Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1984 – The X-Men and the Micronauts

X-Men and the Micronauts miniseries- #1-4
Writer(s): Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo
Artists: Butch Guice/Bob Wiacek/Kelly Jones

This miniseries, which is actually more of a crossover since it features two teams that each had their own titles at the time, was collaboratively written by regular series writers Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo. I wasn’t a big Micronauts fan, but I had enjoyed a few issues of the original series, particularly the ones featuring the Michael Golden art. However, I was an X-Men fanatic, so I had no choice but to pick up this miniseries.

This limited series was targeted at your typical X-Men fan with an angle to try and sell you on the Micronauts. A disproportionate amount of time is spent on the Micronauts, their characteristics and origins, which is clearly intended to try and hook the X-Men reader. It was also nice to see the New Mutants used in such a prominent role. Butch (Jackson) Guice and Bob Wiacek, with some help from by Kelly Jones, provide some great and versatile artwork that captured the look and feel of both teams.

The Microverse is threatened by a formidable enemy that has the Micronauts and their archenemy Baron Karza fight side-by-side. The Micronauts are defeated by the Entity, but Karza and the Bioship escape and end up at the X-Men’s mansion. Karza convinces the X-Men to return with him to face the Entity. The Entity, however, is ready for them and defeats them using the mind- controlled Micronauts. Professor X is drawn into the battle only to discover that his emotions and rage are actually powering the Entity. Together with Professor X, the X-Men and Micronauts destroy the Entity.

The X-Men and the Micronauts was a refreshing twist on the typical super hero team-up which usually began with a senseless battle over some kind of misunderstanding. Claremont and Mantlo cleverly send one team’s archenemy, Baron Karza in this case, against the other super hero team. The Baron Karza and Kitty Pride mind switch worked well as a plot device. I found it odd that Professor X would just have shrugged off the irreparable damage his dark side had done to the Microverse. If there had been an attempt made by the X-Men to help rebuild, I might have been a bit more satisfied. Keep in mind that none of the events that take place here have ever been brought up again in any X-Men title. And that’s probably due to the Mircronauts licensing. It would have been interesting to have Kitty being haunted by her experiences as Baron Karza or at least express some discomfort at having her body taken over by him.

Nevertheless, as a standalone miniseries, it's rather solid and stands the test of time well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

1980s goodness from the December 2009 solicitations


It’s been a long lively life for Natasha Romanova – in the Avengers, the Champions, S.H.I.E.L.D. and elsewhere – but could it end with her surrounded by international assassins? Old enemies and new are using her instructor, her mentor and her ex-husband against her – or so it seems – but who and what can be trusted in a spy’s landscape of lies? Guest-starring Nick Fury, Jimmy Woo and other espionage experts! Collecting MARVEL FANFARE (1983) #10-13; BIZARRE ADVENTURES #25 and BLACK WIDOW: THE COLDEST WAR GN. 176 PGS $24.99

Written by DENNY O'NEIL

He's lost his armor and his fortune, but not his nerve! Tony Stark's back on his feet after everything Obadiah Stane has thrown at him, but now the bilious billionaire is taking away Stark's friends...one of them forever! The enmity spanning more than thirty issues ends in a steel-plated slugfest from which only one can walk away! Plus: vision quests and extradimensional intrigue! Madame Masque and Thundersword! And the debut of the Scourge of the Underworld! Guest-starring the West Coast Avengers! Collecting IRON MAN (1968) #193-200. 208 PGS. $29.99


Iron Man stuck in time and Dazzler stuck in space! Elektra lives, Yellowjacket dies! The FF if they never got powers and Nova if he never lost them! Mortals, mutants and monsters — plus early yet brief resurrections of Phoenix and Captain Marvel, along with many other alternate oddities! All part of Marvel's sixth collection of quantum continuity! Secrets of past, future and sideways revealed! Featuring Howard the Duck, Obnoxio the Clown, Aunt May and more! Collecting WHAT IF? #33-38. 240 PGS. $29.99

1988 - Daredevil

Daredevil #250-261
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artists(s): John Romita Jr./Al Williamson

Ann Nocenti’s run on Daredevil, in my humble opinion, was as memorable as Frank Miller’s Born Again story line. Nocenti was well known at the time since she was the editor of The Uncanny X-Men, Marvel’s most popular title, and she had decent writing credentials having done a few fill-ins and limited series, including Longshot. Her first issue was Daredevil #236, but the title didn’t get a stable art team until issue #250 which is where her memorable run on Daredevil really began.

John Romita Jr. signed on as the regular penciller and was joined by legendary EC Comics artist Al Williamson, who provided the inks. This new creative team would go on to chronicle Daredevil’s adventures for over two years.

While Frank Miller can be viewed as the definitive Daredevil writer, Nocenti had quite a task ahead of her. Nocenti brought her own unique feel to the book with strong, emotional characters and her poetic prose:

“Invisible poisons. They walk among us. Poison lives, all it touches ... dies. Poison doesn’t know it’s poison. It simply does what it has to do to survive. It does what id does best. That’s why they call it poison. The carriers. The poisoned. They walk among us. Typhoid! Touch her. She’s the best.” (Daredevil #254, page 1).

She also used the book as a means to convey social commentaries about pressing issues of the 1980s: the threat of a nuclear holocaust and the abuse of our environment. Her approach was trailblazing in the mid 1980s as opposed to now when it’s in fashion to be environmentally aware. I can’t think of another comic book at that time that made me think this much. At times though, these commentaries could come across a bit too heavy-handed. In one respect, she might want to make sure that the point got across, but on the other I feel that she should have erred on the side of subtly. She boldly ventured into a moral gray area and had Matt and Karen living together without being married which I think was a Marvel first.

She explored Daredevil’s dual role with the law as a lawyer and a vigilante, dancing back in forth along the fine line as a hero and a moral bully. Daredevil’s unrelenting instincts for justice and the accompanying frustration with upholding the law are what defined Matt Murdock. Nocenti proved rather versatile as she allowed Murdock to both flex his muscle as Daredevil and to put his legal talents to use in a court of law.

Her Daredevil symbolized a man just doing his best to rise above, to remain pure. She leveraged Stan Lee’s famous angst formula and put Murdock through some intense internal conflict. In issue #257, Daredevil faced off against the Punisher and Nocenti used this conflict to contrast the two extremes of vigilantism.

Nocenti peeled away the psychological layers of Daredevil’s enemies: Kingpin’s obsessive compulsion to have Murdock destroyed; Typhoid Mary’s conflicted dual personality; and Bushwacker’s amorality as he hunts down his fellow mutants. Nocenti did a wonderful job humanizing her villains. Her own creation, Bullet, doesn’t see himself as a villain, but just a man doing what he needs for his son.

John Romita Jr.’s art was outstanding. I enjoyed his early art on The Amazing Spider-Man and then followed him onto The Uncanny X-Men, but his art here shows a lot of maturity and style. However, let’s not underplay the detailed line work of veteran artist Al Williamson whose inks added texture and coarseness to the finished product.

Nocenti tended to use a human approach to story rather than action oriented and focus on Matt Murdock rather than Daredevil. Her experience as an editor clearly taught her that a good story involves a lot of conflict, and Daredevil had his hands full dealing with all the conflicts she threw at him.

She also succeeded at pulling off unpredictable and original stories that took Daredevil out of his familiar urban milleu. For a while, he became a wandering hero like Kung Fu or the TV version of the Incredible Hulk, traveling from town to town, lending a hand where he could.

Monday, September 14, 2009

1984 – Machine Man miniseries

Machine Man 4 issue miniseries
Writer: Tom DeFalco (issue # co-plotted by Barry Windsor-Smith)
Artist(s): HerbTrimpe (breakdowns) and Barry Windsor-Smith (finished art)

Jack Kirby’s creation, Machine Man, first appeared in the movie tie-in 2001: A Space Odyssey #8. Machine Man earned his own series in early 1978, but it would be canceled after 19 issues. All you really need to know is that Machine Man is the only survivor of a secret US military robot project. Machine Man eluded the US military and did he best to become human, which were his creator’s final words who had died saving him.

This limited series takes place in a distopian, corporate future, where a group of technology raiders, known as the "Midnight Wreckers" recover the disassembled remains of Machine Man from a Baintronics dump. They reassemble him and reactivate Machine Man. He makes an immediate impact helping defeat the Baintronics agents sent to capture the Wreckers. Machine Man finds his older partner Gears Gavin alive and leading the raiders against Baintronics. Machine Man joins their cause and confronts Sunset Bain, who pits Arno Stark, the Iron Man of 2020 after him. Machine Man defeats Stark and forces Bain to capitulate. He discovers that Jocasta is still alive, but serving Bain.

The future in which this story takes place has not been set as the “true” Marvel Universe future and should be considered an alternate future. The plot is awkward and had little character development. It seemed like all Machine Man did was react to what was going on around him, rather than take on any kind of role where he would search out for a place in this new world. Machine Man’s quest to become human, or at least accepted as human, was completely ignored.

DeFalco didn’t really handle either of the relationship very well, such as the conflict between Bain and Machine Man or Machine Man and Jocasta. DeFalco also ignores the rest of the Marvel Universe in this future which might have served to liven up the story and add some depths to it. Unfortunately, the new supporting characters are stereotypes and quickly forgotten. This story seemed to have all the proper ingredients, but they just were mixed together and used to their potential.

The finished art by Barry Windsor-Smith is breathtaking and lavish and rises above Trimpe’s stiff breakdowns.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Comics shipping this week - September 16th

Two hardcovers from the 1980s shipping this week:

Hercules Prince Of Power HC Premiere Edition
Always loved Layton's Hercules miniseries. It had that fun feel to it that the current Incredible Hercules also has. Too bad this HC collection doesn't reprint the graphic novel that featured one of his offsprings trying to kill him. The whole series take place in what could be called a What If? future Marvel Universe. Definitely a fun playground. Keep an eye for this one though. It's a great read.

Thor - Balder The Brave HC Premiere Edition
Being a huge Simonson Thor, any spin-off was instantly picked up. I recall being disappointed that Simonson hadn't done the art, which would have been tough to do as Simonson was writing and drawing the core Thor title. However, Sal Buscema, one of Marvel's more prolific and reliable artists, was more than up to the challenge. His art was so good on this series I was actually happy he had eventually taken over the art chores on Thor.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

1984 – Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
4 issue miniseries
December 1984 - June 1985

Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artists: Don Perlin/Kim DeMulder

The Beauty, Dazzler, is trying to deal with the fallout from the public revelation that she’s a mutant. Desperate to reclaim her fame and fortune, Dazzler signs up to sing for what she believes is an underground entertainment company, but as it turns out, it’s actually an underground gladiatorial arena where mutants fight to the death in front of wealthy spectators.

Just as the Beast took a vacation from the Defenders during this miniseries, the art team of Don Perlin and Kim DeMulder dropped in from their regular gig on that book as well to draw this four issue miniseries. Unfortunately, the art just isn’t all that good. The panels are hard to follow and the action sequences are stiff and lack any of kind of flow.

The Beast does his best to free Dazzler, both physically and emotionally, but finds himself in tough as he ends up falling in lover with her.

By the third issue, things really start to unravel and the plot falls apart as Alexander Von Doom (one of Doom’s offsprings) feels the need to assert himself as a power player in this underground arena as a means to demonstrate his worthiness to take on his father.

Obviously playing on the fable, this miniseries seemed more of a gimmick than anything else. By the fourth issue, I was just skimming and couldn’t invest anymore time in this series. I had to check and re-check that Ann Nocenti, one of my favorite writers from the 1980s, actually penned this miniseries.

Disappointing all around. Some miniseries are best left in the 1980s and this is one of them.

Unfortunately, this miniseries isn’t the last we see of the mutant arena and its gladiators as it played a prominent role in the New Mutants (circa New Mutants #29, July 1985).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

1981 - Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends

During the fall of 1981, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends splashed onto NBC’s Saturday morning cartoon scene. Being a huge fan of the 1967 Spider-Man series, this show blew me away. While the 1967 explored Spider-Man and his rogues gallery, this new series broadened Spider-Man’s universe to include several other Marvel heroes, like Hulk, Captain America, and the X-Men. The theme song, while not as catchy and classic as “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man”, was also wonderful and still imparts that nostalgia every time I heard it.

This series was also more about Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Firestar and Iceman. Firestar made her debut in this TV series and would make her first in-continuity appearance in Uncanny X-Men #193 (May 1985) which was followed up by the Firestar four issue miniseries.

Interestingly, the cartoon was originally to have included the Human Torch rather than Firestar. However, the same legal issues that dogged Marvel with the Fantastic Four cartoon (and replacing the Torch with Herbie) forced the change to Firestar.

The voice actor for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Dan Gilvezan also provided the voice of the Autobots Bumblebee and Hot Spot and the Decepticon Snapdragon in the original 1984 Transformers cartoon. Not to mention that Dan guest starred live on many 1980s TV shows like Moonlighting, Newhart, ALF, and recently on Boston Legal.

The only thing that I despised was Ms. Lion. I don’t mind animal, I have a cat. What was it with Saturday morning cartoons and those cute sidekick, cutesy characters, like Scrappy Dappy Do (from Scoopy Dooby Doo) and Godzuki (from Godzilla)?

Little known facts:

- Dick Tufeld narrated Season 1 while Stan Lee did Season 2 and 3; during the re-runs of Season 1, Stan Lee narration was dubbed over Tufeld.

- Wolverine spoke with an Australian accent.

- Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends #1 (December 1981), a one-shot that adapted the pilot episode, "The Triumph of the Green Goblin". This issue was reprinted in 1989 as Marvel Action Universe #1.

- Spider-Man Family: Amazing Friends #1 was put out in the late summer of 2006 to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary.

Here’s breakdown of the episodes by season. If you want a synopsis of each issue, check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Spider-Man_and_His_Amazing_Friends_episodes

Season #1

#1 “The Triumph of the Green Goblin"
#2 "The Crime of All Centuries"
#3 "The Fantastic Mr. Frump"
#4 "Sunfire"
#5 “Swarm”
#6 "7 Little Superheroes"
#7 "Videoman"
#8 "The Prison Plot"
#9 "Spidey Goes Hollywood"
#10 "The Vengeance of Loki!"
#11 "Knights and Demons"
#12 "Pawns of the Kingpin"
#13 "The Quest of the Red Skull"

Season #2

#14 "The Origin of The Iceman"
#15 "Along Came Spidey"
#16 "A Fire-Star Is Born"

Season #3

#17 "Spider-Man Unmasked!"
#18 "The Bride of Dracula!"
#19 "The Education of a Superhero"
#20 "Attack of the Arachnoid"
#21 "The Origin of the Spider-Friends"
#22 "Spidey Meets the Girl From Tomorrow"
#23 "The X-Men Adventure"
#24 "Mission: Save the GuardStar"

For some reason, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends - The Complete Seasons 1-3 box set was released only in the UK with no North American release in plan. Guess there must have been a lot of UK Spidey fans? I’d love to pick up that DVD set as well as the Incredible Hulk series that launched soon after.

For more information about the show, including taking a moment to sign their online petition to get the show on DVD here in North America, check out: http://www.spider-friends.com/index.html

So despite the campy 80s dialog, despite the continuity problems, and despite Ms Lion, this show will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m getting a kick out of watching these episodes with my four-year-old daughter!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Meeting Erin Gray at Fan Expo 2009

What a great show this year. Got a ton of books signed. Met Len Wein, JM Stracynski, Olivier Coipel, Marko Djurdevic, Chris Bachalo, and Mike Deodato Jr.

However, the highlight was meeting Erin Gray.

It was the last day of the Fan Expo and I was wandering about taking a few pictures before the show opened to the public. Walking along the celebrity signing area, I spotted Erin Gray and meekly walked over to her table. She greeted me with a smile and I asked to take her picture. She said yes, but she’d like a $5 donation for charity. I pulled out my wallet faster than a gunslinger of the Old West and handed over the $5. She came around the table and I asked one of the Fan Expo staff to take our picture.

She put her arm around me and you can tell by the smile on my face how surprised I was. After the pictures, I thanked her and expected to get out of her way. With all sincerity, she shook my hand and asked my name. I stammered an answer.

We just started talking about Buck Rogers and how the space vampire episode had scared me as a kid. She was told me that many other guys my age had complained about that episode. She laughed about it and told me the whole cast thought the show was so campy they were surprised that the episode had scared so many people.

I finally excused myself knowing she had to get her table ready as the doors were opening to the public in a few minutes. I thanked her and walked away with a grin and a skip in my step. Such a classy lady.


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