Friday, July 5, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé Podcast #24

(July 1986)

Internet ArchiveMP3Spotify

ré·su·mé [rez-oo-mey, rez-oo-mey] noun 1. a summing up; summary. 2. a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.
In Comic Reader Résumé, I use Mike’s Amazing World of Comics to travel back through time via his virtual newsstand to the genesis point of my lifelong collecting of comics. From there, I can offer a “work history” of my fandom through my active purchasing of (relatively) new comic books beginning in January of 1982, when my interest in the medium went from sporadic and unformed to routine on through compulsive accumulation. To streamline the narrative and keep the subjects at least remotely contemporaneous, I will not generally be discussing what we call back issues: books bought long after their publication date. Sometimes, I will cover a book published on a given month that I picked up within a year or so that date, and I give myself an especially wide berth on this aspect in the first couple of “origins” episodes. We’ll get more rigidly on point as my memories crystallize and my “hobby” spirals out of control into the defining characteristic of my life (eventually outpacing squalor and competing neuroses.) It’s part personal biography, part industry history, and admittedly totally self-indulgent on my part.

This episode includes Alpha Flight #39-40, Captain America #322-323, Casper #225, Classic X-Men #2, G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #52, Mark Hazzard: Merc #1, Marvel Saga #11, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #11-12, Psi-Force #1, Richie Rich #219, Son of Ambush Bug #4-6, Super Powers Vol. 3 #2, Uncanny X-Men #210, X-Factor #9, and more!

“Transcripts” Alpha Flight, Big Trouble in Little China, Captain America, Cracked, DC Comics, G.I. Joe, Marvel Comics, New Universe, Pac-Man, Spider-Man, Super Powers, Wolverine, X-Factor, X-Men, Atari, Maximum Overdrive, Movies, Music, Q*bert, Superman, Video Games, Comic Reader Résumé

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé: Late July, 1986

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Marvel Comics had decided to celebrate its quarter-century anniversary, as marked by the publication of Fantastic Four #1 in the summer of 1961, a couple of different ways. One was a now-iconic gray border around select covers featuring style guide friendly versions of their top characters smiling at the readers as they encircled a different close-up head shot of the book's star-- probably at a reduced rate for that artist. You see, Cadence Industries had been the parent company of Marvel since 1968, but would soon be liquidated, with Marvel being prepped for sale. Corners were being cut wherever they could, with the greatest impact on the other element of the celebration-- the launch of a new imprint. Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter may have saved Marvel Comics, and even the mainstream comics industry, by whipping it into professional and corporation-appeasing shape in the late 1970s, but he broke an awful lot of eggs making that omelet. He developed a reputation for being cruel, capricious, demanding, and egocentric. For instance, earlier today, I was reading about how classic inker Chic Stone was recovering from a heart attack when he was greeted by a letter of termination from Shooter. Favorite son John Byrne had just left the company specifically because of Shooter, after both had proven their loyalty by testifying against Jack Kirby in his lawsuit for the return of his artwork and intellectual property. The boss man had also awarded himself the massive royalties from writing the event maxi-series Secret Wars, and was driving everyone nuts nitpicking tie-ins to its broadly reviled sequel.

There had been months of cryptic hype, with a series of house ads by Cynthia Martin showing a cosmic bolt traveling the solar system to strike the Earth, about what was known inside the industry as "The Shooterverse." In a n notable editorial, Shooter explained that this would be a line of adventure titles unconnected to Marvel continuity that would better reflect "the world outside your window." But again, within the industry, it was known as a boondoggle thrown together by moonlighting editors after hours for no money after the budget was slashed, on books staffed by unknowns and the exact types of aging veterans Shooter had been running out of Marvel for years prior. Whether through circumstance, incompetence, or intentional sabotage, this New Universe was seen as a monument to Jim Shooter's hubris whose failure would be ecstatically celebrated within the industry.

But I was just a kid looking at the new comics at 7-11, knowing nothing of this beyond what Marvel's promotion had told me. According to Mike's Amazing World, there were two titles offered on the launch week. Spitfire and the Troubleshooters #1 was an immediate pass. I didn't know what a spitfire was, besides the clunky fire engine red robot on the cover. I didn't know what troubleshooters were either, but the dorks hanging off the robot had big TSR-80 Wiz Kids energy. The last straw though was the old-timey artwork by Herb Trimpe, not drawing in his more modern G.I. Joe Special Missions style, which wouldn't have worked with the Silver Age inks of Joe Sinnott anyway.

Better odds were with Star Brand #1, for which star artist John Romita, Jr. had quit The Uncanny X-Men in an act of solidarity with Mein Kapitan. This was the only New Universe title that Jim Shooter himself wrote, about a guy who in most ways resembled Shooter himself, as a writer-insert. Blonde motorbike Shooter stand-in met an old man in the woods who gave him cosmic power tied to a sort of movable tattoo that was blatantly swiped from the Eclipse Comics moon & star colophon. Besides ridiculing the Marty Sue lead, critics also pointed out that the scale of the Star Brand's power, and his fighting a tentacle-alien that wielded laser rifles and wore power armor, was a pretty big leap past the grounded reality that was being forced upon every other book in the "Shooterverse." I wasn't yet adapt enough at recognizing art styles to notice that this was a penciller that I had been enjoying elsewhere, plus that first issue was very heavy on mundane character interaction. Worse, the Star Brand's power set and goofy alien foe recalled the Superman comics that I had rejected in my youth. Probably the worst was the cover, where inker Al Williamson had obliterated any trace of Romita's style to show the hero floating in space... just like a typical Superman image. So I put it back, and only dug the run out of the quarter bin of Marauder Books in 1989. The New Universe was failing to launch.

Two more New Universe titles arrived for the fourth week of July. Nightmask #1 was another pass. While the cover image well communicated that our hero was a teen who, with the helped of his wheelchair-bound sister, could cast himself as a black-leotarded sleepy-time hero into dreams... it also looked like a Mad Magazine parody of something like Dreamscape. Once again, I didn't know what a night mask was, so the pun was lost on me, as was any appeal from the fay and unimaginative silhouette costume. Once again, writer Archie Goodwin had normal people in plain clothing talking way too much to overcome the generic fantasy ogre when it finally came time for battle. Tony Salmons was never a fanboy favorite, so having him inked by the also unloved Bret Blevins was like a Vegemite and sardine sandwich. It was as if when Shooter stole the Star Brand from Eclipse, he also tried to take their Marvel Lite company-owned titles like The New Wave and Freedom Project. I only got a few of these out of the quarter bin.

Psi-Force #1 finally broke the New U's unlucky streak. I can usually spot Kyle Baker's inks from a mile away, and there are traces here and there, but he exercised an uncommon fidelity to Mark Texeira's line that I approved of. I'd encounter Tex here and there over the years, but this was the book that finally got my full attention. Steve Perry's story was very indebted to Stephen King ESP-infused thrillers like Firestarter, Carrie, and The Dead Zone, though some of that may have been under the orders of co-creators Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson. A rogue C.I.A. agent uses his paranormal abilities to gather together five similarly gifted teenagers before they can be recruited or killed by various nefarious organizational entities. He's killed in the process, but his likeness is seen in a gestalt being periodically generated by the kid's combined abilities. This "Psi-Hawk" was heavily indebted to the Infinity Man of Kirby's Forever People, or more recently the phoenix from Gatchaman and the Lion Force Voltron. Psi-Force wasn't the only contender for the slot of X-Men in the New Universe, but as an X-Men fan, I thought it was off to a pretty good start in clenching the title.

My half-brother's mother was adopted from Ireland, and he always made a big deal about those roots, so that may have contributed to his buying Web of Spider-Man #20, with Peter Parker reporting on the IRA.

After a couple years' worth of irregular and parasitic reading, I finally returned to buying Captain America with #323. It was another one of those Marvel 25th anniversary head shots, and I was always a sucker for a grinning Cap. I still struggled with Paul Neary's art, one of the main reasons that I wasn't keeping up with the book, but I was intrigued by the premise of "Super-Patriot Is Here." Mark Gruenwald had been throwing a lot of ideologically-opposed opponents at Cap, but here was a guy that claimed to better represent modern America, and certainly a more crass and cynical one. I spent most of my childhood resting my head on a bicentennial pillow, and I considered myself patriotic, but maybe the jingoism of Reagan's America was starting to get to me? Or maybe I just thought Super Patriot looked cool, and I liked seeing Cap fight a guy who weaponized his own identity against him? Anyway, the storyline hooked me, and I'd keep up with it.

The third week of New Universe releases continued the batting average of the second. Kickers, Inc. #1 introduced a football player who gained super-abilities that he used to form some sort of detective agency with some of his teammates? Man, this book made Super Powers hold its beer. I responded way better to Mark Hazzard: Merc #1, which seems to have put me at odds with the buying public, as usual. I wasn't following writers at the time, but this was written by the same guy that had done "The Death of Jean DeWolff," and I think I appreciated that same darkly humorous streak. Rejoining Peter David, if only for the cover, was Mark Beachum, who brought a Punisher vibe at a time when I was probably suffering slight withdrawals. The interiors were by Gray Morrow, another aging industry veteran with a dated style that I'd had little, unwelcome exposure to. However, that gritty graphite look worked for a "realistic" war story, reminding me a bit of Gene Colan, and Morrow had made his biggest splash on '70s Warren magazines, so he knew the territory. But mostly, I just took an immediate liking to Marc Hazzard. He was a tall, stocky guy with thinning hair that reminded me a little of my father. Hell, they both even had a big wooden African tribesman shield on their walls, if you can believe it. They both also had a way with the ladies and an estranged son from a past relationship, but I doubt my father was helping to overthrow South Pacific dictatorships on his weekends like Marc. To me, this was kind of a perfect first issue, with a done-in-one story that sets up the entire supporting cast, a fair amount a sexual titillation and brital violence, sprinkled with humor, lots of teases of the lead character's backstory and foreshadowing his unique circumstance as a soldier-for-hire trying to reconnect with his child. It was immediately my favorite New Universe title, and easily came the closest to fulfilling the line's mandate. So of course it was treated as the bastard stepchild, and not only the first title on the chopping block, but also the series that ended only after killing off its titular star. Though in that regard, it did set a precedent. So I guess this also re-calibrates my batting average, because I'll end up following both the longest and the shortest lived New U titles, but only for part of their first year. Only year, in Marc's case.

Though it probably helps to have Silver Surfer, punk Storm, and black suit Spider-Man on the front of Sif to Sunspot, the front cover to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #12 hardly misses a beat from losing Byrne in favor of Ron Frenz, already a brawny classical Marvel artist. A tough Buscema-style Namor on the back cover couldn't hurt, though. This issue struggles through a lot of group entries, but we also get Michael Golden, Art Adams, and Paul Smith.

Son of Ambush Bug #5 also got double-shipped this month, plus Keith Giffen had taken over the final issues of Hex, which might explain the four pages randomly drawn by Steven Bissette after the Bug bit Keith's pencil in half. Actually, "random" describes everything this issue, including how I came to it. I think I missed this one on the newsstand, and bought it newish off the rack of that baby comic shop inside the South Houston antique mall/flea market that we only occasionally visited. After repeating the opening gag of a magazine parody from last issue, this time Comic Buyer's Guide, we follow Irwin Schwab's imprisonment and kangaroo court trial for contempt of comics, with Two-Face serving as both defense attorney and prosecutor. We didn't say "meta" in the mid '80s, but the subtext has devoured the text, with the Bug serving as a stand-in for Giffen as he indicts himself for his inability to do what the fans want, and DC's unwillingness to let him do what he wants. The issue is a thinly veiled angry screed about how a character premised on being a Looney Tunes-style annoyance to Superman, who moves on to mocking the greater DC Universe, has been denied access to anything related to DC Comics. Notoriously, no one wanted to allow their heroes to appear in the upcoming funny Justice League relaunch, but Denny O'Neil took pity on the book and allowed the use of Batman in the earlier part of the run. After taking repeated jabs at the Superman office, it's telling that a Batman villain is the biggest "get" for this mini-series. We've forgotten about the Uh-Oh Squad, the government plot to use the suit's teleportation technology is abandoned in favor of a circular logic gag, Cheeks does a very on-the-nose DKR image followed by an uninspired Elmer Fudd lift, we're doing the Ditko objectivism as Kafka riff again, there's the tangent in the prehistoric Gorilla City-- it's just a bunch non-sequiters to fill out the page count. I know that the book was trying my patience now, there weren't really jokes to get, and the whole project seemed to sour. I think I saw the sixth issue on the stands, but lollygagged until it wasn't, and didn't complete the mini-series until I got it as a back issue from a shop in 1987. And even then, I think I'd tried the earlier, funnier mini-series, and loving that, finally resolved this one. I knew a lot of this went over my head at the time, but reading it as a comics-learned adult who's older than the creators were at the time, the series just makes me sad. Giffen was so bitter and lost, Robert Loren Fleming is barely hanging on in his anarchic scripting, and I shudder to think how things would have turned out for these talents if not for the breakout success of JLI. But I can say that I still really love the art on this thing, especially when Giffen would just draw some ugly weirdo in a panel for kicks.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé: Early July, 1986

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When I was a little kid, other children's comic collections were filthy with Archies and Harveys. I'd dabble in the former, but I wasn't even that big a fan of the cartoons of the latter. I hadn't noticed, but Harvey Comics went on a four year hiatus, and returned with The Friendly Ghost, Casper #225. The cover announced, "Casper is back! You Asked For Him! Special Collector's Issue! Join the fun! With Harvey Comics!" It's the excess of cover hype that Son of Ambush Bug #1 had just made fun of, but I think it worked on me. They were just so excited to bring me more Casper, the dead kid from the genteel cartoon that played before the crack of dawn that I rarely watched. I recall nothing of the contents of that issue, and never bought another one. Heck, they did a cool looking revival a decade or two back that I did order, but they never came in, so even when I tried it clearly wasn't meant to be. Richie Rich #219 also came out that month, and also benefited from my FOMO. I could believe Casper was years departed, but I'd have sworn those Richie Rich digests were still lining the shelves of check-out lines. In animation, Casper hadn't appeared in much new since the early '60s, but that Silver Spoon brat had just come off a four season TV show in 1984, and how I despised his displays of affluence. His swindling me out of 75-cents for his pap did not endear me any further. Despite those two disappointments, I did feel a tinge of regret over skipping Hot Stuff: The Little Devil #165, the least recognizable but most fun looking of the three IPs. In retrospect though, shouldn't it have been Wendy the Good Little Witch in that third spot? Oh, and I only heard today that Marvel was going to take over publishing Harvey before the hiatus, and that the connections they made probably led to the creation of the Star Comics imprint. In fact, Harvey tried to sue Marvel for borrowing their laid off talent and design aesthetic, like that makes a lick of sense.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #11 offers the last John Byrne cover, likely owing to his defecting to DC over his differences with Jim Shooter. As with George Perez on the original Who's Who covers, it's too bad that one of the greatest artists in comics history couldn't complete the assignment of drawing every character in a particular universe's reference book running roughly two years. Also, they were each replaced by... not all-timers. But DC went with wild divergences in style like Paris Cullins, Ernie Colón, Joe Staton, Eduardo Barreto, Kevin Maguire, and yes, John Byrne, with moonlighting editor Dick Giordano not offering the same steadying hand as Josef Rubenstein. I give Marvel the edge on consistency. Appropriately enough, She-Hulk, Scarlet Witch, and Sasquatch are on the cover for Richard Rider to Sidewinder, and Byrne does each of their entries. Aside from Mike Mignola on Rocket Raccoon, the first half is blah, but then it kicks into high gear. Mike Zeck goes beyond with Sandman and Scarecrow, Mark Beachum elevates Scorpion, and Art Adams delivers on Sersi and Shadowcat. Paul Gulacy supposedly returns to Shang-Chi, but I think it might be misattributed, because it looks more like period Kyle Baker to my eyes.

Son of Ambush Bug #4 likely came off the stand at a 7-11, but my memory gets fuzzy on the back half of this mini-series. Not helping is the fact that the vague semblance of a narrative muchly resolves within this issue. The book opens up with a three page parody of The Comics Journal that also summarizes the mini-series to date. Argh!yle's Plan of Steel is thwarted by John Byrne's first refusal for usage of Superman elements in other books, and so the entire orbiting Bureau satellite is literaly blown up by DC's legal department. The Interferor's origin is revealed, he puts Irwin Schwab through the paces of a cycle of reboots, and then... recedes from the core narrative. This is the last time the Bug's infernal nature as an escapee from Hell is really referenced. Combat Cheeks and his Frontline Medics gets a mock cover and single page strip, but has pretty much run its course. This issue still has humorous intent, the next not so much.

I'm sure someone in the family had a copy of G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #52, featuring an awkward Quick Kick versus Storm Shadow cover, and the ninja's reconciliation with Snake-Eyes in the wake of his near-death experience. Also, Serpentor avoids an assassination plot against him to become a folk hero to the Legions of Cobra, and the Joe team's operations are temporarily suspended in the wake of the Battle of Springfield. Adult-me sees a lot going on here, but I think kid-me was bored of all the talky-talky.

The Marvel Saga, the Official History of the Marvel Universe #11, once again covered by Keith Pollard, thinks telling the first adventure of "today's X-Factor" is a bigger selling point than it probably was. Likewise, a cover panel devoted to Molecule Man, hoping for a Secret Wars boost? So we get Magneto, a little gold armor Iron Man, Thor vs. Molto, Fantastic Four vs. Rama-Tut, Human Torch vs. the Acrobat as a fake Captain America, Giant Man, Hulk vs. Space Phantom, Hulk quits the Avengers, and Iron Man upgrades to the red & gold Ditko armor. Finally, two major revivals from World War II-- a Nick Fury still capable of enjoying 3-D glasses, and ol' Adolph himself as the Hate Monger, both in Fantastic Four.

Ironically, I finally committed to buying Uncanny X-Men with #210, just as the John Romita Jr. run was ending and the Mutant Massacre would serve as a peak before a steady decline in my interest in actually reading the book. But that's a few months off, and this grim cover of battered mutants daring you to "C'mon, mess with us-- make our day!!" was more of a fever pitch moment. The silhouetted Marauders were murdering muties and their allies, beginning with a Hellfire Club security officer and a rainbow-themed Morlock. Beyond those bookends though, it was a pretty standard issue with a lot of set-up. A closeted and incognito Dazzler was positioned to return in an upcoming issue. Rogue faced a bigoted peanut gallery at Macy's. Kitty Pryde had another argument against a prejudiced mob, but managed not to drop an n-bomb this time. Magneto questioned the threat posed by the mutant-busting X-Terminators and a role offered within the Inner Circle while navigating Xavier's legacy as headmaster of the School for Gifted Youngsters. It was very ominous, and I lapped it up.

On reflection, it was my brother who got the hot ticket first issue, so I had to settle for Classic X-Men #2 off the newsstand. This was an augmented version of original X-Men #94, and I wonder if these supplemental pages by original inker Bob McLeod ever got reprinted themselves. The Danger Room montage page from the old comic is expanded to two pages of sequential action, then there's a page with Cyclops having a meeting with Professor X, and another page that retcons the New Mutant Rahne Sinclair into a Moira McTaggert sequence. There's also subtle touch-ups, like a crazy-looking Beast being brought back to model. I wasn't wild for this early Len Wein/Dave Cockrum stuff, so it was a good call to sweeten the deal with the Art Adams pieces and the Claremont/Bolton back-ups, this time featuring the early friendship between Jean Grey and Storm, as Ororo attempts to confront her claustrophobia in a subway station. There's a reason why I got the omnibus collecting the supplemental material, but not the actual X-Men issues.

I thought I'd learned by lesson with Super Powers, but that poop-stain brown cover on #2 got all over my hands. I'm going to plead out that it featured a bunch of the characters from the third wave of the toy line that I was still curious about, including a fierce representation for Tyr that wasn't supported by very many other comics. Also, there's a skulking Darkseid in a robe who at one point gets iced by Mr. Freeze. Yeah, I'm out. It's like DC is actively avoiding my business.

I'm a little fuzzy on X-Factor #9. As a Freedom Force appearance and a sort of prelude to the Mutant Massacre, I'd be really surprised if my brother missed this one. I think I may have bought a copy of #1, but otherwise have not been supporting the title myself. This one was drawn by Terry Shoemaker, an artist that I never had a good bead on. He just seemed to hang out around the X-Offices picking up scraps, and got a bit of Wildstorm work in the '90s. His stuff is fine, but I've yet to meet any actual fans of the guy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé Podcast #23

(June 1986)

Internet ArchiveMP3Spotify

ré·su·mé [rez-oo-mey, rez-oo-mey] noun 1. a summing up; summary. 2. a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.
In Comic Reader Résumé, I use Mike’s Amazing World of Comics to travel back through time via his virtual newsstand to the genesis point of my lifelong collecting of comics. From there, I can offer a “work history” of my fandom through my active purchasing of (relatively) new comic books beginning in January of 1982, when my interest in the medium went from sporadic and unformed to routine on through compulsive accumulation. To streamline the narrative and keep the subjects at least remotely contemporaneous, I will not generally be discussing what we call back issues: books bought long after their publication date. Sometimes, I will cover a book published on a given month that I picked up within a year or so that date, and I give myself an especially wide berth on this aspect in the first couple of “origins” episodes. We’ll get more rigidly on point as my memories crystallize and my “hobby” spirals out of control into the defining characteristic of my life (eventually outpacing squalor and competing neuroses.) It’s part personal biography, part industry history, and admittedly totally self-indulgent on my part.

This episode includes Alpha Flight #38, Captain America #321 & Annual #8, Classic X-Men #1, Dakota North #3, G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #51, G.I. Joe Special Missions #1, Howard the Duck #33, The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine #1, Madballs #1, Marvel Age Annual #2, Marvel Saga #10, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #10, Power Man and Iron Fist #125, Spectacular Spider-Man #118, Super Powers Vol. 3 #1, Uncanny X-Men #209, X-Factor #8, and more!

“Transcripts” Alpha Flight, Captain America, DC Comics, Dakota North, G.I. Joe, Howard the Duck, Incredible Hulk, Madballs, Marvel Comics, Masters of the Universe, Spider-Man, Super Powers, Wolverine, X-Factor, X-Men, Asteroid, Atari, Karate Kid, Movies, Music, Space Invaders, Superman, Video Games, Comic Reader Résumé

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé: Late June, 1986

I'm only going to briefly mention Power Man and Iron Fist #125. I remember it making an appearance at the school playground around 1989. It was a friend's copy, and a bummer ending to the series. Danny Rand gets beaten to death in his sleep after using up all his chi to save a child, a lame supporting character is to blame, and he promptly disintegrates from an energy imbalance. This leaves Luke Cage to go on the run when he gets wrongly accused of the manslaughter. It felt like Jim Oswley was taking out his frustration at Jim Shooter cancelling the modest selling title to make room for the New Universe, when a better use of those energies would have been to just roll the creative team over to a New Universe title. That line could have used the help.

In a real "you had to be there" moment, there once was a hot ticket reprint title in Classic X-Men #1. 1986 is considered by many to be the greatest year in the history of comics publishing, and was undoubtedly part of the last period where comic books had a significant cultural imprint with record sales to match. Nothing was hotter for longer than the X-Men, and this title wisely eschewed the original X-Men stories to begin coverage of the poorly circulated, never previously reprinted All-New, All-Different era. Aside from a few Len Wein issues, this was the start of Chris Claremont's record run with Dave Cockrum, and the arrival of the most popular team member, including the joining of Wolverine. Byrne and Perez were still the biggest names in comics, but Arthur Adams was the hottest and most influential new talent-- the truest herald and originator of the hyper-detailed "Image style" that would dominate the next decade of comics. He offered one of the best and most character-packed mutant covers ever, plus a frontpiece. Copious additional pages were provided by John Bolton, who also drew the back cover, and would soon provide a well loved series of back-up stories to the title. At a time when back issues were much more difficult to locate, and trade collections were all but nonexistent, this was the best and most economical option for readers to finally catch up on the X-Men story from the beginning... of the new team that people actually cared about.

I may have already mentioned that my brother had a few Madballs, plus the first issue of the Star Comics series. If you didn't know, these were simply rubber balls with weird or gross faces sculpted on them. I remember their being hollow, so you probably couldn't properly bounce or bat them. How much catch can you play? You might not think that there was a lot of narrative mileage in floating spheres, and Star initially only gave it three issues. I guess they proved popular enough to be revived seven months later as an ongoing series that continued the numbering of the mini. Marvel maybe should have kept the money and ran, because whatever life the property had was spent by the tenth issue.

I was more suggestible in my youth, and hadn't checked in with DC Comics for a minute, so i think I succumbed to the "NEW SERIES! FIRST ISSUE!" hype on Super Powers #1. I still loved the toys, but was at a loss with regards to the newer characters from later lines. The likes of Cyclotron, Golden Pharaoh, Orion, and Tyr were mysteries to me, and I frankly think I was a sucker for the named floating heads bookending the cover image. The interiors by Paul Kupperberg and Carmine Infantino were really bad, perhaps crystalizing my lifelong anti-fandom for these two men. This comic fed into my general avoidance of classic Justice League comics for nearly another decade, and did no favors for the relatively minuscule Fourth World circles. Don't get me started on Darkseid's seemingly perishing from his own Omega beams, or that awful hood ornament Orion was wearing.

I've mentioned a number of times on the podcast that I watched a lot of private investigator shows as a kid, especially the female led ones like Remington Steel and Moonlighting. For whatever reason, I didn't gravitate toward the rumpled old Columbo types, or cops in general, but the glossier self-directed detectives for pay... or at least well-heeled dilettantes like Hart to Hart. So naturally a seeming femme fatale with full bangs wearing haut leather goods while brandishing an automatic with the single word "STYLE" brandished above her letterboxed upper torso should grab my eye. I didn't immediately get the joke in the name Dakota North, nor did I ever really "get" the book itself. I want to say it turned up during its brief and surprisingly sporadic run somewhere in my orbit, whether newsstand or bookstore. On the surface, it was the kind of book that I'd want, but then I'd flip through it and put it back. I want to say my brother had an issue at some point, and I believe I bought a discounted "scratched and dinged" copy at the comic store that I went to right before leaving for Nevada. I think, but am not certain, that issue was #3. The close-up of Dakota aiming her piece seems the most familiar of the covers, as does the splash of her intolerably smug younger brother Ricky touring the Eiffel Tower with a gal pal. I was old enough to see the appeal in the off-kilter cartooning of Tony Salmons, but I still gravitated more toward the flashy than the artsy, and Kyle Baker always had a stronger brew for this particular approach. If you have to choose between a collection of Dakota North or Why I Hate Saturn, you pick Saturn every time. To my knowledge, this series was Martha Thomases only writing credit, and I understand that she struggled with the violence required by the assignment. You would think that would mean the scripts would favor the characterization, but I couldn't get a feel for any of these people. It all seemed obtuse to me-- unsure and at odds with itself. So if anything, I favored the wild action and mild cheesecake where the art broke lose of the unengaging story. Like I said-- I tend to flip through issues when I come across them in dollar bins-- there's something there, but seemingly not enough for most audiences. I would encounter a better and earlier handling of this character type in Collins & Beatty's Ms. Tree, another Marauder Comics quarter pull.

Someone on social media recently tagged me on the announcement of a crowdsourced compendium of the Marvel G.I. Joe comics that was funded in six minutes and had over a million dollars in the kitty at last count. The other person tagged was Ryan Daly, who has often appeared on , if not outright co-hosted, Joe podcasts. He collects Joe stuff and is keeping up with the modern Skybound Energon Universe stuff, like seemingly everybody else. That made sense. It was the me part that I didn't get. I haven't read a Joe comic since the Devil's Due run first started, and while I retain some mild nostalgia, my fandom feels like it happened in another lifetime. But then I remembered this podcast, which has consistently featured Joe content. I talk about Secret Wars being the first series that I collected every month from when I started with #3 until its end, or how Dreadstar & Company was the first book I had a complete set of. Or how I followed Uncanny X-Men to some degree for over a decade from January of '83, and what a formative series that was for me as a person. But before that, I bought action figures, especially G.I. Joes, and I've been talking about the animated commercials and TV series, and buying the comic more months than not from #11, and here we are at #51, plus Yearbooks and now we're launching a spin-off series. As much as I feel this book is in my rearview mirror, especially the rah-rah Real American Hero politics, the paper trail surely indicates that I was a much more devoted fan of this franchise than any other in my earliest years of collecting.

And so we come to G.I. Joe Special Missions #1, previewed in #50, adorned with a dynamic Mike Zeck cover, spotlighting... um... I dunno. Snake-Eyes is in the background, one of two Joes scaling the side of a ship while firing Uzis. They're both in modified scuba gear, so from the colors and flat top I guess Duke? But his hair's more orange than blonde, and he just doesn't "read" as Duke, especially since a more iconic Duke figure is in the corner box for comparison. Neither is in the actual comic, which is a sea adventure mostly involving The Baroness. The art didn't exactly blow me away, and my memory is of seeing it in a three-pack at a K-Mart that I did not pick up. I don't recall if I'd passed on it at the newsstand, probably not helped by it's continuing into the next issue, or if I decided against the book interiors unseen at the department store. What I can say is that this was maybe the first chink in the armor of my Joe collecting period, and it seems given the choice, I got an X-Men pack instead.

My experience of Howard the Duck up to this point was mostly in passing. He'd been a big fad in the 1970s, especially during his Pat Paulsen-aping mock presidential run. There were plenty of period Marvel house ads for subscriptions; the magazine; the Treasury Edition. But in terms of actual comics read, it was just the second issue at my uncle's friend's house with the inset bookshelves from which I modeled my own current and long desired set-up. And to be honest, that's still going to be it, because I fished the weird, years-belated Howard the Duck #32 & 33 out of the Marauder Comics quarter bin in 1989. Instead of being decent human beings about it, the final issue of the original run came nearly a year after the previous one, and that was over six years after the real finale from 1979. Worse, it teamed Howard co-creator Val Mayerik with some unknown, rather than offer Steve Gerber the work. It was a one-off, rags to riches to rags story to meekly support the upcoming movie, distinguished only by tardiness and admittedly one of the best ever Howard covers by Brian Bolland. That'll do, duck. That'll do.

The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine #1 was another one of those weird newsstand outliers that cost a whopping $2.00 and was extra length on sturdier (but non-Baxter?) stock. It had a new wraparound cover by John Byrne, but the interiors were all reprints. Mainly, it was the two-part introduction of Wolverine by Len Wein and Herb Trimpe from 1974's Incredible Hulk #180-181. Also, and much rarer, there was a new 6-page Hercules/Wolverine story from 1980's Marvel Treasury Edition #26 by Mary Jo Duffy, Ken Landgraf, and most importantly, inked by George Pérez. Nowadays, all three of these stories have been reprinted many times over, including a full reprint of this edition in a squarebound version with a new Trimpe cover in '89. However, in 1986, this was the first time these stories had ever been made available again, much less in a relatively affordable upscale format on the newsstand. While it may not have been held in the same esteem as Phoenix: The Untold Story, I still prized this edition, especially the pages of back matter detailing the origins of the character, as created by Wein and artist John Romita Senior, including the design sketches. This may have been the first time I heard about Wolverine's distinctive mask flaps coming out of Gil Kane having screwed up on a cover, with the interiors made to match. I was somewhere near my peak Wolverine fandom, and aside from Marvel Age and the rare trade paperback, there wasn't a lot of opportunities to get that kind of education on the creative process.

Speaking of Marvel Age, our last stop this month is its second annual. The cover was a massive group shot of the main stars of the universe by Frenz and Sinnott, which was by necessity more crowded as a single page than Kerry Gammill's wraparound from the previous year. Starting with a reprint of a 3-page 1967 Lee/Kirby humor strip about themselves, we next got a highlight reel from Marvel's first quarter-century. Back then, "Marvel Comics" started in 1961 with the debut of the Fantastic Four, creating the illusion that a flush Baby Boomer could own every single Marvel Comic, and treating their wartime super-heroes from the series actually titled Marvel Comics as an out-of-continuity prototype. Next was Marvel A to Z, which was their own version of the Amazing Heroes Preview Specials, where they would give a few paragraph breakdown of each Marvel title's general course over the next half-year or so. Where the previous year, they'd blown a fat wad on 25 pages of original continuity storytelling, Marvel was tightening their belts to look more attractive for an upcoming sale. This time they only sprung for about 13 story pages to break up the text, plus some pin-ups with captions and dialogue balloons. The artists were generally lesser known than the 1985 crew, but Art Adams did a story page, and Walt Simonson a pin-up spread. Could you imagine a publisher paying for anything like this today? Anyway, either the New Universe titles weren't ready or, more likely, it was damage control for how lame they were coming out, but the only art for the upcoming line was one of Cynthia Martin's cosmic house ads of fuchsia lightning striking the Earth from outer space. It was still overall a nifty package, with a faux 1961 Marvel Age back cover by Richard Howell, but I still read my brother's copy.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé: Early June, 1986

I didn't realize how off my May comics reading was until I came back for June, and all the books that double-shipped in April that were then absent a month. I'm pretty sure that my brother came back for Alpha Flight #38, the last part of the one with the zombie ghost pirate with the pestilence and all the Shadow of the Hawk shamen and the Canadian kaiju and whatever. Bill Mantlo was doing some cool weird horror stuff in here, and I especially like when Snowbird goes full Sasquatch primal rage and each swipe of their claws makes the pirate go Benjamin Button. I like to think that in 100,000 years, the sentient upright cockroaches will read that paragraph and it will become one of their great archeological mysteries. But also, the book failed me as a kid, because it was both too weird and not weird enough. There's a whole B-plot with Namor and Marina involved in an Atlantean military conflict that was just-- yawn. Dave Ross' art is straight super-hero, but it's being compromised by Gerry Talaocs inks, which recalls but never reaches the heights of the great '70s Filipino horror tradition from guys like Alcala and DeZuniga. The ingredients aren't gelling, and whole approach feels like a half-measure.

Mike Zeck had a whole run on Captain America that was awesome inside & out, then became one of Marvel's top cover artists, including a return to Cap for many iconic frontpieces. With so many iconic images from this time period coming from Zeck, it's easy to forget his work on Captain America #321. When J.M. DeMatteis rage quit the book over the editor-in-chief retroactively cancelling an already approved new direction for the book, and Jim Shooter adding insult to injury by rewriting chunks of his last issue, Cap had something of a lost year. Editor Mark Gruenwald eventually took over as writer, but he was never a marquee name, and his artists weren't going to bring any heat to the book. I think Gruenwald made the conscious decision to court controversy, through heated political content, shocking large scale deaths, and so forth, to bring attention to the title. The United States was re-embracing militant jingoism, reflected in Mike Zeck's moving on to the scorching hot Punisher mini-series, and a long memorable run of G.I. Joe covers. I think Gruenwald wanted to trap some of that heat with this month's image of a howling mad Star-Spangled Avenger firing an uzi. It was a provocative image that grabbed eyeballs, and started a dialogue that has been lost to time, as it's memory was buried by other bold moves. But at the time, it was such a hot ticket that I couldn't find a copy of my own, and had to glom what I could about what happened from those peripheral conversations.

Given how much I was waxing Mike Zeck's car, you'd think I'd be more excited to cover Captain America Annual #8. Everyone knows the cover of Cap's shield being raked by Wolverine's claws, and I've lost track of how many times it's been swiped. But we don't talk much about the interiors, which are... fine. There's a lot of Logan at the front of this story, and you can see that's where Zeck spends most of his time and interest. It wouldn't shock me if he'd requested to draw the fan favorite character, but he's also competing with recent work on the Canuck by John Byrne, Art Adams, Paul Smith, Frank Miller, Barry Smith... even John Romita Jr. had a quite iconic Wolverine cover a couple months prior. Zeck drew Logan's hair weirdly plastic-- more like Deathbird's feathers, and he skimped a bit on the body hair. It's still good, but in that company, doesn't really stand out. Then the issue drags on, with Wolverine and Captain America in parallel investigations of a giant robot, and you can tell inker John Beatty is picking up more and more of the slack. We're dozens of pages in before the heroes finally meet, and their fight spans one half of two pages before they team up against the robot. After a few pages of tussle, the robot escapes, and they... split back up again? So then there's more of the detective work that fans of these two characters crave, followed by another team-up, where the main use for Wolverine's claws is to act as a lever so that Cap can wack his hands with his shield to wedge off the robot's adamantium head. Finally, three pages of the heroes... chasing the guy operating the suit? By this point, you can't even tell who's drawing the issue if you take the pages out of context. This tale is such a damp squib after that firecracker cover. A real waste of characters, time, and talent on a book that really needed a back-up feature instead of an exhausting length.

I wasn't too thrilled with G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #51, an action-heavy issue with a John Byrne cover involving Sgt. Slaughter and the Dreadnoks. I probably just tossed through lil' bro's copy. Same went for The Incredible Hulk #323, which was mostly a lot of babbling in the aftermath of the battle with the Avengers. There was a metatext about Bruce Banner fading into immateriality with his connection to the Hulk, so Vision facilitated their re-bonding. Marvel Tales shook me loose entirely this month, jumping from reprinting the early John Romita run to a triple-sized, double-priced collection of stories preceeding the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Green Goblin. I don't know what precipitated the change, and it would only last another issue before switching format to something I'd find more palatable.

The Marvel Saga, the Official History of the Marvel Universe #10 is a big one, as the Keith Pollard cover announces the debuts of the X-Men and the Avengers. The origin of Doctor Strange is not so heralded, despite taking up much of the first ten-plus pages. After some capsules, we get a lot of Namor's Atlanteans attacking New York and Dr. Curt Conners becoming The Lizard. The origins of Beast and Marvel Girl are bound up with the X-Men debut.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #10 falls a bit behind the times by relegating a squatting Punisher to the back cover in favor of... Rachael Summers, Puck, and Power Man? Ouch. "Paladin to The Rhino" starts with a Brian Bolland Paladin, of all combinations. He does freakin' Purple Man in here, too. Stan Woch's Plantman is offensively cool. Like, how dare you waste the effort it took to make this mort look like a menace? He must have lost a bet or something. Just... why? David Ross offers an oddly moody Puck, but this was mostly a solid if unexceptional issue. I really liked John Buscema's Red Wolf, though.

I think maybe there was a gap in seeing my brother, because I passed on enough issues of Uncanny X-Men that I felt compelled to buy #209. The battle between Nimrod and the Hellfire Club was too good to resist, especially with multiple fatcat white guys dying.

I was never wild about Bob McLeod finishes, so even with Mike Zeck joining Peter David on The All-New, All-Daring Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #118, I just passively gave my brother's copy a toss. It was the resolution of the subplot about the kid who accidentally vaporized his abusive father with energy powers, and turned into a S.H.I.E.L.D. free-for-all wheere the kid gets gunned down.

X-Factor #8 had breakdowns by Marc Silvestri, and he was good at drawing Mystique and her Freedom Force. I like Jackson Guice, but by this point he was so associated with these awful early issues, it's nice to start putting daylight between the Layton & Simonson runs.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

JLApe: Gorilla Warfare (1999)

In Legends of the DC Universe #19 (August, 1999,) the arrogant and generally disagreeable "Gordon Matthews" infiltrated Manchester Junior High School in Alabama to act as a rival to Bart Allen. Meanwhile, Max Mercury investigated the theft of four gorillas from the Manchester Monkey Business School, which trains simians for show business. Max discovered three of the apes raising an international ruckus while wearing helmets that siphoned from the Speed Force. The fourth gorilla was in the custody of "Gordon Matthews," who revealed himself to Impulse as Gorbul Mammit, the son of Gorilla Grodd, looking to continue his legacy feud with the Flash Family. Having kidnapped Bart's young friend Carol Bucklen, he intended to transfer her mind into the "seductive body" of the fourth gorilla, to make her intelligent enough to serve as his bride, but Impulse foiled the scheme. Grodd was amused, but felt that the boy was thinking too small. A cute story by Jason Hernandez-Rosenblatt, Pop Mhan, & Romeo Tanghal.

Elsewhere, relations between Gorilla City and the human world heated up and cooled down inside a week, with the assassination of Solovar and the rise of the Simian Scartlet that launched hostilities against the United Nations in JLA Annual #3. Then gorilla agents assailed Bludhaven and Atlantis in Batman Annual #23 & Aquaman Annual #5. As explained by Martian Manhunter in his second annual, "Led by simian sorceress Abu-Gita, apes invade the island nation of Themyscira." [Wonder Woman Annual #8]

"In Central City, the Flash, Max Mercury, and Impulse are enslaved by the long-time outlaw called Gorilla Grodd-- to charge his Speed Force reactor, providing the morphic resonator array with a power source to substitute for The Eye of Poseidon." J'Onn isn't usually a sexist, but he missed listing Jesse Quick. Walter West, an older version of Wally from a darker timeline, had lost his battle for self-control after being turned into "Flashorilla." Despite having four super-speedsters on the scene, none were fast enough to avoid getting turned into gorillas themselves. They were then put on treadmills to power another attempt to further spread the ape-conversion process. "Chimpulse" actually started to figure out that he'd been duped into Grodd's service, but then got distracted by unlimited access to bananas. More typically, Chimpulse got distracted from the distraction, and needing stimulus beyond running in place, returned to philosophy. His questioning of Grodd's plan played poorly with the pleebs, but won over the speed-apes. Further, while evading capture, Impulse vibrated through a wall and reverted to human. It was deduced that the Speed Force assists in reforming speedsters under this type of circumstance, and reset their matrix to its default. The speedsters then dismantled Grodd's apparatus, but the super-gorilla himself evaded capture. "The Apes of Wrath" was by by Brian Augustyn, Doug Braithwaite, and Robin Riggs. The Flash Annual #2 (October, 1999) was a cute story that the artists did their best to play for laughs, but their basic style is still too seriously inclined for the material. It just creates a Roger Rabbit effect of mashing cartoons against real world humans that don't quite match up.

Martian Manhunter continued, "In Washington, the smuggled components of the gorilla-built war machine dubbed 'Grogamesh' are assembled. Piloted by Ulgo, Grogamesh kidnaps Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, and is defeated by Superman." Despite being played for villainy in early episodes, Ulgo had a legitimate urge to avenge his slain uncle, which was exploited by Abu-Gita, who concealed the more sordid aspects of her magical incantations. In Metropolis, the Monk of Steel was failing to control his feral inclinations, but was swayed by encountering his wife. Her first suggestion to find the scientist Emil Hamilton didn't pan out, as he had gone full ape, so Supermonkey decided to "kill or cure" by flying near to the sun. There was a fake-out when he appeared to grow to Titano proportions, but he had in fact reverted to Kryptonian, and the giant was the fur-covered Grogamesh. In battle, that was burned away, revealing the metal bohemoth beneath the facade. In fact, those pelts were key to resolving said battle, as they were made from the skins of a thousand sacrificed apes, as part of Abu-Gita's plot to more literally invoke the heroic legend of Grogamesh. As a modern moderate, Ulgo was disgusted by this betrayal of his principles, and began to understand that he had been misled. Oh, and Young Justice turned up too late with a giant exploding banana, just in case. Against the odds, Superman Annual #11 (October, 1999) managed to immediately recycle the pun title "The Apes of Wrath," this time by Abnett & Lanning, and Joe Phillips with Faber & Stull. Phillips already trends toward a cartoonish art style, so here he simply had to lean into it. It helps land a few good bits, like a variation on the "it's a plane" dialogue, exclusively in grunts.

The Gorilla incarnation of Kyle Rayner was unable to restore himself to humanity on his own, so he was assisted by J'Onn J'Onzz in Green Lantern Annual #8 (October, 1999). "Thanks to my rather duplicitous efforts, Green Lantern was restored to normal, as has been the rest of the JLA." In fact, the entire episode of Gorilla Warfare was then resolved in Martian Manhunter Annual #2 (October, 1999)...

Sunday, May 5, 2024

DC Special Podcast: Another Hour with Julia Raul

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Coarse Language: Listener Discretion is Advised

Meanwhile... A roaming b-roll conversation with special guest Julia Raul. JLA artists, '90s super-hero cartoons, Hitman, Azrael, Bane, Deadpool, Maxima, Steve Ditko, queer representation in characters, mixing DC with Wildstorm, and far more tangents than can be summarized here...

We Think You're Special! Animation, DC Comics, DC Special, DC Special Podcast, Wildstorm

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé Podcast #22

(May 1986)

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ré·su·mé [rez-oo-mey, rez-oo-mey] noun 1. a summing up; summary. 2. a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.
In Comic Reader Résumé, I use Mike’s Amazing World of Comics to travel back through time via his virtual newsstand to the genesis point of my lifelong collecting of comics. From there, I can offer a “work history” of my fandom through my active purchasing of (relatively) new comic books beginning in January of 1982, when my interest in the medium went from sporadic and unformed to routine on through compulsive accumulation. To streamline the narrative and keep the subjects at least remotely contemporaneous, I will not generally be discussing what we call back issues: books bought long after their publication date. Sometimes, I will cover a book published on a given month that I picked up within a year or so that date, and I give myself an especially wide berth on this aspect in the first couple of “origins” episodes. We’ll get more rigidly on point as my memories crystallize and my “hobby” spirals out of control into the defining characteristic of my life (eventually outpacing squalor and competing neuroses.) It’s part personal biography, part industry history, and admittedly totally self-indulgent on my part.

This episode includes Elvira's House of Mystery #6, Fantastic Four #293, G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #50, Marvel Age #41, Marvel Saga: the Official History of the Marvel Universe #9, Masters of the Universe #3, Son of Ambush Bug #2-3, Spectacular Spider-Man #117, The Mighty Thor #370, Uncanny X-Men #208, Web of Spider-Man #18, West Coast Avengers #12, X-Factor #7, and more!

“Transcripts” Ambush Bug, Avengers, DC Comics, Elvira, Fantastic Four, G.I. Joe, He-Man, House of Mystery, Marvel Comics, Masters of the Universe, Spider-Man, Superman, Thor, X-Factor, X-Men, Comic Reader Résumé

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé: Late May, 1986

As I've probably mentioned in the past, but just to recap, I manage to evade John Byrne's Fantastic Four better than most in my generation. I remember seeing the Diablo cover with the FF as candlesticks and thinking that looked cool. I think I tossed through the triple-sized 20th anniversary issue. I believe the sideways issue was at a barber shop that I went to, and the same may have been true of The Masque of Doom photo cover. I of course got the She-Hulk papped topless issue, and one of the "Dark Sue" Malice issues. Ultimately though, I preferred She-Hulk as an Avenger, and I bought more Thing solo comics than FF ones up to this point. I think I got Fantastic Four #293 out of a 3-pack with something else I wanted more, but at least it was another She-Hulk cover. Her, I liked. The Storm-Richards Family, never. Reed was like a pedantic high school science teacher, Sue like a wallpaper Kindergarten teacher, and Johnny felt like a pretty boy bully somewhere in between. I was so invested in the Fantastic Four that I struggled to figure out how it related to the movie Fantastic Voyage. The shrinking one with Raquel Welch, not the Sinbad one. I was ignorant, not an imbecile. The 1967 Hanna-Barbara cartoon ran really early in the morning, and the 1978 one with H.E.R.B.I.E. was too lame and short lived to rate much attention from me. As you've probably noticed, I was quite the Marvel Zombie at this point, and the FF felt like a DC team in the most pejorative sense. You had the one crazy kid in the padded cell screaming that he was Dr. Doom, and then most of the issue was doing science stuff in the desert to a big ink blob. Toward the end, the team get sucked into some future state where the original FF were worshiped as gods, which felt very Mort Weisinger before I knew what that meant.

Thor was another one of those old-timey Kirby-type books that did not appeal to me. I tossed through the one with Dracula as a back issue. The Walt Simonson stuff had a great sense of power to it, and I did eye that first Beta Ray Bill cover and his continuing adventures, the frog stuff, and that one killer spread from a Marvel Age annual where the Asgardians were using conventional assault weapons. Nothing ever sealed the deal though, and quite randomly, I dipped in on a fill-in. I don't recall if I bought The Mighty Thor #370 on purpose or out of three-pack, quite probably the same one as the Fantastic Four. I wonder what the third book would have been-- maybe an Uncanny X-Men? Anyway, it had a nice inventory pin-up cover by Big John Buscema, but the interiors were inked by P. Craig Russell, for a very contrasting look. Both Thor and FF had gorgeous John Workman lettering, which couldn't have hurt. The story was a western titled "Easy Money," and was written by Jim Owsley, the future Christopher Priest. It was about a wannabe Bat Lash style card sharp who has a run-in with a Lee Van Cleef type with a band of murderous outlaws planning a train robbery. If you say that sounds like a typical Thor story, that's exactly why I liked it, as it had a bit of a Highlander vibe, but in the Weird West. To say more would spoil it, but despite spending years in obscurity, it seems to have reappraised and lauded over the years, recently added as a bonus story in the final Black Panther by Christopher Priest Omnibus that sits on my bookshelf.

I'm pretty sure that my brother bought The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man 117. The cover featuring Black Cat battling Dr. Strange is very familiar. It was another "Missing in Action" tie-in with a blink & you'll miss it Sabretooth cameo. Also, the last page with a woman drinking coffee in the mountains near Spidey's shredded costume, unquestionably by a different art team than the main story, is a solid memory for me. However, the actual story by Rich Buckler and a young Dwayne Turner, wherein they give Black Cat her equivalent of Dinah Lance's jazzercise outfit, drains all the energy out of me just by looking at it. I never read this thing.

Weirdly, Louise Jones is credited as writing X-Factor #7, even though she was Simonson last issue and Walt will be penciling the title in a few months. I bring this up mostly because the actual issue offers nothing of interest. This is the one with the big bald guy and the slug guy. Also, this was during that period where the team wore uniforms and pretended to be Ghostbusters but mutants, while also wearing their X-Factor costumes and supporting mutants. But both these groups have five members with distinct body types, only one girl who's a redhead on both teams, and one guy who wears red glasses per team. Who fell for this?

I don't recall if I ever bought the two-issue, double-length Lois Lane mini-series by Mindy Newell and Gray Morrow. I just know that it haunted the quarter bin at Marauder Books in 1989, and that wasn't the only shop I could say that about. Even if I did finally pick it up to own, I've yet to read it. And hey, while I'm shouting out Marauder's clearance bins, let me also mention other frequent detritus like Independent Comics' The Epsilon Wave, Mr. Monster's Hi-Octane Horror #2, Nervous Rex, various issues of Eclipse's New Wave, Blackthorne's Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos #1, Elite's SeaDragon, Aircel's Stark Future #1, and Ocean Comics' Street Fighter. I often use the Champions RPG as a shorthand for uninspired, plainly derivative, fannish junk characters in pedestrian stories by anonymous journeymen and never-wases. This is in part because I fished Eclipse's adaptation, Champions #1, out of these bins, and it was the platonic ideal of basicness. It made the New Universe look like Watchmen by comparison.

Lil' bro might have had a copy of Star Comics' Masters of the Universe #3. He definitely had figures of Orko, Battlecat, Prince Adam, and probably the cover-featured Slime Pit. He was a prolific collector, who owned most of the 1985 and 1986 figures. Just at a glance, I recognize Moss Man (a repurposed Beast Man,) Roboto with the transparent chest that let you see his gears, Sy-Klone, Two Bad with two heads and a pair of action-swinging arms, Stinkor, Spikor, Leech with the suction cups, Mantenna with the bug-out eye-stalks, Modulok with two heads and six insect legs, Extendar with techno-expanding neck and appendages, Rio Blast-- who looked like a redneck crossover with the C.O.P.S. line, King Hiss-- who was made out of snakes inside a removable human suit, and some of the stupid Transformer guys that turned into rocks. He also had a number of vehicles, but I didn't care as much about those. Battle Bones sticks out though, because it was a dinosaur skeleton with hooped ribs that doubled as a carrier for a bunch of figures. We both had color variations on Hordak and Grizzlor, mine with the lighter brown fur and his near-black. The Horde Trooper was featured in this comic, and at first I though he had one, but now that I look, I'm not so sure. All this is to say that the comic looked like kids' stuff, so I skipped reading it.

If there's one thing I'd rather not have to write up in one month, it's Son of Ambush Bug, and yet here we're back for more or less a third helping. I do have angles though. DC Comics fans talk a lot about the impact of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and particulars like how Roy Thomas got hosed by losing access the Golden Age heroes amidst the obliteration of Earth-2 from continuity. But what about Julius Schwartz?

After Mort Weisinger lost his editorship over Superman, his life spiraled, and he was destitute when he died. Nothing so dramatic happened with Julie, but after line of DC Science Fiction Graphic Novels adaptations floundered in 1985, and with the massive editorial overhauls of 1986, Schwartz was more or less shown the door. He would continue as a sort of goodwill ambassador for DC Comics along the lines of Stan Lee, with some sort of stipend involved, but as a powerful figure, the man was done. And in this very issue of Ambush Bug was an ad for the Man of Steel mini-series, with Andrew Helfer as the new overseer of the Superman line, and John Byrne the primary creative force who was intentionally erasing much of the body of work Schwartz had commissioned for that character since the 1960s. It's hard not to see the largely plotless excesses of Son of Ambush Bug as a sort of primal scream of rage and quiet whimper of futility at the injustice of its creative team's straits. Everyone involved was losing "their" DC, and probably their financial welfare, and also having their memories and legacies scrubbed before their eyes.

The book goes to dark places, as when a secret government operation tries to use the Ambush Bug suits left on his many corpses to develop agents who could teleport, only to learn the suits were literally devouring their wearers. Or how the tossed-off gag of an Ambush bug-fronted super-team from the first mini-series was now seeing its underdeveloped membership committing suicide. And that's before they die a terrible running gag about iguanas into the bombing of Hiroshima. But again, I found this madness engrossing, trying to figure out mysteries about what I'd miss that were never meant to even be considered, much less solved. In retrospect, everyone was just filling pages, and there's a genuine underlying anger to the anti-humor.

I've heard that Giffen would often just draw random things and hand off the pages to scripter Robert Loren Fleming to figure out what to do with, not offering any notes or suggestions. I tend to think that's why this mini-series is amused with itself, but not actually directing any sincere humor toward an audience. It's all a hostile meta in-joke, with the embodiment of capricious editorial feat in the cosmic villain The Interferer turning the creatives into his whipping boys. And yet, I adored the art, the constant breaking of the fourth wall, the jokes lobbed by and against the various named members of the creative team. Schwartz is clearly absentee, but he gets his turn. For instance, the issue is sandwiched between splash pages of a barely clothed airhead bimbo who hosts the comic, and in the end is left in the clutches of Schwartz, which reads a lot different after Colleen Doran's accusations that Schwartz was a sex pest. I have no doubt that Giffen's jab at Jules were affectionate, but even here, there's a grim undercurrent.

Web of Spider-Man #18 was I think the last part of "Missing in Action," and it was about how anyone who thought that scraps of Spidey's costume lying around after a battle meant that he was dead was a dummy. Like, Web-Head pioneered torn costumes. So he was running around, beat up and half naked, doing a reenactment of a Macon County Line or Born Innocent or one of those other movies where regular folk are railroaded into prison by crooked southern authorities. Anyway, Peter eventually got loose and hitchhiked home. There's also a teaser for the arrival of Venom. This was another of my bro's books. Easily the most interesting thing was Kyle Baker inking Marc Silvestri.

West Coast Avengers #12 was I think another bro-chase, which I recall mostly for the debut of Wonder Man's red & green costume, which I still thinking is among the most hideous suits ever worn by a mainstream hero. I think JLGL drew it for OHOTMU, and if he couldn't salvage it, nobody could. Speaking of OHOTMU, there's a trio of new villains introduced, and ZZZAX with three z's will perpetually be thed last entry in future volumes. Quantum was trying to compete with Wonder Man's couture, so the only one to catch my eye was Halflife, a blue-skinned zombie hooker almost certainly inspired by Linnea Quigley's character from Return of the Living Dead. The final splash featured Graviton, who I took to be a low rent Magneto, and have yet to be disabused of that notion in 38 years. The blue & white suit looks good, though.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé: Early May, 1986

Greetings gills and ghouls, it's that time again for the hostess with the mostest, in Elvira's House of Mystery #6. Under another great Mark Beachum cover with a fairly solid likeness that enthusiastically incorporates Elvira's plunging neckline is a slightly frustrating conceit. This issue is meant to be read sideways, spine up. On the plus side, that means nearly twice as much story this issue. On the down side, each page features two standard story pages, squished to fit with a big gap in the middle, and it's pretty good art done this disservice.

Tom Grindberg and Jim Fern mind Elvira's assets in the introduction that segues into the yarn "A New York Yankee in King Arthur's Court!" with the Bierbaums. It's clear Tom and Mary are fans, and produced this one specifically for this magazine, because Elvira continues to break in throughout the tale to narrate and quip. Grindberg is very much in Neal Adams mode as a baseball player wrestles with Medieval Times, and Elvira's dress wrestles with her curvy figure.

Next is "Subject for Post-Mortem" by Robert Kanigher and George Freeman, where a grave robbing physician ends up on the wrong end of the scalpel. "Two-Edged Sword" by Elizabeth M. Smith, Charles Nicholas, and Joe Giella comes across a bit hoary, especially when the last panel offers an Elvira that looks more like the Mark Beachum interstitial pages, and could easily have once been a Cain corner instead. Heck, there's even a painting of Cain on the next panel following, as if nodding to a paste-in.

The conquistadors of Kanigher & Jess Jodloman "You'll Beg to Die!" meet a grisly fate in another Adams-indebted piece, though this one with additional Filipino flair. Again, the pasted-in Beachum Elvira in the last panel gives up the game of this being a converted inventory story from some previously canceled horror anthology. There's no room for that contrivance in Joey Cavalieri & Ric Estrada's "Just Like Clockwork," which looks like it was drawn in the same time as the Kubrick flick they're referencing. The style and fashions would have been outdated a decade earlier, so I have to assume Cavalieri just scripted pages that had never made it to the lettering stage.

But just so you don't forget who's running this show, Beachum comes back for one more va-va-va-voom pin-up. Hopefully someday any rights issues can be untangled to reprint his pages in proper scale, hopefully while Elvira's still around to sign it. Oh, and her fan club springs for an ad, offering an autographed 8x10, bumper sticker and more for just $6.50 plus postage. The high contrast Xeroxed photos only add to the resemblance in the Grindberg & Beachum pages. The next issue had four pages of new interstitials to make up for the rest obviously being repurposed inventory from one of the axed science fiction anthologies, and even with a Bill Sienkiewicz cover, I couldn't see my way to supporting that one.

My half-brother splurged on the double-sized $1.25 G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #50. The Rod Whigham-drawn lead story was "The Battle of Springfield," bringing to a head a long simmering subplot about an entire suburb having been taken over by Cobra infiltrators. This one was packed with memorable moments, like the spies burning documents in the fireplace as tanks roll down main street, or a dad preparing to shoot the family dog in front of his kids before evacuating. Serpentor was still cool at this point, topless in jeans adorned only by the king cobra cowl and a cape. He lustily plunges into the fray, and when shot, cauterizes the wound with a heated knife. Storm Shadow is resurrected in a chemical vat, and is none to happy about it. Then there's a preview story for the upcoming spin-off G.I. Joe Special Missions, with returning original artist Herb Trimpe. He was previously assimilated by Bob McLeod, but here he inks himself, taking a cue from Tony Salmons and Kyle Baker with a loose, sketchier, more contemporary style. This one has a lot of grit, with the Joes facing airplane hijackers, without shying away from the violence of such a terroristic act. I think this was the first story I ever encountered to feature tasers. Good stuff!

To my mind, a cover with a mass of heroes carrying the massive form of an unconscious Hulk is a lot more memorable than another brawl, but as it happens, The Incredible Hulk #322 is mostly an exceptionally brutal slugfest. It fulfills the promise of recent, lackluster issues, even if I'll never get used to Dell Barras embellishing Al Milgrom.

I don't think Marvel Age was ever on the newsstand, but my half-brother had access to a comic shop, and would sometimes pick it up for a pair of quarters. #41 offered a fumetti cover of Stan Lee, but was otherwise a lackluster issue. I did get use out of "The Marvel Age," a serialized text feature on Marvel Comics history that filled in the gap between Marvel Saga and my '80s purchases, this month covering 1972 in first installment.

The Marvel Saga, the Official History of the Marvel Universe #9 downgrades the new Angel origin story pages from Sienkiewicz to Steve Geiger, which is not helpful. The Keith Pollard cover offering the initial Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus battle doesn't much salve that wound. There's also a lot of Vulture, Kree, and Red Ghost material here. The book is moving closer to a capsule index over the more narrative synopses of previous issues, so Puppet Master and Radioactive Man only rate a panel each. The Wasp gets a few pages, but it's hard not to notice the disproportionate space afforded Spider-Man stories involving losers like the Tinkerer. Sometimes it feels like the book wants to be Marvel Tales instead of Marvel Saga.

And now, a brief review of my history with Keith Giffen to date: I had one of the Flash issue with a Giffen Dr. Fate back-up, from when he still drew a little like George Perez. Ditto his two page advertainment piece from the first 1983 DC Sampler. I was also drawn to house ads for The Omega Men and the Baxter format Legion relaunch, though between the two, Giffen's style had changed so much as to be nigh unrecognizable from one to the other. Sometime around 1983, Giffen was exposed to the Argentine artist Jose Munoz, known for a loose, high contrast style somewhat like what Steranko had used on Chandler and Miller would use on Sin City. This exposure effectively broke and rebuilt Giffen, who locked himself in a room for days, just studying every panel of Munoz. Afterwords, his approach to art was forever change, to the point where outlets like The Comics Journal accused Giffen on plagiarism, but he always swore that he never had a Munoz page on his table when he was drawing. You know how Brad Pitt used to adopt the fashion style of every woman that he was in a relationship with? Giffen was like that with artists, beginning with Jack Kirby, and going through periods of heavy Kevin Maguire and Simon Bisley influence after having worked with them. Munoz though, was never a commercial success in the west, and between the critics calling his a swiper and the fanboys detesting how the Munoz look applied to super-heroes, Giffen committed career suicide. He went from a fan favorite to a pariah almost overnight. The one project that he was able to hold on to and experience some modest success with was his humor character, Ambush Bug, featured in a string of Superman comics and a solo mini-series.

I missed all that stuff. I came on with the second issue of the follow-up mini-series, Son of Ambush Bug. Now, I believe my interest was piqued by the first issue's cover, in which Ambush Bug is essentially buried in sensationalistic cover blurbs. Yet, I did not pick it up. Rereading it today, it might have been the extended manga parody starring the Japanese Ambush Bug battling a kaiju. Maybe I just wanted something else more and missed my shot. But I did buy the second issue, with an almost entirely red cover depicting Ambush Bug at the gates of literal Hell. Let me tell you-- I went back and bought the first mini-series in 1987, and most of the other stuff in 1989. The Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer was one of many swell holiday parodies by the Jewish creator. The pre-1986 Bug material remains some of the most hilarious western super-hero material ever created. But Son of Ambush is not funny. In retrospect, it's about the depression, regret, and paranoia surrounding what Giffen probably felt was his second and final self-sabotaging of his artistic career, assuming he'd end up back selling vacuums or working at a chemical plant. Whether another example of slitting his wrists, or, more likely, an editorial mandate from a "New DC" wanting to be taken with the utmost seriousness in the Post-Crisis landscape, the mini-series was denied access to, basically, the entire DC Universe. There are references to name villains represented as in-story hand puppets, with Swamp Thing portrayed by a potted house plant, and Superman's discarded boot makes appearances. Otherwise, a book that by design was an anarchic take on DC properties had to create everything from whole cloth, at a time when Giffen was at a creative nadir, and he had no other choice but to carry on with his only viable project. Looking at it today, this book is bizarre, extremely dark, repetitive, derivative, and needlessly cruel.

I was utterly fascinated with it. I'd been around comics for my entire life, actively collecting for several years, and I'd never seen anything like it. The grotesquely realistic citizens populating a filthy, grimy, sticky urban hellscape. Contrasted against a lanky lime green loser trapped in a bug suit, whining about his life and devoted to a Cabbage Patch Doll dressed as his sidekick. Except it's a comic book, so I can't tell that Cheeks the Toy Wonder isn't a small, mute, blankly straing and largely inanimate child. You've got all these ugly weirdos talking to-- who? I can't tell. Their feet? The balloons are coming from their feet? And what are they talking about? A plot to murder Ambush Bug, who is already so lost and worthless, why go through the trouble? But they do, not once, or twice, but five times, at some length, and once as a mirror image of the first time, but with gobbledygook dialogue. And when Bug does go to the infernal, it's a Gilliamesque bureaucratic nightmare, and he's led there by his guardian angel, who's a haggard old abusive drunk who openly hates his charge. And the Cabbage Patch Doll is in his own short war story that was probably my first comic with homosexual subtext. But also, it's full of intense close-ups, near abstract images largely divorced from the context of the narrative. And though there are a number of splash pages, most story pages have a minimum of nine panels, with many closer to 12-13. Hey, here's eight random panels of ways to die in outer space. Here's a couple of moronic secret agents, one speaking in a Father Guido Sarducci Italian accent, looking at scraps of a costume under a microscope for over 19 panels across two pages. Here's a multi-page sequence about talking, animated socks. It was so obtuse, so creepy and gross and undecipherable. It was my first exposure to David Lynch, except it was Keith Giffen, and I needed more.

Superman #422 had a glorious monochrome Brian Bolland cover of Kal-El transforming into some sort of were-thing, with only his blood red eyes colored. Too bad the interiors were by Curt Swan, who even buried under heavy, dark inks took the lead right out of the pencil. This one haunted the Marauder Books quarter bin, thwarted by those limp interiors.

Uncanny X-Men #208 was another one read at my brother's place, but I can't recall if we were still at my father's apartment, or if he'd moved into a house by then. This should be the last issue released during my collecting years read out of sequence, backfilling details for the next issue that I read new. It's pretty rich having mass murderer Logan try to validate stabbing Phoenix to prevent her from killing the Black Queen, an energy vampire whose continued existence is predicated of draining human victims of life. Captain America's feet are far more firmly planted on the moral high ground, and even he was okay with decapitation in that specific circumstance. It also means the Hellfire Club will be at full strength while seeking reprisals, although the super-sentinel Nimrod will prove more effective and debilitating than the Club.