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The ’90s Revisited: Robin #24 – Underworld Unleashed!

90s_revisited

robin_0024Insects and Violence

Story: Chuck Dixon
Pencils: Aaron Lopresti
Inks: Stan Woch
Colors: Adrienne Roy
Letters: Tim Harkins
Cover: Mike Wieringo, Terry Austin, Bob LeRose, Curtis King, John Wren
Associate Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Last month, a number of blogs and podcasts joined together to present #BestEventEver 2018, covering the 1995 event Underworld Unleashed! Due to computer issues and developments in my personal life, I’ve stretched my part into November to cover the Robin issues. In addition to my own posts, please check out these other blogs and podcasts for in-depth coverage of the various issues that were part of the event…and join in on further peeks at and discussions of the event on Twitter by joining at hashtags #BestEventEver and #UnderworldReUnleashed!

ITG | Resurrections: An Adam Warlock/Thanos Podcast | Relatively Geeky Podcast Network | The Retroist | Chris is on Infinite Earths | Cosmic Treadmill | The Pop Culture Palace | Rolled Spine’s Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Podcast | The Idol-Head of Diabolu | Justice’s First Dawn | Justice Trek: The Podcast


This issue is a sort of tie-in that’s not a tie-in. In the previous issue, we got to see Drury Walker and Neron and Walker’s transformation from joke-villain Killer Moth into the monstrous bug-creature Charaxes, which ties in well with the general Underworld Unleashed stuff. This issue, though…if it wasn’t for the Underworld Unleashed logo on the cover, and following directly on the previous issue–one wouldn’t even know there was some larger "event" going on! This can be read as its own thing–you don’t need Underworld Unleashed itself, and other than simply knowing Tim’s been captured by the creature, you don’t even REALLY need the previous issue! (Thanks to context and exposition…and speaking for myself, 30 years of comics-reading.)

Robin’s been cocooned ALIENS-style (well, lots-of-things-style, but I’m in an ALIENS frame of mind), unable to free himself yet, but in contact with Alfred…who can provide some information if not actual help (such as the fact that a ‘Charaxes’ is a butterfly, not a moth…but Robin’s not sure his captor’s sweating the details. While Tim struggles and eventually manages to use his extending bo to free himself…the police–even armed with a shotgun–don’t fare well against Charaxes. Robin then gets to have a go at the creature, but eventually it looks like he’ll get to experience that which Alfred had told him about…when a mysterious figure shows up, shoots Charaxes, captures him in a high-tech net…as our hero passes out. When he wakes, it’s to Batman (who arrived too late to have helped), and both are left to wonder about the mysterious entity. At school the next day, Tim is approached by a rival who is willing to put aside differences and "recruit" Tim…in vigilante opposition to the influx of new students. When he shows off a gun…he’s got Tim’s attention!

This is a fairly solid issue of Robin. We get to see our titular hero escape a "death trap," fight the villain, and even interact with Alfred and Batman. In addition, we get to see a bit of Ariana and her family in their new home, as well as see Tim at school with his friends. While this issue came off a cliffhanger, one isn’t really missing a CRUCIAL piece of story–it’s easy enough to catch up from exposition. This is from a time when comics were not locked into a rigid cycle of X number of issues = 1 graphic novel/collected volume. Each issue was episodic, rather than "just" X of Y serialized chapters of a SINGLE story.

It’s perhaps a bit fitting that I get to this issue a couple WEEKS later than I had intended–it’s a "straggler" issue for me on reading, as well as covering as part of the #BestEventEver coverage of Underworld Unleashed. While it’s technically a tie-in, it seems to be a later one, and labeled as such almost as an afterthought. You’d want to read this if you’re reading the series, and if you read the previous issue and cared about how Robin escapes from Charaxes…but this really seems to have absolutely nothing to do with Underworld Unleashed, and would be suitable for getting in conjunction with that solely for the logo on the cover.

Visually, I like the issue. It’s just Robin for me. It’s not trying to be some distinctive visual interpretation, it’s just…Robin art for a Robin issue. If I wasn’t looking at the credits I probably wouldn’t identify the artist offhand…but in the way this issue is, that’s a good thing, as it just looks like a ’90s Robin issue, and not a bad one at that.

As with most ’90s comics…this is definitely worth a 25-cent purchase, though there’s not really much to this to make it stand out as a sole, single, isolated issue. Aside from the "completist" mentality for Underworld Unlimited, if you’re not interested in early Tim Drake Robin stuff, or Killer Moth and that character’s oddities, or the art…I woudln’t suggest hunting this down for the sake of itself.

As a Robin issue, and my being a fan of this character…these two issues were a treat to revisit and I’m quite glad to have read them!


Again, please check out these other sites for additional, more in-depth coverage of the various other issues–including the main event mini itself–for Underworld Unleashed!

robin_0024_blogtrailer

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The ’90s Revisited: Robin #23 – Underworld Unleashed!

90s_revisited

robin_0023Buggin’

Story: Chuck Dixon
Pencils: Aaron Lopresti
Inks: Stan Woch
Colors: Adrienne Roy
Letters: Tim Harkins
Cover: Mike Wieringo, Terry Austin, Bob LeRose, Curtis King, John Wren
Associate Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Last month, a number of blogs and podcasts joined together to present #BestEventEver 2018, covering the 1995 event Underworld Unleashed! Due to computer issues, I’ve stretched a bit into November to cover the Robin issues. In addition to my own posts, please check out these other blogs and podcasts for in-depth coverage of the various issues that were part of the event…and join in on further peeks at and discussions of the event on Twitter by joining at hashtags #BestEventEver and #UnderworldReUnleashed!

ITG | Resurrections: An Adam Warlock/Thanos Podcast | Relatively Geeky Podcast Network | The Retroist | Chris is on Infinite Earths | Cosmic Treadmill | The Pop Culture Palace | Rolled Spine’s Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Podcast | The Idol-Head of Diabolu | Justice’s First Dawn | Justice Trek: The Podcast


I’m pretty sure I had not read this when it first came out…but I realized I must have read it quite a number of years ago–though at most recent, it would have been 2002! More likely 2001, when I bought a set of issues 1-40 from Capp’s Comics, which then left me (at the time) only missing 41-45 from being “current” with the series, as I’d jumped back in with #46 or so, and followed the series more or less to at least #100! So some part of me remembered having read this, the “upgrade” of Killer Moth to Charaxes! Other than this, or in spite of this, to me, the main thing I know the character from is that he was involved in an attempted kidnapping of Bruce Wayne in which Barbara “Babs” Gordon intervened as Batgirl (the incident is referenced in Untold Legend of the Batman #3, but Killer Moth himself/by name is NOT).

We open this issue on a large, green, bug-like face demanding “Do as I say or face the wrath of…Killer Moth!” The scene transitions and we see that it’s a dream, and meet the man himself–who longs to be feared and not the butt of jokes amidst even fellow villains. Neron (this is an Underworld Unleashed branded tie-in, after all!) appears to him and offers to transform him. We then shift to Robin “stalking” Tim Drake’s girlfriend, lamenting her family having had to sell their business and move. He feels angsty over stuff until Batman shows up, and asks him an interesting question–does he know who bought the family’s property? We then learn that it was bought by Wayne Enterprises at triple market value, which allows the family to thrive, and move to a better part of Gotham (which happens to be closer to Tim, close enough that Ariana will now attend the same high school!). Meanwhile, Arkham guards find a cocoon in Drury Walker’s cell, and eventually the cocoon opens, and a bug-creature emerges, agrees that “Killer Moth” is a ludicrous concept, and to call it Charaxes! At Gotham Heights High, we see Tim introduce his friends to Ariana and they interact a bit, before we see some results of Charaxes’ rampage. Eventually the actual police are called, and even they aren’t equipped to deal with this new “upgraded” threat from a previously-considered-a-joke guy. Learning of the situation, Robin prepares to head out, figuring it shouldn’t be a problem…after all, this is Killer Moth they’re talking about! Unfortunately, Robin winds up getting knocked out during the fight with the creature, and wakes up at the end of the issue stuck in a cocoon of sorts having no idea where he is or how he got there, knowing only that “it” will be back soon.

Somehow notably to me is Neron responding to Walker’s question of whether the transformation he’s agreed to will hurt. “You will forget the pain….when the transformation is complete.” This concept is something that I’ve often considered in various situations, and while I don’t know if my personal original coming across it was this issue, this issue DID spark at least a vague sense of deja vu or such with it. That painful as something is in the moment, once through it, the pain will be forgotten in light of the result.

Over the 16+ years since I would have read this, I’d forgotten plenty of details of Tim Drake’s early days as Robin. (Though he had 3 mini-series and an Annual even before about 2 years of this ongoing series…the character has been around for 30 years now and this issue was only about 6 years into that, so this is still “early” for the character.) Coming back to Tim still being with Ariana touches off a nice bit of nostalgia for me. I’d completely forgotten about subplots with her family and moving and such. For that matter, given the way most modern comics seem to be with the eye for the 4-6 issue “graphic novel,” sometimes I feel like I forget what “subplots” even were, and the sort of structure seen in this issue, with a number of points touched on that are not strictly structured for a specific, standard-sized collection.

I really like the art in this issue. As I read it, I hadn’t noted the credits…I just wanted to take in the story. I think I “assumed” the art was Tom Grummett, but was (pleasantly) surprised to find that it’s Aaron Lopresti…a name I’m more recently “re-familiar” with due to his work on the Malibu Ultraverse title Sludge.

It’s not surprising, then, that I liked the art! I’m not a huge fan of the Charaxes design…but then, I’m not a huge fan of bugs, so the character just has a look that I’m not quite comfortable with. However, I’d put that down as a success in the appearance! Throughout the issue, stuff’s not hard to follow visually, and Lopresti‘s style works very well with what I tend to think of for 1990s Robin, and fitting right in with prior Robin art so as to not be distracting or off-putting!

Story-wise, I enjoyed the memories in this, and that there wasn’t MUCH time wasted on exposition…and yet, it seemed easy enough to follow along. Granted, I’d read this issue before, know quite a bit about Robin and so on, but I didn’t feel lost or stuck “outside” the story. Even if one doesn’t know the characters or history, it’s pretty easy to pick up on the main points, much as one might casually watch an early episode of a tv series for which they’ve seen some later-season episodes.

Neron’s appearance itself is not explained or contextualized here–not even an Editor’s Note to “see Underworld Unleashed“–but his appearance here qualifies AS appearing here AND gives us the on-panel “explanation” for Walker going from some inept inmate desiring respect, to a cocoon on the ceiling and transformation into Charaxes. This seems like one of the more drastic changes to a villain, and seems fitting enough with the cocoon and all, transforming Walker physically/biologically into a killer bug, rather than having just a name and costume.

The introduction of Charaxes certainly fulfills my expectation of this as a tie-in to Underworld Unleashed, in seeing a previously-established low level villain receiving an “upgrade” into a larger threat. I don’t recall how long this change “stuck,” as I’m pretty sure “Killer Moth” as a petty, low-level villain is presently still a butt of jokes and “just human” and such, though I couldn’t say where the character is at present in 2018.

This issue doesn’t really stand out singularly or have any over-obvious cover to draw one’s attention to it in passing as to this particular story. That said, the cover image of a cocooned Robin looking wide-eyed at the giant bug-creature on the cover gives this a suitably “spooky”-ish type of imagery that would fit with an October issue (cover dates being a couple months ahead, this issue would have been an October 1995 issue).

This is a solid issue of Robin (the series), and works well in what I remember as the continuity of the time. We do have the “origin” and such of Charaxes, so there’s some significance in that regard, if one comes across it in a bargain bin. This does end on a cliffhanger, and there is a second tie-in issue (the next issue, #24) so this doesn’t work as well as a standalone thing, and is best acquired as part of the pair of issues. If you’re a fan of Robin, writer Chuck Dixon, artist Aaron Lopresti, seeking Underworld Unleashed tie-ins, or Killer Moth/Charaxes stuff, this’d be a definite treat to pick up.


Again, please check out these other sites for additional, more in-depth coverage of the various other issues–including the main event mini itself–for Underworld Unleashed!

robin_0023_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Sludge #2

ultraverse_revisited

sludge_0002Because They Pay Me

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Gary Martin
Letters: Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Robert Alvord
Interior Colorists: Violent Hues
Editor: Chris Ulm
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

It feels like ages since I read Sludge #1–though it hasn’t been THAT long. I remember vague details but not character names and such. Even the main character, I "only" remember as "Sludge," though I remember he was a dirty cop who maintained certain principles and was shot up for it.

In that regard, this issue felt like "another episode" if not "THE next episode" of stuff, comparing this to a tv series.

We have a cold open on an inner monologue, someone who was bullied as a kid. We come to see that the kid has grown up and become a mercenary…his "defenses" and "coping mechanism" to deal with the bullying led him to this position…and he’s good at his job, enjoying dishing out the killing. Meanwhile, a couple thugs are pressuring someone to pay up on a debt, and to send a message plan to take a body part. It’s up to the guy who owes to determine which–and whether it’s external or internal. Sludge comes across them and recognizes one of the thugs, which leads to confrontation and the thug winds up dead. Also meanwhile, authorities are trying to figure out what the connection is with dead folks and their having been killed by massive overgrowth of cells where the faces essentially grow over themselves, suffocating the individuals. As readers, we know–we’ve seen–it’s Sludge, where his touch does the deed. Getting these multiple viewpoints, we’re learning and seeing more than Sludge for the moment, as this issue’s stuff comes together. Someone at the pharmaceuticals company involved in stuff hires the mercenary, and after we see him deal with another contract, he’s on to Sludge. As we’ve seen the mercenary’s internal state, we see that on first sight, Sludge becomes the embodiment of all the torture he went through as a kid, the creature MUST be killed, it was born to die as he–this mercenary–was born to kill it. We end the issue with him standing over the apparently-dead body of Sludge.

I tend to think of Sludge as a dark title visually…probably I’m thinking of the blues and blacks from the first issue’s cover, which is the main cover I think of for the character/title. This issue felt "colorful" overall, which made Sludge himself seem a bit out of place and more "alien" or "Other." That’s a good thing, especially if it was done intentionally and is not just me "reading too much into it" or "finding more than what’s actually there." I also like some of the subtleties and "moments" that are actually left to the imagination–such as a woman who is killed. We know she’s killed, but it’s not overtly shown, it’s not gratuitous. The visuals convey what’s needed and get the story across very well!

Story-wise, this issue focuses on the villain, while giving us incidental additions to Sludge’s character and situation. It’s a bit scary how well I can identify with the villain’s experience as a kid–not that it’s a direct matchup–and reiterates to me what a difference there is in how one handles a situation. Regardless, this makes the villain more sympathetic than he’d be otherwise. It’s interesting to be able to get into the guy’s head a bit–it grounds him, makes him more authentic–even though I never rooted for him and certainly don’t condone his line of business.

We get the introduction of this villain with his background and all; we also get development in the overall story as far as Sludge himself is concerned, and he gets a bit of resolution regarding individuals involved in his becoming the creature he is now; and there are more underhanded dealings with the pharmaceutical company as the whole thing is pushed to be covered up and principle loose ends–namely Sludge–are to be dealt with. And the cops are figuring out that something is out there and something is going on, which makes things doubly problematic for the "bad guys."

This issue builds on the first issue, but also stands alone fairly well. As a reader you definitely benefit from having the context and setup of the first issue; aside from the context, this doesn’t really refer back to stuff and doesn’t do the "continued from…" thing. It’s surprisingly readable and enjoyable as a one-off, and as with many Ultraverse issues…it’s well worth 25-50 cents to buy and read from a bargain bin. As I’ve been fortunate to find so many Ultraverse issues as cheaply as I have, I’d tend to recommend not going over $1 or so for this…but if you have to order it online to get it at all, it wouldn’t be horrible to pay its cover price, give or take depending on your desire to read it yourself!

sludge_0002_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Sludge #1

ultraverse_revisited

sludge_0001You Can Take the Cop Out of the Sewer…

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Gary Martin
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Interior Colorists: Violent Hues
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

I’ve been looking forward to the Rune Month stuff for awhile. I have some clear memories of getting issues from that month, concertedly tracking down all 11 coupons to get the Rune #0 issue (which also fed into getting the main Rune title, and Rune being one of my three "core titles" I stuck with…even leading to the only fanfic stuff I’ve ever written over half a lifetime ago.)

The extreme close-up of Sludge’s face as the cover has long been an "iconic" sort of image for me, and yet another singular issue (albeit another #1, too!) with a single, memorable cover that is instantly recognizable and stands out.

As the issue opens, we see things from the creature’s point of view–It’s in the sewer, watching a group of homeless, listening to a radio. On the radio, the host talks about a missing cop and the suspicious circumstances behind his disappearance. As the broadcast continues, our point of view shifts a couple times, to include the gang members that had something to do with the cop…as they head out and shoot more people. The creature hears the gunfire and gets involved. Despite their surprise at the creature, they seem to overcome it, preparing to leave it for dead before realizing it’s not so easily killed! We get internal dialogue from the creature–who struggles to recall the proper words, and its frustration grows the more this happens…and the frustration’s taken out on the gang members. The creature also seems to have the ability to melt/mold flesh–grabbing one kid’s face, and "melting" it to a blob of skin, with no way to inhale or exhale…a gruesome way to die, but perhaps deservedly for the innocents killed shortly before. We move into a flashback and see that this creature IS the missing cop, who wasn’t exactly squeaky-clean…but drew a line at killing people. For this, he himself is shot up–certain overkill–and the still-living body dumped in a sewer, where it contacts some sort of chemical, and mutates the body into a walking pile of–you guessed it–SLUDGE. Back in the present, police find the gang members’ bodies and speculate what could have killed them–while back in the sewer, the creature finds and crushes the radio, stating that he can’t stand the host. As he leaves, a couple of the homeless comment on the creature being a walking sludge heap–or "Santy Claus."

This issue’s story is pretty familiar to me, compared to some of the other Ultraverse books. I definitely remember getting AND reading this when it came out. I don’t remember any further issues, but I clearly recall the creature’s stumbling over words and his frustration at that. The story is rather formulaic, and the creature reminds me very much of the very-little I know about Marvel‘s Man-Thing (itself with a significant run by Gerber!), and by comparison there to DC‘s Swamp Thing. In some ways, this seems like it could be a darker take on a Ninja Turtles character–someone injured, dumped into a sewer, where they contact a strange chemical and mutate into some creature and then take on a new mission to fight crime/do good/whatever. I think that familiarity of elements kept the character from seeming as gruesome to me as a kid, and I don’t remember being bothered by him killing people…I probably just didn’t think much on that at the time.

The art’s pretty good, and I like it. The creature looks like a "creature" made of sludge, and the people look like people. The story is easy to follow visually, and the visuals do a good job conveying everything as expected. The page layouts vary quite a bit, and work well conveying mood and tone. While a couple pages are primarily a single image/panel, others have a lot crammed into them, making for a good mix that does NOT feel like there’s any "cheating" going on. One panel/page showing the creature smashing a car while yelling "Pull over!" stands out to me in particular–and I hear the "Get over here!" voice from the Scorpion character in the original Mortal Kombat video game.

Sludge is the actual series and main content of this issue; but it has a "flipbook" segment where you literally "flip" the book over to see a different cover and read some content from that direction–it appears upside down and out of order if you continue linearly from the front/main Sludge cover.

rune_0aRune [A]: The Prophecy

Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

The flip-cover to Sludge #1 features a closeup of an open vampire-mouth, with a translucent Rune logo, the letter "A" indicating this as the first chapter, and the text "The Stones are cast…"

We get a title page with the Rune logo, and the story title, creator credits, and an outline of the Rune creature, as well as an explanation that each of the 11 October titles contain a chapter of Rune, and that 9 of the 11 flip covers combine to form one large poster image–and we get a white background/black silhouette showing that. The next page tells us a bit about Rune, with a Barry Windsor-Smith image of the creature.

As the story itself begins, we see bloody hands with long nails casting multi-colored gems toward a floor. Moving to the second and third pages, we see the creature contemplating the gems–with markings (runes) on them, and determines that there is a power that will restore him…Rune shall live!

It’s hard to really talk much about only 3 pages, especially just the first three pages of a story. We have text telling us about the creature, and now we see the creature…but there’s just not much STORY to the pages. It reads much better as part of a larger whole…but on its own, this seems rather negligible. Visually, this is distinctively BWS art…perhaps distinctive because I recall this story, but also the similarity in visual style to the likes of Marvel‘s Weapon X and classic ’90s Valiant/X-O Manowar stuff I’m familiar with. It’s definitely unique enough to set this off as its own thing, and make Rune visually distinctive. This is clearly the character previously advertised.

This feels more like an "ad" than much else–and given the Night Man "preview" has a full text page AND 3 story pages out of context, it sorta negates the specialness to this premiere of Rune.


Especially as I’m reading this issue in 2018, the $2.50 cover price doesn’t phase me when virtually every comic out there is now $3.99, with only a few minor exceptions at $2.99. The issue itself–Sludge–has 25 numbered story pages. The cover claims this is a 40-page special…so we fall some 15 pages short of that! But add in 3 story-pages of Rune, and the two pages introducing those story pages and we’re up to 30. Further factor the Night Man preview (if that’s content) and we’re up to 34; a Mighty Magnor 1-page piece takes us to 35; the Rune #0 coupon stuff nudges us to 39 pages…so it’s iffy. But in 2018 and this being essentially a definite 25-cent book, max of $1ish…it’s more than worth that sort of price, whether 20 pages or the stated 40. And the 40 probably counts the main ads and such, so…it’s accurate. It doesn’t say 40 story pages, after all.

The Rune portion feels like little more than an ad–as said above, there’s a Night Man preview that has just as many "story pages" with about as much (if not MORE) context…so this could just as easily been a Night Man flip book with a several-page Rune "preview" and been functionally the same content between the covers.

Still, this having been designated "Rune Month" (I believe that was the thing back in the day, as it’s stuck with me all these years somehow) it at least makes for a "theme" that is carried across all the books, unifying them. And rather than just the same 3 pages over and over again in all 11 books, each has 3 unique pages that combined make up a prologue issue ahead of an ongoing series in a way that I doubt we’d see in 2018 from any major publisher.

As with other Ultraverse #1 issues, this is certainly worthwhile in itself as a single issue to check things out. I’ve seen this and many of these other early Ultra-titles in 25-cent and 50-cent bins, so I wouldn’t suggest paying more than $1 or so if you can help it. If you like Steve Gerber’s work, you’ll probably like this; if you like Lopresti‘s art, same deal. And though there are the comparisons to make to other publishers’ characters, this is a unique character so far for the Ultraverse itself, and worth checking out just because. This stands alone pretty well–and remains (thus far) the only issue of the series I know I’ve actually read, so there’s that as well.

sludge_0001_blogtrailer

The ’90s Revisited: Lord Pumpkin #0

ultraverse_lord_pumpkin_0000The Return of the Great Pumpkin

Storyteller: Dan Danko
Illustrator: Aaron Lopresti
Finishers: Gary Martin, Aaron Lopresti
Letters: Gail Beckett
Color Design: Micky Rose
Interior colors: Foodhammer! with Sharleen Gaertner
Editor: Roland Mann
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October, 1994
Cover Price: $2.50

Happy Halloween! For this day, I figured I’d post about one of my favorite "Halloween-themed" characters… Lord Pumpkin! (Even though this totally jumps the gun on an "eventual" Ultraverse reading project).

And why not just cover an entire issue devoted to the character as my means of doing so?

Much as I enjoy the character/concept (if only for the sheer visual ridiculousness), I still have a huge blind spot in terms of concrete comic knowledge of the character and events involving him, outside of a slight memory of the character being featured on the Ultraforce cartoon series, and sharing a "flipbook" for three issues of NecroMantra before the two characters’ stories collided in NecroMantra #4.

But that gets ahead of things a bit.

This issue opens with a pumpkin-headed (or rather, Jack O’Lantern-headed) character arriving on Earth, seemingly with no memory of who or what he is. We then flash back to the GodWheel where we witness a band of fighters seeking to take down the Pumpkin King. On Earth, we see the character essentially "enslaved" by a traveling carnival, and befriended by a young boy. Another player enters the scene, looking to stir up some mischief, providing the boy with a special candle for his pumpkin-headed friend…which leads to a sort of awakening. Ultimately, we see the fate of the fighters and their simultaneously doomed attempt on the evil king’s life as well as said attempt’s impact on Earth, and we see our abused character exact a certain key revenge for his imprisonment…while getting some foreshadowing for the sinister, recurring nature and visual iconography of Lord Pumpkin.

To the best of my un-confirmed, un-researched knowledge, this issue was a one-shot, providing us with a Lord Pumpkin-centric story giving some background on the character–where he came from, who/what he is, and all of that…an "origin story" of sorts. (Yet with the aforementioned NecroMantra flip-book, and a Limited Special Edition variant, one can functionally have Lord Pumpkin #s 1-4 in addition to this #0).

I enjoyed this well enough as a standalone special. We’re introduced to the character, given some background, witness some developments that’ll likely factor into the character’s position as a villain of the Ultraverse, and get a conclusion (while stuff’s left open for later stories). While the character concept is rather ridiculous–a villainous Jack O’Lantern with a human body?–it works, and I am more than willing to suspend disbelief regarding the character. Of course, certain factors that one might question with the character–particularly the pumpkin-for-a-head–is actually dealt with in context of the character/story, and makes for an interesting element for the "villain is seemingly killed but we still know he might be back" trope.

Story-wise in itself, I’m not overly impressed…but then, for a single-issue self-contained thing with a character I recognize more than I "know," and lacking other immediate/conscious context, I don’t supposed I should be. Still, it’s a solid issue and a complete story in itself…serving both as a one-off tale and situating the character within the then-current Ultraverse line.

Visually, I really dug this. The art seems at once simplistic in a way, yet rather complex…and looking at it, it just feels like an Ultraverse comic. It does not look out of place for what memories I have of the line. I was rather interested at realizing Lopresti did the art here, recognizing his name from later Marvel and DC stuff, and not remembering that he was involved in at least this issue of the Ultraverse.

ultraverse_lord_pumpkin_0000bAlong with the "main" cover, there’s a cool variant (I can’t believe I just said that, but I’ll get into the subject of Ultraverse variants in another post) that is also quite fitting for Halloween, and I’m glad to have BOTH.

While not AS "special" as, say, a mail-away special (Ultraverse Premiere #0, Rune #0, The Solution #0) this is still a worthwhile issue to get if you come across it in a 25-cent or 50-cent bin. It stands alone as a self-contained story, but should provide additional complex if you’ve come across the character in other issues…and sets the character up for appearances in later Ultraverse comics (there’s an ad in this issue for the GodWheel mini-series that Lord Pumpkin gets a role in).

I found it rather fortuitous the timing of going through my Ultraverse comics and realizing I had just the time to get to this issue for Halloween.

Sad thing (to me)? I wasn’t yet 13 when this issue was new…yet with an October 1994 cover date, this issue is now 22 years old!

Legends of Tomorrow #1 [Review]

legendsoftomorrow0001Cover Art: Aaron Lopresti with Chris Sotomayor
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: May 2016
Cover Price: $7.99

I hadn’t paid attention to this originally when I saw it solicited…I noticed the “title” and chalked it up as yet another soon-to-be-failed tv-tie-in of near-zero consequence, at least to me and my following the “regular” continuity of DC stuff. I’m not sure if the tv show had premiered yet or was just about to, but I had no interest in yet another digital-first thing seeing print, and thus ignored it. Then recently there was an ad for it that caught my attention, and left me curious. I was a bit put off learning the thing would be $7.99…even for a double-length issue, being frustrated with $3.99 price points, essentially $8 seemed a bit MUCH for just one issue of something I wasn’t overly familiar with. Still, I resolved to wait and see, not swearing to avoid the book but not intending absolutely to buy it, either. When it came out last week, it was a small week for me, so the $8 wasn’t terribly steep…plus the issue’s squarebound with the title on the spine, so it can actually go on a shelf like a mini tpb, and not simply disappear into a box.

While I’d expected a “lead” story and the others to essentially be “backup” features…if I counted correctly, we have 4 20-page stories in this issue, giving the thing excellent “value” for the content, if one is interested in or doesn’t mind what’s included (vs. say, wishing it was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, or Green Lantern content).

Firestorm – United We Fall part 1
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Eduardo Pansica
Inker: Rob Hunter
Letterer: Corey Breen
Editor: Jessica Chen

I remember checking out Firestorm: The Nuclear Men title at the launch of the New 52, and it didn’t hold me enough to stick with it past a few months. I’ve never been a huge Firestorm fan, but I’d been loosely aware of the character at points–though mostly it was after the introduction of Jason as the new Firestorm and the apparent demise of Ronnie in Identity Crisis that the character was fully on my radar; and then the Deathstorm stuff around Blackest Night. Now there’s been a fair bit on the Flash tv show and Legends of Tomorrow, so this “lead” story was a good enticement for me to buy the issue.

We open on Ronnie and Jason testing their powers, with something going on with them, and then the two split, and we get a glimpse into their personal lives–individually, and at school with a mutual friend. We also have the introduction of a new/old villain, and come to see that there is something up with Jason, and with the Firestorm Matrix in general, which leads to a cliffhanger promising imminent destruction.

In addition to the above preamble, I think another draw to THIS take on Firestorm is that it’s written by the character’s co-creator, Gerry Conway…with the added element that I’ve attended a panel where he spoke several years ago, so there’s that quasi-personal-ish connection for me.

I like that the Jason/Ronnie mix has not been scrapped, and that along with both of them we also still have Professor Stein…indicating, for my limited experience with the character, a certain mix of original/classic and newer character elements and an observance of history for the characters. Yet, this also reads as a first issue, showing us bits of stuff with Firestorm and that it requires two people, and there’s this “matrix” thing that allows them to join AS (a) Firestorm; We’re “introduced to” Ronnie and Jason and see a bit about them–Ronnie’s into sports, Jason’s more into academics; We see a bit of “supporting cast” in Stein as well as the boys’ mutual friend; as well as a bit of rivalry between them. I’m familiar enough to simply enjoy the re-introduction/”confirmation” of stuff I figured I knew, and I’m interested in where this story goes.

I’m not sure if I’ve seen Pansica‘s art before or not…but I had no real expectation going into this. I was not disappointed by the art…it’s good, and worked for the story, avoiding random weirdness that’d put me off or have me wondering at anatomy and such; and I was never left trying to figure out WHAT happened or was going on. It’s a good match for the story itself.

I’m not sure exactly how this would rate for me as a first issue wholly on its own…though I probably would not have bought a Firestorm #1. But this was only the first quarter of the issue purchased…

Continue reading

Adventure Comics #0 [Review]

Quick Rating: Decent
Story Title: The Legion of Super-Heroes / Origins & Omens

Superboy meets super-powered teens from the future, and a new Luthor/Brainiac team is introduced.

Writer: (AC247) Otto Binder, (O&O) Geoff Johns
Artist: (AC247) Al Plastino, (O&O) Francis Manapul
Colorist: Brian Buccellato
Letterer: Swands
Associate Editor: Sean Ryan
Editor: Elisabeth V. Gehrlein
Cover: Aaron Lopresti
Publisher: DC Comics

This issue is primarily reprint material, reprinting the story from Adventure Comics #247…a silver-age comic. This was the story that introduced Superboy to a super-hero club–the Legion of Super-Heroes. Encountering several individuals who know that he is Superboy AND Clark Kent, Superboy agrees to go 1,000 years into the future with these super-powered teens, who invite him to join their club as an honorary member if he can pass their initiation.

At the end of the issue is a 6-page sequence–the Origins & Omens story (one of which will be found in each of a number of other DC titles this month). This one continues a thread from the recently-concluded New Krypton story and sets the stage for the earliest issues of this series.

The story and art on the reprint are instantly recognizeable as silver age fare. While I appreciate concepts of the silver-age and greatly enjoyed time spent reading through my grandfather’s collection of comics half a lifetime ago, these days I find such stories in a bit of opposition with my interest. However, this story was decent, and it IS interesting to see the early/original version of the characters that would go on to have so much more depth in the years since this introduction.

The Origins & Omens bit seemed extremely short, but it has me interested in what’s to come. And I couldn’t help but recall Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? as I read this latest version of a Luthor/Brainiac interaction. The writing’s familiar–it’s Johns, after all–and the art is solid.

However, I’m doubtful that the Origins & Omens sequence is itself enough to justify the cover price. If you want the reprint and/or especially enjoy the Lopresti cover, this issue is well worth the $1. And if you’ve never read this story, there are few better ways to get a piece of history added to your “read” pile.

Ratings:

Story: 3/5
Art:
3/5
Overall:
3/5

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