Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Marvel March 2010 Solicitations - 1980s goodness

A light helping of Marvel 1980s influenced content for March 2010.

Written by Louise Simonson, pencils and cover by Dan Panosian.
They're back. Once they were Xavier's young charges: mutant teens who bore the responsibility of protecting a world that hated them. But time has hardened these five X-Men, forcing them to reimagine their mission and purpose. And now, the original dream-team returns to fight the one threat that's haunted them since the day they took on the X-Factor name. Join legendary X-scribe Louise Simonson as she reunites with the title and characters she made famous for an epic in the Forever tradition! 40 pages, $3.99.

Written by Stuart Moore, pencils and cover by Mark Brooks.
Marvel's most-requested duo return in this all-new one-shot, spinning out of X-Men: Nation X! Cloak -- dark, brooding teleporter. Dagger -- deadly, shining mistress of light. Having quit the Dark X-Men, Cloak and Dagger find their partnership strained as they struggle to fit in among the mutants of Utopia. But when a new menace targets Cloak, Dagger must make a fateful choice for both of them. Guest-starring the X-Men. 40 pages, $3.99.

Written by Chris Claremont , penciled by Arthur Adams, Mary Wilshire, Rick Leonardi, Keith Pollard and Jackson Guice, cover by Rick Leonardi.
Mutantkind's best class takes a road trip via the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard and medieval magic madness, with evil god Loki to guide them to all the wrong places! Then, it's back to class under a new schoolmaster: the master of magnetism, Magneto! The ex-terrorist has turned teacher to atone for his crimes, but even if the New Mutants and the guest-starring X-Men trust him, the Avengers will be much tougher to convince! Featuring the Beyonder, Emma Frost and the Hellions! Collecting New Mutants Special Edition, Uncanny X-Men Annual #9 and New Mutants (1983) #35-40. 280 PGS

Written by Bill Mantlo, Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, Steve Englehart and Tom DeFalco.
Penciled by John Romita Jr, Al Milgrom, and Bob Hall.
To return his fellow Elder of the Universe, the Collector, to life, the Grandmaster enters a cosmic wager with Death herself, using Earth heroes as their chess pieces! Heroes from around the world, including several never-before-seen, battle it out for nothing less than the fate of Earth itself in the Contest of Champions! Featuring every Earth hero, circa 1982! Then, Grandmaster causes more problems for the Avengers when he plans to wipe out all life in the universe, and he pits the Avengers of both coasts against each other to claim his prize! Starring 15 Avengers and special
guest star, the Silver Surfer! Collecting CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS #1-3, WEST COAST AVENGERS ANNUAL #2 and
168 PGS.

1985 - X-Men and Alpha Flight

X-Men and Alpha Flight - 2 issue miniseries
December 1985
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek

The Canadian super-hero team, Alpha Flight, made their first appearance in The X-Men #120-121 and were featured a second time in The Uncanny X-Men #139-140. Their popularity eventually earned them their own series, which was written and drawn by John Byrne, who had grown up in Canada and had created them with Chris Claremont.

After the usual super-hero mix up that leads to a battle between the X-Men and Alpha Flight, they team up and travel to Northern Quebec to investigate a downed plane that was piloted by Scott (Cyclops) Summers and his new wife, Madelyne Pryor. They discover that Scott, Madelyne, and the other passengers have had their greatest wishes fulfilled by a mysterious benefactor. However, they’re the usual catch involving their mysterious benefactor, the Norse God of mischief Loki who is still bitter from the X-Men's adventures in Asgard earlier that year. Our heroes are forced to make a moral decision, each believing that they’re doing what’s right, and leading to the climatic, all-out battle.

There’s a lot of characterization by Claremont, who relies on his usual technique of focusing on a character’s identifiable trait. For example, Wolverine has a constant struggle with his animal/berserker side, or Cyclops has uncontrollable eye beams. Unfortunately, if you’ve read a lot of X-books, this technique quickly becomes repetitive.

Another fault is the numerous characters. The rosters of both the X-Men and Alpha Flight, as well as Cyclops, Madelyne Prior, and the rest of the crew and passengers is simply too large. This fault forces several main characters into secondary roles, like Nightcrawler .

The art by Paul Smith is beautiful and lavish. Unfortunately, Bob Wiacek runs out of time and several inkers come in to help with the last issue. These fill-ins upset the feel of the book, but the story does finish well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

1982 – The Real Story Behind Spider-Man’s Black Costume

One of the more significant changes in the Marvel 1980s was the introduction of Spider-Man’s black costume. This costume first appeared in Secret Wars #8 drawn by Mike Zeck and John Beatty and would later evolve into Spider-Man’s archnemesis Venom through the 1990s.

Interestingly, the inspiration behind the new costume actually came from a fan, Randy Schueller.

Here’s Schueller original idea:

“I thought it would be cool if Spidey needed to upgrade his powers and his look, so I came up with this idea that Reed Richards had made a new costume for Spidey using the same unstable molecules that the FF costumes are made of. The unstable molecules would flow into Peter's pores and allow him to cling to walls better. I think my original idea was to increase his sticking power by 25% or something like that.”

“Anyway, I saw the new suit as a stealth version of the original costume - jet black so he could blend in with the shadows. At best, all you could see of him was the blood red spider emblem, emblazoned on his chest. (Yeah, in my design the spider was red, not white. I also gave him underarm webbing like in the original Ditko design.)”

That red costume inspiration was also part of the original design sketches of the new costume done by Rick Leonardi, grabbed from Marvel Age #12.

And seeing the success of the black costume through Venom and in Spider-Man 3, it sucks that Randy didn’t get any kind of acknowledgement either in the comic book or in the movie.

Well, if it helps: “Thanks Randy!”

See here for the full story and Randy Schueller’s point of view of what happened.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

1982 - Vison and the Scarlet Witch

Vison and the Scarlet Witch
Written by Bill Mantlo
Illustrated by Rick Leonardi (penciler) and Ian Akin/Brian Garvey (inkers)

Bill Mantlo deals with a lot of subplots which were not getting the coverage they deserved within the pages of the Avengers. His script and plot are well done, particularly the non-linearity of issue #2. Rick Leonardi’s pencils are sketchy and I’m not normally fond of them. However, Akin and Garvey’s inks add a softness and texture to the penciled art which I really enjoyed. The colorist, Bob Sharen, also does a wonderful job. And all-around good and consistent production for all four issues.

In issue #1, “Trick or Treat”, The Vision and the Scarlet Witch have stepped down from their duties as Avengers and move into their new home in Leonia, New Jersey. Jarvis gives the Scarlet Witch an ancient spell-book (recovered by Captain America #256), and unfortunately, as it is Halloween, Samhain, the eternal embodiment of all Hallows Eve attempts to free himself from the book. The Vision is kept busy battling some transformed trick-or-treaters, while the Scarlet Witch destroys the book ending Samhain’s threat.

Issue #2, “Faith of our Fathers”, has Robert (Whizzer) Frank asks the Scarlet Witch, who he believes is his daughter (see Avengers #185-187 where we learnt he wasn’t), to help him obtain custody of his son, the mutant-powerhouse Nuklo. The Vision accompanies them to the lab where Nuklo’s powers are regulated and they meet the scientist who is attempting to cure Nuklo. The scientist, however, turns out to be one of the Whizzer’s old enemies, Isbisa, and attacks them using powers that have been siphoned from Nuklo. With Nuklo’s help, they defeat Isbisa, but Robert Frank suffers a fatal heart attack.

Wonder Man guest-stars in issue #3, “Blood Brothers!”, to provide Vision with an energy transfusion to pull him out of a coma caused by the injuries he sustained last issue. Mantlo’s coma sequences are wonderful pulling in the Vision’s past, which included Ultron and the original Human Torch (whose body the Vision now occupies with brain patterns based on Wonder Man). The Grim Reaper (Wonder Man’s brother, and therefore the Vision’s as well) attacks eager to kill both the Vision and Wonder Man to satisfy his crazed lust for revenge. Wonder Man helps the Vision out of his coma and they defeat the Grim Reaper.

Magneto discovers, in issue #4 “Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself...!”, that he is the father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Magneto tracks his children to the moon, where the Scarlet Witch and the Vision are visiting Quicksilver and Crystal, who have just had their first child Luna. During the battle, Magneto reveals himself as their father and the battle comes to an end when it begins to threaten his granddaughter. Mantlo does a good job handling these characters considering they all are strong, distinguishable characters, such as Magneto, a powerful mutant striking back against humanity for their ill-treatment of him, or Quicksilver, the hot-tempered misunderstood mutant who has to settle into the role of father.

Mantlo demonstrates his strengths as a writer in this limited series. Perhaps most famous for his long run on the Incredible Hulk, Mantlo works each character effortless and lets them tell their story.

Monday, December 7, 2009

1986 - Whatever happened to ... the Phoenix miniseries?

From Marvel Age Annual #2:
Phoenix 6-issue limited series
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Rick Leonardi/Dan Green.

“It is basically Phoenix discovering who she is, what she is and why she is and discovering her origin,” Chris Claremont said. “It is a much more psychologically oriented series than most.” The Limited Series begins with the results of what happens in X-Men #209. Power Pack and Franklin Richards are among the guest-stars. And the featured villain will be Spiral.

This limited series was also announced on the letter pages of the Uncanny X-Men #208, 213, and 215. It was to occur between the Uncanny X-Men #209 (when Rachel leaves with Spiral) and the Excalibur Special (where Rachel escapes from the Mojoverse and ends up in London). In the Uncanny X-Men #209, Phoenix was mortally wounded by Wolverine and then lured into the Body Shoppe by Spiral, the former assassin of Mojo.

From the letter page of the Uncanny X-Men #208:
As you have no doubt seen from this issue, Rachel's going to need all the friendship and support and affection she can get, not simply in the X-MEN but also in the upcoming PHOENIX Limited Series we have planned for later this year, which Chris Claremont will be writing and Rick Leonardi penciling. We think it'll be something as different and special as the lady herself.

And then from the letter page in the Uncanny X-Men #213, it was apparently delayed until late 1987. And lastely, the Phoenix Limited Series was promoted in the Uncanny X-Men #215 letter page:

We have a PHOENIX Limited Series in the works, written and inked by the X-MEN team supreme of Chris Claremont and Dan Green, and penciled by the aforementioned Rick Leonardi! This series should answer all your questions about Rachel and them some!

Another blurb from Marvel Age #43 (Oct. 1986):

Coming Soon: PHOENIX Limited Series
She's from a future that may or may not be ours. She's living in a past that isn't quite the way she remembers it. She's Rachel Summers, daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Cyclops and Marvel Girl of X-FACTOR! But her mother was Phoenix, and in the Marvel Universe Scott and Jean aren't married. In fact, Scott has a son by his wife Madelyne! These are definitely not the average problems that face most young women. But then, Rachel isn't exactly average.

This is the background for THE PHOENIX Limited Series, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Rick Leonardi and Dan Green. Rachel having retreated to current time to escape from a grim anti-mutant future, has joined the X-Men and is using her telepathic powers as the new Phoenix. But since she adopted her mother's name in the battle against the Beyonder, nothing has gone right.

The plot of the Limited Series deals with the dread villainess Spiral (remember her from LONGSHOT and, more recently, the Freedom Force?) and lots of psychological ramifications and complications. It examines how Rachel is coping with being in a past that resembles - but isn't quite - the one that proceeded her world. She will meet Power Pack in the first issue and see little Franklin Richards. In her time, Rachel is in love with a grown Franklin! Here he is a child, and she is much older than him, and this situation will cause her to do some serious soul searching.

There will also be lots of cameos and guest appearances, lots of flash-forwards, and lots of fantastic visuals by Leonardi and Green. We'll have more information on the Limited Series as its publication approaches, so stay tuned.

In an installment of Cup of Joe, Quesada had editor, Andy Schmidt contact Rick Leonardi about the project:
The series was going to be written by Chris Claremont and inked by Dan Green. Rick said it dealt with Rachel and her relationship with Franklin Richards and the Power Pack. The going logic at the time was that it got too complicated with past/present/future continuity and was subsequently shelved with I believe less than an issue having been penciled. That’s the whole story, folks, wish I had better news to report but it seems that this project was no where near completion before it was killed.

Chris Claremont wrote the script for at least the first few issues. Rick Leonardi penciled the first issue and a few pages were inked and lettered.

This Phoenix Limited Series is not the same as X-Men: True Friends miniseries published in 1999 featuring Phoenix and Shadowcat.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

1981 - Whatever happened to … Frank Miller on Doctor Strange?

In February 1981, the following house ad ran through several Marvel comics that month:

Following up after Chris Claremont and Gene Colan, Frank Miller was set to join Roger Stern on Doctor Strange with issue #48.

However, from Roger Stern:
I’m afraid that the story of why Frank never drew Doctor Strange isn’t very interesting. As I recall, Frank was under consideration for some sort of James Bond project, so he bowed out of drawing Doc — temporarily, we thought at the time — to get ahead on his other deadlines. Luckily, Marshall Rogers came along and delivered six very tasty issues. And after that…well, by that time Frank was really caught up in writing and drawing Daredevil (and later, Ronin), so we never did get to work together on Doctor Strange.

File the Stern/Miller Doctor Strange with the Stern/Miller Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – under "Things That Might Have Been"…

What?! A Stern/Miller Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.? That would have been amazing…

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1983 - Cloak and Dagger

Cloak and Dagger miniseries - #1-4
November 1983 - January 1984
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Art: Rick Leonardi/Terry Austin

Cloak and Dagger made their first appearance in Spectacular Spider-Man #64. After a few sporadic appearances in that title, the powers that be at Marvel decided that it was time to try them on their own.

This four issue miniseries was clearly setting the stage for a ongoing series. It successfully established a secondary cast of characters that tempered Cloak and Dagger's vigilante tendencies. Mantlo introduced two characters, a police detective, Bridgid O'Rielly, and a priest, Father Delgado, who would challenge their vigilante behavior from the point of view of the law and of the church, respectively.

In their early appearances, Cloak and Dagger had no problems killing the drug dealers they preyed upon, but if they were to now be heroes they would have to stop killing. The series also focused on the powerfully symbiotic relationship between Cloak and Dagger that bind the two teenagers together.

Issue #4 retells their origin and goes into a bit more of the background of who Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen were before they become Cloak and Dagger.

After this miniseries, they would make an appearance in Marvel Team-Up Annual #6. In 1985 they would get their own regular series which would run for 11 issues. And after a run in Strange Tales (1987), they’d get another regular series that actually ran 19 issues before being cancelled.

Cloak and Dagger was always a tough sell for me. I enjoyed the odd issue when it crossed over, but I never found it compelling enough to add to my pull list. Interestingly, the two supporting characters, Delgado and O’Rielly stand out in my mind more than Cloak and Dagger actually do!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

1980 - The Uncanny X-Men

The Uncanny X-Men #128-138
Writer(s): Chris Claremont and John Byrne (co-plot)
Artist(s): John Byrne (pencils) and Terry Austin (inks)

Although John Byrne and Chris Claremont had been collaborating for over two years on The Uncanny X-Men, they reached their creative peak with the Dark Phoenix Saga. The Uncanny X-Men became Marvel’s flagship title in the mid-1980s and its success spawned a rather bulky family of titles that still manages to keep Marvel Comics afloat financially.

However, there was a time when an X-Men story could be told without a twelve-part crossover involving dozens of mutants making cameo appearances simply to promote their own titles. Also, this story line is uncluttered with the multiple and obscure plot threads which tend to drag down the current X-Men titles.

The Dark Phoenix Saga didn’t bring much attention to itself: no cover captions, no in-house ads, no gimmicks. Despite the lack of hype, solid story telling, compelling characters, and beautiful art ensured this story line’s legendary status.

In X-Men #101, Jean Grey (Marvel Girl), an original X-Man, sacrificed herself to ensure the safety of her teammates. However, she was resurrected and was given new powers that allowed her to tap into a cosmic source called the Phoenix force. Unfortunately, one of the X-Men’s oldest foes, Mastermind tampered with Jean’s mind and upset her control of the Phoenix force. The power corrupted Jean and she was transformed into the Dark Phoenix. Jean became a cosmic threat and its up to the people who care about her the most, the X-Men, to stop her.

The return of the Angel and Beast to the X-Men’s ranks for this story line was a nice touch, especially when you consider their close relationship to Jean. It was unfortunate, that Ice Man, the only other original X-Man, wasn’t brought back to participate. The Dark Phoenix Saga also introduces several key characters like Kitty Pryde, who would later join the X-Men, Dazzler, who would earn her own regular series, and the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle, a group of powerful and wealthy mutants who would plague the X-Men in years to come.

Scott Summers, alias Cyclops, had fallen in love with Jean the moment he first set eyes on her. Claremont and Byrne leverage this emotional tie and at several points along the story line there seems to be moments where love will conquer all. However, that’s where the tragedy comes in and makes Jean’s suicide and sacrifice that much more poignant.

A couple of years after this story line was published, the original ending to the Dark Phoenix Saga surfaced in Phoenix: The Untold Story one-shot. This ending had Jean Grey survive the Dark Phoenix ordeal, but she was exorcised of her connection to the Phoenix and stripped of her mental powers. This issue also included an insightful interview with the Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter and the creative team, and brought to light the fact that there was a bit of a dispute over where the story was going. As the story goes, Jean’s destruction of an inhabited star system, in issue #134, caught Jim Shooter’s attention and he felt strongly that the Phoenix hadn’t been held accountable for her actions.

Shooter spoke with Claremont and asked him to change the story. He felt that “Marvel really does treat these characters as if they were alive. And, that there will be consequences and there will be logical ramification for whatever happens, and that there is no limit to what may happen to our characters”. Byrne, however, “thought of the Dark Phoenix as a tenant” and he was satisfied with the first version.

Claremont didn’t see it that way, and backed the theme that power corrupts. However, in an interview with Comic Book Profiles, looked back at the decision in a different light: “Without meaning to, we stumbled into the right ending for the story; an ending which defined the X-Men better than anything did at the time. It gave the book a weight it hadn’t had before and that no other book had achieved.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is a story line that is worthy of being called an epic. It’s a defining moment in the history of the X-Men and a fabulous example of a well-told story that modern X-Men writers and editors have clearly forgotten.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

1987-88 – The Mighty Avengers

The Mighty Avengers #275-286
Roger Stern, writer
John Buscema, penciling/breakdowns
Tom Palmer, finishes and inks

Roger Stern is perhaps the most underrated writer for Marvel Comics in the 80s. Despite the volume and quality of his work, which included major titles like Amazing Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the Incredible Hulk, he never really broke into that superstar category, like Chris Claremont, John Byrne, or Frank Miller. However, the collaborative energy between Roger Stern and artists “Big” John Buscema and Tom Palmer produced the best Avengers stories in decades.

A key ingredient that made this run so successful was Stern's strong characterization. Each character had their distinct attitude and direction, as well as flaws, which provided a solid impression that these characters weren’t just stereotype, but actually real people. For example, Hercules, the Greek god of strength and the most powerful Avengers on the roster, didn’t take to well being ordered around by the team’s current leader, the Wasp, because she was a woman. His attitude, assisted by a bit too much alcohol, put his teammates in a dangerous situation. Stern succeeded in making these characters feel real despite their extraordinary powers.

Stern also paid particular attention to his female characters and developed them into strong, leading women. Captain Marvel had joined the team as an Avenger-in-training, and had developed into a formidable member in a relatively short time. She gradually became more skilled with her powers and gained confidence as an Avengers which lead to an eventually leadership role.

Another female character, the Wasp evolved throughout his run during her tenure as the Avengers' chairwoman. She was no longer a lovesick teenager, or dippy female sidekick who cared more about her clothes that she did her place among the Avengers. The Wasp matured and she earned her place as Avengers’ chairwoman and commanded respect. During the “Siege of Avengers Mansion” (Avengers # 273-277) story line, she faced her toughest challenge as chairwoman and as an Avenger. The Wasp was faced with the total defeat of the team and turned the situation around and freed her captured teammates which eventually led to Baron Zemo’s defeat.

Also, during the “Siege of Avengers Mansion”, Stern's portrayal of the super-villain team and its leader Baron Zemo II was notable. The dynamics and infighting within the Masters of Evil was realistic and broke the super-villain stereotype. Baron Zemo II, the son of the original Baron Zemo who died in a battle with Captain America, set his sights on destroying the Avengers in order to utterly defeat his arch nemesis, Captain America. Rather than having a group of super villains pursue their goals of world domination and eventually be stopped by the good guys, Stern came up with a wonderful idea that had the villains take the battle to the good guys directly. Once the good guys were defeated, then the villains could leisurely continue with their plans for world domination.

Zemo II patiently waited for the precise time to strike, and plotted and schemed to take advantage of the Avengers' weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. Zemo II had assembled a rather large group of super villains to form the Masters of Evil and Stern didn’t shy away from presenting some realistic problems in terms of keeping the group together as a team. The more physical members of his team itched for some action, while others were completely unpredictable including some who refused to acknowledge his leadership and became defiant rivals for leadership. Stern kept the story’s main villain busy juggling the logistic of keeping everyone busy, and also ensuring the team’s loyalty through respect or fear.

The veteran art team of John Buscema and Tom Palmer was a familiar one for long-time Avengers fans. Buscema enjoyed an earlier stint on the Avengers and was joined at the end of it by inker Tom Palmer. Buscema had since worked on other Marvel titles such as Conan the Barbarian and The Silver Surfer, while Palmer’s work graced the panels of Dr. Strange and The Tomb of Dracula.

Buscema’s dynamic layouts are seasoned with a wonderful sense of perspective. He employed a variety of “camera angles” that heightened the intensity of an action scene. His elaborately rendered figures and his mastery at drawing faces and expressions stood out in this run.

Tom Palmer’s inking style truly deserved to be described as embellishment. His finished art and lavish inks completed the overall artistic effort. His inks created the mood and added to the overall panel flow.

Unfortunately, the Olympian story line that ran through Avengers #282-285 was Stern’s last. He was fired by Avengers’ editor Mark Gruenwald after a disagreement over the upcoming story line. Here’s what Gruenwald had to say about the situation:

“I was not interested in doing any injustices to the characters either, but I also believed that the story line could be done without hurting any characters. I was also not interested in forcing a writer [Roger Stern] to write something he didn't want to. So, despite our five years' plus of amicable working relations, we had developed what seemed to be irreconcilable differences. Something had to give. I informed Roger that I wanted to proceed with the agreed-upon story line and thus, I would hire another writer who could get behind the scenario enough to do it justice.” (Taken from the letter column in Avengers #288.)

John Buscema and Tom Palmer chose to remain as the title’s art team, but despite the best efforts of Ralph Macchio and Walter Simonson, it never returned to same level it had enjoyed under Stern. The Buscema/Palmer art neatly complemented Stern's writing and allowed the title to reach one of its high points.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Marvel Solicitations February 2010 - 1980s goodness


After operating for years out of New York, the Avengers form a second team -- this time based in California! Fresh off their honeymoon, Hawkeye and Mockingbird -- under the direction of the Vision, chairman of the East Coast Avengers -- gather Tigra, Wonder Man and Iron Man (secretly James Rhodes) to fight the forces no single super hero can withstand! See the team's earliest adventures against the deadly Maelstrom and his Minions! The malevolent Crossfire! Spider-Man foe the Blank! The ionic-powered Goliath (later Atlas of the Thunderbolts)! The all-powerful Graviton! Guest-starring the Shroud, Tony Stark and honorary Avenger Moira Brandon! Collecting WEST COAST AVENGERS (1984) #1-4, IRON MAN ANNUAL #7 and AVENGERS #250 -- plus material from AVENGERS #239, #243-244 and #246; and AVENGERS WEST COAST #100. 208 pages, $29.99.

Jay's Notes:
Another excellent Marvel Premiere HC collection. Not sure what Avengers West Coast #100 is doing in this collection. Would have liked to see the first few issues of the Regular series. Hopefully, that'll be up next.


Witness the classic and tragic end of one of the greatest heroes of all time, Mar-Vell of the Kree, who became the Earth hero Captain Marvel! After dozens of battles on Earth and across space, and with the power of his Nega-bands and his all-knowing Cosmic Awareness, can Mar-Vell fare well in his battles with Nitro (the exploding villain who later sparked Marvel's super hero Civil War), the death-defying Stellarax and the seemingly dead Thanos? Guest-starring Rick Jones, Drax the Destroyer, Starfox and all your favorite Earth heroes! Collecting CAPTAIN MARVEL (1968) #34, MARVEL SPOTLIGHT (1979) #1-2 and MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #1: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL. 128 pages, $24.99.

Jay's Notes:
Not sure about the other issues included in this collection, but the Death of Captain Marvel is a wonderful story worthy of this nice HC reprint.

Written by Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr. art and cover by Romita.

The Man Without Fear becomes the Man Without Hope as Manhattan falls beneath the fangs and claws of Inferno! Losing everything in more than one kind of fire, DD leaves Hell's Kitchen to walk to and fro upon the Earth ‹ but no matter where he goes, Mephisto's waiting for him! Inhumane experimentation and Inhuman secrets abound! Guest-starring Spider-Man and Freedom Force! Collecting Daredevil (1964) #265-273. 216 pages, $24.99

Jay's Notes:
One of my favorite DD runs continues in this TPB collection. Great art by Romita Jr and a wonderful storyline by Nocenti that gets DD out of Hell's Kitchen.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Marvel 1980s goodness out this week

Alien Legion Omnibus Vol. #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Writer: Alan Zelenetz
Artists: Frank Cirocco, Chris Warner, Terry Shoemaker, Terry Austin, and Randy Emberlin

Originally published under Marvel's Epic imprint, this series was pretty kick ass for the day and featured great art by Cirocco.

Footsloggers and soldiers of fortune, priests, poets, killers, and cads-they fight for a future Galarchy, for cash, for a cause, for the thrill of adventure. Culled from the forgotten and unwanted of three galaxies, they are trained to be the most elite, and expendable, of fighting forces. Sometimes peacekeepers, sometimes shock troops, the Legion is sent into the Galarchy's most desperate internal and external conflicts. Legionnaires live rough and they die hard, tough as tungsten and loyal to the dirty end. 352 pages

The 'Nam TPB
Writer: Doug Murray
Artists: Mike Golden/Wayne Vansant

Don't worry about choosing sides, because this far into the heart of darkness, things get pretty gray. Follow Private Ed Marks and his fellow soldiers through a jungle of blood, lies, betrayal and valor. It's the war that defined a generation, where the heroes may not be super, but they're all too human. Collecting THE 'NAM #1-10. 248 pages.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1984 - Alpha Flight

Alpha Flight #6-17
John Byrne, writer and artist

After the initial story arc, which ran through the first four issues, issues #5 through #10 were dedicated to individual characters rather than to the team as a whole. By issue #11, the team subplot had picked up enough steam to become the main plot and gathered Alpha Flight for the climatic finale in issue #12.

To sort out some inconsistencies and contradictions in characterizations, Byrne ran a backup feature in the first dozen issues that detailed each member’s origin. The cast of characters was richly developed: Aurora’s multiple/split personality; Northstar’s arrogance and bitterness; the deity-like Snowbird’s attempt to deal with real life; the insecurity felt by the team’s leader Guardian who was a pleasant mix of Reed Richards and Captain America; Puck’s mysterious past; Sasquatch’s scientific mind totally in control of his monstrous side, or was it?

Issue #6 stood out as an interesting experiment that showcased 6 pages of all-white panels with only narrative and sound effects. Byrne took advantage of the Assistant Editor’s month, which normally resulted in some madcap antics, to cleverly play around with the medium.

By the end of issue #12, Byrne completely changed the rules. With perhaps his most gutsy move, he killed Guardian. It was an unexpected twist. Sure, a team could survive the loss of its leader, but Alpha Flight was nowhere near a cohesive team.

I remember anxiously waiting for issue #12, reading the in-house ads, guessing at who would be the one to die. Some readers saw it as a gratuitous death, other saw it as Byrne’s attempt to infuse the comic with a bit of reality. Personally, I didn’t like it. However, that in itself was a testimonial to Byrne’s characterization. I cared about Guardian and certainly didn’t want him to die.

The story line was well plotted out and executed. The ending carried with it a haunting sense of tragedy that was still there when I re-read it. In another respect, Guardian’s character wasn’t as established as say Mr. Fantastic or Captain America. Byrne probably didn’t have to work hard to convince his editor of what he planned to do. This event provided him with a unique opportunity to explore a situation which he could never have done on the Fantastic Four.

Byrne’s portrayal of strong female characters, like Guardian’s wife, Heather Hudson, who got stronger as the series progresses, was refreshing. With the Guardian’s death, Alpha Flight needed a leader. However, none of the team’s members seemed up to the task. In house ads hinted at Wolverine leaving the X-Men and joining Alpha Flight as their new leader.

Alpha Flight #17 had a wonderful Byrne reinterpreting Cockrum’s cover to Uncanny X-Men #109. The story is a retelling of that classic X-Men issue in which Weapon Alpha confronted Wolverine over his departure from Department H to join the X-Men. However, Byrne made another unexpected turn and set Heather Hudson up as Alpha Flight’s leader. Throughout the series, she represented the team’s spirit despite the fact that she didn’t have any super powers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

1987 - Marvel Graphic Novel #27 - Emperor Doom

Marvel Graphic Novel #27 - Emperor Doom
Writer: David Michelinie
Artists: Bob Hall and Keith Williams

Okay, up front I’ll admit I’m a big West Coast Avengers fan. There I’ve said it. I really enjoyed the 1984 miniseries (which also featured art from Bob Hall) and loved how these B-level superheroes came together as an A-level Avengers team. This graphic novel took place before the regular series.

Dr. Doom kidnaps the Purple Man and uses his powers in his latest scheme to take over the world. He enlists the aid of Namor to help him gain control of those who aren't susceptible to the Purple Man's powers. His plan, for once, goes rather smoothly and in no time he's declared Emperor of the World. Interestingly, Doom proved to be an intelligent, resourceful leader solving most of the world's problem by bringing it peace and stability.

Meanwhile, our Rip Van Winkle, Wonder Man who's been undergoing a test in a stasis chamber for a month, awakens and to his horror discovers that Doom now rules the world.

It’s a fun story that you should definitely try and pick up. Michelinie really makes Wonder Man shine in this story. He's usually been used as a bland, second rate hero. But in this story, we get into Simon Williams' head and really get a good feel for who he is.

However, the really interesting part of this story is that Doom is so bored with ruling the planet that he lets the heroes defeat him.

This story was based on a concept jointly developed by Mark Gruenwald, David Michelinie, and Jim Shooter.

The art isn’t as solid as the miniseries. Something just felt off. Bob Hall is a respectable penciler, but his inking seemed inconsistent. The inking assists by Keith Williams probably came into play here as well lending to that inconsistent feel.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hercules Full Circle Premiere HC

Not sure how this one slipped by me, but I'm a huge Layton Hercules fan and wanted to pass this on. If you enjoyed the two Hercules miniseries (reprinted in the first Premiere HC), check this one out!

Written by BOB LAYTON Penciled by BOB LAYTON Covers by BOB LAYTON Bob Layton had a vision of the future - Greek gods, sarcastic robots, transvestite aliens and more - and it's time to share it! The Prince of Power encounters the Wonder of the World of Wilamean, his own half-human son! Can the man-god who changed the courses of rivers and history steer his son to the path of justice? It'll help that there's a lot of fighting involved! Plus: rare creator interviews, artwork and more! Collecting MARVEL TALES #197, MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #37, MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #39-41 and material from MARVEL AGE #4 & #65. 120 PGS.

And a quick plug for the current Incredible Hercules series. Check it out as well, great writing and good art. It reminds you that comics can be fun even among the more serious Marvel titles these days.

J.J. Abrams in Talks to Produce Micronauts Movie

Full story here.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Star Trek director J.J. Abrams is in talks to produce a movie about the Japanese interchangeable toys Micronauts, which Hasbro just acquired.

First released in Japan in 1974 (under the name Microman), the toys were imported to the U.S. by the Mego Corporation in 1976. The line consisted of 3.75-inch tall toys which used a universal, five millimeter inter-connective design. Mego cancelled the Micronauts line in 1980. In 2002, Palisades Toys bought the rights to reproduce Micronauts.

The Micronauts comic books were published by Marvel Comics, Image Comics, and Devil's Due Publishing. Their first comic appearance was in "Micronauts #1" (Marvel, Jan. 1979) with characterizations created by Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden.

Abrams tells the newspaper that those who doubt whether a board game or science-fiction toy should be accorded star status will be proved wrong.

"Sometimes, when someone is not a celebrity and you are casting them in a role, everyone who is in a seat of authority voices questions about that actor's talent, sex appeal, looks, ability -- their everything," he says. "But then they get the role, and suddenly they are on the cover of every magazine, and nobody questions those things again. In retrospect, everyone says, 'Of course that person is a star.'"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

1989 - John Byrne's Avengers West Coast

West Coast Avengers #42-53
March - December 1989
Writer: John Byrne
Artists: John Byrne/Mike Machlan
Editor: Howard Mackie

John Byrne’s run on the West Coast Avengers (renamed Avengers West Coast later this year) was a controversial, but pleasant run. Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco felt that the title needed a change of direction. So, West Coast Avengers editor Howard Mackie hired John Byrne, who returned to Marvel after a stint at DC Comics doing Superman. Byrne filled both the position of writer and penciler, while Mike Machlan remained on the title as inker.

Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom finished their 39-issue run on the West Coast Avengers and had cleared up most of their plot lines. Issues #40 and #41 were fill-in issues that miserably attempted to finish up the remaining plot lines. When Byrne started in issue #42, Tigra, Wasp, and Dr. Pym had all rejoined the West Coast Avengers without any explanation. It was nice, however, to see the Wasp, who had been normally associated with the East Coast Avengers, and Dr. Pym rejoin.

In Byrne’s run, Pym no longer had doubts about his role, in fact he took over the leadership of the team from Hawkeye. Hawkeye was portrayed as a less competent authority, which many had argued contradicted his character development throughout the limited series and the first 40 issues of this series. Byrne did a welcome job restoring Pym to his rightful place as one of the founding Avengers.

Pym’s mental instability was the catalyst that led to the break up of his marriage to the Wasp, also another foundering member. Byrne set the stage for their reconciliation and had them revive their romance off panel. Byrne “never liked it when they broke up. So we’ll be sort of pushing them back together again” (Peter Sanderson Marvel Age #70, 1988).

Hawkeye never seemed to stand out as an Avengers leader, but seemed to carry enough spirit for the entire team. And by issue #46, Hawkeye tired of being pushed aside takes a leave of absence. Hawkeye becomes a supporting character throughout the run and he eventually finds himself leading the Great Lakes Avengers.

Now to address the source of a lot of fans’ displeasure: Byrne’s treatment of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch had been happily married and Wanda had just given birth to twin sons. Well, in Byrne’s defense, he was hired to shake things up, and shake things up he did.

Byrne followed up an Avengers story line call “Unlimited Vision” (Avengers #251-254) in which the Vision attempts to seize control of the world computers and thereby providing a guiding “vision” (forgive the pun) to humanity. However, Byrne felt the story didn’t hold the Vision responsible for his actions. Well, Byrne’s story called “Vision Quest” has Vision abducted and disassembled. The West Coast Avengers rescued their teammate, but learned that his memory had been erased and that he had become a logical, unemotional machine.

They also learn that the Vision’s abduction had been an international intelligence effort to neutralize the potential threat the Vision posed to worldwide security. A lot of fans saw this story as a direct insult to the efforts of Steve Englehart who had developed the Vision into a distinct character. Also, there was a bit of “suspension of disbelief” required when it turned out that Mockingbird had been tricked into betraying her former teammates. This action also prompted the U.S. to assigned special agent U.S.AGENT to the Avengers team much to his new teammates’ displeasure.

By issue #47, Byrne had also taken over writing The Avengers (East Coast branch) title and worked to increase the interaction between teams. In The Avengers #305, Byrne took a bold step and created a revolving membership system that basically put every Avengers on call. By consolidating the Avengers into one team whose members could be appropriately called upon to deal with any threat or menace.

When the Vision was original created, it was believed that his body was actually that of the original Human Torch whowas an android that fought for the U.S. during World War II but had since been deactivated. However, Byrne reveals that the Vision’s body wasn’t the Human Torch’s, which sends the Avengers West Coast on a quest to find the body of the original Human Torch.

Byrne enjoyed the character interactions of this title. The Vision - Scarlet Witch - Wonder Man love-triangle, the Wasp-Dr. Pym relationship, and the Hawkeye-Mockingbird relationship all get a lot of attention and are dramatically changed. For example, Wonder Man’s brain patterns were originally used to infuse the Vision with a personality. Now that the Vision’s personality has been erased, Wonder Man’s is asked to donate his brain patterns once again. However, he’s in love with the Scarlet Witch and if he restores the Vision he can never have a chance with her.

This run also sees the return of another founder member, Iron Man, to the active roster.

Byrne identified the Scarlet Witch as a favorite character. However as Byrne put it mildly, “the Scarlet Witch is not going to be having a good time ...” (Peter Sanderson Marvel Age #70, 1988). She basically lost her husband, the Vision, and was left with an unfeeling machine. Things didn’t get any better for her. Her twin sons turned out to be pieces of the demon called Pandemonium which she inadvertently used to complete the spell that made her pregnant. Pandemonium showed up and forcibly reclaimed what was his.

Less than a year later, Byrne left the title. Roy Thomas, who had written the Avengers in the 70s, and his wife Dann, became the new writers and were joined by artist Paul Ryan. Unfortunately, both The Avengers and The Avengers West Coast would slip into a period of decline well into the mid-1990s.

For details on Byrne’s departure from the Avengers West Coast, check out his FAQ.

Monday, October 26, 2009

1982 – Alpha Flight

Alpha Flight #1-5
John Byrne, writer and artist

John Byrne's Alpha Flight was a comic book about characters that was disguised as a team book. Unlike other team books where heroes would gather each issue and battle the latest world-threatening menace, an issue of Alpha Flight focused on one team member while it kept the team story alive as a subplot.

After the debut of Canada's super-hero team in The Uncanny X-Men #120-121, overwhelming positive fan response prompted several guest appearances of Alpha Flight across the Marvel Universe and eventually spawned their ongoing title. John Byrne, the co-creator of Alpha Flight with Chris Claremont and former Canadian resident, was given the creative reigns of this new team book. Alpha Flight was originally designed as a super-hero team that was meant to match up against the X-Men. Byrne challenged himself to bring the characters to life beyond a supporting role and shake the title's billing as an X-Men spin-off.

Interestingly, the first story arc read much like an X-Men adventure. These heroes were still confined by their X-Men stereotypes: Guardian's insecurity seemed much like the X-Men's leader, Cyclops; the playful relationship between Sasquatch and Puck was similar to Wolverine and Nightcrawler; Snowbird was as quiet and powerful as Storm. However, the comparison ended with this initial story arc.

Byrne successfully brought the team together in a great story, but then boldly had them go their own way once the threat had been dealt with. It was bold in that Byrne set up an interesting team dynamic, but then decided to move away from the familiar device. The team concept seemed to be a means for Byrne to branch out into each character' story. Each character resumed their life and had adventures independent of each other, which was a revolutionary idea seeing that the more successful team books, Avengers and Fantastic Four, spend most of their time in the comic together.

Byrne's early notable contributions to the team were the agile and mysterious Puck and the innocent amphibian Marrina. Puck was another uniquely Canadian character complete with his "eh" accent and was a solid addition to the team despite his unspectacular appearance. Marrina was a bit more of a reluctant hero and carried with her an ominous past that would prompt the events in issue #2-4. Marrina would leave the team until she returned the following year in issue #14.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marvel Solicitations for January 2010 - 1980s goodness

A rather light month for 1980s-related content.

Written by Alan Davis and Scott Lobdell, penciled by Alan Davis, Dougie Braithwaite, Will Simpson, James Fry, Joe Madureira, Sam Kieth, Steve Lightle, Ron Lim, Brian Stelfreeze, Dwayne Turner, Jae Lee, Malcolm Jones and Rick Leonardi, cover by Alan Davis.

Secrets of the Phoenix Force! Dinosaur subplots resolved! Captain Britain and Spider-Man vs. a pack of human dogs! These and other astonishments await as co-creator Alan Davis takes Excalibur into space and down the rabbit hole! Plus: a battle with the X-Men across time and a team-up with the X-Men against Trolls! Collecting Excalibur (1988) #51-58 and Excalibur: XX Crossing One-Shot.


Written by Frank Miller, penciled and cover by David Mazzucchelli.

"And I have shown him ... that a man without hope is a man without fear." The definitive Daredevil tale, by industry legends Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli! Karen Page, Matt Murdock's former lover, has traded away the Man Without Fear's secret identity for a drug fix. Now, Daredevil must find strength as the Kingpin of Crime wastes no time taking him down as low as a human can get. Collecting Daredevil #226-233.

248 pages, $19.99.


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