Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Who's Who: Starfire

We end my look at the DC 70s Sword and Sorcery books with the Who's Who entry on Starfire.

I reviewed the first issue of Starfire here, a pretty packed opening issue laying the ground rules for this planet and establishing Starfire as a rebel determined to free her world and her people from the yoke of slavery at the hands of the Yorg and Mygorg.

I don't have any other issues of Starfire so it is interesting to read this entry and read about some of her future adventures. The first issue seemed like an interesting mix of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. These further adventures of super-computers and laser pistols seems like the book veered more towards the former.

The art here is by Mike Vosburg who provided the art for the entire Starfire series. I am surprised he didn't have Starfire in her more classic green turtle-shell unitard, as seen in the opening issue. Still, this look from an above angle, brandishing a sword and a laser pistol as well as a stern-appearing Starfire is a very nice pin-up.

And so, after over a year of looking at Beowulf, Starfire, Claw, and Stalker, I close this chapter of my Bloodlines reviews.

I probably won't be posting here in August but will be busy preparing another 'month of Anj' in September, focusing on one of the DC characters I think is underutilized.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Comic Reader Résumé: October, 1984

October of 1984 began with Conan the Destroyer #1. It was more enjoyable than the movie for me, thanks to the apropos creative team of Michael Fleisher and John Buscema. That said, the movie sucked, as did compressing it into two issues, of which I only bought the one. I remember this was sitting prominently on the local 7-11 comic rack located below and to the right of the cash register. I suppose I recall it so vividly because of the coloring and the simple waist-up figure.

A few years late, I randomly ended up with New Teen Titans #4. I either picked it up off the scratch & ding rack at one of the local Third Planet outlets (my first ever neighborhood comic shop,) or I fished it out of the quarter bin long boxes at Marauder Books (my second shop, two-plus years apart.) Trigon impressed the hell out of me, and it was some of George Perez's finest art. The story had a real sense of horror at a world gone completely wrong, intensified by the externalization of the angsty young heroes' inner turmoil. Unfortunately, I picked up the other issues in the arc many years later, past the proper age for them to be affective. Aside from Perez's failed washes, the art was even better than in the early issues, but Marv Wolfman's story started slow, sagged, and whimpered at the end. This was not how I wanted their pairing as a creative team to end, and I found I wanted Wolfman even less on full plots with other artists.

G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #31 had a sweet cover by the usually bad interior artist Frank Springer, enhanced by Klaus Janson. Perhaps he was spent upping his game, because I enjoyed the battle action under guest artist Rod Whigham more than usual. It amuses me that this book was the title to pick up in my 'hood (more so than even the X-Men,) we were all big fans, and yet the stories failed to seep into my memory and are now virtual blind spots in my recollection of these times.

Anyone who slags on Kitty Pryde and Wolverine must have forgotten the part where Ogun brainwashed Kitty into a ninja assassin retroactively from birth, including her performing kung-fu as a toddler, then raised her as his own daughter through magic/mind@#$%ery. That was rad! In #3, we had the reverse phallic symbolism of Wolverine skewered in his man-womb on Kitty's katana blade. Gender equality, the high hard way! I was really regretting missing #1, because by this point I was totally sucked into the mini-series.

I didn't read Robotech Defenders #1 until the summer of 1988, when a friend was given a grocery sack full of comics. Still, I felt the need to mention now how badly it sucked. It had all sorts of behind the scenes drama, like having to be rewritten after the fact to accomodate shrinking to two issues, and an untried coloring process saturating the page with Crayola subtlety. I mean, who looks at the delicate art of Judith Hunt and says "I see mech desert battles here." In a similar vein, we never got Ted McKeever's Silverhawks. That would have been... something... or other.

Unlike the the rest of the series so far, I remember Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #10 very well. Under that killer Mike Zeck cover is a story to match. Doctor Doom flips the script by challenging the quasi-deity the Beyonder, getting torn to ribbons with appropriately overwrought descriptive captions, before emerging victorious and whole. If there was any doubt about the majesty of Doom in the mind of the Bronze Age reader, this dispelled it. As a young reader, I don't believe that I had ever been confronted with a battle so grisly and seemingly full of consequence. I expect I had the same feeling of awe then that Dragonball fans got from watching martial arts battles that spanned seasons and destroyed worlds. As usual though, my experience was better, because I got all that satisfaction in one sitting without cartoonish excesses that recalled Tex Avery. Why, of course my childhood-fu is superior to your weaksauce lives, otaku!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who's Who: Claw The Unconquered

It's a month of Anj Tuesdays here at Bloodlines as I wrap up my look at the DC Sword and Sorcery titles of the 1970s by sharing the characters' Who's Who pages from the late 80s.

I was relatively underwhelmed in my review of Claw the Unconquered here at Bloodlines a while back. In comparison to the comic craft or innovation seen in Beowulf, Stalker, and Starfire, Claw seemed a bit pedestrian. It's funny because Claw lasted 12 issues ... the longest of any of the books.

Of course, I was basing that on the one issue I read and, at least by his entry, I may have been premature.

We knew of course about his clawed hand, a trait he shared with his father. But here we learn the claw's origin and of how the world Pytharia was being fought over by gods of order and gods of chaos, the fulcrum world the universe balanced on.

Raised by the order gods to be their agent, Claw was robbed of his memory by the chaos gods and had to roam the land (as he was doing in Claw #1). Only after being reunited with a magic sword called Moonthorn did he recall his mission.

I don't know if this description is enough to make me seek out the other issues but it at least beefs up the story a bit.

The art here is nicely rendered by Keith Giffen. This is the Giffen art I see in my mind's eye, an organic look he used on the Legion which simply shines.

Monday, July 23, 2012

2010 The Brave and the Bold: The Lost Issues: Batman and The Doom Patrol

Thanks to an announcement at the Aquaman Shrine, I was directed to The Brave and the Bold: The Lost Issues, "Featuring Batman and the greatest stars from DC, Marvel and beyond! All covers are created with MS Paint." A cool idea with a progressively better execution, Ross offered Batman & the New Doom Patrol early on. My favorite mock-up covers tend to be by a single artist, to help maintain the illusion, as occurred here with all Jim Aparo reference. After thoroughly scratching his Batman itch, Ross retitled his blog Marvel Two-in-One: The Lost Issues, which featured our team's original line-up in 2011's The Thing and The Doom Patrol. Don't miss it!

...The Lost Team-Up Issues...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Comic Reader Résumé: September, 1984

I was becoming increasingly frustrated by tossing through a friend's copies of Uncanny X-Men, but never seeming to get the chance to actually read his copies. Seeing Logan on the cover to Alpha Flight #17, with art by Phoenix's John Byrne, was too much to resist. It was a nice enough story, flashing back to the team's first appearance. They were still trying to apprehend the fugitive Weapon X for the Canadian government, but this telling offered previously unseen perspectives.

G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #30 had the Dreadnoks. Yeah, I don't remember this one at all.

Having procrastinated too long on the first issue, I made sure to buy Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #2 instead of letting it slip away. Kitty wasn't as pretty under Al Milgrom's pen as she had been under Paul Smith, but she was crying and running from sumo bodyguards by phasing through floors and stuff. I found that more exciting than fighting space crabs, but Wolverine's increased presence was probably the deal maker.

Then again, I also purchased X-Men Annual #8, and that was pretty near all Kitty. I was never a big Steve Leialoha fan, even as an inker, but he suited this sort of Patrick Nagel space fantasy. On reflection, Chris Claremont was more reliable on these one-off story-stories than the endless soap opera of the main series, though I doubt I could have held up interest in this sort of thing as an extended series.

Blue Devil #7 was a weird issue, because Gil Kane never had much facility for whimsy, one of the book's main draws. Still, he drew an intense Blue Devil, and what would have been pedestrian action in other hands (the destruction of a car BD was driving) was a thrill from Gil. This issue was my introduction to the Trickster as a frienemy and Bolt as a pure bad guy (since I bought #6 after this issue.) In all the years the Flash comics struggled to make Trickster an anti-hero or villain, I figured just let him be the annoyance/throwback to a simpler time that he was here. It was also nice to see a super-hero have a date/adventure without worrying about making a lame excuse and concealing his secret identity. Sharon was game!

Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #9 was good about escalating the threat, as everybody piled on Galactus before they got eaten, but it was still ultimately the Itchy & Scratchy Show.

Thing #19 was a lot better than the last issue I tried, with a Ben Grimm not entirely in control of his Thing transformations imperiled by the Universal Monsters while alone on Beyonder-World. Byrne was good at writing this sort of light single story, and Mike Gustovich jazzed up Ron Wilson's pencils with a bit of Neal Adams flair.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who's Who Stalker

July is a month of Anj Tuesdays as I ease out of my reviews of DC Sword and Sorcery 70s titles by doing a 'once a week' review of some Who's Who pages of the characters I have covered here at Bloodlines.

I reviewed the first 2 issues of this series here and eventually ended up getting all 4 issues of the book. This Who's Who page does a good job of explaining the entire story of Stalker including the open-ended finale of the book. In that last issue, Stalker arrives in the after-life, in the area of Hell that warrior God D'Grth oversees. Stalker fulfills a prophecy that the 'greatest warrior' will mobilize the cursed warrior souls into an army and overrun D'Grth. Defeated by the horde, D'Grth admits that he cannot return Stalker's soul to the nameless one. The only way the soul will be returned is if D'Grth dies ... and the only way D'Grth can die is if all his worshipers are dead. Hell-bent, literally, to get his soul back, Stalker returns to Earth vowing to kill all of D'Grth's followers. And that is where the series ends.

I am amazed that Stalker got a full-page dedicated to him in Who's Who but it does allow legend Steve Ditko to do a nice montage of the character as well as the pin-up.

And who knows, maybe one day I'll do full reviews of the final Stalker issues. Or maybe DC will reboot the character!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Comic Reader Résumé: August, 1984

A quick clarification: I don't list every comic that I ever owned/read from a given month. For instance, some comics first published in August 1984 that have been in my possession at various points have included New Teen Titans #3, Wonder Woman #321, Uncanny X-Men #187, Jemm, Son of Saturn #3, Tales of the Teen Titans #48, Grimjack #5, Green Lantern #182, Infinity, Inc. #8, Dreadstar #14, and Crash Ryan #1. However, in each of these cases, by the time I got them they were "back issues." It's one thing if I bought a book a few months late out of a pile in a second hand bookstore, or even a few years later as a gift. On the other hand, stuff I bought at a comic shop in a bag and board nearly or into an entirely different decade don't count. The whole point of these "resumes" is to share memories of my reading habits relatively contemporaneous to the point of publication, to express feelings and experiences from a specific time, not just to offer a virtual catalog of all the books I've loved before (who traveled in and out my door...)

So anyway, I'm pretty sure I'd committed to buying G.I. Joe a Real American Hero monthly while Mondale was still campaigning, but I'm not sure if I skipped #28 or not. It had a tank and a jet on the cover, and vehicles bore me, where #29 had Destro, who does not.

It was a lackluster, unmemorable month in general. I kept putting off buying Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1, probably because Al Milgrom inking himself wasn't half as palatable as Jim Mooney's inks on Peter Parker. Also, it was an almost entirely dull Kitty Pryde domestic drama. I stalled so long the issue sold out or was pulled by the distributor. Oh, well. So much for any sense of youthful completionism.

Even Blue Devil #6 was a bust, involving Dan fighting aliens in a casino. It was trying too hard to be cute/funny, and at least as a kid, fell short in my eyes. I haven't re-read it since.

I was irrationally drawn to Marvel movie specials in the days when rewatching a movie meant broadcast or bust, so I bought Buckaroo Banzai #1. At this point, they were threadbare cash grabs, trying to condense entire movies into just 44 pages. It rarely worked, but at least this one had Mark Texeira art. Tex was an early favorite artist of mine, although I wouldn't begin to really recognize his work for another few years.

I don't think I bought Iceman #1. I never liked Bobby Drake, and hopefully just thumbed through it while shaking my head at the 7-11 I bought most comics from. The comic sticks out though, and would have been par for these weeks of disappointing purchases.

Finally, Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #8, where Spider-Man retroactively received his black costume after having already gotten rid of it in his own comic. These things are all a blur in my mind. About a decade and a half ago, I spent some time with my stepbrother, his lover, and their extremely attractive roommate. She loaned me a copy of the trade, then promptly got booted out of their place and fell out of contact. I tried to get the trade back to her, but thwarted, I finally sold the thing off cheap at my shop. I'd tried to read it, but it seemed rather shallow and stupid, and just made me think about the girl I wished I'd gotten to do more than play a bootleg Japanese Bust-A-Groove 2 with. It's bad enough when a comic fails to hold up over time, but it's quite another when it recalls unrequited lust and regrets of timidity. Curiously, I ended up becoming addicted to Gilmore Girls in part because Lorelai reminded me of the same chick. Maybe if Spider-Man could have talked a bit faster and looked yummier in a sweater, I'd have kept Secret Wars around.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: Beowulf #4

Every time I think I am out they pull me back in.

I keep thinking my time reviewing DC's 70's sword and sorcery books here at Bloodlines has ended but then something spurs me to review another issue.

Recently over at CBR, writer Tony Bedard discussed his plans for the new Beowulf comic. Here is the link to that interview, well worth reading in its entirety: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=39375 The earlier Beowulf series has been a guilty pleasure, a mix of insanity and violence. While I don't know if current standards will let Bedard capture that same zaniness, if it even approaches it then it will be worth it.

With a little more news about Beowulf out there for public consumption, I thought I would review Beowulf #4 which continues its tangential story-telling style. Writer Michael Uslan and artist Ricardo Villamonte continue to weave some of the actual story of Beowulf into a bizarre landscape of adventures. This issue is no exception.

One thing worth commenting on here is the cover stylings of the title. Each issue has had a predominantly solid background color but each has been an interesting choice. Issue one had a deep purple background with Beowulf fighting in the foreground, bring a royal feeling as well as that of a deep bruise. Issue one was a mix of electric red with blue contrasting Satan from the sky. Issue 3 had a brilliant scarlet behind a super-sized orange serpent. These bold colors really make the covers pop off the rack. This issue is a much more subdued blue but it works given this issue has a much more horrific and gloomy feel.

As I said, Uslan has Beowulf and his troops tromping all over the world, going from one extreme to the next, with no real continuity. So we leave last issue's tropical island setting (in which Beowulf killed the Black Viper) only to open up this issue in a barren desert. Where is their ship? How did they get here? Why are the here if the next piece of the puzzle is ambrosia from the Zumax fruit tree? You can't ask these question in Beowulf. You just have to roll with it!

Anyways, Beowulf and his troops find themselves being pursued by an army screaming that they will catch and kill 'Dracula the Impaler'. It is clearly a case of mistaken identity but the blood lust is hot in the pursuers and a battle ensues.

I have complimented Villamonte's art on Beowulf in past reviews and I have to continue now. The art is so breath-taking and the panel composition is so wonderful.

Here, we have a nameless corpse in the extreme foreground, so extreme we barely see any of him, just a sword buried into his body and a lifeless hand. Then in the background are the swarming armies. The combatants are barely humanoid, looking more like ants. And on the left it is simply a black smudge, almost a blood mist, obscuring even the inhuman hordes.

And leering over it gleefully is Satan and he says 'it is good'. This is why comic books are art.

And yet there is more. I love the top panel for its perspective. Beowulf is simply swinging a length of chain, mowing down his opponents. He is practically standing on the piles of the dead. But the point of view and the number of links makes the reader know this is chain probably used to anchor a boat. And again those black smudges, the limbs of the dead reaching up as if trying to keep a hold on life, the lines of black dots mirroring the chain's path all adds to the gore.

Luckily, cooler heads prevail and the battle comes to a halt. The army attacking Beowulf are Israelites! The lost tribe, the wandering Ashers, have taken it upon themselves to end the scourge of Dracula. And they thought Beowulf was Vlad the Impaler.

Vlad is part of the Wallachian hordes and he not only has a penchant for impaling his enemies but slaking his thirst on their blood.

Beowulf and Israelis fighting Dracula! This is the insanity that is Beowulf! This is the beauty of Beowulf!!

But wait ... isn't there a story involving Grendel?

As with last issue, Grendel (hinted to be the son of Satan in an earlier issue of this book) is furious that he hasn't had a chance to kill Beowulf because Satan has sent the Geat on a foolish quest. In fact, Grendel actually gives Satan an ultimatum. Either Beowulf shows up to fight Grendel soon or Grendel will descend into Hell and kill Satan. Satan decides to oblige telling Grendel to head to Hrothgar's mead hall and partake in some carnage.

Again, the over the top dialogue works here. 'Thrust yourself into a foaming rage!' But the panels and the colors are just fantastic. Again, the reds and pinks are striking.

Meanwhile, in the desert, the campfire that Beowulf and his men sit around blazes mystically, opening a portal that Beowulf, Wiglaf, and Hondscio sucked through, landing in the mead hall once more.

Villamonte does a great job of showing how Beowulf is cast from one monster's grasp to another. It almost gives the impression that Beowulf is a toy, batted back and forth for Satan's amusement. Beautiful.

The Geats know that Satan wouldn't have sent them back to rest. A battle will happen. So each Geat picks a place of entry to the mead hall to protect. Poor Hondscio chose poorly as Grendel comes through the door and casually picks up the warrior and savagely eats him alive. Fantastic! It also mirrors some of the actual Beowulf saga as quoted below.

The head was the head neither of beast or man, yet had something of the features of both, and the great jaw was filled with blunt fangs that ground the bones of the unhappy Hondscio to pulp. Shaggy matted hair hung over the low forehead, and the eyes in the face of Grendel were the color of milk.

Horror-struck upon his couch, Beowulf felt his limbs in thrall and could move neither leg nor arm to raise himself as Grendel devoured the body of the young Hondscio.

I like that Beowulf is swinging one of the columns holding up the mead hall ceiling like a club. Just how tough is this guy!

Who can understand the machinations of Satan though. Remember, he had sent Beowulf on a quest to gain the powers to defeat Grendel ... then he sends him into the clutches of Grendel ... only to pull him back again.

At least Grendel is satisfied.

And Beowulf is back in the Israeli camp.

I know this is a nutty comic to be praising so much. But I love that Uslan tries to corroborate his stories with the actual saga. He tells 'the Shaper', the Bard chronicling Beowulf's tale, to write that there was but one skirmish between the Geats and Grendel (already in this book there have been two ... with more to come) and that Hondscio was the first to die in that fight  thus aligning the comic and the literary work.

Before there is time to rest and grieve, Dracula arrives with his Wallachian cavalry. Another melee erupts, staining the desert sand red with blood.

Nan-Zee continues to be a strong female character in this book. It is clear that she is an excellent warrior, superior to even some of Beowulf's men. They call on her to save them in battle often.

I think it is a sign of the addictive nature of this book that I have come to care for these characters.

The Wallachians are skilled combatants. The Israelite leader Bruzz-Simon is killed in battle. Even Beowulf appears to be beaten as Dracula moves in to impale the Geat warrior. But if there is one thing I have learned in Beowulf, plots can take radical turns.

Dracula is slain, impaled by his own man! It is Satan's will. He had Dracula killed by his soldier so that Satan could resurrect him as his heir, the first of the undead. Again, the ghostly Satan, colored in pinks and reds, creates the eeriness needed for such a scene.

And just like that the book ends. Is Dracula teleported away? What of the rest of the Wallachian army? Who knows? The one rule of Beowulf is that you must accept what has happened and keep moving forward.

While not as psychedelic as Beowulf #3 (which so far is my favorite issue of the title), this issue continued the trend of gory battles, hallucinogenic mystic sequences, and labyrinthine plot twists.  I mean fighting Dracula would be enough of a mind-wipe to satisfy me. But throw in a wandering Israeli tribe. And include a side mission back in Hrothgar's mead hall? The reader barely has a chance to catch a breath.

Add to that Villamonte's slick art and pretty progressive panel layouts with dazzling colors and you have a solid issue of insanity. Beowulf may not be for everybody ... but it is like cotton candy to me.

Overall grade: B+

Friday, July 6, 2012

2012 “JLA Jan. - Plastic Man - 204” art by Robert Q. Atkins

Click To Enlarge

"Like I was saying with Captain Marvel from the other day, DC Comic's superheroes come in all forms, and no one more literally than Plastic Man! My earliest memory of Plastic Man was an old VHS tape with a few cartoon episodes on it. It was a show that ran for a couple years from 1979-1981 called "The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show!" This show was awesomely ridiculous. Just the tone of the show and the fact that he had a polynesian sidekick named Hula-Hula, it all made the show lived up to it's name.

In the comics I haven't read much with him in it. But one of the most memorable JLA issues I read from the Joe Kelly/ Doug Mahnke run on the book was a team up with Plastic Man and Batman. It was a great example of the range of characters in the JLA. Over all I really liked how Joe Kelly wrote the character in his run, he seemed to nail the humor just right."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Comic Reader Résumé: July, 1984

It's July of 1984, and I can't remember if I read Amazing Spider-Man #257. I had to have read a Puma story at some point, because when he appeared in an annual during Peter and Mary Jane's honeymoon, I was all "Hey, the Puma!" Then I didn't buy the annual, possibly because this issue was so memorable.

I did buy Micronauts:The New Voyages #1. It had a spiffy Michael Golden cover, and interiors by Kelley Jones from back when he had a Golden influence, plus Bruce Patterson inking. It was a sci-fi series spun off from a toy tie-in, yet writer Peter B. Gillis took it seriously. There was some leftover continuity I could have done without as a new reader, and I was freaked out by Jones' graphic rendering of a team member losing a body part in a totally random accident (not at all what one expected from a mainstream comic in 1984.) The book was more mature than I was, but it was interesting, and I would sample it from time to time. Still, it was largely Star Wars married to a pastiche of every other space flick shown over the previous decade.

I didn't buy a single issue of ManTech Robot Warriors, but I think I had a figure and saw an ad in that issue of Mighty Crusaders I don't recall reading anymore. Boy, Archie Adventure Series were full of lose.

After skipping a team-up with Iron Man because a) a friend already bought it and b) Iron Man, I bought Marvel Team-Up #146. It was by the same creative team as the Moon Knight issue, and I have the same vague feeling of finding it pleasantly acceptable at the time without committing much to memory. It paired Spider-Man with Nomad, who I sorta kinda liked from Captain America, and pitted them against a villain who could disintegrate with a touch. He had issues connecting, of course, and I think he ended up turning himself to dust or something. Speaking of which, I had a knack for reading team-up books right before their cancellation, and didn't buy another one of these through to its final 150th issue.

All right, Blue Devil #5 featured Zatanna and a rematch with the demon Nebiros! Great art, fun story, and holds up to this day. ¡Viva Nebiros!

Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #7 had a fake-out Wasp death that I thought mattered in some way at the time. Honestly though, this was the first series I collected new on a monthly basis, but I only read any given issue once or twice and it's all a jumble in my mind.

Jarvis the Wizard made an offer on a box of Cookie Crisp cereal to send me a free Marvel comic with proof of purchase. I didn't understand how that worked, so when I saw a bunch of books pictured on the box, I thought those were the issues I had to choose from. I wished I'd order X-Men, but I went for the debut of the black Spider-Man costume, and got Amazing Spider-Man #258 instead. "The Sinister Secret of Spider-Man's New Costume" wasn't too far removed from what I wanted, but it ended with a barefoot Peter Parker wearing an old Fantastic Four costume and a paper bag over his head. I didn't really see it as humorous so much as embarrassing, even after that jerk Johnny Storm taped a "Kick Me" sign to Parker's back. "Spidey-Sense... gots nothin'." The creative team of Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz never wowed me, either.

The Fly #9 means another wretched, forgettable Archie Adventure Series. I probably did receive this until 1986 or so. If I recall correctly, this was given to me by my stepsister as a Christmas gift, along with a Matt Wagner Demon issue and a bunch of regular Archie comics clearly not bought with me in mind. Nothing undersells affection quite like latter-day Dick Ayers.