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The ’80s Revisited: Worlds Finest #323

worlds_finest_comics_0323Afraid of the Dark

Writer: Joey Cavalieri
Penciller: Jose Delbo
Inker: Alfredo Alcala
Letterer: Duncan Andrews
Colorist: Nansi Hoolahan
Editor: Janice Race
Cover: Denys Cowan, Dick Giordano, Tatjana Wood
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 1986
Cover Price: $0.75

I don’t know that I know exactly what I expected from this issue…but this sure wasn’t it!

Metropolis finds itself in the grips of a magical darkness…which means that even Superman can’t do anything about it–though he still tries to at least help, even if he can’t solve anything with it. but he quickly gets taken down by Nightwolf and his magical darkness-wolves (werewolves? dire wolves? magic-wolves, whatever). Nightwolf then parades around proclaiming himself king of the world (essentially) with the beaten Superman as a symbol of his own power and abilities. Meanwhile, Batman does the detective leg-work of the piece, tracking down the origin of this Nightwolf, learning a weakness he can exploit, and ultimately saving the city (and Superman) from the magical threat. In the aftermath, Batman rejects Superman’s attempted thank-you, lecturing him on how he could’ve been killed, and can’t just rush into stuff with FORCE. Batman leaves things at the fact that he’ll SAVE Superman any time, but will not help write his epitaph. And thus, the World’s Finest team has broken up, paving the way for the adversarial (despite mutual respect) relationship of the later 1980s and 1990s that pretty much remains in 2016, 30 years after this issue saw print.

The art is not bad, as Superman and Batman both have a very familiar look, very much what I associate with them for the early to mid 1980s "bronze ange" and such (so much so that as I read Batman’s lines, I heard the voice of the actor from the Untold Legend of the Batman comics-on-cassette!) By extension of THAT, I got a bit of Superman’s voice from the Man of Steel comics-on-cassette stuff as well. My only real problem with the art stems from the time this was published: Superman vs. magical wolves that leave him beaten, costume shredded, and basically unconscious…yet there’s no blood. I don’t need to see a bloodied, shredded almost-corpse, but for the level of threat this supposedly was, it’s odd as a mid-30s adult to read this and see Superman just so "simply" taken down but the only thing INDICATING any harm is holes/tears in the costume with nothing but clean, unmarred skin beneath.

Story-wise, again, this isn’t bad, but it’s certainly DATED. For one thing, someone successfully taking over even a city, and Superman going down, and Batman having to track down the villain’s origin and figure out a weakness and actually take the guy on and such–this would CERTAINLY be a 6-issue arc in terms of contemporary deconstructed/padded/written-for-the-trade comics. And with as much as I have read of modern-day contemporary comics published in the last 15-some years, the "modern sensibility" being drilled into me constantly for all this time–this issue feels ultra-compressed to the point of there being no real character to it…and I’m disappointed at how "filler" and ARBITRARY it felt. I mean, there’s a lot of potential here, but as a now-2016 reader reading this cold some 30 years after it was published, even the hints of characterization and depth that could be picked up on just doesn’t "work" for me as a single issue.

This does not feel like it’s picking up from a cliffhangered previous issue, and as the final issue of the entire series, there’s no cliffhanger (at least not in the "To Be Continued…" sense, though it leaves the Superman/Batman relationship hanging to be developed from its now-broken pieces). As such, it feels like it could be set "whenever," and has no real hook on a specific point in continuity, based on the story itself. And for the flimsy/abrupt splintering of the "partnership" between Batman and Superman, that comes outta nowhere–no internal narration or thought balloons of Batman wishing Clark hadn’t rushed in, and that he’s always doing this and never thinks ahead, whatever. As such, the final couple pages could have been tacked on as "epilogue" to virtually ANY story in which Superman "almost died" and Batman got to "save the day."

The cover as well is a bit out of sync with my personal expectations as well. It seems to indicate the split, a farewell between the two heroes, but no real indicator of cause nor actuality. Given Batman’s small wave, it seems more a casual thing between old friends than any real split or breakup or animosity.

Perhaps adding to my feelings on this issue is also the modern day sensibilities in comics–something as "crucial" as the friendship between Batman and Superman, their partnership, the way they’ve been the best of friends (to this point) coming to an end? This would have been hyped and hugely played-up, with an extra-sized issue with at least another short story following each character and exploring their feelings on the matter and where things are likely to go, etc. (I think of Cyclops vs. Wolverine with Prelude to Schism as its own mini-series to set up the conflict, then Schism itself as another mini to have them actually fight, and then the outcome split into an entirely new ongoing series and a renumbered version of a 48-year-old series).

Something this big just seemed like the issue should have FELT bigger, felt more important, felt Earth-shattering…but instead, it feels like a whimper, or like some tv show that was told it was getting another season, is preparing to film a season finale, but gets told the pre-finale episode is their last, but they can film another minute or two’s worth of story to "wrap things up."

I was quoted $2 for this issue, minus a 20% discount, so figure I paid roughly $1.60 for this…and its cover price is $0.75, so 30 years after its publication, as a "key issue" (final issue of a longrunning series, the "breakup" of the Superman/Batman team), I barely paid more than twice cover price, which itself STILL made it half the cost of a current Dc Rebirth issue, and only a little over 1/3 the cost of a contemporary Marvel issue. The reading experience took longer than contemporary comics, and I’ve sunk however much additional time into typing and preparing this review, so I certainly got my money’s worth out of this for time-to-expense considerations (and I was "prepared" to pay around $6 for this, too!).

Aside from having some desire to read it for yourself, to "experience" the issue as a whole for yourself, this was a real letdown and not something I’d recommend seeking out. Still, there are worse issues, and if you’re (like me) a huge fan of Superman, and even the Superman/Batman stuff, this is worth picking up if you can get it cheaply.

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Uncanny X-Men #600 [Review]

uncannyxmen600Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Sara Pichelli, Mahmud Asrar, Stuart Immonen, Kris Anka, Chris Bachalo, David Marquez, Frazer Irving
Inks: Wade Von Grawbadger, Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin
Colors: Marte Gracia, Jason Keith, Chris Bachalo, Frazer Irving
Cover: Chris Bachalo
Lettering & Production: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Assistant Editors: Christina Harrington, Xander Jarowey
Editors: Mike Marts and Mark Paniccia
Published by: Marvel
Cover Date: January 2016
Cover Price: $5.99

Winter Carnival

Writer: Mary Jo Duffy
Penciler: George Perez
Inker: Alfredo Alcala
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Cover Art: Paul Gulacy
Associate Editor: Ralph Macchio
Editor: Dennis O’Neil

The first X-Men comic I clearly, consciously remember getting is Uncanny X-Men #300. The costumes, the characters, the cover–it fit the then-current animated series on tv that I was getting familiar with, and had a nice shiny cover to draw extra attention (to say nothing of being a thicker cover physically, making for a durable, high-quality issue to hold).

Several years later I picked up #400, and then years after that 500–though I hadn’t kept up with every issue of the title.

So again now, I bought #600 despite not being entirely current on the title (and overlooking the multiple reboots between the last legitimately-numbered issue and this) because of having bought the last several 100-issue round-number issues when they came up. Some 22 years after getting #300, here I am with #600.

My understanding is that this is Bendis‘ final X-Men issue, as far as being the driving force behind the main X-books. Despite catching up a fair bit on Uncanny X-Men and All-New X-Men recently via Marvel‘s Digital Unlimited, I’m still a bit out of the loop on whatever’s transpired between where I left off there and stuff immediately prior to Secret Wars and the Last Days stuff. But I do know the characters and the bulk of recent stuff in the most general of terms.

This issue finds Beast (Hank McCoy) experiencing an “intervention” by his teammates, forcing him to confront what he’s done of late–with emphasis on having time-traveled to bring the original X-Men into the present where they’re now stuck. Amidst the intervention/confrontation, we get some flashes to a number of smaller interactions–“original” Jean wants to leave the group for awhile; “original” Bobby confronts current Bobby on repressed feelings; Kitty, Colossus, and Illyana catch up with each other, and so on. Meanwhile, we also see Scott Summers’ recent dream to fruition…and it proves to be just a bit different than we’ve been led to believe.

We also get a lengthy “backup story” by Perez, a solo Iceman thing, that while it looks good does not feel particularly relevant nor current. It seems set in the early 1970s, though it feels like a more recent piece. The art is very good–I usually do enjoy Perez‘ art–though I don’t entirely appreciate the black-and-white instead of color. Perhaps it was intended this way, maybe it was a stylistic choice, but that contributes to it not feeling like it belongs in this issue.

The main feature’s story is solid enough, and though it doesn’t feel like an ongoing issue but more like a one-shot, it works decently enough as itself, as what it is. At the same time, I’m not thrilled at what appears to be Bendis trying to cement several key points just before taking off, like he has to solidify or shoehorn in some stuff to force subsequent writers to address things or leave Bendis‘ work to be an absolute character element. I do definitely approve of the supposed conclusion of the Cyclops arc, and hope to see stuff picked up on, that it’d “redeem” the villanous element applied to the character over the last several years.

Visually…while I appreciate the CONCEPT of letting a bunch of artists work on the issue as “the” big anniversary issue…I can really do without it. The shifting visual styles is distracting and draws attention to stuff in a way that takes away from the otherwise-natural shifting nature of the story, giving us some smaller character moments while addressing the larger overall confrontation with Beast.

I definitely enjoyed Perez‘ work on the Iceman story…but it’s such an unrelated thing that I’m honestly resentful at its inclusion, at this issue being over-priced at $6 over the “standard” $4 just for the story’s inclusion. Better a $3.99 issue without it than $5.99 WITH. That said, the story would work as some bonus/extra cheap attraction, as it really has nothing to do with current continuity, and has no likely/obvious ongoing elements to contribute to stuff, other than being a ’70s-looking/’70s-sounding story.

The main story’s art was distracting…and I was reminded how recognizable and unwelcome (to me) Bachalo‘s art is amidst it all…especially for the cover. It’s also very disappointing that the cover looks like it’s half of or one of several “panels” of a larger image, without even a wraparound…only a bunch of variants.

I bought this issue personally for being the anniversary issue, being the actual high-number or “legacy-numbered” issue. That’s for the personal element of having got #300 off the shelf, and each subsequent 100-numbered issue. In and of itself, if you have followed Bendis‘ X-work, you’ll want to pick this up. Otherwise, this is quite skippable for whatever will be ‘current” moving forward. Outside of whatever closure you’d get having followed this series, and/or All-New X-Men, I’d suggest skipping this and waiting for whatever nearest #1 most directly follows and grabs your attention.

The ’80s Revisited: Swamp Thing #72

90srevisited

swampthing072Gargles in the Rat Race Choir

Writer/Penciller: Rick Veitch
Inker: Alfredo Alcala
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tatjana Wood
Editor: Karen Berger
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: May 1988
Cover Price: $1.25

Way back amidst my earliest memories of having comics in my life, there was a pack of comics that included Swamp Thing #72 and ROM [SpaceKnight] #51 along with something else I can’t recall (possibly an issue of Detective Comics). I was at a friend’s birthday party, and these packs of comics were the "party favors." I was not yet particularly aware of most characters out there, and had no idea what this Swamp Thing series was–as a series or the main character, even. I may have flipped through the issue, but I do not recall actually reading it; whether I did or not my 2015 reading yielded an appreciation and enjoyment I certainly would not have had at age 10 or so when I received the comic.

Flash forward nearly a quarter-century and I saw the issue in a quarter bin and the nostalgia and curiosity hit me. For a mere twenty-five cents, I would finally read this issue and gain the conscious experience of having done so…see if I remembered the story itself from when I was a kid or if it truly was just the cover I remembered.

To say this was worth that 25-cent piece would be an understatement: even as a totally isolated, context less single issue, I quite enjoyed this issue. I have a long way to go in terms of learning about the Swamp Thing, but I’ve come to know a heckuva lot more than I did as a kid, both in the basics of the character as well as his place in the wider DC Universe, then Vertigo continuity, back to DC Universe, and so on…as well as his history with John Constantine, the Hellblazer. And that latter certainly contributed to my enjoying this, as Constantine plays no small role in this issue.

The issue is fairly dense, shifting between Swamp Thing, Constantine, and other involved parties. Swamp Thing and Constantine essentially are working different angles of the same problem–some sort of sprout involved in the succession of elementals/agents of The Green is being corrupted for lack of a proper host/soul. Swampy consults with Abby, and then we follow someone named Alden–seeing his annoyance at home as he gets around and goes to the office…where a secret that’s been cultivated lays exposed by Constantine. While this threat is dealt with, Swamp Thing spawns elsewhere (utilizing a package of potato chips to do so). Despite his efforts and Constantine’s results, the situation on Earth is not getting better, and we see that The Green has set something into motion (which we’ll have to pick up later issues to see).

This looks and feels much like an early issue of Hellblazer, which I really like. Of course, that makes sense given the issue’s date–I’m pretty sure Hellblazer started in 1987/1988. I do recognize Veitch as a name, whose work I’ve seen previously–though off the top of my head as I type this, I can’t quite place where (probably other Swamp Thing and/or Hellblazer stuff). The page layouts are interesting, and I think some of that comes from this being both written AND drawn by Veitch, allowing that much more synergy with the story and art, with both influencing the other.

This was published with DC‘s NEW FORMAT label and marked as being For Mature Readers…this pre-dates the Vertigo imprint by several years. Though the issue obviously is not aimed at kids, it’s more the subject matter and themes and violence that would make it questionable for the younger crowd…I doubt I would simply hand it to a pre-teen but it seems appropriate enough for teens and up; the Mature Readers wouldn’t seem to have to mean "18+" in this case.

By itself, this was certainly very well worth my twenty-five cents, and it rekindles my interest and curiosity in Swamp Thing as well as my appreciation in the ties between Swamp Thing and Constantine the characters, as well as Swamp Thing and Hellblazer the comic series.

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