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The ’90s Revisited: The Phoenix Resurrection – Genesis

90s_revisited

phoenix_resurrection_genesisGenesis

Writrs: Ian Edginton, Dan Abnett
Pencillers: Darick Robertson, Mark Pacella, Greg Luzniak, Rob Haynes
Inkers: Tom Wegrzyn, Art Thibert, Larry Stucker, Bob Wiacek, Philip Moy
Letterer: Vickie Williams
Color Design: Robert Alvord
Interior Color: Malibu Color
Asst. Editor: Scott Bernstein
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

As Marvel publishes Phoenix Resurrection in the present, 22 years ago it published The Phoenix Resurrection through Malibu ComicsUltraverse line. Malibu Comics, which Marvel had purchased in order to keep DC Comics from buying the smaller publisher. And with the smaller publisher in-hand…looking back through this issue at least, it seems Marvel had no idea what to do or have done with the small superhero universe it now had in addition to its own.

This Genesis issue was preceded by a month-long promotion in which each of the 7 then-current Ultraverse titles had a 3-page flipbook segment showing the characters encountering some kinda reference to a phoenix, though taken as a whole that made for a disjointed mess. The seven chapters were reprinted/collected into a single issue in The Phoenix Resurrection: Red Shift.

Getting into the main/actual story of the "event" now with this issue, we get a prologue of the Phoenix Force being discovered by some probe from another universe. Before long, through machinations of the Gateway character, a squad of X-Men find themselves once more in a parallel universe that they’ve become increasingly familiar with (a footnote reference to the Mutants vs. Ultras special issue, itself collecting several previously-exclusive American Entertainment editions such as Prime vs. Hulk, Wolverine vs. Night Man, and All New Exiles vs. X-Men).

While bystanders and news media are focused on something coming from the sun, Ultra hero Prime engages the X-Men in combat, because of course they’ve gotta fight. The source of the aforementioned probe–a mother ship that’s buried in the ocean–reunites with a counterpart in the sun, and brings the Phoenix Force to this Earth, and then tries to drain its energy–its life–causing the Phoenix entity to be driven insane with pain. The entity bonds with Prime as a host body, and continues to fight the X-Men, as other Ultras are brought to the scene. (It should be mentioned that apparently the mutants’ powers are severely dampened in this reality…but that’s a crutch that doesn’t much matter for discussion of this particular issue). Eventually, the Phoenix and Prime are separated, and the Phoenix takes a new host, as the issue ends (to be continued in Phoenix Resurrection: Revelations).

Maybe it’s that I look back on the likes of Prime, Mantra, and Rune with memory of more complex, authentic-sounding stories and characters, as well as the same from the X-Men books from the early/mid-’90s (particularly stuff like Fatal Attractions or the Age of Apocalypse and immediate aftermaths) but this just does not feel like it has much depth, nor is there–even in an extra-sized issue like this–much characterization. It’s like the characters were chosen for the book by "popularity" and "mainstream-ness" (plus, of course, being characters appearing in books that survived into the pared-down 7-book line of Black September-onward), and not really for much else. We have a squad of X-Men and some major Ultraverse characters thrown together, but I get no real sense of depth, development, or motivation. The probe and mother ship have a far-too-convenient means of getting the Phoenix to Earth, Gateway seems nothing but "convenience" personified, and we’re told rather than shown that the mutants’ powers are lessened here. Prime comes off as nothing but some petulant kid–while he IS a kid, he’s lacking a depth I feel like I remember from his own original title. Bishop seems to be present for appearance’s sake, and with the mutants not even really trying to use their powers, there’s no particular point to any specific character’s presence…they’re interchangeable.

With the art, I recognize Darick Robertson and Art Thibert as names if not an actual art style here; but having numerous artists on this single issue doesn’t particularly do it any favors…at least for me reading it in a fair bit of isolation here–perhaps they’re the artists on the main books, in which case I’d welcome that (in idea at least), but just jumping into this issue after the Red Shift collection of 3-page shorts, I’m not thrilled with the visuals. I recognize the various characters–there seems to be an attempt to have them all look a certain way, perhaps using a "house style" or such–but virtually nothing stands out to me. Everyone is for the most part a generic iteration of iconic appearance (for lack of better phrasing). The only real stand-out bit for me was the large image of the Phoenix-possessed Prime (though zero mention or visual reference from the Ultraverse side OR X-Men side of the Prime body being healed/repaired after an obvious significant slash from Wolverine’s claws and Jubilee’s reaction to the green goop).

Ultimately, offhand, I didn’t so much "not enjoy" this as I "didn’t ENJOY" it. It’s cool–at least conceptually–to see the mix of characters thrown together and all. But after 17+ years of having "decompressed stories" that are clearly serialized graphic novels, I definitely am expecting much more depth of character and stuff from two sides like this to be brought out.

This is a definite novelty, one certainly worth 25 cents or so as a bargain-bin purchase, if only for the time it takes to read making it more worthwhile than most anything of its size published in present-day. You can definitely dive into this issue withOUT reading anything before it…the "crossover" stuff from the Red Shift 3-page segments are little but token reference-points thus far, making this a better "starting point" if only for having a big chunk of a single story that’s not jumping to a new setting/character every 3 pages. You could do worse than this issue…but much as I’m down on modern Marvel, if you’re looking for "return of Phoenix" stuff, you’d be better served with the contemporary Return of Jean Grey story in the 2017/2018 Phoenix Resurrection, or in 2012’s AvX event series.

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The ’90s Revisited: The Phoenix Resurrection: Red Shift #0

90s_revisited

phoenix_resurrection_redshiftRed Shift

Writers: I. Edginton, J. Smith
Pencillers: J. Royle, P. Peletier, C. Wojtkiewicz, R. Green, B. Murray, R. Haynes
Inkers: P. Moy, S. Moncuse, M. Farmer, T. Austin, G. Martin
Letterers: P. Owsley, V. Williams
Color Design: R. Alvord
Interior Color: Malibu
Asst. Editor: S. Bernstein
Editor: H. Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: n/a (American Entertainment Edition)

I remember the Black September ‘event’ back in 1995. Perhaps for its timing–Black September, this new era for the Ultraverse, this reboot/relaunch/renumbering–coincided with my entering high school, so for me my own life was starting a brand new direction and all that. I also remember stuff about this particular trail through the Ultraverse titles post-Godwheel heading into the event, though I missed out on the Ultraforce/Avengers issues, and so dropped in "cold" on the black-cover "Infinity" issues that September (with #1s in October). At the #2s in November, each book had a 3-page "flip book" chapter of this Phoenix Resurrection thing, in much the way Rune had premiered a couple years earlier. Then there were the larger issues Phoenix Resurrection: Genesis and Revelations, and Aftermath…and they led into some other title, Foxfire.

But I don’t recall if I ever got around to actually reading them all, or particularly caring about them all–this was late 1995, and rapidly heading toward one of my "off periods" with comics where I barely kept up with anything for about a year. So reading this now is like reading a whole new thing for me–I was aware of its existence, but have no conscious memory of actually reading the thing. And this Red Shift issue is something I don’t recall being aware of at the time in 1995–I discovered it some years after.

Red Shift is actually a collected edition of sorts: it collects the seven 3-page segments, making up a 21-page single-issue comic. The indicia shows it to be an American Entertainment edition–and its lack of cover price indicates this to be a special issue that would have been available through the mail-order comics company. This issue turns a ten-comic "event" into a 4-issue thing…making for a line-wide event of only 4 issues…something virtually unheard of in present-day, particularly from Marvel!

Marvel had bought Malibu by this point, and though the Malibu Comics logo remained on the covers, there were a number of Marvel characters that had crossed over into the Ultraverse, perhaps most notably Avengers character Black Knight, and X-Men villain Juggernaut. There were a number of other specific-story crossovers, where characters would cross for the story but not as a status quo.

Red Shift feels like what it is, as a collection of 3-page snippets, with numerous visual styles, and nowhere near enough room for any true story to develop, as they’re basically short little vignettes contextualizing each title’s "recent" prior experience heading into the main event story. Had I bought all seven issues specifically for the flip-book/backup, I’d have been sorely disappointed. Though I know the characters from my own prior experience reading Ultraverse stuff, as a standalone issue, this felt like a real mess trying to read it, and I really had to rely on memory of status quo from 22 years ago to have any slight idea what was going on.

The differing art styles seem–especially looking back–to be absolutely very "’90s" in style…with some generic and gratuitous posing, quasi- or wannabe "iconic" images, and so on…nothing overly dynamic or bad, exactly, but nothing great, either. Most of the creative team are names I don’t recognize (though I recognize several, as this would be early work by them before going to higher profile stuff). That leaves things to the characters, who are mostly recognizable, albeit as their relaunched looks, which were less distinctive and striking than their 1993/1994 debut appearances.

Story-wise, again, these were way too short and disjointed to really have any significance or development. Had they been simply 3 pages apiece within a main issue, worked into 3-page-longer-than-usual issues, they might have had more significance, serving as a universe-wide subplot, rather than being isolated out of whatever story was beginning in the respective titles.

All in all, I’m far from impressed by this issue, outside of the novelty of having these disparate segments brought together in a single issue like Rune #0. The art isn’t horrible but isn’t anything wonderful, and the story doesn’t do anything for me and doesn’t really do anything for the characters except provide a slight reference point. If you’re not already into these characters, I’d avoid this issue; there’s almost certainly more to be had in the "main" Phoenix Resurrection issues.

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The ’90s Revisited: The Savage Dragon #1

90s_revisited

savage_dragon_1992_0001Baptism of Fire

Creator/Writer/Artist/Inker: Erik Larsen
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Jannie Wong
Color Separations: Digital Chameleon
Published by: Malibu Comics / Image Comics
Cover Date: July 1992
Cover Price: $1.95

I remember seeing THE earliest issues of The Savage Dragon "on the stands" back at Capp’s Comics, back in the day. I don’t recall if I saw the first issue of Spawn or not, but Savage Dragon stuck out to me, somehow…I’m pretty sure it was the cover, with the bright yellow and red/oranginess and the main character charging forward. It was very much an "image" book in that regard–all flash, at minimum. But I’ve "always" since then been at least loosely aware of the title’s continued existence and ongoing nature, continually marching forth into higher and higher numbers (much like Spawn). As of this writing, the ongoing Savage Dragon title’s just had its 225th issue…which combined with my reading in full the Dragon story from the Image 10th Anniversary hardcover, and the ready availability of several collected volumes at significant discount and having a bit more on my shelf already than I realized has really rekindled an active interest in the character for me.

So what better way of things than to go back to the very beginning, to this very first issue of a three-issue limited series (when there was no guarantee the character’d support anything beyond that)?

I know the basics of the character’s origin, and little bits here and there, so this issue isn’t as shocking or such as it may otherwise have been. In a lot of ways, there’s something about this that reminds me a bit of the Ultraverse books–plenty of superhero trappings, but some definite, overt violence that makes the book more "mature" without veering grossly into "adults-ONLY" territory.

We open on a green-skinned fin-headed cop leaping into battle with some guy named Cutthroat, and the two beating on each other. The green guy eventually wins out and Cutthroat and his girlfriend are arrested. We then flash back to the guy in a burning field, and then waking in a hospital to officer Frank Darling, who questions him on who he is and how he came to be there–none of which the guy remembers. Darling tries to recruit him for the police, but "Dragon" refuses. But when his boss is threatened and then the warehouse blown up, killing him…Dragon agrees to try the police thing. He’s a one-man SWAT team, able to take on super-powered criminals the "regular" police don’t stand a chance against. We see Officer Dragon in more action, showing off his stuff and meeting others (criminal and costumed vigilante alike), before seeing a group of super-powered criminals about to be unleashed…and perhaps making for a rather short career for Dragon!

Story-wise, this is pretty basic. It feels like there’s a lot more to it conceptually than actual story-wise…and it’s nearly impossible for me to evaluate this "cold," as I know what I do and so can’t help but come to this already knowing a lot of stuff that wasn’t even available when this was published. That said, it’s cool to read this, consciously aware of things and how they go, while seeing the beginning foundation of it all start to unfold here. This also does as a good first issue should…namely, it introduces us to the titular character, shows him in actions, gives us a bit of an "origin" (at least how he came to be a cop), introduces us to some "minor"/supporting characters, gives us a villain (in this case, several!), and sows some seeds of what’s to come and makes you want to know where things go from here.

The art is solid…the character is very recognizable, of course…and though I’d expect a certain "roughness" to it, there are panels that I’d swear you could show me out of context and I wouldn’t be able to concretely place them as 1993, 2002, or 2017. Larsen‘s work is definitely more refined 225+ issues later, but it’s quite cool to see that he’s held a consistency across 25 years with the character and book.

I definitely look forward to diving into the series and seeing how far I get…whether I do a lengthy read now or "soon," but at least the rest of this mini-series!

I know I got this issue at least a couple times from quarter bins/50-cent bins…I don’t know if (for whatever 3 or so copies I have throughout my collection) I’ve even paid cover price for the issue TOTAL yet. It’s definitely worth a quarter, and if you can get the whole mini-series, I daresay it’s at least worth cover price per issue to get the whole story.

It’s also interesting to note that even though this bears the Image comics "i" logo on the front…this was actually published by Malibu!

For a general reading experience, I’d recommend the collected edition…I know Larsen did some slight revisions and reordered the pages into a story-chronological order for the collected volume and fleshed thinks out a bit…so you’ll have a more thorough and refined story reading that way. Still, I enjoyed reading this as a single issue…and even found that there’s a bound-in mini-poster ripe for framing and hanging on my art-wall!

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!

The ’90s Revisited: All New Exiles vs. X-Men #0

90srevisited

allnewexilesvsxmen000X-Over

Writer: Terry Kavanagh
Penciller: Ken Lashley
Inker: Tom Wegrzyn
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Shannon Blanchard
Interior Color: Malibu
Cover: Dan Panosian
Editors: Chris Ulm, Jerald Devictoria, Bob Harras, Ben Raab
Published by: Malibut Comics
Cover Date: October 1995
Cover Price: n/a (promo/mail-away issue)

I’ve long sought this issue…based on the cover date, it’s safe to say I’ve had at least SOME level of interest in this for 19 years. From what I recall, this was a send-away promo issue. Mail in some bound-in coupon from an ad along with $10 or so, and receive the issue in the mail once it shipped. Simple…but very, very EXPENSIVE…especially for a then-14-year-old. As such, the offer passed me by and my life moved on none the worse for it.

This copy, that I’m covering this in mid-December 2014, came from finding the issue loose in a 25-cent bin this week, and in remarkably good condition for its age and rarity. Of course, I say rarity as I cannot recall ever before coming across this issue in any sort of bargain bin. While it’s not a particularly expensive issue, it’s been expensive enough–more than “just” a couple dollars–that I hadn’t acquired it before now.

Unfortunately, this issue’s had nearly two full decades to build my anticipation of the reading experience…which made this the obvious let-down that one really ought to EXPECT from the situation. This is a one-shot, in-continuity for the Exiles characters but not so much the X-Men side. It was published as a promo outside the regular numbering of the post-Black September All New Exiles series. And it’s no “key issue” of any sort that I can tell…a fact that adds to the sense of disappointment. So let’s leave all that aside.

The cover feels a bit odd to me with the two teams’ logos seeming strangely small on the cover. Granted, each logo individually would usually fill the top space of a cover and it’s not likely anyone wanted to crowd out the image with logos. But these logos being so small and the image being what it is, the logos kind of get lost in the viewing. The image itself, though–of X-Men Storm, Beast, Iceman, Rogue, and Gambit standing in front of some sort of poster of the Exiles–works quite well for me despite the visual style seeming vaguely manga-esque and cartooney to me (particularly compared against some of my favorite Age of Apocalypse-era X-books from early 1995).

The interior art is not bad, and carries a definite ’90s “feel” to me. I recognize Lashley‘s name from Excalibur (and the title’s Age of Apocalypse iteration X-Calibre), so there’s that air of “authenticity” on the X-Men angle for me, even if Excalibur was never a “core” X-book to me growing up. Characters look pretty good throughout this issue with only moments of difference to me where something doesn’t look quite “right.” I do attribute this to the art not being Kubert, Lee, or someone I’m more consciously (and nostalgically) familiar with far more than I do any particular artistic fault. I’m not unimpressed, and other than the conscious analyzing for this review, the art remained relatively unnoticed and simply “there” as I read the issue.

The story isn’t anything fancy…it has a lot of potential but seems rather rushed. Of course, that particular fault I’d attribute to contemporary comics and the drawn-out 4-6 issue story arcs and lack of done-in-one single issues…especially something with only 22 pages, that isns’t even an over-sized/extra-length issue.

We open on Charles Xavier–founder of the X-Men–frustrated at his inability to locate the Juggernaut (Cain Marko, his step-brother) anywhere on Earth. Having picked up on their mentor’s frustration, the X-Men join a physical search, enlisting the aid of Gateway to check other dimensions. Once in another dimension, they find themselves face to face with the Juggernaut and others, where a fight breaks out. The two groups are then distracted when a creature attempts to come through the portal Gateway had opened, and they’re forced to work together to stop it. Ultimately, the status quo is restored with the X-Men returning to their dimension and the Exiles left on theirs with no way to follow the X-Men without re-energizing the creature they’d just stopped.

There’s not a lot of room for any characters to have actual characterization given how many are here and how few pages, along with the story being set up and moved along. Again based on contemporary standards, something like this seems like it would be best served existing as a 3-4+ issue mini-series. Crammed into one issue, we pretty much need to be familiar with the characters to get anything out of this. Familiar or not, everyone’s pretty much to be taken at face-value, with limited dialogue to contextualize things.

I would expect more of this issue–as a singular, special thing. Given its length and publication, this feels more like I picked up a random issue of All New Exiles that happens to guest-star the X-Men…something rather akin to what I picture of random crossovers in “indy” comics…that is, one side or the other takes more out of the story and the other property seems to have no reference to it other than the character(s’)’s existed in the given issue.

Despite my expectations and relative disappointment…for the 25 cents I paid, this was a very good issue and well worth my having bought and taken the time to read. It does also lift my interest in delving into the All New Exiles…though that particular reading project is quite a ways off yet as I seek to complete my Ultraverse collection.

allnewexilesvsxmen0

Halloween 2014

So much for a “holiday.” Longest day at work I’ve pulled in nearly 2 years, and totally, completely FORGOT it was Halloween before my day was done. So nothing fancy here, just closing out more than two months of (week)daily posting with the end of October here.

Lord Pumpkin: perfect villain for today, and one of my favorites in general, if often forgot amidst other favorites that are still in current/contemporary “new” comics.

lordpumpkin000

Labor Day/End of Summer comics

newcomics002_thumb[9]My local comic shop was having an “end-of-summer”/Labor Day clearance sale last week. A bunch of sale books and games and such, as well as extra bargain bins, and all the bargain bins–usually 25-cent comics–were 5-cents apiece or $12 to fill-a-box.

On Wednesday, being there on my short lunch-break, I could only flip very quickly through a few of the bins, and found an issue of Siren and an issue of Necro Mantra/Lord Pumpkin; far as I can tell, the Necro Mantra/LP issue is new, newcomics002_thumb[8]while the Siren issue was a duplicate. But for 10 cents total…I can afford to take the duplicates’ chance.

Friday after work I went back, and scored Angels of Destruction #1 and Witch Hunter #1, both also only 5 cents each. Picked up Firearm #4 and Foxfire #2, both figuring to be duplicates, but for the price, I was taking the chance (and actually, I bought every Ultraverse comic I found, which is sorta sad there were so few in those bins!)

The store owner also gave me a great deal on some other sets. I was already picking up a run of X (Dark Horse Heroes) for $3 and Wonder Man (Marvel)

newultraverse_thumb[1]

for $2; (and the week before, had bought a run of Steel for $6ish and Zen: Intergalactic Ninja for $8). So between the 5-cent comics and pretty solid runs of Grendel, The Ferret, the Superboy series based on the tv show, and Resurrection Man…I walked out Friday with a full longbox and the equivalent of about half a shortbox, all for only slightly more than the cost of 8 or 9 new comics.

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