Monday, April 14, 2014

Wednesday is Cap n' Chicks For All I Care #185

All-New Invaders #1
Captain America: Homecoming #1
Empowered Special "Internal Medicine"
Sin Boldy #1
Slipstream #1

All-New Invaders #1 (Marvel, 2014, $3.99)
The Invaders are a team I've always liked in concept far, far more than in execution. They're Marvel's JSA, excepted not, since they were largely invented in the 1970s and staffed with the sort of Roy Thomas retcon creative abortions that would latter star in Young All-Stars. Their "heyday" series only lasted a little over three years, but Marvel's tried to revive them every few years since 2004, to no success. This time, they've got The Golden Age writer and JSA franchise initiator James Robinson aboard, along with another Brit, the underrated Steve Pugh (whose art I've bought video game tie-ins to ogle.) Coming into their debut issue as a reader who's rooting for everyone involved, it still doesn't work. Most of the issue revolves around Jim Hammond, who accomplishes the unenviable task of being the less interest Human Torch. There's a destructive battle in the middle of the sort of idyllic small town America that seemed hokey in the second Superman movie thirty years ago, coupled with hoary repressed memories involving dorky new retcon characters you've known and hated far too often in your reading experience. The art is okay, but Pugh isn't in his wheelhouse, and then the goddamned Post-Chromium Age Bucky shows up. About the only thing I liked was the inclusion of the fascistic Kree, who both substitute for Nazis nicely and call back to the original Marvel Golden Age revival at the end of their war with the Skrulls.

Captain America: Homecoming #1 (Marvel, 2014, $3.99)
I picked up this book because I wanted to see Tom Grummett draw Cap, but I guess I missed the years of work his preferred inker Cory Hamscher has put into crapping up his style with loose sub-Image flourishes. Grummett is also (badly) rendering the movie costume, and scripter Fred Van Lente seems to take "cinematic continuity" as code to phone in a simpleton plot. Even the coloring is flat and gaudy, topping the sort of shit package restaurants and computer stores used to give away to kids. There's added value in the form of a reprint of the Falcon's first appearance, if you like that character and don't find his origin stupid. The bright colors suit Cap, but not Gene Colan, and we're stuck in the middle chapter of an uninspired Stan Lee yarn. The Mark Bagley cover is kind of okay, I guess.

Empowered Special #6 (Dark Horse, 2014, $3.99)
Well, this was different. I've gotten used to the manga-inspired artists that usually guest on these specials, and while Brandon Graham still fits under that umbrella, it's certainly further from the mainstream American image of it. Best known for Multiple Warheads and writing the weird Eurocentric Prophet revamp, Graham's quirky, ornate, doodly style would seem in keeping with Adam Warren's densely populated world of "Superhomeys." It skews a bit too indie hipster for my taste, with some dodgy panel-to-panel flow and a somewhat crude "first draft" aesthetic, but Warren's script seems customized to the imaginative artist's strengths. Certainly, I like seeing such a strikingly different interpretation of Emp's world. The story is fun, if light, but Warren provides bookends that hint at ominous tidings to come in future volumes of his magnum opus. Warren does ominous foreshadowing better than anyone in comics.

Sin Boldy #1 (Image, 2013, $3.50)
You'd be forgiven for thinking that I was done with Joseph Michael Linsner after my rant against The Swordmaster's Daughter & Other Stories, but I'm still open to appreciating his art in one-shots and reaffirming how much I've grown as a person since Linsner's '90s glory days. The lead feature starring Sinful Suzi wouldn't have been out of place in Tipper Gore's Comics and Stories (aside from its toothlessness) or some '70s prozine that favored titties over topicality. There's painfully dated Cobain and Crawford gags, as well as anatomical fixations that made me wish that this was a Kevin J. Taylor comic instead. Unfortunately, it fails at pornography just as much as it does at comedy and drama. The second story stars Obsidian Stone, in his first ever comic tale, despite debuting in the 1993 Dynamic Forces The Creators Universe set. Linsner proudly boasts of creating Stone in high school and having marinated the character across twenty years of sketchbooks, but for the greater good this still undercooked Moorcock panty-sniffer should have just stayed in his personal memory hole. I'd like to think that I would have seen through this even as a teenager, since the stories are plainly inferior to Subtle Violents and Drama, much less his long ago storytelling peak collected as Angry Christ Comix. Where those grim fables were nightmarish and insightful, Linsner's current output shows greater proficiency in visualizations of purple prose and the regression from humanity that comes with drawing naked girls in an isolated studio since the Bush Administration.

Slipstream #1 (Big Dog Ink, 2012, $3.50)
There's a minor publisher nobody pays attention to, and they apparently have their own little super-hero universe revolving around a heroine called Critter. Slipstream was one of a set of four specials that took part in "The Paradox Paradigm," which doesn't encroach on the narrative here, such as it is. Slipstream is an other-dimensional being who takes human form and deals with the wonderment of a physical body, as well as malevolent forces from her own plane. She teams up with the cheesy prefab super team "The In Crowd," who went on to their own brief mini-series recently. Pat Shand's lightweight plot recalls old Chris Claremont "decompression breaks," and the art of Owen Gieni is a pleasing meld of Art Adams with Evan Dorkin (and he's now making a name for himself on Manifest Destiny.) An inoffensive full color all ages package.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Fifth of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. For All Anyone Cares #184

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (1966)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Action #2-4 (1986)
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (1986)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (2011)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (2014)

So here we are at the fifth issue and, well, the novelty is wearing off. As I've mentioned in the past, I got into the Agents through the short-lived Deluxe Comics series, and only read the Tower books as highlight reprints or sporadic bargain low-grade back issue finds. Reading five different incarnations a month in their individual chronological order in a manner closer to how they were released has given me insight into why the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents have consistently failed in the marketplace.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)
"Dynamo and the Golem" starts off this issue with unsure footing. Reed Crandall was a great artist even before he was thoroughly processed into the house style by inkers Wally Wood and Dan Adkins, but a consequence is that his story looks more like slightly off-model Woody than its own thing. The script has a similar issue, with masked terrorists, Subterranean Warlords and a behemoth for Dynamo to fight. All the expected elements are there, but they don't play out correctly. Len Brown doesn't struggle with the mundane trials of his job before finding relief in physical conflict. Instead of sarcastic asides, Dynamo has a completely silent punch-out for seven panels sandwiched between flat expository dialogue (followed by more cycles of the same.) Dynamo is perhaps too competent, recalling Menthor as that character shows up and falters in a cameo, swapping hats. The story even ends back at HQ with Alice Robbins, but with propagandistic sloganeering replacing romantic misunderstanding/petty bickering. Aside from the lovely visuals-- hell because of them-- the tale brings to the fore the Dynamo formula of coming up with goons for the hero to toss around and something big for Len to punch without much regard for logic or nuance, simply coasting on visuals. For a character only a couple of months away from having to support his own giant-sized solo spin-off title, this tale underlines how little creators have to work with there in the absence of the Woody sheen.

NoMan "In the Caverns of Demo" has a few more surprises, not all of them good. The famed Gil Kane returns for the first time since the debut issue on a different strip, and while it's still a looser, lesser job, Kane suits NoMan better. Demo also returns to become NoMan's first recurring foe, and his presence is set up through a retcon that backs up Iron Maiden's situation in the previous issue. You get a strong impression of how momentous T.H.U.N.D.E.R.'s defeat of the Warlord was in the second issue while simultaneously making clear that G.I. Joe already beat their Cobra and have no one substantial to fill that void. Further, there's no reason Demo specifically needs to be in this story beyond it dispensing with set-up and affording fan service continuity clean-up. The island of "barbaric sub-breed" humans could only have been worse if they were not unambiguously Caucasian (this time.) It's an okay adventure with solid art, but rote in a title becoming defined by being rote.

Dan Adkins provides a peachy pin-up/dossier entry for Lightning, which seems like a precursor to Who's Who/OHOTMU. It contrasts sharply against the Lightning story that follows by Steve Skeates, Mike Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia. In their forward to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives Volume Two, Robert Klein and Michael Uslan noted that the Lightning strip was the closest to standard super-hero fare and was created under the greatest autonomy away from Wally Wood's editorial eye. Put more critically, it was bog standard for middle rung DC of the early Silver Age, not inventive enough for Julie Schwartz, but maybe a decent effort out of George Kashdan's office. No one should be impressed that Baron Von Kampf is already back. Oh hey, I just got that. Since he's Lightning's first recurring foe, would Guy refer to him as "Mein Kampf?" Speaking of Guy Gilbert, his being in the suit seems of no consequence to the story; sub-Flash fare without reference to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad or even what Guy looks like under that mask. Mediocrity runs so deep that the Lightning logo can't escape falling below standard. Sekowsky's idiosyncrasies are the only saving grace here.

"Menthor vs. the Entrancer" proves the general rule that the worst written story of any given issue will probably star Menthor. John Giunta isn't stingy with panels per page, especially during the villain's origin sequence, but his style is a tad dated and the story being told feels like a throwback to the late Golden Age. The Entrancer is a thuggish lift of Doctor Strange, which by T.H.U.N.D.E.R. bad guy standards is rather advanced developmentally, but he comes to a limp end in a dull yarn. The basic premise of John Janus being an evil double agent stymied by his helmet seems to have been forgotten, and his supposed role as most qualified T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent is undermined by mistakes and dependency here. It doesn't help that there's no consistency in his creative pool from month to month. Remember how Janus now has powers even without the helmet? Neither does the scripter. Between his highly derivative costume and the lack of investment in the character behind the scenes, it's no wonder that telltale zero on his brow is starting to look more like a target bullseye.

"Double for Dynamo" closes out the book with a team feature, and makes clear that kids were paying twice the standard comic book cover price of the time for this story and a bunch of ballast. Steve Skeates continues along the thread started in his NoMan story of last month with a frantic search of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. for android replacements. It's too bad for the promising premise that they have a reliable detection method in place from page one, and that no one of consequence was found to have embedded themselves in the agency. The Mastermind is a bit of a goofus nogoodnik who literally does a bellyflop before this whole affair resolves. He's outclassed by his masked minions, who looked to have inspired the Black Spider from '70s Batman comics. The tale is light entertainment drawn by the Wally Wood studio, and the main takeaway is that the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad's Weed was being actively groomed as a street smart sidekick for Dynamo.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Action #2-4 (Savoy, 1986, 75p)
Once again, I've never had copies of these books in my hand, relying solely on the internet for my reading pleasure, as can you. Aside from badly (and likely illegally) reconstituted British Tower reprints, the final issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Action also offered two full color (colour?) newly (amateurishly) created tales by artists Eddie DeVille and Jon Sussex. The NoMan feature is brief with a predictable non-twist (and an unforeseeable panel of gratuitous nudity. Blame Page 3.) The Dynamo & Iron Maiden story echoes Menthor's closing comment from the fifth issue of the Tower run, "You may not be smart, Len... but you're sure lucky!" Both stories are actually fairly inventive for three page filler. Why everything has to take place on private islands off the coast of New England, I don't understand.

Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (Deluxe, 1986, $2.00)
I have yet to replace the copy of The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Companion I ordered a few months ago, only for it to "mysteriously disappear" at my old shipping address, but I do have other Twomorrows magazines lying around that covered some of Deluxe Comics' scams. I used to defend David Singer based on his own line of bull and superior product versus Carbonaro, but on further inquiry, he seems to have been super shady. His last editorial page in the final published issue of Wally Wood's invokes Nixon by name, which would be damning enough. Following this with a Jerry Ordway illustrated story that throws several Agents under the bus to promote awful seeming Codename:Danger characters in a never-to-be-finished crossover is itself a criminal offense. Ordway is the most obvious and potent direct inheritor of Wood's artistic DNA, and for fifteen pages we visually received the finest revival the Agents deserved. However, the story is lame, waving away what should have been a continuation of a previous subplot with a line of dialogue, and setting up new threads to dangle forever. It's a shame, especially since Roger McKenzie's script pops when he's not tripping over Singer's junk, and even Paty's coloring steps up.

There's an all-text advertisement for 1987 Honeymooners and Buckwheat calenders offering "trivia, dates of importance" and such for just $9.95 shipping inclusive ($20.56 in 2014 dollars.) Even accounting for Eddie Murphy's years old series of Buckwheat SNL skits, even if somebody would have wanted these things in 1986, could there have been a worse way to advertise to them than an all-text page?

The Lightning strip goes out as it came in-- an abomination. The serial killer "mystery" is solved through the revelation of a previously unseen figure from Guy Gilbert's past that thinks in heavy exposition with a bad "accent." In case you were concerned that the misogyny might lighten up, no worries, a lovely professional is hideously disfigured and her eyeballs gouged out (partially) off-panel. Keith Giffen continues to cut as many corners as possible to lighten his workload with barely comprehensible narration full of extreme close-ups, shadows, stats, and general abstraction. The Bierbaums' script continues to anticipate the demeanor of message board trolls. Nothing is or will ever be resolved to anyone's satisfaction, but at least I don't have to read this anymore.

Singer is joined by Mike Harris for a cheeky, copyright flouting Dynamo lark that tries to near literally treat the character as a Superman clone in the fashion of Christopher Reeve. The Big Two pseudo-cameos at a costume party aren't appealing, but it is fun to see period obscurities like Grimjack, Sable, Aztek Ace, Thunderbunny and so on. Still hard to see the point, as it isn't exactly funny, nor is it a character study, and it certainly isn't exciting.

The capstone on the run is yet another Dynamo tale that doesn't do the property any favors. The creative team behind the minor black & white boom hit Ex-Mutants; the now forgotten Anthony Pereira, John Statema and Mike Witherby with '90s Marvel poster boy Ron Lim; offer an inane yarn seemingly designed to fill as much space with as little of consequence as quickly as possible. Ignominious indeed. Say, did you know Rob Liefeld, Jim Balent and Dale Keown used to do covers on that series in their early days, and it launched Paul Pelletier's career? Marvel owns that now, right? I don't remember it being all that great, but you'd figure if it was still on the market, somebody would have done an omnibus by now.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
This series is frustrating. It's telling one of the most sophisticated and involving stories of the lot, but doing so in the least satisfying manner episodically. For instance, this issue has a five page flashback sequence well rendered by Ryan Sook that serves up needed exposition. The rest of the book is another strong showing by Cafu & Bit where pieces set up in previous issues finally begin to click together. Then, it just stops, again. Every month, about the point where Nick Spencer has ratcheted up your interest, he breaks off to have a smoke and stargaze. He's screwin' just like a Chinaman.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (IDW, 2014, $3.99)
I think this was my favorite issue of this run so far. I previously had trouble getting past Andrea Di Vito's high-end licensed toy comic visuals, where new artist Roger Robinson is more of a storyteller. Robinson isn't as polished, but he brings mood and more varied angles. Colorist Rom Fajardo is still swell, but he seems to be taking greater license with his contributions, adding digital squiggles and other bits of personal panache. With the main characters established, there's a greater sense of their moving toward an overarching story, rather than being pieces of P.O.V. in a perfunctory scenario. I also like the nods to Tower, playing on reader familiarity to create foreshadowing, but in the present enough not to lose new readers. I do have one complaint. I've been buying the Subscription variants, which tended to have bigger name artists and play with the classic incarnation more often. With #4, I bought two copies, so I could make use of the blank sketch cover this convention season. Starting with #5, Andrew Currie has taken over the Sub covers, and it's plainly inferior to Robinson's standard cover. It's so bad that I might have to rethink my buying habit.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

“Strange Tales” by Steve Garcia

Nick Fury A, B

Doctor Strange A, B

I was also inspired to put one of my own together, derived from the art of Kevin O'Neill...

“We Can Be Heroes”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Born on the Fourth of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. For All Anyone Cares #183

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (1966)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Action #1 (1986)
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (1986)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (2011)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (2013)

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)
"Master of Evolution" was a paper thin excuse to have Dynamo punching dinosaurs, which wouldn't normally be my thing, but Wally Wood makes it work. The writer Len Brown gets into Schwartz style couple dysfunction through Alice Robbins, which also could have been off-putting, but she's a woman drawn by Wally Wood. That's never not okay. The story needed to be a bit bloodier, and I mean that objectively in context, plus I mentioned its gratuitous nature already, but ultimately a competent Dynamo yarn with perks.

"The Synthetic Stand-Ins" sees Mike Sekowsky trade off of Menthor to a NoMan strip, and he's not really an apt choice on this character. Steve Skeates' script pops though, which helps make up the difference. Cool spy action that makes use of NoMan's unique abilities, plus some neat looking goons and a "The End...?" Could launch a lot of stories off that ominous note.

Wally Wood offers a pair of single page infotainment pieces, "NoMan in Action" and "The Origin of T.H.U.N.D.E.R." I miss well executed introductory material like this, but Woody also plants an easter egg for the old timers in the form of a nonchalant peek at a new Agent. Having set that pin, the following T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad story (by the same team as "Stand-Ins") knocks it down. Jeez, only T.H.U.N.D.E.R. would invent a super-speed ray to combat a gas instead of just offering its operatives masks, or correctly outfit its bases. Sekowsky is much better suited for the Squad, but Skeates throws them under the bus in a rather bruising way here. I did like the line's-width-distance-from Nazis. Too bad they didn't bother to name the first scientist after Professor Jennings to create gear for an Agent.

Was "The Return of the Iron Maiden" really necessary, since she only missed one issue? They even go to the trouble of breaking her out of prison, despite her not having been shown getting arrested in her previous story. We could have skipped right into the latest adventure, y'know? Especially when you factor in that she had yet to be unmasked, so she was captive in full armor. For reals? Moving on, Dynamo proceeds to lose any ground gained in credibility from the first story here. I do get a kick out of Agents making cameos in each other's strips. Maiden has some moments, and Dynamo gets the last, um, frown? I'm uncomfortable with the villain, Doctor Death, because he's either a Subterranean in disguise or a gross Arab caricature. I expect better from Woody.

Menthor closes out the book on the same artistically off note as NoMan started, drawn this time by John Giunta and company. Sekowsky helped distance Menthor from his Gil Kane origins, but here he swings back to looking exactly like an Atom knock-off, not that it would be a problem for too much longer. I assume the cliffhanger ending to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents story from last issue inspired the change-up, but feeding a team story back into a solo strip sounds like a whimper. It's a weird yarn, involving an early example of the power internalization trend and a late example of employing a friggin' stage mentalist. There's too much bad plotting by convenience without forethought, and why doesn't anybody strip John Janus out of his dang costume? Bad enough to stay on the bad side of so bad it's just bad.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Action #1 (Savoy, 1986, 75p)
Back when the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were popularly thought to be in the public domain, a British company briefly put out a magazine of unauthorized Tower reprints. This issue offered "First Encounter," "The Iron Fog," "Iron Maiden," and NoMan's origin tale, all from the 1965 T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1. There were also two newly created black & white strips. One starred Jonathan Shatter and his partner Roxanne as agents of the European Aerospace Intelligence Agency in near future tales taking place in the United States of Europe. I don't own actually copies of this book, or even replications in its entirety, so I can't expound on that.

The other new material was "Cloud of Death," a small feature credited to artists Eddie DeVille and Jon Sussex. In it, a Soviet soldier gets vaporized, turned into a sentient storm cloud, and drifts to Kansas to launch an attack on an Air Force base. Dynamo, with the exacting direction of some bossy guy at T.H.U.N.D.E.R. H.Q., manages to turn the Soviet Stratus into a rainstorm through liquid oxygen. It better recalls Charlton with its typed lettering and propagandistic plotting, but there are worse ways to spend three pages.

Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (Deluxe, 1986, $2.00)
The inside cover editorial gets a bit hinky, with David M. Singer dismissing the legal challenges launched against this series and taking pot shots at The Comics Journal. Rather strident, given that there's only one more issue before the whole enterprise crumbles.

George Pérez returns to Raven, and that's the most good I can say about it. Dann Thomas spent her writing career credited on the back end of "Roy and" for a reason. The villains of this story are extremely lame, and their scheme impossibly dumb. Raven has to be stripped to his man-panties and disarmed to be presented with the slightest challenge, and quite frankly, manages to under-perform in the face of such shoddy competition. As saving graces go, Pérez is a fantastic asset, but he's not complimented well by Wally Wood's old studio mate Dan Adkins. I kind of wish Adkins had just gone off and done his own story, instead.

It continues to be a labor to plow through the thick bricks of unedited text that make up the oddly placed L.E.T.T.E.R.S., but it's only two pages this time. Apparently, there's an unpublished John Workman Kitten solo story out there, and the Pérez Raven stories would have been collected into a trade paperback with new material if Deluxe had survived. A four issue Iron Maiden mini-series was in the works, as was the Tales of Thunder companion book. It's neat to get a peek at what could have been if Singer had maybe licensed the property from John Carbonaro instead of trying to steal it.

Keith Giffen and the Bierbaums continue to make the Lightning solo strip a hideous slog. This issue, an ill-tempered, coldblooded superior officer tries to dictate nasty terms to Guy, with ambiguous results. It's an ugly, opaque, mean-spirited story involving child murder, and I could have done without it. Giffen did a better Lightning splash this time, at least.

There are ads for Dave Cockrum's short-lived Futurians and Giffen's shorter-lived March Hare. I can't recall if I ever read any issues of the Cockrum book, but he was missed in this title. The ad was weak, riffing on a far better series of Marvel spots for Power Man & Iron Fist, and Cockrum didn't bother with backgrounds or even the lower halves of his figures. I still have a copy of March Hare, read once in the late '80s and never again.

The concluding half of the NoMan story was extra cheesy. Cy Klopps only got more ridiculous, and NoMan's big gambit doesn't make much sense. Regardless, it's Steve Ditko rendering the goofy with gonzo gusto, making it worthwhile in spite of Steve Perry's clumsy script (did the chief actually call someone "dude?") and a coloring error by inker Greg Theakston that hampers the effectiveness of a punchline.

I first read these issues about twenty years ago, and I'm sure my enthusiasm over being introduced to the rich history of the Agents at a time when so many undercooked "universes" by inferior hands were vying for my dollars helped me overlook some now obvious shortcomings, exemplified in the group story. To review, Steve Englehart wrote the first entry, going so far as to copyright his script, but David Singer wrote the dialogue over his plot for the second chapter. Dave Cockrum drew the first three stories, and wrote the first half of a second two-parter with plotter Singer. The second half of that story was plotted by editor Brian Marshall, scripted by Singer, and drawn by Rich Buckler. Nobody seems committed to this project but Singer, who liked to crow about getting top of the line talent. That may have been true of the pencil artists (including Pérez, who infamously struggled to tell anyone "no,") but he got those names by paying something like double their normal rates. Then he would dig up old journeyman inkers to muddy up the expensive pencils, followed by simplistic, garish coloring with poor separations printed on paper stock that made those bungles glaring. He had a great letter in John Workman providing some of the worst work of his career, with hand-written "typos" and flimsy "fixes," probably done on the sly. The most egregious deficiency was in the writing department, mostly handled by lesser lights, then-unknowns and never-wases. This issue's tale rushes to resolve as many plot points as possible in serviceable fashion, absent Cockrum's charm. The primary story is the ickiest fan service nonsense. The only interesting element is a conniving bureaucrat so completely lifted from Shooter's Avengers that he's even a ginger like Henry Peter Gyrich.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
George Pérez is exactly the caliber of artist you want for this type of project, especially given his history with the Deluxe volume. Getting proper inks and not doing the work while moonlighting from Crisis on Infinite Earths also means his work here is better than what he could offer in 1985. I appreciate that DC allowed the property to exist in real time, and to incorporate elements of many different incarnations (including some that were yet to be seen at this point.) As much as I enjoyed the five page history lesson, it's hard not to resent it taking until the fourth issue to be delivered instead of launching the series. I did like how well Cafu & Bit's art contrasted against Pérez, clearly delineating the return to contemporary narrative. I'm not as into Nick Spencer's talky-talky dialogue and irritating characters, but I'll give him credit for setting up a solid last page twist.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
With this issue, the main initial conflict is resolved. After decades of Guy Gilbert being a whiny little bitch about the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head, it's nice to see him as the non-costumed, assured Squad member of the early days at Tower. I don't think they've revealed who Lightning is in this volume, but his costume isn't too bad, and I'm curious to see what assuredly ill fortune awaits him. I'm okay with working the subterraneans in early, but they don't make much of an impression, especially with their primitive capabilities in comparison to the '60s version. I'm not at all into the new situation created for Dynamite, but nuDynamo got some needed backstory. Despite constantly reminding me of Ron Lim and early Paul Pelletier, the art of Andrea Di Vito grew on me, so it remains to be seen how I receive the replacement artist. I don't know if I ever mentioned it, but I also liked Rom Fajardo's colors. I still have to file the book under "fans only" though, unless you're flush enough to pay $4 for a safe, comfortable, '70s-80s style team book.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Walking Dead Volume 19: March To War (2013)

So, Walking Dead. Walking Dead, Walking Dead, Walking Dead. Fuck, it's gotten tough to get interested enough in this book to write about it. It's this comic about people who don't have working smart phones, so they start full contact LARPing over cans of ravioli. There's the Guy With A Tiger club, and the Pussy Posse, and the Greaser Warriors, and the Characters You Only Kinda Still Care About From The First Two Years That Haven't Died Already. There were these two newer Marty Sue characters that were getting on my nerves, but they take the piss out of Better Than Ezra and Charlie Adlard Thinks Jesus Looks Like a Hobo, so they're okay now. Andrew "Dice" Clay though-- man, they are shoving this asshole and his baseball bat right down everyone's throat. Comic book Andrea is still tougher and cooler than TV show Maggie, but the action movie sloganeering? And Rick is still a shit leader, regardless of medium.

This is boring. Let's talk about the TV show. I very much enjoyed the first half of season four. The storyline about a deadly infection running through the prison was strong. The super market set piece was innovative and exciting, while the various prison rampages certainly held my attention. Most of the other tangents were unsatisfying, but I did like the young couple Rick & Carol found in the suburbs. Michonne got back to human moments, instead of just serving as a stewing vehicle for vengeance. Tyreese was put in a situation where he continues to kinda suck, even dipping into Andrea 2.0 territory. Luckily, the flawed but valuable TV original Bob Stookey's struggles have rung truer. Beth Greene shocked everyone by becoming interesting by her sugarcoated nihilism. Carol's brutal pragmatism makes perfect sense for her character arc, and I'm hopeful it will be further explored in the future. Carl got dialed down in a necessary way, still cool if back to being a bit whiny. Rick Grimes remains the most boring character of the lot, but Glenn and Maggie seem to have joined him in development limbo. The season of course belonged to Hershel, the heart of the group and recipient of his character's finest moments this season.

The half-season pulled a Lost with the two episodes leading to the season break, and while I recognized the need to move certain pieces around to revive the threat of the Governor, it all felt like a retcon to fix the failings of the third season finale. In a very short span of time, new characters were introduced that improved on any featured citizen of Woodbury. After the interruption, the closing episode was all-killer, no-filler, leaving me greatly anticipating the resumption of the season tonight. The great thing about AMC's The Walking Dead is that it has already covered the best period of the comics, and looks to be course correcting for Robert Kirkman's missteps going back to 2009's Here We Remain. I'm already paying for cable, and the show gives me so much more pleasure these days, I'm looking forward to finally ending my too long bitching streak over these trades with #21.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wednesday is a Third of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. For All Anyone Cares #182

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (1966)
Blue Ribbon Comics #12 (1984)
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (1985)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (2011)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (2013)

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)
"Dynamo battles the Subterraneans" opens with a boss splash and a page that uses Len's boss to explain why working folk should hold Brown dear to their hearts. Dynamo is no James Bond-- just a capable regular guy put through the wringer by his employers for suffering the exact same whims of fate as most super-heroes. I also adore the "of its time" aspects, like references to '50s sci-fi/military programs or something as simple as Len's blazer. The story is too brief for the stakes, but it leaves you wanting more. Dan Adkins' pencils look enough like Wally Wood after embellishment that I couldn't tell any difference.

The handicapped villain in the NoMan segment would be more novel if you weren't distracted by the off-color joke possibilities of Vibraman. Maybe that's why it was reprinted in the last issue of the Tower series, which I picked up years before the DC Archive Edition was available to me. There's some nice bits, including a new wrinkle to NoMan's abilities. John Giunta's pencils are clearly more staid, but Woody and Coleman ink him back to model.

"Dynamo and the Menace of the Red Dragon" had the same creative team as the first tale and was also reprinted in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #20. It was in fact the last story Tower printed in the series, so it has a ringing finality in my mind that isn't reflected by its true chronology. Until I reach the true end of the series through these reviews, I guess "my" Agents ends with Len going out on a date. My sad little anecdote aside, I can't decide if it was topical or in poor taste that Dynamo goes to "Vietnesia" to save the superstitious soldiers from manipulation by the Commies. I wish the Red Dragon had been built up more, because I liked seeing an Agent battle a costumed foe on an even keel without somebody looking ridiculous. One thing this series was great at was multi-panel sequences that build up a moment, so that you don't forget the sense of wonder that comes with the Agents' powers.

Throughout the issue, there are pin-ups of the individual Agents that list basic details like physical features and abilities, a forerunner to Who's Who and OHOTMU. Each is sweet, though it's curious that Professor Dunn had a bust in his as a reminder of what he used to look like, but Menthor isn't shown without his mask. The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad had a group picture, then head shots with a short paragraph about each member. A page is also spent exploring the Thunderbelt.

"Invaders from the Deep" definitively moves me toward "poor taste" with regard to the handling of Asians here. They don't quite speak Pidgin English, but it's clipped in ways that come close. While the Dynamo story had reasonable facial features and skin tones, this one has Guy Gilbert volunteer his team to appear in black yellow grayface with Conan wigs and island skirts to foil a Nazi working with the Red Chinese. It's gross.

I was looking forward to "Dynamo vs. Menthor" going in and getting the full Marvel treatment, but felt robbed coming out. The "twist" was heavy handed up front, and Dynamo went down quickly, so it was more like "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. vs. Damage Control," hold the NoMan. Wally Wood being finished by other artists isn't as satisfying as Woody finishing them, and there was some wheel spinning. I did like the one panel where all of the current T.H.U.N.D.E.R. heroes are called before a council, though.

Blue Ribbon Comics #12 (Archie, 1984, $0.75)
Inker Willie Blyberg proved himself yet again with a swell cover all his own (and I couldn't help noticing parallels to Dave Sims' variant cover on the second IDW issue.) The interiors as penciled by Paul Bonanno are not as strong, but there are some solid money shots. On that note, the new Menthor's costume not only leaves her ass cheeks hanging out, but she's first pictured from behind and only wraps the exploitative poses once she's forced into an armored variant. The giant insects problem is solved much too easily, and then the real enemies show up with old continuity to prove they're 2Legit2Quit. Then they quit, because there's only 18 pages to clear out what would have been the JC Comics ongoing series in a special guest spot in what was normally Archie's solo Mighty Crusaders anthology. The opening premise had its meta-merits, but the new designs were leftover disco era casualties, and the whole affair was as underwhelming as the rest of the Archie Adventure Series the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were retroactively connected to.

After what I think was a fan letter from comics manly man Beau Smith, there's a ten page NoMan solo story drawn by Steve Ditko that should not have been written by Charlie Boatner, who only has nine non-JC credits to his entire comics career. Actually, it's a solid Dr. Moreau riff. I'm just pissed for all the name writers that would have loved to have worked with Ditko and never had Boatner's chance. Blyberg makes it one of the best looking post-prime examples of Ditko, with Bubastis in a pre-Watchmen cameo.

Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (Deluxe, 1985, $2.00)
David M. Singer's editorial covered the legal dispute over the property rights from his colored but colorful perspective, which was brave for ongoing litigation that was affecting the publication status of the book. Deluxe was getting a lot of negative press, but Singer does his best Stan Lee to minimize the damage and hype his product. It gets a bit too fannish once micro-reviews of Misfits of Science and Maxie pad out the back end, though I'll always congratulate a recommendation for The Comic Book Heroes.

After my backhanded comments about Dave Cockrum in previous issues, he showed up here to remind me that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was always at its best when driven by artists. Cockrum took over the scripting chores, resulting in a read that no longer feels like a chore. There's an anachronistic abundance of purple prose captions and gratuitous dialogue for 1985, but Cockrum embraces the right kind indulgence, with lots of cute character asides and intriguing foreshadowing adding value to the feature. Everybody expects artists to cut down on the verbiage, but they often seem to have so much pent up to say, it explodes. Cockrum throws a whole bunch of ideas out, setting up new characters and situations while enlivening those previously established. Most importantly, he's having fun, which translates to reader enjoyment.

John Workman provides a Phoenicia pin-up, recalling recent discussion of his rare moonlighting from lettering on WHO’S WHO: The Definitive Podcast of the DC Universe. I think it's swell, but a little weird to do a sexy drawing of George Pérez's wife, fictionalized or not.

I usually love Keith Giffen artwork from his Muñoz period (note to self: why haven't you read Muñoz yet?) but the Lightning strip features some of the worst of it. For instance, there's an ugly heroic splash on page two with a Liefeldesque disregard for lower extremities not remotely helped by a blood red border. Women are violently (and vilely) murdered across facing pages, but the storytelling and transition are so oblique that it took me a minute to figure out that there were two separate victims in two distant locations. Another splash, illustrating an explosion in a nondescript space involving only silhouettes of debris and an over-sized sound effect, fills a page while shabby exposition is left to explain its effects. The final page involves four small panels swimming in ugly purple negative space. There's a few amusing moments on one page that are in the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. spirit, but mostly Giffen and the Bierbaums succumb to the worst, most mean-spirited instincts of the day. It's kind of amazing they let him near Justice League after this, or perhaps, sadly not.

L.E.T.T.E.R.S. was kinda nuts, as four pages of bricked text communications unbroken by illustration gets heavy. Kim Thompson and Tony Isabella offer short missives, but it's mostly fanboys going on and on about the promise of the characters, the quality of the creators, and... paper stock/content-to-editorial-to-advertising ratios? Singer also has T.M.I. issues, with responses running as long as letters that involve cross-promotion and spoilers (Lightning to exit/die in #8; new Menthor to hit in #9, etc.) That could have deflated the book's momentum if it had survived past #5, but as it stands, I guess it was nice to know where they would have gone.

Finally, Steve Ditko returned for another NoMan story at a different publisher. Greg Theakston faithfully inked Ditko, probably with too much fidelity, since it's stiff and so light on detail that it looks like a licensed adaptation of an animated series for Star Comics. It's not bad, just simplistic. The story by Stephen Perry is alright, but there's not enough to justify it as a two-parter, and the Chief speaks to "Tony" in an overly familiar fashion. I do like the contrast to the treatment Len Brown received, though. I could also have an easier time seeing the play on the legend of the cyclops as clever if it hadn't been rendered through "Cyrano de Klopps." Ugh.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
NoMan is my favorite Agent, because he had the coolest look, neatest power set, and most inventive stories. This has been my least favorite of the Spencer issues so far, because he's writing Dr. Manhattan, the dullest of the Watchmen. The whole issue is dour and secretive to the point of being obtuse. It's too bad, because Cafu's art is especially nice this month, and the flashback material by Howard Chaykin looks like it was more fun to draw than to read. Also worth pointing out: three issues in, and half the characters on the cover haven't been properly introduced.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
I'm still put off by how old school conventional this series is, compared to the bolstering of the Agents' innovative esteem that the DC book managed. It's a late '70s Marvel team book played at half speed, but creatives Phil Hester and Andrea Di Vito are too agreeable to gripe over. I like most of the appropriated and tweaked character designs, though Iron Maiden's streamlining smooths out the edges just when she needed them most (plus her re-history stinks up the joint.) I do like the steady, appealing reintroductions of the cast though, and there's a great bit involving NoMan toward then end that would have fit right in at Tower.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday is Bulk Rate Back Stock Dark Fantasy License-y Score For All I Care #181

Angel & Faith Season 9 #7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #6
Crawling Sky #1
Robyn Hood: Wanted #1
Drew Hayes' Poison Elves #1 (2013)
Repossessed #1
Shahrazad #0
Son of Merlin #1
Vampirella #5, 6, & 8 (2011)
Spawn #220-222

Angel & Faith #7 (Dark Horse, 2012, $2.99)
I've seen maybe a third of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's 144 TV episodes, plus everything one gleans from nerd osmosis thanks to its vocal fan base. I'm reasonably familiar with that property. Of the spin-off series Angel's 110 episodes, I've seen... some? Maybe? I guess I'm kinda pretty sure at least one. J. August Richards is a guy I couldn't recognize on looks alone between his two episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is what I'm saying. So, jumping into the second comic book "season" of a team-up series with Faith seven issues in (and the second issue of a story arc,) I have to commend Christos Gage for a script that informed and engaged. There's a fair amount of exposition in the chapter to begin with, but that doesn't diminish interest in a look at Drusilla the (once) mad clairvoyant vampire's origins and altered life situation, as well as a returned figure from Faith's past. If I were more invested in this franchise, what I read here was good enough to warrant picking up the trade.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #6 (Dark Horse, 2012, $2.99)
In this case, I'm better familiar with the goings-on of a Whedonverse property, plus there's an amusing aping of '70s Blade comics, which doesn't hurt. This one was even more involved in backstory, as Buffy uses tales of the life of one slayer to help her reach a major life decision. Dark Horse has done an impressive job with this property, allowing a casual reader like myself to enjoy these stories more than the typical fare produced by the Big Two. Again, only my aversion to multimedia franchises keeps me from pursuing more.

Crawling Sky #1 (Antarctic Press, 2013, $3.99)
There was a time in the mid-to-late '90s when Joe R. Lansdale seemed like he was becoming a cottage industry in comics, and I'm sorry that wax turned to wane. I quite enjoyed most of those books, and while I didn't rush out to buy a $4 per issue black and white adaptation with his son Keith out of friggin' Antarctic Press, I've found myself pleased that the first issue came my way dirt cheap. This is quite the Texas jam, as everybody involved from publisher to talent are all from the Lone Star state, so there's some pride to be found in that. Appropriately and not unexpectedly, the tale is a horror western-- basically a well executed haunted house yarn. Brian Denham is an odd choice on art chores, as he plays with a more cartoonish style while still applying flashy Image flourishes. However, Lansdale stories have always been a bit left of center, and I'm pretty sick of the look of comic book horror being equated to Ben Templesmith. The first chapter satisfies, but I want for more, so I hope there's a trade forthcoming.

Grimm Fairy Tales presents Robyn Hood: Wanted #1 (Zenescope, 2013, $2.99)
Oh goody, it's time for me to carve a new nose on another Zenescope book! But wait-- a surprising twist-- I didn't hate this one! I know this is an unusually positive column, but I assure you that I haven't started doing heroin or employing Asian hookers to improve my reception. I just happened to have had a bunch of books lying around for months that didn't fit into review "themes" or my schedule overall. Anyway, the cover I got (one of three options) was by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau, about the only good thing to come out of the Red Circle line, and always a happy start in getting me to crack a cover. The interiors by Larry Watts are closer to serviceable, though Nick Filardi does what he can on the coloring front. You usually think of titillating cheesecake from this line, so maybe I need to keep an eye out for the exceptions. Pat Shand tells a solid introduction to the apparently continuing adventures of "Robyn Hood," a teenage runaway who finds her calling when she lands in a fantasy world in need of a thieving archer, but has since lost her niche by returning to a modern world where she's merely a criminal from the wrong side of the tracks. The dichotomy as played here is pleasing, since the "real" world undercuts the sillier, overblown fantasy one, while Robyn's shitty existence makes you root for her to escape again from her dreary circumstances.

Poison Elves #1 (Ape Entertainment, 2013, $2.99)
So much for that streak. Drew Hayes was a reasonably successful independently publishing cartoonist who moved his series (originally titled I, Lusiphur) to Sirius when it was flush with Dawn money and expanding. Seventy-nine issues later, Hayes halted production due to the health problems that eventually killed him at age 37. This series is a Frank Herbert sort of thing, where the creator's son handed over Hayes' story notes to new talent for a posthumous continuation. I sampled the Sirius series, and if it wasn't to my taste then, it's outright ipecac now. The whole issue is a host of unfamiliar characters expositing at one another reams of lore, including a narrator who should be parsing this shit out for us, but instead creates cognitive dissonance as his mere future tense presence is in conflict with the situations the past tense characters are wrangling with. It's everything I hate about fantasy storytelling with a veneer of kewl courtesy of cursing n' scars n' stuff. Just in case that didn't put you to sleep, there's another couple of text pages that synopsize the material referenced in all that painful dialogue. I have a headache and need to take a nap now.

Repossessed #1 (Image, 2013, $2.99)
Another one of those comic strips that reminds me of the stuff I churned out myself in notebooks during seventh grade math class. There's guns and tits and tough guys with indistinguishable personalities battling stock supernatural monsters with souped-up uzis (in 2013?) plus crude art and writing that makes me think English isn't JM Ringuet's first language. If that wasn't bad enough, I now have the theme song from a terrible 1990 Leslie Nielson vehicle stuck in my head.

Shahrazad #0 (Big Dog Ink, 2013, $1.99)
Seriously just a bunch of double page splashes barely linked together by some caption boxes. The "story," which contains no characters, dialogue or appreciable plot across ten pages, is appended with editorial content that attempts to convey the premise about as poorly.

Son of Merlin #1 (Image, 2013, $2.99)
This book was packaged by a minor production company and then trotted out by Top Cow is some sort of partnership likely meant to sniff after a movie/TV deal, so by all rights it shouldn't be the least bit good. I'm glad it was at least a bit good. Merlin and a bunch of other Arthurian characters are still getting up to shenanigans in the present day, until the famed wizard is compromised and his oblivious bastard son inherits his magic book. Nothing remotely groundbreaking, but Robert Napton's dialogue is pithy and Zid's digitally painted art suits the material.

Vampirella #5, 6, & 8 (Dynamite, 2011, $3.99)
I have been trying since "Morning in America" (and since before I realized that wasn't a Supertramp reference) to get into Vampirella, and it never takes, but some attempts come closer than others. This isn't one of those close ones. Eric Trautmann has mostly written ancillary Didio era DC titles (including event tie-in books and two Red Circle series) and books for Dynamite, whereas I as a reviewer use that type of material as a punching bag. He seems to be trying to do the serious Warren magazine take Archie Goodman made his name on, but it's too over the top and heavily influenced by later corny horror movies where it needs a comparatively subdued Hammer Films vibe. Wagner Reis recalls the same era's Neal Adams and Filipino Invasion artists, but owes as much to Harris' gritty cheesecake stable (Small/Buzz/Altstaetter/etc.) Reis tries to be scary or gross, but there's a glossiness he doesn't come close to overcoming, like Angie Everhart and Erika Eleniak in Bordello of Blood. #5-6 wrap a storyline where the heroine teams up with Dracula against a super-creepy-Lovecraftian-threat that comes across as a bunch of stale old horrors sewn together. Vampi is in (decidedly not) plainclothes like a trampy Kolchak having metaphysical discussions with her old bikini'd self, and it's the fully dressed Vampi that seems more ridiculous. #8 is the second part of some Japanese kabuki vampire bikers thing, with superior art by Fabiano Neves, by virtue of his calling bullshit on respectability and getting them titties in a Wonderbra. Vampi's still dressed like an urban cowgirl brandishing a gun though, so there's only so much the man has to work with. Trautmann's scripts seem embarrassed to have been married to this character, so you end up with a slut-shamed Vampi in a Buffy movie as directed by a Robert Rodriguez acolyte. I know that doesn't sound so bad now that I read over it, but go watch the From Dusk Til Down sequels on basic television and you'll see what I mean.

Spawn #220-222 (Image, 2012, $3.99 & #2.99s)
I took a long, hot, wet, steamy shit on Spawn #200, but I'm a glutton for punishment and novel cover homages, so I bought these issues cheap from my mail order distributor. Has any book as terrible as this ever lasted so long? I'm seriously sending a call out to the entire internet for someone to contact me for verification that a single solitary person on the planet Earth who does not bear a strong resemblance to the Bill Murray character in Little Shop of Horrors is receiving some measure of unironic, non-vindictive enjoyment out of the current run of Spawn. I found these three issues led to the unimpeachable diagnosis that this book suffers from creative leprosy. Sydney Mellon could come out of retirement and try to top the bottom this book has sunk to, and couldn't compete by sheer virtue of attempting to mine anything resembling a vein of storytelling that might appeal to himself, if not anyone else. I cannot believe that even Todd McFarlane and Szymon Kudranski derive any satisfaction from their culpability in producing this aesthetic hate crime. I imagine them like deranged Vietnam vets wearing necklaces of Cong ears, self-loathing and barely functioning, but still lethal due to their crushing fear of the eternity in Hell that awaits them for the atrocities they've committed. McFarlane's reputation is so toxic that in the current writer-driven industry, he's the the only person he could get to script this glacially-paced sludge. I imagine Kudranski in a Polish "hostel" bound in a Jigsaw Killer death trap and being forced to churn out page after page of hideous, barely comprehensible comic "art" on a com-poo-ter by tracing photographs from Google image search in MS Paint.

In #220, McFarlane tries to force the current narrative to fit into a rigid approximation of the page layout to Spawn #1, in honor of himself, and fuck the gimp who has to provide a loose approximation of "drawerings." My favorite section was the retrospective editorial material in the back, which reprints pages from Spawn #1 so you can see what a putrid shell the current incarnation is by comparison, as well as a four page timeline of highlights across the twenty years of publishing that effectively illustrates the steady decline, most glaringly through the absence of anything notable on the second two pages. #221 has Amazing Fantasy #15 cover swipe number seven-hundred-sixty-five, and continues a "letters page" motif where Todd answers random AMA questions instead of fielding letters of comment on the actual issues currently being published. Todd's "do-over" would be the David Hine run, since he felt it went too far afield from his preferences for the Spawn Universe by telling actual stories with resolutions instead of drifting endlessly without ever definitively addressing anything unless real life lawsuits force him to get rid of Chapel/Angela/Al Simmons/etc. I haven't wanted to slap the guy this bad since he became the worst ever guest on Talking Dead until Spawn Motion Picture Original Soundtrack recording artist/train wreck Marilyn Manson took that dubious prize like it was Mark McGwire's 63rd home run ball. McFarlane swipes one of his Venom covers from the '80s for #222, and there's a "become a character in Spawn" winner who's an Eminem looking motherfucker a decade and change past its freshness date. The overarching story is that White Spawn finds some file folders and gets some exposition from the action figure Tremor and might have been the head of the Spawniverse's Weapon X and everyone shut the fuck up right goddamned now!


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