Monday, October 31, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #112 - May 1994

Pursuit Part Three - Trail’s End

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (breakdowns), Stephen Baskerville & Al Milgrom (finishes), Krol, Powell, & Dutro (letterers), Nel Yomtov (colorist)

The Plot: The Chameleon stages a prison bus accident, forcing Spider-Man to capture the escaped cons while Chameleon escapes. Spider-Man then follows the explosive clues left by the Chameleon until he reaches his location -- the Kravinoff Estate.

The Subplots: Reynard and Warrant leave government service in order to avoid bad publicity, on the condition that the Deputy Attorney General sends freelance bounty hunter work their way. Dr. Kafka agrees not to reveal Warrant’s recent actions if the government funds a new Ravencroft facility. On Spider-Man’s advice, she calls John Jameson and offers him the role of security chief.

Web of Continuity: Following the revelation that his parents were synthetic robots created by the Chameleon in Amazing Spider-Man #388, Spider-Man has launched a grim search for the villain.

*See _________ For Details: The previous chapters of “Pursuit” are Spider-Man #45 and Spectacular Spider-Man #211. The story is concluded in Amazing Spider-Man#389.

Gimmicks: This issue comes with three free trading cards, bound in the staples, promoting the upcoming Spider-Man trading card series.

Review: If you thought “Lifedeath”’s revelation that Peter Parker’s parents were robots was dumb, “Pursuit” just smacks you in the face and mocks your mother with its inanity. The premise of the mini-crossover is that Spider-Man has been driven over the edge following the exposure of his phony parents, and will stop at nothing to capture, and possibly kill, the Chameleon. The story consists of a lot of grunting, crying, howling with rage, and teeth gritting. Except in the Spectacular chapter, written by short-term writer Mike Lackey, which inconsistently had Spider-Man reverting to his old persona and cracking jokes while in the middle of his blood vendetta. (The four monthly Spider-Man titles had three different editors during this period, which always seemed like a bad idea to me). The most galling moment of this particular chapter has the Chameleon, astonished by Spider-Man’s behavior, reminding him that he’s supposed to be a hero. Spider-Man dutifully rebukes himself, leaves Chameleon behind and rescues the innocents endangered by the escaped criminals, and then goes back to his ‘roid-rage Batman routine. Ugh.

Regardless of my feelings for this crossover, I have to admit that on a purely commercial level, I fell for it. I still purchased Amazing, but rarely looked at the spinoffs by this point. The most recent issue of Web I purchased was during the “Name of the Rose” arc several years earlier. Curious to see if Marvel really would take Spider-Man “too far,” I dutifully collected each issue of this crossover, and even though I was disappointed by each one, I kept going until the conclusion.

Aside from finding the entire event melodramatic and silly, I distinctly remember being stunned by the ‘90s revamp of Alex Saviuk’s style. This was the guy who drew those early, Romita-style Spidey comics I loved as a kid? If I had purchased one of the earlier issues from this era, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so shocked, but considering that Saviuk only did breakdowns on this issue, Stephen Baskerville’s work was particularly unsettling. Did Spidey really look like this now?

Visually, the entire comic was a confusing experience for me, since Al Milgrom seemed to swap random pages with Baskerville as finisher. His pages have a classic Romita look, echoing the style I remembered from those early Web issues (aside from Spidey’s giant eyes, of course). An entire comic with that look I wouldn’t mind, but the abrupt Liefeld-ization of Saviuk’s pencils was a lot for me to take in.

Friday, October 28, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #111 - April 1994

The Savaging Part Two - Scales of Justice

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Stephen Baskerville & Sam De La Rosa (inkers), Dutro/Krol/Maley (letterers), Nel Yomtov (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man reaches the Everglades shortly after Warrant and his superior Reynard arrive with Billy. They find the Lizard at the abandoned Spanish fort he seized years earlier, which is now being renovated for commercial real estate. Spider-Man rescues Billy and faces both Warrant and the Lizard. As the fort collapses, Spider-Man tries to save Lizard from quicksand, but is stopped by Warrant. When the authorities arrive with Dr. Kafka, the fighting ends. The construction crew attempts to rescue the Lizard, but Spider-Man fears he’s already gone.

The Subplots: MJ is upset that Peter hasn’t spent enough time in their new home, and even attempts to shut off a news report about the Lizard before Peter can see it.

Web of Continuity: This story is supposed to be taking place simultaneously with the “Lifetheft” storyline in Amazing Spider-Man, which just isn’t possible since Peter doesn’t discover that a crazed fan drew a gun on MJ until after he’s transformed into an old man (if you haven’t read “Lifetheft”…yes, that happens). The story can’t take place after “Lifetheft” since that arc leads directly into “Pursuit,” which is the crossover that intersects with the next issue.

Review: So, “The Savaging” turns out to be a typical Lizard story, with some gratuitous bloodshed and obnoxious new characters thrown in. Oh, yeah -- and MJ is becoming an increasingly unlikable and erratic shrew with every issue. It’s amazing to me that the creators of this era didn’t realize that the readers of these titles want to like the lead character’s wife as much as they want to like Spider-Man. MJ was always a popular supporting cast member, probably because she wasn’t a neurotic mess and actually liked to have fun. Her extroverted nature and cheerful attitude played off Peter Parker’s anxious personality very well (and, as later writers revealed to us, masked her own set of personal issues), enabling her to rival sainted Gwen Stacy as a romantic interest. Now, MJ’s stuck in an annoying “cop wife” persona, dragging down every scene that features her. And you can’t blame the marriage on this; the first five years or so of the marriage emphasized MJ’s good nature and willingness to support her husband. This is just cheap, fake drama that doesn’t work.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #110 - March 1994

The Savaging Part One - Final Sanction

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

The Plot: The Lizard goes on an interstate murder spree on his way to the Everglades. The government hires hi-tech bounty hunter Warrant to apprehend him. Dr. Ashley Kafka is consulted on the case, and in violation of her orders, leaks news of the Lizard’s release to the press. At the home of the Lizard’s family, Spider-Man discovers Warrant destroying their home during a brutal interrogation. Spider-Man tries to stop him, but Warrant escapes with Billy Connors.

The Subplots: Jonah Jameson is still angry with Robbie Robertson for investigating his wife without permission. Betty Brant, carrying a morgue file on Need Leeds, interrupts their meeting. Meanwhile, MJ is tempted by a pack of cigarettes she finds in an old jacket.

Web of Continuity: Young Billy Connors wants to go by “William” from now on. I don’t think any future writers ever pick up on this. Dr. Ashley Kafka is the director of Arkham Asylum Ravencroft, which debuted a few years earlier in Spectacular Spider-Man.

*See _________ For Details: MJ quit smoking in Amazing #385, and was targeted by a deranged Secret Hospital fan in Amazing #386.

I Love the ‘90s: Leslie Kafka uses the “latest in portable fax technology” to spread word of the Lizard’s escape.

: Comedy fodder Warrant debuts, sporting a foot-long ponytail and hair metal band name a solid two years too late. He may or may not be a cyborg too, in case you were incredibly dense and still couldn’t guess which decade spawned the character. He of course has a bad attitude and lazy shaving habits as well, but unlike most of the decade’s anti-heroes, Warrant is apparently intended to be more of an outright villain. I assume that’s what Kavanagh’s going for, since Warrant spends much of the issue terrorizing a woman and her son, before he kidnaps the kid to use as bait for a monster. I have no doubt that Marvel would’ve quickly softened him up and commissioned a limited series for Warrant if someone in the offices thought he had a future as a solo star, though.

Much of the rest of the story is a retread of the early chapters of “Torment,” as we’re treated to a lengthy embellishment of the Lizard’s killing spree that can’t match the mood set in the original storyline (which is far from a classic anyway). Making this more absurd is the straight-faced defense of the Lizard given by Dr. Kafka, which is intercut with images of the Lizard brutally murdering innocent people. If these scenes were supposed to make Kafka look like an idealistic idiot, they’re successful in accomplishing that much, but I’m under the impression that Kavanagh honestly wants us to be sympathetic to the doctor. Sorry, but only J. M. DeMatteis can pull that trick off. She still says and does moronic things in his stories, but somehow DeMatteis makes her point of view seem less absurd.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #109 - February 1994

A Shock to the System

Credits: Joey Cavalieri (writer), Rurik Tyler (penciler), Sam De La Rosa (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man follows Shocker to a seemingly abandoned TV studio. The studio is actually a secret base belonging to Night Thrasher, who’s hiding an experimental biofeedback harness. After the heroes defeat Shocker in battle, he confesses that he wanted the harness to control his powers, which he’s convinced will kill him. Night Thrasher and Spider-Man combine their scientific knowledge and use the harness to tame Shocker’s powers.

The Subplots: None.

Creative Differences: A few added word balloons elaborate on Night Thrasher’s real name and costume gimmicks, Spider-Man’s spider-sense, and who exactly is going to take Shocker to the Vault after he’s cured.

I Love the '90s: The title of this issue is presumably a reference to an early '90s Billy Idol song.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has the previous year’s average sales at 332,858 copies with the most recent issue selling (is this a typo?) 432,900 copies. Even Web of Spider-Man almost broke the half a million mark!

Review: Web can never, ever escape filler, can it? Not that this is particularly bad filler, it uses the characters logically and has decent art, but it’s still a page-killer. The most ridiculous element of the issue is a scene that has Shocker literally terrified of Spider-Man’s shadow, but other than that there’s nothing really objectionable here. I’ll give Cavalieri credit for utilizing Spider-Man and Night Thrasher’s scientific expertise and emphasizing Spider-Man’s willingness to help people, even a villain who’s tried to kill him numerous times. So, it reads like a free comic given out at a baseball game, but it’s okay as filler.

The Savaging Prelude - Death Becomes Her!

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

The Plot: Calypso seduces a Guardsman and breaks into the Vault. She unlocks Curt Connors’ cell, only to be killed by her former pawn when he transforms into the Lizard. The Lizard escapes into the night.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: A one-page interlude showcases the Parkers’ new brownstone home, which has already debuted in Amazing.

I Love the '90s: “Death Becomes Her” was the name of a popular Bruce Willis/Meryl Streep movie at the time.

Review: The regular creative team was still free to do seven pages, so this issue’s filler is padded out with a brief prelude for the next story arc. “The Savaging” is a sequel to Todd McFarlane’s initial Spider-Man storyline, and it’s about as good as you might expect. Kavanagh actually uses Calypso’s voodoo powers quite well during her brief invasion of the Vault, and killing her off so early in the story arc is an unexpected move, but it’s hard to forget that this is setting up an unbearably bad story. And even if Kavanagh’s scored some shock value with her death, killing off Calypso feels like a waste. Say what you will about McFarlane’s “Torment” storyline, but he did manage to take the ultra-obscure Calypso and sell her as a credible threat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #108 - January 1994

The Eye of the Storm

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

The Plot: Tony Trainer emerges as Sandstorm, creating a fierce “grit-storm” that reflects his confused state of mind. Spider-Man rescues Sandman from the storm, while Quicksand convinces the erratic Sandstorm to join her side. After Spider-Man finds a piece of irradiated shrapnel and reverses its polarity, Sandstorm’s powers fade. Sandman stays by Sandstorm’s side as he’s arrested to make sure he’s treated fairly.

The Subplots: Amidst the chaos, Robbie and Betty save Jonah and Marla from falling off the ESU science building. Jonah offers Betty her job back. Meanwhile, MJ is dodging calls from Secret Hospital’s publicist.

*See _________ For Details: Amazing Spider-Man #385 has the long-awaited resolution to MJ’s riveting smoking subplot.

Creative Differences: A few word balloons are added to explain that Sandman and Quicksand can’t use their powers within Sandstorm’s grit-storm. Later, an added thought balloon has MJ resolving to stop smoking tomorrow.

Review: And, not surprisingly, the debut of Marvel’s latest sand-related villain whimpers out spectacularly. Aside from the white mullet, there’s nothing really objectionable about Sandstorm’s appearance on the cover, but once Stephen Baskerville’s inks get a hold of him, it’s full-on Rob Liefeld/Andrew Wildman/Marat Michaels '90s ugliness. The resolution to every cliffhanger in the previous issue is even more cliché than you might expect, right down to Betty Brant saving her job by rescuing her boss and his wife. Dull, pat, predictable…I’m almost ready for the clone to show up, and I hate the clone storyline.

Tainted Part Two

Credits: Carl Potts (writer), Jesse D. Orozco (penciler), Timothy Tuohy (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Cardiac escapes Scorpion, only to encounter him again while invading the offices of Tamco Pharmaceuticals. After disabling Scorpion’s tail, Cardiac kills Tamco’s CEO. He then purchases the company, saving the jobs of the honest employees and keeping Tamco’s beneficial drugs on the market.

Review: This is essentially the same as the previous issue, only now Potts is playing on the word “tainted” to describe the business deal that allows Cardiac’s civilian identity to purchase Tamco (its stock price is way down following the CEO’s death and the exposure of its bad drug shipment). That’s actually clever, so at least the ending isn’t as generic as the story’s premise. Potts is essentially writing Cardiac as the white-collar equivalent of the Punisher, and the story offers no judgment of Cardiac’s actions, so it actually becomes an unusual read in retrospect.

Monday, October 24, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #107 - December 1993

The Coming Storm

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

The Plot: After the Daily Bugle exposes weapons testing at ESU, Spider-Man travels there to investigate Project: Sandstorm. He arrives just as the project explodes, killing Marcus Devane, the corporate representative who advanced the project against Marla Madison’s wishes. Spider-Man rescues Marla, but discovers that her lab assistant, Tony Trainer, has been transformed into a mass of sand. Suddenly, Sandman and Quicksand arrive, just as Sandstorm emerges from the wreckage.

The Subplots: In spite of her reduced role, MJ is improving as an actress on Secret Hospital. Peter is considering a job taking cast photos for the soap. Meanwhile, Jonah Jameson impulsively fires Betty after learning that she’s investigated his wife without his knowledge.

Web of Continuity: Project: Sandstorm uses “bio-samples” from Sandman and Quicksand, obtained without their knowledge and possibly illegally, according to Marcus Devane. Presumably, Sandman and Quicksand learned of the project through the Daily Bugle article, and conveniently arrived just as it exploded.

Review: It apparently dawned on someone that a former Spider-Man villain and a current Thor villain had the same powers, which naturally means that they must be forced together into the same storyline. I don’t know if this was always what Kavanagh had in mind when he began the phony Robbie/Betty “affair” storyline, but he’s decided it’s good enough as a payoff to the long-running subplot. Not surprisingly, it turns out Marla’s working as the moral compass of the project, and it’s the big ol’ corporate meanie who’s only concerned with results and profits. What exactly is so unethical about the project isn’t clear, aside from the fact that Sandman and Quicksand’s cell samples are being used without their permission, which doesn’t seem like such a giant scandal that Robbie and Betty would risk their careers for the expose. Yes, it turns out that the project is too dangerous to be conducted in a populated area, but you’ve got to figure anyone living in the Marvel Universe’s Manhattan is used to this kind of thing by now. Perhaps the mere existence of weapons testing on a college campus is supposed to be the big scandal, which is a fair enough point, but nothing in the story indicates why they’re doing this work at ESU anyway.

The Peter Parker drama of the issue is another forced attempt at selling “marital tensions” between Peter and MJ. Life with Peter’s just so hard, she’s now channeling her anger through her acting, which is actually making her a better performer. Admittedly, Kavanagh doesn’t make the scene too dramatic, and actually shows us the playful side of their marriage for a few pages, but it’s yet another “MJ’s too weak to handle this life” scene; a subplot I’ve always found misguided and annoying.

Tainted Part One

Credits: Carl Potts (writer), Bill Wyllie (penciler), Fred Fredricks (inker), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: While stopping a shipment of tainted cancer medications, Cardiac is attacked by the Scorpion. Before he can reach his beta-staff, Cardiac is knocked unconscious by Scorpion.

Review: Well, Carl Potts at least remembers Cardiac’s gimmick. This back-up is just an extended fight scene so there’s not much to say about it, although I did enjoy Wyllie's subdued, retro-art style and clear storytelling.

Friday, October 21, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #9 - February 1998

Bury My Heart at the Bottle City of Love

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan & Christopher Jones (layouts), Keith Champagne (finishes), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noelle Giddings (colorist)

The team recuperates from their exposure to fear gas, discusses where they were when they learned Superman was alive, and, I hope you’re sitting down for this, some romantic subplots continue…

Bonfire and Frostbite are off on the beach, engaged in lengthy foreplay that’s often depicted in giant splash pages.

Hard Drive wants to know where Bonfire and Frostbite are, incensed that they might be off having s-e-x.

Zip-Kid is ordered by her boyfriend Lou to quit the team.

Monstergirl shows actual human emotions this issue. She talks to Thunderhead about his problems with Bonfire, and apparently feels some remorse over manipulating the big idiot. Later, she joins Off-Ramp on one of his global joyrides, an honor he rarely shares with anyone.

It’s obvious this was never intended to be a plot-heavy series, but this is the first issue that feels padded. Frostbite and Bonfire’s relationship has been teased since the first issue, so I get that their “first time” is supposed to be a big deal, but I don’t need splash page after splash page to sell the idea. I’m not too interested in what exactly they’re into sexually either, so the lovingly rendered pages of Bonfire biting Frostbite’s fingers and scratching his chest are particularly gratuitous. I do like the conversation scenes, which add more insight into what “real” life must be like in the DC Universe. Hearing descriptions of total strangers joining together in pure happiness and dancing in the street at the news of Superman’s revival adds a touch of verisimilitude to this universe. I’m trying to think of a modern real world parallel, but all I can come up with is the reaction to Bin Laden’s death, oddly enough.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #8 - January 1998

Take No Prisoners to the Twilight of the Gods!

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Scott Baumann (colorist)

Scarecrow is on the loose at Camp Mahan, a government compound apparently run by two corrupt bureaucrats, Miller and Morris. The Young Heroes are called in to stop him, and are naturally forced to face their greatest fears. Hard Drive finds the strength to fight the Scarecrow’s hallucinations and saves the day. Plus…

Bonfire is still unaware Monstergirl impersonated her and seduced Thunderhead a few issues ago.

Thunderhead can’t understand why Bonfire is acting so cold towards him.

Off-Ramp visits his infant son, and leaves money for a woman named Samira. The mystery man in the shadows last issue is apparently her new boyfriend. Their conversation is conveniently translated from Italian this issue.

is upset Hard Drive listed their secret headquarters in the phone book. In an earlier scene, he
brings up Doomsday during a discussion on monsters, dragging down the team's mood. This is a nice touch on Raspler’s part; we might view Doomsday as a gimmicky ‘90s plot device, but in the context of the DC Universe, he’s responsible for Superman’sdeath, which isn’t something anyone would take lightly.

Frostbite decides, after surviving Scarecrow’s fear gas, that he won’t wait any longer. He pulls Bonfire aside and kisses her.

First a Superman guest shot, then a line-wide crossover tie-in, and now a Batman villain to remind everyone that this is a real DCU book and it shouldn’t be dismissed like…the Helix line or something. Raspler does use Scarecrow very well, playing up the idea that facing your worst fears would be a horrific experience that wouldn’t end simply because the gas has worn off, but the actual mechanics of the story are confusing. Who are Miller and Morris? How did they end up with Scarecrow? After opening the comic with a lengthy chase scene, how exactly did Miller and Morris escape Scarecrow and reach the Young Heroes? Why did they lie to Hard Drive and pretend they didn’t know that the villain was Scarecrow? None of this makes sense. Still, Dev Madan does a great job on the hallucination scenes, and the emphasis on Hard Drive’s concern for his teammates as he fights the gas is an interesting character bit. I like the idea that in spite of his deviousness, Hard Drive honestly cares about these people he’s manipulating and considers them friends.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #7 - December 1997

Young Heroes Unplugged

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Scott Baumann (colorist)

There’s even less action this issue, as we get a “change of pace” story that focuses on the cast’s secret identities.

Hard Drive (Jeremy Horton) works on Wall Street, where he shockingly uses his powers to make obscene amounts of money. He also has a tendency to spy on his teammates in their civilian lives.

Monstergirl (Rita Lopez) lives with her overbearing parents and younger siblings. She’s being pushed into a relationship with a childhood friend, Scotty, and doesn’t realize her parents are keeping a secret from her.

Bonfire (Annie Fletcher) can’t interest Meta, the only reputable superhero magazine around, in her story on Golden Age heroes T.N.T. and Dan the Dyna-Mite. Her roommate suggests she do a story on a new team, like the Young Heroes.

Thunderhead (Scott Tucker) is still working as a bouncer. He discusses an obsessive ex-girlfriend named Shellie with Off-Ramp over drinks.

Off-Ramp (George Sloan) gets a break-up letter from a woman named Karen, hangs out with Thunderhead, and teleports to a house in Italy. He holds a baby and has an un-translated conversation in Italian with a man in the shadows.

Junior (Benjamin Newton) helps Thunderhead rob a pack of chips out of a vending machine. Later, he plays chess with a friend (guess how), and admits to his crush on Zip-Kid.

Zip-Kid (Stacy Taglia) has dinner with her much older Italian stereotype boyfriend. He wants her to stay away from this Junior kid.

Frostbite (still just Frostbite) gets a ride to remote Canada from Off-Ramp. He plans on spending his time off running with the animals, and we later learn that he somehow uses his powers to keep the natives warm during snowstorms.

This is a good example of a “downtime” issue that does more than pad out a conversation scene or two. We actually learn something about each character, and some of the vignettes leave us with promising mysteries. Why would someone as wicked as Monstergirl still live like a teenager? Why does her persona seem to change so much lately? What is Off-Ramp doing in Italy? And what’s with the baby?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #6 - November 1997

You’ll Never Walk Alone into the Furnace of Unstable Molecules!

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Sergio Cariello (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley & N.J.Q.(letterers), Scott Baumann (colorist)

The villainous Ratpack demand the whopping sum of $3,000 in protection money from a local school, prompting the officials to contact the Young Heroes. The heroes easily defeat the crooks, winning a clear PR victory. Oh, was there a cliffhanger last issue? It’s dismissed by a quickie dream sequence, which establishes that Bonfire’s memory has been erased and her attraction to Thunderhead is back with a vengeance. This is even juicier…

Hard Drive is devastated when Monstergirl, upset that he saw her true form last issue, breaks up with him.

Monstergirl quickly changes her mind after the Ratpack fight and leaps into Hard Drive’s arms. “I need you!” she cries. And her mood swings aren’t over yet…

Frostbite is actually starting to enjoy this hero gig, showing more signs of altruism than Hard Drive’s exhibited so far.

Bonfire has a “girl chat” with Monstergirl and discovers she’s been secretly dating Hard Drive. All Bonfire can think about is Thunderhead, though. Raspler is still coming up with cute character bits for Bonfire. She refers to the other heroes’ battle in space as “last issue,” and is genuinely thrilled when Thunderhead shows off his new powers. It’s a simple idea that the girl just loves superheroes, but Raspler really has fun with it.

Thunderhead discovers that he now has electric powers, which makes his costume design a lot less arbitrary. Later, after the fight is over, Bonfire lures him into the school’s library. They have a slightly PG-13 love making sequence, which brings us what just might be the first appearance of a condom wrapper in the DC Universe. Oh, but what’s this? This “Bonfire” secretly morphs into a grinning Monstergirl later that night. She’s had shapeshifting powers for one issue and she’s already using them for kinky sex games!

So, even if Hard Drive’s exposure turned out to be a red herring, Raspler is still finding new areas to explore. This issue brings us the most bizarre Monstergirl behavior yet, as she flip-flops on her relationship with Hard Drive over the course of a few pages and beds (what appears to be) her best friend on the team’s boyfriend. There’s one element of trashy soap opera going on here, but there’s also a legitimate suspense regarding the character and her motives. Either way, you want to see what happens next.

Monday, October 17, 2011

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #5 - October 1997

Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Trans-Universal Galacto-Storm!

Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley & N.J.Q. (letters), Scott Baumann (colorist)

Forgotten ‘90s DC Crossover #463 has invaded the line, taking even the non-Code approved DCU titles along with it. I know nothing of “Genesis” outside of the fact that it somehow tied in with John Byrne’s Fourth World book, and that he publically disavowed the crossover almost as soon as it was published. Based on this comic, “Genesis” apparently involved every metahuman’s powers going haywire, leading all of the established heroes join in an outer space battle. Since the Young Heroes are still at the bottom of the totem pole, no one thinks to call them, so they’re stuck on Earth.

When Hard Drive learns that even latent metahumans are affected, he hitches a ride with Off-Ramp to check on his younger brother in the hospital. His sibling is an even more powerful telekinetic, evidenced by the mountain of abandoned cars stacked in front of the hospital. Hard Drive telepathically puts him back into a coma, inadvertently revealing his telepathic powers to Off-Ramp. Off-Ramp suddenly remembers experiencing these powers before, and realizes that Hard Drive has been manipulating the team all along. Hard Drive reveals that his powers only exploit feelings that his victims already have, so he finds the small part of Off-Ramp that wishes he never knew Hard Drive’s secret and erases the memory.

Oh, yeah. “Genesis” is still going on, right? Hard Drive returns home, discovers Kalibak is attacking national monuments, laments that he doesn’t have time to alert the media, and soon confronts the Big Name Guest Villain. After using his telekinesis to easily send Kalibak flying into space, Hard Drive returns home. Unfortunately for him, his telepathic manipulation has worn off on another member. Bonfire defiantly greets him at the door and proclaims that she has an announcement to make to the team.


Junior helps his crush, Zip Kid, deal with her uncontrolled growth spurt. He talks her down to insect size, which just so happens to be his favorite height.

Monstergirl reveals to Hard Drive that she only has two forms: Pretty Girl and Hideous Monster. And yet, her erratic powers soon force her into morphing into whichever person is on Hard Drive’s mind. Despite her earlier protests, it turns out she really is a shapeshifter.

Despite the abrupt shift into crossover territory, Dan Raspler still gets a lot of story out of this one. I’m sure if he were left to his own devices, Rasplar would’ve continued to spread the story out amongst cast members and not given so much of the focus to Hard Drive, but it’s actually kind of refreshing to get this much information about a single character in one issue. We learn that Hard Drive is sincere in his desire to be a hero, and to be famous, and he isn’t concerned about using his powers to “convince” people to join his cause. After all, his powers only work if some part of a person wants to follow his “suggestions,” so it’s not as if he’s truly brainwashing them, right?

It’s amusing to read about this brand of fame-whore character years before the days of Youtube or TMZ. Yeah, that girl on Baywatch had a sex tape, but surely she was embarrassed by it. It’s not as if any more of those things are going to come out, or anyone with a vague connection to a celebrity is going to use one to become famous or anything. The celebrity culture element of Young Heroes was often underplayed in favor of the romance, but I could see a new series today taking that ball and running with it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

CHRONOS #2 - April 1996

Down On the Farm

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inks), Willie Schubert (letters), Mike Danza (colors)

1873: Three weeks have passed since the previous issue, and we learn Chronos has befriended Matthew Kent and his family. He tries to help with the chores, but finds his experience as a “brilliant techno-industrialist thief” hasn’t provided him with the skills needed for nineteenth century farming in Smallville. Moore gets a lot of material out of the culture shock, as Chronos discusses marriage with the Kent’s eager teenage son, is forced to attend church by Mrs. Kent, and is targeted as a “half-breed” by a drunken local. Moore could go the cheap route and depict the Kents as dimwitted, intolerant yokels, but they’re portrayed as decent, caring individuals. They know nothing about Chronos, suspect he might be a crook, but still accept him into their home and rarely even ask questions about his past. The best scene in the issue has Chronos robbing their hidden cash reserves while the family’s attending a play, but quickly regretting the decision and returning the money.

Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Vyronis has targeted Mr. Dunbar, a wealthy industrialist. One of Dunbar’s descendants is fated to interfere with Vyronis’ plans, so of course he kills Dunbar.

1998: David Clinton, the original Chronos, is accused by the police of the new Chronos’ S.T.A.R. Labs theft. Once again, he begins to fade out of existence.

1873: Back in Smallville, Chronos checks out the play, unaware that another Linear Man has arrived in 1873 to arrest him for last issue’s murder. Chronos is smitten with one of the actors, and follows her to her trailer later that night. He’s shocked to discover that she has a Walkman. (The girl can listen to up to eighty minutes of music at a time!) When she’s called away by another actor, the mysterious Lucas, Chronos sneaks in and looks through her things. Along with numerous keepsakes from the late ‘90s, she also has a disk that’s similar to the device used by Vyronis to travel through time in the previous issue. The discovery of other time travelers, and how exactly they connect to Vyronis, is one of my favorite aspects of this series. Chronos’ crush, Alexandra, will go on to have a larger role in the series, but the abrupt ending of the series shortchanges their relationship.

1461: Finally, Vyronis arrives in Florence to meet with the thirty-year-old Chronos’ future ex-lover, Fiorella. He boasts about the tachyon generator he snatched from Chronos last issue, which will somehow enable them to control all time. I seem to recall this device playing a large role in an upcoming storyline, but the science fiction elements of the book never really grabbed me. I like time travel, I like seeing characters interacting with figures from the past, I even enjoy the occasional time paradox, but trying to establish “real” physics for time travel just loses me. Their plot also seems like too much of a villain cliché, which is an awkward fit for a book that doesn’t follow any other traditional formulas. Regardless, this issue remains a lot of fun, and Guinan’s various landscapes and architecture are amazing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CHRONOS #1 - March 1998

Time Out of Time

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inker), Willie Schubert (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

“We may not avoid everything you’ve come to associate with a time travel book -- I may even let a paradox or two slip in despite all my protesting -- but hopefully, as STARMAN did for superheroics, as RESURRECTION MAN did for death, we can bring a unique perspective to them.” -Editor Archie Goodwin, from this issue's text piece.

Chronos opens with Chronos, Walker Gabriel, who’s just realized it’s his thirtieth birthday, in 1960 Hamburg. He’s already befriended the Beatles and is lecturing the audience to keep quiet during their set when a very large man named Mordecai appears. Mordecai takes Walker to a strange city, where he’s reunited with a mystery woman named Fiorella. Over the course of just a few pages, John Francis Moore unloads a decent amount of exposition. We learn that Fiorella and Walker were once lovers, Fiorella has manipulated men throughout time, the strange city is in the process of being rebuilt, various versions of Walker co-exist in this city, Mordecai is a robot, and an old enemy of Walker’s named Hayden Glass has escaped the twenty-third century and is looking to kill his younger self in 1998. Got that?

The scene shifts to the “today” of 1998. At a firm named Dystart, a man who looks suspiciously like Walker Gabriel is testing out the “Nomo 2000” with its inventor, Stephanie Wong. A first-person caption informs us that he’s “working” on his twenty-third birthday. Suddenly, a slightly younger Chronos appears. This is the twenty-three year old Walker, the true star of the series. (Although the thirty-year-old Walker doesn’t completely disappear. Artist Paul Guinan differentiates the seven year age gap by giving the younger Walker longer hair and sideburns.)

I’ve read this scene numerous times and still can’t quite make out if the guy testing the device is also supposed to be Walker, or if Guinan made the unfortunate choice of giving a minor background character a design identical to the series’ star (and the colorist gave him the same skin tone). The “working on my birthday” bit is apparently a reference to Walker, who’s a thief at this stage, stealing the Nomo 2000’s CPU; so I suppose opening with the lookalike, who’s “working” in a more traditional sense, was a red herring? Or is Walker stealing the device from his own firm? I don’t know. I don’t want to paint this book with the “too confusing” brush too soon, because it really isn’t, but I’ve always been hazy on this scene.

Anyway, Walker meets with his fence, Konstantin Vyronis, and hands over the CPU. He’s given another job, a theft at S.T.A.R. Labs. And speaking of “star,” it’s time for the Starman influence to creep in. Walker stops off at the home of his quasi-mentor, the original Chronos, David Clinton. Clinton’s prematurely aging and has a bad habit of fading out of existence for a few seconds at a time. He warns Walker about the dangers surrounding time travel, but the new Chronos apparently loves the money too much.

Returning to the earlier info dump, escaped criminal Hayden Glass appears to kill the younger Walker. He’s rescued by the clean-cut thirty year old Chronos, who dispatches Glass by dropping him off in the Jurassic era. (Moore also throws in that Glass is a shapechanger, which is important later on.)

Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Walker attempts the S.T.A.R. Labs heist. He’s caught by a very ‘90s-looking officer of the Linear Authority. Walker’s time traveling without permission, apparently (or at least slowing time down at this stage). I'm assuming these guys are being brought in to assure readers that this series is faithful to the DC Universe’s established time traveling rules. Of course, I don’t know what those rules might be, and a vague reference to “the Crisis” implies that there are none now. That’s kind of DC continuity in a nutshell.

Regardless, Walker learns that he’s been set up by his fence Vyronis, who kills the officer and tries to pin the murder on Walker. Vyronis takes the tachyon generator Walker swiped from S.T.A.R. Labs and uses a mysterious disk to open a portal through time. Walker grabs him, they struggle through the “energy nexus,” and Walker emerges in 1800s Kansas. The town of Smallville, specifically. Can you guess the last name of the man who discovers him?

And that takes us to page twenty-two. This isn’t going to sound like a compliment but I mean it as one -- John Francis Moore is perhaps the densest writer in comics. Marvel and DC publish entire trades today that don’t pack in this much story. That’s not hyperbole; I could easily see a modern comic wasting an entire issue on the first two scenes of this story (which Moore capably handles in just seven pages). The sheer amount of story could’ve easily created a cramped, cluttered mess, but Paul Guinan’s European-style art is always clear and attractive. I can see why John Francis Moore would’ve preferred tighter close-ups of the characters, but the unique way Guinan sets the “camera” so far away from the characters gives him a lot of space to show off his detailed backgrounds, and it gives the letterer room to place the numerous word balloons above and in-between the characters. If the layouts were drawn in a traditional manner, all of the characters would have word balloons pasted all over their foreheads and chins. Guinan’s style might seem a little odd at first, but I think it fits the unorthodox tone of the series quite well. This isn’t a traditional superhero book, or the now-traditional Vertigo revamp of a superhero book. Chronos is hard to describe, which I’m sure made it impossible for DC to market, but it debuts strong and continues to improve as the issues continue.

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