Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

13 November 2015

Nova Classic, v. 3

Collects: Nova #20-25 and Fantastic Four #204-6 and 208-14 (1978-80)

Released: June 2014 (Marvel)

Format: 304 pages / color / $34.99 / ISBN: 9780785185529

What is this?: The last storyline of Nova’s solo title is diverted into a Fantastic Four plot, then forgotten in favor of something more interesting.

The culprits: Writer Marv Wolfman and artists Carmine Infantino, Keith Pollard, and John Byrne

One of the first superhero comic books I can remember reading is Fantastic Four #208. It was the early ‘80s, and a relative on my mother’s side gave me a stripped copy, without the cover.

The issue didn’t make me a Fantastic Four fan, although years later I was surprised to find the issue was penciled by Sal Buscema, which might account for my affection for his art. What the comic really introduced me to was the Marvel style of story: if you pick up a random issue, you’re likely to be dropped into the middle of an ongoing story that picks up threads from the previous issue and leaves others to be wrapped up by later issues.

Nova Classic, v. 3 coverFantastic Four #208 left me with so many questions. First, who the hell were these people who weren’t the Fantastic Four? Will they save Xandar from the Skrulls? Will the Fantastic Four survive their execution by old age? Can they stop the Sphinx? Is Dr. Sun as awesome as he appears?

So I bought Nova Classic, v. 3, to find the answer to those questions. (I would say that last one deserves a definite “yes,” although I needed to consult Tomb of Dracula to answer it.) Despite the name, Nova Classic, v. 3, is not a Nova book, not really; the last five issues of Nova introduce this trade, but Nova (and his supporting cast) appear in only one of the ten issues of Fantastic Four that close out the book.

To back up a bit: Nova is Richard Rider, a character introduced in his own short-lived ‘70s series (collected in the Essential Nova, one of my earliest reviews). He was created by Marv Wolfman and John Buscema (Sal’s brother) as a Spider-Man / Green Lantern hybrid: a teenager, with real teenage problems, who becomes a superhero by getting the powers of a dying space cop. The series lasted 25 issues and was cancelled mid-storyline in 1979. Fortunately, Wolfman, who was still the writer and editor of Nova, was also the writer and editor of Fantastic Four, so he inserted Nova and his cast in the middle of the then-current Fantastic Four storyline — #208, to bring this review back to the beginning.

In #204 through #206, the Fantastic Four had gone to Xandar to help defend it from the Fantastic Four’s old enemies, the shape-shifting Skrulls. The Sphinx, the villain who gathered Nova and his allies and enemies together for a space trip, wanted to use the computers of Xandar to help him end his immortality. Unfortunately, the Xandarian computers showed him how to gain immense power instead, so he headed to Earth to gain vengeance on his home planet. The Fantastic Four switched adversaries with Nova and his allies.

So Nova Classic, v. 3, is split into two halves, which touch in #208. The Nova plotline sputters out after that. Nova disappears from the book, and the story of the Champions of Xandar, as Nova and his allies are called, defending Xandar is taken over in Rom the Spaceknight (#24). Since Rom is a licensed character, that story has never been reprinted, although IDW recently acquired the comics rights to the character and probably nothing will happen in the reprint realm but we can hope?

Nova itself was not a very good series, and #20-25 are representative in that regard. The issues included have Nova outing himself to his family, which is a nice touch — Richard can’t hide it any more, and we see a brief scene of him dealing with his family’s reactions. But after that, he’s quickly roped into the Sphinx’s shenanigans, and then he’s back to fighting forgettable villains, just like the issues preceding this book. (You don’t see Nova villains other than Sphinx very often, and there’s a reason for that. Marvel also killed the rest of the Champions of Xandar — and Xandar — off panel in Avengers #260.) The only interesting bits in Nova other than Richard and his family dealing with his costumed identity are Dr. Sun facing off against the Sphinx, but that’s a brief scene without a real resolution.

The other half of Nova Classic, v. 3, on the other hand, is a decent-to-good Fantastic Four story. The Fantastic Four are called to aid the Xandarians against the Skrulls. This time, the Skrulls gain the upper hand, and three members of the Fantastic Four are captured and executed — in a sense. The Skrulls subject them to an aging ray, which will kill them in three days. It’s a needlessly cruel way to kill, but it fits the Skrulls and their hatred of the Fantastic Four. The executed heroes then escape and meet up with the Champions of Xandar on Xandar.

Once the Fantastic Four starts pursuing the Sphinx, the storyline gets a little flabby; #209 reads like a well-chosen, well-written fill-in, with the team rounding up escaped space convicts in a spaceship graveyard. It has little to do with the ongoing plot, and it introduces Reed’s idiotic robot HERBIE into the comics. After the Fantastic Four reaches Galactus and tries to convince him to fight the Sphinx, Galactus makes them spend an issue fetching him a herald, which should give the Sphinx time to destroy the Earth a few times over. Still, the individual issues are exciting, and they ramp up the tension nicely. (Except for #209.)

The ending of the storyline is a little weak. Galactus uses an ability I’ve never heard of him using to battle the Sphinx, and the solution to solving Reed, Sue, and Ben’s aging problem is to have Reed solve it after Reed has been declared too weak to do anything. The story does introduce Terrax, though, and it also has a nice Terrax-vs.-the-old-FF fight.

The art improves markedly throughout, going from Carmine Infantino’s scratchy, static drawing to the smooth lines of Keith Pollard (#204-6) and the first Fantastic Four issues drawn by John Byrne (#209-14). (Byrne and Pollard match up pretty well, in fact.) Pollard’s a little weak on the chaotic, hand-to-hand battle royales between the Fantastic Four and the Skrulls, but Byrne shows why he would be associated with Fantastic Four for years; his old versions of the team actually look like they are elderly (albeit elderly people with superpowers), and the Sphinx looks like a credible threat to Galactus. Their fight lacks any cosmic touches, but that’s OK, I suppose.

I think the best way to look at Nova Classic, v. 3, is as a Fantastic Four trade paperback with six issues of Nova bolted on. Unfortunately, $35 for a reprint of a bunch of ‘70s Fantastic Four issues is a bit steep, even if those issues do reprint the first appearance of Terrax and some nice Byrne work.

(And the book is even missing a Fantastic Four issue! In #207, Johnny Storm enrolls in New York’s dumbest college — appropriate, given that Johnny’s pretty dumb himself — and is used by the Monocle, the college’s dean who has used his advanced degree to come up with an imbecilic name, to steal Mr. Fantastic’s inventions. With all that stupidity in evidence, it’s Spider-Man who handily saves the day.)

Despite my affection for Nova Classic, v. 3, I really can’t recommend it unless you’re hunting for a Fantastic Four story that you haven’t read. In that case, it’s going to be a pleasant surprise.

Rating: Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Half Fantastic Four symbol (2.5 of 5)

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06 November 2015

A Referral Post to Remind You I'm Alive

I know I haven’t posted much on this site in the last six months. I hope to rectify that soon, but until I post again, here are two posts that are about comics (but not trade paperbacks) on another of my blogs.


14 August 2015

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z, Book 1

Collects: Captain America v. 8 #1-5 (2013)

Released: June 2013 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $24.99 (hardcover) / ISBN: 9780785168263

What is this?: In Dimension Z, which is ruled by Arnim Zola, Captain America fights Zola’s mutates and raises Zola’s infant son.

The culprits: Writer Rick Remender and penciler John Romita Jr.

I’ve never read much by writer Rick Remender before. Unfortunately, reading Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z, Book 1, didn’t encourage me to read anything else by him.

In Castaway, Captain America is snatched away from Earth on a magic subway car and brought to Dimension Z. There, Arnim Zola, a villain who engages in genetic modification of humanoids, implants a television with Zola’s face into Captain America’s chest and steals his blood to give Zola’s kids the Super Soldier serum. Captain America escapes, of course, and as he runs, he kidnaps Zola’s infant son, whom he names Ian after his grandfather.

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z, Book 1 coverRemender tries to cram too much into this arc. The emotional component of the story is Captain America raising Ian as his son and inculcating him with Captain America’s values while remembering his own difficult youth. Meanwhile, Captain America is dealing with the television infection and effecting regime change among the locals. Remender also tries to sell Zola’s plan, which is raising superchildren of his own while dabbling in horror science, as something we should be concerned about. Remender also has the difficulty of making Dimension Z anything other than a generic otherdimensional world.

Setting the story in Dimension Z is a mistake, I think. Dimension Z is uninteresting, in and of itself, a tortured landscape that doesn’t distinguish itself from other tortured landscapes. (A few indigenous lifeforms liven up events, but they account for only a few pages.) Twelve years pass in Dimension Z, which is a bit of a cheat; it’s easy to say more than a decade passes, but little seems to change. Having Captain America fight for Dimension Z lowers the stakes considerably, since readers don’t care about it or its inhabitants or whether Zola conquers it. What happens in Dimension Z doesn’t matter to Earth, and Zola has conquered almost all of the dimension any way. Captain America isn’t going to stop the conquest or lead a revolution.

I can honestly say the first few throwaway pages, in which Captain America defeats the Green Skull, an ecological terrorist, in San Francisco, interested me far more than anything that followed it.

In an editorial that ran in place of the letter column in #1, reprinted in this volume, Remender traces the origins of his attraction to Zola. It shows; every scene with Zola raised my interest levels to detectable levels. Zola’s villainous patter, whether it’s about the qualities of revenge or his lack of bio-ethics, has a bit more verve than the platitudes about hope mumbled by Captain America amidst the hellscape that is Dimension Z.

Captain America, in an unfamiliar landscape and surrounded by unrecognizable life forms, will of course act like Captain America. He will stand up for the little guy, make the moral choices, and help against dictators. When a race of humanoids called the Phrox take him in, he incites his host into standing up to the tribe’s leader, calling him a tyrant. The tyrant kills Captain America’s host, causing Cap to pummel and exile the tyrant. Thankfully, the next eleven years pass uneventfully, because what possible complications could overthrowing a dictator-for-life cause for a community? None that I could think of.

On the other hand, Captain America lacks intelligence or foresight; he tolerates his Zola infection for more than a decade, but as a dramatic moment at the end of the book, he just cuts it out without little difficulty and no consequences. Why didn’t he do that a few issues before? He claims to Ian that the infection has been trying to take over his consciousness, but we see little evidence of this. Perhaps he just wasn’t annoyed with it enough yet. Eleven years of the thing, sure, but twelve ...? Not a moment more!

Ian fights a Captain of Zolandia.The art is provided by John Romita, Jr.. I am not a fan of Romita; his faces used to have lines in them where few human faces have lines in them. That’s not relevant here, though some of his panels are difficult to parse …

Romita is asked to draw a lot of monsters, which make up Zola’s army and the Phrox. Most of them seem like generic blocky humanoids, unremarkable enough that at times I was unable to tell which were friendly and which weren’t. Only the Captains of Zolandia, monochrome mockeries of Captain America, stand out, and they appear in only a few panels. (They stand out not only visually; the battle cry of three of the Captains is, “War!” “Injustice!” “And slavery for all!”)

The reliance on these monstrous humanoids is a problem, though. The mutates and Captains of Zolandia (modified mutates, probably) serve Zola; presumably they were warped by Zola from the genetic stock of the Phrox or a similar race. Unfortunately, both are so alien it is difficult to be truly horrified at what the mutates have become. The mutates behavior is evil, of course, but that would have happened if Zola had merely stolen Phrox children and raised them as his army. The mutates’ and Captains’ appearance don’t have the visual impact of the flashback panel in which Zola’s servant has been combined with a Doberman; the woman’s humanity gives the reader something to understand, be horrified about and empathize with. The Phrox and mutates … well, they’re both weird. Who’s to say which is weirder?

Jet Zola makes her dramatic entrance.Romita also seems to have trouble drawing children, but he’s a successful artist who has most likely seen a child. I don’t often give artists enough credit for what they are trying to do, so I have to ask myself what Romita is hoping to accomplish. Why does Ian appear to be about 5 or 7 a year after Captain America stole the infant? Probably the wastelands Ian was raised in toughened the child. In that case, though, why does Ian appear to be about 12 or 13 eleven years after that? I’m baffled. When Captain America takes Ian, his sister, Jet, seems to be 5 or fewer years old; twelve years later, she’s given a straps-and-bikini costume … She’s pretty young. Try not to sexualize her, John.

Flashback of young Steve Rogers and a young girl.Ian has a huge noggin, as do all the Depression-era children in Captain America’s flashbacks. Is Romita trying to say that despite their tiny bodies, they have to take on adult responsibilities? Unlikely, given that even the ones without obvious burdens are macrocephalic. Some sort of distorting lens of memory? But there should be more distortions if that were true. Are those giant craniums full of dreams for the future? It’s the Depression, so that’s unlikely. Are there contaminants in New York City, causing massive structural defects in its youth? That’s as likely — more likely — than anything else, but it’s not germane to the story.

The Castaway in Dimension Z storyline doesn’t end here. It’s continued in Book 2, and it’s possible that some of the things I have complained about here pay off in that book. But if Remender hadn’t tried to fit so much into Book 1, we wouldn’t have to wait.

Rating: Avengers symbol  symbol (1.5 of 5)

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13 March 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy, v. 1: Cosmic Avengers

Collects: Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1 and 1-3 and Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers #1 (2013)

Released: April 2014 (Marvel)

Format: 144 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785166078

What is this?: The opening arc of Bendis’s run on Guardians of the Galaxy, in which the Guardians have to deal with aliens wanting to interfere with Earth.

The culprits: Writer Brian Michael Bendis and pencilers Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli

I enjoyed the second volume of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, so I was worried when I heard Brian Michael Bendis was going to write the third volume.

Bendis’s style is vastly different from Abnett and Lanning’s. Abnett and Lanning rely on humor and action-filled plots, while Bendis is known for using naturalistic dialogue to fill his more leisurely paced stories. Unfortunately, Bendis’s dialogue causes many of his characters to sound alike, regardless of how they sounded before he started writing them. When Bendis writes solo titles, the singular Bendis voice is not a big problem, but it’s one of many concerns readers have raised on Bendis’s team books.

For some reason, despite no one particularly caring for Bendis’s work on team books, those books are still immensely popular. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, if anyone has the patience to unravel it.

Guardians of the Galaxy, v. 1: Cosmic Avengers coverBut I kept an open mind when I read Guardians of the Galaxy, v 1: Cosmic Avengers. In Cosmic Avengers, Bendis has chosen to make the central conflict between J’Son (occasionally spelled J-Son), the ruler of the alien Spartax, and his son, Peter Quill, who leads the Guardians under the name Star-Lord. J’Son wants Quill to quit adventuring with his scruffy friends and take his place as crown prince; Quill wants J’Son to butt the hell out of his life. J’Son also maneuvers members of the Galactic Council into putting Earth into quarantine, meaning J’Son is forbidding his son to go back to his home planet. Presumably, this is meant to pressure Quill to take J’Son’s offer.

The Badoon immediately take the quarantine of Earth as an invitation to invade the planet, hoping to conquer it before the other races can react and then presenting the conquest to the others as a fait accompli. (I think; it’s never spelled out why this new galactic policy on Earth makes the planet more vulnerable. The story does not say the Galactic Council has withdrawn longstanding protection of Earth or anything similar.) The Guardians — whose lineup mirrors that of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie: Quill, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Drax the Destroyer — and Iron Man react, and when the battle is over, the Guardians are the ones who are in trouble.

So Cosmic Avengers has a great deal of action, but it does not have much plot. Each of the three issues from Guardians of the Galaxy collected in the book has two threads: J’Son lecturing someone (Quill or the Galactic Council) and the Guardians fighting someone. In life as well as comics, lectures are generally boring, and Bendis’s trademark dialogue doesn’t help; the action sequences look pretty, but they are uncomplicated: the Guardians see evil, attack evil, quickly win.

Well, the art is pretty, but it’s sometimes confusing. I’m not sure Steve McNiven and Bendis were on the same wavelength at times. Iron Man is introduced in #1 floating in space, in front of a planet that looks like Mars while musing that it’s good that he decided to “go out into the universe.” Mars isn’t far out into the universe, but that’s where Iron Man must be, since he sees the Badoon show up to attack Earth. Mars isn’t always that close to Earth — 140 million miles, on average, 34 million at their closest approach, and 250 million miles away on their farthest — but perhaps it is much closer in the Marvel Universe.

The Guardians arrive soon after. How do the Guardians decide to launch a boarding raid on the Badoon ship? By floating through the vacuum. That suggests neither ship is going very fast, and it gives McNiven a chance to show off their stupid spacesuits, which consists of helmets for Quill and Gamora in addition to normal costumes. During the battle, Rocket laughs at something Groot does … but what is it? McNiven shows Groot tearing through Badoon, but that’s not remarkable. After the Badoon activiate the self-destruct button, Drax rushes back into the ship to rescue Gamora, but the next panel with the two of them show them aboard the Guardians’ ship, without even a suggestion that either was in danger. The disintegrating Badoon ship is then shown almost at Earth — which, again, isn’t that close to Mars.

(As an aside: More worrying is a scene in the next collection, Guardians of the Galaxy, v. 2: Angela. Quill refers to a distressing event that happened while the Guardians were “chasing Badoon,” a lightning-like flash that momentarily disoriented Drax but messed with Quill’s thinking. But Quill experiences nothing like that in any Guardians issue; however, Drax does seem off his game for a moment in #2 after an explosion that seems to be caused by a laser. Was this the incident Quill refers to? Quill doesn’t seem to notice the flash of light then. Or did it come in a crossover appearance?)

Bendis’s dialogue is also problematic. Iron Man, who joins up with the Guardians after the Badoon attack, sounds like a typical Bendis character, and Quill also speaks in that style. Quill is, on the face of it, someone who shouldn’t speak in a naturalistic style; as a charismatic leader of a bunch of ragtag rebels, he should be smooth and quick witted — more Indiana Jones than Woody Allen. Rocket doesn’t sound like a Bendis character, but he does try to make a truly awful catchphrase — “Blam! Murdered you!” — work, and it takes a while before his teammates object to its psychopathic tone.

Sometimes people say something completely out of character. Iron Man has no call to slag on Captain Britain, but when the Badoon attack London, Iron Man says he’s “not really” any good. If anyone should be suspicious of humanity’s potential to screw up the universe, it would be the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree, who awakened the supremely powerful “Destiny force” from Rick Jones, Captain America’s sidekick, during the Kree-Skrull War and Avengers Forever. However, the Supreme Intelligence says J’Son is “overstating [humanity’s] abilities and importance.” Another member of the Galactic Council would be a better choice to say this, unless the Supreme Intelligence is dissembling. Which he might be, although I don’t have enough faith in Bendis to believe that.

(As a second aside: The Galactic Council includes J’Son, the Supreme Intelligence, Emperor Gladiator of the Shi’ar, a Badoon, Freyja the All-Mother of Asgard, Annihilus … and the Brood. The Brood? As a galactic power? I know this lineup was set by Jonathan Hickman in Avengers, but the Marvel Universe must hold a more important race than the Brood. The remnants of the Skrulls? The Galadorians? And Rocket describes the Badoon as a “minor race” in Guardians v. 2 #7. What’s changed since then?)

However, I will say Bendis writes Groot’s dialogue properly. He and Black Bolt might be the only two characters Bendis can’t make sound like the rest of his characters. Bendis does give Groot the ridiculous regeneration ability, as he grows from a sprout to his normal, giant self over just a few pages in #3. I don’t know that it should be remarkable that Groot should return from almost complete dissolution so quickly, but it rankled.

The price of this book is outrageous. Cosmic Avengers is not worth $20. Three issues of the regular series is barely a taste of what’s to come, and the rest of the book is filler. Although it’s possible Bendis might follow up on some of the threads in the four short tales from Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers — he did write them — I wouldn’t bet on it. Star-Lord’s origin in #0.1 is a revamped version of Marvel Preview #4 from 1976, but Bendis’s story covers far less of Quill’s life, smoothing out the improbable elements of his birth while glossing over everything between his mother’s murder and the present in a couple of speech bubbles. The new version does have coherence on its side, but other than a brief scene showing Quill defending a bullied girl, the story could have been summed up by Quill in a few lines: “A space prince knocked up my mom, then Badoon killed her ten years after I was born.”

Done. I’ll take the prorated price of the book from anyone who wants to give it to me.

Price aside, though, Cosmic Avengers is a book for die-hards — Bendis fans, or those who must know what is happening to their favorite Guardians. If you don’t fit into either category, skip this book … and the next one too, since the only important event in that book is the appearance of Angela, which is hardly a universe-shaking happening, no matter what the Watcher tries to tell us.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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28 February 2015

Bandette, v. 1: Presto!

Collects: Bandette #1-5 ()

Released: November 2013 (Dark Horse/ original comics from Monkeybrain)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781616552794

What is this?: With the help of her gang of urchins, Bandette, a young woman in sorta-France, is the world’s greatest thief — or just about.

The culprits: Written by Paul Tobin and drawn by Colleen Coover

The word to remember for Bandette, v. 1: Presto!, is “charming.”

The protagonist, a young woman whose nom du crime is Bandette, is charming. The stilted dialogue, which suggests a not-quite-fluid translation from French, is charming. The plots, which don’t take themselves seriously, are charming. Her moral standing — a master thief who sometimes aids the side of good but is not above helping herself to other people’s loot — is charming. Bandette’s personal credo — “Presto!” — is charming in its simplicity. Colleen Coover’s art, which tells the story admirably without worrying overly much about realism, is charming.

Bandette, v. 1: Presto! coverAt this stage in the review, you’ll know if this book is for you. Many people will have already written off Bandette as sickly sweet. That is not the case, though. Coover and writer Paul Tobin skirt that pitfall as deftly as is possible, keeping Bandette carefree and lighthearted without being cloying; the protagonist is confident and sure of her abilities in a way that allows her to remain unconcerned yet exhilarated in the face of assassins and bank robbers.

Bandette lives in a world that resembles but is not quite our own. It is a European world, full of dashing, daring thieves and international crime gangs and signs in French. Bandette makes allusions to European comics: the Chocobolik candy bar is a reference to Diabolik, the anti-hero thief from Italian comics; Inspector Belgique looks like he could have stepped out of Tintin; and at one point Bandette is pursued by the villainous motorcycle riders from the “Take on Me” video (by the Norwegian band A-ha). It’s likely I’m missing other references. Still, there are jarring notes; French urchins would hardly be likely to play baseball on the streets of any French city, for example.

Coover’s art is excellent, conveying the book’s light-hearted tone as well as the dialogue and plot does. Coover’s Bandette is acrobatic and graceful, almost always in motion, and unmistakably youthful. Although the style looks cartoony, Coover manages subtlety throughout the book — in the backgrounds, in the details, and even right in front of the readers’ eyes. (In two different scenes, Bandette and her chief rival, Monsieur, pick the other’s pocket; the thefts are obvious because that is what we expect stylish thieves do to one another, but Coover actually draws both thefts — details I missed on my first reading.)

The only criticism I have of Presto! is that the volume feels slight. When I stop to consider whether it is, I realize Presto! is a good value: a $15 hardback, 144 pages in color, collecting five (online) issues. No, the amount of content is fine; the amount of story is the problem. In Presto!, Bandette rights a wrong by stealing stolen artwork, stops a bank robbery, is targeted by an international crime syndicate, and agrees to “the great thieving race” with her greatest larcenous rival. That summary contains a great deal of action, but Presto! doesn’t leave the reader with that impression. The international crime syndicate makes one attempt on Bandette’s life, although future attempts are promised. The robbery and the larcenous justice are brief episodes meant to show Bandette’s character, supporting cast, and world. The volume ends as soon as the great thieving race is agreed to.

Perhaps, though, the story is cut at that point to leave the reader wanting more. I know it worked with me. I hope the second volume, Stealers Keepers!, will provide more of a complete story, although for another $15 for the other part of a single story, Bandette looks like less of a bargain.

The final 40-plus pages in Presto! fall into the category of “extras.” Tobin’s eight “Urchin Stories,” showing Bandette’s allies, are illustrated by as many different artists; Steve Lieber’s art for the Inspector Belgique story stands out by being reminiscent of Coover’s work without being a slavish imitation. After the eight short illustrated stories is Tobin’s prose piece featuring Daniel, one of Bandette’s urchins. This is the best of the extras; the story tells how Daniel met Bandette, fell in love with her (although he’d never admit it), and aided her on another adventure. The extras are rounded out by pages detailing the process of creating Bandette; Coover’s explanation of how she creates the art is much longer than Tobin’s script pages.

Presto!, then, is a charming, airy pastry rather than a substantial meal. But that is nothing to be ashamed of; we all need filling meals, but we still crave those pastries. In fact, we can never get enough.

Rating: Dark Horse symbol Dark Horse symbol Dark Horse symbol Dark Horse symbol (4 of 5)

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20 February 2015

The Worst Marvel Crossover of the '90s

Last year, I finished reading The Complete Ben Reilly Epic, Book 6, which meant I had read, from beginning to end, all three of the Unholy Trinity of Bad Marvel ‘90s Crossovers:

• The Clone Saga
• Onslaught
• The Crossing

All three are terrible, terrible stories, produced at about the same time: around 1995 and 1996. That is, all three were churned out after the speculator boom of the early ‘90s and just as Marvel was heading into bankruptcy. (In fact, the Clone Saga ended with issues cover dated December 1996, the month Marvel filed for Chapter 11 protection.)

All three of these crossovers are terrible. Whether they were commercially driven abominations or horrendously misguided attempts to overhaul a line, or both, each had confused storylines and a deleterious effect on a line.

Which, though, was the worst? This is a question that people will argue about; I have a feeling most fans’ answers would depend on which abused character they like the most. Still, I think some characters received a considerably shorter end of the stick than the others. (The Fantastic Four avoided the worst of this, although it should be noted that Atlantis Rising won’t be confused for Shakespeare any time soon.)


Onslaught is the least offensive of these mega-crossovers. For those of you who don’t know, Onslaught was a psionic entity created in Professor Xavier’s mind after he wiped Magneto’s mind. After ominous foreshadowing and the resolution of the long-dangling X-Traitor plot, Onslaught burst forth, took over New York with the help of Sentinels, and … didn’t do much. There was muttering of conquest, but it didn’t go anywhere.

Length: Relatively short. The actual crossover itself is contained in four trade paperbacks, and one of those doesn’t even have any X-Men titles in it. However, if you throw in the lead-up to the actual crossover, you have to include another three trades. The lead up and crossover ate up about fifteen months; the crossover itself blew over in a summer.

Spillover: The actual crossover (and some of its foreshadowing) pulled in quite a few titles, including the Clone Saga (see below). Incredible Hulk, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Thor all got caught up in the crossover, which is a shame, given that all those series (except Hulk ended when Onslaught did.

Creepy dude moment: When Jean Grey explored Professor Xavier’s thoughts in X-Men #53 and discovered a repressed memory (a flashback to Uncanny X-Men #3) that Xavier had a crush on Jean from the beginning. Not standing so close to him isn’t going to help when he can telepathically crush on her wherever she is.

Damage: To the X-characters, not much. Professor Xavier was shuffled off the page — you know, because of his crimes against humanity and whatnot. The character itself wasn’t damaged too much as what Onslaught did can be considered separate from Xavier. Mutants were hated even more, although that’s par for the course.

The rest of the Marvel Universe was remade by Onslaught (at least for a year). The Avengers and its subsidiary titles were all canceled, as was Fantastic Four; Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s well-received Captain America run was axed in favor of a commercial stunt. FF, Iron Man, Avengers, and Captain America were all leased to Image creators for a year. Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios got the latter two, while Jim Lee’s Wildstorm got FF and Iron Man. The titles were rebooted, with almost 35 years of continuity being tossed out for a year. Also: Liefeld drew the weirdest Captain America.

Mitigation: Sales rose on those old titles; all of them, except perhaps Captain America, needed the added attention and sales. More importantly, Onslaught wiped out the damage The Crossing caused, and that’s almost a blessing.

The Clone Saga

Now we’re getting into the heavy hitters. In the Clone Saga — a sequel to a ‘70s story that had to be confusingly retitled The Original Clone Saga — a clone of Peter Parker returns to New York to confront Peter. The clone, who calls himself Ben Reilly, is followed by Kaine, another clone who hates Ben, and the Jackal, who created those two clones plus others … Ben and Peter argue about who’s the clone, Peter steps down as Spider-Man when he loses his powers and has a baby on the way, and then a figure from the past comes to take credit for everything that’s happened in Peter’s life.

Length: Interminable. The crossover ate up two years of the four Spider-titles plus ancillary titles like Spider-Man Unlimited and Spider-Man Team-Up. More than 100 issues were thrown at this story! The creators backtracked, laid false trails, changed their minds (OK, so it was mostly editors and the business people who changed their minds), and generally squandered months and months of Spider-Man stories. The fruit of their labors filled eleven trade paperbacks.

It’s hard to get across how much ink and paper was wasted on the Clone Saga. Spider-Man has always been a character who can support the one-issue story, but combined with many throwaway stories were the idiocy of the Jackal and Spidercide, Gaunt and Seward Trainer, Scrier and Judas Traveler and hosts of other villains who had no purpose other than to look mysterious and prevent any resolution to the story.

And when they went to wrap it up, all it took was a four-issue story. Just one month! Why couldn’t they have done that a year earlier?

Spillover: Relatively little. Spider-Man’s troubles didn’t affect other titles much. The clone, going by the alias of Scarlet Spider, kinda joined the New Warriors, and he appeared as Spider-Man in an issue of Daredevil. The Clone Saga also brushed up against the status quos of Punisher, Green Goblin, and Venom, but no one cared about the Phil Urich Green Goblin at the time, and the Punisher and Venom series are both best forgotten. I mean, the Punisher had a ponytail, and no one wants to acknowledge that.

Really, despite the crossover allegedly being so popular, no one else wanted to touch it.

Creepy dude moment: When Peter smacked his wife. It was portrayed as an accident, Peter lashing out randomly after learning he was a clone, but it happened. One moment of frustration and insanity labeled Ant-Man a wifebeater forever, but the same standard wasn’t applied to Peter hitting Mary Jane. This is for two reasons: a) The storyline in which Ant-Man hit the Wasp was good and not best forgotten, like the Clone Saga, and b) People actually like Spider-Man.

Later, Peter tried to kill Mary Jane, but he was being mind controlled, which is understandable and normal behavior for superheroes.

Damage: After two years, the creators realized how badly the entire idea was, and they tried to put everything back where it was while providing a satisfying conclusion. What they did satisfied few, except in the sense that it allowed everyone to put the clone nonsense behind them and forget about it.

The Clone Saga, in its blind grasping for sense and sensation, committed several sins that should be unforgivable. It brought Norman Osborn back from the dead as the architect of the Clone Saga. It killed Ben despite his potential because he was a loose end and a reminder of the Clone Saga’s sins. It caused Mary Jane and Peter’s daughter to be stillborn, then held out hope that the child was merely kidnapped. It made Peter do bad things to Mary Jane.

It made Peter Parker into a clone for a while, which was stupid. It told us, “Everything you know is wrong.” Everything we knew was published by Marvel Comics, which should have been a tipoff that Marvel’s output was not the most reliable source.

Mitigation: The crossover had many ideas that were worth exploring. Peter having a child and moving on isn’t a bad idea, but there’s no reason he had to be labeled the clone for the idea to work. Kaine wasn’t interesting at the time, but he has been used well in the last few years. Getting rid of Aunt May was long overdue; it allowed Peter to grow some. I even have some sympathy for using Kaine to get rid of some of Spider-Man’s older adversaries, although the new Doctor Octopus didn’t pan out.

Most impressive is Ben Reilly. Seeing a different Peter, one who had been lost for years and coming back to a different Peter who had grown but had also gotten a bit lost, presented the reader with an interesting contrast. (Ben wouldn’t have cut a deal to allow for uneasy coexistence with Venom, but he also might not have given Sandman a chance to reform.) Ben’s existence was wasted, of course — except in the M2 Universe, which picked up on some of these threads in Spider-Girl.

Avengers: The Crossing

Iron Man kills a few women to hide a secret: he’s been working with Kang for years to help Kang, Mantis, and their Chrononauts invade Earth and conquer it using his time-travel powers. Kang does manage to erase Vietnam from almost everyone’s memories, but that’s about as far as his conquest goes.

Length: A little longer than the core Onslaught crossover but much shorter than Onslaught’s foreshadowing. The Crossing took place over half a year, and its contents — a mere 25 issues — were reprinted in a single oversized omnibus. (You can pick up the omnibus for about $30 on Amazon, although two insane people gave the book three-star reviews. Three stars! Why not give the book a whole constellation?)

Spillover: None, as far as I can see. The number of titles involved was admirably restrained: only Avengers, Force Works (formerly Avengers West Coast), Iron Man, and War Machine were involved in the story. Thor and Captain America stayed the hell away from The Crossing, which shows excellent sense.

Creepy dude moment: Everything Iron Man does in this book. In addition to killing three unarmed women (and no men), he blasts Wasp so hard the measures taken to save her life turn her into a wasp-human hybrid. (She seemed fine with that, though.) He kidnaps a couple of other women close to him. I suppose you could make a case that this is the flipside to the charmingly predatory nature of Tony’s normal persona — he uses and seduces women — but this turn has the subtlety of an atom bomb lobbed through a store window.

Damage: Holy God, did this do a number on Iron Man. Iron Man had been corrupted by Kang and was working for him for pretty much the entire Marvel Age of Heroes, although the story gives him no motivation to do so. To protect his secret, Tony declared war on women. And this is the guy upon the Marvel Cinematic Universe was built about a decade later!

Because a series starring a traitorous murderer would have been a problem, Marvel killed off old Tony and replaced him with a teenage version from a different timeline. Teen Tony couldn’t be too different, though, so the fight that introduces him to the main Marvel Universe ends with him suffering heart damage.

The art is inconsistent and usually awful. Instead of giving the secondary titles a sales boost, The Crossing failed War Machine and Force Works so thoroughly they were cancelled two months later. Obscure, best-forgotten continuity is crucial to the story, and readers are expected to remember things like who Yellowjacket II and Gilgamesh are. The story has tons of forgotten and unimportant characters wandering through it; sometimes we’re even supposed to care about them. (The death of Gilgamesh is supposed to be momentous, and the story can’t get that across.) Mantis wanting revenge on the Avengers makes no sense, and Kurt Busiek retconned her (and most of Kang’s soldiers) into Space Phantoms in Avengers Forever. Adult versions of Luna (Quicksilver and Crystal’s daughter) and the Vision and Scarlet Witch’s kids run rampant throughout the story, working for Kang, and no one can figure out who they are. War Machine has a horrifically ugly suit of armor. (I wonder what happened to it …?)

Mitigation: Onslaught / Heroes Reborn and Avengers Forever cleaned up so much of the mess from this crossover that we don’t have to remember it any more. Otherwise, this book had no redeeming features.


The Crossing is the worst of these; it’s so bad, the omnibus should be marked as hazardous waste. Still, it doesn’t have much of an effect on modern Marvel continuity. The Clone Saga gave us the returned Green Goblin and Kaine; Onslaught briefly ended decades of continuity in tangentially related titles and really launched the “Professor Xavier is a monster” idea into the wild. Again: The Crossing was published in 1995. Iron Man came out in 2008. In 13 years, the worst storyline in Marvel history was wiped from the timeline as thoroughly as Kang wanted to wipe out the resistance to him.

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14 February 2015

Jack Kirby and creator credit

Last fall, the heirs of Jack Kirby reached a settlement with Marvel Comics. The terms of the settlement haven’t been announced, at least not that I have seen; it’s probable the settlement included cash for the family and increased recognition for Kirby in the comics and other media in which his co-creations are used.

The recognition is welcome news; the threat of legal action might have been part of the reason Marvel did not include Kirby’s name in many places it should have before. (Another part of the reason — and you can decide what proportion this makes up — is Marvel being stubborn and / or stupid.) The money is also good news for Kirby’s family; Jack Kirby is no longer around to be rewarded, but his family would have benefited if he had received in life the kind of monetary recompense his reputation suggests he deserves, so it makes sense they should receive some reward now.

I have been thinking about my feelings about the case for some time now — probably too long, as the case is passing below the public’s horizon. I admit I was somewhat ambivalent to the Kirby case. I have no idea what his heirs were legally entitled to, and in truth, it seems no one else does either. Decades of copyright decisions suggest the Kirby family would have lost, but given the Supreme Court’s interest, the outcome might — might — have been different this time. I often wondered why I followed the case at all; I have no affection for Kirby’s art, and none of the heirs created anything, making the legal battle one between a corporation fighting for profits vs. a family fighting for a ghost — an imaginary person fighting for money vs. real people fighting for a former person. Neither side appealed to my emotions.

(As an aside: While I don’t care for Kirby’s art, I do respect his place in comic history, and he remains one of the premier — perhaps the premier — imaginations to have ever worked in the comics industry.)

I should be sympathetic to the creative side of any argument, but the heirs’ contention that Kirby co-created Spider-Man, even though the evidence of this is thin at best and evanescent at worst, distressed me. Building the case for Kirby’s greatness shouldn’t mean diluting the credit given to others. Worse, it was Steve Ditko’s creation they tried to horn in on, and Ditko’s legacy is already dimmed by the shadow Kirby cast on Marvel’s Silver Age. I understand this contention was a bargaining chip; when you set out your demands, you always stake out ground as far forward as you can so you can give up some ground and still get what you want. Still, it rankled.

But this did make me wonder if too much stock is placed in the original creators and too little in subsequent creators. We moan and complain when Kirby isn’t acknowledged as a co-creator of certain characters, but when X-Men 2 broadly (but recognizably) adapted parts of Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson’s God Loves, Man Kills and Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X stories, we let that go by. It is enough if Kirby and Stan Lee are recognized as creators of the X-Men. But which comic creators had a greater effect on that movie? I would argue the Claremont, Anderson, and Windsor-Smith did far more to make X-Men 2 the outstanding movie it was than the men who created the X-Men and wrote the title for about two years.

Or to take an example entirely within the realms of comics, we can look at Iron Man. Iron Man was officially created by Kirby, Lee, Larry Lieber (who wrote Iron Man’s first appearance, Tales of Suspense #39), and Don Heck (who drew ToS #39). Lee claimed to have come up with the idea — he always claimed that, even when it might not be true — and according to Heck, Kirby designed the Iron Man armor, while Heck created the look of the other characters, including Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. But the original bulbous Iron Man armor was quickly done away with, and the more streamlined red-and-yellow armor we associate with Iron Man was designed by Ditko in ToS #48. So what did Kirby contribute that made a meaningful impact on the character? Little to none in the art department, it appears, but Ditko’s iconic design doesn’t get any consistent acknowledgement.

Of course, it’s possible Kirby contributed to the idea of Iron Man in the early stages; Kirby’s supporters often point out Lee’s bolts of inspiration were rarely as purely Lee’s as Lee claimed. Also, Kirby isn’t around to say what he did or didn’t do. Given that Kirby was a great idea man, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his thoughts were incorporated into Iron Man’s origin.

But that brings me back to what I was wondering before. We remember his long run on Fantastic Four (more than 100 issues) and, but Kirby didn’t stick around some of the Silver Age titles he created for very long: only six issues on Hulk, three of the first five issues on Iron Man, seventeen issues on X-Men. Seventeen issues isn’t nothing, but it’s important to note that X-Men was, until the late ‘70s, the biggest failure of Marvel’s Silver Age explosion. The title was cancelled in 1970 and turned into a bi-monthly reprint title until 1975, when Chris Claremont and a long string of talented artists made it into Marvel’s #1 title. How much credit — not in the sense of “created by” but in the sense of making something a success — do Lee and Kirby deserve for pursuing an idea for seventeen issues (21 for Lee) that the market essentially rejected?

Lee and Kirby deserve some credit, yes. But the person who should get the largest thank you at the end of an X-Men movie is Chris Claremont. Even if he didn’t create most of the characters, he’s the person who made many of them — Wolverine, Magneto, Storm — interesting. Without him and his co-creators, no one would want to watch an X-Men movie, let alone five of them.

This brings me to an idea I considered for some time. Since the versions of these characters that are best known are the movie versions, I thought about looking at who created what in the movies. At one point, I thought about trying to find the creator who was most valuable in the sense of box office receipts, but that would involve some arcane breakdowns of credit — what percentage of credit should be given to Wolverine for the X-Men movies’ success vs. Mystique or Magneto? — that was unprofitable.

(Besides, the answer for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe would almost certainly be Stan Lee.)

Without Jack Kirby, it is somewhere between possible and likely that Marvel wouldn’t have survived the early ‘60s. The characters we know would be greatly different or wouldn’t exist at all. But it’s been 45 years since Kirby left Marvel the first time, which means dozens of other creators have altered, edited, and recreated what the characters and concepts he created. His influence can still be seen in Marvel’s output, both on page and screen, and some of what they publish hasn’t changed much since Kirby put aside his pens.

One of the greatest literary talents of the early 20th century was Thomas Wolfe, who wrote sprawling novels with beautiful prose. I mean really sprawling — the original manuscript of his first novel was more than 1,100. His editor, Maxwell Perkins, cut Look Homeward, Angel considerably and helped make it a success. Does it harm Wolfe’s literary reputation to acknowledge that Perkins’s considerable work made Wolfe’s better? And if acknowledging that sort of collaboration improved a novel, supposedly a solitary effort, how does acknowledging the contributions of others harm the original creators in comics, which often relies on collaboration?

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06 February 2015

Chronicles of Conan, v. 28: Blood and Ice and Other Stories

Collects: Conan the Barbarian #215-23 (1989)

Released: November 2014 (Dark Horse)

Format: 220 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9781616553746

What is this?: Conan becomes a implacable, unbeatable killing machine as he works his way toward Turan.

The culprits: Charles Santino (writer) and Val Semeiks (co-plotter / artist), with help from Larry Hama, Don Perlin, Michael Fleisher, and Gary Kwapisz

So far this year, I’ve read the first volume of Batman ‘66, Astro City: Life in the Big City, most of Mark Waid’s Daredevil run, the first book of Waid’s Indestructible Hulk, Umbrella Academy, v. 1: Apocalypse Suite, and Fantastic Four, v. 2: Road Trip. So of course the book that I’m going to write about is Chronicles of Conan, v. 28: Blood and Ice and Other Stories.

Chronicles of Conan, v. 28: Blood and Ice and Other Stories coverWhat interests me about Blood and Ice is writer Charles Santino’s run, which stretches from #215 to 220. Santino took over for James Owsley (today known as Christopher Priest), who improved the title immeasurably by giving Conan a supporting cast; if Conan was a static character in the Marvel Comics — and he was — Owsley’s supporting cast was allow to grow, to act in surprising ways, and to die.

It was a welcome change. Before that, Conan had been stuck in endless retreads of one- and two-issue stories where Conan had battled some uncanny threat, been involved in some way with a comely lass, and then moved on to the next uncanny threat / comely lass. It was boring and short sighted.

With Conan having jettisoned the last of his supporting cast at the end of the Owsley run, Santino and co-plotter / artist Val Semeiks embarked on a series of stories unique in the Conan canon: a series of brutal one-issue fights as Conan makes his way to the eastern nation of Turan. Never in the original Robert E. Howard stories, the movies, or Conan the Barbarian has Conan seemed so much of a ‘90s superhero.

The break beginning of this volume is well chosen, although my guess is that it was a fortunate accident. In #214, which is in the previous volume (Chronicles of Conan, v. 27: Sands upon the Earth and Other Stories), Conan is trapped in a mirage city. It’s a story indistinguishable from dozens of others in the Marvel series; a seemingly inescapable trap, a few monsters to bash, a scantily clad maiden hanging around the periphery of the story.

But in #215, the start of Blood and Ice, the story direction changes. Gone are the pretty girls; magic is violently shoved from the plots. In the first story, Conan is captured by Turanians at a desert outpost. Well, “captured” — the soldiers are able to move him along but not subdue him in an attempt to enslave him to work the giant water wheel beneath the outpost. Conan, unbowed, not only kills Turanian soldiers but destroys the water wheel and breaks the Turanian’s slavery. It seems as if most of the slaves die in the carnage as well, but that’s a small matter.

In “Death Pit” — the simple title is a taste of things to come — Conan can’t be beaten, can’t be stopped. He is a force of nature, destroying the works of true villains. The Turanian soldiers — agents of an encroaching imperialistic nation turned slavers to make the machinery of daily life turn fluidly — are more effective as villains than any number of black wizards or monsters; they represent a commonplace sort of injustice, and Conan will not let himself submit to that injustice. In the end, he smashes not only the soldiers but everything they have brought to the outpost.

The following issues show Conan against armies of men who not only cannot defeat him but also cannot bloody him. He destroys a large army of cultists in #216, invading their temple and bulling through their attempts to subdue him; the only beautiful woman is sacrificed by the cult early in the story, and Conan can’t save her. In #217, he’s back to battling a magical guardian in a deserted city, but he’s trapped on a small island in #218 and has to kill a homicidal band of tribesmen to gain their boat and escape. He fights through a Turanian army in #219, escaping by stealing superior horseflesh. Santino finishes his run by showing Conan pursuing a band of gold thieves; they stole what he had his eye on, and so he relentlessly follows them through the snow until they are all finished.

Santino’s Conan shows no cunning and very little guile, which is far from the character that Robert E. Howard created. Santino’s Conan is the greatest swordsman ever, it seems, indomitable and undefeatable — the very epitome of a superhero, except for his massive body count. Santino’s issues are bloody little fables about an unstoppable force, with Conan destroying all who tries to slow him. I’m not sure if these stories are good, but they are fascinating; why had no one done this with Conan before? Was it because this level of violence wasn’t permitted before the late ‘80s? Or was it because even the most mediocre of writers who had written Conan the Barbarian before this understood that that was not truly who Conan was?

Although I’m attributing most of this interpretation of Conan to Santino, Semeiks is listed as co-plotter as well as artist. Semeiks had graduated to co-plotter with Owsley, whose issues were greatly different in tone; unless Semeiks was able to exert considerably more influence on Santino than he was on Owsley, it’s unlikely the new direction was his. Semeiks continued to supply very good art during this time, fluid and action-filled, but it lacks the visceral brutality and blood to back up this version of Conan. It’s probable that editorial prevented Semeiks from drawing that level of brutality, though.

After Santino and Semeiks depart the title, the rest of the volume becomes much more like Conans past. Larry Hama’s #221 is an eerie little story that would not have been out of place in a ‘50s horror comic. Hama writes the story in verse, and his versification detracts from the story’s impact; a story with minimal dialogue / narration would’ve made the story truly memorable instead of an intriguing curio. Don Perlin shows Conan pursued by and confronting his own revenge squad; unsurprisingly, with all the men Conan has hacked to pieces over the years, Conan remembers none of them. The poignant revelation of their pointless attempt at revenge against a man who never hated them and didn’t even recall maiming them is balanced by Conan’s incompetence against a bunch of crippled buffoons. The volume ends with a story by Michael Fleisher, whose Conan is as different from Santino’s as possible: Fleisher’s Conan displays almost preternatural foresight while helping a comely lass recover a religious icon.

I don’t think I can recommend Blood and Ice for Conan fans. Santino’s interpretation of the character is too far off model to be convincing. On the other hand, his protagonist is a force of nature, compelling and readable because of his direct, brutal nature. I think even for a fan of sword-and-sorcery fiction, it is too simplistic, and six issues of it is altogether too much. However, if you can read #215 by itself, give it a try; I found myself reacting more emotionally to Conan’s struggles in that story than I had in total to the 100 issues before it.

Rating: Conan symbol Conan symbol (2 of 5)

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12 April 2014

End of the Essentials

After months of decreasing output (much like this blog!), Marvel’s Essentials line has been declared officially dead, more or less. It’s kinda sad; I’ve got dozens of the thick black-and-white volumes, and they were the backbone of my comics library for years. The Essentials served two important purposes for me: it allowed me to get all the important, core stories I needed and hadn't read for characters like Spider-Man, Wolverine, and the X-Men, and it also let me know whether lesser-known series I otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with were any good (Nova: No, Tomb of Dracula: Yes, She-Hulk: No, Spider-Woman: Sometimes). In both cases, the Essentials fulfilled their purpose without breaking my bank, which was important.

Marvel has mined all the core stories from its canon for the Essential books, though. The Essentials now reprint pretty inessential material for its core characters. (Essential Wolverine, v. 7, reprints Wolverine #129-48, which is about as inessential as comic book stories get.) The core continuity for Marvel’s major titles has been out in Essential form for years — fifteen years, for the first few Spider-Man, Wolverine, and X-Men volumes — and I certainly have all of those I want. I even divested myself of Essentials I didn't want any more after I picked up the DVD-ROM reprints of Fantastic Four, Captain America, Avengers, Iron Man, X-Men, and Spider-Man about five to ten years ago.

The Epic line has replaced the Essentials. I haven’t bought any yet, mostly because I’m not interested in most of the lines (because I have the DVD-ROMs), and they are expensive ($35-40 a pop). Eventually, I’ll buy a Spider-Man collection (I haven’t yet because I own physical copies of the issues in Ghosts of the Past and Cosmic Adventures) and … wait a minute — Daredevil / Elektra: Fall from Grace is an epic collection? I feel a bit worse for pre-ordering it now, since it’s slimmer and / or more expensive than other Epics. Still, it’s good to see the line expanding into Daredevil.

With a replacement already here and most of the good stuff already reprinted, I’m not really sorry to see the Essentials go. It was simply time. Still, I’m disappointed that some volumes didn’t get printed:

  • Essential Daredevil, v. 7. This would have finished off the pre-Frank Miller issues. I feel lucky we got v. 6, though, and if Marvel is adding Daredevil to the titles in the Epic collection, we might get #147-157 reprinted eventually.
  • Essential Defenders, v. 8. I own v. 7, and even though I haven’t read it yet, I suspect publishing it was one volume too many. Still, it would have been nice to finish off the series with #140-152.
  • Essential Dr. Strange, v. 5. This is the one I really wanted; it would have finished off the second Dr. Strange series (the one that didn’t continue Strange Tales’ numbering), printing #57-81. Hmm … that would have been a bit long, with 25 issues included.
  • Essential Power Man & Iron Fist, v. 3. Another one that would have had to stretch to make it to the end, v. 3 could have reprinted PM&IF #101-125.
Still, I should celebrate the successes of the Essential line, not bury it with my disappointments. We received full runs of Killraven, Tomb of Dracula, Marvel Two-in-One, the OHotMUDE, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Dazzler (Dazzler!), Spider-Woman, and Ms. Marvel. This is remarkable, and really, some of those lines deserved black-and-white reprints, either because the Essentials’ black-and-white reproduction enhanced the art and stories’ atmosphere (Moon Knight and ToD) or because the original stories deserved only a cheap reprint (Dazzler). And I should have read more: I should have picked up and Essential Rawhide Kid, just to see what they were like, but I did not. (I might still pick up Rawhide Kid, which is still in print and cheap to buy used. But Black Panther is going for $60 secondhand on Amazon, which is much too much.)

RIP, Essentials. You were the product of a long-ago, mostly TPB-bereft time. We loved you for your reassuring heft, and because you were cheap, but the world has moved on, and you’re just not needed any more.

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18 October 2013

Top 10 Occupations from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, A to Z, v. 2

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, A to Z, v. 2 coverThey should have this book in guidance offices in high schools across the country instead of … whatever it is that guidance counselors use to inform kids about their choices. This volume is so full of great careers even “vampire hunter” (Blade) and “monster hunter” (Elsa Bloodstone) don’t make the list.

10. Kalorian (Count Abyss). “Kalorian” is term some writer made up. It has something to do with being in a symbiotic relationship with a very powerful alien. Exactly what it has to do with being a symbiote is left unexplained. It’s probably unpleasant, but I left it on the list because it would certainly allow you to write your own job responsibilities. What does a Kalorian do? Whatever I say.

Still, being a Kalorian is probably better than being an “avatar of Agamotto” (Cadaver). It’s never good when a high muckamuck magical being is telling you what to do.

9. Protector of the Universe (Captain Marvel). The hours are awful, and there’s no retirement plan. But you do get to see, well, everything.

8. Cultist (Betty Brant). I suppose it does take up all your time, but room and board is usually provided. Those perks are what sets “cultist” apart from Panther Cult acolyte (Kasper Cole), because Black Panther is not shelling out money for your extras. You can lift yourself up by finding your own heart-shaped herb (and hoping it doesn’t kill you).

7. Self-declared ruler of the Negative Zone (Blastaar). I think I’m going to list this as my occupation on my 1040 next year. It’s not a perfect job; it requires more responsibility than “self-proclaimed savior of Earth” (Centurius), and it’s harder to establish yourself as a ruler than savior. (Generally, saviors only have die to prove their bona fides, and we all do that.) On the other hand, all you have to do is say you’re either one, and you’re set.

6. Competitor (Champion). Now you’re talking. He’s a competitor! All broadcasters of all sports ever love him. He doesn’t even have to win! Imagine going up to people and challenging them to competition all the time. Because you’re a competitor! That’s what it’s like to be Champion!

On second thought, that sounds depressing.

5. Investigator of reality (Contemplator). Think of the comically large magnifying glass you’d get with this job! Plus, you can confidently say that most things are, in fact, real. You’d rarely be wrong. It’s a better job than “reality traveler” (Blink); I travel through reality every time I walk to the bathroom. I suppose I could start investigating reality too, but that seems like too much of a bother unless I were going to make a career of it.

4. Demonic pawn (Copperhead). This has a retirement plan that is worse than protector of the universe, and your boss calls you into work all the time — weekends, late nights, apocalypses. But supervisors are very clear about what they want, and it’s one of those jobs you go into knowing exactly what you’re in store for. Recommended for those who aren’t self-starters but are good negotiators.

3. Scavenger (Caliban). You do get to set your own hours, and you’re your own boss. You aren’t trapped behind a desk all day, either. However, you do risk someone sticking a knife between your ribs. It’s a little better than “drifter” (Cammi), since being a scavenger implies a little more ambition.

2. Wealthy recluse (Moira Brandon). This is the job for those of us who are lazy but are too inept in social situations to shift blame or work onto co-workers. Wealthy recluse narrowly edges “heiress” (Crimson Cowl), since there’s a touch of entitlement to heiress that raises resentment in others; people usually believe wealthy recluses have done something to earn the wealth that allows them to recluse.

1. Insane menace (Bloodwraith). Insanity has a low bar for qualification; all of us are psychologically abnormal in some way or another. The “menace” part is what gets you the respect similar professions — such as “megalomaniac” (Brothers Grimm [Nathan Dolly]) — are denied.

Additionally, Bloodwraith was a squire before he was an insane menace. It’s a strange career progression that takes you from knight’s assistant to crazy threat to everyone.

Dishonorable mention: Would-be conqueror (Bain, Count Nefaria). Keep trying, guys. Let me know when you accomplish something.

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12 October 2013

Spider-Man: The World's Greatest Super Hero

Collects: Peter Parker: Spider-Man #156.1, Sensational Spider-Man #33.1-33.2, and Web of Spider-Man #129.1-129.2 (2012)

Released: November 2012 (Marvel)

Format: 112 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785165729

What is this?: Anniversary cash-in for Spider-Man’s fiftieth anniversary.

The culprits: Writers Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, and Stuart Moore and artists Roberto de la Torre, Carlo Barberi, and Damion Scott

Is it a shameless cash grab, or is it an inconsequential, harmless story?

That’s the question I ask when I see a prominent hero headlining a limited series or trade paperback that is not part of the hero’s regular series. Is this something I might enjoy, albeit in a continuity-light manner, or is it something designed to sucker in the completists and unobservant?

I don’t think Spider-Man: The World's Greatest Super Hero is a cash grab. The numbering of the issues in the collection — continuing cancelled Spider-series with decimals — suggests Marvel wants people who don’t understand what “anniversary story” means to think of these tales as a continuation, as somehow important. Still, I can’t see anyone falling for that trap. I mean, decimals? That screams desperation.

Spider-Man: The World’s Greatest Super Hero coverThe stories in World’s Greatest are helpfully arranged in order of quality, so if you’d like, you can read the first story, then toss the book aside or resell it. (Note the “re” in “resell”; do not sell this book if you have not legally obtained the book through purchase or barter or as a gift. You will likely be disappointed in the results anyway.) The first story, “Old Haunts,” is written by highly regarded former Spider-Man writer Roger Stern. The second, the first of two two-parters, is “Monsters,” written by veteran Spider-Man writer Tom DeFalco. The second two-parter, “The Brooklyn Avengers,” is written by Stuart Moore, who has written a few miscellaneous Spider-stories.

Stern’s story revisits the old Acme Warehouse, which is where Spider-Man confronted the man who killed Uncle Ben. Reporter Norah Winters asks Peter to accompany her while she pokes around the old place; Peter senses something fishy and pushes Norah to give up her questioning before he investigates the place as Spider-Man. The criminals are tied to the Brand Corporation, Spider-Man rescues innocents while punishing those who try to cover up the illegal operation with explosives, Norah learns a lesson; it lacks a bit of heft, but not in a bad way. Spider-Man gets to be a hero, an old Stern-era baddie shows up to remind us about how bad it is, and life goes on. There are many worse ways to mark an anniversary …

And one of those ways is telling a story that has absolutely nothing to do with the anniversary. DeFalco’s “Monsters” is another modern Spider-tale, set in the period before Peter Parker’s fall from grace as a photog and the beginning of his romantic relationship with Carlie Cooper. (“Old Haunts” probably falls into the same time period.) “Monsters” makes no reference to the past, evokes none of Spider-Man’s dominant themes, and is as much a Carlie Cooper story as it is a Spider-Man story. That last is the most damning, given this collection’s goal.

Of the three stories in World’s Greatest, I can most easily see “Monsters” fitting into the regular series; it seems just about perfect for a Web of Spider-Man v. 1 two-parter, although ironically it was published in Sensational #33.1 and 33.2. The story is terribly earnest about human trafficking, which is better than being flip about it, but Carlie seems to be randomly chosen to be the one who cares so much. The title refers to the parallels DeFalco makes between mobster Balik Vorski, a corrupt FBI agent, and the physically mutated Vulture. If Vorski deals in human trafficking, and the FBI agent shields him from the law, then who is the real monster? The answer is all of them, of course.

“The Brooklyn Avengers,” however, is the worst kind of anniversary story: the continuity implant. The Brooklyn Avengers aren’t one of the countless current Avengers teams; they are a group of no-hopers, worse than the Great Lakes Avengers at their worst. The GLA would probably laugh at the Brooklyn Avengers, especially as one Brooklyn Avenger’s power is to generate paintballs. Spider-Man allegedly joined up with the BA early in his career and dropped them after a few missions proved they weren’t at his power or competence level; in “The Brooklyn Avengers,” a couple of members have died, and Spider-Man reunites with them to investigate their old foes.

Unfortunately, the BA don’t rise above one-note jokes, never quite gaining the humanity necessary for me to care whether they live or die. Given the team’s reactions at the end of the story, the survivors aren’t too broken up over the deaths either, even though one member had a sibling die. By the end, like Spider-Man, I don’t wish the Brooklyn Avengers ill. I just want them to go away.

The quality of the art matches the quality of writing. Roberto de la Torre gives “Old Haunts” an atmospheric look vaguely reminiscent of Michael Gaydos or Michael Lark, although de la Torre’s work is not as polished or detailed. Still, it’s exactly what a story about a fight under a warehouse calls for. Carlo Barberi’s work on “Monsters” is pretty to look at, and I like how he draws the new Vulture, but his Peter Parker is a pretty boy who looks nothing like other artists’ Peter, and I’m not sold on his portrayal of characters’ emotions. I’ll admit Damion Scott’s extremely cartoony work for “Brooklyn Avengers” fits the humorous tone Moore was going for, but I don't enjoy looking at it. The characters have cramped torsos and faces and distended limbs; something about the vivid colors and exaggerated proportions puts me in mind of graffiti, but not in a good way.

World’s Greatest is missable. If you read it, you might get a few moments enjoyment. Most likely you’ll forget it almost immediately, as even the best story rises slightly above the sea of mediocre. Save yourself the time: skip it in the first place.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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14 September 2013

FF, v. 1: Fantastic Faux

Collects: FF v. 2 #4-8 (2013)

Released: July 2013 (Marvel)

Format: 112 pages / color / $15.99 / ISBN: 9780785166634

What is this?: Four heroes with ties to the Fantastic Four fill in as guardians for the Future Foundation kids while the famous quartet is away.

The culprits: Writer Matt Fraction and artist Mike Allred (with help from Joe Quinones)

A book written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Mike Allred should be fun. I mean, I’m not the only one making that assumption, right? Fraction’s ideas and Allred’s expressive and cartoony art should combine into something that should put a smile on my face. And for the most part, that’s true of FF, v. 1: Fantastic Faux, but there’s darkness lurking in the background that I wasn’t prepared for.

On the surface, FF is a comedy book. The Fantastic Four has left Earth to go exploring, and they have left a team of second-string heroes (She-Hulk, Medusa, Ant Man II, and Ms. Thing) to look over the wacky cast of kids that the Fantastic Four’s Future Foundation is educating. I mean, the student body includes Moloids, fish people, and Artie and Leech. How could that not lead to craziness?

FF, v. 1: Fantastic Faux coverFraction uses his cast to great effect, and #4 — the first issue in this collection — is an almost perfect issue. She-Hulk has dinner with her ex-boyfriend, Wyatt Wingfoot, while the Moloids who have a crush on her enlist the help of fellow student Bentley-23 to ruin their date. Bentley’s plots, however, have the opposite effect, and the night out turns into an enchanted evening for the couple. The issue is funny, heartfelt, and touching, accented by Allred’s simple yet effective art. I don’t usually associate “heartfelt” or “touching” with Fraction, but he pulls it off here.

Fraction maintains the humor throughout, letting all the characters get into the absurdity of multi-purposed HERBIES, an erudite Dragon Man teaching, Darla using “Thing rings” to turn into Ms. Thing, and postman Willie Lumpkin teaching the kids about the birds and bees. As “absurdity” is a specialty of Allred’s, his art is outstanding, of course. Whatever Fraction gives him to draw, Allred doesn’t flinch at, whether it’s Ms. Thing in weird headgear or the FF kids attacking Bentley and Medusa’s son with Home Alone traps. Allred also gets to draw fish creatures, Inhumans, and monsters from the deep, and he excels at all of them. He doesn’t draw the entire volume, but Joe Quinones does a great job filling in on #6, drawing in a very Allred style.

Fraction is obviously having fun with the title, even beyond the whimsical elements of the story and cast. The issue titles are ludicrous — “That Was the Worst Field Trip Ever!” and “Spooky Kids or, Merrily into the Eight Arms of Durga the Invincible We All Go” — or inexplicable (there is no Durga in #5, and I can’t figure out why #6 is titled “Save the Tiger,” as it has no relationship to either real tigers or the ‘70s Jack Lemmon movie). Fraction shows a predilection for continuity that I also didn’t know he had; he resurrects the Thing suit that Ben Grimm used when he lost his powers in the ‘70s, the Thing rings from the 1979 Thing animated series, and a variety of headgear from the series.

But throughout Fantastic Faux, Fraction is weaving some dark threads among the Moloids discovering gender and HERBIEs dressed up as Dr. Doom. Mind control is a standard superhero plot device, but there’s something more sinister about an old abuser returning to a former victim, as happens in this volume. Scott still has trouble dealing with the death of his daughter, Cassie, and being in charge of a whole school of children only exacerbates a dangerous situation for him. Dr. Doom is more vicious, eschewing grand plans and going for the gut to get what he wants. John Storm, returned from the future, is suffering from PTSD and has lost an eye. The grimmer elements sit uneasily next to the comedic bits … or maybe Fraction’s more serious plot developments should make me feel uneasy; violence, death, and sinister plots shouldn’t be comfortable, perhaps, despite what a half-century of Marvel Comics have taught us. I can’t be sure.

Allred is one of my favorite artists, and I hate to complain. But … at some points in the story, neither the art nor words explain what is going on. Fraction has never been a writer who overexplained matters, and that’s certainly true in Fantastic Faux. Some of the information either isn’t important or can be gleaned from the text, like why the Fantastic Four started teaching these kids in the first place or what exactly Bentley-23 does to make Blastaar disappear. Some information, like who Darla Deering is, could have been communicated to the reader with a better introductory page, and that’s not Fraction’s fault. And being behind in Marvel continuity, I was just mystified by things like Black Bolt’s return from the dead and the Inhumans’ return from space.94 That being said, the first volume of a series should explain things more fully, not leave readers wondering if they missed a previous volume.95 A footnote or two would go a long way, for Odin’s sake.

And it’s not like a general audience is going to recognize this cast. She-Hulk, probably; Medusa, likely. But Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man, maaayyyyybe, although I’m not sure the words “Ant-Man” was ever used in the book, and he never gets near an ant. But no one knows who Darla Deering is, and the Thing costume she wears is an obscure bit of continuity. Among the students, some people will remember Leech and Artie, but that’s it. Aiming a book at established Marvel audiences limits your readership.

Some would say Fraction respects his audience’s intelligence, but there’s a limit to how much I need to be respected. Fraction’s unanswered questions make it hard to gauge what he intends in other parts of the book. The villainy of Fraction’s Doom does not seem to match previous depictions of the despot; in this book, his villainy is ignoble, resorting to stratagems a man of honor (as Doom frequently claims to be) would never use. But I don’t know whether Fraction intends this to be a different aspect of Doom’s character, an evolution for the Fantastic Four’s old foe, or whether this is a clue that Doom isn’t Doom.

Despite feeling like I entered the story in the middle, I enjoyed Fantastic Faux. Sometimes I had to fight to enjoy it, but the fight was worth it. Given how many loose ends the story had, though, I’m concerned about continuing with FF, since Fraction has announced he’s leaving with #11. Will the stories pay off? Will FF retain its sense of lunacy? Neither question affects Fantastic Faux’s grade, but it does affect whether I would recommend anyone start reading the series.

Rating: Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol (4 of 5)

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30 August 2013

Green Goblin: A Lighter Shade of Green

Collects: Green Goblin #1-13, Web of Spider-Man #125, Spectacular Spider-Man #225, and Amazing Scarlet Spider #2 (1995-6)

Released: August 2011 (Marvel)

Format: pages / color / $39.99 / ISBN: 9780785157571

What is this?: Daily Bugle intern Phil Urich runs across some Green Goblin equipment and tries to decide whether to help himself or others.

The culprits: Writer Tom DeFalco and Terry Kavanagh and artists Scott McDaniel, Joshua Hood, and others

Marvel’s decision to reprint the 1995-6 Green Goblin series in Green Goblin: A Lighter Shade of Green was a curious one. Theoretically, with the Green Goblin being Spider-Man’s archnemesis, a Green Goblin series should have been important. It wasn’t, though; it was a mid-‘90s series about a newspaper intern, Phil Urich, who stumbles across the Osborn Goblin gear. Green Goblin wrapped up just before Onslaught gave Marvel the freedom to do some excellent work with new or lesser-known concepts (Thunderbolts, Deadpool). Neither the writer, Tom DeFalco, nor the main artist, Scott McDaniel, are “hot” or “new” or “critic’s darlings.” As a final nail in the commercial coffin, the character crossed over with the ‘90s Clone Saga.

I suppose Phil becoming the latest Hobgoblin, a recurring villain in Amazing Spider-Man, at the end of 2010 was the impetus for the reprint. Still, that’s a slender thread on which to hang a $40 reprint of a little-remembered, unlamented series like Green Goblin.

Green Goblin: A Lighter Shade of Green coverGreen Goblin is a series that relies heavily its protagonist narrating his thoughts, which is a problem: Phil is a teenager, and when middle-aged white guys write “hip” teenagers, the results always lack verisimilitude. DeFalco seems to have picked up all his teenager dialogue from bad TV shows that were also written by middle-aged white guys. Although Phil does have a distinctive voice, I don’t believe anyone has ever spoken like him in the history of mankind — unless, by chance, some grunting caveman or cavewoman accidentally strung together the same syllables Phil used. I was a teenager in the ‘90s, and I can guarantee none of my friends ever used phrases like “Scarlet really ups the gear” or “she’s mint, sexy, and all that!” I didn’t either — or at least I don’t remember sounding like that. Might explain my social life if I did say those sorts of things. Slammin’!

A second problem with Phil’s narration is that Phil is not an intrinsically likeable person. Phil is one of those slackers DeFalco had heard so much about, a college dropout working as an intern for his uncle, Ben Urich, at the Daily Bugle. Having dropped out of college, Phil doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life, and when he gets the Green Goblin equipment, he’s not sure how he wants to use it. He doesn’t instinctually aid others, but he usually ends up being helpful. He has vague ideas of gaining fame, acclaim, money, and women, but his plots are badly thought out, and they lack ambition. Also, Phil’s a bit skeevy about the women; he notes when Lynn, the girl he has a crush on, “jiggles into view” and thinks about “all the butter [he] wanted to spread on Lynn.” It’s no surprise that when he gets some money, he spends it on a suit and flowers and expects Lynn to fall into his arms, despite his lack of charm and her general lack of interest in him as anything but a co-worker and source of info.92

DeFalco does a good job choosing sparring partners for Phil to fight, mixing established villains with new ones. Hobgoblin is a no-brainer, considering he was, at the time, the only other living link to the Goblin legacy. Arcade is always a good choice for a beginning hero. Yes, it stretches credibility that Phil would be able to defeat the Rhino early in his career, but in issue #2, the hero needs a victory, and in a battle between two lunkheads, I can buy that the first person with a good idea would win. The new villains are a mixed bag; Angel Face is the most competent and has a real reason to keep after the Green Goblin, and the Steel Slammer has a nice design. Purge, a generic assassin, and Jonathan Gatesworth, a “virtual reality” creator, are forgettable.93

Even beyond DeFalco’s failed attempts to emulate the youth slang of the day, Green Goblin is marked pretty solidly as a ‘90s comic by DeFalco working current events of the comic-book industry into the background. At one point, recurring villain Angel Face robs a tycoon named “Berinutter,” which sounds like DeFalco’s way tweaking the nose of or taking his frustrations out on Isaac Perlmutter, who was chairman at the board at Marvel at the time. DeFalco also makes “Larson Toddsmith” and “Marc Portaccio” the unscrupulous heads of Compuboot, a game company; the names are obvious references to Image Comics founders Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portacio.

Marvel’s financial situation was worsening at the time, and DeFalco has some opinions on how business and creative pursuits should intersect; in #9, he puts these words into a villain’s mouth: “[We] would be in Chapter 11 if not for [our] financial wizardry and … marketing magic! Creativity is fine … in its place … but the business people transform vague ideas into profits!” Later in the issue, he puts the opposite view into Phil’s mousy potential love interest, Meredith Campbell: “Corporations don’t think like us regular folks! No matter how much profit they generate … it’s never enough!” The joke was on DeFalco, though, as Marvel filed for Chapter 11 in December 1996, a few months after Green Goblin was cancelled.

The book includes three Spider-issues. The best is a crossover between Amazing Scarlet Spider #2 and Green Goblin #3, which is part of the Great Game storyline. Phil gets a crush on the amoral Joystick, who fights in the Great Game, an international gladiatorial contest. Joystick is in town to fight the Scarlet Spider, but her plans are loused up by one of her previous victims, El Toro Negro. DeFalco had an excellent chance to contrast the attitudes of the thrill-seeking Joystick and responsible Scarlet Spider, especially since the Scarlet Spider doesn’t have Spider-Man’s cachet as a moral center of the superhuman community. Instead, DeFalco treads too lightly on the question, having Phil reject Spider-Man’s ethos without seeing his own similarities to Joystick.

Web of Spider-Man #125 and Spectacular Spider-Man #225, which immediately follow Green Goblin #1 in this volume, seem like the traditional attempts to boost a new character’s profile with an appearance in a Spider-book. Unfortunately, the two issues serve as poor attempts at promotion, since the Green Goblin in those books little resembled the one who starred in his own book. Web #125, written by Terry Kavanagh, is the worst offender, as Phil’s motivations for being in the Clone-Saga story are weak at best and nonsensical at worst. Spectacular #225 is written by DeFalco, but Phil’s reasons for being out in costume are not in line with his development in his own series; Phil sees himself on a “grim mission” when he hunts down a man setting fire to homeless people, which is quite heroic for someone who hasn’t decided what to do with his new powers. His inexperience does show in his battles with the villain and Spider-Man, though.

DeFalco keeps bringing up Phil’s struggles with his identity: is he a hero or someone who merely exploits his abilities for personal gain? An ambitious man or slacker? Ladies man or creep? Although Phil arrives at the place you expect him to by the series’ end, it is sometimes hard to follow his developmental path. He eventually overcomes his fear of the neighborhood thug, Ricko the Sicko, but he still fears the Hobgoblin’s wrath. He rejects Lynn not because he finds a woman whom he is more compatible with but because he realizes Lynn isn’t that interested in him. His heroism is motivated as much by a desire to impress Lynn as his nascent conscience, despite advice from Daredevil and Scarlet Spider. Only the Onslaught crisis forces him to answer the questions, and then the series ends.

The primary artist for Green Goblin, Scott McDaniel, has a blocky, exaggerated style that works best in the ‘90s. The Green Goblin costume and mask lends itself to exaggerated touches, and I like the Steel Slammer design, but he has a little trouble with Phil’s quieter moments. (McDaniel’s Pittsburgh youth shows up when he has Phil wear a Steelers jacket, even though Phil’s a fan of the New York Smashers.) McDaniel penciled #1-4, 6-7, and 9-10, leaving a lot of space for fill-in artists. Most of these are unremarkable, with the occasional glitch; for example, Keven Kobasic draws Judge Tomb as a tall, powerful young man with single tufts of blond hair on his head and chin in #5, while McDaniel goes the more clichéd route, depicting Tomb as a small, old man with a fringe of white hair on his head in #6.

Hood Green Goblin imageJoshua Hood drew the last three issues. Hood’s distorted, elongated faces are off-putting, making the characters look almost deformed. He draws Angel Face’s scars as far more disgusting than McDaniel did, robbing her of some of her humanity (which DeFalco’s writing doesn’t compensate for). In #12, though, his Sentinels aren’t bad, and the final image from that issue is impressive.

Green Goblin grades out as mediocre — not groundbreaking or very memorable, but it’s not offensive either. Poking around these forgotten corners of the Marvel Universe is always its own reward, but on the other hand, it’s not a reward worth paying $40 for (or $30 new at Amazon). If you are an archaeologist of Marvel or ‘90s pop culture, Green Goblin might be worth it if you can find it at a reasonable price. Otherwise, let it go.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol (2 of 5)

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