Wednesday, February 29, 2012

X-MEN UNLIMITED #24 - September 1999

Search and Destroy
Credits: Joe Pruett (writer), Pascal Alixe (penciler), Koblish, Collazo, Ramos, Pepoy, Czop (inkers), Mark Bernardo (colors), Sharpefont & P. T. (letters)

Summary: An injured Japanese girl is taken to Dr. Cecilia Reyes’ office for treatment. Discovering that the girl was in a plane crash with her father, Cecilia and Wolverine search the woods for survivors. They soon learn that the plane was escaping Japanese authorities, who have accused the girl’s father, Inazo, of selling military secrets. The heroes rescue the survivors from Silver Samurai and his army of soldiers. Cecilia nurses Inazo’s business partner Tokitoshi back to health, only to have him turn on her when it’s revealed that he is the true traitor. Cecilia uses her powers to defend herself, then demands that everyone receive medical attention at her office before Tokitoshi is taken into custody.

Continuity Notes: According to Cecilia, her forcefield is an extension of her body that “still sends signals to my brain to alert me to the pain…but it does protect me from bodily harm.” This is the first time that I can recall a story suggesting that Cecilia actually feels pain when objects hit her bio-field. It seems to me that she would’ve been more whiney and obnoxious in her initial appearances if that were the case.

Review: Okay, perhaps Magneto Rex wasn’t entirely Joe Pruett’s fault. This isn’t so bad; not that the story isn’t filled with holes (Silver Samurai represents the Japanese government now? Fugitives escape Japan for…its ally, America? Their plane is flying over America’s east coast instead of its west?), but it’s structured well and Pruett manages to write plausible, cliché-free dialogue for most of the issue. It’s also nice to see Cecilia again, given the embarrassing way Marvel forced her out of the book during the previous year. Pruett seems to be hinting at Cecilia’s return to the team, as the story centers around Cecilia finding the inner strength to be the hero Wolverine believes her to be, and ends with a message about the importance of family. (Not that Cecilia’s X-Men “family” seemed too broken up over her departure, but that’s the state of the titles in the late ‘90s.) The art is provided by Pascal Alixe, whose style is about as far away from the Jim Lee and Joe Mad imitators of the day as you can get. His work is a strange amalgam of John Paul Leon and Steve Leialoha, and while it’s not always pretty, I would say it’s a step above X-Men Unlimited’s usual caliber of artists.

Credits: Joe Pruett (writer), Tom Raney (penciler), Holdredge, DeCastro, Perrotta, Martinez (inkers), Mark Bernardo (colors), Sharpefont & P. T. (letters)

Summary: Magneto meets with his cabinet: Quicksilver is given permission to free the Legacy Virus infected Mutates from their camps, Alda Huxley cautions against Genosha’s isolationism, and Phillip Moreau warns of a Magistrate uprising, while Fabian Cortez studies footage of Magneto’s initial appearance in Genosha. Magneto demands he leave the room, and then reflects on his new position.

Continuity Notes: There’s a brief hint of romantic feelings for Alda Huxley on Magneto’s behalf. Was this the reason why Marvel felt the need to insert her into Genosha’s new status quo?

Review: Oh, and now we’re back to being terrible. This is just as clunky and overwritten as the Magneto Rex miniseries it follows, which is a shame. It’s hard to believe the same writer is responsible for both stories in this comic, but for whatever reason, Pruett simply seems unable to produce readable Magneto/Genosha material.

Finally, the letters page reveals that the next issue begins X-Men Unlimited’s new direction. Accompanied by a Brett Booth pin-up, the editors ask readers to “expect stories that will be a part of the ongoing X-Men saga from over in the pages of Uncanny X-Men and X-Men.” Translation: “We know we’re filler. You know we’re filler. We know you know we’re filler. Maybe we can do something about that.” The plan doesn’t work, but I’ll give them points for at least acknowledging the problem.

Monday, February 27, 2012


A roundtable interview with Bob Harras, Mark Powers, and Jason Liebig detailing Marvel’s plans for the X-Men as the new millennium approaches. Watch out for that Y2K bug, you guys! (Scans discovered on Jason Liebig's Flickr page.)

Friday, February 24, 2012

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #129 - October 1995

Time Bomb Part Two - By My Hand, Mary Jane Must Die!
Credits: Tom DeFalco (plot), Todd Dezago (script), Steven Butler (breakdowns), Randy Emberlin (finishes), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley & Malibu (colors)

The Plot: A genetic implant created by the Jackal has forced Spider-Man into stalking MJ with the intent of killing her. Scarlet Spider and the New Warriors team up to stop him, but they’re no match for his strength and reflexes. Finally, MJ escapes to Aunt May’s former home. Surrounded by photos of Peter’s loved ones, Spider-Man finds the inner strength to overcome his programming and spares MJ.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: This is the second chapter of “Time Bomb,” which began in Spectacular Spider-Man #228. The Jackal was able to implant the mental command to kill MJ into Peter because, of course, Peter is the clone. How exactly this storyline was explained when Peter was retroactively declared not the clone, I don’t know.

*See _________ For Details: The Jackal allegedly died in Spider-Man: Maximum Clonage: Omega.

Creative Differences: Another gem from Life of Reilly -- Glenn Greenberg on the “cancelation” of the Spider-titles and the debut of the Scarlet Spider line: The idea was to have each Spider-Man book retitled so that the Scarlet Spider's name would replace Spider-Man's - AMAZING SCARLET SPIDER, SPECTACULAR SCARLET SPIDER, SCARLET SPIDER, and WEB OF SCARLET SPIDER. We'd get four new number #1's out of it, and it would be a way to capitalize on the Scarlet Spider's popularity one last time before he became Spider-Man. What that meant was holding off Ben's debut as Spider-Man even longer. As I recall, the sales and marketing guys wanted us to do the Scarlet Spider books for four months, four issues of each title, just like the X-Men books did it. Bob Budiansky rejected that idea, and pushed for just one month, one issue of each book. We (the editors and writers) weren't thrilled by any of this, but we agreed that one month was certainly better than four. As I recall, Budiansky's plan was agreed upon, but then the sales and marketing boys decided that just one month wasn't enough after all, and pushed for more. A compromise had to be reached.
Ultimately, the plan became this: TWO months of each Scarlet Spider title, with the exception of WEB OF SCARLET SPIDER, which would run for FOUR issues - even though Ben Reilly would no longer be the Scarlet Spider, and would not even be in the book, after #2. I'm asking the same thing you probably are - Huh?! After all this time, I couldn't remember for the life of me why we would ever agree to this scheme, so I called my good pal Mark Bernardo, who was my fellow Spider-Man Group assistant editor back then. Mark was working directly for Budiansky, and was more at the "heart of the storm" than I was. As far as Mark can remember, WEB was extended because the sales and marketing guys felt that two more issues of a Scarlet Spider book would bring in a significant amount of revenue for those two months. They believed that the Scarlet Spider "brand", so to speak, was strong enough to support this idea - even though there wouldn't even BE a Scarlet Spider by the time these last two issues came out! Ben was going to be Spider-Man by then, with a big, heavily-promoted launch being touted as "The Return of Spider-Man," and an all-new monthly Spider-Man title to replace WEB. Why the hell, then, would WEB OF SCARLET SPIDER still be in existence, competing against Ben's debut as Spider-Man? From an editorial standpoint, it made absolutely no sense. But the sales and marketing guys rattled off their sales projections and their statistics and whatever else they had in their arsenal, and in the end, they got what they wanted - two more months of the Scarlet Spider. Well, not THE Scarlet Spider...

I Love the ‘90s: There’s a “hidden image” 3-D poster bound into the middle of the comic, promoting a tie-in with FOX’s Spider-Man animated series and Fruit Roll-Ups. You might remember these 3-D posters from late night re-airings of Mallrats.

Review: Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the final issue of Web of Spider-Man. And it sucks. “Time Bomb” was originally intended to be the absolute final “Ben or Peter?” storyline, culminating with Peter’s decision to retire and Ben accepting his birthright as the one, true Spider-Man. And, like every other storyline that was supposed to do this, it did nothing of the sort. This is blatant filler, with no purpose outside of perhaps promoting the New Warriors’ title, which had somehow been shoehorned into the Spider-office’s domain. To the creators’ credit, they do at least have Peter verbalizing that he honestly doesn’t want to kill MJ, which perhaps lessens the impact of two full issues dedicated to Spider-Man trying to murder his pregnant wife. Of course, Peter isn’t the real Spider-Man, so who cares what ridiculous, insulting b.s. we put him through anyway, right?

The final, final, final resolution (for now) to “Who will wear the webs?” is the next crossover, "The Greatest Responsibility." And, even then, the titles undergo a fake cancelation and renumbering as the Scarlet Spider line before Ben officially becomes Spider-Man. Web of Scarlet Spider runs two issues longer than the other titles, and once the event is over, Web is no more. Viewed internally as the weakest and most easily disposable of all the Spider-titles, Web is replaced with a brand new book, a title that will usher in the new age of Ben Reilly as Spider-Man and showcase the talents of Dan Jurgens -- Sensational Spider-Man. Spoiler alert…it doesn’t end well.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Planet of the Symbiotes Conclusion - Mortal Victory
Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Steve Lightle (artist), Bill Oakley & N.J.O (letters), Marianne Lightle & Malibu (colors)

The Plot: Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider, and Venom narrowly avoid a forty-foot tall Carnage and an army of alien symbiotes. They regroup at Peter’s home, much to MJ’s dismay. Venom develops a plan to overwhelm the symbiotes with psychic agony and force them into comas. While Venom harnesses his anguish at Our Lady of Sorrows, the two Spider-Men face Carnage again. During the battle, Carnage is knocked unconscious by an exploding gas truck, while the invading symbiotes suddenly disintegrate. Spider-Man realizes that Venom knew all along that his wave of mental sorrow would force the symbiotes into suicide. With MJ’s help, he decides the ends justified the means.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: Our Lady of Sorrows is the church where Eddie Brock contemplated suicide shortly before he joined with the alien symbiote and became Venom.

I Love the ‘90s: MJ sleeps in a Hootie & the Blowfish t-shirt.

Review: Wow, they wasted hired David Michelinie and Steve Lightle for this? I don’t think anyone considers “Planet of the Symbiotes” a classic, but to the editorial team’s credit, they did at least try to hire respectable creators for the project. This is the only chapter of this storyline I’ve ever read, so I imagine my enjoyment of the issue is hindered by coming in to the story so late. As a fan of David Michelinie’s early Venom stories, I can appreciate the significance of MJ meeting Venom face to face again, and his return to Our Lady of Sorrows, but the story’s so rushed and chaotic those scenes barely make an impact. As a kid, I always wondered if the alien symbiotes would get an origin story, or if we would ever see more of them arrive on Earth. This storyline covers all of that territory, but unfortunately it had to be published during a mega-event I viewed as utterly dumb and borderline insulting at the time, so I intentionally stayed away. Charging $3.95 a chapter for a five-part story also struck me as highway robbery anyway, so I didn’t mind missing out on this one. There were overpriced X-Men books I had to buy, anyway.

Cats and Robbers
Credits: Karl Kesel (writer), Patrick Zircher (penciler), Jeff Albrecht (inker), Jim Novak (letters), Tom Smith & Malibu (colors)

The Plot: Black Cat stakes out five-star restaurant Mikkal’s, anticipating a pair of thieves named Leather and Lace. While battling the duo, she notices Flash Thompson is on a date with a woman named Cinda inside. After defeating Leather and Lace, Black Cat asks Mikkal to return the favor and comp Flash’s meal.

Web of Continuity: Black Cat claims this is the first time she’s seen Flash since they broke up. She’s also using an unseen informant named Loop to tip her off to future crimes, enabling her to sell her services for “protection.” I had never heard of Loop, but apparently he's appeared a few times.

Review: Wow, they wasted hired Karl Kesel and Patrick Zircher for this? That’s certainly a higher level of quality than your average Web annual back-up. The premise of the story simply has Black Cat fighting two characters that somehow predate Jim Balent’s Tarot work, but it’s a fun read. The ending is also sweet, showing a side of Black Cat’s personality that most writers would probably ignore. One of the better Flash/Felicia stories, even if it does take place after their break-up.

Growing Pains Part Five - Where Monsters Dwell
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Roger Robinson (penciler), Saleem Crawford (inker), Loretta Krol (letterer), Chia-Chi Wang (colorist)
The Plot: Ben Reilly encounters the newly mutated Lizard at Empire State Hospital, Ben’s new employer. The Lizard escapes, leading the Scarlet Spider to seek the aid of a new hero, Strongarm. Together, they track Lizard to a nearby zoo. Scarlet Spider defeats the Lizard by freezing him with fire extinguishers and trapping him in his webbing. Later, Strongarm visits a friend in the hospital who was injured by the Lizard.

The Subplots: Ben is trying to win over a coworker, Rick Barron, who seems to irrationally hate him. Rick’s girlfriend, Toni Moore, walks in on Ben in the hospital’s locker room.

*See _________ For Details: Ben knows that he’s the “real” Peter Parker, following the revelations of Spectacular Spider-Man #226. The Lizard previously attacked “Doc Purl’s party” in Spectacular Spider-Man Super Special #1.

Creative Differences: Once again from the Life of Reilly, Glenn Greenberg on this project:
Now, I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the "flip-book feature" in these five Super Specials-namely the SCARLET SPIDER five-parter that Tom Brevoort and I edited. Stretching across all five Super Specials, this would essentially be a Scarlet Spider limited series, which I thought was a pretty cool idea. Tom B. and I really did want to make it special, to produce a worthwhile story that further explored Ben Reilly as a character and deserved all the space that was being devoted to it. It was the kind of project that J.M. DeMatteis would have been perfect for, but I don't remember why we didn't get him to write it. He was probably too busy, or Tom B. and I simply wanted to use this project as an opportunity to bring in a different writer, one that we'd always wanted to work with.
Again, Danny Fingeroth was overseeing us on this, and somehow, for some reason, he got it into his head that we would be bringing back the Lizard for this story. Tom B. and I were present at the Spider-Man writers' conference where the idea had been mentioned in passing as a possibility, but we'd never committed to it as anything other than a possibility. And as I recall, neither Tom B. nor I had any real enthusiasm for the idea, so it wasn't something we were going to actively pursue.
Tom B. and I brought in John Ostrander, a writer who had greatly impressed me with his work on DC's SPECTRE series. The initial idea that John pitched us was very intriguing, about whether or not a clone could have a soul. Unfortunately, it conflicted with future plans in the main Spider-Man books. I think John took another stab or two at coming up with a story line, but for whatever reasons, we couldn't get his ideas approved, and John eventually decided to just move on. Not only that, but every time any new story idea came in, be it from Ostrander or another writer, Danny would ask, "Where's the Lizard?" Tom and I would roll our eyes and try to muddle through.
Eventually, it became clear that Danny would simply not approve any story idea that did not include the Lizard, and he had already started to push his own choice writers upon us. With time-and our patience-running out, Tom and I simply submitted to Danny's will and did whatever he wanted. Terry Kavanagh ended up writing the story, which featured the return of the Lizard.
This was one of the few instances where Tom Brevoort and I felt completely disconnected-creatively and emotionally-from a project we were working on. It became a project we had to endure, rather than something that we could really take any pride in having put together. Some time later, this Lizard story was systematically undone in the pages of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and no one was more pleased by this than Tom B. and myself.

: Wow, they wasted hired Terry Kavanagh and Roger Robinson for this? No, wait. That sounds about right. Yes, this is as bad as you expect. The Lizard has been mutated into a Jurassic Park reject, yet another Kooky Kavanagh Kreation is shoehorned into the story, and the art resembles something straight out of 1995’s Extreme Studios. I also have to wonder how exactly Ben’s found a job and cultivated a new supporting cast in such a short amount of time. I know about Ben’s career at the Daily Grind, but I had no idea there was a previous attempt to set him up as a staff assistant in a hospital. Regardless, Kavanagh doesn’t seem to have any new ideas for the personal drama, either. Did anyone really think giving Peter Ben yet another redheaded bully who hates him for no reason was clever? There’s even an appearance by a new Blonde Girl Who's out of His League, this one named Toni Moore. Man, I can’t wait to read about the orderly with the rich father and bizarre hairstyle who asks Ben to become his new roommate.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #128 - September 1995

Exiled Part One: Who Will Wear the Webs?
Credits: Tom DeFalco (plot), Todd Dezago (script), Steven Butler (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley & Malibu (colors)

The Plot: The Black Cat questions if her relationship with Peter was real, following her discovery that he’s a clone. D’Spayre exploits her feelings and brainwashes her into hating Peter. Later, Peter and Ben visit Uncle Ben and Aunt May’s graves. They follow a mystery man who’s trailing them, only to discover he’s an employee of the Black Cat’s detective firm. He’s trailing people who might know about her disappearance. Peter and Ben search for Black Cat, only to be ambushed by her on a rooftop. Ben senses D’Spayre’s presence, as Black Cat fights off his influence. Afterward, Peter offers to sacrifice his Spider-Man identity to Ben, but Ben refuses.

The Subplots: Hoping to restart her modeling career, Mary Jane meets with a representative of a maternity clothing line.

Web of Continuity: An editor’s note informs us that Ben encountered D’Spayre in an untold tale from the past.

*See _________ For Details: A bewildered Black Cat visited Ben in prison in Spider-Man Unlimited #10.

Creative Differences: A few noticeable lettering corrections clarify some plot points, such as the connection between Peter and Ben’s “stalker” and the Black Cat. Two added balloons at the end of the D’Spayre fight have Ben Reilly explaining that the differences between him and Peter allowed them to defeat D’Spayre.

Review: “Exiled” was more time killer, although it’s thankfully less gimmicky and needlessly confusing than many of the clone saga’s mini-crossovers. We’re now at the point where Ben’s supposed to be taking over, yet Marvel still doesn’t seem to be able to let Peter Parker go. So, we get a few more months of Peter and Ben fighting throwaway villains with a couple of conversation scenes thrown in emphasizing that each character is his “own man.” Marvel tried to sell this line to placate fans who only knew the post-1975 Peter as the “real” one (which, let’s face it, was almost all of them), but it’s clearly a weak concession. Even after Peter is finally written out of the books, I don’t think he went more than a few weeks without an appearance, since Marvel immediately released a few miniseries to detail his new life in Portland.

Obviously, Marvel’s reluctant to do what they set out to do a year earlier and no one seems willing to admit that regardless of the attention the storyline originally brought to the titles, this was simply a bad idea that dragged on for too long. Maybe fandom was willing to embrace a new Green Lantern, or Iron Man’s best friend taking over, or the Flash’s sidekick replacing his mentor…but Spider-Man’s different. People buy the Spider-Man books to read about Peter Parker, and discovering that they haven’t been reading about him for the past twenty-five years is too bitter a pill to swallow. Tease the idea if you want, taunt the audience with the possibility of it being true for six months if you must, but you don’t actually do it. It’s unbelievable that Marvel let this story reach this point, but expecting the audience to tolerate months of filler while editorial finally makes up its mind is even more offensive.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #127 - August 1995

Maximum Clonage Part One - The Last Temptation of Peter Parker
Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Steven Butler (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: The Punisher, unhinged by recent events, has targeted the Jackal for retaliation. Spider-Man, following the revelation that he is a clone of Peter Parker, has sided with the Jackal. When the Punisher takes aim, the Jackal intentionally takes a hail of bullets headed for Spider-Man. Leaving Punisher for the police, Spider-Man takes Jackal to his lab where he’s placed in a regenerative pod. Meanwhile, Punisher evades the SWAT team in the sewers.

The Subplots: Kaine is furious with Peter for siding with their “father.” He also has another vision of Mary Jane’s death. Meanwhile, MJ and Aunt Anna clean up Aunt May’s old place.

Web of Continuity: Since the last issue, we know now that Peter is the clone, Ben is the original, and Kaine is the failed original clone. None of this will ever be retconned, nosiree.

*See _________ For Details: Spider-Man joined the Jackal in Spider-Man: Maximum Clonage: Alpha. Unspecified events sent the Punisher over the edge in something called Double Edge: Omega. Wow, Marvel’s never going to be desperate enough to use those “Alpha” and “Omega” gimmicks again, right?

Review: Well, at least Steven Butler is back. His steroid-freak rendition of the Punisher is way too much (and those elaborate boots, which I guess were a part of his design at the time, are ridiculous), but it’s nice to see him drawing Spider-Man again. As for the story…I think Glenn Greenberg summed it up best when he called this the “nadir” of the clone saga. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything I could add here that wasn’t expressed in a thousand Wizard letters pages at the time. It’s bad enough Peter was mentally unstable when this storyline started, but now he’s smacked his wife and joined forces with the Jackal, the Jackal has a personality and motivation that bears no resemblance to his established persona, the Punisher’s motivation is asinine, even if he is supposed to be insane, Kaine is still laughably angsty and repetitive, the supporting cast has largely been lost in the shuffle. This stuff never ends.

Friday, February 17, 2012

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #126 - July 1995

Opening Statements- The Trial of Peter Parker Part One
Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Roy Burdine (penciler), Randy Emberlin & Don Hudson (inkers), Krul, Crespi, & Babcock (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors)

The Plot: As Ben Reilly takes Peter Parker’s place on trial, Spider-Man confronts Kaine. He tries to convince Kaine to confess to framing Ben, but he refuses. Detective Raven and Stunner arrive to apprehend Kaine, but they’re interrupted by Judas Traveller. Traveller teleports Spider-Man and Kaine away.

The Subplots: None.

*See _________ For Details: Detective Raven was convinced by the Scarlet Spider of Peter Parker’s innocence in Amazing Spider-Man #402.

Review: A bizarre sickness struck the American public in the 1990s, convincing them that courtroom trials are inherently fascinating. Or perhaps it was just the media, since the average stint of jury duty would’ve disabused most people of this myth. I can understand why the public was enthralled by the OJ Simpson trial in its early days, but I’ll never understand the years of relentless OJ mania that followed the white Bronco chase. Now, this nonsense has invaded my superhero comics, and it really hasn’t aged well.

Almost half of the issue is devoted to the opening arguments of the Peter Parker murder trial. Aside from a few attempts at establishing that this is a high-profile case with excessive media coverage, the courtroom scenes are as boring as real court. The only character that’s supposed to be exhibiting any personality is Peter/Ben’s defense attorney, who’s allegedly an F. Lee Bailey style legal genius, but Dezago gives him a fairly generic opening statement. Not that you can really blame Dezago, I guess, since he’s writing comics for a living instead of defending celebrities in court. As for the celebrity aspect of the trial, I’ve always hated that. I could live with Peter making a few local talk show appearances to promote his photo book Webs, but making him a notorious alleged killer in the middle of a national media circus was way too much. That’s imitating OJ for the sake of imitating OJ.

The action portion of the issue is yet another Spider-Man vs. Kaine sequence. Roy Burdine’s doing a blatant McFarlane riff, but is unfortunately imitating the uglier aspects of that style. Almost every panel in the fight is excessively large, making the padding of the issue even more noticeable. The actual content of the brawl is also disappointing, as Spider-Man and Kaine have a redundant conversation about his apparently irrational hatred of Ben Reilly. And, somehow through it all, Peter Parker still can’t grasp that Kaine is another one of his clones. Yikes. This just might be the worst clone saga chapter so far.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #125 - June 1995

Lives Unlived
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Steven Butler (breakdowns), Randy Emberlin (finishes), Steve Dutro & Janice Chiang (letterers), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man investigates the Daily Bugle morgue for information on Miles Warren. He tracks him to a suburban New Jersey town, unaware that the new Green Goblin has followed him. Spider-Man enters Warren’s home and is shocked to discover he’s married to Gwen Stacy’s original clone. Warren knocks Spider-Man unconscious and escapes with Gwen. Spider-Man recovers and follows their car. When Warren sees Spider-Man in the rearview mirror, he irrationally drives off the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man, with Green Goblin’s help, rescues Gwen, but Warren dies in the accident. His body degenerates, confirming that he’s another clone.

The Subplots: Ben Reilly, who’s taken Peter’s place in jail, reflects on recent events. Meanwhile, MJ asks Black Cat to find Peter, who hasn’t told her about his trip to New Jersey.

Web of Continuity: The new Green Goblin’s full identity isn’t revealed, but we do learn he’s Ben Urich’s nephew. The climax at the George Washington Bridge is an obvious callback to Amazing Spider-Man #122; however, the bridge in Gwen’s famous death scene is supposed to be the Brooklyn Bridge. It was misidentified in the original story, but corrected in subsequent reprints. (Original dialogue from Amazing #122 was even altered to remove any references to the G. W. Bridge.)

*See _________ For Details: Ben took Peter’s place in prison in Spectacular Spider-Man #224. Black Cat visited Ben in prison, thinking he was Peter, in Spider-Man Unlimited #9. Spectacular Spider-Man annual #8 had a “super being named Dreamweaver” convince Gwen’s clone that she was a woman named Joyce Delany who had been infected with a virus that caused her DNA to imitate Gwen’s. She now believes Dreamweaver was committing an “act of mercy” to disguise the real truth.

Forever Young: Peter wonders if he would’ve settled down in suburbia by now if he had married Gwen instead of MJ.

Creative Differences: Two added thought balloons cast doubt that Peter can trust Miles Warren’s notes, opening up yet another door for even more retcons (although I believe this Gwen’s status as the original clone remains unchanged.) Almost the entire final panel of the story is completely re-lettered. Aside from misspelling Gwen’s last name, the captions emphasize that Gwen now realizes she is a clone and must deal with the truth.

“Huh?” Moments: The Daily Bugle ran a story on Miles Warren, who’s publicly known as dead, marrying Gwen Stacy, who’s also publicly known as dead, at some point in the past and no one, not even Peter Parker, noticed. Later, Warren comments that he and Gwen have changed their identities over the years, but that contradicts the very first scene of the comic. Peter finds their home by searching for Miles Warren’s name in the Bugle’s files.

Gimmicks: This issue is forty-eight pages, printed on slick paper, with a special “holodisk” cover. The cover price is an appalling $3.95. Editor Glenn Greenberg on the holodisks, as quoted on the Life of Reilly: The holodisks were yet another in a long line of gimmick covers that were all the rage back then. We had just done a gimmick cover for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #400 that did not turn out very well, and these holodisks were not much of an improvement. They looked GREAT in the prototype stage, but when we got the final versions, it was clear that you needed to view them under a light that was about as powerful as the sun to really get the full effect of the 3-D live action. Strike two!”
Someone must’ve realized that the cover gimmick had problems, since this issue’s hype page encourages fans to ask their retailers about the Spider-Man penlights that have been manufactured especially for these covers.

Review: I remember shopping at a local bookstore’s going out of business sale when I was fourteen. I swear to you, they had a comic book rack stuffed full of unsold copies of Web of Spider-Man #125. Now, this is a bad comic, but was it bad enough to kill a small business? Reasonable people would say no, but sometimes I wonder (not really) if this overpriced collection of dead trees and its lumpy, blurry hologram were the breaking point for the struggling storefront.

One of the many reasons why the clone saga wasn’t exactly the best idea in the world goes back to Gerry Conway’s late ‘80s run on Spectacular Spider-Man. Conway was apparently never happy with his work on the original clone storyline and used his return to Spider-Man to smooth over some of the more absurd points of the story. Conway dismissed the idea of instantaneous cloning, revealing instead that the original “clones” from the ‘70s storyline were actually full-grown adults who had been injected with a genetic virus. A virus that happened to morph their DNA into a copy of someone else’s. Spider-Man’s clone was actually another ESU student named Anthony Serba, for example. Still implausible, but in terms of comic book science, it’s perfectly reasonable.

A few members of the ‘90s creative team realized that Conway’s retcons needed to be addressed if they were serious about reintroducing Miles Warren’s cloning process. Apparently, this issue was supposed to address the problem. Clearly, it does not. Kavanagh’s dismissal of Conway’s retcons is to reveal, over the course of two panels, that Dreamweaver (a minor character from the “Evolutionary Wars” crossover) just made up the lie and sold it to Gwen…to be nice, apparently. This is not how you retcon a retcon. I believe Howard Mackie was given another pass at addressing Conway’s later stories, and fared about as well. Finally, Glenn Herdling, assistant editor of the Spider-titles when Conway’s retcons were initially published, penned a Spider-Man Unlimited story that resolved the problem. Why exactly was it so hard to resolve this? Beats me. Why is this storyline still dragging on, anyway?

Now, if Marvel really wanted to revive the original clone, Conway’s Spectacular Spider-Man run wasn't that much of a hindrance in the first place. Why is it so important that the “clone” who apparently died back in the ‘70s actually be a clone? Couldn’t the story work just as well if Ben Reilly was a “genetic duplicate” instead of a clone? Wouldn’t it add another layer to his characterization if he had another life before coming into contact with Miles Warren and Spider-Man?

Anyway, there’s more to this comic than sloppy continuity. It’s the touching love story of the clone of a pervy college professor obsessed with his teenage student, and the clone of said student who decides to marry the professor’s clone when she realizes she has no life of her own. Okay, maybe Peter Milligan could do something with this…but, yeah, we don’t have Milligan. Kavanagh handles the story about as well as you would expect, right down to the cliché “Gwen falls from the bridge” scene. The debut of a new, heroic Green Goblin during the scene is an ironic twist, I suppose, but even that’s too obvious to work. Of course that’s how they introduced the hero Green Goblin.

Shining Armor
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (plot), Mike Lackey (script), Tod Smith (breakdowns), Jimmy Palmiotti (finishes), Loretta Krol (letterer), Nel Yomtov (colorist)

The Plot: In the past, Miles Warren’s clone comforts Gwen Stacy’s clone. They grow close and marry.

Review: This brief backup just spells out the details hinted at in the main story, only now with uglier art. Hooking Miles Warren and Gwen Stacy up could be a disturbing, creepy idea if executed properly, but there’s no chance of that here. Apparently, no one cared enough about this backup to notice that a narrative caption describes Gwen’s eyes as green when they’re clearly colored blue in the same panel. That’s the level of quality we’re dealing with.

Monday, February 13, 2012

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #124 - May 1995

The Mark of Kaine Part One - Walls
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Steven Butler (breakdowns), Randy Emberlin (finishes), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Peter Parker is placed on trial for murder, while Ben Reilly and his friend Dr. Seward Trainer look after an expecting Mary Jane. When an inmate accidentally starts a fire with a cigarette, Peter pulls open his cell bars and performs CPR on the dying prisoner. He narrowly returns to his cell before the firefighters arrive.

The Subplots: Jonah Jameson is secretly paying for Peter’s high-profile lawyer, and attempting to bury the story in the Daily Bugle. The third Peter Parker returns to Aunt May’s home, distraught over her death. Stunner is convinced that Peter is innocent. She turns to Detective Jacob Raven for help, certain that the true killer also killed Doctor Octopus. Kaine, still convinced that MJ is destined to die soon, drags her into the sewers to warn her. She runs away and crashes into the third Peter Parker on the street.

Web of Continuity: Aunt May passed away in Amazing Spider-Man #400…or so we naively thought. A few years later, the perfectly logical explanation that she had been replaced by a dying, genetically-altered actress is given. Norman Osborn, who of course has been secretly alive since Amazing Spider-Man #122, arranged the deception and kept the real Aunt May prisoner in a secluded hunting lodge in upstate New York.

*See _________ For Details: Ben Reilly convinced Peter and MJ to trust his friend Dr. Seward Trainer in Spider-Man #57.

Review: I’m not sure if even hardcore Clone Saga fans like the trial of Peter Parker storyline. Aside from slowing down the overall story arc, it’s based on the premise that mimicking the OJ trial with Peter Parker as a stand-in is somehow a good idea. Wasn’t everyone absolutely sick of OJ by this point? Did we really want to be reminded of the never-ending trial while purchasing the latest ill-conceived Spider-crossover? I realize the creators had to stretch things out during this period, but I can’t believe this is the best they could generate.

Mercifully, Terry Kavanagh doesn’t seem too interested in the trial, either (or perhaps he’s been told to buy time and delay the actual start of the trial for a future chapter). So, we get a healthy dose of subplots, leading in to new storylines that of course aren’t resolved in this title. Ben and Dr. Trainer, who bizarrely dresses like an X-Man circa 1991, check on MJ’s baby, which turns out to be yet another hard sell for Ben, allowing him to take care of Peter’s fatherly duties while he’s in jail. MJ’s pregnancy is more of an excuse to write her and Peter out of the book than a story in its own right, so I consider that another strike against the idea. I do like Jonah Jameson’s scenes, which have him exhibiting his often-hidden paternal feelings for Peter. The Stunner/Detective Raven subplot sets up the resolution to the murder mystery, which is so obvious anyone should be able to guess, yet it somehow manages to be several chapters away. Kaine’s story is essentially a lie, since apparently no one at the time honestly planned on killing MJ (I seem to recall the resolution to his “vision” is particularly bad). And…what else? Oh, yes. The third Peter Parker. Another idea that’s a needless time-killer, and a gratuitous way to screw with the readers. So, this is by and large a sorry lot, even if we are spared the courtroom scenes.

Friday, February 10, 2012


YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #1,000,000 - November 1998

Happiness Is a Warm Nanite
Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noelle Giddings (colorist)

It’s the 853rd century, and Grant Morrison has a line-wide DC event to orchestrate. I’m not sure why DC thought it was a good idea to set every DCU title in the far future for one month, but clearly someone upstairs was committed to the concept. I don’t remember any vocal fan reaction to the event, aside from the predictable complaints that the only decent chapters were the ones Grant Morrison wrote.

Young Heroes in Love’s final issue just happened to fall on the One Million month, leaving us with an odd farewell to the series. The premise has a group of kids, who all coincidentally resemble the Young Heroes, traveling with their parents to the moon for a front-row seat to the reincarnation of the original Justice League. The event is scheduled to happen after their bedtimes, so they develop the brilliant scheme of dressing like superheroes and sneaking in. An old man overhears their conversation and suggests they don the disguises of a team he remembers from the past. The old man is Frostbite, and he apparently has a remarkable memory, because the kids use their costume fabricator to duplicate the Young Heroes’ costumes perfectly.

The story’s filled with Peanuts references, and most are genuinely humorous, so it’s not a surprise when Raspler mimics the ending of the Halloween special and has Li’l Hard Drive accidentally mislead the team and force them to miss the Justice League’s arrival. (“It’s over and you ruined it!”) However, a last minute swerve actually provides the kids with a happy ending, as their journey through the Tesseract leads them directly underneath the Justice League’s conference table just as the heroes unite for a meeting.

Obviously, Raspler’s in an awkward position for a goodbye issue, but he does manage to work in another original member of the Young Heroes into the story, as a fifty-seven-year-old Off-Ramp uses a time warp to catch this special moment in history. He reunites with Frostbite, but in order to avoid any time paradoxes, they have to keep their conversation “superficial.” They don’t discuss the old team, leaving their fates up in the air. Raspler says goodbye on the final page, musing that the series is perhaps ahead of its time (yeah, probably), and thanking the readers for their support. As odd as this as a final issue, it’s actually one of the more enjoyable installments of the book. Dev Madan’s cartooning is fantastic, and depending on your taste for Peanuts, it’s often very funny.

CHRONOS #1,000,000 - November 1998

Time on My Hands
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), J. H. Williams III (penciler), Mick Gray (inks), Ken Bruzenak (letters), Mike Danza (colors)

You would think that a book with a time traveling gimmick would’ve easily been able to incorporate the One Million event into its ongoing storylines, but scheduling problems forced this issue of Chronos to be a standalone story. The issue follows Chronos as he travels to the 853rd century and steals the future Flash’s time gauntlets. Flash follows him back to twelfth century Hong Kong and is shocked when Chronos allows the demonic menace Scourge to take the gauntlets. Yet, the gauntlets are rigged to trap Scourge in a time loop, which Chronos ensures us will prevent Scourge from ever traveling back in time and killing Superman’s ancestors on Krypton.

Only a few months later in the final issue of Chronos, we’ll see him yet again ensuring Superman’s existence in Kansas. I know that the proposed new direction for the title had Chronos traveling through time and enabling certain events to transpire, but I’m not sure why exactly Superman is used so prominently in the few examples we ever got of Chronos following that mission. Was it supposed to be Superman-specific?

Finally, in Chronopolis, a conversation between Chronos and the future Hourman reveals another motive for stealing the gauntlets from Flash. Chronos knows the gauntlets are destined to malfunction and kill Flash after he’s trapped with the Justice Legion in 1998. Okay, that’s at least one non-Kryptonian save. And it’s another hint that Chronos isn’t destined to be a thief, even if his actions are always going to be pitting him against superheroes. Not a bad issue, especially considering how badly a line-wide event can disrupt an ongoing series, but I wish Moore had incorporated more time traveling scenes to take advantage of Williams’ art.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

CHRONOS #11 - February 1999

Mad Genius
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inks), Ken Bruzenak (letters), James Sinclair (colors)

The final issue of Chronos opens in 1947’s Gotham City, inside an obscure psychiatric facility known as Arkham Asylum. (Never mind that Arkham Asylum was first introduced in the 1970s and originally located somewhere in New England…Arkham had long been retconned into Gotham’s backstory by this point.) Chronos is posing as a doctor and sneaking out with a patient who claims to be a time traveler. In a nice use of misdirection, we’re led to believe that the patient is perhaps another version of Chronos. Instead, we discover that the time traveler is none other than Chronos’ mysterious birth father, Tsui.

Chronos takes him back to Chronopolis, where they’re promptly attacked by a mysterious armed figure. Using his ability to freeze others in time, Chronos removes the attacker’s mask and discovers that the culprit is Alex Damaskinos; not the version he knew, but the one that’s come to exist following Chronos’ erasure of himself from time. She’s been duped into believing that Chronos has been murdering members of the Goodfellow Troupe, but before we’re given any more info on that mystery, John Francis Moore has a few more issues worth of continuity he’d like to dump in two pages. Witness now, the origin of Chronos’ father, Chronopolis, the Gate of Eternity, the Keystones, and the Goodfellow Troupe:

Within a few pages, Lucas Goodfellow has made his way to Chronopolis and frozen the rest of the cast with a device stolen from the thirtieth century. He reveals that he needed the rest of the troupe’s Keystones in order to control the Gate of Eternity, which he plans on using to…rule the world, I guess. How exactly he plans on doing this by releasing energy from the Gate and creating a giant vortex that consumes all of reality, I don’t know.

Chronos breaks everyone free and Alex volunteers to hold the Keystone that will channel all of the energy Goodfellow’s released. Realizing how dangerous this is, Chronos reluctantly plays the hero and takes the Keystone from her. While absorbing the chronal energy from inside the vortex, and floating over a lovely montage of the history of the DC Universe penciled by Paul Guinan, Chronos is for the first time “filled with a sense of genuine purpose.”

The Gate, the Keystones, and apparently Chronopolis are destroyed, but the universe is saved. Tsui and Alex are trapped in the prehistoric past, while Chronos maintains his ability to travel through time. In the final scene, Chronos lands once again in rural Kansas. Catching a ride with Jonathan and Martha Kent, he makes sure they drive pass a certain field on a certain night.

You might remember that final scene from Paul Guinan’s letter announcing Chronos’ cancellation. Originally an idea he pitched as a way to make Chronos more “relevant” for the DCU, it sees print as a coda to the slightly offbeat series that could never find much of an audience. It’s a shame that so many titles are practically forced to invent connections to Batman or Superman in order to be noticed, but apparently that’s the only way a DCU title can hope to gain attention from the direct market audience (even if this isn’t true, it’s become accepted wisdom at DC; although a link to Green Lantern might be more valuable than Superman today).

So, in the final issue, Moore wraps up most of the loose ends, with the most glaring exception being the mysterious link between David Clinton and the modern Chronos’ adopted parents. Even though the mystery seemed rather important in the early issues, it’s been forgotten by this point. We also haven’t seen Chronos’ birth mother, we only know that she’s Mexican from a comment made by Paul Guinan in that goodbye letter, nor do we know how exactly Gravesend contacted Tsui in the first place if he was trapped outside of time. I’m sure Moore had a story behind all of these mysteries (and I’m assuming there isn’t a Chronos Secret Files or some other book that gave the answers), but there are only so many pages left. We are getting resolutions to the bulk of the dangling plot threads, so it’s not as if we’re dealing with the final episode of LOST here. We discover where Chronopolis came from, why Chronos was born there, and the origin of all of those time travelling devices. Not bad. Due to the abundance of plot, though, much of the character work is skimped over. Chronos’ reunion with his father is rushed through, and his previous romance with Alex is simply ignored.

The resolution to the murders of the Goodfellow Troupe, a very minor subplot that starred Alex a few issues earlier, is also brought into the main story as we discover that Lucas Goodfellow is the true villain of the outfit. This is an idea that probably would’ve had more of an impact if Lucas Goodfellow had put in more than a handful of cameos during this run. Revealing that a character I barely remember from several issues prior is secretly evil doesn’t create an excessive amount of drama. Plus, he has no discernible plan and no personality outside of mustache twirling, so he’s really a drag on the story. I understand why he’s there, though, and the sequences that force Chronos into the hero role are executed quite well.

The new status quo for Chronos -- he’s going through the past of the DCU and making sure everything works out the way it should -- had a lot of promise, so perhaps that could’ve been enough to keep the book going for a little while. (Didn’t a similar idea show up in Booster Gold not long ago?) Regardless, Moore wanted to end the book, and sales were low enough for DC to agree. I can’t say that Chronos ever quite lived up to its potential, but it did often show glimpses of something special. It’s certainly good enough to be rescued from the back issue bins.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #17 - October 1998

Squishy They Were, and Golden-Eyed
Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan & Chris Jones (pencilers), Keith Champagne & Sal Buscema (inkers), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noelle Giddings (colorist)

The Young Heroes are attacked by Bonfire’s dog, which reveals itself as the alien shapechanger Harnarnar of the Farfarminiflatch (I assume this is a phonetic reference to something, but I can’t figure out what it is). Harnarnar makes another shocking revelation -- he’s Monstergirl’s uncle. Realizing that the team is outmatched, Off-Ramp teleports into the cosmos and recruits an old friend. With the aid of the snooty Palanquin, who can also create holes in space (and as we learn in this issue, reality itself), the team defeats Harnarnar. Harnarnar is impressed by Monstergirl’s performance, notably her ability to trick others into doing her work, and spares her life. Later, because this is the final regular issue of the series, a few more dangling subplots have to be resolved…

The Governor of Connecticut invites the team to his inauguration party. While attending the soiree, they discover that the new governor is none other than their former leader Hard Drive. Explaining that his new devotion to politics has cured his mental condition (huh?), he’s confident that he can now scrupulously use his powers to stop corruption within the system.

Monstergirl realizes that her alien nature is the cause of her erratic behavior. (Somehow, it also explains her sexual escapades with most of the team’s male members.) She decides to use her deviousness for “good” and join Hard Drive’s cabinet.

Bonfire begins to see Thunderhead’s previous behavior in a different light, following Monstergirl’s revelation that she impersonated Bonfire and seduced him. She also meets one of her idols at the inaugural party, Lois Lane. If anyone knows why exactly Lois is drawn as a sixty-year-old woman with graying hair, please let me know.

Junior consoles Zip-Kid following the death of her fiancé. The story never officially pairs them together as a couple, though. Unlike…

Off-Ramp and Frostbite, who rather abruptly begin a romance. Over the course of two issues, Off-Ramp has suddenly realized he’s bisexual, Frostbite’s revealed he’s always been bisexual, and we’re told that Bonfire’s relationship with Frostbite, the major romantic coupling of the entire series, has been based on her merely “thinking” she cared about him, but not really.

And, with the exception of the DC One Million issue, that concludes Young Heroes in Love. In hindsight, we saw a lot more lust than “love” over the book’s run, but the title has largely lived up to its promise to focus on the soap opera more than the superhero drama. Unfortunately, the abrupt cancellation leads to numerous rushed resolutions to the various plot threads, making the final issue a mixed bag.

The justification of Monstergirl’s odd behavior is hand-waved away with a simple explanation that goes no deeper than “she’s an alien…uh, a horny alien, that’s it.” Hard Drive returns with an amusing coda to his story, but it’s obviously been tacked on for the sake of closure. The Bonfire and Frostbite romance ends with no drama whatsoever, as Bonfire seems perfectly okay with moving on to Thunderhead while her soulmate leaves her for another man…one of her best friends, at that. The lazy dismissal of Bonfire and Frostbite’s relationship, after the months of build-up that repeatedly illustrated that their innate attraction to one another was so strong that even a telepath couldn’t keep them apart, also strains all credibility. Unless Raspler had plans to reveal that Frostbite could somehow make anyone wildly attracted to him with his elf powers, it’s hard to buy these romantic plotlines. And given that this is a book all about the romance, it’s right there in the title, that’s a noticeable problem.

One highlight of this issue is the addition of Sal Buscema as a fill-in inker. He adds so much depth and texture to the inks, it’s a shame he wasn’t around for the entire series. His bold line works perfectly in the “Adventures” style, adding a weight to the pencils that should’ve silenced any critics who thought the art was too cartoony or simplistic. I’m not sure if a more traditional inking style could’ve kept the series around for too much longer, (I think the mishmash of story content and art, along with the lack of identifiable stars doomed this book pretty much from the start), but I personally would’ve been more inclined to give the book a shot if every issue looked like this one.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

CHRONOS #10 - January 1999

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (layouts), Steve Leialoha (finishes), Ken Bruzenak (letters), James Sinclair (colors)

Getting back to issue #8’s cliffhanger, Chronos and Fiorella are introduced to the mysterious Gravesend during their first trip to Chronopolis. He recharges Chronos’ time-traveling power, allowing him to go back and prevent his mother’s death. Yes, issue #9 of this series takes place in-between pages 3 and 4 of this issue. Chronos spends a few pages musing on his own non-existence in the timestream before going back to Chronopolis. Gravesend reveals that he’s an agent of an otherdimensional entity that tasked him with the possession of the Tempesthold, “a vessel which contains the ethereal soul of their race.” While traveling to this reality, the Tempesthold was lost centuries ago in the Earth’s past. Gravesend is unable to travel outside of Chronopolis, so he asks Chronos to repay his favor and locate the Tempesthold.

Chronos promptly travels to Constantinople, 1552 AD, and snatches the Tempesthold from Emperor Constantine. He’s briefly (and by “brief” I mean two pages) confronted by Azrael, the Avenging Angel of St. Dumas, before jumping out of time. One problem -- touching the Tempesthold gives him a vision of the future. Like most otherdimensional entities, Gravesend’s benefactors are a nefarious race of world-eaters who are plotting the destruction of this universe. After receiving some moral guidance in modern-day Morocco from an undercover Daily Planet reporter, Chronos is inspired to plant the Tempesthold inside Superman’s future Fortress of Solitude. The one that’s located within the sun.

When Gravesend learns of Chronos’ betrayal, he attacks, but his atoms are scattered across the universe when Chronos throws him into the quantum field stream. (Before he dies, he throws in that he knew Chronos’ biological father, who helped to build Chronopolis. Ordinarily, this would be a big deal. This issue addresses the idea and moves on in a mere three panels.) This leaves three pages of story, but I think we all know by now that John Francis Moore isn’t going to waste time with filler.

Chronos learns that he’s accidentally responsible for exiling Fiorella to Chronopolis, since her past was changed along with his. He resolves to fix this, but not before he takes care of a few other things. This leads to a montage of Chronos entering past issues of the book and committing heroic acts during events that technically no longer involve him. The Linear Man from the first issue is saved, Vyronis is apprehended, the Justice League Killer is stopped before his first murder, etc. Unfortunately, while traveling to 1872 Smallville, he learns that no one’s heard of fellow time-traveler Alex. The Goodfellow Troupe has been replaced by the W. S. Walcot Traveling Entertainers, a mystery that leads into the next, and final, issue.

So, clearly this is rushed. Moore’s plots are incredibly dense on a good day, so when he’s stuck writing the final chapters of a prematurely cancelled book, even one he’s decided to pull the plug on, it’s no surprise that a lot of things are going to happen on every single page. When Moore isn’t squeezing as much plot as possible into every panel, he explores the emotional ramifications of Chronos erasing himself quite well, and manages to make Fiorella more sympathetic than usual as she realizes that she’s doomed to live outside of time as another version of herself (one that never met Chronos) lives out her life. Chronos’ move into heroism is also smartly played, allowing him to finally use his powers selflessly and correct his mistakes from the previous issues. The emotional arc that gets him to this place could’ve used more room, but that’s true of every element of this comic. The advertised battle on the cover only lasts two pages! It’s a shame, too, because Paul Guinan’s ability to draw real world landscapes like Constantinople is being brushed aside in order to make room for all of the revelations that have to be made before the series wraps up. Moore is admirably trying to pay everything off, but many of these ideas are rushed through so fast they can’t have any real impact.

Monday, February 6, 2012

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #16 - September 1998

Bonfire and Smokey
Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Chuck Wojtkiewicz (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noelle Giddings (colorist)

Zip-Kid goes out to dinner with her boyfriend Lou and meets his “business associates.” She, amazingly, isn’t able to guess that they’re all Italian gangsters even though they fulfill every conceivable mafia stereotype. When her boyfriend returns home wounded, Zip-Kid finally realizes that something fishy is going on and breaks off their engagement. Enraged that she’s listening to that tiny wimp Junior, with his talk of “respect” and “support,” Lou jumps into his car and drives off to kill the diminutive superhero. That’s his plan, at least. His car explodes as soon as he starts the engine. Meanwhile, Bonfire’s pet dog Smokey morphs into a monster and threatens Monstergirl after she gets into an argument with Bonfire.

In other news, people are having sex again:
Monstergirl reveals that she can shrink down to Junior’s size. After they catch Frostbite and Bonfire in the act, Monstergirl seduces Junior. By “seduce” I mean “forcibly makes out with him while taking her clothes off.”

Junior still has feelings for Zip-Kid, but as he tells Monstergirl, he doesn’t care if she did this out of pity. He’s just glad she did it.

Off-Ramp spends time with his outer space genie friend. She suspects that something’s going on with Off-Ramp and a teammate, which he denies. When he returns home…

Frostbite, who just finished an elaborate love scene with Bonfire, begins hitting on Off-Ramp as soon as he returns. Off-Ramp denies that he has any feelings for him, and punches Frostbite after he pinches him on the butt. This leads to an extended fight scene that’s broken up by Thunderhead.

So, the only real action in the issue comes from the burgeoning bisexual love triangle. If today’s “progressive” DC did a similar storyline, I imagine all of the bisexuals involved would be busty females illustrated by Ed Benes, but perhaps that’s unfair of me. It’s hard to tell where Raspler’s going with this, especially given the energy he’s spent on selling Bonfire and Frostbite’s relationship, and the list of former female lovers from Off-Ramp’s past he’s made sure we know about. Considering that this series only has one real issue left, I suspect whatever resolution we’re going to receive is going to be rushed. Meanwhile, Monstergirl continues to behave erratically, but apparently she’s sticking with her “bed every male member of the team” plan, hoping that it will lead to her being named new team leader. Using Junior as her latest victim opens up some interesting possibilities, especially given that Zip-Kid’s stereotypical goomba boyfriend is apparently killed this issue. But, once again, the series is drawing to a close, so I’m not expecting a particularly satisfying resolution to any of these threads.

Friday, February 3, 2012

CHRONOS #9 - December 1998

Being & Nothingness
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Steve Leialoha & Dennis Rodier (inks), Ken Bruzenak (letters), Noelle Giddings (colors)

And now we’ve reached Chronos #9, the issue selected by DC for a promotional push to keep the series alive. New cover artist Tony Harris! New editor Mike Carlin! A guest appearance by Destiny of the Endless! A standalone story perfect for new readers! Extra copies shipped to retailers (presumably at DC’s expense)! Of course, if you’re an existing reader of this book, you’ll notice that the previous issue’s cliffhanger has been ignored, and the series lead has somehow learned important information about his past off-panel. That’s annoying, but the story does resolve a few mysteries from the previous issues and sets up a new status quo, so it’s not as if the audience is being dumped in favor of an early ‘00s Bill Jemas style “reinvention.”

The story opens with a flashback to the death of Chronos’ mother, followed by a conversation between the adult Chronos and Destiny. Abruptly, the scene shifts to an Oakland hospital in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic future.

However, as Chronos awakens, he discovers that this is the year 1998. He’s been in a coma for thirteen years…the same number of years we’ve previously learned his mother has been dead. Chronos investigates and learns that Ronald Reagan is still president, and since we already know John Francis Moore’s opinion on Reagan, that means America is now a bombed-out hellhole of a police state engaged with a futile war against Russia. Reagan’s also lying to the public about having Alzheimer’s, which is a classy touch on Moore’s part.

Within a few pages, Chronos has met this timeline’s version of himself, a government scientist working on time travel studies (his boss is Amanda Waller, for any of “The Wall” completists out there). This divergent-earth Walker Gabriel has been plagued with headaches his entire life, and now he knows why -- two versions of the same person can’t exist in the same timeline without causing problems.

Chronos explains how exactly this timeline was created…which is literally an entire issue’s worth of story crammed into three panels:

Using alternate Walker’s time travel equipment, Chronos recharges his powers and travels thirteen years into the past…again. This time, he does more than temporarily K.O. Wilson Sebastian, the drunk driver who killed his mother. Chronos drugs him, leaves him in a hotel room, and plants documents to ensure that Sebastian will never become Secretary of State and turn the Cold War into a hot one. Unfortunately, a two-page sequence details how Chronos accidentally caused his mother’s death in this new, new reality.

That’s another issue’s worth of material burned through in just a few panels. John Francis Moore is an efficiency machine, I tell you.

Chronos has another meeting with Destiny and decides that if his mother is to live, she cannot be connected to him in any way. He also throws in that he knows that he was born outside of time in Chronopolis, which apparently is the origin of his powers. How he knows this we don’t know, since this revelation hasn’t happened in any of the previous issues.

Following his new plan, Chronos goes back to Chronopolis on the day of his birth and kidnaps his infant self. His foster parents go on to adopt another child, a girl, and fate spares Chronos’ mother. Somehow, Wilson Sebastian isn’t involved with the drunk driving accident either, but his political career is ended, as the fake evidence planted by Chronos leads to his arrest as a traitor. (How this works I don’t know, since Chronos planted the evidence in the previous timeline. If he’s still planting evidence in this new, new, new reality, it would seem that he hasn’t learned a lesson about the immutableness of time.)

So, Chronos has effectively erased himself from time, which somehow is supposed to lead to a bold new direction for the title. And while I don’t think this was as new reader friendly as DC might’ve liked, it is one of the strongest issues of the book’s run. I think every kid lives with at least some fear that their parents might die in something like a car accident one day, so building on a childhood anxiety and making it a cornerstone of Chronos’ backstory is a smart choice on Moore’s part. The idea of a time traveler who’s constantly foiled by their efforts to change the past has certainly been done before, but Moore has a nice angle for it. Also, connecting the drunk driving accident that killed his mother to the start of World War III might sound absurd on its face, but Moore’s actually come up with a plausible justification. I don’t think the story needed a feeble-minded real life president in order to work, especially when it’s more plausible that the Constitution wouldn’t have been amended and a new president would’ve been elected in 1988 anyway, but we never can escape Watchmen, can we?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE #15 - August 1998

We Want Cake
Credits: Dan Raspler (writer), Dev Madan (penciler), Keith Champagne (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Noelle Giddings (colorist)

Creating an elaborate trap that involves novelty candles, a potato, cooking oil, a microwave, a balloon, and a birthday cake, Junior apprehends the Birthday Boy. The blind students (whose blindness is represented by not giving them pupils, making them resemble something Harold Gray would've drawn...or maybe Lenil Francis Yu on a deadline) are rescued and Junior publicly acknowledges the Young Heroes for helping him become the best hero he can be. This surprisingly takes up most of the issue, but there are a few character subplots:

Monstergirl’s parents reveal to her that she was discovered in a space egg as a baby. Her father opens a trunk in the basement, but can’t find the egg.

Bonfire adopts the dog that was sniffing around the team’s headquarters last issue. She confides in Frostbite that Monstergirl’s thirst for power bothers her.

Off-Ramp travels through space and encounters Princess, a woman from his past who flies around on a magic carpet.

Zip-Kid meets a few of her fiancé’s friends. In a shocking turn of events, the scene heavily implies that the Italian stereotype’s associates are involved with organized crime. Thankfully, this was published in 1998, so we’re spared any references to GTL or the Smush Room.

Most of the character work in this issue consists of vague hints of what might be ahead (although the book’s close to cancellation, so who knows), so it’s pretty light on the soap opera. The main action story is amusing, leading me with an even stronger desire to see Batman fight Birthday Boy someday. Using Monstergirl as a parody of Superman’s origin also works fairly well, but it’s hard to guess where exactly this is going. It’s not as if Superman parodies are anything new, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen the parents misplace the alien craft that brought their child.
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