Tuesday, July 31, 2012

X-MEN Episode One - October 31, 1992

Merchandising art, used for X-MEN ADVENTURES #1, based on Ty Templeton’s design. Penciled by Steve Lightle.

Night of the Sentinels (Part One)
Written by Mark Edward Edens

Summary: Teenage mutant Jubilee is attacked by a Sentinel robot at her local mall. She’s rescued by Gambit, Rogue, Storm, and Cyclops of the X-Men. Jubilee’s taken to the X-Men’s mansion, but she refuses to stay. The X-Men learn that the Sentinels were created by the Mutant Control Agency. They infiltrate its headquarters and destroy their files on mutants. As they prepare to leave, armed soldiers wait to ambush the team.

Continuity Notes:
· The cast consists largely of the “Blue Team” of X-Men from this era: Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, and Storm form the main team. Beast and Jean Grey are treated as “reserve” members, with Professor Xavier still acting as mentor.
· Gambit’s logo makes its debut during the show’s opening title sequence, almost a full year before it appeared in the comics.
· The premise of Sentinels attacking teenage mutants at a mall was possibly inspired by New Mutants #2. Jubilee also encountered the X-Men for the first time in the comics in a mall.
· Bizarrely, the X-Men's Blackbird jet is colored blue. And, for some reason, Jubilee has black hair while Wolverine's is blue.
· Having the X-Men examine the head of a damaged Sentinel was perhaps inspired by a scene in Uncanny X-Men #282 (the design of the dismembered head certainly looks similar to the one Whilce Portacio drew).
· Morph is a team member in the opening two episodes, fulfilling the Thunderbird cannon fodder role. Morph was widely viewed as a new creation for the series, although he’s based on Changeling, a rather obscure X-character from the Silver Age.
· The episode opens with a live broadcast of Sabretooth attacking civilians during a rampage. Cannonball, Domino, and Magneto make cameo appearances during a later news broadcast on mutants. A commercial for a Genoshan resort also appears on television.

“Um, Actually…”:
· Jubilee was pursued by the M-Squad, not the Sentinels, when she first met the X-Men in the Uncanny X-Men #244. She was also presented as a homeless teen in her initial appearance, while this Jubilee has been adopted by a young couple.
· Rogue mentions revealing to her father that she’s a mutant as the team invades the Mutant Control Agency’s headquarters. In the comics, Rogue was an orphan raised by Mystique from a young age.
· Storm’s costume is colored white in the cartoon, as opposed to black. John Byrne has stated that the animators didn’t understand how light reflects in comics and just assumed her costume was supposed to be white. (They asked him to settle a bet at a convention.)
· Jean Grey, for unknown reasons, had to have a different hairstyle in the cartoon. Apparently, the ponytail was chosen by Stan Lee.

"Actiiing!": "Storm...MISTRESS of the elements...commands you to...RELEASE HER!"

Saban Quality: The first two episodes were not ready to air when FOX originally broadcast them as a “special preview.” Numerous animation mistakes had to be corrected in subsequent re-airings. This site has a comprehensive list of all of the corrections.

Creative Differences: The original voice of Storm, Iona Morris, was replaced towards the end of the second season by Alison Sealy-Smith. Sealy-Smith actually went back and redubbed all of the previous episodes, effectively erasing Morris from the role for a while. However, the later reruns often aired the original Iona Morris tracks. Apparently, the DVD version of the first season still has Iona Morris as Storm, with Sealy-Smith picking up at the start of the second season.

Production Note: The closing credits for the first season have CGI models of each character, with a brief description of their powers written underneath. Jubilee’s model only appeared in the two preview airings; after that, her model was covered by the Marvel and Saban logos.

Review: As I’ve said before, this is not Batman: The Animated Series. Marvel didn’t have a million dollars an episode to invest into this show, and the “cheap” Japanese animation studios that animated G. I. Joe and Transformers weren’t cheap at all by the early ‘90s, which meant the bulk of the animation had to be done by AKOM in Korea. AKOM is notorious for mediocre-to-horrific looking action cartoons (although the Simpsons episodes they animate today look fine), so visually the show is starting out at a disadvantage. As stiff as the action can occasionally get, I do have to give the animators credit for sticking so closely to the original comics designs, and for choreographing numerous fight scenes with so many characters. My major disappointment with the animation as a kid was the color scheme; there are way too many pastels in the early episodes of this show. I grew up with the intricate color designs of G. I. Joe and Transformers, and didn’t understand why my beloved X-Men couldn’t receive the same treatment.

So, if Marvel had to settle for pedestrian animation, did they at least compensate with the voice acting? Well…that’s complicated. The voice sessions were recorded in Toronto, meaning that every actor was either Canadian, or an American actor working in Canada at the time. I didn’t notice the numerous Canadian accents as a kid, but in retrospect, they’re hard to miss. Casting in Canada made it easier to find an appropriate Wolverine, though, which is exactly what they found in Cal Dodd. Looking over the rest of the cast, we have a few voices that feel right (Beast and Xavier), some with a bit of personality (Gambit and Rogue), a few exceedingly bland ones (Jubilee and Jean Grey), and two stiffs that never quite get it right (Storm and Cyclops). Some of these guys can genuinely act, and others should’ve spent a few more years in the community theater.

The story follows the basic template of most neophyte X-Men stories. Someone’s out to get her (usually it’s a “her”) because she’s a mutant, and the X-Men volunteer to help. The Sentinels are suitable villains for an opening arc, setting up a sci-fi menace that works for animation, but also grounding the conflict in something resembling reality. Jubilee’s foster-father is concerned about her mutant powers, so he’s done what the television has assured him is the right thing to do -- he’s registered her with the Mutant Registration Program (which is not quite the government, as we soon learn). Little does he know that this will invite a giant robot to invade his home in search of his daughter. What exactly Gyrich and Trask of the Mutant Control Agency want to do with these mutants is unclear, but it’s obvious they’re terrified of the potential harm mutants can cause and are doing what they think is right to keep the public safe.

Throughout the episode, there are a few speeches about what it’s like to be different, the importance of belonging to a family, and the fundamental desire to escape persecution from the majority. All classic themes directly from the comics, and they’re executed quite well. The idea of the X-Men as a slightly dysfunctional family is also acknowledged, as Wolverine and Cyclops openly spar over what should be done about the Sentinels. (Gambit is also so annoyed by Wolverine’s attitude that another fight almost breaks out.) The numerous characters are introduced methodically throughout the episode, giving the audience an opportunity to discover their powers and a bit of their personality in a succession of brief scenes. This is written, obviously, as an introduction simple enough for a child, but there’s enough drama to keep adults interested. The mood of the comics is reflected faultlessly throughout the episode, and the cliffhanger is pretty daring by Saturday morning standards. Not a bad opening for the series at all.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the scans and screencaps.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Everybody Knows…It’s on FOX

Early merchandising artwork, penciled by Ty Templeton

I’ve decided that a retrospective on ‘90s X-Men wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the 1992-1997 animated series that aired on FOX (which is now reaching its twentieth anniversary). For many readers, this was their very first exposure to the X-Men, and I believe the continued popularity of the series is one reason why the X-Men titles remained strong sellers after the market crash of 1994. Much like the X-Men comics of the ‘90s, the animated series is often used as fodder for cheap jokes amongst fans, which is another reason I feel compelled to review the episodes. This series was not an easy fit for Saturday mornings circa 1992 (as evidenced by the Broadcast and Standards notes posted online), so my inclination is to give the creators credit for what they actually achieved rather than dismissing their work for an easy joke. The series had its faults, certainly, but I suspect it doesn’t deserve the abuse it receives. However, I do recall a distinct decline in quality, and interest, as the series entered its final episodes. I’m always interested in seeing how a series can go horribly wrong, so hopefully I can provide some insights into where X-Men lost its way (if in fact it did; perhaps the later episodes are less interesting simply because there was nothing new about the series anymore).

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to be reviewing the series in broadcast order. That will lead to a few continuity issues as the series progresses, but I think it’s important to look at the series as the audience experienced it during the original run. The DVD sets are in broadcast order as well (and I’m assuming this is the order Netflix lists the episodes), so this remains the order the general audience experiences them today, so I’m even less inclined to follow the chronological order provided online. I’ve been reading some articles about the series, and online interviews with the crew, so optimistically I can offer some behind-the-scenes information on the show. If I miss anything, feel free to let me know in the comments.

NEXT: Jubilee, along with the tweens of America, meets the X-Men in “Night of the Sentinels”!

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Review copies provided by the studio.

When the Marvel/Madhouse anime projects were announced a few years ago, I thought Wolverine was going to be a one-off movie, starring an extremely off-model Wolverine, and I had no idea Blade was even under consideration. As it turns out, Wolverine and Blade were both ongoing series, and they’ve already aired in America on G4. I only know this now because the series are being released on DVD, which the 99% of the nation that can’t watch G4 anymore might appreciate.

Following that original teaser, most of the responses I heard regarding Wolverine were complaints about the design of the character. And, while Madhouse abandoned the Wolverine-in-name-only look from the original teaser, the design for the regular series is still likely to annoy purists. Wolverine should not be tall, thin, and fifteen. He probably shouldn’t be voiced by a young, handsome actor trying to sound gritty, either. The justification for the redesign is that Madhouse has externalized Wolverine’s inner “James Dean” persona, which is certainly an odd rationalization. Isn’t Wolverine supposed to be Dirty Harry?

The story (written by Warren Ellis), however, does bring the character closer to familiar territory. The series is essentially an adaptation of the original Claremont/Miller Wolverine miniseries, stretched out over twelve episodes. Ellis uses the extra space to touch on various other elements we’ve seen in the comics. Flashbacks to his secret agent days, a Weapon X callback or two, a new female sidekick, Madripoor, and…Omega Red? Yes, there now exists in the world a big-budget anime project that prominently features Omega Red. And Madhouse does an incredible job bringing the Jim Lee design to life. I wish the rest of the designs were as loyal to the original comics, but I guess that’s my western bias showing through.

If you want uncensored Wolverine claw action, this is for you. However, the action often comes at the expense of story. The plots of several episodes are amazingly thin, testing the patience of anyone who doesn’t want to see twenty straight minutes of Wolverine cutting up Madripoor pirates. Obviously, adapting four comic issues into 250 minutes of television is going to require some filler, but the pacing of the show is absolutely glacial at times.

Blade isn’t a specific adaptation, which leaves Ellis free to do a “wandering warrior” take on the character. According to the DVD extras, the vampires in the story are taken from various vampire myths found in Asia, which is a welcome break from the standard Victorian interpretation. These vampires are absolutely freaky, and perfectly suited for Madhouse’s animation style. Blade’s been redesigned with head and face tattoos, along with earrings, making me wonder if this came from the Japanese producers or Marvel employees who wanted to add “edge” to the project. He doesn’t look totally ridiculous, thankfully. His redesign is easier to accept than Wolverine’s, at least.

Ellis doesn’t seem to have a novel take on the character, he’s essentially a brooding, silent hunter throughout the entire series, but the flashbacks in the earlier episodes help to flesh him out. I don’t know if this was ever established in the comics, but in the series, Blade’s partial motivation for hunting vampires is to make amends to the people he killed before he was able to control his own urges. Young Blade is an interesting, sympathetic figure…who’s barely in the show. Adult Blade mutely kills vampires, travels to another Asian location, then kills more vampires. The action’s great, the animation is beautiful, but like Wolverine, the focus is rarely on plot or character. As pure popcorn entertainment, they’re enjoyable, though. I’d again like to repeat my request for a Spider-Man anime, or maybe even Daredevil. If we can get an anime Omega Red, why not an anime Bushwacker?

Friday, July 27, 2012


Chapter One
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (artist), Comicraft’s Liz Agrophiotis (letterer), Atomic Paintbrush (colors)

Summary: A mysterious spacecraft has landed on Earth. Captain America interrupts Tony Stark’s date and asks for Iron Man’s help investigating it. The duo locates the craft, unaware of a shadowy figure nearby.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Actually, this isn’t a published comic, so it was never CCA approved. However, I’m assuming Marvel wanted this to be all-ages friendly, so I was slightly surprised to see Captain America making what appear to be veiled references to Tony Stark’s erection, and Tony promising to show Cap a video of what he’s about to do with his date.

Review: This is closer to the D. G. Chichester I remember from Daredevil. A lot of snarky dialogue and world weary heroes, with a few lines thrown in to assure us that the old friends are just giving each other a hard time. Reading this today, it’s easy to hear Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man speaking this dialogue. It doesn’t quite match up with Kurt Busiek’s interpretation from this era, though, and it’s slightly disappointing to see Rumiko Fujikawa ignored in favor of an interchangeable bimbo. Anyway, the dialogue is pretty clever and the mystery is quickly set up for the next installment, so it’s a perfectly okay opening chapter.

Chapter Two
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (artist), Comicraft’s Liz Agrophiotis (letterer), Atomic Paintbrush (colors)

Summary: Captain America and Iron Man are attacked by gas when they open the spacecraft. After Iron Man shuts it down, Cap overhears a cry for help. They rescue the alien Mendak, who’s trapped under heavy debris. He explains that his race of traders crashed on Earth after passing through a wormhole. As the heroes help repair the alien ship, Mendak plots their death.

I Love the '90s: During the opening, the narrative captions advise the heroes to follow a politician’s advice and “don’t inhale.”

Review: D. G. Chichester does use Iron Man’s various weaponry in a clever way during the opening, but the rest of the chapter is rather dull. At least the heroes are smart enough to be suspicious of Mendak, but this is starting to read like a lesser Stan Lee story from the Silver Age. Heroes find aliens, heroes help aliens, heroes learn aliens are evil…not very inspiring, is it?

Chapter Three
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (artist), Comicraft’s Liz Agrophiotis (letterer), Atomic Paintbrush (colors)

Summary: As Iron Man and Captain America help repair the ship, Mendak distracts them with offers to travel into space with the aliens. Later, contaminated elements underneath the ship explode. The heroes confront Mendak, who turns a weapon on them.

Review: Some character drama is introduced into the story, as Captain America and Iron Man are given the option of abandoning Earth and joining this mysterious alien civilization in space. Iron Man has a more compelling reason than Cap, since leaving Earth would release him from his numerous business and philanthropic responsibilities and enable him to explore science in a way he’s never been able to before. Cap’s dilemma is simply that his value system is increasingly viewed as outdated in his own country, so perhaps an alien culture would be a better place to fight for his ideals. Chichester handles Iron Man’s quandary quite well, but understandably, it’s hard to come up with a believable rationale for why Captain America would not only leave his country, but the entire planet. At any rate, this chapter has the strongest character work of the serial and it’s nice to see the storyline diverge a bit from a predictable formula.

Chapter Four
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (artist), Comicraft’s Liz Agrophiotis (letterer), Atomic Paintbrush (colors)

Summary: Mendak reveals that the “crashed” ship is actually a mechanical parasite that’s turning Earth’s elements into poison. Iron Man develops a plan that sends Cap into the ship’s maintenance hatch, where he struggles to trigger the emergency override of the star drive. Cap succeeds, sending the spacecraft and the Ravelians back into space.

Review: And now we’re back to predictable formula. The aliens are evil, the heroes struggle really hard to defeat the aliens, and the aliens are kicked off Earth. I realize that the standards for a free webcomic on a company’s official website are already pretty low, but that doesn’t mean the serial has to actively live down to the expectations. When Chichester makes an effort to flesh out the heroes, the story feels like an authentic Cap/Iron Man team-up, but unfortunately the bulk of the story is wasted on a goofy, yet humorless, alien invasion story. Taskmaster wasn’t available? The visuals are also disappointing, as Daerick Gross’ art is covered in simplified inking and coloring that wouldn’t pass muster in a published comic.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Sandblasted - Chapter One
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (artist), Liz Agrophiotis (letterer), Atomic Paintbrush (colors)

The Plot: Peter Parker is sent to cover a sandcastle building contest on Coney Island, judged by J. Jonah Jameson. Meanwhile, Sandman’s mole Skratchetti informs him that a local freakshow is being shipped a priceless mirror. Sandman steals the mirror from the freaks, but is confronted by Spider-Man.

The Subplots: Peter initially plans to spend his paycheck on a date with Betty, but realizes that he must help Aunt May with the bills.

Web of Continuity: Peter is still wearing glasses, living with Aunt May, and pursuing Betty during this story. Clearly, this is another “Untold Tale” even if it’s not officially labeled that way.

Review: I used to wonder why Marvel never reprinted these Cybercomics, but now I can understand why. Although each page initially looks like a standard comic book page (with most of the panels grayed out), I’ve discovered that hitting the space bar doesn’t automatically unlock the next panel. Instead, new word balloons often pop up in the existing panel. If Marvel did reprint this on paper, each individual panel would probably have to be blown up to almost a full page to make room for all of the dialogue. Plus, there’s the cheap “animation” that has new characters occasionally popping into existing panels after hitting the space bar. The reader would be stuck with a “repeating images” page of a static Peter and Betty having a mundane conversation that ends with a final panel with the same image, only now Jonah is leaning over the wall, telling them to get back to work.

In regards to content, this might not be worth reprinting anyway. At this point in the story, we’re still on the level of an annual backup, or a Fruity Peebles free comic giveaway. Perhaps Chichester has more planned, but right now all we have is a freakshow that’s somehow received a priceless picture frame, which makes them targets of the Sandman. As for the subplots, Peter must help Aunt May with the bills yet again, and he has to endure Flash kicking sand in his face while on his Daily Bugle assignment. This…isn’t riveting. Some of the jokes are amusing, though, and Daerick Gross’ artwork isn’t bad. (Although I question his decision to clad teenage Flash in a very tiny speed-o).

Sandblasted - Chapter Two
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (artist), Liz Agrophiotis (letterer), Atomic Paintbrush (colors)

The Plot: The supernatural mirror rips Sandman into numerous pieces. He takes advantage of his multiple bodies and proceeds to attack Spider-Man. When mini-Sandmen clog his webshooters, Spider-Man is forced to crash into a rollercoaster car. The Sandmen destroy a portion of the tracks, sending Spider-Man’s car racing towards the crowd below.

Review: Wait, now the mirror’s supernatural? Like it wasn’t odd enough that a freakshow ended up with a jewel and diamond-encrusted mirror in the first place? Anyway, this is a half-way decent action chapter, which benefits a lot by the tiny Sandman clones. Having Spider-Man fight Sandman on the beach is just a painfully obvious idea, but the tiny Sandmen help to add another element to the story. The cliffhanger isn’t bad, either.

Sandblasted - Chapter Three
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (artist), Liz Agrophiotis (letterer), Atomic Paintbrush (colors)

The Plot: Spider-Man escapes the car and uses his webbing to throw it away from the crowd. He grabs a mallet from one of the attractions and uses it to bat the Sandmen into the beach. The Sandmen realize that they can now absorb more of the sand, and each other, to form a giant Sandman.

The Subplots: Spider-Man catches Flash flirting with Betty, which reignites his insecurities that Betty is out of his league.

Review: Oh, that’s just cheap. Spider-Man gets out of the last installment’s cliffhanger by using his webshooters, the same webshooters that the Sandmen had hopelessly clogged up just a few seconds earlier. It’s amusing to see him throw the car into a giant recreation of J. Jonah Jameson’s head, but the scene still feels like a copout. The “Oh no, Flash is makin’ time with my girl!” sequence also feels tired. It’s nice to see a reminder of Peter’s insecurities, even in the middle of a supervillain fight, but I’d like to think Chichester can dream up better dialogue than “It makes sense Betty would go for a ‘hunk’ type like Flash! She’d never want to hook up with a longtime ‘nothing’ like Peter Parker!”

Sandblasted - Chapter Four
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Daerick Gross (artist), Liz Agrophiotis (letterer), Atomic Paintbrush (colors)

The Plot: Spider-Man grabs the mysterious mirror and points it at Sandman again. Sandman is reverted to his normal size and blasted into the ocean. Spider-Man picks up his camera, but discovers his film has melted in the summer heat.

The Subplots: When Peter sees Flash is still talking to Betty, he walks away from their planned date. Unbeknownst to him, Betty is politely trying to get away from Flash.

Review: Well, that’s certainly a very Stan Lee ending. Chichester’s efforts to evoke the Lee/Ditko era of Spidey have largely failed, but the ending does capture a bit of the genuine sadness that permeated those comics. This is still far from Untold Tales of Spider-Man, though. The main plot remains dopey, requiring that unexplained magic mirror to do whatever the story needs it to, and there’s rarely any sense that Sandman is a real threat to Spider-Man. I don’t think Chichester’s sensibilities necessarily fit “classic” Spider-Man, though, so hopefully the other Cybercomics won’t be so disappointing.

Now, in conclusion, please try to keep this image out of your nightmares:

Monday, July 23, 2012

No AOL Subscription Required

If I’m going to be looking back on Marvel paperback novels published in the ‘90s, I would be remiss if I ignored the early online adventures of Spider-Man, the X-Men, Captain America, and more. Yes, I’m talking about Marvel’s “Cybercomics.” According to Wikipedia, the comics ran from 1996 to 2000, and only make their presence felt in Marvel’s official continuity through a footnote in one issue of Gambit. Finding archives of these comics is very difficult, which is surprising since creators like Mark Bagley and Scott Lobdell worked on several installments, and it couldn’t have been that difficult to save the images to the readers’ hard drive. Luckily, writer D. G. Chichester has maintained an archive of the many cybercomics he scripted and posted them online. I’ve never read this material before, and I’ve rarely if ever seen it discussed online, so I thought it might be an interesting continuity backwater to explore for a few days.

And if anyone knows where to find more of the Marvel Cybercomics (particularly the Gambit one), please let me know.

Friday, July 20, 2012

GUNFIRE #9 - February 1995

Hard News
Credits: Paul Kupperberg (writer), Chris Wozniak (artist), Lois Buhalis & Clem Robins (letterers), Martin Thomas (colorist)

Summary: Tabloid journalist Cricket Kelly turns her sights on Gunfire, and after investigating his ties to Van Horn Industries, discovers his secret identity as Andrew Van Horn. When one of her informants is killed by a mystery man, she suspects Gunfire of the murder. He soon clears himself by rescuing Kelly and her camerawoman Phyllis when they invade one of Ragnarok’s bio-genetic labs. The villain Wavelength is sent to guard the lab, but when he tries to use Kelly and Phyllis as hostages, Gunfire continues the fight and defeats him.

I Love the ‘90s: You know Blood Pack has “attitude” because this ad tells us so twice.

: No Len Wein this issue, and Chris Wozniak is still filling for Ed Benes. This isn’t as impressive as Wozniak’s previous issue, the opening pages are especially rough, but overall I still like this look for the series. Kupperberg’s story is mainly treading water until Wein returns, although he does pick up on the obnoxious reporter character briefly introduced by Wein in the previous issue. Cricket Kelly had a memorable scene in the last issue, when she seemed thrilled to be annoying Gunfire because she thought she could get him to punch her on camera, but this issue doesn’t make her as absurdly entertaining. This is generic fill-in material; the only twist in the story comes when Gunfire refuses to buy Wavelength’s bluff and continues the fight when he grabs Kelly and Phyllis as hostages. I’m not sure if this scene is meant to be a statement about Gunfire as a character (I doubt it, since he’s supposed to be a peace-loving activist forced into this role), or if the scene is just poorly choreographed. Oh, and of course the story ends with Cricket Kelly deciding to keep Gunfire’s identity a secret.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


J.S.A. No More?
Credits: Len Strazewski (writer), Mike Parobeck (penciler), Mike Machlan (inker), Bob Pinaha (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary: Kulak sends his minions to New Mexico to kill Starman, which inadvertently sends him on Kulak’s trail. In Gotham City, Kulak terrorizes the captive JSA. Johnny Thunder antagonizes Kulak into using up a large portion of his power, making him easier to defeat when Starman arrives. Later, Green Lantern convinces Hawkman to don his costume and lead what could be the final JSA meeting.

Irrelevant Continuity: Kulak explains that he was sent to ancient Egypt following his defeat in All Star Comics #2. He’s plotted his revenge against the JSA ever since. The Atom questions how both Kulak and Vandal Savage can take credit for being Cheops.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: While boasting about his total control over Hawkgirl, Kulak licks her shoulder with his gigantic tongue as she coos in ecstasy.

Review: I can see why this incarnation of Justice Society of America could be considered a lost classic. Not only was it cancelled to make room for the flavor-of-the-month guns, stubble, and trenchcoat heroes of the day, but it also features the early work of the legendary Mike Parobeck. Getting indignant over this book’s cancellation would virtually be a requirement for comics blogging, had it existed in 1993. Looking back at these ten issues, however, I honestly don’t see a great loss.

Parobeck immediately went on to do Batman Adventures, a title that suited him perfectly and brought him even more attention, so it’s not as if DC let his talents go to waste. Len Strazewski would return to journalism (and judging by his editorial at the end of this issue, I’m not sure if he ever felt totally comfortable writing comics.) The JSA survived and would have an ongoing series again by the end of the decade. Sure, no one wants to dedicate their efforts to a title that dies out by issue ten, but the cancellation didn’t seem to cause anyone any lasting harm.

The truth is, if the book had been drawn by any journeyman artist working for DC at the time, and didn’t have any juicy gossip surrounding its cancellation, I can’t imagine people talking about it today. I can’t say it’s a bad comic, but it’s a very straightforward superhero action comic with predictable plots and pedestrian dialogue. Strazewski’s affection for the characters occasionally shines through, and in those moments the book breezes past the “generic” marker, but too often he just assumes that the reader already cares as much he does. This issue, for example, halts the plot for over two pages to explain what Kulak the Sorcerer has been up to since… All Star Comics #2, cover-dated Fall 1940. Now, a flashback to Kulak’s days in ancient Egypt isn’t automatically a bad idea, but nothing in the story makes Kulak interesting enough to follow through this journey. The only reason the reader might care is if he’s somehow read this pre-WWII comic and wants to see how Kulak’s been resurrected in the ‘90s. (And his resurrection relies on another one of Strazewski’s writing tics, the massive coincidence. Of course Kulak’s tomb is uncovered by Hawkman and Hawkgirl decades later while on an archeological dig.)

The early issues gave me hope that Strazewski might be able to translate his enthusiasm for these characters into compelling stories that show why they’re special. The JSA can’t be great merely because they “came first,” they have to be able to exist as engaging, unique characters. Strazewski talks in his editorial about aging as just another obstacle for these brave men, who aren’t likely to give up after facing everyone from Hitler to the Ultra-Humanite. Okay, fine…where was that grit during this series? After ten issues, I haven’t warmed up to any of the cast. I do like the scenes that emphasize the friendships within the team, but individually, these characters aren’t strong enough to carry an ongoing series. The true star of this series is Mike Parobeck, and if I’m going to miss anything from this incarnation of Justice Society of America, it’s going to be those Parobeck splash pages.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

GUNFIRE #8 - January 1995

The Trail of the Dragon!
Credits: Len Wein (writer), Chris Wozniak (artist), Lois Buhalis & Clem Robins (letterers), Martin Thomas (colorist)

Summary: Ragnarok sends a holographic projection of himself to Lacey’s hospital room, explaining that he’s ordered her death because she’s interfered in his affairs. She begs for her life and is given another chance. Meanwhile, Benjamin’s brother Billy drugs him and leaves him in an alley. He’s discovered by the mob that’s been pursuing Billy. They mistakenly kidnap Benjamin, forcing Gunfire to rescue his friend. During the battle, Gunfire is drugged by a mobster and hallucinates a giant dragon. The criminals get away, but Gunfire picks up a Hong Kong Airlines ticket they’ve left behind.

Review: A fill-in issue by Chris Wozniak of Excalibur, uh, fame? I was expecting this to out-Benes Benes to an insane degree, but instead I discover that Wozniak had reinvented his style pretty dramatically by 1994. Instead of ridiculously disproportionate muscle bound freaks, missing pupils, giant hair, creepy smiles, and all-around bad cartooning, this issue brings us a gritty Janson/ Sienkiewicz impersonation. There’s even a bit of the old Marc Silvestri/Kyle Baker style in here. And it isn’t bad at all, even if the anatomy is occasionally ridiculous. Wozniak turns out to be a perfect fit for this issue, illustrating the story’s drug hallucinations with great style, and adding much-needed visual flair to a few dull subplot scenes (such as the two pages spent on Gemini discussing a damaged computer disc they swiped from Ragnarok’s base). The storylines still aren’t offering any great surprises, but Wein’s picked up the pace from the previous issue, and he’s even having a few of the characters acknowledge just how absurd some of these plots are. I’m interested to see what happens next, which is a feeling I haven’t felt since the #0 issue derailed the book.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Hearts of Darkness, Eyes of Hate!
Credits: Len Strazewski (writer), Mike Parobeck (penciler), Mike Machlan (inker), Bob Pinaha (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary: A mysterious force spreads across the country, creating hostility towards the JSA in their public and private lives. Thunderbolt senses the presence of dark magic, but disappears while investigating it. After a false “exposé” of the JSA’s past airs on Green Lantern’s television station, he flies to the station to get answers. He’s ambushed by Guy Gardner, who’s easily defeated. However, Green Lantern and the JSA are soon surrounded by an angry mob. Carter Hall arrives to rescue the team, only to lead them to his master, Kulak.

I Love the ‘90s: Dr. Mid-Nite complains that television is creating irrational fear surrounding the AIDS epidemic.

Total N00B: On that note, Dr. Mid-Nite listens to a radio news report on the AIDS-related death of an unnamed actor at the age of 70. Mid-Nite says that he was a great talent and that it’s a shame that he spent so many years of his career playing a superhero’s sidekick in the movies. I have no idea who this is supposed to be referencing.

Review: There’s a fantastic opening to this issue, which has Flash’s wife Joan violently lashing out at her magically youthful husband. This is the reader’s introduction to Kulak’s scheme against the JSA, which has everyone in the world turning against the team. The opening scene implies that Kulak is exploiting feelings that already exist, such as Joan’s insecurities that she’s now too old for her husband, which is very Claremontian and a great way to explore the JSA’s relationships with their supporting cast. The rest of the comic, however, just has the public irrationally hating the JSA for no clear reason at all. This isn’t nearly as interesting, and the only use Strazewski gets out of the concept by this point is a Guy Gardner/Green Lantern fight.

I’m assuming that a fight between the original Green Lantern and the mouthy, intentionally unlikable Gardner is something GL fans had wanted to see for years. If you’re divorced from the continuity, it reads as a decent superhero fight, but there isn’t much else to it, aside from Parobeck’s larger-than-life action. (Another N00B moment…why does Guy Gardner have a yellow ring at this point?) Less impressive is the JSA vs. angry mob scene, which suffers from no real drama, and apparently deadline problems, since the crowd is often portrayed as little more than stick figures. Things liven up with the cliffhanger, though, which has the original Hawkman leading the team into a trap, Kulak impaling Thunderbolt on a stick, and a brainwashed Hawkgirl standing by the villain’s side. With only one issue left, hopefully the book can get out of the little rut it’s worked itself into and go out with a final issue that does the characters justice.

Monday, July 16, 2012

GUNFIRE #7 - December 1994

The Big Blow-Out!
Credits: Len Wein (writer), Ed Benes (penciler), Carlos Garzon & Brian Garvey (inkers), Lois Buhalis (letterer), Martin Thomas (colorist)

Summary: Gunfire’s aunt Lacey is targeted by the assassin Blow-Out. After failing to kill her with a car bomb, he invades her hospital room and takes aim. Gunfire, in his civilian identity, is forced to use a nearby I.V. stand as a weapon. As Lacey slips away, Benjamin helps Gunfire escape and return in costume. Gunfire defeats Blow-Out by snatching the pin from his grenade as his helicopter flies away. Meanwhile, the Gemini twins investigate Ragnarok’s headquarters, and shadowy figures stalk Benjamin’s brother.

I Love the ‘90s: “Extreme Crimes call for…Extreme Justice.” I don’t want to focus too much for Extreme Justice since it’s already been such an easy target for comics bloggers, but the ad for the series that runs in this issue is just too perfect.

Review: What can even be said about Blow-Out? Is he a forgotten G. I. Joe from the franchise’s final days, when Larry Hama really had to stretch for names? Is he a lightbox tracing of a Jim Lee Punisher drawing, right down to the headband? Or perhaps a rejected paramilitary parody character from the Slapstick miniseries? At least he isn’t a cyborg…

So, Gunfire faces another weak villain who a) looks ridiculous, and b) is about as much of a threat as L’il Archie. I suppose a small wrinkle is introduced, as Andrew has possibly exposed his secret identity to his conniving aunt, but that’s the only plot advancement that feels as if it might have potential. The subplots have the Gemini twins facing some of Ragnarok’s genetically altered faceless goons, as they embark on a mission the title’s hero couldn’t be bothered with, and Ben’s brother Billy being chased by mystery men with dragon face tattoos. (I wonder, has any comic with an Asian supporting cast member not done a story with the Yakuza or some other form of Asian mobsters?) This title hasn’t exactly been a thrill-a-minute before, but this installment is particularly dull.

Friday, July 13, 2012

WOLVERINE #143 - October 1999

Credits: Erik Larsen & Eric Stephenson (writers), Leinil Francis Yu (penciler), Dexter Vines (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine helps Vindicator and his duplicate escape, while Kane is sent to stop them. Wolverine battles Kane as Vindicator frees the rest of Alpha Flight. During their escape, they discover that AIM has Snowbird’s body in suspended animation. With the help of Vindicator’s duplicate, AIM is chased away. Unfortunately, the battle suit Vindicator’s duplicate stole from AIM during the battle is severely damaged. The ensuing explosion kills the duplicate.

Continuity Notes: Snowbird’s resurrection was controversial at the time, apparently because Sasquatch was living in her old body by the end of Alpha Flight. Her teammates somehow forget this throughout the story.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Heather Hudson’s revealing costume is toned down again, as her exposed flesh is colored gray throughout the issue.

Review: Larsen and Stephenson’s ham-fisted revival of the original Alpha Flight continues, as the teenage Vindicator from Steven Seagal’s run is killed, Snowbird’s previous continuity is ignored in favor of a quickie resurrection, and the team is reunited to face once again the shadowy elements of Department H. I think the only people really invested in this would be hardcore Alpha Flight fans, and as I mentioned earlier, they all seemed to hate this arc. Wolverine has rarely interacted with Alpha Flight since the early ‘80s, so the only element of the story that might interest X-fans of this era would be the appearance by Kane. Instead of carrying on Nicieza’s characterization of the reluctant soldier, Larsen and Stephenson present him as a mindless drone for AIM. And Leinil Francis Yu has seen fit to give him a spiky ponytail. It’s obvious the story is hinting that he’s been brainwashed, but no confirmation is given and he simply disappears when it’s time for the fighting to be over. So, more “MYSTERY!” instead of an actual plot.

Loose Ends
Credits: Eric Stephenson (writer), Rob Jensen (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Gina Going (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Alpha Flight studies the reanimated body of Snowbird. Sasquatch theorizes that Snowbird’s mystic body has a healing factor similar to Wolverine’s. Vindicator suddenly realizes why AIM was so interested in Snowbird; he suggests they’re exploiting her as the connection between science and the supernatural.

Review: This is a backup story designed to fit in all of the exposition that couldn’t be worked into the main story, which was mainly concerned with poorly choreographed fight scenes. I was a bit relieved to see Jensen take over as artist for a few pages; there’s nothing flashy about his work, but his figures are well-constructed and his storytelling is clear. The story is just there to hint at horrible things this faction of AIM is supposedly up to, and I’m going to take a shot in the dark and guess that none of these hints are paid off before Larsen/Stephenson leave the book.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

GAMBIT #8 - September 1999

Destined to Repeat It
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mat Broome (penciler), Sean Parsons (inker), Joe Rosas/Gina Going/Matt Hicks (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: After stealing information from the X-Men concerning Xavier’s secret plan, Gambit travels to Millstone, Arizona, searching for Scalphunter. Later, the Courier arrives and forcibly sends Gambit to meet with New Son. He warns Gambit of Apocalypse’s coming attack before sending him back to his hotel room. Meanwhile, Gambit and Scalphunter’s mutual friend Claire de Luc leads the Marauder to Gambit’s room. Gambit wants Scalphunter to take him to Mr. Sinister, but he claims that he can’t. However, he does send Gambit and Courier on the path of the one Marauder who can help. In the Andes Mountains, they discover a frail Sabretooth, who’s being cared for by a cult that worships tigers.

Continuity Notes:
· The relationship between Gambit, Claire de Luc, and Scalphunter was first hinted at, very obliquely, in Uncanny X-Men #324. This issue confirms that Scalphunter is the mysterious “Grey Crow” mentioned in UXM #324.
· According to Scalphunter, none of the Marauders’ original bodies exists, save for Sabretooth’s.
· Fontanelle visits Gambit’s dreams and sees more visions of an alternate reality.
· This story ties in to the “Shattering” crossover, which had Xavier forcing the X-Men away from him so that he could investigate which team member was an imposter. This story claims that Xavier “fired” the X-Men, while the actual story in X-Men #92 had the team voluntarily leaving after growing tired of Xavier’s abrasive attitude.

Review: Hmmm…a cover that ruins the last page reveal, rushed fill-in art, not one but two unrelated crossovers barging into the main storyline…this isn’t Gambit’s finest hour. Nicieza still tries to get something out of this, using this loose crossover tie-in as an excuse to resolve one of those patented Vague Scott Lobdell Mysteries from UXM and finally reveal who or what “Grey Crow” was supposed to be. Since Gambit’s already been retconned into the Marauders’ past, I suppose revealing that he had a friendship with Scalphunter during his late teens isn’t that much of a stretch, and it does give Nicieza an opportunity to flesh Scalphunter out as a character, which is something no one had bothered to do before (the same goes for all of the Marauders, really.) What exactly this quest has to do with Gambit’s investigation into Xavier’s odd behavior isn’t clear at this point, but Nicieza’s plotting on this book has been extremely tight, so it’s very likely the next issue will have the answer. Overall, though, this issue suffers from too many diversions and some incredibly weak art, so the next installment will have to be a noticeable improvement in order to justify this crossover tangent.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MUTANT X #13 - September 1999

The Hunger
Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Mike Miller (penciler), Saleem Crawford (inker), Gina Going (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Summary: In the past, Kitty hunts down Storm, who’s recently been turned into a vampire. She’s held in a castle, where Forge is already being kept for food by a group of vampires. Storm breaks free, taking Forge with her. Kitty soon locates Storm, and during their fight, Storm finally succumbs to her urges and sucks Kitty’s blood. Months later, Colossus accepts that Kitty is gone.

Continuity Notes: Havok is shown as a member of the X-Men when Kitty first joins, unlike the mainstream continuity.

Better Than X-Factor?: Say what you will about Ben Raab, but he never wrote anything as bad as Howard Mackie’s X-Factor. This is a fill-in issue dedicated to revealing the events that led to Storm becoming a vampire, even though we never actually see a vampire biting her. Raab assumes that the reader is already familiar with the Dracula issue of Uncanny X-Men, so the story begins with Storm fighting off her new urges as Kitty runs off to play the Van Helsing role. That’s an odd assumption to make, even if the Dracula issue has been reprinted a few times, but I guess it leaves the story room to explore new material. Unfortunately, none of the extra space is used to answer questions that need resolutions, like explaining how the X-Men already know Forge at this point, and who’s keeping him at this castle. Instead, the majority of the issue consists of decompressed scenes of Kitty chasing Storm, Storm dramatically bemoaning her fate, and Kitty fighting Storm. Not enough information about the new world is revealed, and when the story is judged on its own merits, it’s far too thin.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

GENERATION X #56 - October 1999

Sins of the Past Part Two: Heal Thyself
Credits: Jay Faerber (writer), Terry Dodson & Karl Kerschel (pencilers), Rachel Dodson, John Czop, and Rod Ramos (inks), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: M uses her telepathic powers to reenter the fantasy world that’s ensnared Generation X. When Donald Pierce teleports in, he’s followed by an army of Sentinels. Gen X successfully counters the Sentinels in combat. Using M’s telepathy, Synch senses the mental presence of Emma. Combining his powers with M, they release Emma, as the X-Men turn on the team. Emma uses her powers to erase the fantasy and wake the team up. Adrienne Frost appears, boasts about creating the fantasy, and teleports away.

Continuity Notes: Synch remarks that he’s somehow able to use M’s powers better than she can, just as he’s able to expand upon Chamber’s powers.

Review: And now the previous issue’s high concept is explained, which is almost always a letdown. Still, there are some decent character bits this issue, and watching the team relive the Hellions’ final battle remains entertaining. It could be argued that they’re able to defeat the Sentinels far too easily when compared to the Hellions’ quick deaths, but I think this is an intentional point on Faerber’s part to show that Emma really has done a better job preparing this team for battle.

The real purpose of this storyline, aside from playing to nostalgia and setting up an amazingly impossible premise, is to introduce Adrienne Frost as a true villain for the series. She proclaims that she’s going to be the next White Queen, and for some reason, she’s chosen this stunt as her villainous debut. I have no idea what she’s hoping to achieve, but it would be nice if Faerber’s able to resolve this before his run is over.

The only real flaw in this arc is abrupt shift in art style this issue. Karl Kerschel’s pencils are an amalgam of early Salvador Larroca and Pop Mhan...not exactly art styles you associate with Terry Dodson. There are quite a few artists in comics in the Adam Hughes/Gary Frank/Terry Dodson vein (Erik Larsen even found one to replace Adam Hughes on a Savage Dragon miniseries after he grew tired of waiting on Hughes), so I have a hard time believing that this is the best replacement editorial could’ve found. If this arc just had to have an artist with an incompatible style fill in, it might’ve been interesting to have Whilce Portacio himself step in.

Monday, July 9, 2012

CABLE #71 - September 1999

Nightmares & Prophecies
Credits: Joe Pruett (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Lary Stucker (inker), Tanya & Richard Horie (colors), Comicraft’s Saida Temofonte (letters)

Summary: After having a nightmare about Cannonball’s death, Cable visits Stacey in the diner. She explains that she can’t handle Cable’s life at this point and asks for a break. Later, Cable’s visited by Rachel Summers, who takes him to her reality to show him what life was like without him. After rescuing Cannonball from Ahab, Cable’s brought to the rebel camp where he meets this world’s Stacey, a nurse who aids mutants. Soon, the camp is attacked by Sentinels and a mystery figure. Rachel sends Cable back to the present, telling him to use his knowledge of the Twelve to stop Apocalypse.

Continuity Notes:
· A brainwashed Gideon and Sunspot serve Ahab in this reality. Sunspot implies that he murdered Husk months earlier.
· Other mutant rebels Cable encounters include Warpath, Meltdown, and Domino. Domino is apparently killed by the Sentinels.
· The mystery figure who attacks the camp is wearing a helmet reminiscent of Magneto’s, and has a scar over his right eye that resembles Cable’s.

Review: This is Rob Liefeld’s grand return to Cable, even though the cover is by Adam Kubert. And next issue’s is penciled by Andy Kubert. Did Marvel want to make a big deal about this or not? It’s also odd that Liefeld did this run with little-to-no plot input (that’s how I remember him describing his contribution at the time, anyway). Doesn’t that go against the spirit of the Image founders?

Liefeld’s art offers no surprises. If you already hate it, there’s nothing here to change your mind. If you buy into the idea that his “energy” compensates for his lack of technical skills, there are plenty of splash pages and impossible poses for you to enjoy. He’s joined by an inker for this run, Lary Stucker, but Stucker’s style is indistinguishable from Liefeld’s mid-90s inks, and he certainly isn’t cleaning things up by adding backgrounds or varying textures to the inks. I wish someone would’ve caught the lack of a pupil in Cable’s “good” eye (the scarred one, ironically). Cable’s left eye is the bionic one; that’s the one that isn’t supposed to have a pupil. Liefeld gets this wrong not for a panel or two, but for most of the issue.

There’s also a storytelling glitch that has Meltdown, who for some reason doesn’t get an introduction from the narrator with the rest of her teammates, suffering a serious injury off-panel during the Ahab fight. And Cable declaring that the team is horribly outnumbered when we’ve only seen as many villains as heroes during the battle. And Liefeld doesn’t see any reason to age the characters a day, even though the story is set decades in the future. What I’m saying is that perhaps Liefeld’s art ill serves the script.

The story is yet another play on “Days of Future Past” with no real point, unless this was intended to be the “official” explanation of what happened to the assorted X-Force characters in that timeline. Pruett isn’t able to add any drama to the concept, and going for the predictable “Everybody dies!” ending doesn’t do the story any favors. Plus, doing a break-up scene with Stacey has got to be the most obvious move the new creative team could’ve made. Everyone was expecting them to do this, regardless of how much Liefeld claimed to love the Casey/Ladronn run. On top of all of this, Comicraft has somehow discovered an even uglier font than the bizarre one chosen during Ladronn’s run. So, really, this is one bad decision after another, and I’m not sure if anyone is that surprised.

Friday, July 6, 2012

WOLVERINE #142 - September 1999

Credits: Erik Larsen & Eric Stephenson (writers), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Dexter Vines & Scott Kiblish (inkers), Glynis Oliver (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine teams with Alpha Flight to rescue Mac Hudson and his synthoid duplicate from AIM. Wolverine escapes as the team is gassed, and soon locates Mac and his duplicate in a lab. MODOK refuses to send more AIM agents after Wolverine; instead he calls upon the current Weapon X, Kane.

Continuity Notes: Inexplicably, Alpha Flight now consists of the original team. A throwaway explanation reveals that the previous incarnation of Alpha Flight has been downgraded to the training team Beta Flight. Heather Hudson also reveals that her relationship with Puck is now over, although they remain friends.

Creative Differences: Notice that the colorist has given Heather Hudson a more modest costume on the cover.

“Huh?” Moments: Wolverine uses “Crikey!” as an exclamation. Slightly more defensible is his use of “Criminey!” later in the issue, but that’s bizarre, too. MODOK also has this dialogue in his opening appearance: “Leadin’ them…that is the mutant Wolverine, is it not?” Since when does MODOK drop “G”s?

Review: Erik Larsen was pretty open about how much he hated almost everything Marvel did in the ‘90s, so it’s not a big surprise that he’s revived the original lineup of Alpha Flight (more famously, he wanted to reveal that the ‘90s Elektra had been a Skrull in a throwaway gag in Nova). Going about it in such an indolent manner is a mistake though, considering that a lot of continuity work would be required to fix all of the ridiculous changes forced upon the original cast. In this issue, we’re just supposed to accept the new-old team, which makes about as much sense as the X-Men suddenly reappearing in their 1963 forms next month. And even if you’re a hardcore Alpha Flight fan and don’t care how exactly the original members have returned, I doubt you’re too thrilled with the formerly demure Heather Hudson prancing around in an outfit straight out of a Penthouse cover. The only redeeming factors in the issue are Lenil Francis Yu’s intricate renditions of AIM technology and the striking new outfits he’s designed for AIM’s soldiers. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give the fight scenes the same attention, so many of them are poorly choreographed and hard to follow.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

GENERATION X #55 - September 1999

Sins of the Past Part One - In Another Man’s Shoes
Credits: Jay Faerber (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Generation X wake up to discover that they’re in the past; their mirror images reflecting them as members of the Hellions. Jubilee realizes that they’re reliving the day the Hellions were killed by Fitzroy and his Sentinels. The team goes to the planned Hellfire party, where they meet the only Hellion not reflected by the team, Jetstream. Despite their efforts, fate is not changed and Jetstream is killed by Fitzroy. During the battle, M is struck by one of Archangel’s ricocheting blades. She awakens in the Danger Room and realizes that her arm is bleeding.

Continuity Notes: This story swaps Gen X for the Hellions during their final battle in Uncanny X-Men #281. Much of the dialogue spoken by the characters is from the original script written by John Byrne.

Review: What a great high concept for a story. Of course, it’s not hard to guess that the resolution is going to involve the Danger Room and/or some telepathic manipulation, but that doesn’t undermine what an incredible hook this is. Trapped in the past in bodies destined to die, the team debates their next course of action, which for Skin and Chamber is clearly to avoid this fateful party at all costs. Jubilee conjures up an inspirational speech from her days with Professor X and convinces the team that since they know what’s coming, they’ll be better prepared to face Fitzroy. Arriving at the party, they’re soon confronted by 1991’s Emma Frost, who’s still a sadistic aristocrat in trashy lingerie. Faerber handles the team’s response to the villainous Emma quite well, and it’s hard to deny that the Dodsons make the X-Men of this era look fantastic (they certainly has a better handle on these costumes than Whilce Portacio did). This is a remarkable opening chapter and I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

MUTANT X #12 - September 1999

Once Upon a Time…
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Cary Nord (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Gina Going (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Summary: Madelyne sends a subconscious prompt to Scotty, giving him instructions on how to defeat the Goblin Queen. He then passes the information telepathically to Havok. Havok joins the X-Men and Dr. Doom’s UN brigade against the Goblin Queen. When Havok is drawn into telepathic combat with Madelyne, a portion of Scotty’s consciousness appears. The Goblin Force inside Madelyne is so afraid of him that it retreats. The Goblin Queen’s influence disappears, leaving Havok to contemplate a new lineup for the Six.

“That’s Crazy Because They’re Different”: Namor is a fierce anti-human bigot in this world. He agrees to help Magneto and Doom infiltrate New York because of a cryptic “blood debt” with Magneto, which he says is now fulfilled.

Continuity Notes: Havok’s research into this world has revealed that Rogue permanently absorbed Colossus’ powers during a confrontation with the Black Queen, and now lives with his memories. He also discovers that in this reality, Spider-Man rescued Gwen Stacy and accidentally snapped the Green Goblin’s neck during their battle on the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Huh?” Moment: Havok decides to tell his teammates the “truth” about where he came from, which is treated as a dramatic revelation. Have the creators already forgotten that Havok revealed his alternate reality past back in the second issue?

Better Than X-Factor?: No, “better” isn’t the word I would use. This is the double-sized grand finale to the first year of storylines in the title, and much like the previous issues, the execution is too rushed and frantic to convey the “epic” feel Mackie's going for. The book’s also sliding far too close to the realm of fan fiction, as the issue opens with a lengthy synopsis of the “Goblin Force,” an evil cosmic entity that’s so powerful it’s killed Galactus and consumed the Phoenix Force. Madelyne made a deal to save Scotty at some point in the past, bargaining with the Goblin Force, which has now consumed her. Yes, the storyline is now a direct “Dark Phoenix Saga” homage, and you can guess just how well it compares to the original. As opposed to Uncanny X-Men #137’s unforgettable ending, this story doesn’t even bother to tell us what happened to Madelyne after Scotty mysteriously compelled the Goblin Force out of her. She’s vaguely “gone.” I don’t know if that means she’s literally disappeared, or if she’s dead and Cary Nord just didn’t draw her body on the ground.

Is there anything to look forward to in this book? Havok assembling a new team has potential, and Mackie’s made the odd decision to begin a romantic subplot between Havok and Elektra this issue, but…how can I be optimistic about this title after seeing how quickly it went off the rails in its first year?

Monday, July 2, 2012

X-FORCE #93 - August 1999

Temple of the Dying Sun
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Anthony Williams & Chris Renaud (pencilers), Hector Collazo & Scott Koblish (inker), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Astarte and Electryon of the Eternals dupe X-Force into traveling to an island overrun with quantum disruptions. As Moonstar uses her powers to combat the hostile landscape, Astarte and Electryon secretly siphon off her quantum energy. When Moonstar is trapped underground, she meets the alien Ry’lor. He explains that his spacecraft’s quantum drive is responsible for the island’s problems, and shows Moonstar how to make contact with the entirety of the quantum force. Moonstar uses her powers to free her teammates and defeat Astarte and Electryon. Ry’lor repairs his craft and returns to space. Meanwhile, Domino returns home as Sunspot packs his bags.

Continuity Notes:
· Astarte and Electryon are working for Odysseus Indigo, who wants to study the quantum energy wielded by Moonstar.
· Ry’lor claims to be an alien who arrived on Earth thousands of years ago. After being worshipped by primitive man, his followers turned on him when he shared his technology with them. He massacred his disciples in response and has lived in seclusion ever since.
· A mysterious package addressed to Cannonball arrives from Genosha while the team’s away.

I Love the '90s: Jesse Bedlam (perhaps the first time he uses that surname) brags that he can easily shut down the alien technology and be back home in time for Win Ben Stein’s Money.

Review: Unless you really wanted to see a showcase of Comicraft’s variety of fonts (I’d guess around five appear this issue), there isn’t much here. Reader sentiment had solidly turned against the Eternals/Deviants storyline by this point, and I can’t blame them. John Francis Moore is making some effort to connect this story to the actual cast, but the alleged deep conversation between Moonstar and alien sun god Ry’lor is lifeless. Apparently, they’ve both learned a great lesson about the importance of moving on, but the issue is packed so densely the scenes have no impact. The visuals might’ve saved the issue, since the artists are given an entire issue of crazy Kirby-esque images to draw, but this was clearly done as a rush job. Anthony Williams & Chris Renaud are odd choices if the creators were really going for a Kirby vibe, anyway. Was it really impossible to find one of the many artists who specialize in Kirby pastiche to fill in? I would love to see what Mike Manley could’ve done with this material.

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