Monday, June 29, 2015


Credits:  Dan Jurgens (story & layouts), Brett Breeding (finishes), Bill Oakley (letterer), Greg Wright w/Android Images (colors)

Summary:  Superman is haunted by nightmares of Doomsday.  He visits Lois’ apartment to tell her that he has to find Doomsday for his own peace of mind.  Elsewhere, a space freighter comes across Doomsday’s cocoon.  They unwittingly release Doomsday, who immediately returns to life and kills the merchants.  The freighter rides on autopilot to its destination, Apokolips.  Doomsday causes havoc on the planet, as a small device on his back becomes active.  The device adopts the circuitry of one of Darkseid’s soldiers and immediately regenerates Hank Henshaw, the Cyborg Superman.  Darkseid attempts to defeat Doomsday but loses the battle.  While on Earth, Superman contacts the Linear Men for help locating Doomsday, but they refuse.  Later, at the Justice League’s headquarters, he overheads the distress call Desaad sends to Oberon.  With the aid of Oberon’s Mother Box, Superman teleports to Apokolips.  He’s immediately attacked by the Cyborg.  While they’re distracted, Desaad opens a teleportation portal that sends Doomsday to an unknown location.

Continuity Notes:  This story was published a year after Superman’s return from the dead.  This era is famously associated with Superman’s mullet, even though Jurgens keeps his hair at fairly standard Superman length.  In fact, it’s longer during the flashback to Superman #75 than in the present day scenes.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Doomsday has quite a few on-panel dismemberments this issue.

Production Note:  This is a prestige format miniseries, forty-eight pages with glossy paper and square binding.  The cover price is $4.95.

Review:  One of the common complaints during “Death of Superman” was that Doomsday appeared suddenly, with no origin or motivation.  He existed merely as an instrument of destruction, or more accurately, a plot device specifically conceived as Superman’s murderer.  Any comics fan had to know that an origin would be coming sooner or later, and that Superman would also have his rematch against the monster.  That brings us to the Hunter-Prey miniseries, the big return of Doomsday, presented in the prestige format.  The average Superman comic at the time costs $1.50, while Hunter-Prey is five dollars an issue.  Like I said, the ‘90s aren’t over yet, folks.

Is the comic only a cash grab, though?  I have to say that the first issue is honestly enjoyable.  Jurgens opens with the emotional hook of the series, as Superman flashes back to his childhood memory of a “monster” in the basement, before the literal monster responsible for his death overtakes his dream.  Everyone must face his fears, even Superman.  The premise turns Superman into a very Marvel hero, questioning himself and fighting against his own insecurities throughout the story.  This type of self-doubt is tricky to pull off in a Superman story, but Jurgens handles the material very well.  Yes, the death of Superman was a marketing gimmick, but within the context of the character’s history, it’s a legitimately traumatic moment that can’t be easily forgotten in time for the next story.  Superman’s such a Marvel hero this issue, he even questions if he subconsciously allowed Doomsday to escape at the end in order to avoid facing the villain again.  That’s a beat straight out of Spider-Man, but Jurgens makes it work within the context of this story.

Jurgens is also able to efficiently assemble the pieces of the story in the first issue, while not losing sight of the fact that much of the appeal of the series is watching Doomsday just destroy things.  At the start of the story, Superman’s on Earth, he has no idea how to locate Doomsday, Cyborg Superman is dead, and Doomsday’s floating within a rock in space.  At the end of the issue, Doomsday’s revived himself and landed on Apokolips, the Cyborg has also been revived via a backup plan, and Superman lands where he needs to be for his big fight scene.  Along the way, Jurgens gets to pencil numerous double-page spreads of Doomsday wrecking things and killing people in a way you’re not likely to see in a DCU comic pre-Geoff Johns.  While it’s still hard to argue that Doomsday isn’t a walking plot device, it’s also hard to deny that watching him fistfight Darkseid isn’t inherently entertaining.  The opening, which has two space merchants collectively wetting themselves when they realize what is actually inside the cocoon they’ve discovered, is the best introduction to the character yet.  Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding find a nice blend between polish and grit, and deliver some highly enjoyable horror/action scenes throughout the course of the issue.  For fans of the mindless violence of the original Doomsday appearances, it’s a worthy sequel.  If you grew bored of the violence, and I’m admittedly in that camp, it’s much easier to forgive this time.  Hopefully the rest of the miniseries won’t grow as tedious as the original Doomsday story, because the first chapter shows a lot of promise.

Friday, June 26, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #23 - October 1999

Credits: Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (pencils and inks),  Pat Brosseau (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  Shortly after Donatello rebuilds an exo-skeleton bodysuit for Dr. X, April calls the Turtles into her apartment for a surprise birthday party.  April gives away advance copies of Michelangelo’s novel as presents.  Suddenly, Splinter collapses.  Dr. X revives him.  Splinter explains that he had a strange dream while unconscious involving Raphael and the Foot.  Pimiko makes a dramatic entrance, declaring that she now owes Raphael her life and that she’ll join the Turtles in battle to save him from the Foot.  Meanwhile, Casey discovers at the bank that his reward check has bounced.  He causes a scene and is arrested.  The Turtles reluctantly follow Pimiko to the Foot’s hideout, where Raphael is being held.  During the battle, Raphael’s former ally Cheng reveals that he’s been stealing Splinter’s life force ever since he “cured” him in the Astral Plane.  Cheng uses fireworks as a distraction and flees with Lady Shredder.  With the rest of the Foot defeated, Pimiko agrees to return to April’s home and enjoy the birthday party.

Continuity Notes:
  • One year has passed since the first issue of vol. 3, making this the Turtles’ nineteenth birthday.
  • Donatello can now make robotic duplicates of himself with his cybernetic armor.
  • Lady Shredder’s identity isn’t revealed, but she claims the Turtles should have recognized her.  The only obvious suspect I can think of is Karai.

What the Shell?:  Michelangelo actually unleashes a “Cowabunga!” during the Foot Clan battle.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Forget the Comics Code, can you imagine Image publishing this scene today and not generating a dozen indignant editorials on ComicsAlliance?

I Love the 90s:  Leonardo compares Lady Shredder’s steel bra to Madonna’s. Oprahs Book Club is still a thing.

Review in a Half-Shell:  We’ve reached the end, and what a finale this turned out to be.  Clearly, at some point during the issue’s production, Gary Carlson had to know this was the final issue.  The title ends with a callback not only to the first issue of the Image series (another birthday party), but even a reference to the very first TMNT comic (Cheng has a thermite grenade, just like the one Shredder used in the first Mirage issue’s finale).  Some of the subplots have nice resolutions, and Raphael rejoins his brothers at the issue’s end.  There’s also the final issue standard “Never The End!” closing caption on the last page.  And yet…much of this issue reads as if Carlson fully expects to be back next month.  The Casey Jones subplot from the past few issues continues, veering off in an unexpected direction.  The identity of Lady Shredder remains unrevealed.  Donatello’s still developing new uses for his cybernetic armor.  Leonardo continues to resist Donatello’s offer of a cybernetic replacement hand while he tries to adjust to his amputation.  And Splinter’s life is apparently in danger so long as Cheng lives.  For every story thread that’s resolved, another still exists, waiting for some sort of closure.

In retrospect, the third volume of TMNT had a lot going against it.  Launching in 1996, the Turtles are in that awkward stage where kids are getting bored with them, teens are denying they liked them, and no one’s really nostalgic for the concept yet.  The bulk of the audience seems to consist of the diehard fans from the original Mirage days, and I’m not sure if the Image series ever truly pleased them.  Visually, Im convinced the book is too divorced from the Mirage style.  When I think of a black and white TMNT book that’s continuing the original Mirage storylines, I immediately assume the Turtles are going to appear as they did on the cover of the original First graphic novel reprint.  Instead, the unique textures of the original series are gone, and regular artist Frank Fosco rarely stays on-model with the classic look.  Erik Larsen is able to do his own take on the Turtles (a great mix of his ‘90s style and the original designs), but he drops out of inking the book early on.  I don’t want to say Frank Fosco and the subsequent inkers botched the job, but the style isn’t distinctive enough to compete with the trademark look of the Eastman/Laird issues.  Ultimately, the book doesn’t resemble the original Mirage series and doesn’t have a strong enough look to stand on its own.  The art’s not bad, but it doesn’t look quite right in B&W, and it rarely evokes the classic TMNT style of the Mirage days.

In terms of story, I have to say that Carlson has maintained my interest for much of this run.  He can occasionally go off on tangents that produce meager results, but broadly speaking, his stories reflect much of what makes TMNT unique.  He gets the family dynamic angle, he understands how to alternate between street-level and sci-fi threats, and always makes efforts to connect the new volume to the existing continuity.  The early issues suffered from some distracting guts and gore, but Carlson wisely downplayed the violence as the issues went on.  I’d like to say that Carlson truly understands the Turtles’ personalities, but occasionally the heroes come across as shockingly crass and heartless.  The final issue has a good example of this -- would Leonardo ever refer to someone as a “retard?”  And are we supposed to be thrilled that Michelangelo has gotten to third base with Horridus, a character who honestly does have the intellect of a small child?  

As much as I wish the book could’ve made it to at least #25, I have to admit that I’m surprised it lasted for as long as it did.  A B&W book published on a fairly erratic schedule (check those cover dates) in a weak market, without “name” creators, starring characters that many dismissed as a dead fad.  Twenty-three issues is actually an achievement, I would say.  While this run has its problems, I’ll admit it’s often entertaining, and I wish I had a few more issues to review.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #22 - July 1999

Credits: Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (penciler), Mark Heike (inks), Pat Brosseau (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  Leonardo has a nightmare that he’s been infected with Donatello’s cybernetics.  He awakens with a prosthetic hand, which Donatello assures him isn’t cybernetic.  Meanwhile, the city holds a parade for Casey Jones.  Shadow’s grandfather sees her on television and vows to get her back.  At Michelangelo’s apartment, Rock arrives to take Horridus on a S.O.S. mission.  At the Foot Clan’s hideout, Raphael and Pimiko duel for leadership of the New York sect.  Raphael wins, but refuses to kill Pimiko, rejecting the Japanese council’s authority.  On their orders, Raphael’s Foot ninjas turn on him.  He tries to escape but is ambushed by Lady Shredder.  Pimiko emerges behind Raphael, leading him to question the identity of this new Shredder.

Continuity Notes: Pimiko loses her (ridiculously long, very ‘90s) ponytail during her duel with Raphael. Why exactly Pimiko tied up Splinter last issue isn’t clear (I’m assuming that was her), but he seems fine this issue.

Total N00B:  For the first time since the Image series began, I think I understand Michelangelo’s living situation.  He lives in an apartment, one floor below Casey and April’s apartment.  Apparently, Casey owns the entire building.  (Hmm. So why was he working at a grocery store?)  Splinter is staying with Michelangelo while Donatello and Leonardo remain in their old sewer home.

I Love the '90s:  Shadow thinks she sees one of the Teletubbies during Casey Jones’ parade.

Review in a Half-Shell:  I’m not sure if Gary Carlson knew this when he wrote the issue, but TMNT Image-style is on its next-to-last issue.  Some of the threads appear to be drawing to end, while new ones are still being introduced.  (The mobster grandpa?  Again?)  The issue’s opening is a cute example of how Carlson occasionally plays with the reader’s expectations, giving us an abbreviated story arc involving Leonardo also becoming a cyborg, then revealing it’s a dream, then revealing that it might actually be coming true.  Not that I want more cyborgs in this title, but if Carlson actually had a coherent plan to tie together Leo’s story with Don’s, and then return the characters to their proper status quo, then good for him.  Unfortunately, we won’t be able to see it.  

We are seeing a conclusion to the (rather dumb) Raphael/Foot storyline.  The upshot is that Raph learns that the Foot couldn’t be trusted all along, with even his closest confidants turning against him.  While I’m glad this arc is over, and the idea ultimately was to teach Raphael a lesson, it’s hard to pretend that Raph hasn’t been twisted out-of-character to get to this point.  Not only is he unusually tolerant of criminal behavior, but also just remarkably stupid for thinking that he could become best buddies with a clan of criminal ninja assassins.  I will say that this is Frank Fosco’s best issue in a while, and it was a treat to see Raph don his traditional mask during the duel, after spending the entire run in various guises.  Maybe one reason Fosco’s Turtles often seem so “off” to me is because he’s rarely allowed to draw them the way they’re supposed to look.

Monday, June 22, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #21 - May 1999

Credits: Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (penciler), Mark Heike (inks), Pat Brosseau (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  Donatello defeats all but one of the Triceratons at the museum.  The lone Triceraton teleports away with Horridus, leaving Donatello to fly home alone.  He calls April, asking her to check on Splinter.  She discovers Splinter tied up in his room.  Meanwhile, Raphael and the Foot Clan join the fight against the Triceratons in the sewer.  Michelangelo tries to shut down the transmat device but only manages to electrocute himself.  After the aliens are defeated, Horridus and the last Triceraton emerge inside the transmat device.  Leatherhead jumps on the Triceraton and is teleported away with him to an unknown location.  Raphael returns to the Foot’s hideout and is ambushed by members of the Japanese Foot Clan.  They declare that he passed the test and is worthy to join the Foot; however, another is claiming leadership of the New York faction.  Pimiko emerges, with her father’s elite guards.

Continuity Notes:  The Japanese representatives tell Raphael that Karai has been removed as leader of the Japanese Foot Clan because she “made a great mistake and lost much face.”

What the Shell?:  The cover doesn’t represent any of the actual events in this issue; it also ruins the last page reveal of Pimiko.

Review in a Half-Shell:  Somehow, this comic always manages to be plot heavy, even in an all-action issue.  Carlson finds a way to tie the ongoing Foot Clan subplot into the big Triceraton fight, and set up Pimiko’s inevitable confrontation with Raphael before the issue’s end.  I still consider the Raphael/Foot storyline to be an albatross around the book’s neck, even though this issue does use the Foot rather effectively during the big battle scene.  Apparently, their victory over the Triceratons is supposed to be the dramatic moment that proves Raph was right all along about replacing Shredder, which is a crock, because the comic has still done nothing to justify Raphael’s motivation to lead a criminal organization.  If he’s doing this to help the Foot reform, that’s defensible, but the idea that they’re still acting as criminals out of financial necessity is absurd.

On a very basic level, it’s fun to see various characters from the TMNT canon all united against the Triceratons.  Carlson makes it a point to give everyone at least a small character moment, while never letting the action relent.  Thanks to his still-annoying cybernetic upgrade, Donatello is able to blast his way through the Triceratons far too easily, but for the rest of the cast, the aliens are presented as credible threats.  The abundance of characters does work to the issue’s disadvantage in a few places, however.  The earlier issues suffered from a few “What is this?” pages, a problem that’s rarely reappeared until now.  With dozens of figures on each page (the Turtles, Casey Jones, Leatherhead, the Foot Clan, Horridus, and the Triceratons), there’s a tendency for the fight scenes to become too crowded.  As much as Larsen might have hated gray tone, some of the issues seemed to be begging for it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

X-MEN LEGENDS - June 2000 (Part Six)

Ice Prince
Written by K. A. Kindya

Summary:  Jubilee is stunned to discover Rogue and Jean Grey are fans of professional figure skating.  She refuses to watch, until she catches a glimpse of teenage skater Christopher Kim.  Her crush on Chris inspires her to try figure skating.  She travels with Rogue and Jean Grey to see Chris compete, but his act is cut short by the Friends of Humanity.  They reveal that Chris is actually a mutant who’s used his powers to aid his performance.  The crowd erupts in a panic and Chris is lead offstage.  Jubilee sneaks backstage and rescues Chris from two FoH members.  In the melee, Chris realizes he has levitation skills.  Jubilee invites Chris to stay at Xavier’s school, and in the ensuing weeks, he discovers his skating career is over.  Jubilee encourages Chris to find other interests, and soon Chris leaves the country to explore his passion for art.  Jubilee tries to tell herself she’s over Chris but she knows it isn’t true.

Continuity Notes:  According to the Continuity Guide, this story is set shortly after X-Men (vol. 2) #3 (December 1991).  Jubilee’s references to Magneto, the Legacy Virus, and the team recently returning from Genosha lead me to believe that it’s intended to be set after the “Bloodties”crossover, which places it post-X-Men (vol. 2) #26.

I Love the ‘90s:  Rogue says the commotion at the rink is worse than what happened with Nancy and Tonya.

Review:  I’m also not the target audience for this story, and unfortunately I can’t claim this one is “mercifully short.”  Twenty-four pages isn’t a totally unreasonable length for a short story, but twenty-four pages dedicated to Jubilee discovering the joys of professional figure skating is borderline torture.  Even if I were to ignore my inherent apathy towards figure skating, it’s hard to find anything of merit here.  The heroes are simpletons (it’s painfully obvious from the second page that Chris is a mutant, but the X-Men don’t realize this until the FoH announce the fact to the world), the plot has no real stakes for any of the established characters, and Jubilee’s acerbic, bratty personality is tossed out the window so that she can fall in love with the author’s idealized fantasy of a sensitive, young skating prodigy.  We’re also to believe that Rogue, of all the female X-Men, is a diehard fan of competitive figure skating.  Jean Grey I could buy, but Rogue?  Almost every member of the team K. A. Kindya uses in the story is twisted out-of-character in order to fulfill a preordained role in what turns out to be some sort of sports/superhero fan-fiction mash-up.  I had no idea the genre even existed, although I guess there probably is a Livejournal page out there dedicated to Wolverine and Cyclops settling their differences on the ballroom floor.  

Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made Of
Written by Robin Wayne Bailey

Summary:  Phoenix dreams that she is Army nurse Jane Somerset, engaged to Captain Stephen Maxwell.  In her visions, she repeatedly witnesses Stephen die at Pearl Harbor.  Cyclops and Phoenix attempt to discover the source of these dreams, and Cyclops’ research reveals that a Jane Somerset has been admitted to a nearby VA hospital.  While driving through Salem Center, Cyclops and Phoenix meet the pastor of the church Jane’s sister Margaret attends.  After meeting and befriending Margaret, Cyclops and Phoenix visit Jane in her hospital room.  Realizing that Jane is a mutant with only hours to live, Jean telepathically gives her the wedding she was robbed of in 1941.

Continuity Notes:  This story, intended as a continuation of Scott and Jean’s honeymoon, is set after the initial Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix miniseries (May-August 1994).

Review:  Hypothetically, I should like this one.  The premise is unique, the mystery is intriguing, and I tend to enjoy stories that have normal people interacting with telepathy in some way.  The execution, however, is so dry it’s hard to feel any real connection to the events.  The first half of the story is squandered with repetitive sequences of the mysterious Stephen Maxwell dying over and over again.  The author could’ve established in a few lines that Jean has been having this dream repeatedly for the past few days, but instead the reader has to endure the same death scene of a character we know or care nothing about for several pages.  It undermines the initial hook of the story, which is actually quite strong.  Robin Wayne Bailey also has a writing tic that personally bothers me – too much detail.  I mean, detail to the point that we’re told the name brand of the radio in Jean’s bedroom and Martha Somerset’s preferred teapot style.  The excessive verbiage kills the momentum of the story and eats up room that could’ve been used to flesh out Jane’s character.  The final pages of the story hint at some fantastic ideas – Jane becoming mute following Pearl Harbor (perhaps because she lost her hearing in the bombing, or more likely due to the trauma), Jean as a sympathetic mind that Jane’s reached out to, and Jean’s realization that Professor X saved her from Jane’s fate following her friend Annie’s death – but there’s no space for any of these concepts to have life.  There’s great potential here, but the story never manages to make Jane Somerset a fully realized character.  And without a genuine connection to Jane, the story falls apart.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

X-MEN LEGENDS - June 2000 (Part Five)

The Stranger Inside
Written by Jennifer Heddle

Summary:  Remembering the advice of Professor Xavier, Rogue starts a diary.  Carol Danvers, whose consciousness has recently been overtaking Rogue’s body, also keeps pages in the journal.  Rogue resents Carol’s intrusion into another aspect of her life, but eventually sympathizes with Carol’s pain.  Carol writes a message to Rogue, telling her that she’ll try to hate her less.  Rogue, following Carol’s advice, begins to grow closer to the X-Men.

Continuity Notes:  The Continuity Guide places this story concurrently with Uncanny X-Men #243-246 (April-July 1989), during the days the X-Men lived in a ghost town in the Australian outback.  Rogue feels distressed at the start of the story following the events of “Inferno,” which had her touching Apocalypse’s evil while kissing Archangel, and later facing the demon N’astirh. (Uncanny X-Men #243 was actually the last UXM issue of “Inferno,” so really the story can’t begin until UXM #244.)

Review:  I’ve always loved the status quo that had Rogue and Carol Danvers sharing a body.  Allowing Rogue to keep Carol’s powers but pay no emotional toil for her actions was kind of cheap, so I’m glad Claremont eventually hit on the idea of Carol spontaneously taking over Rogue’s body at certain times.  Now, Rogue literally can’t forget about her greatest sin, and she’s forced to acknowledge that the X-Men actually like Carol more than they like her.  There’s enormous story potential here, and presenting the narrative as Rogue and Carol’s alternating diary entries is pretty smart.  The most touching moment of the story comes when Carol realizes that she can’t remember the last time she saw her brother.  She remembers him as a child, and she knows he died in Vietnam, but her final moments with him are gone.  Perhaps Rogue’s powers permanently erased some of her memories, or Rogue’s actually cruel enough to intentionally keep the memory from her.  The way Heddle uses the existing backstory to humanize Carol and dramatize the current hell she lives in is admirably good writing.  There’s no real resolution to this mystery; it’s implied that Rogue wouldn’t do such a thing because she has genuinely reformed, but the idea is actually left out there dangling.

Jennifer Heddle seems to be basing most of her story on a scene in Uncanny X-Men #244, which had Rogue smashing up furniture that Carol bought while in control of her body.  Rogue’s only peace in life has come from within herself, due to her inability to touch others, and now even that’s gone.  Carol, on the other hand, has lost everything and sees the face of the person who stole it all in the mirror every day (or at least on the occasions her personality becomes dominant).  As I said earlier, there’s great potential for conflict here, and it’s a shame that Claremont didn’t do more with the idea.  That’s one of the advantages of a retro-anthology; a writer can pick up on a concept that still had some life in it and give readers a worthy “lost tale.”  This is precisely the kind of story I wanted to read in this anthology.  I was sure we’d get a Silver Age nostalgia piece with the original team, an Xavier solo story, and something with Kitty Pryde as a rookie X-Man, but I wasn’t expecting to find a specific continuity point from a somewhat obscure era in the X-Men’s past addressed so poignantly.

Once a Thief
Written by Ashley McConnell

Summary:  Gambit visits the Saint-Chinian region of France.  He runs into a fellow thief, Richard Reynaud, who dares Gambit to steal the wedding rings of a newlywed couple.  Gambit refuses, but soon discovers at his hotel that the rings are missing.  Gambit’s friend, the waitress Madelaine, is accused of the crime.  Gambit clears her name by invading Villa Reynaud and reclaiming the rings.  After the rings are returned to their rightful owners, Richard Reynaud confronts Gambit and tells him he isn’t a true thief.

Continuity Notes:  “Once a Thief” takes place “in the general vicinity” of Uncanny X-Men #275 (April 1991), during Gambit’s earliest days as an X-Man.  I would place it closer to the first issue of the second volume of X-Men, since the narration mentions Cyclops while Gambit is mentally reflecting on the X-Men.

Review:  I’ve never quite understood why Gambit attracted such a dedicated following of female fans, nor have I fully bought into the idea that he’s a refugee from a romance novel who ended up in X-Men comics.  Consequently, I’m not the target audience for this story.  It’s not a “romance” in the way the word is commonly used today (Gambit flirts a lot but doesn’t get involved with any of the female characters), but the story is filled with starry-eyed descriptions of France, loving accounts of Gambit’s innate charm and masculinity, and the stakes simply involve the reunion of a young couple with their wedding rings.  McConnell is attempting to tell a story that bridges the gap between Gambit’s days as a thief and a hero, which is a nice premise for an “untold tale,” but at no point did I really buy into the narrative.  Gambit’s rival is just broad enough to justify for mustache-twirling status, and the waitress and newlywed characters are strictly ciphers.  Some of Gambit’s inner monologue does feel true to the character, but I can’t say that’s enough to maintain my interest in the story.  It is mercifully short though, unlike the robotic dog story from a few chapters ago that lingered endlessly.

Monday, June 15, 2015

X-MEN LEGENDS - June 2000 (Part Four)

A Fine Line
Written by Dori Koogler

Summary:  Callisto oversees Colossus’ recuperation on Muir Island.  Colossus views Callisto as a brutal coach, but he sees a different side of her when the Morlock child Jessie is placed in a medically induced coma to prevent her violent telekinetic powers from reemerging.  Colossus watches for days as Callisto reads The Wizard of Oz to Jessie.  When Jessie’s powers again grow out of control and she dies while under Moira MacTaggert’s care, Callisto is enraged.  Colossus consoles her, and as they grow closer, Shadowcat becomes jealous.  When Colossus realizes that his friendship with Callisto is hurting Shadowcat, and that he’s unable to return Callisto’s affection, he leaves Muir Island for Edinburgh.  Days later, the residents of Muir Island discover that Colossus has rejoined the X-Men and died in Dallas.  Shadowcat attempts to comfort the caustic Callisto and advises her to be true to the person Colossus thought she could be.

Continuity Notes:  
  • According to the Continuity Guide, this story is set “just prior” to Uncanny X-Men #224 (December 1987), except for the ending, which takes place between Uncanny X-Men #227 (March 1987) and the initial Excalibur special.
  • At this stage in continuity, Callisto and the injured Morlocks are staying on Muir Island with Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Shadowcat following the Mutant Massacre.  Colossus’ “death” in Dallas at the end of the story is a reference to the “Fall of the Mutants” event.
  • After weeks of physical therapy, Colossus is able to revert to his human form during the story.  In the comics (as I recall), Colossus remains stuck in his armored form until after he goes through Siege Perilous in Uncanny X-Men #251.  When he reappeared months later, he emerged in his human form and the storyline was never mentioned again.

Review:  “A Fine Line” is set during that chaotic period post-Mutant Massacre when no one even seemed quite sure who was supposed to be an X-Man.  An intimate, human story like this one would’ve be a welcome relief during those days, and Dori Koogler manages to evoke a classic Claremont feel throughout the piece.  Unveiling the hidden depth behind a previously one-note villain is a hallmark of Claremont’s work, not to mention his explorations of the tangled thread of relationships and ex-relationships, so this genuinely feels like a missing story from the ‘80s X-Men.  

I’m assuming the inspiration behind this story is Colossus’ post-Siege Perilous relationship with Callisto, even though it reads very well on its own without any knowledge of where X-continuity is going.  I like the idea that Colossus saw a glimpse of the inner beauty, so to speak, within Callisto months before his memory was erased and he ended up falling for her in a completely different context.  Koogler manages to make Colossus far more sympathetic than he appears under most writers.  He spends time with Nightcrawler every day while his friend’s in a coma, he still has dreams about his deceased love Zsaji, he reaches out to Callisto out of honest concern (oblivious to any romantic feelings that she might develop in return), and ultimately does what he thinks is necessary to spare both Shadowcat and Callisto’s feelings.  Callisto is also admirably fleshed out.  Stories like this are always tricky – it’s not as if Callisto was initially conceived as Colossus’ love interest, after all – but Koogler manages to stay true to Callisto’s character and provide plausible circumstances within the plot that will justify the emergence of other aspects of her personality.  Bringing Shadowcat (stuck as a ghost at this point in continuity, floating around Muir Island and keeping tabs on her ex-boyfriend) into the story is a nice play on the existing backstory, and a great way to complicate Callisto’s attempts to seduce Colossus.  Even though this might initially seem like cliché love triangle material, the characters feel authentic throughout.  The story is a little too long, and it’s arguable the scene that has Callisto suicidal following Jessie’s death is going too far, but overall this is a fantastic effort from Dori Koogler.  

Steel Dogs and Englishmen
Written by Thomas Deja

Summary:  Peter Wisdom contacts Banshee, introducing himself as a W.H.O. agent.  He explains that Justin Hammer has moved his operations to England and is selling a new model of Sentinel.  Banshee reluctantly agrees to join Wisdom on the mission, which has them infiltrating Hammer’s nautical mansion.  After facing a new breed of canine Sentinels, they’re captured by Hammer’s guards.  Banshee and Wisdom escape Hammer’s makeshift prison and find his control room.  Banshee hacks into the computer and inserts the virus disc that destroys the newest Master Mold, and Hammer’s home.  Later, Wisdom meets with his true employers, Black Air, and hands them a disc with copied Sentinel schematics.

Continuity Notes:  This story “takes place concurrently” with Excalibur #11 (August 1989).  Banshee doesn’t have his sonic powers at this point, a fact Wisdom doesn’t know when he contacts him.

“Huh?” Moment:  Banshee wears an old SHIELD outfit while on the mission, a detail that’s never explained. I know that Banshee was an Interpol agent in the past, but don’t recall him ever working with SHIELD.

Review:  I’m not a big fan of action in the prose format, and unfortunately, this is around twenty pages of action.  The premise for the story is fine -- former secret agent Sean Cassidy getting called out of retirement by the arrogant young punk Pete Wisdom has potential, and it’s an unobtrusive way to retcon Wisdom into one of the X-Men’s past.  But the chemistry between Wisdom and Banshee is just tepid; none of the barbs are particularly funny and there’s no real bond between the characters.  Perhaps there is an entertaining way to have Banshee and Wisdom bounce off each other, but Deja doesn’t find it.  The only real conflict between them comes from Banshee’s refusal to kill, and even that feels casually tossed away when Banshee blows up Hammer’s operation at the end.  Surely not everyone escaped, did they?
While I did enjoy Deja’s interpretation of preppie criminal Justin Hammer (and the white tennis outfits the heroes are forced to wear while in “prison,” which is actually Hammer’s guest room), the lengthy fight scenes with the canine Sentinels felt like they dragged on forever.  Even in comics, the visual of a robotic dog wouldn’t be so exciting, and reading page after page of prose descriptions of Banshee and Wisdom fighting them, with some generic goons thrown in, gets old quickly.  It’s just too much of a chore to finish, and the payoff of “Black Air is up to something!” isn’t enough to justify the effort.

Friday, June 12, 2015

X-MEN LEGENDS - June 2000 (Part Three)

The Worst Prison of All
Written by C. J. Henderson

Summary:  While attending the Moslem festival of Achoura in Morocco, Xavier is attacked by the thralls of Gol-shentu, the Forgotten One.  Xavier enters the Astral Plane to face Gol-shentu and discovers that he’s a psychic vampire that lives in-between dimensions.  After focusing his powers, Xavier is able to pull Gol-shentu into the real world.  Unprepared for life in three-dimensions, Gol-shentu evaporates.  Xavier reflects on the being that retreated to shadow dimensions in order to avoid death and remains more determined to enjoy his life while there’s still time.

Continuity Notes:  This story is set in-between Uncanny X-Men #110 (April 1978) and #111 (June 1978).

Review:  Nothing particularly exciting here.  One major problem is the villain, Gol-shentu, the Forgotten One.  His name is hard to pronounce, he’s far too reminiscent of the Shadow King, and his motivation comes across as an excuse for the narrator to spell out the moral of the fable.  There’s nothing wrong with a story about Xavier embracing life after the loss of his legs and realizing that every living thing must face his mortality, but there’s little to this story outside of the very obvious point it’s making.  Also, if Xavier is going to star in a story about the importance of living life, I think his standard personality of the stoic, serious professor should probably be addressed in some way.  If Xavier is someone with an incredible passion for life, it would seem to be buried deep under the surface, and the story would be well-served if the reader discovers why.

Chasing Hairy
Written by Glenn Hauman

Summary:  Carol Danvers interviews the Beast for NOW Magazine.  He deflects any serious question with a joke.

Continuity Notes:  Set during Beast’s stint with the Avengers, this story occurs right before Avengers #181 (March 1979).

I Love the ‘90s:  The cover of NOW Magazine is dated September 1999.

Review:  “Chasing Hairy” is very short, but it’s also a very accurate interpretation of how an interview with the Beast of the late ‘70s would read.  Beast’s light-hearted, occasionally goofy personality from his Avengers days had largely disappeared by this point in continuity, even though Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern tried their best to revive it during his appearances in Avengers-related titles around this time.  Perhaps that was Hauman’s inspiration (along with the internet campaign to have Beast rejoin the Avengers) to remind readers of the less serious, but no less intelligent interpretation of the character.  I’m not going to say that the Beast evolved into a totally different character over the years, but the zany, manic sense of humor rarely appeared after Beast returned to the X-titles, and this story is a decent nostalgia piece for the people who remember those days.

One Night Only
Written by Scholly Fisch

Summary:  Kitty Pryde takes Nightcrawler to the circus for his birthday.  Nightcrawler discovers that one of the performers is his former high-rope partner Johanna.  He spontaneously joins her performance, to the crowd’s delight.  Later, the circus’ creative director offers Nightcrawler a job.  To Kitty’s shock, he doesn’t decline.  Meanwhile, the Blob and Unus the Untouchable invade the big top, after robbing the circus’ account manager.  Kitty uses her powers to protect a frightened child, then penetrates Unus’ forcefield and knocks him unconscious.  Nightcrawler tries to teleport the Blob far away from the crowd, but his massive build leaves Nightcrawler stranded in the Hudson River.  Johanna arrives to rescue him.  Nightcrawler expresses his appreciation, but tells Johanna that he now realizes he can’t reunite their act.

Continuity Notes:  “One Night Only” is set shortly after Uncanny X-Men #153 (January 1982).  Kitty’s codename is Sprite during this era.

Review:  This is the kind of story that used to run in Marvel annuals in the ‘80s before they went crossover crazy.  There’s nothing truly wrong with the plot of “One Night Only,” it’s just doomed as obvious “illusion of change.”  Nightcrawler is tempted to rejoin the circus.  Nightcrawler stops two evil mutants.  Nightcrawler realizes he can’t go back to the circus.  Scholly Fisch is able to make the cast likeable enough throughout the piece, so that alleviates some of the tedium.  (And credit to Fisch for acknowledging Amanda Sefton’s part in Nightcrawler’s past and assuring the reader that Johanna isn’t supplanting her in continuity.)  There’s a nice idea in here that the appeal of the circus is not only nostalgia for Nightcrawler, but it’s also a place where he can openly be himself and receive true recognition for his talents.  The Blob and Unus are also well chosen as foes, given their own pasts with the circus.  Ultimately, though, it’s a story that hinges on a conflict that you know is going nowhere, and the resolution is even more pat than I expected going in.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...