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Superman Unchained

superman_unchained_02In early 2013 or so, I recall a bit of personal excitement that had me ready to jump back into the Superman books…the prospect of a quasi “return” to there being several familiar titles each month. Superman and Action Comics were (and are, and remain) two “staples” of the New 52, and aren’t likely to disappear regardless of creative team turnover. There was the digital-first Adventures of Superman, and the pending Scott Snyder-takes-on-Superman fourth title, rumored at the time to be “Man of Steel” or such with the new movie on the immediate horizon.

The Snyder book wound up being Superman Unchained, and quickly soured me. I remember a fair bit of hubbub over the price point on the title–the first issue was $4.99, apparently super-priced due to the inclusion of a pull-out “poster” that would actually tie to the story. I got the issue, and was VERY disappointed with the so-called poster, as it was just some stupid, giant-sized “panel” of Superman crashing through a satellite. Nothing that couldn’t have simply been done as a “regular” double-page spread or such. It by no means needed a poster or pull-out or whatever, and was nothing “worth” putting on a wall or framing for the wall.

That the title was a $3.99 book–to my knowledge–combined with the frustration over the vastly over-hyped pull-out soured me. Add to it the slew of expensive variant covers and I didn’t even bother to pick up #2, accepting my loss on the first issue and moving on.

Flash ahead to present, and this “new series” had turned into a “limited series,” ran late, lost steam, etc. and generally fell off my radar.

But there’s a collected volume, a deluxe oversized hardcover…collecting the ENTIRE SERIES, the entire story into a single, nice-looking volume.

superman_unchained_01And while this would EASILY be a $50-$60 book (if not $75 just for the sheer heckuvit) from Marvel…from DC, Superman Unchained is a WHOPPING $29.99 cover price as an oversized hardcover. 9 issues, content from a Director’s Cut of #1, PLUS a cover gallery of all those too-many-to-count variants of the first six or so issues (presumably before the title ran late and lost steam and all that). 9 issues at $3.99 apiece would be $36ish. $37 for that first issue being an extra $1. Add another $4 for the Director’s Cut (I think it was actually $4.99 if not MORE, though) and we certainly hit the $40 mark. Heck, even at a mere $2.99/issue…9 issues and the director’s cut puts us squarely at $30 MINIMUM.

This book–oversized, hardcover, no ads, no wait between issues, no screwy over-hyped poster gimmick, everything in one volume–is $30.

I have yet to read the story itself…but it’s Snyder. It’s SUPERMAN. It’s A STORY, it’s significantly longer than the Earth One OGNs that I’m willing to buy despite the $20+ cover price. So it’s safe to say that yes…I’m happy with my purchase. The volume is seems a good value. I can’t imagine I’ll dislike the story enough to “ruin” having bought the book. Having followed Doomed earlier this year, I didn’t notice anything in that that was truly impacted by this story; nor have I seen anything else I’m consciously aware of that ties back to this.

So I get an epic-length self-contained Superman story and even if it sucks, it’s done in one at this point and I’m not going to be led into buying other titles or having to track anything down. Money well spent, and an impressive volume for the shelf. 

That I enjoyed paging through the cover gallery as much as I did almost warrants the purchase by itself.

This is truly an example of why I–by FAR–prefer the collected edition format to the single issues.

I don’t have to track down all the variants to get to ENJOY them, their very existence, seeing them with the logo/trade dress. Below, see (on the right-hand side) the “Superman Reborn” series of variants, reuniting classic ’90s Superman creators with the post-Death of Superman-era characters.

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Above: Covers from Superman Unchained #1…

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Above: Covers from Superman Unchained #2…

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Above: Covers from Superman Unchained #3…

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Above: Covers from Superman Unchained #4…

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Above: Covers from Superman Unchained #5…

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Above: Covers from Superman Unchained #6.

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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Alpha #1

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xmenalpha001Beginings…

Story: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Mark Waid
Pencils: Roger Cruz w/Steve Epting
Inks: Tim Townsend w/Dan Panosian
Letters: Starkings w/Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato w/Electric Crayon
Editor: Bob Harras
Cover: Joe Madureira, Tim Townsend
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

The cover proclaims A NEW World! A NEW Beginning! This issue sports a fancy "chromium" cover, and is itself a rather iconic image–to me, at least–of the "new" X-Men, as brought together by Magneto. We see Weapon X (Wolverine) front ‘n center on the front panel of this wraparound cover. Blink, Sunfire, Bishop, Rogue, Magneto, Jean Grey, Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, and Gambit round out the bunch here. Open the issue up to see the back cover as well and we see Apocalypse in the background, with Sabretooth and Wild Child in the foreground, Jubilee and Colossus behind, and some flying stormtroopers (Infinites, I believe) filling out the sky-space of the image.

There are no ads in this issue. 48 pages of story, plus the cover–that’s it. For "only" $3.95. Sorta pricey "back in the day," but quite a bargain by today’s standards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this priced around $9.99 by Marvel nowadays–and shocked to see it under $7.99.

Though this issue kicks off the Age of Apocalypse epic, it does not itself carry an Age of Apocalypse badge–this is a "bookend" issue that serves as a prologue to the entirety of the event encompassing ten or so titles across the four months.

We open on a wasteland, where we meet Bishop–whose mind was damaged by the energies that ripped Legion and the other X-Men away in X-Men #41. We find that he’s wandered for the 20 years since. Here, he’s become the focus of an attack from Unus and his troopers who were chasing a young human who found momentary hope in Bishop. The X-Men arrive–Magneto’s X-Men–and the battle is joined. Emerging victorious, the X-Men are then confronted by Bishop, who recognizes Magneto and levels some major accusations at him. Magneto sedates him and they take Bishop for questioning.

Meanwhile, we meet Beast–Henry McCoy–a mad scientist figure experimenting on mutants. Havok touches base, and the mutant (Blob) being experimented on attacks, and the pair are "rescued" by Cyclops–with long hair and only one eye, and see that he and Havok have a horrible relationship. The two are part of Apocalypse’s group, by way of Sinister–who arrives and chastises the two for fighting, and then speaks cryptically and leaves. The scene shifts to a bar maintained by Angel–Heaven–where he’s confronted by Gambit, who is looking for Magneto. We shift to the X-Men, questioning Bishop, then to Apocalypse and his upper ranks as he reveals plans to destroy the last of humanity.

The story shifts to Weapon X and Jean meeting up with the Human High Council, and then back to Magneto’s group. "Feedback" from Rogue touching him leads to Magneto seeing fragments of a universe that might have been, leaving the older mutant troubled. He immediately sends Nightcrawler to seek Destiny in order to get confirmation of his vision. Meanwhile, Sinister’s gone missing, and Apocalypse nudges things into motion. The X-Men know "something" is up, but not specifics. While off in space, a certain crystallization wave heads toward Earth.

I don’t usually like summarizing an issue so thoroughly–but there is a LOT going on here. And it all works, for me. There’s a lot of vagueness and toss-off references scattered throughout that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense now, in context of just this one issue–but having read this before and knowing the characters, I follow them quite well. This sets up the various books that make up the Age of Apocalypse saga, introducing us to core elements–the characters and places that will have significant roles in the story to come.

There’s a definite sense of "history" here, and it feels like this could easily BE just a random issue I picked up, amidst an ongoing continuity and not the first actual glimpse at the entirety of said continuity. This is–to the reader–a new world, a beginning of an "Event," but for the characters involved this is simply the present, 20 years after a key incident in Israel.

I remember being quite eager to get into the Age of Apocalypse as a whole and being fascinated by this new version of all the characters. Despite the dark setting of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, with a familiarity and warm sense of nostagia as I did so.

The art is slightly stylistic at points, and I’m not particularly familiar with Roger Cruz‘s name…but this issue being what it is, none of the art bothered me…I was simply a kid again, enjoying seeing all these characters and where they were, and trying to glean where the story was going from this single issue.

It’s refreshing to read this issue again, and getting a sense of pureness or "authenticity" from what I so enjoyed about this event…before everything that’s come in the past ten years or so as things were changed, pulled from, and generally mucked about with in attempt to get as much out of this story as possible beyond its relatively self-contained nature in 1995.

In short, this issue holds up extremely well to my memory, is still very enjoyable, and leaves me eager to get into the heart of the story.

Yet More December Acquisitions: The Complete Onslaught Epic

Thanks to a Black Friday sale (online), I was able to get vols. 0, 1, 2, and 3 of The Complete Onslaught Epic for well under the price of two volumes. I paid full price for vol. 4 at a local shop, as it was not available, and seemed (based on searches online) to be out of print and people asking WAYYYY above cover price.

xmencompleteonslaughtepic0to4

This set adds to my Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic as well as the Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return sets. I suppose next up–if I can find ’em cheap (say, $20 or less per volume) and be able to get the entire set in one go–is Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga.

Of course, I have a bunch of other volumes also on my “wish list” and I might actually use that as a topic of a later post before the year is out.

The ‘90s Revisited: December ’94 X-Books

As the events of Legion Quest were reshaping the ENTIRE line of X-books for the start of 1995, even the titles not directly involved in Legion Quest itself reflected the fact that story was going on, with each title ending with the reality-ending crystallization wave washing over things, most of the books being left on a cliffhanger. While I wasn’t originally going to cover these other titles due to not being direct tie-ins/chapters of Legion Quest, I figured I’d touch briefly on them after all. Here are the resultant five “mini-reviews” of the rest of the December 1994-shipping X-Books.

WOLVERINE #90

wolverine090The Dying Game

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Adam Kubert
Inks: Mark Farmer & Dan Green
Lettering: Pat Brosseau
Coloring: Marie Javins
Cover: Adam Kubert, Greg Hildebrandt, Tim Hildebrandt
Editor: Bob Harras

This is one of the more "iconic" issues of this series for me–and certainly harnesses the "feel" of this "era" of the comic for me. The cover is the first thing that stands out, with a hybrid Kubert/Hildebrandt Bros. image–the distinctive Hildebrandts image that would be great on its own, with Kubert‘s art overlaid to the side, and the series logo is almost an afterthought or a formality.

The issue’s story is fairly simplistic, with Wolverine returning to the X-Mansion to keep an eye on the imprisoned Sabretooth while everyone else is away. Wolverine starts out refusing to fight, but pieces things together about the time Sabretooth pulls an escape, and the two brawl. Ultimately they wind up with Wolverine on top, having popped two claws, one to either side of Sabretooth’s head. The villain taunts Wolverine, threatening everyone he loves and cares about, and right as Wolverine pops the third claw–into Sabretooth’s brain–the crystallization wave hits and this never happened, as this universe ends.

While not on the same level as X-Men #s 25 or 41 or Wolverine #75, this is an issue that’s long stood out to me. The ending plays very well with the pre-Age of Apocalypse cliffhanger thing, leaving us hanging a bit on the supposed fate of Sabretooth, what it means for Wolverine to have at long last apparently killed his old foe, etc. (However, the popularity of the characters renders this cliffhanger moot, where some of the "lesser" characters/titles have faded over the years and hold far less memory).

X-FACTOR #111

xfactor111Explosive Performance

Plot: John Francis Moore
Script: Todd Dezago
Pencils: Jan Duursema
Inks: Al Milgrom
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Letters: Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Tom Grummett, Al Milgrom
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Group Editor: Bob Harras

This issue is one of the more memorable cliffhanger-issues for the month’s X-books, with Guido (Strong Guy) falling to a heart attack, and Reality ends before we learn if he’s actually dead or not.

I remember THAT I’d read a handful of issues of the title from #92-onward thanks to my introduction via the Fatal Attractions crossover the year before. However, other than apparently having read the END, I don’t recall THIS issue’s story prior to reading it this time around.

On the whole, this was a solid enough jumping-in issue…helped perhaps by having read #109 (the Legion Quest Prelude). As I read this issue, I kept mixing up Lila Cheney with Dazzler…two characters I’m familiar enough with name-wise but not so much story-wise. And though I didn’t totally follow–there’s a definite sense I missed plenty with skipping #110–I didn’t feel "lost" or have any particular problem with reading this issue.

That’s probably primarily helped by the fact I read this solely for its "tie-in" to Legion Quest and specifically TO get to the cliffhanger, to have the sense of where the title left off immediately preceding the shift into the Age of Apocalypse itself.

GENERATION X #4

generationx004Between the Cracks

Story: Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo
Inks: Mark Buckingham
Colors by: Steve Buccellato
Lettering: Richard Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Chris Bachalo
Editing: Tom DeFalco, Bob Harras

I’ve yet to *really* ever read any issues of this title–I couldn’t say for sure if I’ve ever actually read an issue, including this one. I remember getting this when it came out, though, so I probably did read it…just without knowing much about the characters. I’d only partially followed the Phalanx Covenant stuff that led to Generation X, and didn’t yet know (m)any of the new characters. This issue’s very stylistic, which I’m not all that enamored with. The story itself isn’t bad, though I don’t much care for the page borders or the little character wandering said borders and holding up page-number signs. It’s an interesting thing to do, and I can appreciate it setting this title apart, as well as the "meta" nature of it. Perhaps it was even "fun" at the time. It just doesn’t do much for me.

Reading this issue for its "lead-in" to Age of Apocalypse was quite disappointing, as it also "bucked the trend" of the other X-books in doing its own thing and then a tacked-on bit to account for the ending of the universe. Not bad in and of itself–a good way to get around being totally formulaic, but my appreciation does not equal enjoyment–and this was the least-enjoyable of the non-Legion Quest X-issues heading into the big event.

X-FORCE #43

xforce043Teapot in a Tempest

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inker: Kevin Conrad
Coloring: Mike Thomas
Cover: Tony Daniel, Kevin Conrad
Editor: Bob Harras

I definitely don’t remember this issue’s story as something I’d read before. I’m familiar with a number of the characters–perhaps from stuff I’ve read in the last 20 years, where I can’t say for sure I’d’ve been familiar with them at the time. I liked the art for this issue, and it’s interesting to see that it’s Tony Daniel, whose work I enjoyed on Batman a few years back. In addition to appreciating the art, I enjoyed this snippet of story–it was cool seeing a number of different characters/situations without them all having to be together in one space; with these multiple ongoing subplots weaving about. The Reignfire reveal seems like it was rather huge at the time, though not recalling anything of the character tells me that’s not something that’s particularly carried to this day.

That the issue involved communication with Cable and was affected by his absence due to things going on in Legion Quest was a definite treat, showing how the various characters tie together and that this issue is not something "on the fringe" of the X-universe of the time but was still closely affected.

EXCALIBUR #86

excalibur086Back to Life

Writer: Warren Ellis
Pencil Artist: Ken Lashley
Ink Artist: Tom Wegrzyn
Letterer: J. Babcock
Colorist: J. Rosas
Cover: Ken Lashley, Tom Wegrzyn
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Group Editor: Bob Harras

While I certainly did not pick up on the significance of things at the time, rereading this issue brought back snippets of memory–particularly Kitty’s threat to put Wisdom’s cigarette out, and the issue’s end with the jet crashing.

I do not recall consciously noting before now that this was a Warren Ellis-written issue, though somewhere along the way I became aware of his having been the writer in this general time, and being the one behind the Pete Wisdom character. That this seems to be Wisdom’s first appearance is rather cool.

This issue was a welcome glimpse back to the then-status-quo, and a reminder that Kitty and Nightcrawler had a period of time where they were NOT part of the X-Men themselves. I’d also forgotten about other characters, as well as how much I "miss" Moira’s presence in the X-books. Of course, given contemporary things, that’s practically a generational factor.

The cliffhanger of the characters facing a crash-landing that they weren’t certain of surviving was compelling even back in the day, and has me curious about how the point was resolved when everything returned after the Age of Apocalypse…I’m partially torn on digging that issue out to find out versus allowing myself the wondering until after covering the event itself.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, All!

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The Weekly Haul – Week of December 24th, 2014

A rather large week to mostly wrap out the year…

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A couple $1 books, the 3 DC Weeklies, final issue of Aliens: Fire & Stone; a Valiant in Unity, Letter 44’s latest issue…and since I’d bought into Robin Rises Omega, figured I’d check back in for the conclusion.

Along with these new single issues, I picked up a couple of 50%-off trades. I got the first volume of Love & Capes several years ago…finally got vol. 2. And though I had the older edition of Batman and Son, at half-off it was worth the “upgrade” to this larger edition with more content.

The ’90s Revisited: X-Men #41

90srevisited

xmen041Dreams Die!

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Art: Ron Garney, Andy Kubert, Matt Ryan
Color: Kevin Somers/Digital Chameleon
Letterers: Oakley / NJQ
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue is one of THE iconic issues of my youth. I’ve read and reread the issue countless times. It sticks in my head, and is one of the key issues I think of when considering X-Men stories. The cover image is iconic, as is the silver-ink coloring on the cover (shockingly enough in a way, there’s no foil to the cover.) I have a number of copies of this issue in my collection, as I often buy it from quarter bins for the nostalgic factor. And if only "mentally," the cover combined with my recollection of the issue really lends a bit of finality to the thing, like this really could be a "final issue." (Perhaps that’s also helped by the fact that Marvel doesn’t seem to like any of their titles getting much past 30 these days).

We open this issue with the four time-lost X-Men staring in disbelief at the scene that surrounds them–of Legion and Magneto trading blows in the skies over Haifa, their memories having finally returned (for all the good it does them). They seek out young Xavier, and take turns taking on Legion themselves, before Iceman finally manages to freeze him solid. Meanwhile, in the present, everyone comes to accept that despite their best efforts–of the several X-Men "tagging along" to the past as well as the attempt with Cable to contact them–they’ve failed and the finality of their universe rapidly approaches.

In the past, things come to a head as Legion pounces on Magneto, planning to kill him with a psionic blade…but young Xavier throws himself at them, and is the one killed. But with a dead Xavier, there never would be a David Haller. No David Haller means no X-Men-in-the-past. For that matter, no X-Men. No X-Men, no world where the X-Men have been around to save it umpteen times. Etc. Reality ends. With only moments to react, everyone faces the crystallization wave, taking their final moments in their own ways.

The world ends with neither bang nor whimper…but in an eerie, silent, shimmering shroud of glass. A world, which like one man’s dreams–proved to be such a delicate thing. And when not handled with enough care…is so easily…shattered…

I’d forgotten or not really noticed before how much the art of this issue was broken up. I REMEMBER it as a cohesive whole…and this time through, even, just reading through, I didn’t consciously note any particular "breaks" in one penciler over the other. I just kept right on going, and would actually have to go back through very specifically to pick out which pages were by which team. Which is the way it SHOULD be, for this sort of thing. Garney and Kubert certainly complement each other with a similar enough style–whether one veered toward the other or not, I don’t know.

That goes into the story side as well…namely, that this was such a monumental thing for me back in the day, that even reading it now, it simply IS. I flew through the reading, remembering all these little parts as I went along, as I came to them. Yet the art never jumped out at me or turned me off for anything…it was just there, consistent enough that it definitely worked for me.

Huge as this issue is for what happens, it’s a quick read, and reeks of a foregone conclusion. The cover itself proclaims To All Things–An ENDING!" and we see a beaten Magneto holding the body of Xavier (not entirely accurate as Erik wasn’t yet Magneto and all that, but the cover gets plenty across symbolically with the costume’s presence).

The issue’s narration is particularly poignant to me even if it is a bit heavy on the "telling instead of showing" thing. By the final couple pages we see bits showing how fully in-continuity this is for the X-Books (though it didn’t affect the non-X books of the time).

It strikes me that for a contemporary comic of this magnitude, this would have been a foil-enhanced cover for sure, probably $4.99 to $5.99 and a Very Big Deal despite "only" ending the "prologue" to the main event it’s setting up: the massive Age of Apocalypse, with the entirety of the X-books going on hiatus for a third of the year, replaced by four-issue mini-series on a one-for-one basis.

This issue ends Legion Quest, and as an ending to that story, and as an issue taken by itself, it works well for me. With modern comics it seems like story endings are merely backdoor prologues for the Next Big Event. While, yes, this "leads into" Age of Apocalypse in general, the issue itself ends, with finality. Legion Quest is the story of Legion going back in time to kill Magneto, with several X-Men hitching a ride back to stop him, while the rest gather and try to "help" as they can from present-day…but as a whole, the entire thing fails–including Legion himself…which ends their reality.

So far as we see and "know" within the story, everything ends. No broken timestream–just an ending. No revelation of some alternate timeline, no popping-in of some hero from another timeline to save things at the last second, no deux ex machina resolving things in the final panel, no crap ending to an otherwise decent story…this could very well have simply been THE end.

And for the kid I was, this was exciting stuff, and took me "all in" for Age of Apocalypse, and combined with Superman and Batman stuff in the couple years prior made for a massive touchstone in my experiences as a comics reader that holds over into the present.

As my rambling on this issue shows…I’m hardly unbiased, and have loads of thoughts and memories associated with this. But having now covered this issue…next week, I look at X-Men: Alpha and then on into the Age of Apocalypse itself!

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