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Alien(s) Day 2018

April 26, 4/26–chosen for the planet designation LV-426 where the Alien was found and then the larger outbreak in Aliens–marks the day to observe the franchise.

For my part…sharing my latest shelf configurations!

aliens_shelf_04262018

I believe I have all of the Aliens paperback novels at this point. Including the Predator stuff, I’m still missing a Predator Omnibus from Titan; but I’m not in a huge rush to get that. There’s also a Predator counterpart to the Aliens: Bug Hunt volume; but again, not in a rush to get that.

Along with the books themselves on the shelves, I’ve got the various Pops and Mystery Minis and Minimates and whatnot. Seems the most appropriate place for the figures to be!

aliens_gn_shelf_04262018

Along with the various paperback novels, of course I have a number of comics volumes for Aliens, Predator, and Aliens vs. Predator. And rather than have them lost in with everything else, I opted to move my Blu-rays to this shelf (with the added benefit that they help keep everything standing up for the moment). I was counting on a matching volume to the Fire and Stone stuff with Life and Death, but never having seen anything about a hardcover and recently-ish seeing a paperback…I’m quite disappointed at the lack of proper "library edition" volume.

With my recent reconfiguring of the entire "comics space" I wasn’t able to find a good way to have the novels together with the graphic novels…so they are actually completely different bookcases in different parts of the overall space. I imagine I’ll get into more on that whenever I get to actually re-photographing the entire space and shelves and working up a huge post showing it all off!

aliens_day_2018

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #1

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0001Budget Cuts

Writers: Tom Mason, Len Strazewski
Artists: David Ammerman, James Pascoe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I’ve long been familiar with this title, and especially this debut issue’s cover. Of course, that’s on the surfacey level. Actually READING the thing? I don’t know if I had ever read this. It’s possible that I’d only read a later issue or two, or perhaps only known the character from appearances in other titles (such as Prime and Ultraforce) as well as the Ultraforce cartoon…and of course, I love the design. ’90s though it may be, it’s got something to it that I always liked!

We were actually first exposed to the notion of Prototype back in the pages of Prime #1. One of the news briefs in that issue referenced Prototype being injured and possibly killed, and a statement from Ultratech’s Stanley Leland.

As this issue opens, we seem to be getting more info about that particular incident, where Bob Campbell (Prototype) was helping test weapons systems in the armor, and the situation went wrong, costing him his arm, job, and way of life. This opening scene turns out to be a dream/nightmare (rather than "just" flashback) as we find ourselves back in the present with Bob, now with a prosthetic arm, living alone with his cat. We cut to a couple PDAing in the street, when they run afoul of some large, green bulked-up guy screaming about and trying to find Ultratech. As he bellows to Ultratech and Leland that "Glare" is coming, we cut to Leland giving a presentation regarding Prototype…and this includes the NEW Prototype literally bursting onto the scene. While newer, sleeker, and perhaps more powerful, we get hints that this newer armor isn’t truly complete, as it’s still got issues…we also later get hints that it’s also causing its new wearer–Jimmy Ruiz–issues. Leland and his crew make the best of the presentation, despite Campbell trying to make a scene, and then Ruiz having to fly into action against Glare. We get several pages of the new Prototype vs. Glare, and then a mysterious intervention by Leland’s assistant before a crowd around the scene of the battle accuse Prototype of killing the guy.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that after the Black September stuff (essentially the Ultraverse‘s "reboot," which happened a couple years into the universe’s existence) the original Prototype, Bob Campbell, was Prototype again. Of course, I’d only really known Jimmy Ruiz, and as I type this, off the top of my head I can only really think that was due to Prime #4 and Ultraforce stuff. Seeing Campbell get more involvement in this issue makes me suspect he was a more important (and perhaps rounded) character than I’d thought. It’s also likely that somehow he was blended in my mind–in part–with Justin Hammer and the scene of Hammer’s failed attempts of duplicating Tony Stark’s armor in Iron Man 2.

This issue drops us into some action right away while contextualizing and expanding on the blurb we’d gotten in Prime #1. We see Campbell and where he is now/what his life is like; then we get the introduction of a villain-figure, move to the introduction of the new Prototype, while getting the seeds of some likely problems to come; we see how Campbell is treated by his former employer, we get to see the new Prototype in action beyond the "staged" stuff, and we’re left with a cliffhanger and to wonder where the kid stands on the matter of killing an opponent, wanting to be a superhero, his lack of training, etc.

In short, we’re introduced to key players, given context and development, and left with something to bring us back for a second issue.

Visually, this is a solid issue; I enjoyed it overall, and would really have to dig to find stuff I’d be able to cite as a problem. This is–and looks like–a ’90s comics (considering it IS one, that’s to be expected!). Probably one of the more standout elements to me is the design of the two Prototype armors–Bob Campbell’s, and the one worn by Jimmy Ruiz. The Campbell armor is large and bulky–an easy comparison for me is to the Iron Man "Hulkbuster" armor; while the Ruiz armor is a very sleek and slim "Iron Man Lite" armor that looks like pieces of armor on a skintight bodysuit.
This felt like reading a new issue for the first time…at most, I suspect this would be the second time I’ve actually read the issue. And for it feeling like the first time, it was a good issue. Since this is the first issue…it’s of course a great one to start with, to jump in on…and if you like Iron Man for the cool armor and tech stuff, this is definitely an issue to grab from a bargain bin! Heck, this is one that would be worth getting from a bargain bin for the cover alone, if you’re of a mind to display comics.

I look forward to reading the subsequent issues of this title and getting more context for the characters involved…all the more as I know the character crosses over with Prime "next month" in the fourth issue of that series. This is well worth 25-50 cents, and since it’s a first issue, if you’re curious about the character, I’d say even $1 is not bad to start at the beginning with this character!

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The Weekly Haul: Week of April 18, 2018

With my Ultraverse Revisited project in full swing, and throwing up a review for Action Comics #1000 last week, here it is nearly another New Comic Book Day and I’m just now getting to last week’s haul!

weeklyhaul_04182018a

Because of the intentional delay/coordination for Action Comics 1000 to release for the actual 80th anniversary of Superman, we actually have two Superman books this week. I believe this is the final issue of this iteration of Superman itself, and we now have to wait for DC Nation and Man of Steel before the titles start back up in July.

I’m way behind on reading Batman but was able to enjoy this issue quite well. It’s the first chapter of a story involving Booster Gold. And I’ll just say that Batman on the cover stating that Booster Gold must die? He’s got a darned good reason, though Booster seems a bit out of character to me for developments over the past 10-11 years or so that I’ve read/internalized.

We also have the final issues of Super Sons and Deadman, as well as the latest issue of Mister Miracle…all three of which I have got to get caught up on reading!

weeklyhaul_04182018b

Big TMNT week for me, with Batman/TMNT II, TMNT Universe, and TMNT #81.

And then several more of the True Believers reprints…basically the only way I’m intending to buy much in the way of “new Marvel” for awhile/at all. And I actually regret the Infinity Incoming, as that reprints an issue I regret buying in its original form! However, the Rebirth of Thanos reprints an EXCELLENT, nostalgic issue of Jim Starlin‘s Silver Surfer and I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading it this way. I’m also not overly keen on Thanos Rising, but enjoyed that digitally so this gives me a print edition now.

I’m hoping the new comics for April 25 aren’t too plentiful or expensive…but we’ll see how that works out!

weeklyhaul_04182018_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Early House Ads July 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Here are house ads from the second month of the Ultraverse line: July 1993! We have two with dates, one without…and then the "Ultrafiles" pages which were all the same this month across all five titles.

ultraverse_ads_prototype

I’m pretty sure that this one for Prototype is my favorite of the month’s ads. There’s just something to the design of the armor that I really like, and I swear this scanned image doesn’t do the print version justice…there’s just something I really like about the coloring. And as with many ads for comics, I really, really like the fact that the promo image basically IS the cover of the first issue. This shows us the character, as well as the image to look for to get the actual comic itself!

Helpful as the "text boxes" may have been on the first round of ads, I find the "tagline" format to be more effective here, making the ad more of a poster image than something in a pamphlet.

ultraverse_ads_exiles

Fighting to Save Themselves From Mankind and Mankind From Itself. Another large-font, central sort of tagline for a new title. Exiles gave us another super-team (seemed the Ultraverse was full of those!) and definitely has a very ’90s look from the ad.

ultraverse_ads_rune

Lacking both tagline AND text box, we have this add with some character and the small Rune logo serving almost as a signature, with the large-text format of Barry Windsor-Smith. This also lacked any date. So we had this image of something called Rune, associated with BWS, and based on other ads, one would only assume this was another title or such "coming soon."

Of course, years later, it’s interesting to look back on it, especially knowing that October 1993 became "Rune Month" with a 3-page story-chunk as flipbooks to the month’s issues, that collectively made up the contents to a Rune #0 issue, with coupons to send away for the standalone #0 issue as its own thing. But more on that in posts to come, as the house ads get closer to the ‘event’ itself.

ultrafiles_july1993a

Where text was swapped out for the Ultrafiles pages to make them unique to each title in the June 1993 issues, for July 1993 they seemed to all be exactly the same, and show all 5 titles out for Ultraverse month #2. The first page (above) is the "Ultratorial #2."

ultrafiles_july1993b

…while the second Ultrafiles page has quick quotes from the creators on the two new additions to the line: Freex and Mantra.

I really like these pages as a common piece across all titles, as well as the "checklist" of showing the covers of the month’s issues. And again, this was a time when the vast majority of comics DID only have one cover…or the "variant" was some sort of spot-coloring or foil in place of color or the presence or not of a UPC box. Not completely different art pieces!

Essentially, the issues thus showed off all of the current month’s titles, plus most of the  issues had full-page ads for the next month’s new series’ debuts. One would not even need the internet or such to know what they’re looking for in shops; one has what one needs from the actual single issue…NO "homework" required.

ultraverse_early_house_ads_july1993_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #2

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0002Hey! Hugh! Get Off’a McCloud!

Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Rick Hoberg
Inkers: Tim Burgard, Larry Welch
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue opens with an anecdote that also proves to be the issue’s title…then shifting to our group of strangers in an aircraft, heading for a cloud that the strange woman from the first issue disappeared to. They reflect on the events of the previous issue (in a page-ish on-panel/page recap). They then come up with a plan for compensating for screwed up sensors in Dave using his yellow flame to fly, and manually guide them. The group finds an entire island in the sky, surrounded by the cloud! After a rough landing, the group is captured, and eventually are able to communicate with the inhabitants of the island (after a battle that threatens the airworthiness of the island), and seem to have more questions then they started with. The leader of the island’s inhabitants suggests that "searching for the reason IS the reason" regarding their seeking how they all got these powers, and so on. As he "assigns" the woman–Yrial–to the team and sends them on their way, they determine they’ll call themselves what they started out as: The Strangers! Meanwhile, we get some token development regarding a likely soon-to-be villain.

This issue (as I’m likely to be saying about many, many Ultraverse issues in the coming weeks/months) is "VERY ’90s" in tone. It’s got what–especially by contemporary comics–is a choppy story with rather quick and convenient plot points (and plot jumps), with some familiar tropes. We have a bunch of people who don’t know each other but suddenly got powers working together–some token disagreement, but conveniently working well together. We have a random flying island manned by a group that knows way more than our heroes, but won’t clue them in, saying they’ve gotta find the information themselves. And we have a group assembled and an additional person arbitrarily added to the group that must be accepted…for the heckuvit. And we still don’t really have any answers, just a slightly wider world that now not only includes a bunch of people hit by lightning developing super powers, but an ancient people with a flying island over the United States and the US Government apparently doesn’t know/hasn’t done anything about it.

Story-wise, this works…I’m not completely enamored with the title as of this second issue, but it’s still early; and I’m much more familiar with the likes of Prime and Mantra, with the Strangers as a blind spot…so while I’m eager to get back to familiar stuff, this is new for me. It’s "only" the second issue, and we have a superhero team starting to work with each other, coming together…so it’s going to be continued development. I don’t believe I’d known prior that Yrial was "assigned" against her own choice to participate in the team…I must have thought she was "just another" of the people on the cable car.

Visually this is a solid issue. It "looks" like a ’90s comic, and I could do without some of the layouts…but at least the main double-page splash of the group suddenly coming to the island is something that arguably serves the story–showing the sheer enormity of the island, adding to its spectacle as something floating over Los Angeles. This is a colorful comic, not least of which is thanks to Dave and his multiple colored flames and extended "yellow flame" learning-to-fly sequence. No huge complaints or anything for this issue.

Given what I do know of the Strangers, I would not recommend this issue completely stand-alone. It works well as a 2nd issue…but especially as ONLY the 2nd issue, I can’t think of any reasonable reason to seek this out in isolation on its own without the first issue; and ideally along with the first and next issue to be a bigger chunk of overall story. That said, I’d definitely consider this a bargain bin comic, and wouldn’t recommend paying more than $1 if it can be helped; and ideally 25-50 cents.

I’m curious to see the further development of this group of characters, though not as much as I am in Prime or Mantra. Given those were two of my favorite Ultraverse books as they came out, that I mostly kept up with, I recognize my bias even as I can’t honestly or with proper authenticity rid myself of it. Those were my favorite titles, so delving back in, I want to get back to what I enjoyed…forcing myself to read other titles is–while starting out–forcing myself to read other titles I haven’t read and don’t have a singular interest in. This isn’t a bad issue, but it hasn’t immediately become a favorite for me or anything like that.

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Action Comics #1000 [Review]

action_comics_1000From the City That Has Everything

Writer/Artist: Dan Jurgens
Inker: Norm Rapmund
Color: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh

This is the “primary” story of the issue–a sort of stand-alone “finale” to Jurgens-and-Co.’s run the last couple of years and 45-some issue run. We open on a narration/captions of Jon Kent and Lois talking, against imagery of Superman battling a Khund warship. Jon’s worried his Dad won’t get here in time, as Lois reassures him he’ll be here. As Clark arrives, Lois reminds him that people just want to thank him. We see that they’re at a Thank You, Superman presentation in the park–Metropolis has gathered to try to offer thanks to Superman, though knowing they can’t begin to cover it. Amidst various testimonials of how Superman has impacted and saved folks, Clark keeps thinking he sees further traces of a Khund invasion…perhaps just looking for an excuse to get away from this presentation. Eventually, the crowd gets to see Superman fly into action, as Clark can’t ignore his senses. He finds Wonder Woman, who reveals that there was indeed a major Khund incursion…but it’s been handled. By everyone. Even his fellow heroes are fans, and thank Superman for his role in everything. Without him, none of them would likely be there.

On its surface, this is a rather cheesy story of little substance. There’s some presentation to honor Superman, and he’s avoiding it. Then, alllll the other heroes are there as well, because they wish to honor him, too.

Neat and simple, right? Evocative of classic Silver Age stories (to me), and not terribly deep.

But back to “on its surface.”

See, this is the 1,000th issue of Action Comics. 80 years of Superman. This is a major event, a one-issue spectacular. An anthology of sorts with numerous shorter stories making up the whole. It’s a standalone issue, something that draws from and can influence other stuff, but it’s not truly coming off any To Be Continued… message. It’s (as an issue) not leading directly into anything. It’s expected that this will be read where the previous few issues, or dozens of issues, or even hundreds of issues, have not been read.

There’s loads of “meta” to this–as a story, and as part of the issue.

This Superman–Dan Jurgens‘ Superman–comes from a take on the character where Clark Kent is the man, and Superman is a “mask.” This Superman is Clark Kent…who does what’s right because it is right–not to show off, not for accolades and recognition–and is actually rather uncomfortable being the center of attention. And we get to see that…as we get to see a bit of Lois’ personality. She teases him for trying to get out of the ceremony, but we come to see that she’s the one that spearheaded the gathering of the heroes, and helped coordinate with Batman and the others to “cover for” Superman, so that he could have this day, this event. We also see Jon, the son, both AS the Son of Superman and as a kid. Not fully understanding everything going on, loving his dad but not sure if he’ll make it, and an eagerness to stand in for him, recognizing the importance of the situation and wanting to live up to the family tradition.

I knew going in that Norm Rapmund was involved with the art…and I was loving the art all through the story. There was something extra familiar about it, though, that had a slight smile trying to escape me as I read it, but I couldn’t quite place it. Until I looked consciously at the credits for the story and realized why the art seemed that much more familiar and was evoking such a reaction in me: Jurgens on the pencils. Of course! Regardless of conscious realization in words, on sight I had recognized the (somehow UNexpected) presence of work by probably my favorite Superman artist!

Superman reluctantly accepts the recognition…somewhat awkwardly. The final spread with all the heroes and fans and such…metatextually, real-world…without Superman, there probably would NOT have been any of these other heroes. Certainly nowhere near as many, and probably not even a comics industry.

This story is a send-off of sorts from Jurgens–capping off his run, as well as recognizing and thanking Superman.

And for one such as me–a 30-year-fan of Superman, introduced to him when I was but 7 years old–this is a powerful piece, meaningful and deep, and moving…and if one has to put a one-off story as a capstone to a run, that stands alone and evokes the past, has elements from the run, but isn’t beholden to it and all that…this does it well, and is a worthy opening to Action Comics #1000!

action_comics_1000_variants_30sNever-Ending Battle

Story and Words: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason
Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez
Letterer: Tom Napolitano

This story opens with a rather hellish, red-tinged image of Vandal Savage having Superman engulfed in some sort of red energy and alien machinery. The narration is Superman, speaking to Lois, apologizing for being sidetracked on the way home–he’s late. Basically, Savage tried to blend Superman with the past, trapping him and leaving the future open for him (Savage) to rule without Superman’s interference. So we get a bunch of pages evoking some key eras in Superman’s history, as we know it in the real-world; but in-continuity the character himself acknowledges that despite the familiarity, he knew it was impossible to have been there in the 1930s, for example. These are all full-page images with the “voiceover” going along with them…not necessarily tied exactly to the image whose page the words are on, but particularly for those familiar with the history of the character and the stories/eras being referenced, the words take on additional (and deeper) meaning than they might otherwise. And the story ends with a shot of Superman standing at a table with a lotta candles (one can assume there are probably around 1,000 of ’em!), Lois and Jon on either side, a “Happy Birthday” sign strung up behind, and even Krypto in the foreground, as we celebrate Superman’s 80th birthday, and the 1,000th issue of Action Comics.

Normally I would not care for this sort of story. Had this been a 15-page sequence in an otherwise-20-paged issue of something (especially if at a $3.99 price point) I would be disappointed and annoyed. Even as one of the longest stories within this issue, it’s still a “mere” 15 pages, and as such, even this sequence is a relatively small portion of the entire issue. As a “short story” in this “anthology” issue of numerous creators…it works quite well. We have a basic story–Superman faces a villain, is flung throughout time, makes it home safe. This reminds me of other stories I’ve read, and feels rather familiar, like it’s a sort of “trope” at this point–where you can have a numerous-issue “event” of a character being thrown through time, or it can be just a casual backdrop “referenced” but not really the point of a story.

Here, this does both: it’s a sort of casual-ish “reference” thing…but the pages as we go through show Superman through the decades–Gleason‘s imagery evoking the general “style” and depiction of Superman through the decades. One page reminds me loosely of the Superman vs. Superboy issue from early in the Byrne era; the next is a familiar image from Miller‘s Dark Knight Returns (and signed by the artist after Frank Miller). There’s a page with the black-costumed, long-haired Superman fighting Mongul, with Steel and Superboy in the background, in reference to the Death and Return of Superman…Reign of the Supermen. There’s a page with a version of Zod, the pointy-crystal Fortress of Solitude in the background, and a Superman trapped in the pane of glass version of the Phantom Zone. There’s even a page showing the Kingdom Come Superman facing Magog, a mushroom cloud in the background with several of the other heroes. And there’s a page showing the New 52 Superman breaking through a wall, shifting to the black-costume, bearded Superman of JurgensLois and Clark, shifting into the Rebirth costume, into the Reborn costume, punching Savage out.

This is an appropriate celebration of Superman, of how (ultimately) he easily overcomes situations, fights through whatever is thrown at him, and that Tomasi puts as Superman’s words: “Each and every time stream, in the end, led home…to my family.”

Tomasi and Gleason being the primary creatives the last couple years on the named Superman title that has run alongside JurgensAction Comics, this is a highly-appropriate story to cap off that run, to share in this issue, and to celebrate and acknowledge the rich history of the character. I often find I’m not overly thrilled with Gleason‘s art–just a personal issue due to comparing it so often to art I prefer–but here, particularly for the time-tossed pages, it shines excellently.

An Enemy Within

Script: Marv Wolfman
Art: Curt Swan
Inks: Butch Guice, Kurt Schaffenberger
Color & Production Assist: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh

I appreciate the history of Wolfman with the Superman character, as well as the very fabric of the history of DC Comics in-continuity and out; ditto the importance of Curt Swan as one of THE Superman artists. That said…I did not really care much for this story.

Basically, we have narration from Superman as he’s halfway across the world dealing with a Brainiac threat, while we’re shown a hostage situation involving a principal and one of his students. From the narration, we get that the principal is being mind-controlled by Brainiac, and that Superman is facing the villain…but that action all happens off-panel, concluding with a single image of Superman, that may be recycled from a previous publication. The story is simple, has potential, but for me, personally–especially stacked against the Jurgens and Tomasi stories in this issue, and against numerous episodes of Law and Order: SVU I’ve been watching the last few weeks, it just doesn’t really hold up in a way I particularly care for.

It’s not a horrible story, and the art is solid in and of itself…I respect the inclusion here, but other than the “inclusion” aspect, I just don’t really care for this one.

action_comics_1000_variants_blankThe Game

Storytellers: Paul Levitz & Neal Adams
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Dave Sharpe

This is an interesting, short piece, where Superman shows up to the roof of Lexcorp Tower, and he and Lex talk over a game of Chess…and I’m reminded strongly of the Xavier/Magneto imagery from the Fox X-Men films. Luthor springs a trap of animated Kryptonite chains that wrap around Superman…before the hero straightens, flexes, and bursts the chains with an orange background obviously reminiscent of the Kryptonite Nevermore! from the original Superman #233. Superman reveals that he’s got a Mother Box with him that temporarily prevented the Kryptonite radiation

This is another short piece that I don’t particularly care for. I like the concept well enough, and it reminds me (as said) of the Xavier/Magneto stuff…and the more I think on it, I realize there’s also a bit of that Batman/Joker meeting from The Killing Joke in here, too.

Adams is another whose work I appreciate, whose place in comics history I appreciate…but I just can’t get into his Superman art. I didn’t stick with The Coming of the Supermen, I didn’t care for an Action Comics variant I had from some “Neal Adams Month,” and his Superman in general looks rather “off” to me here.

As this is “only” a 5-page story, though, it’s not horrible; but I might have liked a prose version a bit better, as I dig the story much, much more than I do the art.

action_comics_1000_variants_40sThe Car

Story: Geoff Johns & Richard Donner
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Colors: Alejandro Sanchez
Special thanks to: Matt Wilson
Letters: Nick Napolitano

This is an interesting story that seems to be set in the ’30s; the color palette and general art style certainly gives it a rustic, “period piece” look that fits very well with the story being told. A busted-up car is brought into a shop, and when the mechanic tries to get its story from the owner, the tale is a little bit “out there”–all this damage caused by one man? One man lifted it and smashed it against some rocks, apparently. We then move to the owner–Butch–noticing a colorful figure…that of the “man” who smashed his car. Superman chats with him, showing compassion and having come to “understand” more of Butch’s “side” of things, and leaving him with the notion that even having made mistakes, one can choose to make their life count for something, choose to make something of themselves, better the lives of others rather than doing harm.

I’m sure I would have realized pretty quickly that this is a sort of “sequel” to a big part of Action Comics #1; but this benefited SO beautifully from my having just re-read the Superman story from that first issue, and being probably THE freshest-in-mind Superman story for me prior to this 1000th issue.

This Superman feels very much like the “modern” Superman, though; less of the rough ‘n tough version from that first appearance. But it works, and makes for an interesting piece overall. Especially when one considers just how heinous Butch’s crime was–kidnapping a woman for rejecting him…and one could likely predict at least a couple likely outcomes of such action.

I haven’t cared a lot about the Johns/Donner stuff–particularly the Last Son of Krypton, and Escape from Bizarro World stories, even as those are (now) a good dozen years in the past. I didn’t care for them at the time as part of a seemingly-overly-overt rewriting of Superman away from the version I’d grown up on and back to more of a Silver/Bronze Age version. But this single story, I liked; the modern art showing the classic original Superman, with the feel of the contemporary Superman…and this being both a continuation/sequel and yet even if one doesn’t know or connect that context, it works very well as a singular, one-off bit…

And of the “shorts” in this issue, I think this is one of my favorites.

action_comics_1000_variants_50sThe Fifth Season

Script: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
Color: Dave McCaig
Letters: Tom Napolitano

I’m not quite sure what to make of this piece. In a way, I think something to it is “over my head,” perhaps..in a way that I definitely do NOT care for in my comics.

Superman arrives at the Smallville planetarium to find Lex Luthor, who has found the “Eye of Xotar” and Chronos’ “Time Scissors”–that together can be used to literally erase any genealogical line from history. Given this is Luthor…obviously, that’d be Superman’s line, the House of El. As the two muse over their shared past, and the present situation, we see a flashback to Luthor’s early days in Smallville, where we also see that a potentially fatal accident that could have killed Luthor was prevented by a young Clark Kent–Superman as a boy. We also get a bit about a “fifth season,” between Winter and Spring, when the weather can be wildly unpredictable…which seems to be a statement of the story itself. Luthor intended to wipe Superman from history, but maybe discovered that it was Superman that had saved him, and so opted not to.

This isn’t a horrible story, but as said, something about it just feels like it might be over my head, needing extra consideration, disproportionate to its size in relation to the rest of this issue. The art also isn’t horrible, but not really to my liking. On the last page particularly, I don’t care for the depiction of the “S” shield…its top and bottom seem way too thin compared to the middle, especially compared to the “standard” licensed version I’m used to, that I tend to hold mentally as the “standard” to which the various takes on the “S” are compared.

This also plays on Luthor and Superman having known each other as kids–something that was NOT part of the story I grew up on, and so I’m a bit biased against it. Still, knowing that and seeing what’s being gone for here in a way, I’m ok with the story, but won’t single it out as a favorite or such.

Then there’s the narration in the background speaking to the idea of Sol, our sun, eventually expanding: “…and eventually, the sun will eat our Mercury…and then Venus…and then Earth. And then, our time…ends.”

Which seems almost intentionally to lead into the next piece:

action_comics_1000_variants_60sOf Tomorrow

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann
Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: John Workman

Superman kneels, scooping up some coal from the ground and squeezing it into diamond. He stands and we see blazing fire all around, amidst his speaking. It’s been BILLIONS of years, and Earth is finally about to be swallowed up by the red giant Sol has become; no matter that Superman had apparently pushed the entire planet of Earth out of its orbit, it still finds itself being consumed. And Superman speaks to his long-dead parents–Jonathan and Martha Kent–as he says goodbye for the final time. He’s got to let go–of them, and of Earth itself. After five BILLION years. Somehow, Superman, and Lois, and Jon, have been essentially immortal, thanks to (apparently) an “Eternity Formula.” He speaks of them, as he forms the diamond into a specific shape. He tells his parents “I miss you. I love you. Every day. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. It’s still every day.” And as the planet burns up and wee see the grave plate reading:

KENT
JONATHAN & MARTHA
BELOVED PARENTS & GRANDPARENTS
YOU GAVE US HOPE

Superman leaves with the words “We’re all stardust fallen. And so we look to the sky. And we wait to be reclaimed. Good-bye, Ma. Good-bye, Pa. And thank you. For everything.”

This is an odd sort of story. While we can consider that the ongoing story of Superman is not one that’s gonna end anytime soon; while we’ve had stories of Superman surviving into the far future–thousands, even millions of years…to consider that he’d live another five BILLION years seems a bit out there for me. It changes the character. It’s best not to dwell on.

The point is: to the end of the Earth–literally–Superman has been shaped by his parents. He’s continued to live. He’s lived his life. He’s gone on–but that doesn’t mean that he’s forgotten. The love of his parents–his adoptive parents, the REAL parents he actually knew–they molded him into who he became, and that’s NOT something that changed with time. Their brief moment with him lasted through time, a huge legacy, outlasting the planet itself.

But on a smaller level, this speaks in an abstract sort of way to anyone who has ever lost loved ones. Wondering at the futility of visiting a grave, of speaking to those gone before, and I’d say to how even a year can feel like a lifetime, several years like countless lifetimes, when separated from the loved ones.

And on a “meta” level, Superman has outlived this planet, outlived all those lives…as he outlived his creators, and has and likely will outlive so many others.

On the literal level, this reminds me of an old story of an ancient Supreme or Mr. Majestic (I believe written by Alan Moore) (edit: yeah, I’m pretty sure that was Wildstorm Spotlight: Mr. Majestic #1: a story called The Big Chill.) recalling a world he once spent time on…he thinks its name had begun with ‘E’.

On the general level, that abstract level…this just speaks to the heart and I got choked up contemplating loss to come and what that’ll mean to me personally; and teared up considering losses I’ve already experienced. In a way, this had no reason to hit me like it did; yet, this is its own deeply personal, powerful piece…certainly worthy of being a Superman story, and well worth its inclusion in this issue!

action_comics_1000_variants_70sFive Minutes

Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Jerry Ordway
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual

This is another 5-page “short.” Clark is trying to finish a story, with Perry and Jimmy standing by, noting they’re 5 minutes to deadline, with Printing already giving hell for holding the presses. Even as Clark points out he’s nearly done, he’s hearing cries of distress, and jumps from his seat to go into action, while Perry tells him he has five minutes. Superman stops a runaway train; saves Bibbo; stops space debris from crashing to Earth, and still makes it back to the Planet to finish his story. But turns out in being so focused on that, he didn’t even consider the impact he just had, saving numerous people, maybe much of Earth…that the story he WAS working on is nothing compared to the story of Superman’s recent super-feats.

This is a neat piece, and as with others in this issue of Action, not one I’d care much for as an entire issue, but as a “backup,” as a piece included in this issue, I really like it. And with Louise Simonson writing and Ordway on art, it’s one that’s hard to beat, having such positive memories of both creators’ work in the ’90s on my early Superman comics.

And the idea of Clark Kent, Reporter, working, having to deal with stuff as Superman and still make his deadline is not new, but it works well here…and the fantastic art just makes it a beauty to behold.

I enjoyed this for that, and its relative timelessness.

action_comics_1000_variants_80sActionland!

Script: Paul Dini
Pencils: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Inks: Kevin Nowlan
Colors: Trish Mulvihill
Letters: Josh Reed

What would a big, giant Superman comic be without Mr. Mxyzptlk? This is a short story showing an amusement park take on Superman and his history, where visitors get to “ride” in a replica of the ship that bore baby Kal-El away from Krypton; lift a tractor like little Clark in Kansas, witness Superman performing super-feats, view other heroes that served with Superman, as well as villains that were fought, and then the way things ended, with Superman… sacrificing himself…giving his life…the ending? The scene we’ve been seeing is a reality of sorts from Mxy, who just can’t quite figure out how he’d like to see the story of Superman end, even though he himself has the power to blink him out of existence with hardly a thought.

I think my initial thought–that it’s “fitting” to have Mxy get a story in something like this–comes from the Newstime special after the death of Superman, where there was some throw-away piece referencing the character, sort of explaining his showing up during all that, and yet not having an actual issue til well after the return.

Story-wise, I’m not overly enamored. It’s a solid enough piece with an interesting premise. Structurally, not a bad story. I think I’ve just kinda felt put-off to Mxy stuff after Superman: Reborn and being reminded of stuff from Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? recently. It has its merits–a glimpse at parts of Superman’s origins; shows us Mxy himself and reminds us he’s around and his powers, and that he can be “just” an imp messing with Superman without wanting to truly destroy him. I just didn’t singularly like this story that much.

Art-wise, this is solid, and though Dini has plenty of pedigree himself, having a new Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez story is quite appealing on principle. I can’t say I’d recognize the art on sight, but knowing Garcia-Lopez has significant association with Superman, this certainly deserves its place in the issue!

action_comics_1000_variants_90sFaster Than a Speeding Bullet

Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artist: John Casaday
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos

This was an interesting story, touching on elements that I don’t often think of with Superman stories. A gunman with a hostage prepares to pull the trigger…while from a significant distance, Superman’s flying as fast as he can to the scene. We get Superman’s inner thoughts as he zips toward the gunman, even as he pulls the trigger and the bullet begins to move, as Superman does the math and everything remaining as-is, knows he will not make it in time. Yet, it turns out while he was focused on the gunman, the hostage was shifting, which bought the extra fraction of a second Superman needed to get there, and he saves her. He compliments her on her bravery, that she could be Police, and flies off.

The story here does a good job with building tension as Superman tries to get to the scene. All too often we have the imagery and stories of Superman getting somewhere JUST in the nick of time to bounce bullets off his chest, or pluck them from mid-air, mid-movement before they strike their intended target…but we rarely get something from his point of view, where even he might realize he will be a fraction of a second too late. We get a positive ending here, though, as the woman–Lila–shifts to resist her attacker and Superman is able to save her.

I was not expecting a Meltzer piece, but he’s another name that I feel certainly deserves his place and involvement with the issue…if not for prior Superman work, then for his real-world involvement with stuff–helping bring attention to the Siegel house, helping bring about the Superman display at the Cleveland airport, and other involvement with folks preserving the history of Siegel and Shuster and all that.

The art isn’t bad…and actually, is quite good–overall. There’s just something to the way Casaday does Superman’s face that seems really “off” to me. It looks like someone else’s face, a stranger’s face, is pasted onto a body with “a” Superman costume. Where some artists’ Superman is recognizable just by the face, I wouldn’t be able to look at the faces in this story and just form those know this was Superman.

For another “short,” I can’t really complain beyond that about this one!

action_comics_1000_variants_2000s“The Truth”

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Jim Lee
Inks: Scott Williams
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Cory Petit

Outside of the number, I’m sure this story is one reason for a lot of people to pick up this issue: it offers a prologue to a prologue to a mini-series that itself will lead into the ongoing story in the continuation of this title and rebooted-numbering fifth-volume of Superman. This piece kicks off Bendis‘ work on Superman…and does so with a beaten, bloodied Superman crashing through what looks like a cave wall, and on zooming out, we see a couple more hits as he smashes through the ceiling and out the side of the L-shaped Lexcorp tower, and then hits a road so hard he bounces a few times, destroying pavement, vehicles, and storefronts. Bystanders of course whip out cellphones to take photos/video of the fallen hero, while they try to drag Superman behind a counter. They comment on him wearing “the red shorts” again (rather than the cosmetic change being just there). Some giant creature with a huge battle axe is after him, and after taking a huge punch and repeated jabs from the just-arrived Supergirl, hits her once, taking her outta the fight (sending her flying toward the huge globe of the Daily Planet). Maggie Sawyer and the SCU shows up, though their weapons do nothing to the creature. There’s more discussion from further bystanders of him having “the shorts” again, and the creature continues to get the best of Superman, continuing to physically beat the crap out of him (so to speak), and a simple energy-blast wave-of-the-hand takes a just-returning Supergirl back out of the fight. Transforming the handle of the axe into a sword, he seems to plunge it with a splash into Superman’s chest, as he claims to be wiping out remaining Kryptonians, finishing the job he started when he destroyed Krypton.

Once upon a time, Jim Lee was just about my favorite Superman artist–perhaps behind or tied with Jurgens and Ed Benes. But here, I just don’t care for the art. I’m sure part of it is the coloring…this seems “dark” and “grim and gritty” especially compared to the rest of the issue, and feels out of place visually with the rest of the issue.

Ditto on the story side–this beating, this violence and Superman just being pummeled and beaten and such, and Supergirl coming off as completely ineffective as well–is sickening after so many happier, brighter, celebratory bits.

Sure, this is a new villain, but we don’t even get the name here. We just get nothing but fight. Superman himself points out he hasn’t gotten a name, and the villain accuses him of stalling, rather than giving his name. And sure, on one hand, it would be old-style, stereotypical monologuing or such to just give a name at that point…typically, the villain would be depicted in a large panel with a logo-style word balloon declaring his “cool”-sounding name and such, so instead he calls Superman out for stalling, and on a technical level, I guess this is good to get away from the typical.

I don’t like that we’re thrown into the middle of a fight like this, that we end on a cliffhanger, when the entire rest of this issue has been self-contained one-off stories and whatnot.

Surely we could have started on a brighter note, seen a bit of a different status quo or perspective maybe hinting at this villain’s coming or some such. I don’t know–but based solely on this 12-page piece, I’m not looking forward to the upcoming Man of Steel mini, and I’m suddenly quite concerned about what to expect from Bendis‘ run, where until now I’ve been content to “wait and see” and been fairly optimistic. I suppose I’ll now have to “wait and see” what we get in the DC Nation #0 issue and go from there.

I guess it’s appropriate enough in its way to launch Bendis‘ run with this issue…and yet despite assurances to the contrary, the part of me that suspects his “coming” heralded the end of Jurgens‘ and Tomasi‘s runs feels like they should have had more pages to play with in this issue, and Bendis could launch with DC Nation or The Man of Steel (after all, the last time, one creator (Alan Moore) ended the previous Superman, and it was the interstitial mini-series Man of Steel where Byrne‘s stuff started.

This is 12 pages of what’s likely a multi-year, dozens-of-issues run by one writer, so ultimately may not be indicative of what to expect on the whole and long-term…but for just these pages, and to come after such positive stories for the other 60+ pages…this just seems out of place and inappropriate for something as celebratory as a 1,000th issue…especially seeing nothing but Superman take a beatdown outta nowhere.

Overall Thoughts on the Issue As a Whole

I’ve looked forward to this issue for a long time. In some ways, I’ve probably looked forward to it for nearly 30 years, ever since the first issue I ever owned of the title (#651). At the least, I’m sure I wondered at a comic making it to #1,000 during the Doomsday! and Funeral for a Friend stuff, and the years following, as Adventures of Superman hit #500, Action hit #700, Superman (vol. 2) hit #100, and so on. I certainly wondered about it seven years ago when DC announced what came to be The New 52, that every single title including Action Comics and Detective Comics would be restarted with a #1. Though I still feel that Action making it to #1,000 technically needs an asterisk denoting the 1-52 sequence (there are no issues numbered 905-956) from the New 52 run. But I give DC a “pass” on that, as it was only one “hiccup” in the numbering. Given cover dress, paper condition, and literally the pricing should anyone actually find a copy of the original issues 1-52, one just needs to add 904 to the issue number to know what the issue is in that sense. There have not been numerous iterations where multiple hundreds of issues here, a hundred issues there, another several dozen issues, a mini-series, and a couple of less-than-20-issues runs suddenly add up to a big number. Number-wise, there’s virtually no reasonable confusion.

When Rebirth was announced, when it was announced that Action Comics and Detective Comics would get their original numbering back, and that Action Comics (especially) would indeed get to make it to #1,000, I jumped back in. And all these issues and almost two years later, here we are. I feel like this issue is a sort of reward, an attained destination, a prize that’s been driven toward since Action Comics #957 back in 2016.

A few months ago, there was some definite ambiguity as to formatting and such for the issue and what to expect for the issue. Part of me thinks this should have been even bigger, included even more–both in the way of original stories as well as reprints. But the companion hardback collection Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman handles a lot of that–with essays and reprints of stories both for characters and creators tied to Superman, and Action Comics itself. I was also a bit curious about what the issue’s story would be, or if it would be an anthology/”jam” issue.

Back in the 1990s there were periodic special issues such as The Wedding Album that were key, integral chapters in the ongoing Superman story unfolding in the actual, ongoing titles; though this would be an actual numbered issue, I’d wondered if this would have any singular through-story that just happened to have a bunch of different artists and maybe some narrative structure allowing for different writers to leave a mark on the story.

Obviously what we got was 15-page chunks of the two main creative teams of the ongoing titles, and then 8 more stories/contributions, and a 12-page launch sequence from the new writer coming onto stuff.

As with my excitement for Rebirth and Action Comics #957, I bought this digitally, and I bought this in-print, and I’ll gladly buy the hardcover edition that I believe will be out this Fall. I also ordered the “Decades Variants” through DCBS, and will be getting the 1,000 covers poster, which will be an excellent, appropriate addition to my comics space.

This is an issue that rightly deserves the “celebration” that variants offer. There are artists who may not otherwise have had involvement with the issue, who get to be associated with Action Comics #1000 if only with a variant. And as the first American comic book to make it to #1000…it’s more than worthy. 80 years of continuous publication of a comic titled Action Comics is nothing to sneeze at. I’m among the first to complain and gripe and grouse about variants, and will continue to, where they merely cheapen stuff and are “abused” (really, does a #17 or a #81 or a #962 truly deserve a variant? What makes such numbers special if they’re just another issue?) But this 1,000th issue deserves the added recognition, the “fun” of certain variants…especially what I’ve seen of the “Decades” variants, that bring back the logo style and even the DC logo of each decade…the DC Bullet I grew up on is back with several of the issues, and even the “swoosh” logo gets some love with the 2000s variant.

$7.99 for a single issue is a bit much in most cases. This is squarebound and has 81 story pages with no ads between stories nor interrupting any stories, and the cover is a stronger cardstock…so this is absolutely worth its price for the physical product as well as the content it contains.

None of the stories seem to specifically continue from anything; nothing I’m aware of comes off of a To Be Continued; and other than the Bendis segment leading into stuff out of/after this issue, that’s still 69 or so pages that stand alone quite well, neither requiring previous reading nor requiring subsequent reading. This is well worth getting just for itself; a 1,000th issue; a standalone, celebratory Superman issue. Perhaps it’s an endpoint; maybe it can be a starting point; it’s definitely an excellent one-off, special thing.

I highly recommend this to any Superman fan or anyone interested in checking out some Superman content, period, and especially if you don’t want to commit to anything ongoing or long-form.

action_comics_1000_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #2

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0002Hard Choices

Writer: James Hudnall
Artists: Cranial Implant Studio
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editors: Chris Ulm, Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The first issue of this series is one that I’m extremely familiar with…there are only a handful of such comics in my lifetime that I have that familiarity with. This issue, though…if I’ve read it before, it’s almost certainly been nearly two decades–or more!

This issue opens with several pages of a woman with powers being chased, as she tries to get to our hero. We cut to the funeral of the police officer Hardcase failed to save last issue, and his meeting with the officer’s brother. And even at a FUNERAL, Hardcase is pestered for autographs [[[as I type this, having just read about some recent Stan Lee stuff, I’m extra disgusted at the notion of autograph-hounds]]]. We find that the woman is Choice–a spokesmodel for the corporate entity. Hardcase talks to his agent, and whil eon the phone, the woman finds him, levitating to his balcony. They’re almost immediately attacked by parademon/Lexcorp-looking armored flying soldiers, who severely damage (if not destroy–it’s not completely clear) Hardcase’s not-so-humble abode. The rest of the issue is an extended fight sequence with Hardcase and Choice fighting the soldiers, who eventually claim they’re “just” trying to bring her in because she’s crazy and should be in a mental institution. Hardcase is highly ticked-off, and we end the issue on him determined to take the fight to the corporation for some answers.

The art for this issue is fairly inconsistent. I don’t think I’d consider any of it particularly bad or anything, but there’s a definite inconsistency throughout the issue. The “artists” (plural) credit of a STUDIO seems to me to suggest a bunch of people all working together on it, rather than any singular artist on pencils with a single inker and maybe a couple of colorists or letterers or such. It’s definitely a different look as well from the first issue, and had this been a present-day 2018 issue, I’d probably consider dropping the series for that alone. That said, I’m not an art-guy, and the art does tend to convey the big action and stuff that’s going on, getting the visuals across, however inconsistently. The cover is pretty basic–just a close-up (yet deeply shadowed) image of Hardcase with a blazing fire in the background, and some flames on the ginormous shoulder pads/chest armor he wears. Nothing horrid, but not a scene from the issue, really, nor all that dynamic…while the first issue’s cover is rather “iconic,” this just feels like some random/generic image slapped on.

The story is better, though still feels a bit basic…at “only” a #2 of an all-new, brand-new character and still-new “world,” we have world-building, particularly the addition of Choice and that corporation, and little hints here and there to other corporate crap going on. We get tossed-in tidbits of Hardcase being this huge movie star/hero, though I still don’t “buy” his rise to SUCH stardom in only a year, even if he WAS a part of THE only team of ultra-heroes for a time, first. I recall stuff with Choice in a later issue and/or “meta” knowledge I found out perhaps from Wizard Magazine or Hero Illustrated, so I know she’s an important addition to the cast.

I also am very conscious that for the most part, the bulk of the Ultraverse only REALLY lasted a couple years–that by the time any of the titles got to their “teens” or around #20 or so (I think the highest issue number an Ultraverse issue got was #26–with Prime and Hardcase)…so “only” 2 issues is still a pretty significant chunk of the entirety of any of the series.

As with Strangers #2 and Prime #2…I would not specifically seek out this issue as a stand-alone read, unless you’re missing it from completing a run or part of the run. This definitely builds from the first issue, and continues the building heading into the third issue. “Iffy” as the issue is as a standalone…I think I’d still recommend it on the Ultraverse brand, and as part of the series…though I would not counsel paying much for it (or any of the “regular” issues)…these are very much stuff for the bargain bins, up to $1 or so each, ideally.

I’m pretty sure the issue after #1 that I’m most remembering is #5 (the Rune Month issue) and then somewhere in the teens with the return of NM-E and then stuff in the lead up to Black September after Godwheel…so (like with The Strangers) this series as individual issues and specific details reading issue by issue is actually new to me, all these years after original publication.

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