Friday, September 30, 2011

X-MAN #48 & #49, February-March 1999

The Blood of the Righteous

Credits: Mark Bernardo (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Mark Bernardo returns for another fill-in, and he’s brought along one more obscure villain from the ‘80s. This time it’s the Crusader, a villain who’s only claim to fame is offending Pat Robertson, who happened to come across his debut in Thor. While the art is an improvement over Luke Ross’ ‘90s Spider-Man work, the story is a great disappointment when compared to Bernardo’s previous fill-in. The Crusader wants to kill the famous faith healer X-Man, X-Man meets a suicidal aspiring singer, and of course the two threads meet at the end. After X-Man saves her life during the battle, the singer’s inspired not to kill herself (< cheap shot > reading all of these X-Man comics has the opposite effect on me < /cheap shot >). The Crusader realizes the error of his ways and returns to his monastery after X-Man’s telekinetic hand wave destroys his mystic armor. The end. Twenty-three pages filled.


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

It looks like Kavanagh has an issue to waste before next month’s Generation X crossover, so we’re treated to another flagrant time-killing one-off. X-Man discovers an alien craft crashing onto Earth, and wouldn’t you know it, the alien that emerges is a beautiful female he instantly falls in love with. Her name is Sylph, which in a massive coincidence is also an English word that means “slight and graceful female” or “an elemental soulless female being imagined to inhabit the air.” He protects her from her fellow aliens, which don ant-shaped bionic armor while hunting her for some reason.

After a brief fight scene, X-Man discovers that Sylph is a wanted criminal in her world. Specifically, she’s a doctor who killed thousands of her patients while experimenting on them. Her defense is that she was trying to stop a plague and her patients were dying anyway. X-Man claims that he doesn’t care about her rationalizations and won’t stand in the way of justice. Yet, in the very next panel, he declares that he won’t abandon her either. I have no idea what’s supposed to be happening in the next scene, but apparently he’s…going with her to join her punishment in the slave camps? Wha…? Luckily for all of us, his first glimpse of the camps shocks him so much he inadvertently lets go of Sylph’s hand, which causes him to instantly teleport back to Earth. (All of those events occur off-panel, by the way. X-Man has to explain what happened during his one-panel disappearance in a lengthy monologue.)

So, what did we learn today? The only woman X-Man finds more attractive than his mother is a genocidal maniac, and Terry Kavanagh is becoming progressively unglued. Seriously, was anyone at Marvel paying attention to this book by 1999? How on Earth did this thing get published?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

X-MEN UNLIMITED #22 - March 1999

Cat & Mouse

Credits: Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Patrick Gleason (penciler), Tom Nguyen (inker), Matt Webb (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The X-Men learn from Marrow that Flag-Smasher and ULTIMATUM are planning an attack in the sewers. They investigate and discover ULTIMATUM planting a bomb under the UN. The team attempts to defuse it, but a suspicious Marrow leaves to find the real bomb. Shadowcat follows and learns she’s right --Flag-Smasher is planting a bomb under Wall Street. Convinced that Flag-Smasher won’t deactivate the bomb, Shadowcat prepares to risk her life and bury it underground. Marrow knocks her unconscious and forces Flag-Smasher alone with the bomb. Her gamble pays off as Flag-Smasher chooses survival over ideology and defuses the bomb.

Production Note: The indicia list this as the January 1999 issue while the cover date is March 1999.

I Love the '90s: Colossus (or perhaps Gambit, the lettering is unclear) has never seen a Metrocard before and wonders what happened to subway tokens.

Review: From “Children of the Atom” to “Magneto War,” the main X-titles took a noticeable dip in quality as the creators struggled with the editorially mandated new/old cast and forced crossovers. Joe Kelly spent a lot of time selling Marrow as an X-Man in the early days of his run, but she didn’t seem to fit the dynamic of the ‘80s retro-team. Actually, it’s hard to say what the dynamic was supposed to be, since the books were something of a mess until Alan Davis hit his stride after “Magneto War.” In the midst of the chaos, this story quietly sneaked through in X-Men Unlimited, giving us an idea of how Marrow could be incorporated into the retro team, and reviving memories of why so many people enjoyed Joe Kelly’s take on the character.

The story opens with Marrow dropping a dead rat on Shadowcat’s bed. Marrow says she’s noticed her “trying to fatten up for winter” and was just helping out. Ouch. The story’s narrated by Marrow, allowing the reader insight into her largely negative opinions of her teammates, and reaffirming just how much she still hates humans. Marrow’s so nasty in this story it could be read as Vaughn backpedaling Kelly’s gradual development of the character, but since she never fully reformed during his run, I think it’s a legitimate interpretation. The basic plot is rather thin, but Vaughn uses it as a means to split the characters up and give Marrow and Shadowcat plenty of scenes together. They work off of each other well, as Shadowcat refuses to believe that Marrow’s as heartless as she lets on, and Marrow maintains her stance that Shadowcat is just too pretty to understand her life as a Morlock.

The climax hinges on their disparate views of human nature, as Shadowcat declares that humans can care enough about a cause to die for it, while Marrow asserts that humans are too selfish to give up their lives for anything. Marrow wins the argument, although from her perspective she really had nothing to lose; she’d prevented her fellow mutant from risking her life and didn’t care if the human killed his own kind or not. It’s a memorably dark ending, but it’s so dark it again raises the question of why exactly Marrow is an X-Man. I also wonder why Vaughn has Shadowcat pass out in the end (after she’s recovered from Marrow’s sock to the head). Maybe it’s there to add some cheap drama as the train races towards them, or to give Marrow an opportunity to show some concern for Shadowcat, but either way the scene is needlessly confusing. Regardless, this is one of the strongest stories to feature this particular cast of X-Men, and it’s too bad it had to be published long after Unlimited had been dismissed as filler.

Monday, September 26, 2011

X-FORCE/CHAMPIONS ‘98 - December 1998

Demon From Within

Credits: Tom & Mary Bierbaum (writer), Terry Shoemaker (penciler), Sean Parsons & Harry Candelario (inkers), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: While on a road trip, X-Force discovers the giant hand of a mythological Titan emerging from Yosemite. Nearby, they discover Hercules rescuing a girl named Victoria from a cult. Hercules explains that a power granted to the Champions by Zeus can force the Titan back home. The Champions soon arrive, but realize too late that their spell is actually accelerating the Titan’s arrival. The cult leader reveals himself as Hades and explains that he altered the Champions’ memory of their encounter with Zeus. X-Force and the Champions trick Hades into boasting about his plan, which forces him to flee from the angry Titan. With Moonstar’s help, the Champions perform the ritual again and scare the Titan away from Earth. Cannonball, who bonded with Victoria, is disappointed to discover her role in Hades’ scheme. She reveals that she does care for him, but advises him not to forget his true friends, Sunspot and Meltdown.

Continuity Notes: The Champions’ first battle with Hades, then called Pluto, occurred in Champions #1-3.

I Love the '90s: Meltdown compares Proudstar’s muscles to Screech’s after meeting Hercules.

Review: Marvel would occasionally produce a comic flagrantly intended as a trademark renewal, and this is one of them. And, clearly, their efforts weren’t for naught. Surely, the next regime wouldn’t be sloppy enough to let another company snatch up the name “Champions” and only discover they didn’t own the rights after a new series with that name had been solicited. That would be like hiring a writer with little experience outside of pornography to write titles like Uncanny X-Men, Avengers, and Captain America. It just wouldn’t happen.

Anyway, just because this comic exists to maintain a superhero team name, that doesn’t mean it has to be terrible. I mean, it is terrible, but not for any legal reasons. I’ve never read any of the Bierbaums’ DC work, but I own most of the Savage Dragon spinoffs they wrote for Erik Larsen in the ‘90s. Most of them are enjoyable comics (especially the Star limited series, which is a lot of fun). This is not. The dialogue is stilted, the action is indecipherable, and the plot hinges on poorly explained elements from the first three issues of the Bronze Age Champions series. It’s a rushed, cramped, and ugly comic. “Ugly” isn’t a word I would normally use to describe a Terry Shoemaker comic, but this was apparently a rush job that can’t be saved by the inkers. The characters often appear inhuman, and several of the fight scenes are hard to decipher. It’s easy to see why people stopped buying annuals if this was the level of quality they expected to find.

Friday, September 23, 2011

X-MEN: LIBERATORS#4 - February 1999

Gifted Youngsters

Credits: Joe Harris (writer), Phil Jimenez & John Stokes (art), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Omega Red refuses to leave Province 13, knowing that the X-Men are nearby. Meanwhile, Nightcrawler and Colossus discover Wolverine recuperating in the nearby woods. They return to Province 13 and rescue Nanya, the telepathic girl who haunts Sergei’s thoughts. After Nightcrawler prevents Sergei from killing her, Sergei commits suicide. Nearby, Ariana is used as bait for her son, Nikolas. After Omega Red falls in battle, Nikolas comes face to face with his mother. She ends his suffering by slitting his throat. Soon, the Russian government shuts down Province 13, and Ariana takes in Nanya.

Review: Well, this one certainly took a grim turn. I’m still not sure what the blonde girl’s story is supposed to be, although Harris drops some more hints in the final issue. Her name is Nanya, Sergei resents her for never speaking to him (although he resents all of the kids in Province 13, anyway), and she was the first child brought to the facility. Perhaps the idea is that she’s autistic and can only express herself through telepathy, but I’m not sure why Harris establishes her as the facility’s original subject. It’s hard to judge Nikolas’ age since he’s a deformed monster, but the advanced age of his mother implies he can’t be too young. Is the idea that Nanya can’t age, which makes her existence even more disturbing for Sergei? Regardless, her story has one of the few happy endings in this mini. Pairing her off with Ariana is a predictable move, but the sentiment behind the scene is nice enough. Colossus also has a few sappy pages to say goodbye, reflecting on the loss of his family and the importance of the X-Men as his adopted family. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it helps to reinforce some of the themes that often felt lost during the ‘90s X-boom.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

GENERATION X #45 - Early December 1998

Lost & Found

Credits: Jay Faerber (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Nic Musolino (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: While Emma continues to sulk, Jubilee and Skin try to cheer up Chamber, M questions Artie and Leech on the Biosphere’s disappearance, and Gaia flirts with Synch. During a boxing match, Banshee goads Emma into talking about her feelings. After she declares that she doesn’t need her telepathic powers, they return. Soon, the team realizes that Chamber’s powers have also returned. Later, Emma gathers the team and makes two announcements -- Gaia is joining the school, and the team will adopt new uniforms.

Continuity Notes: Emma’s telepathic powers actually returned at the end of the previous issue. That scene is dismissed as a brief “telepathic fluctuation” this issue.

Review: I remember reading that this was done as a try-out issue for Jay Faerber, who editor Frank Pittarese was considering as Larry Hama’s replacement. Faerber got the job, ending Hama’s long history of monthly freelancing for Marvel. The internet was indignant over Hama’s run, and overall sales were down by this point, so I’m sure Pittarese thought that a new writer could slow the bleeding at least.

Faerber’s run was quite popular amongst X-fans, even though his initial fill-in is pretty unremarkable. There’s apparently some behind-the-scenes confusion going on, since the entire story centers on Emma finally regaining her powers, an event that already occurred in the previous issue. Sure, they try to cover it with a few lines of dialogue, but I think it’s a safe bet that this issue was commissioned before the ending of #44 was written. The lengthy build-up to her powers’ return is a bit superfluous, and the gratuitous use of splash pages and large panels leads me to believe that there just isn’t enough of a story here. The brief cutaway scenes with the rest of the cast aren’t so bad, though. M’s upset that no one’s asked her how she feels about losing her telepathic powers, which serves as the once-a-year reminder that she also has psychic powers. Faerber handles Synch’s response to her attention-seeking well. Chamber, it’s revealed, actually regained his powers three days ago. He just didn’t feel like saying anything. He was brooding at the beginning of the issue because he missed Husk; a nice twist and character beat. Faerber’s real strength is characterization, and his dialogue is usually sharp, so I think he’s a decent choice to appeal to the fans of the Lobdell days.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CABLE #65 - March 1999

Acid Bath

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

Summary: Cable investigates the fires in Hell’s Kitchen and discovers the Acidroid is responsible. Following an inconclusive fight, Cable replaces his damaged uniform and returns for a rematch. After Cable uses his telekinesis to defeat the Acidroid, Rachel Summers suddenly appears and plants information in Cable’s head. Cable brushes off the experience and locates Acidroid’s creator, the Tinkerer, and rescues him from the Maggia agents who are displeased with his work. Elsewhere, Ozymandias shows Blaquesmith signs of Apocalypse’s return, while the Harbinger floats above New York City.

Continuity Notes: A blackout has hit the city, and a footnote points towards X-Men #86 for details. This was a “Magneto War” chapter, but I don’t recall any other titles referencing a massive power outage.

Review: There’s a lot going on in this issue, as Casey attempts to blend a traditional superhero action story, supporting cast subplot scenes, and the X-books’ typical ominous visions of the future into one comic. It’s a combination you seldom see, since the X-teams are rarely out in the streets stopping schemes by Tinkerer or the Maggia. I like the flavor the retro-action adds to the title, although Casey can’t seem to be bothered with explaining how Cable finds Acidroid in the first place, or how exactly he knows who created him and where he is.

The Acidroid material is obviously a disposable action plot, although it seems to be used as an excuse to introduce a new costume for Cable. The most dramatic change is the full face mask, which lasts all of six pages before Cable removes it. Maybe everything from the neck down was meant to stick, but apparently the mask was just a one-issue gimmick. It’s too bad, because I kind of like it. (A little over a year later, Cable will wear a partial mask when he joins the X-Men during the brief Claremont/Kubert run.)

Along with the action, there are a few pages of Cable interacting with Stacey and Irene that reiterate the “Cable’s getting closer to normal people” direction, and a lot of dark prophesies involving Apocalypse. I wonder if Casey was told beforehand that the next Apocalypse storyline would be run in Cable, or if he took the initiative on his own, hoping the story wouldn’t be snatched out of his hands. Regardless, Cable barely plays a role in the X-books’ millennial Apocalypse crossover, so time hasn’t been kind to these scenes. Ozymandias’ revelation that the mysterious Twelve hold the key to defeating Apocalypse is particularly jarring, given that we’re a few months away from learning that the Twelve are just supposed to power a giant machine for ol’ Pocy…

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

X-MEN: LIBERATORS#3 - January 1999

A Game of Hide and Seek!

Credits: Joseph Harris (writer), Phil Jimenez (breakdowns), Keith Aiken & John Stokes (finishes), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Colossus discovers that his former neighbor, Ariana, hates him because he grew up in peace with his mutant siblings, while her son Nikolas was taken away as an infant. They’re soon confronted by Omega Red, who’s hunting Ariana’s son, the missing mutant from Province 13. When Nikolas appears, Omega Red throws him and Colossus down a mountain. Meanwhile, Wolverine slowly recovers from Nokolas’ death-touch. Nightcrawler follows him to Province 13, and encounters some of the children living there. When Sergei receives word that Province 13 is closing down, he orders Wolverine buried in the woods.

Review: Some of the threads are coming together (although I’d still like to know why Omega Red was in the Savage Land), and it seems as if this mini is shaping up fairly well. Ariana had a memorable debut last issue, and while it’s predictable that she would be revealed as the missing mutant’s mother, Harris handles the flashbacks to Nikolas’ birth well, and makes her resentment of the Rasputins feel real. From a continuity purist’s point of view, it is a little unusual that three mutants would be born to the same mother, so the revelation that nuclear testing caused many of the kids in Colossus’ collective to be born mutants makes sense.

Three issues in to the mini, I’m still not sure what purpose the blonde girl with telepathic powers is meant to serve, but for some reason Harris feels the need to establish that she’s likely the only mutant still living at Province 13. (Apparently, the government just takes kids indiscriminately from this area, although I’m still not sure why the Rasputins were allowed to grow up at home.) Eh, maybe he’s going somewhere with this.

Nightcrawler’s scenes this issue emphasize the parallels between Xavier’s school and Province 13, stressing how lucky Nightcrawler was to be trained by a benevolent teacher, as opposed to a cold-hearted government agency. Of course, he only thought Xavier was a nice guy at this point. He didn’t know about the mental manipulation, enslaved alien entities, and secret dead X-Men from the past. Because, you know, those stories that played on old continuity just made perfect sense, as opposed to this ‘90s silliness.

Monday, September 19, 2011

GENERATION X #44 - November 1998

Comings & Goings

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

Summary: Bianca and her seven dwarves work to repair the Biosphere, while Banshee picks Siryn up from the airport and Husk says goodbye to Chamber before leaving for Kentucky. When Synch leaves campus holding Skin’s cigar box, Jubilee’s afraid that he’s going to shoot Dorian and Weasel. Instead, she learns he’s pooled his savings with Skin to give them money to replace their totaled car. Later, the Biosphere disappears with Bianca and the dwarves. A Polaroid is left behind, showing a dilapidated Biosphere in what appears to be the future.

Continuity Notes: Synch says that Skin got rid of the gun in his cigar box following the events of Generation X #1/2. Husk is leaving to visit her sick mother, a subplot that ties into Cannonball’s recent X-Force appearance. Emma notices that her telepathic powers have returned while talking to Gaia. And, finally, a massive continuity blunder has Banshee apologizing for not making enough time for Siryn during her youth. He actually wasn’t aware of her existence until she reached adulthood.

Review: Following a wacky action issue, this one largely consists of tender character moments, with a mystery ending thrown in for good measure. This is arguably one of Hama’s better Generation X issues, but the Banshee/Siryn continuity error is just grating. It’s not as if it’s just one line of dialogue that could be misinterpreted as a mistake. Banshee goes on for several pages, apologizing for not making time for Siryn and justifying his behavior by repeatedly commenting on how young he was. He even remembers “shakin’ in me youthful shoes back at the dispensary where ye came howlin’ into the world all red and wet and wee hands grabbin’” in spite of the fact that it’s a vital part of Siryn’s origin that Banshee had no idea his wife was pregnant the last time he saw her. The rest of the plots thankfully fare better. I’m glad Lucinda Guthrie’s sickness isn’t being ignored in this title, and Hama’s take on forgiveness is certainly unique. Most writers would at least have Synch beat the living crap out of Dorian and Weasel before forgiving them. Hama skips the violence and even has Synch give his assailants enough money to buy a car because he knows they need their pizza delivery job. “Hatred is a cycle…fueled by ignorance, envy, and fear…somebody has to break the chain, you know?” That’s the strangest resolution to a hate crime story I’ve ever read, but it says a lot about Synch’s character. (This makes him the most pious hero this side of Superman!)

Friday, September 16, 2011

X-FORCE #84 - December 1998

…By the Sword

Credits: John Francis Moore (plot), Jay Faerber (script), Jim Cheung (penciler), Ray McCarthy (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Argos’ fellow members of the Sword arrive to abduct Arcadia. Using her ability to shape reality, Arcadia senses Cannonball’s connection to X-Force and summons them to help in the fight. The team defeats the Sword, but objects to Arcadia’s attempts to kill their captives. When Moonstar grabs her arm, Arcadia briefly transforms her into what appears to be a cosmic form. Ulysses sedates Arcadia, and explains that their opponents are a group of Deviants who want to use her as a weapon.

Continuity Notes: The members of Sword consist of Argos, Stranglehold, Zone, and Pyre. They claim that Ulysses was once a member of the Sword. According to Ulysses, they’re working for someone named Indigo.

Review: It’s another issue that slowly advances the Deviants plot, which is still several months away from any resolution. This ordinarily wouldn’t work, but Moore so far has been using the storyline as a setup for the action scenes, instead of merely having mystery characters make cryptic comments in dark rooms, and incorporating it into the team’s ongoing cast changes. This issue, Cannonball officially rejoins, after realizing that X-Force is more of a “family” to him than the X-Men could ever be. Like I’ve said before, it’s another excuse to turn the book into New Mutants II, but I’m okay with that. The villains the team faces don’t display much personality, but I do like Cheung’s designs, and the fight scene is choreographed well. Ulysses and Arcadia are better defined as characters, so they work as more than just faceless victims in the story. Arcadia is portrayed as quite a brat, potentially a murderous one, and the revelation that Ulysses is protecting the world from her and not the other way around adds another layer to their story. I seem to recall many complaints about the Deviants storyline as it concluded, but so far it still seems to be working.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

X-MEN: LIBERATORS #2 - December 1998

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Credits: Joseph Harris (writer), Phil Jimenez (breakdowns), Aiken, Leigh, & Pepoy (finishes), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Colossus visits his parents’ gravesite, and is shocked when an elderly lady in the chapel spits at him and curses his family. Soon, he’s attacked by Russian soldiers who assume that he’s the escaped mutant from Province 13. Nearby, Wolverine and Nightcrawler encounter more soldiers in the woods. Soon, they’re attacked by the escaped mutant, whose touch has an odd effect on Wolverine. The mutant evades capture, leaving the soldiers to take a disoriented Wolverine into custody. Meanwhile, Sergei reflects on a young girl from the program, and receives word that Province 13 could be shut down. Later, Russian soldiers enter the Savage Land, looking for Omega Red.

Review: It’s an issue full of “middle,” so it’s hard to judge how exactly all of these threads are coming together. As vague as some of this is, I will say that the small amount of info Harris has given us is pretty intriguing. The incident between Colossus and the angry woman is particularly interesting, since Colossus’ “family” might include the historical Rasputins, and not just the immediate family already established in the books. It’s also nice to see Colossus visiting a cemetery and mourning his parents, since their murders seemed especially gratuitous back in the early ‘90s, and he wasn’t allowed a lot of time back then for bereavement (he was too busy irrationally turning heel). The Omega Red in the Savage Land sequence is something I wasn’t expecting to see, and unless this is a continuity reference I’ve totally missed, I’m curious to see why exactly he’s there.

Harris also works in a few “quiet” moments for Wolverine and Nightcrawler, acknowledging the many years they’ve spent apart and taking more time to reestablish their friendship than the main titles ever did. I question Harris’ characterization of Wolverine as an adamant opponent to hunting, though. (One of the Russian soldiers is killing time by shooting at random animals in the woods, which infuriates Wolverine.) Needless killing would anger Wolverine, I’m sure, but Harris’ dialogue makes it clear that Wolverine doesn’t consider hunting for food and for sport to be so different. It’s possible Harris based this on Todd McFarlane’s portrayal of Wolverine in Spider-Man, but that's hardly the definitive Wolverine story. Given the times we’ve seen Wolverine kill animals in the woods, an anti-hunting stance just feels hypocritical.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CABLE #64 - February 1999

‘Twas the Night before Dying

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

Summary: Cable gives Irene an interview, revealing his past and telling the story of his recent Christmas shopping trip with Stacey. They encountered a sidewalk Santa that had been mugged, which led Cable to question if dark times are approaching. After hearing Cable’s origin, Irene rejects the Daily Bugle’s job offer, declaring that it isn’t her destiny. Meanwhile, Apocalypse “tests” Mexico City with an earthquake, while Ozymandias contacts Blaquesmith with an urgent message. Finally, a mystery figure destroys a building in Hell’s Kitchen.

Review: Cable’s origin was already considered something of a joke by this point, so this is Joe Casey’s attempt to streamline all of the “shocking revelations” of the past and give Cable a clear direction. (He even avoids too many obvious meta-jokes, using the word “continuity” just once, and describing the story as “convoluted” only twice). Casey comes to the reasonable conclusion that Cable’s entire life has been dominated by Apocalypse in some way or another, so his true goal is to kill the monster before he can ever come to power. Cable’s previous motives -- mentoring Cannonball, the “ascendant High-Lord,” and targeting Stryfe for revenge following his wife’s death and son’s brainwashing -- don’t directly contradict this, so it’s easy for a continuity purist to buy the premise. I am a little surprised that Stryfe isn’t even mentioned in the issue, though, considering that all of Cable’s early appearances seemed to center around the shiny villain. I understand the need to simplify, but I don’t think a reference to Cable’s evil clone, warped by Apocalypse as a youth, would’ve been too hard to work in.

Although most of the issue is a recap, quite a few story threads are continued. Apocalypse returns, signaling an “epic” confrontation with Cable that never really panned out (the end-of-the-millennium Apocalypse story Casey planned for Cable was later co-opted by “The Twelve” crossover). Ozymandias and Blaquesmith get a subplot page, no doubt tied in with the developing Apocalypse story. A Kirby-style silhouette destroys a building in Hell’s Kitchen, which I’m assuming will lead into next issue’s action story. The character subplots focus on Cable’s burgeoning friendship with Stacey and her brother Kenny. Stacey wants Cable to use his telepathy to cure Kenny of Down syndrome, but he doesn’t have the heart to tell her that a) his powers can’t cure a genetic condition, and b) he’s lost his telepathy anyway. It would be easy for this scene to make Stacey look like a fool, but Casey goes out of his way to emphasize that she knows she’s asking for the impossible and is really speaking out of desperation. Irene’s scenes don’t work as well; basically, she’s giving up her dream job at the Daily Bugle in order to follow Cable around, which doesn’t exactly seem like the best career move. The story presents this as a grand gesture, signifying the important work Cable’s going to be doing in the next year, but that’s a hard sell to make. Regardless, there’s a lot going for this issue, even if it is mostly a clip show.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

X-FORCE #83 - November 1998


Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Jim Cheung (penciler), Mark Morales & Rob Stull (inks), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Cannonball visits his family in Kentucky and learns that his mother is suffering from a nerve disorder. Hoping to clear his head, he flies around their farm that night and discovers a young woman, Arcadia. He’s soon caught in a battle between Arcadia, her protector Ulysses, and a “hunter” named Argos. Ulysses warns Cannonball to leave, just as more hunters arrive. Meanwhile, X-Force discovers that Jesse is a runaway from the Mutant Underground Support Engine. Using their database, Jesse learned X-Force’s location and sought them out, looking for help finding his brother. The MUSE agents claim Jesse’s brother never existed, and is merely a figment of his childhood imagination.

Continuity Notes: The MUSE agents are identified as astronaut Lucas Wyndham, Dr. Derek Parsons, and Nicole Lomenzo. As an underground pro-mutant organization, they’ve catalogued extensive information on X-Force. Jesse recounts his origin, saying that his parents died in a car accident when he was a child, which led to social services separating him from his brother. Following the emergence of his mutant powers, he was experimented on by a doctor until Lucas Wyndham rescued him.

Jesse also lists his age as nineteen, which is one of the many age/date references worked into the issue. The opening narration says Cannonball was fifteen when he left home to join the New Mutants. Later, Cannonball remarks that he hasn’t been back to the coal mines in five years, implying his first appearance was five years ago, Marvel time. That’s reasonable, but MUSE’s claim that X-Force fought the X-Ternals in public “two summers ago” (X-Force #54) is a bit much. That’s practically real-time, which is a comics no-no.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has the average monthly sales at 107,415 with the most recent issue selling 90,510 copies.

Review: Following Cannonball’s unceremonious departure from the X-Men, he’s free for John Francis Moore to move back into X-Force, the book that never portrayed him as a slow-witted buffoon. That’s good news for Cannonball fans, and it makes the book even more of a New Mutants nostalgia project, which I’m sure pleased Moore. Moore quickly displays a nice grasp of the character, dismissing his occasionally feeble performance as an X-Man (Cannonball was “uncomfortable” after leaving X-Force and never felt like he belonged), and paying off the quickie “Mom’s sick!” subplot that was used to write him out of X-Men. The exchange between Cannonball and his mother works well, and his extended monologue as he surveys their farmland (soon to be sold as the family moves to Lexington while his mom receives treatment) feels right. Actually, it feels like an old New Mutants issue, surprisingly enough.

In the background, Moore continues to gradually advance his Eternals subplot, while introducing MUSE and providing an origin for Jesse Bedlam. The revelation that Jesse’s brother isn’t real is a surprising twist, but we all know from the Age of Apocalypse that he does have a brother, so it actually works as a double-fakeout. Other spinoffs have tried stories like this and ended up in the ditch, but Moore seems to have a clear plan mapped out beforehand. The steady momentum and dense plotting in every issue of his run make it clear that he isn’t throwing any random idea against the wall, but instead has a specific destination in mind.

Monday, September 12, 2011

X-MEN: LIBERATORS #1 - November 1998

Old Friends

Credits: Joe Harris (writer), Phil Jimenez & Keith Aiken (art), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine and Nightcrawler accompany Colossus on a trip to Siberia. They stop at a tavern while waiting for their train and inadvertently start a bar fight. Not far away is the military installation, Province 13. Sergei, the director, overlooks the mutants gathered by the government. One of the mutants escapes and makes his way to the train station as Colossus, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler are boarding.

Continuity Notes: This story reveals that Colossus was one of several mutants created in Siberia following Cold War nuclear tests.

Review: This is an ‘80s nostalgia project highlighting the friendship between Wolverine, Colossus, and Nightcrawler; one of the relationships dropped by the X-titles when the characters moved on to different teams and/or continents. At the time of this miniseries’ release, Nightcrawler and Colossus, along with Shadowcat, were rejoining the X-Men during one of Marvel’s retro-kicks, a move that probably wasn’t as popular as Marvel editorial predicted. One reason the new/old lineup didn’t seem too thrilling was because the creators of the main books were apparently saddled with the team at the last minute, requiring numerous storylines to be dropped while the books went into extended crossover mode for several issues. I can’t say Steven Seagle or Joe Kelly handled the addition of Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Shadowcat poorly, but I never got the impression they were too excited to be using them. Joe Harris, on the other hand, is writing a story specifically tailored for (most of) the returning characters, so this feels different. There’s nothing special about the plot so far -- there’s an ‘80s flashback, some light-hearted scenes following the cast to the airport and a bar, and some cryptic teasers for a new mutant -- but the execution is competent enough. The art looks like something Marvel would’ve published circa 1982, so that’s fitting, and I get the impression that Jimenez is getting a kick out of using these characters, too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #106 - November 1993

Judgment Day

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Stephen Baskerville (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man joins the Goddess’ team and fights against the “unenlightened” heroes. When Jean Grey threatens to “mind-sear” the Thing, Spider-Man jumps in-between them, just as the sun goes nova. A “final rapture” purges the universe.

The Subplots: Betty leads Jonah to believe that she and Robbie are having an affair in order to cover their investigation into Project: Sandstorm.

*See _________ For Details: Thanos says that he and Silver Surfer (who’s turned against the Goddess) have a “diversion” planned for the Goddess’ team. A footnote points to Infinity Crusade #4. Following Infinity Crusade #5, Rogue owes Hercules for a “sucker punch,” and the Thing is recovering from Gamora’s nerve-blow. The conclusion to this story can be found in Infinity Crusade #6

Review: More mindless hero vs. hero fights, and a cliffhanger that isn’t even concluded in this title. I feel sorry for the hardcore Spidey and/or Infinity Crusade completists who were stuck buying this stuff. Is it really so hard to guess why sales of comics began to plummet after 1993?

Since the story is virtually nonexistent, I’m left to discuss the art. We’ve now entered the third phase of Alex Saviuk’s work on Web of Spider-Man. Saviuk originally drew this title as a loving Romita homage, then switched over to a McFarlane-esque Spidey when that became the standard look (although his actual drawing style never imitated McFarlane’s, just the basics of his costume revamp), and now we have…this. I’m sure Saviuk’s original pencils haven’t changed at all, but the addition of Stephen Baskerville as inker brings a conspicuous change to the title’s look. Basically, it seems as if Baskerville has been given the edict to “Liefeld it up,” and boy is it Liefeld-y…

Now, my major issues with Liefeld’s work have to do with his bizarre anatomy and weak storytelling (his inking certainly looks dated now, but I didn’t mind it so much as a kid), so there are worse ways the Extreme look could’ve been introduced into this book…but man, I miss the days of Keith Williams.

The Killing Ground

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Bill Wylie (penciler), Timothy Tuohy (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Nightwatch finds Deathgrin in the sewers and defeats him. He vows not to lose himself to the Nightwatch persona the same way Daniel Davis was consumed by Deathgrin.

The Subplots: None.

Review: Nightwatch beats up a guy wearing a goofy mask in the sewers and vows not to turn into him. Okay. What a waste of eighteen pages this turned out to be. If the goal was to entice readers into picking up Nightwatch’s solo book, that makes this effort even more embarrassing.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #105 - October 1993

Soul Gauntlet

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (breakdowns), Don Hudson (finishes), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Inside his Soulscape, Spider-Man is transformed into a teenage Peter Parker and forced to face his deadliest enemies. Simultaneously, he fights the heroes gathered by the Goddess. Eventually, Spider-Man realizes that his life is an endless cycle of violence, one that threatens his loved ones. He decides to follow the Goddess’ plan.

The Subplots: Liz Osborn is spending time with MJ and Aunt May. Liz is discussing her plans for little Normie when she’s interrupted by Aunt May. Meanwhile, Robbie Robertson and Betty Brant sneak into Dr. Marla Madison’s ESU office.

Web of Continuity: Dr. Marla Madison is Jonah Jameson’s wife, which is why Robbie and Betty have kept their investigation a secret. They’re looking into a “hush-hush government experiment funded by Morelle Pharmaceuticals,” which is run by Marla.

*See _________ For Details: This story takes place in-between Infinity Crusade #s 2 and 3. Moon Knight #57 details why Moon Knight is so devoted to the Goddess’ cause.

Review: Allegedly a look into the psyche of Peter Parker, this is really an excuse for an extended fight scene with all of the issue’s guest stars. I do like the way Kavanagh handles the two levels of the fight scene, which has Spider-Man convinced that the heroes are actually members of his rogues gallery (when Madrox shows up, he sees a thousand Carnages instead), but the story offers no insights past “Peter Parker loves science!” and “Peter Parker wants to keep his family safe!” At least the subplots are advancing, so the Robbie and Betty story actually seems to be going somewhere. This issue finally confirms that the two aren’t having an affair, an idea that’s been teased for too long. The prospect of how the Bugle would handle a story involving Jonah’s wife is intriguing, but my memory is that the payoff to this subplot is pretty dismal.

Acid Test

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Bill Wylie (penciler), Timothy Tuohy (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Nightwatch rescues the museum’s security guards from Deathgrin, but the villain uses his acidic powers to escape into the sewers. Nightwatch vows to stop him.

The Subplots: None.

Review: I assumed Deathgrin was a throwaway enemy created to be Nightwatch’s punching bag for a few back-ups, but now I wonder if Kavanagh intends to make him Nighwatch’s main villain. I’m basing this on the “dark reflection” bit Kavanagh plays up, emphasizing that both are trapped by their costumes in some way -- Nightwatch hates his organic costume but feels compelled to wear it, while Deathgrin is ensnared by the ancient mask he chose to wear for no discernable reason. Clothing related drama, folks. This is classic stuff.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #104 - September 1993

Crisis of Conscience

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (breakdowns), Don Hudson (finishes), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man joins the Goddess in her quest to offer salvation to the universe. On Paradise Omega, other heroes are linked together to power a cosmic egg. The Goddess disappears into the egg as a part of her plan to awaken enlightened souls. Spider-Man begins to question why he hasn’t doubted the Goddess’ plan, which upsets Moondragon, her chosen representative. She attacks him, and their fight awakens the Goddess. She sends Spider-Man into a twisted version of his “soulscape.”

The Subplots: Jonah Jameson is furious that crime worldwide has appeared to stop, leaving him nothing to print. Robbie Robertson is sneaking away for another “secret rendezvous” with Betty Brant.

Web of Continuity: This is a tie-in to the Infinity Crusade crossover, which is famous for dividing heroes with “spiritual beliefs” against those without any. Spider-Man joins the Goddess on the believers’ side, along with characters like Captain America, Invisible Woman, and Thor. Rogue is accidentally shown as a member of both teams.

*See _________ For Details: Before he sees a vision of the Goddess, Spider-Man fights a street gang he previously faced in Spider-Man #36. A footnote refers to Infinity Crusade #1 for more information on Goddess’ plan for universal salvation. Goddess’ plan to “guide” her followers through Moondragon is “as seen in Infinity Crusade #2.”

Review: All right, after a three-month crossover break, it’s time for Web to get back to business. Oh, what’s this? Infinity Crusade? Well, if everyone has to play along…how long does this last? Another three months? Web’s going six straight months into crossover limbo while its ongoing storylines die on the vine? Okay, then. Whatever, it’s the ‘90s.

I was a pretty hardcore Marvel Zombie in the early ‘90s, yet I managed to avoid almost all of the assorted “Infinity” tie-ins. Since the X-books and most of the Spider-titles ignored all of this cosmic hoohar, it didn’t seem too important to me. Now, I’m faced with the Web of Spider-Man tie-in issues, and have no idea what to make of this stuff. I can see some solid ideas in here, which I have to assume came from Jim Starlin. A worldwide end to crime, a mystic being that’s serious about peace on Earth, and groups of heroes divided up based on their faith, or lack thereof. All of these ideas sound fine, although I feel compelled to be the one-millionth person to point out that any superhero atheist in the Marvel Universe has to be in hardcore denial. Kavanagh tries to fit a Spider-Man story into the event by focusing on his willingness to doubt everything, including science, which is why he doesn’t entirely dismiss spiritual beliefs. When Spider-Man doesn’t doubt the Goddess, he knows something’s wrong, which leads to him doubting his own resoluteness. That’s almost clever, but all it leads to is a pointless fight with Moondragon. Then again, there is a certain novelty in seeing the two disparate characters fight, so it’s not a total loss. I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to two more issues of this, though.


Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Bill Wylie (pencils), Timothy Tuohy (inks), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Nightwatch faces a group of museum thieves who have stolen a Macedonian “Deathmask.” When Daniel Davis, the ringleader, tries on the mask, he becomes the powerful Deathgrin.

The Subplots: None.

Review: Yes, what this crossover tie-in issue really needs is a six-page back-up starring an unrelated character. No filler here. Marvel must’ve had high hopes for Nightwatch, or at the very least were okay with Terry Kavanagh repeatedly selling his pet character, because he just won’t go away. I actually haven’t minded Nightwatch’s previous appearances so much, but now he’s just a generic hero fighting a lame villain with a laughable name. I guess I have two more issues of this one, also?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #103 - August 1993

Sin City - Maximum Carnage Part 10

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: After Captain America catches Iron Fist and Deathlok hacking into the Avengers' database for info on Carnage, he invites them to join Spider-Man and Firestar on his team. Elsewhere, Carnage and Shriek torture Venom while Black Cat, Morbius, and Cloak face their followers. With the help of Nightwatch, the villains are forced to retreat. Later, Spider-Man stops a Carnage-inspired uprising at a police station.

The Subplots: Before heading to the police station, Spider-Man stops to check on Mary Jane. She’s increasingly concerned for his life and says she can’t condone his behavior anymore.

Web of Continuity: Captain America is the only Avenger in the city at the moment. Firestar was recruited for her fire powers when the heroes learned the Human Torch was unavailable.

*See _________ For Details: When Spider-Man’s team tripped the Fantastic Four’s alarm in Amazing #379, Captain America was notified of their presence, leading to his involvement in the fight. The team faced Carnage in Spectacular #202, but Firestar couldn’t “sink to his depths” and kill Carnage.

I Love the ‘90s: Carnage declares “This blood’s for me!” while torturing Venom.

Review: It’s the same “plot” as the previous issues, only now even more random heroes are thrown into the mix. Spider-Man’s not even on the most interesting team, as the “darker” heroes Cloak, Black Cat, Morbius, and Nightwatch have a brutal fight with Carrion, Doppelganger, and Demogoblin that consumes much of the issue. What does Spider-Man do? Hang around in front of a computer screen with Captain America, spend a page comforting an increasingly hysterical MJ, and beat up a few prisoners awaiting arraignment before rejoining Cap’s team, which now has the perfectly logical additions of Deathlok and Iron Fist.

Humanizing the endless video game action is a brief acknowledgment of Firestar’s moral issues, and the five hundredth scene of MJ agonizing over Peter’s safety. Firestar’s no-killing dilemma is rather absurd in the face of Carnage’s massacre, especially when the heroes themselves are caught in a life-or-death battle. If she had issues with killing Carnage in cold blood, that’s reasonable, but not using her fire powers, the only real weapon the heroes have against the maniac, while he’s in the process slaughtering innocents and threatening her own life… that’s insane. In no way would this be “sinking” to Carnage’s level. As for MJ, it’s a shame that the creators of this era only seem able to give her “cop wife” stories. Readers liked MJ because she wasn’t uptight about Peter’s life as Spider-Man, and didn’t fall into any of the traditional love interest stereotypes. That doesn’t mean that she’s made out of steel, but she certainly deserves to do more than just cry and worry in each issue.

Monday, September 5, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #102 - July 1993

Sinking Fast - Maximum Carnage Part Six

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Jim Hoston (colorist)

The Plot: The "Carnage Cult" causes chaos throughout Manhattan, as Venom, Cloak, and Black Cat recruit Morbius’ help. Morbius leads the heroes to The Deep, a new nightclub targeted by Carnage. Spider-Man joins the fight and is shocked to discover MJ in the crowd. As the building collapses, Carnage and his followers escape. Spider-Man convinces the others to stay behind and aid the victims. After everyone is safe, Spider-Man tells Venom that he’ll do anything to stop Carnage.

The Subplots: Carrion watches Carnage and the others from a distance as they terrorize New York.

*See _________ For Details: Spider-Man witnessed the “terrifying cruelty brewing just under the surface of this wretched city” in Spectacular Spider-Man #201 (a J. M. DeMatteis chapter, of course). MJ is “off somewhere steaming” following an argument with Peter about stopping Carnage (NOT a Howard Mackie chapter, despite my fuzzy memories, as a commenter has reminded me). When Venom rescues MJ from Carnage, he declares things even with Spider-Man, who saved his ex-wife in Amazing Spider-Man #375. Venom allows Spider-Man to join his team, even though he “broke” his word in Venom: Lethal Protector #1 by going after Venom when he thought he had returned to crime.

Review: It’s chapter six of this fourteen-issue arc, and the plot still consists of the two teams gathering characters, in-between the fits of mindless violence. It’s obvious that the creators are trying to make this a “how far will he go?” storyline for Spider-Man, but it’s so over-the-top, any moral debates seem ridiculous. Spider-Man’s not even the focus of the story, since so many of the pages have to be dedicated to the various characters playing the opposing sides of the battle. I wouldn’t even mind a Spider-Man/Morbius team-up against Carnage, but his addition to the story has little impact when it’s already packed with characters (and all of the guest stars still haven’t arrived!). There’s also some tacked-on angst at the end, as Spider-Man berates himself for having (gasp!) lethal thoughts and pretends that he isn’t good enough to join Venom’s team of “dark” heroes. “So this is what it’s finally come down to…even scum like Venom can’t trust me.” Yes, Spider-Man’s such a horrible person for pursuing convicted killer Venom after he saw news reports linking him to more murders. That’s certainly a good reason to put on the hairshirt, Spidey. Sheesh. That’s right, folks. “Maximum Carnage” is ridiculous.

Friday, September 2, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #101 - June 1993

Dark Light- Maximum Carnage Part Two

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Following an attack by Carnage’s followers, Spider-Man is aided by Cloak and Dagger. Soon, their church hideout is invaded by Carnage, Shriek, and Doppelganger. During the battle, Dagger is apparently killed by Shriek’s light blast. The villains escape while Spider-Man and Cloak recover.

The Subplots: A distraught MJ attempts to comfort Liz Osborn. Robbie Robertson and Jonah Jameson debate whether or not to release Carnage’s message for Spider-Man and Venom. Demogoblin stalks Doppelganger, intrigued by the darkness within him. In San Francisco, Venom sees news footage of Carnage’s attack on the Daily Bugle.

Web of Continuity: Harry Osborn recently passed away in Spectacular Spider-Man #200. Shriek claims that she was exposed to Cloak’s darkness during her days as a drug dealer and is now immune. Demogoblin thinks that the “dark power” he craves can only be gained after he kills all other demonic entities.

*See _________ For Details: Carnage broke out of custody, recruited Shriek and Doppelganger, and later attacked the Daily Bugle in Spider-Man Unlimited #1.

Creative Differences: Shriek’s reference to her life as a drug dealer has been relettered. Carnage’s entrance line, explaining that he’s followed Shriek’s “path of chaos” to find the church, is a correction. Venom has an added word balloon emphasizing that San Francisco is now his home.

Review: Oh, joy. We’ve reached “Maximum Carnage.” This is a fourteen-part crossover that consists almost entirely of Spider-Man and a random selection of heroes fighting Carnage and his “family” of serial killers. It consumes three months of every Spider-title, and accomplishes absolutely nothing. In fact, the positioning of the event circumvented any real attempts to deal with the death of Harry Osborn, so aside from being pointless, it stood in the way of a story that could’ve had a point.

I will say this, the early chapters that focus on Spider-Man and Cloak and Dagger fighting Carnage’s crew aren’t so bad, as far as mindless action comics go. Everyone knows that Spider-Man has a tiny clique of superheroes he routinely associates with (Cloak and Dagger, Black Cat, and the members of Silver Sable’s Outlaws). Placing them in a giant action story against a villainous faction assembled by Carnage is pure ‘90s cheese, but it could be fun for a few issues. And, hey, Alex Saviuk might’ve been dismissed as the “boring” Spidey artist by some fans, but he does a great job on the interiors this issue.

The first problem with “Maximum Carnage” is when Cloak and Dagger drop out of the story for…Captain America, Deathlok, and Iron Fist. Any of these team-ups on their own would be fine, but these characters really have no place in a giant Spider-Man storyline. This could’ve been the Prowler’s time to shine! Secondly, Carnage has assembled some of the lamest villains to come out of the ‘90s Spider-Man comics. The only character here worth redeeming is Shriek, and that’s based on the “Shrieking” arc that J. M. DeMatteis won’t be writing for another year or so. Carrion does show up in later chapters, so the villains aren’t entirely ’90s embarrassments, but I don’t recall the creators doing much with him. Finally…fourteen chapters? Would even the most blood-crazed pubescent fanboy want to read over three-hundred and fifty pages of this nonsense?

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