee/Emma match is surprisingly brutal. And, even if Terry Dodson is more famous for pretty drawings than gritty fights, he still handles the action capably. I don’t know if the inclusion of mayonnaise and watermelon in the Emma/Bianca fight is a sly commentary on his cheesecake proclivities, but it’s hard not to laugh.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

EXCALIBUR #125 - October 1998

Tying the Knot

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Dale Eaglesham (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Douglock, who's awakened with amnesia, is teleported to the Otherworld by Widget to attend the wedding of Brian Braddock and Meggan. Following Brian’s revelation that he knows Colossus was lying to cover for Meggan, and that he understands why she developed feelings for him, the wedding goes off smoothly. After the ceremony, Moira takes Douglock back to Earth for treatment. Meanwhile, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Colossus reveal that they’re going “home” to rejoin the X-Men. Roma asks her father Merlyn, who attended in disguise, why he’s arranged for Excalibur to disband. He responds that he didn’t, therefore the team must be exercising their freewill.

Continuity Notes: Virtually every character ever to appear in this series has a cameo. This includes Kylun, who reveals that his missing parents were merely on vacation, which means his glorious quest is over. Micromax says that he’s been laid off from the Brand Corporation and is unemployed. Peter Wisdom doesn’t attend; a brief scene shows him drinking alone and staring at the invitation. Widget's cameo is hard to reconcile with the ending of Alan Davis' run, which established that Widget was an older incarnation of Shadowcat from the future.

I Love the '90s: The date of the wedding is given as August 19, 1998. Later, Shadowcat promises to teach everyone how to “raise the roof” on the dance floor.

Review: So, Excalibur is sent off with a wedding, which I guess is preferable to a horrific bloodbath or forced “dramatic” break-up. It’s hard to complain about this issue, since it’s clearly intended as a tribute to the series and the dedicated fans who managed to make it all the way through to the end. Some obscure characters return, a few loose ends are resolved, and the team peaceably disbands. If you’re not familiar with the past of the book, much of this will go over your head, and the appearance of the Nazi Excalibur team from “The Cross-Time Caper” will just leave you wondering why exactly Brian and Meggan invited Nazis to their wedding. Even if you are familiar with the continuity, it’s hard to believe these characters are in the audience. (Maybe Brian and Meggan had no say over which members of the Captain Britain Corps would be invited.)

I am left wondering why exactly Raab has introduced a new Douglock subplot in the final issue, unless he has an X-Men Unlimited issue in the works that’s going to resolve this. I’m also confused by Peter Wisdom’s cameo, specifically his lack of an eyepatch. I’ve heard people ridiculing Raab for years for giving Wisdom an eyepatch, yet it’s never appeared in Excalibur. When did this come about? At any rate, this is an acceptable, low-key send-off for the book. I don’t think it redeems Raab’s largely mediocre run, but it’s a sweet ending with no shortage of fan-service.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

X-FORCE #82 - October 1998

The Gryphon Agenda

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Jim Cheung (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: X-Force is shocked to discover a strange mutant, Jesse Aaronson, in their home. Jesse reveals that he made a deal with Domino to lead her to Ekatarina Gryaznova if she agreed to find his brother. While breaking into the Aguilar Institute, Domino was kidnapped and Jesse narrowly escaped. Jesse leads X-Force to the Aguilar Institute, where Domino is being tortured by Gryaznova. As X-Force battles the armored guards, Jesse rescues Domino and uses his power to short out the implant that’s hindered her agility. Gryaznova triggers the building’s self-destruct sequence, forcing the team to flee. Back in San Francisco, Domino agrees to rejoin the team, while Jesse crashes on the couch.

Continuity Notes: Ekatarina Gryaznova now goes by “Gryphon.” She reveals that she was working with Zero Tolerance as an undercover agent for the Aguilar Institute. Jesse “Bedlam” Aaronson first appeared as an Age of Apocalypse character in Factor X #1. He has the mutant ability to create a bio-electric field that can disrupt mechanical and electronic devices. He refuses to reveal how he knows so much about X-Force, but he’s very excited to meet them. Meanwhile, a mystery figure is looking for the “prodigal” Aaronson. Finally, a minor supporting cast member is introduced. Zeke Weaver, a pilot for DaCosta International, escorts the team in a private helicopter.

I Love the '90s: After visiting an old-timey movie theater, Moonstar says, “Forget Leo and Kate, nobody sizzles on screen like Bogart and Bacall.”

We Get Letters: Another letter writer complains about Locus’ race-swapping. The editorial response hints that there might be two different characters with the same name and powers. The previous response in the letter column was that Locus was merely trying out a new ‘do. I’m not sure which is more ridiculous.

Review: Most of the Age of Apocalypse characters made sloppy transitions into the mainstream universe, as either retroactive no-way-they’re-serious masterminds of Chris Claremont concepts or jobbers for X-Man, so it’s a relief to see at least one AoA mutant make an inconspicuous entrance. I’m sure more people would’ve cared about Jesse Bedlam’s mainstream introduction if it happened closer to the actual AoA event, but it’s still a nice continuity callback for the hardcore fans. For simplicity’s sake, it works to bring in the mainstream Marvel Universe Jesse Bedlam and just ignore the existence of an alternate reality version. Moore seems to be incorporating a lot of his old continuity into the book, as even the throwaway Zero Tolerance agent from one of his earlier arcs returns as a member of the mysterious Aguilar Institute. I like the sense that everything’s been leading up to a larger story, but when he starts to work in X-Men 2099 continuity in a few issues, it feels a little gratuitous.

This easily could’ve been a two-parter, but as usual, Moore’s plotting is remarkably dense, so we see the introduction of a new team member, an exploration of the new headquarters, a few character subplots, the reintroduction of an old villain, hints of a new villainous group, and the return of a previous member, all in the same issue. This book always has momentum going for it, which is something too many X-books never manage to develop. Aside from the new characters and locale, the issue also introduces Jim Cheung as the new artist. Cheung consistently produced solid work in Maverick, so it’s not a surprise the X-office has placed him on a higher profile book.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

GENERATION X #42 - September 1998

She Came From the Stars

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

Summary: Bianca and her dwarves spy on Generation X as they play miniature golf. When a psionic pulse hits the Astral Plane, Chamber, Emma, and Bianca are left without their psychic powers. Driving home, they come across Gaia, who crashed her car when the backlash hit. She’s aided by Chief Authier, who reveals that he’s also lost “the sight.” Later, Bianca’s spacecraft is clipped by Elsie Dee and Albert, who are passing by in a modified Blackbird.

Continuity Notes: Bianca’s dwarves used to be alien cockroaches and hate their new bodies. They’re working for Bianca in the hopes that she’ll restore their true forms. Although Bianca gained her psionic powers through “alien means,” she’s still struck by the psi-wave. Gaia, meanwhile, has used her telekinetic powers to build an alien home in Snow Valley since her previous appearance.

“Huh?” Moment: Chamber’s chest still emits energy after losing his psionic powers. If this energy wasn’t psychic in nature, what is it? And if we were to believe that his psionic powers (somehow) kept him alive after his chest was blown open, how exactly is he alive now?

Review: I’m not sure if any of the spin-offs dedicated so much time to characters merely reacting to the events of “Psi-War,” but apparently Hama felt the need to sell the premise. What’s odd is that he’s used this opportunity to reveal that two of the new characters, Bianca and Chief Authier, have psychic powers before we’ve even seen them use the powers. I actually do like the idea that Chief Authier is a mutant, apparently a low-level one who simply viewed his powers as a paranormal gift, since it shows that not every mutant has to follow the traditional X-path. I’m assuming Hama had plans for Chief Authier, but I doubt they were realized since he’s already at the end of his run. I have no idea why Bianca is getting such a slow build-up, but I do like the dynamic between her and the dwarves. When the psi-wave knocks her out, the first response of the dwarves is to kill her in her sleep, but they think better of it when they realize they might never return to their proper roach bodies without her. When Bianca realizes what happened, she proceeds to beat them mercilessly. All of this is fairly random silliness, but it livens up the mini-golf scenes and continuity work.

Monday, July 25, 2011

EXCALIBUR #124 - September 1998


Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Dale Eaglesham (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: Brian Braddock and Meggan hold their bachelor/bachelorette parties, with Mimic and Captain UK as invited guests. Both Meggan and Colossus ponder how to tell Brian about Meggan’s crush on Colossus. Eventually, Colossus decides to lie and tell Brian that he was the one with feelings for Meggan. Meanwhile, a new Executioner leads the Crazy Gang to attack Excalibur. During the fight, Executioner is unveiled as Feron, who attacked the team in order to seek their attention. After Excalibur affirms their friendship with Feron, he joins the party.

Continuity Notes: Feron explains his departure from the team, revealing that following Captain Britain’s disappearance in Excalibur #67, he was overwhelmed with Meggan’s empathetic grief. This lead to him losing his corporeal form and getting washed away in the tide. Eventually, he came across the Crazy Gang, and enacted his plan to punish Excalibur for forgetting him.

“Huh?” Moment: Douglock, the alien cybernetic being, is somehow able to get drunk on vodka.

I Love the '90s: Captain UK offers to show Mimic her copy of The Full Monty.

Review: Excalibur is coming to an end, so apparently it’s time to drag out the Alan Davis material that Marvel casually dumped when giving the book its X-makeover. Over fifty issues too late, we’re given an explanation for Feron’s disappearance, along with the return of Marvel UK villains, the Crazy Gang. Ben Raab could’ve revealed that Feron simply quit the team in-between issues, but instead he’s gone with a more elaborate “missing in action” resolution. Revealing that Feron mysteriously disappeared in-between issues makes the team look bad for never looking for him, but then again, since his disappearance was off-panel, you could just imagine that Excalibur’s search for their teammate also occurred in-between issues. Any anguished monologues about how badly they missed the little brat were also conveniently off-panel, of course. Really, the story’s not meant to be taken too seriously. It’s an excuse to bring back a forgotten former member and some old villains, wrapped around some standard bachelor party humor. It’s more amusing than most of Raab’s run so far, and Dale Eaglesham’s art is thankfully less “x-treme” than the previous issues.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Face to Face

Credits: Ty Templeton (writer/breakdowns), Dan Slott (plot assist), Rick Burchett (finishes), Tim Harkins (letters), Linda Medley (colors)

Summary: Undercover as Patch Malone, Dark Claw is attacked by Cyber-Ninjas while playing poker. Their master, Lady Talia, follows the tracer left in Dark Claw’s skin to his hidden lair, the Burrow. She incapacitates his sidekick Sparrow and engages Dark Claw in battle. Dark Claw, sympathetic towards Talia’s anger, stops the fight. Talia slashes his heart. After she realizes what she’s done, Talia prepares to commit suicide. Dark Claw comes to, resurrected by his healing factor, and talks to Talia. Having learned a lesson about revenge, Talia decides to move on.

Continuity Notes: Dark Claw (Wolverine and Batman) and Sparrow (Jubilee and Robin) first appeared in the initial wave of Amalgam titles in 1996. “Patch Malone,” perhaps my favorite amalgam, is a combination of Batman’s “Matches” Malone identity and Wolverine’s “Patch” persona. Lady Talia (Lady Deathstrike and Talia) is the daughter of Ra’s-A-Pocalypse (Apocalypse and Ra’s al Ghul). Lady Talia burned most of her body searching through the flaming wreckage of her father’s plane, which was shot down by Dark Claw in the “Legacy of Apocalypse” episode of Dark Claw: The Animated Show.

Review: Considering the obvious popularity of a Batman/Wolverine mash-up, it’s not a surprise Marvel and DC wanted another Dark Claw comic during the second Amalgam event. Doing it as a tie-in to a fictional television series, and hiring the creative team behind the actual comic tie-in to Batman: The Animated Series, was a stroke of genius. I’m a massive fan of the DC Adventures comics of the ‘90s, especially the ones written by Ty Templeton. This is a man with a deep love for Batman, obvious on every page he writes, and a knack for the animated style developed for the show. I realize some comic shops didn’t even bother to order the Adventures comics in the ‘90s (because, y’know, they’re not the “real” Batman and Superman), so many readers missed out on them, but they’re well worth an eBay hunt. Not every issue is a gem, but the overall level of quality maintained by the various incarnations of Batman Adventures over the course of ten years is amazing. Any issue by Mike Parobeck, Ty Templeton, and/or Rick Burchett is worth your attention.

As established in last year’s Dark Claw one-shot, Dark Claw is essentially Wolverine if he had been born into wealth, lost his parents, and later decided to don a long cape and fight crime. Despite the Batman trappings, Wolverine’s personality and power set remain the same. The concept is automatically biased towards the Marvel side, so it’s perfectly fair to incorporate Batman: The Animated Series and move the hero a little more towards DC’s neighborhood. While Templeton is very much a Batman guy, he effortlessly switches over to Wolverine’s persona, writing Wolverine Dark Claw as a grizzled brawler/noble warrior with a highly developed sense of honor. In fact, Dark Claw’s willingness to sacrifice his own life in order to grant Lady Talia some level of peace is virtually identical to one of the Wolverine/Lady Deathstrike confrontations from Larry Hama’s run. Not that the scene feels tired or recycled; it’s just true to the character. Considering that much of this comic, along with the rest of the Amalgam event, is tongue-in-cheek humor, the final scene between Dark Claw and Lady Talia has a surprising amount of heart. It’s one thing to use these meta-textual characters as vehicles for jokes, but to do an emotional sequence -- with the fictionalized cartoon versions of these in-jokey characters, no less -- takes real skill. I’m not sure if this qualifies as my favorite Amalgam comic (that probably remains Kurt Busiek and Paul Smith’s Iron Lantern) but it’s definitely a strong runner-up. Plus, it’s one of the best Adventures comics I’ve ever read…although my ‘90s X-completism might be influencing that decision.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

GENERATION HEX #1 - June 1997

Humanity’s Last Stand

Credits: Peter Milligan (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Bob Lappan (letters), Scott Baumann and Digital Chameleon (colors)

Summary: An outcast in the quaint town of Humanity, Jono Hex’s mutant powers surface the night his father is killed by the locals. Branded a “Malform,” Hex grows up in exile. He forms a band of Malforms and names them Generation Hex. His nemesis, Marshal “Bat” Trask, develops primitive robots called the Razormen to eliminate the Malforms. On the run, Generation Hex arrives in Humanity. Disguising his face, Hex earns the town’s trust and convinces them that a sinister group of Malforms is coming. Following his instructions, the townspeople disguise themselves as Malforms to avoid trouble. Soon, a group of Razormen arrives. Mistaking the citizens for Malforms, they murder the locals.

Continuity Notes: Jono Hex is an amalgam of Chamber and Jonah Hex. Generation Hex consists of Madame Banshee (Siryn and Madame 44), Johnny Random (Random and Johnny Thunder), Skinhunter (Skin and Scalphunter), White Whip (Emma Frost and Whip), Retribution (Penance and Firehair), and the Twins Trigger (Northstar and Walter Trigger, and Aurora merged with Wayne Trigger and Cinnamon). Marshal “Bat” Trask merges Bolivar Trask with Bat Lash.

Review: Generation Hex has my vote as the strangest concept to emerge out of Amalgam. Many of the Amalgam characters exist solely because their name is a play on words, but only a few of these characters starred in their own one-shot. Jonah Hex and Generation X are diametrically opposed concepts, so this comic easily could’ve turned out as a mess. It isn’t, though; it’s actually a very effective Western revenge story with some great moments of dark humor. While the genesis of the story might be the Hex/X pun, the amalgamations of the cast are anything but obvious. Everyone probably assumed that Superman and Captain America would be amalgamated when the event was originally announced, but who could’ve predicted a Random and Johnny Thunder amalgam? It’s ridiculous, in a good way, but it also works as unobtrusive fan-service. The story’s strong enough to be enjoyed without the insider references, so a Generation X fan who’s totally ignorant of DC’s Western heroes still has a lot to get out of this. And, as fate would have it, even though this was produced by DC, editor Frank Pittarese will be Generation X’s editor within the next year.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Opposites Attract

Credits: Gerard Jones (writer), Mark Waid (plot assist), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert w/Jaime Mendoza & Lary Stucker (inks), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

Summary: In response to his brother’s construction of the Sentinels, Magneto has created his own team of robots, the Magnetic Men, to aid mutantkind. They stop Will Magnus’ newest creation, Sinistron, from kidnapping the mutant Kokoro, but soon encounter him again on the slave-nation of Genosha. When Sinistron paralyzes Magneto’s consciousness, Antimony leads her fellow Magnetic Men to discover their own sentience and break free. United, the team defeats Sinistron, and Magneto realizes that his robots are more than machines, but are his new family.

Continuity Notes: The Magnetic Men are based on the personalities of the deceased members of the Brotherhood (the original group lead by Magneto in the Amalgam Universe, killed by his brother’s Sentinels). The Amalgam answer to the Metal Men, the team consists of Antimony (Scarlet Witch and Platinum), Bismuth (Toad and Tin), Cobalt (Mastermind and Gold), Iron (Unus the Untouchable and Iron), and Nickel (Quicksilver/Iceman and Mercury). The woman they save in the beginning, Kokoro, is an amalgam of Psylocke and Katana. Sinistron is a robotic version of Mr. Sinister.

Review: The Amalgam books produced by Marvel seemed to be more “’90s” than DC’s lot, mostly due to X-artists like Roger Cruz and Jeff Matsuda. In terms of story, this reads as a traditional superhero comic, but it’s definitely not penciled in a style associated with ‘90s DC. Even though DC had their fair share of Image-style artists, that’s not the look people tend to associate with that era of the company (DC probably has more Jim Lee clones today than it did in 1996). Since most of the artists chosen for their Amalgam titles were pretty conventional, I’m guessing DC editorial specifically avoided the Mike Deodatos of the day. If the goal of Amalgam was to evoke the old school, that didn’t stop Marvel from hiring artists that could just have easily shown up on a Youngblood spinoff. Then again, this is pretty restrained for a Jeff Matsuda job, so maybe he intentionally toned things down. Personally, I find this style more palatable than his X-Factor work.

Even though I know very little about the Metal Men, I’ve always considered this a great concept. Making Will Magnus Magneto’s brother is a cute play on their names, and the Amalgam Universe is filled with these in-jokes, but giving Magneto a team of Metal Men modeled after Marvel’s earliest mutants? That’s the kind of creative thinking and continuity-melding you want in an Amalgam book. Now, if only the Metal Men had actually maintained a healthy newsstand presence following the Silver Age, perhaps I would’ve gotten more out of the actual story. I’m sure there are character bits and inside references I’m missing out on, so unfortunately much of the issue comes across as standard superhero fare. Perfectly acceptable, but not particularly exciting. The references I do get are entertaining, so I’m assuming fans of both the X-Men and Metal Men will get a lot more out of this than the average reader.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

JLX #1 - April 1996

A League of Their Own!

Credits: Gerard Jones & Mark Waid (writers), Howard Porter (penciler), John Dell (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Gloria Vasquez & Heroic Age (colors)

Summary: The Judgment League Avengers face off against the JLX, a group of former members aligned with accused eco-terrorist, Aqua-Mariner. Mr. X uses his telepathic powers to distract the JLA and allow JLX to escape. JLX travels with Aqua-Mariner to find Atlantis, the ancestral home of mutantkind. They find the city abandoned, and are soon attacked by Will Magnus and his Sentinel robots. During the fight, Mr. X is forced to reveal his hidden Martian powers to defeat the Sentinels. Although they’re shocked by Mr. X’s true identity, JLX decides to stay with their ally.

Continuity Notes: The JLX consists mostly of mutant ex-members of the JLA. The line-up includes Mr. X (Martian Manhunter, posing as a mutant and wearing a Bishop-style “M” on his face), Apollo (Cyclops and the Ray), Aqua-Mariner (Namor and Aquaman), Mercury (Quicksilver and Impulse), Runaway (Rogue and Gypsy), Wraith (Gambit and Obsidian), Firebird (Phoenix and Fire), and Nightcreeper (Nightcrawler and the Creeper). In this reality, Will Magnus is Magneto’s brother, which is a play on Magneto’s original “real” name of Magnus.

Review: What does it say about 1996 that Marvel and DC gave us JLX instead of JLAvengers? Amalgam happened to occur during Mark Waid’s brief association with the X-Men, so it makes sense that he would help to develop one of the Amalgam X-teams, although I'm sure he would've had more fun with the Avengers characters. I have mixed feelings about this one. In a way, it captures the Amalgam sentiment, as the book is filled with references to imaginary storylines (The JLA has split! Angelhawk is secretly a mutant! Wraith’s darkness is slowly tainting Runaway!), and it’s hard to fault the characters chosen to be amalgamated. Martian Manhunter working as an undercover X-Man? Will Magnus creating the Sentinels? Nightcreeper -- a cool visual and funny in-joke? This is good stuff. The execution is iffy, though. Aside from Porter’s inconsistent art, the script is often a bore. I can’t tell if the overwrought dialogue is intentionally or accidentally bad, but either way it drags the book down. If this is deliberately a parody of the X-style, it’s so dry that it’s hard to read it as a joke. And were any other characters held up for ridicule during the Amalgam event? Singling out the X-Men doesn’t seem fair.

Monday, July 18, 2011

X-PATROL #1 - April 1996


Credits: Karl & Barbara Kesel (writers), Roger Cruz (penciler), Jon Holdredge (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Tom Vincent (colors)

Summary: Dr. Niles Cable summons the mutant outcasts Elasti-Girl, Ferro Man, Shatterstarfire, Beastling, and Dial H.U.S.K. together to form the X-Patrol. They travel to the island-nation of Latveria to stop Dr. Doomsday, a highly evolved scientist plotting to rule two alternate universes. X-Patrol destroys his machinery and narrowly escapes with their lives. Unfortunately, the battle leaves Niles Cable crippled.

Continuity Notes: X-Patrol is the Amalgam Universe’s fusion of Doom Patrol with various X-teams. Dr. Niles Cable blends Dr. Niles Caulder and Cable, Shatterstarfire is Shatterstar and Starfire, Beastling is a combination of Beast and Beast Boy/Changeling, Ferro Man merges Colossus and Ferro Lad, Dial H.U.S.K. is Husk and Dial H for H.E.R.O., and Elasti-Girl merges…well, Elasti-Girl with the Wasp (and Domino, oddly enough).

Review: Amalgam was notable for transcending the malaise of the decade that spawned the concept and producing a series of fun, imaginative one-shots. X-Patrol, unfortunately, was probably the least recognized title from the event. I imagine the x-treme cover did a lot to chase away the critics who enjoyed the event specifically because it harkened back to an era before the pre-‘90s ugliness. And while Roger Cruz isn’t quite so ‘90s on the interiors, it’s hard to fault someone for buying a Dave Gibbons or Paul Smith comic and skipping this one. The story is still enjoyable, though, in the way most of the Amalgam books are. Characters are jumbled together, often based solely on similar-sounding names, fictitious back issues are referenced, and a few in-jokes are snuck in. My favorite is the glimpse of the “second rate” worlds Dr. Doomsday is plotting to invade -- the Marvel and DC Universes, filled with “twisted, splintered” versions of the true Amalgam heroes.

The story doesn’t strictly stick to the premise, as many of the DC characters amalgamated were never Doom Patrol members, and Dr. Doom and Doomsday have rarely interacted with the X-Men and Doom Patrol respectively, but those kinds of rules tended to be stretched throughout the Amalgam line. There is one inconsistency that does bother me, however. My understanding of the Amalgam Universe is that the characters aren’t literally merged into a singular body; they’ve merely assumed identities similar to those taken by heroes in another universe. Therefore, Super Soldier is still Steve Rogers, Dark Claw is still Logan, and Amazon is still Ororo Monroe. That’s true of most of the characters here, as Janet van Dyne has simply gone through a path in life that leads her to take on an identity that isn’t the Wasp. Other characters, like “Hank Logan” a.k.a. Beastling, are literally amalgamated versions of Marvel and DC heroes. How did this work? Did reality merge some people together and leave others merely to assume identities that resemble different characters? I haven’t read any of the stories that actually rationalize how the Amalgam Universe came to exist, so I don’t know. I realize this event was about fun more than rules, but since this speaks to the fundamental makeup of the universe, some consistency would be nice.

Friday, July 15, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #99 - April 1993

The Swords Are Drawn

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk & Joe Rubinstein w/Derek Yaniger (art), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man arrives to stop Blood Rose from killing the Foreigner, who they discover is actually an imposter. The actor is injured by a grenade blast, forcing Spider-Man to abandon Blood Rose and get the man help. Weeks later, he’s killed in the hospital. Spider-Man swings to the Foreigner’s headquarters to investigate, and is attacked by the New Enforcers: Eel, Blitz, the Vanisher, Dragon Man, Dreadnought, and the Super-Adaptoid. Meanwhile, Blood Rose unmasks in private, revealing himself as Richard Fisk.

The Subplots: The Richard Fisk that’s living on a deserted island discovers Trench’s arsenal. He steals Trench’s power glove and demands that he now be called “Gauntlet.” He escapes on Trench’s boat, forcing Trench to don his Nightwatch identity. In New York, MJ is upset when Peter goes missing. Robbie Robertson tells MJ that he sent Peter upstate to take “seasonal pictures” for the Bugle, a story Peter confirms. Later, MJ offers Peter a job taking publicity photos for her soap opera, Secret Hospital.

Web of Continuity: MJ is still smoking. When she sees through Robbie’s window what appears to be him getting dressed in front of Betty Brant, she suspects they’re having an affair. Blood Rose refers to the original Rose as “the real Rose” and says he took up gardening to support his ruse, even though on the same page he reveals himself as Richard Fisk.

*See _________ For Details: A footnote points towards recent issues of Amazing for details on Peter’s parents.

Review: And now this story officially becomes a joke. Blood Rose taking out the remnants of the Fisk empire, a mystery man hiring the Foreigner to turn against him, and Richard Fisk washing ashore a deserted island aren’t exactly gripping ideas, but they could’ve coalesced into something readable. With this chapter, the story jumps into characters swapping identities, new characters popping up out of nowhere, and the introduction of a new team of Enforcers that looks as if it was assembled by throwing darts at a wall covered in torn-out Handbook entries.

I can’t imagine why anyone thought it would be a good idea to have two Richard Fisks, but this is the same writer who convinced the Spider-office that the clone should be revived, so maybe his mind works along these lines. The Richard Fisk we’ll soon learn is a fake dons a non-Nintendo power glove and renames himself “Gauntlet” this issue, a name that was not only already taken by an X-Men villain, but apparently loved enough by Kavanagh to show up again during his X-Man run. He’s pursued by Trench, who we discover has secretly been a Spawn-clone named Nightwatch all along. Nightwatch goes on to have an ongoing series (I believe retroactively declared a mini-series), but he’s probably best remembered for the last minute costume redesign that had Marvel de-Spawning the guy after the promotional images for his series had already been released.

As for the subplots, the teases that Robbie and Betty are having an affair are slightly crass, but they do grab your attention. In a way, this suits the soap opera tradition of the Spider-titles, but it also feels a little too sleazy for a Spider-Man story (although we of course learn later that nothing happened between them). The “Peter might have a small connection to MJ’s job” subplot doesn’t sound so exciting, but I’ll give Kavanagh credit for trying to work out a story that involves Peter and MJ as a couple. What I don’t understand is the brief subplot about Peter disappearing one morning without leaving a note. If, as Robbie said, he simply went upstate to take photos for a color insert, why did he keep this from MJ? And why is she not angry with him when he comes home that night? Why doesn’t Peter feel guilty for causing his wife unnecessary worry? Why was this even in the story, aside from setting MJ up to “discover” Robbie and Betty? It’s certainly an odd one.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #98 - March 1993

Uneasy Alliances…

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk & Don Hudson w/Derek Yaniger (art), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Robbie Robertson interferes with Blood Rose’s attack on Spider-Man, gambling that his twisted sense of honor won’t allow him to harm an innocent. Blood Rose leaves with the Cyber-Hunters, warning Robbie not to interfere again. Spider-Man tags him with a spider-tracer. Later, the Cyber-Hunters turn on Blood Rose, but can’t kill him. Blood Rose barges into the Foreigner’s office, demanding to know who paid him for the hit.

The Subplots: On a deserted island, Trench trains Richard Fisk using his “radical” approach to physical therapy. Meanwhile, Robbie Robertson remains short-tempered, and Betty Brant is sneaking into his office for unknown reasons. In the sewers, the Death-Spawn that kidnapped Doppelganger are now ripping out of his body.

Web of Continuity: MJ has begun smoking, which is a subplot from the end of David Michelinie’s run on Amazing. Richard Fisk is referred to as “One Eye” by Trench, and now wears an eye patch. This is presumably due to the injuries he received after crashing on to the island.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has average sales at 298,733 for the year, with the most recent issue selling 212,450 copies.

Review: This is more tolerable than the last chapter, if only because Kavanagh is adding some twists to the story and throwing in a few traditional Spidey-style subplots. The Robbie Robertson/Betty Brant story turns out to be a flop, but the early teaser scenes are slightly intriguing. One subplot that doesn’t work is the mysterious reappearance of Doppelganger, who receives an entire page dedicated to showing him screaming in the sewers while little ghosts shoot out of his body. I ask this again -- whoever cared about this guy? Blood Rose is also an embarrassing relic from the early ‘90s, but at least he kills off the even more embarrassing Cyber-Hunters this issue.

I’m beginning to wonder if this was originally intended as a three-issue arc, and someone along the way decided to pad it out to coincide with the one hundredth issue. Derek Yaniger’s opening six-page sequence last issue (Blood Rose killing dozens of generic goons) didn’t have an immediate impact on the plot, and his Richard Fisk/Trench interlude from this issue also has no direct bearing on the main story. These threads do come together, but it’s easy to imagine the story working (and “working” is a generous word) without the scenes Yaniger’s penciled so far. It’s also unusual for Alex Saviuk not to pencil an entire issue, which would be more evidence that Yaniger’s pages came later.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #97 - February 1993

Opening Volley

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Derek Yaniger, Alex Saviuk, & Joe Rubinstein (art), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Blood Rose continues to attack the remains of the Fisk empire. He launches an assault on Fisk Tower, destroying large sections of the building and endangering civilians. Spider-Man tries to rescue the building’s occupants, which include Robbie Robertson, who raced in to investigate the explosions. Blood Rose confronts Spider-Man with men hired from the Foreigner, the Cyber-Hunters.

The Subplots: Betty joins Peter for dinner with Aunt May, MJ, and his parents. MJ appears to be annoyed. Later, a fuming Robbie Robertson criticizes Peter for “monopolizing” the Bugle’s dark room. When Peter disappears after the explosions hit Fisk Tower, Robbie grows even angrier with him. Meanwhile, a feeble Richard Fisk washes ashore St. Thomas in search of his doctor. He’s confronted by a man named Trench.

Web of Continuity: Richard Fisk claims he survived drowning in Web #89 after his “loyal divers spirited me away and followed my escape route.”

Review: So, Howard Mackie’s run on Web is followed by another superstar you might remember from the crème de la crème of ‘90s X-titles…Terry Kavanagh. Kavanagh didn’t stick around long enough to receive as much vitriol as Mackie did during his Spidey stint, but he is the freelancer famous for pitching the return of the Spider-Clone, which became the most reviled storyline of the ‘90s. People used to think replacing the “clone” Spider-Man of the past twenty years with the “real” deal was the dumbest thing that could be done to the character. How naive we were…

As bad as Mackie’s run turned out to be, at least he opened with a strong issue. Kavanagh’s first issue leads with the grenade, machine gun, and pouch-laden Blood Rose shouting, “Don’t panic, punks -- I brought enough ammo for everybody!” as he mows down an army of generic thugs. The ‘90s clichés don’t stop until we reach the final page -- the introduction of the Cyber-Hunters. I’m sorry; I meant they don’t stop until after we reach the final page, obviously. Assisting Alex Saviuk in that opening section is Derek Yaniger, and artist I recall from the Transformers: Generation 2 series. To put it politely, he draws better robots than people at this stage, although he has a Ted McKeever feel on a few of the pages, which adds some teeth to the fight scene.

In-between the mindless action, Kavanagh brings us more of the moody, unlikable MJ (i. e., the out-of-character MJ), a seething Robbie Robertson berating Peter for being such a screw-up (i. e., an out-of-character Robbie), and a token appearance by Peter’s recently returned parents (and Peter’s dad, who we later learn is a robot, doesn’t seem to like Peter much, either). What fun.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #96 - January 1993

Enemies: A Hate Story

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (breakdowns), Joe Rubinstein & Dan Panosian (finishes), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen & Renee Witterstaetter (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man teams up with Ghost Rider and Blaze to rescue the innocents kidnapped by the Deathspawn, as Demogoblin and Doppelganger torture the Hobgoblin. Venom comes across the villains and attempts to defend Hobgoblin. Spider-Man overhears Hobgoblin’s screams and races to rescue him. Hobgoblin’s saved from Demogoblin by the Deathspawn that consume the demon in darkness, but after Venom dispatches Doppelganger, he turns his attention to Spider-Man. Ghost Rider arrives to aid Spider-Man, provoking Venom into another fight.

The Subplots: None.

*See _________ For Details: Spirits of Vengeance #5, the previous installment of this crossover, receives three footnotes.

Review: It’s hard to believe a crossover called “Spirits of Venom” isn’t very good, isn’t it? Obviously, it was crassly commercial from its conception, but that isn’t my biggest problem with the story. “X-Cutioner’s Song” went out of its way to pair off popular characters -- even making Bishop, Wolverine, and Cable the temporary stars of X-Factor, a book that didn’t belong to any of the characters -- and I can live with that crossover. This one has no personality, no humor, no theme, and no purpose outside of shoving some of the “darker” Spider-Man villains and Ghost Rider into the same storyline. A “storyline” that mainly consists of crowded fight scenes. At no point does this read like a Spider-Man comic, except perhaps for the lip service paid to Spider-Man’s respect for all human life, and I can’t imagine it was gothic enough to please the Ghost Rider fans. I would have to nominate this as the weakest issue of Howard Mackie’s run, which means he’s going out on a particularly low note.

Monday, July 11, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #95 - December 1992

Storm Shadows
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inker), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: As Spider-Man carries Hobgoblin to the police station, he’s spotted by Demogoblin and Doppelganger. The villains attack, forcing Spider-Man and Hobgoblin to hide inside a church. Meanwhile in the sewers, Ghost Rider and John Blaze stumble across Venom while searching for Hag and Troll. Venom abducts Hag and Troll, leaving Blaze and Ghost Rider behind to fight the Deathspawn. They follow Venom to the surface, leading them to the church where Spider-Man’s hiding. A fight soon erupts between Spider-Man, Hobgoblin, Demogoblin, Doppelganger, Venom, the Deathspawn, Blaze, and Ghost Rider. The fight moves back into the sewers, as the Deathspawn kidnap the church’s priest.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: Hag and Troll are in the sewers, apparently as a part of their scheme to bring Deathwatch back to life. Venom is chasing them to avenge the Vault Guardsmen they killed last issue. The Deathspawn, an army of shadowy demons, are described as Deathwatch’s “progeny.” Hag and Troll disappear during the fight in the church. I don’t mean the story shows them slipping away, I mean they’re literally not seen again once the fighting starts.

*See _________ For Details: Spider-Man notices a blackout is hitting the city; Spirits of Vengeance #3 has the details. Hobgoblin previously helped Spider-Man against the Doppelganger in Spider-Man #25. Spidey remarks that the Doppelganger should’ve died with all of the other duplicates in Infinity War #6. In the sewers, Ghost Rider claims “other lives are at stake down here.” A footnote points towards Spirits of Vengeance #5. Venom is angry at Spider-Man for “betraying” him following their battle against Carnage in Amazing Spider-Man #363.

Review: Why, it’s almost 1993 and Marvel still hasn’t gotten around to running Venom so far into the dirt absolutely no one will care about him for at least ten years. And, what’s this? Spider-Man hasn’t been sucked into a pointless crossover with Ghost Rider yet? Something must be done, and the solution, clearly, is “Spirits of Venom.” The premise already reeks of The Bad ‘90s, but the inclusion of Demogoblin and Doppelganger makes the story even more intolerable. I’ve mentioned earlier that the ‘90s Spider-office seemed to have an odd attachment to Demogoblin, but the same could be said about Doppelganger as well. For reasons I’ll never understand, this dud ended up making a few dozen appearances during the early ‘90s. I can almost understand someone latching on to Demogoblin in the hopes of rekindling some of the popularity that once surrounded Hobgoblin, but who thought Doppelganger was a good idea? It’s a dimwitted monster with no discernable motives, no personality, and a throwaway design. It can’t even speak! When was I ever supposed to care about this thing?

As much as I dislike the villains, theoretically, pitting Spider-Man and Hobgoblin against their evil twins has some potential for a decent action story. Unfortunately, the opening fight scene just has Spider-Man and Hobgoblin evading the duo for a few pages before they crash into a church. The story then cuts to Blaze and Ghost Rider running into Venom, who’s now hunting Hag and Troll, two Ghost Rider villains who want to revive another Ghost Rider villain. The story’s already crowded with characters, and when a massive coincidence allows Venom’s pointless fight to intersect with Spider-Man’s pointless fight, the issue becomes a total mess. It’s impossible to keep track of the characters, the action is hard to follow, and most of the dialogue is awful. I assume the priest character was added to humanize the story somehow, but the guy’s never even given a name, and he spends most of the issue spouting lines like “Stop! What are you doing here? This is a church. Hallowed ground. There is no place for your kind here. Blessed Father, protect me!” Yes, Blessed Father. Please listen.

Friday, July 8, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #94 - November 1992

Target Two

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Bob Sharen & Renee Witterstaetter (colorist)

The Plot: The Hobgoblin targets the bar owned by Nick Katzenberg’s brother-in-law, torturing him to learn the location of Katzenberg’s secret apartment. Spider-Man and Moon Knight arrive in time to save Katzenberg, but can’t prevent him from setting the building on fire. During the fight, Katzenberg distracts Hobgoblin before he can shoot Spider-Man, leading Hobgoblin to blast him in the chest. Spider-Man places Hobgoblin in custody, as Katzenberg goes into cardiac arrest.

The Subplots: MJ is unnerved by a series of distraught phone calls by Katzenberg. Expecting Katzenberg again, she inadvertently hangs up on Betty. Meanwhile, Doppelganger breaks Demogoblin out of jail, as a Vault transport carrying Venom is attacked by Hag and Troll.

Web of Continuity: The Foreigner has been hired to kill Nick Katzenberg, apparently by Richard Fisk, for the photo he took in the “Name of the Rose” storyline.

*See _________ For Details: Moon Knight #41-45 details the “crisis” he’s experiencing. When Moon Knight mentions finding Reed Richards again, another footnote claims Moon Knight #44 has the details.

Review: “Hobgoblin Reborn” concludes, with Hobgoblin not “reborn” so much as “used again.” Apparently, the new hook for the character is that he carries laser rifles, which strikes me as a lame revamp for a villain who already has a specific gimmick. Oh, but wait. In a few years he gets a cyborg makeover, and everyone’s just gonna love that. I will give Mackie some credit for tying the dangling “Nick took a photo” thread into this story, although I’m not sure why Richard Fisk still wants him dead. Even by the end of the “Name of the Rose,” Fisk didn’t seem to see the point in killing Katzenberg anymore. As for the subplots, we have MJ behaving irrationally, two obscure Ghost Rider villains running afoul of Venom, and Doppelganger breaking Demogoblin out of jail. None of this is very promising, is it?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #93 - October 1992

The Test

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Bob McLeod (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: After Hobgoblin kills several of the Foreigner’s men while training, he agrees to pay off his debt by killing Moon Knight and Nick Katzenberg. Foreigner notifies Spider-Man of Hobgoblin’s assignment, hoping to add another level of difficulty for his prospective employee. Spider-Man finds Moon Knight and joins in his fight against Hobgoblin. When Hobgoblin mistakenly believes Moon Knight has drowned, he flees. The heroes follow, hoping to save Katzenberg’s life.

The Subplots: Mary Jane is jealous of the time Peter’s been spending with Betty. He buys her flowers and a pack of Malomars to placate her. Meanwhile, the imprisoned Demogoblin calls out to the Doppelganger.

*See _________ For Details: Mary Jane worries that Peter is emotionally fragile following the return of his parents in Amazing Spider-Man #365 and #366. Hobgoblin previously fought Moon Knight in Moon Knight #32 & #33. Moon Knight needs Reed Richards for a cure for “whatever is rotting my body away.” A footnote says Moon Knight #40-43 has the details.

I Love the ‘90s: When the Foreigner uses a spotlight with a Spider-Man design to draw his attention, the hero remarks that he feels like he’s in a Michael Keaton movie.

Review: It’s odd that the Foreigner quickly disappeared from the books after killing Ned Leeds, only to resurface in several Web issues in a row five years later. Perhaps Howard Mackie felt that characters like Foreigner and Richard Fisk shouldn’t have disappeared into limbo, but I’ve yet to see any evidence that he should’ve been the one to revive them. His big idea for Richard Fisk was to literally turn him into his father, and the Foreigner doesn’t seem to do anything but hire and train cannon fodder.

This is the second story in a row that has the Foreigner casually allowing the death of his agents, which seems like an uneconomical way of running a criminal empire. Foreigner claims that killing the men wasn’t a part of Hobgoblin’s training fee, so now he has to work off the debt, but why did he allow this in the first place? Instead of standing by and offering a dispassionate commentary while Hobgoblin murdered some of his finest men, couldn’t he have tried to stop him? And if the idea is that Hobgoblin is worth the loss of a dozen men, that requires us to ignore just how many battles he’s lost over the years. Mackie’s trying to resell the Jason Macendale Hobgoblin as a real menace, but giving him AIM weapons (Liefeld guns, basically) only serves to undermine his gimmick. If the Hobgoblin has to resort to using laser cannons, he’s not really the Hobgoblin anymore.

Outside of the superhero battles, there’s a brief subplot scene with MJ uncharacteristically nagging Peter about helping Betty Brant in the previous arc. I’ve always been under the impression that Mackie doesn’t understand MJ’s character, and this is an early hint of what’s to come. She isn’t a nag, she isn’t particularly jealous, and she’s not going to put Peter down for helping out a friend. I doubt she could’ve had a successful modeling career if she routinely consumed entire boxes of Malomars at a time, either.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #92 - September 1992

Foreign Affairs
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Jimmy Palmotti (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man follows Betty to the Foreigner’s dummy corporation in New Jersey. They’re attacked by the Death Squad, which includes Swift, Warfare, and Silence and Pulse, who have been replaced by new agents. Their suicidal programming allows Spider-Man a quick victory. After receiving a video message from the Foreigner, Spider-Man and Betty escape the building before it explodes.

The Subplots: Betty overhears the Foreigner mention Ned Leeds’ identity as the Hobgoblin. She later asks Spider-Man for confirmation and he doesn’t know how to respond.

Web of Continuity: Whisper is now called Silence, for no apparent reason.

*See _________ For Details: Spider-Man vs. Wolverine, the death of Ned Leeds, gets a footnote.

I Love the ‘90s: Spider-Man calls Betty “Ms. Rambo 1992” after she dons a black outfit, headband, and machine gun.

Review: So, the most ridiculous aspect of the previous issue, Betty Brant’s macho makeover, somehow manages to get even dumber with this installment. She’s not content merely wielding a gun or using her overnight karate skills; now she has to dress like the Punisher, circa the Jim Lee headband era. That “Ms. Rambo” joke doesn’t excuse how ridiculous this is…it’s just embarrassing. I can almost see where Mackie was going with this -- Betty’s been in the background for a while and no one’s addressed what exactly she does or doesn’t know about Ned’s death -- but how did that idea lead to Betty pulling an inane Brigitte Nielson impersonation (or is this supposed to be Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2)?

Mackie does a slightly better job on the Death Squad, the Foreigner’s new team of super-powered mercenaries who inherit the identities of their slain predecessors. The hook is that they’ve undergone “mental conditioning” to do their job and transfer whatever information the Foreigner needs, while not concerning themselves with little things like living or dying. It’s a decent way to introduce a new squad of disposable villains, although you’ve got to figure that Foreigner’s men would eventually begin to question why so many of the volunteers are never heard from again. Instead, his agents are shown as eager participants in the Death Squad program. “Why does the boss need a few dozen guys to fill four slots, I wonder…?” “Who cares?! I’m getting time an’ a half fer this! Drinks are on me tonight!”

Finally, I have to mention that the Killer Shrike subplot from the previous issue has been ignored. Who’s after him? Who cares about Killer Shrike enough to want to kill him? Is Spider-Man concerned? Is he going to investigate? Was this supposed to be tied to the Foreigner storyline, somehow? Sadly, no answers are to be found. If Howard Mackie keeps this up, I might start to wonder if he has a problem with dropped storylines…

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #91 - August 1992

Making Amends Meet

: Howard Mackie (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Williamson/Stegbauer/Milgrom (inks), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter Parker runs across Betty Brant, who’s working on an undercover story. She takes him to a diner, urging him to tell Jonah Jameson that the story is bigger than they originally suspected. Suddenly, the diner is attacked by Whisper and Pulse. As Spider-Man, Peter defends Betty, who surprises him with her new, tougher attitude. Pulse accidentally kills Whisper during the fight, but seems unaffected. He triggers an explosion to cover his escape. Betty reveals that the Foreigner was behind the attack, but she refuses Spider-Man’s help.

The Subplots: Before encountering Betty, Spider-Man happens to swing past Killer Shrike’s hotel room. Convinced that Spider-Man was sent by mysterious agents to kill him, he attacks. After leaving Shrike for the police, Spider-Man begins to contemplate why so many of his old enemies return, and questions if he ever really helps anyone.

Web of Continuity: The Foreigner arranged the death of Betty’s husband, Ned Leeds, whom everyone still believes was the original Hobgoblin at this point.

*See _________ For Details: Peter wonders if his recent encounter with Carnage has shaken him. A footnote points to recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man.

Creative Differences: On page 15, an added word balloon claims that Spider-Man’s spider-sense is detecting Pulse’s attack, which clearly isn’t what the art shows us.

I Love the ‘90s: Spider-Man remarks that Killer Shrike is filled with more conspiracy theories than an Oliver Stone film.

Review: Overlooking Betty’s butch makeover, this isn’t bad at all. After an opening action sequence with perpetual loser Killer Shrike, Spidey begins to wonder why his old foes never go away, and if he’s actually helped any of his friends by becoming Spider-Man. That’s classic Spidey melodrama, and it’s a respectable starting place for a story. He can’t talk to MJ about his feelings because she’s late for work, but as luck would have it, he just so happens to spot Betty, dressed like a hooker, down the street.

I can understand why Gerry Conway made Betty a reporter towards the end of his run, but I wish someone had made an effort to actually show her transition into the job. Out of nowhere, she’s been given a massive undercover assignment, learned jujitsu, and grown a spine of steel. Having her investigate the Foreigner is a nice use of past continuity, but she’s almost “Betty” in name only at this point. As for Whisper and Pulse, the metafictional answer to Peter’s earlier complaint that he only faces old villains, well…it’s the ‘90s. They could’ve been worse. I actually do like Whisper, who has the power to absorb sound and use it as energy, and a decent character design by Saviuk. It’s possible he’s an early Spawn clone, but Saviuk doesn’t go too far over the top, and I like his color scheme. Pulse, on the other hand, just seems like a generic laser blaster in body armor. At least this time, Spider-Man’s not facing an entire team consisting of this brand of loser, so he’s not a major drag on the story.

Friday, July 1, 2011

SPAWN Ex Post Facto - Part Five

I have a theory. This is total conjecture, but I think this explains a few things. When Todd McFarlane sat down to watch the big screen adaptation of Spawn, as he witnessed Spawn’s origin story spelled out in chronological order for the first time, with all of the shadow and mystery removed…I think, maybe, he was a little embarrassed. When Spawn debuts as an anonymous figure in the alleys, occasionally flashing back to the life of a government assassin, awakening with the vague sense that he’s been screwed somehow -- this is a character with potential. When his life is spelled out in sequential order, when all of the major players are conveniently introduced for an audience that Hollywood appears to view as simpletons, he’s just a guy who made an idiotic deal with the devil. A horribly CGI-rendered devil. The entire Spawn mythos starts to look a little dumb.

Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but as the Spawn movie made its way into theatres, McFarlane was in the process of firmly moving the comic into the urban horror genre. Spawn always had horror elements, but they were usually expressed with gross-out violence and gore. Spawn himself wasn’t a spooky character. Within a few issues, we knew of his true identity as Al Simmons and his desire to be reunited with his wife. We knew of their failed attempts to have a child; a dream that could only be realized for Wanda with Al’s best friend, Terry. We even knew the name of Al and Wanda’s dog. While Spawn never felt compelled to seek out people to save, he would help someone in trouble if their paths crossed. He might not have fit the strictest definition of “superhero,” but it’s not as if Wizard put him on their list of “Top 10 Urban Horror Characters in Comics” either. I don’t think anyone viewed Spawn as a true horror comic, which meant McFarlane had his work cut out for him if he was serious about changing direction.

As it turns out, McFarlane was deadly serious about downplaying the superheroic elements and recasting Spawn as more Dracula than Batman. By 1998, McFarlane even declared that he would be directing the next Spawn movie -- an R-rated horror piece that would have limited special effects and only feature Spawn as a ghostly participant on the edges of the story. Now, if you’ve loyally followed the Spawn series for years, if you have some understanding of Al Simmons as a character, if at one point you cared whether or not he was reunited with his wife…does this interest you?

A letter writer called McFarlane out on the change in direction. McFarlane justified his move, saying that his goal all along was for the audience to “grow” with Spawn. A twelve year old who purchased Spawn #1 was now in his late teens. McFarlane reasoned that this former kid was now an adult, with adult interests, concerns, and tastes. Perhaps this lapsed X-Men fan was now reading Vertigo. If he’s growing up with comics, why shouldn’t Spawn grow up with him? It’s a logic that Marvel and DC would soon follow in the new millennium. And both companies experienced the same outcome that awaited McFarlane -- their lowest sales ever.

It’s hard to believe that McFarlane once thought Vertigo and Spawn could share much of an audience. By this point, the critical reputation of the book was fairly abysmal, and many of Vertigo’s most vocal fans didn’t seem interested in any “mainstream” comic not written by Grant Morrison anyway. McFarlane soldiered on, though, hiring people well suited for urban crime/horror: Paul Jenkins, Ashley Wood, Brian Michael Bendis, David Hine, Steve Niles, and more. These are all creators that older readers have embraced, but I wonder how many stayed away based solely on Spawn’s reputation. McFarlane’s disputes with at least one of the creators probably didn’t help matters, either.

Having gone back and read the early issues of Brian Holguin’s stint as sole writer (the final issues I own), I have to admit that the series experienced a noticeable upturn in quality. The excessive horror elements still feel a little awkward, but the stories actually have direction and Spawn is finally given an active motivation to explore. Following his experience in the Greenworld, Spawn now feels a connection to the Earth, one that allows him to sense evil. Rather than revel in it, Spawn is compelled to stop the evil that surrounds him, leading him to finally forge that bond with detectives Sam and Twitch. A few issues later (apparently as a result of a storyline in Paul Jenkins’ Spawn: The Undead series), Spawn’s even traveling the world, seeking out evil in need of punishment. Ironically, Spawn’s acting more like Batman than ever at this point. The trappings of a superhero comic are gone (a supporting cast, home base, secret identity…really anything that humanizes Spawn), but the character is more active than ever.

The audience was already abandoning the book at this point, however. I imagine this is a combination of a few factors. One, horror comics just don’t sell that well. There is the occasional Walking Dead that breaks out, but that’s rare. Horror books tend to sell to a particular subculture, one that perhaps wasn’t inclined to buy Spawn. Two, Spawn’s visuals never changed during this period, so any attempt at launching a new direction was hindered by the old look (which I personally associate with a lot of bad writing, and I know I’m not alone). Finally, the number of adults that truly “grow up” with a book is pretty small. An ongoing series needs a constant stream of new blood; pandering to what you think the audience wants as it enters its 20s and 30s is madness. Spawn sold millions of copies to teenagers in the ‘90s. An eighth grade boy would probably still be attracted to Spawn today…if, through some miracle, he actually came across a comic. Even for a reader not inclined towards horror, the visuals of Spawn are genuinely striking. The mask, the cape, the neon green energy signature, the chains and spikes…the “kewlness” wears off as adolescence ends, but this is powerful eye candy for kids bored with the Power Rangers.

I don’t know if Spawn will disappear like Wildstorm or Wizard. Maybe the Spawn reprint collections still sell well in bookstores, enabling McFarlane to keep the title in print indefinitely. There might be a new generation of teen readers discovering the book outside of the insular world of comic shops for all I know. Regardless of how frustrated I became with the book, I can’t deny I received many hours of entertainment from Spawn during my early teenage years. I might even check out the new Spawn animated series, assuming the project is ever completed. I doubt I could ever become invested in the world again, but I’ll always carry some nostalgia for it.

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