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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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