Thursday, October 29, 2015


More for the brief thoughts on the Society of Serpents trade, which reprints the brief Mike Carlin run and the earliest issues by Mark Gruenwald.

Has anyone ever given any real consideration of Mike Carlin, the writer, before?

Everyone knows where Denny O’Neil stands as a writer, but as the other guy who helped shape DC in the ‘90s, Carlin is largely a mystery.

Actually, Carlin only wrote CAP for a few issues when Marvel had no idea what to do w/the book. THING is his only real run as a writer, I think.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #303 - I like the way Machete uses the UPC box as a prop.

Carlin, CAP’s asst. editor, stepped in to replace DeMatteis, following his disagreement with Shooter re: Cap retiring.  

Carlin has Cap give lip service to the idea that he fights for the American Dream, even though he can never have it, yet…
…Cap has a pretty normal life at this point.  A fiancĂ©e, a job, an apartment -- he’s not doing so bad.

Gruenwald’s the one who takes the idea of Cap sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of The Dream and runs with it.

The Epic trade reprints Gruenwald’s editorial from Carlin’s last issue. Carlin’s moving to THING while editor Gru will become CAP’s writer.

While Carlin’s run is pretty generic superhero material, Gru lays out his take from the beginning: Cap’s devotion to freedom forces him to live a specific lifestyle--

--one that isn’t going to allow him the standard civilian life of a Marvel hero.  That’s tricky to pull off & it might be one reason why fans turns against Gru’s run towards the end.

I’m a few issues into the early days of Gruenwald’s CAPTAIN AMERICA. 3 issues in & Cap’s already ditched his job & his sidekick.

Honestly, does Cap really think drawing a toothpaste ad is contributing to a “consumer-oriented” society that “places more value on possessions than people”?

Gru had a tendency to take sudden and somewhat arbitrary moral stands in the book.  Cap feeling uncomfortable with drawing advertising work--

Gru, to his credit, recanted that one after fans basically told him he was being ridiculous.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #311. So this is where “Steve Rogers draws Cap’s comic” comes from. Assumed it was from Silver Age.

Gru has the MU version of Mike Carlin acknowledge that CAP’s sales are slumping and it’s close to cancellation. He wasn’t joking!

CAP’s impending cancellation was the inspiration for Gru’s upcoming “Captain America No More!” arc, which blew up the book’s status quo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Micro-Reviews: HELLBLAZER

I've been asked to archive my micro-reviews on this site, so I thought I'd give it a try for a few posts.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a HELLBLAZER comic before. Thought this might prove interesting: 

…or not. The first issue has a strong opening, but John’s subsequent investigation becomes fairly dull as the story progresses.

And the mystery drags on to the second issue, unfortunately.

I’ll stick with it, though. I admire DC for releasing these thick, low-price trades. The value for the dollar really is amazing.

Also, can you believe that’s a Jim Lee cover? Didn’t recognize him at all.

HELLBLAZER #2, the most hardcore, cutting edge DC title of 1988. Because Alan Moore doesn’t work here anymore.

The story does pick up as it reaches its conclusion. I can see why the book developed a cult following early on -- a book about hard choices and unhappy endings is rare in any era, but was almost unheard of in ‘88.

The idea of John screwing over his friends in pursuit of greater goals became the hook of the TV show -- which is fine in theory, but I don’t think the show ever amounted to much.

I thought the pilot was great, but the show quickly fell into formula. I was bored by most episodes.

HELLBLAZER #3, set on Britain’s election day, 1987.

Goodness, can you guess the political stand that’s going to be taken? A rousing defense of free markets, I’m sure.

I wonder if every issue of Delano’s run touches on 80s UK drug culture. On-panel coke snorting this issue.

Guacamole, compact discs, and running shoes are cited as extravagant excesses of the rich.

How would 80s Delano respond if he knew most of the world’s poorest citizens today own cellphones?

That global communication would be instantaneous, effortless, and nearly free?

That the poor in UK & US have access to tech undreamed of by the rich just 20 years ago?

It’s an entire issue of Delano literally demonizing people he disagrees with. No different than any talk radio hack.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The End. For Now. Maybe.

After far too many years of doing this, I’ve decided that my days of regular updates are over.  I don’t want to say that this is my final post, since it’s possible I’ll want to use this space again for other purposes, but I’m fairly confident that my days of regular updates are over.  

I started this blog in 2007, when the easiest shorthand reference for a bad comic remained ’90s Marvel, or more specifically, 90s X-books. The people working in comics didnt seem to disagree.  Today, you can buy actual $100 hardcover reprints of Rob Liefeld X-Force comics.  Lord help us, Avengers: The Crossing is even available in hardcover.  90s storylines routinely receive sequels these days.  Bishop, Blink, and Deadpool have appeared in multi-million dollar movies.  There are working professionals in the entertainment industry that weren’t even born when Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 blessed us with its multi-cover glory.  And the blogging boom that inspired me to create an alternate site to explore the ’90s is long dead.  

I’d like to thank anyone who ever posted a link or left a comment during the past eight years.  Mike Sterling was the first to post a link during my initial week of blogging, giving me more readers early on than I probably deserved, so special thanks to him.  I’d also like to thank folks like wwk5d and Matt for leaving comments here for as long as I can remember.  And wherever you are Fnord Serious and cyke68, I hope you’re doing well.

I’m still around.  You can follow me on Twitter if you’d like, and I’m open to writing for someone else’s site if the project’s right.  You can email me through the Contact page.  (Actually, I have an idea for another review series if anyones interested.  Also, I’ll be doing more micro-reviews on Twitter in the future.)  Feel free to contact me.  Thanks for the support, and may all your web-lines be advantageous.

Friday, October 9, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #12 - March 1997

Better to Light a Small Candle…
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Yancey Labat (penciler), Ralph Cabrera (inks), Paul Becton w/World Color (colors), Ul Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Lilandra summons the X-Men to her vessel, in the hopes that the Phoenix Force will again possess Jean Grey and protect the M’Kraan Crystal.  Phoenix returns, and Gladiator travels with the X-Men to the Crystal’s homeworld.  Inside the Crystal, the Dweller in Darkness has placed the N’Garai and a resurrected D’Ken as foils for the X-Men.  His plan is to destroy the Crystal and feed on the fear of every living thing as existence perishes.  The X-Men defeat his thralls and merge their spirits with the Phoenix.  Phoenix sends a message to the universe, uniting all beings in brotherhood and harmony.  The M’Kraan Crystal then shatters, destroying existence as we know it.  With no fear to feed upon, the Dweller in Darkness is left vulnerable to his former lackey D’Spayre.  The Living Tribunal watches as explorer Galen agrees to join with the dying universe to become a new entity.  Life begins anew, and billions of years later, the X-Men are formed in Westchester County.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Every “official” X-Man from the cartoon, i.e. those in the opening credits, is featured this issue.
  • The message Man-Thing left to Jean last issue gives her the inspiration to spread hope to the universe, spoiling the Dweller in Darkness’ scheme.
  • The explorer Galen later becomes Galactus in the mainstream Marvel Universe.  I think Macchio is saying that the Adventures reality doesn’t have a Galactus until it’s destroyed this issue, since the issue opens with Galen exploring the death of the universe.
  • The Phoenix reemerges in a red costume, which would seem to be a major coloring mistake.

How Did This Get Published?:  “Come heah to mama, fellers.  Time fer a little clean-up!”  Mercifully, this is one of the few times Macchio’s given Rogue dialogue in this series.

Miscellaneous Note:  The full expression that inspired the title of this story is “It's better to light a small candle than curse the darkness.”  It appears to be attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Review:  Yes, that’s the proper response to your series getting cancelled -- just blow up the entire universe.  On some level, it’s hard not to admire what Macchio’s going for this issue, taking advantage of the fact that the series is outside of continuity and, let’s face it, off in a corner that no one is paying attention to.  In twenty-two pages, he’s crafted a very literal interpretation of what “the last” X-Men story should be, and it doesn’t involve a flash-forward to the next generation of the team or an epic final battle between the X-Men and Magneto.  It’s the death of everything, but that’s okay, because after a few billion years, life begins anew and eventually Charles Xavier is back again with his original team of X-Men, reenacting the opening page of 1963’s X-Men #1.  It’s all done by rote with very little sentiment, but there is one moment towards the end that’s honestly touching.  As the universe draws to a close, Xavier’s dream of peace and unity is finally achieved when the X-Men reach into the hearts of every sentient being in the universe and impart solidarity in the face of death.  The universe dies nobly, rejecting fear and finally united as one.  In a strange way, it actually is the ultimate ending of the X-Men’s story.  The issue remains a bit of a mess, and surely any kid picking this up to get more of what he loved from the cartoon is going to be either bored or terrified, but there is a germ of a great idea in here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #11 - February 1997

Tower of Despair
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Yancey Labat (penciler), Ralph Cabrera (inks), Paul Becton w/World Color (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  The Vanisher’s attempt to send the X-Men back to Earth doesn’t go as planned, with Cyclops and Gambit arriving in New York but Storm and Jean Grey materializing in a Florida swamp.  Inside the swamp, the duo discovers Man-Thing, a creature with a strange affinity for Jean Grey.  Going into town, they encounter the charismatic Godfrey Silverton, who leads the townspeople to a tower where he claims their dreams will be fulfilled.  Silverton then reveals himself as D’Spayre, and Jean quickly realizes that the tower is connected to the Nexus of Realities.  Storm destroys the tower while Jean faces D’Spayre in the Astral Plane.  Jean discovers he’s working for the Dweller in Darkness, and with Man-Thing’s help, forces D’Spayre to retreat.  At the mansion, Lilandra contacts Xavier, revealing that the M’Kraan Crystal is unstable and getting worse following the battle at the Nexus of Realities.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Man-Thing and D’Spayre debut in the Adventures continuity.
  • The Dweller in Darkness was last mentioned in Adventures of the X-Men #4.
  • Man-Thing subconsciously passes along a secret to Jean that she feels is “the most important thing” she’ll ever remember.

Miscellaneous Note:  This issue and the next feature an episode guide of the animated series, written by Andy Mangels.

“Um, Actually…”:  The script leaves the “All” out of “Nexus of All Realities.”  Also, the story claims at one point that the tower actually is the Nexus, which doesn’t sound right.

Review:  Adventures of the X-Men is one issue away from cancellation, and it looks as if Ralph Macchio is tying together various stories from previous issues and going for a cosmic sendoff.  Even though the word “Adventures” became synonymous with “done-in-one, continuity-free” storytelling in the ‘90s, an accurate adaptation of the X-Men animated series actually would feature continued storylines, so I’m okay with Macchio going in this direction for the final issues.  Yancey Labat returns as artist, in this title that has yet to find anyone willing to stick around for more than a few issues.  Unlike the previous pencilers, there’s no pretense that Labat is drawing in the conventional “Adventures” style, which means his work looks like almost any other comic Marvel published circa 1996.  On a few pages he manages to channel early Terry Dodson fairly well, but much of the issue is plagued by disappearing backgrounds and cluttered storytelling.

I guess even the Adventures books couldn’t avoid Marvel’s Bronze Age Revival in the mid-‘90s, which is the only justification I can come up with for dedicating this issue to the Man-Thing, D’Spayre, and the Nexus of (All) Realities.  I’m not carrying any ‘70s nostalgia into this comic with me, so much like the revivals of Shang-Chi and the Micronauts, I just kind of shrug my shoulders and move on.  There’s nothing terrible about the script, aside from a few lines of clunky dialogue, but it’s hard to find a reason to care about Storm and Jean getting dropped into a tame recreation of an old Steve Gerber comic.  The prospect of the Nexus of Realities having an impact on the M’Kraan Crystal actually isn’t a bad idea, however, so maybe there will be a smooth transition into next issue’s finale.

Monday, October 5, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #10 - January 1997

Media Darlings
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Yancey Labat (penciler), Ralph Cabera (inks), Paul Becton w/Graphic Colorworks (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Storm films a pilot episode for Mojo, but the filming is interrupted by aspiring screenwriter Vroot.  Meanwhile, the Vanisher teleports the X-Men to the Mojoverse.  They quickly encounter Longshot, who is leading a rebellion against Mojo.  With his help, the Vanisher discovers Storm’s location.  The X-Men free her from Mojo’s guards and soon confront Mojo, who’s building a tower to reach Earth’s satellite transmissions.  Mojo’s device doesn’t work, thanks to Vroot, who’s been secretly working with the rebellion.  His plan is foiled, but Mojo demands Storm honor her contract.  The Vanisher volunteers to take her place; he needs to hide from Sebastian Shaw, and he’s always wanted to be an actor anyway.  Mojo agrees and Vanisher sends the X-Men home.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Cyclops’ headgear is drawn incorrectly the entire issue.  The area above his visor shouldn’t be covered.
  • In this continuity, the Vanisher is a former employee of Sebastian Shaw’s.  His motivation for double-crossing him last issue is clarified, somewhat, in the second chapter.  Vanisher claims that he wants payback for undisclosed things Shaw did to him while under his employ.

I Love the ‘90s:  Vroot’s pitch to Mojo for a new series: “We start off with a young twenty-ish C.E.O. -- already we nailed the Generation Xers!  He’s a shallow little cretin who says ‘way cool’ ‘til even his mother wants to strangle him!  Now we caught the Grunge audience -- and the seniors!”

Huh? Moment:  Not only do Longshot’s luck powers enable him to automatically know where Storm’s being held captive, but simply holding hands with the Vanisher enables him to subconsciously pass the information along.

Review:  Well, the Mojo scenes aren’t funny and the TV parodies are tedious and years out-of-date.  I’m stunned.  I will say that Macchio has a better handle on Storm than I would’ve guessed, with only a few ridiculous lines that no human would ever speak (“I despise what I have been forced to become!”)  And thankfully, Macchio seems to be tired of media parodies by the time the X-Men arrive, so the second half of the issue is a fairly standard rescue mission and not a play on Bewitched or something.  Even the obnoxious Vroot is given some justification for existing in the final act, although it’s hard to excuse how much of a nuisance he’s been so far.  

Probably the most painful moment of the issue is when Longshot is thrown into the plot, since there’s apparently some law that says he must appear in every Mojo story.  Macchio demonstrates yet again that he’s a little fuzzy on how these X-Men’s powers work, so the reader is left with a torturous scene that has Longshot suddenly developing telepathic abilities.  You know who does have telepathic powers and is standing right next to Longshot?  Her name is Jean Grey and she has absolutely nothing to do in this story, so perhaps this moment should’ve gone to her.  Just a suggestion.  Still, it’s not a terrible issue, and I have to give Macchio credit for using the Vanisher creatively throughout the storyline.  Considering how badly a Mojoverse story can go off the rails, this is surprisingly tolerable.

Friday, October 2, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #9 - December 1996

Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Derec Aucoin (penciler), Ralph Cabrera (inks), Paul Becton (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Jubilee and Storm take Gambit shopping in a futile attempt to cheer him up.  At an electronics store, Spiral suddenly materializes.  She kidnaps Storm, leaving Jubilee and Gambit behind.  In the Mojoverse, Mojo explains to Storm that she tested higher than the other X-Men during their first visit.  Storm signs a one-year contract to star in her own series, thinking that this will give her an opportunity to find an escape path.  Meanwhile the Vanisher, under the Hellfire Clubs employ, steals blueprints for a new model of Sentinel developed by the government.  Vanisher double-crosses Sebastian Shaw by planting evidence inside the Pentagon implicating the Hellfire Club.  Shaw retaliates by having his new employee, Bolivar Trask, activate his newest Sentinel model, ordering it to kill the Vanisher.  The Vanisher teleports away, materializing at the X-Men’s mansion.  The Sentinel follows but is defeated by the team.  As a show of gratitude, Vanisher agrees to teleport the team to the Mojoverse.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The X-Men appearing this issue are Xavier, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Gambit.
  • The Vanisher has never appeared in Adventures continuity before.  
  • The Hellfire Club is actually called by name, as opposed to the “Circle Club” of the animated series.
  • Mojo’s homeworld is referred to as Mojoverse and Mojo World interchangeably.

Review:  Pretty much anything would’ve been an improvement over the previous issue, although I have to say this is actually entertaining in its own right.  Derec Aucoin’s art is fairly bland at this stage, but it’s a bit of a relief to have one issue without deformed interpretations of the cast, and in fairness to him, he’s asked to pack a lot into this issue.  I like the prospect of taking characters from various corners of a universe and tossing them together, since at the very least it breaks up the tedium of the same villains reappearing with the same schemes.  This story could easily be a mess, but so far Macchio has managed to fit the Vanisher, the Sentinels, Mojo, and Sebastian Shaw into the same story without falling on his face.  There are moments that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny, such as the Vanisher’s convenient (and unexplained) knowledge of Xavier and the X-Men’s secret mansion, but they’re not egregious enough to kill the story’s momentum.  Predictably, the weakest element of the issue involves Mojo, who remains not-particularly-funny, and the less said about his obnoxious screenwriter Vroot the better.  (Was this an in-joke gone wrong?)  Unfortunately, the next chapter is the one that seems to be Mojo-specific, which isn’t giving me a lot of hope for the story arc’s finale.  Still, this chapter shows that Adventures can occasionally surprise you, and even present issues that aren’t a minimum forty percent exposition.
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