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The ’90s Revisited: Warlock and the Infinity Watch #42

90s_revisited

warlock_and_the_infinity_watch_0042Win, Lose, Draw!

Writer: John Arcudi
Pencils: Mike Gustovich
Inks: Keith Williams
Colors: Ian Laughlin
Letters: Jack Morelli
Editor: Mark Gruewald
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July, 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This was a hard issue to read. I’m really not familiar with the art team, outside of perhaps earlier work on this title that I read 15+ years ago. While characters are visually familiar from the time, this is hardly the BEST rendition of them. The story is rather scattered and without much context (no "previously page" and not much in the way of in-story exposition). I suppose that’s a good thing by contemporary standards–not wasting much space on that…and this IS a "final chapter" of whatever the story is, as well as a series finale.

Unfortunately, this feels like a rushed, tie-up-as-much-as-possible finale that may have been something seen coming but not entirely "expected."

We basically have a scattered team, with a member physically hospitalized while her mind is active (psychically) with the team; a former member allied with Thanos, another member turned "traitor," and the team’s "home turf" facing a huge storm that could wipe the place out. Out of nowhere, the team’s Infinity Gems (hence "Infinity Watch") all disappear; Warlock is apparently killed; Maxam returns to his own time without further explanation, and the team is left with Warlock heading out on a solo quest to figure out where the gems went. The End.

Frankly, this is a horrible issue in terms of a context-less, isolated cold-read. As said, it’s a series finale, so it’s scrambling to try to wrap stuff up in a hurry as best as possible. For a series that started on such a high note, this is a pitiful whimper to go out on.

Context-wise, from what I recall of reading scattered later issues (I’ve never had the ENTIRE series to read in one go), I can imagine the team and book were headed for a status quo change and some new developments, perhaps plenty of positive, just that stuff got cut short. And a book NOT being given "time" or a new direction given time to shake out, etc. is something that I can "accept" for a story falling flat, even if I don’t like to. In a way, it’s a sign of the times, when series were not written simply as serialized graphic novels, but as episodic things with ongoing developments and actual "subplots" and the like.

A key factor of this issue, though, is its failure to even acknowledge Marvel‘s then "sister" company, Malibu, and its Ultraverse. See…in this issue, the Infinity Gems just simply, arbitrarily disappear out of nowhere, and that’s that. But, if one reads the Rune/Silver Surfer (flipbook Silver Surfer/Rune) issue, we see the Ultraverse character gain the Time Gem, stop time, and snag the rest. Given he steals them all WHILE time is stopped, that explains the sudden, simultaneous disappearance of the gems. It seems counter-intuitive and even a bit shameful to me that that event happens in another book entirely (Silver Surfer got a cartoon in the 1990s, so was more of a "hot" property–so I can see Marvel wanting the bigger brand "out there") with zero acknowledgement in this title…the title in which the Infinity Gems were housed, and the story of their place in the then-Marvel Universe was chronicled for over three years, a long-running title!

I actually found myself with two copies of this issue "handy," hence reading this as an isolated single issue. One copy I’d pulled when I came across it going through some comic box looking for something else in my collection; the other with a stack of 25-cent-bin issues; I’m certain I acquired both from 25-cent bins. And frankly, that’s what this issue is worth. There’s sentimentalism to be had if you’re fond of the title or Warlock or any of the other characters, but that’s about it. Outside of "free," this issue is perhaps worth the "base" price of 25 cents, but I wouldn’t say much more than that. On the other hand, the first issue is a great read (as I remember) as are a number of the early issues, perhaps through the Infinity War stuff.

Overall, I’d give this a pass; there’s a lot of better stuff out there to be read.

The ’90s Revisited: Captain America #436

90s_revisited

captain_america_0436Fighting Chance (conclusion): Everybody Hurts Sometime

Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Penciler: Dave Hoover
Inker: Danny Bulanadi
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Mike Rockwitz
Group Editor: Ralph Macchio
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February, 1995
Cover Price: $1.50

I’m not sure what I expected out of this issue, but what I got wasn’t it. I’d’ve sworn I read this before, some years ago…having borrowed the entire Fighting Chance storyline from a friend (who had a subscription that incidentally STARTED with the first issue of this 12-part story, which I’d thought was pretty neat at the time!) But this read-through felt like an all-new issue to me, completely unfamiliar and even if I did read it once before, I’d totally forgotten any details (even a bit after actually reading it this time, the details are fuzzy!)

Though it was years after the story was over and done with that I would have read it, I was acutely aware of it going on and remember it really sticking with me as a concept. A whole YEAR’S worth of issues dedicated to a single story! The very thing that gave Captain America his physical ability, to BE Captain America, was killing him! How would that play out? How would such a story end? Surely, the hero would triumph…but wow! What a journey that would be, and such a victory…

Nope.

This issue sees Cap being spit out of some drainage pipe that he was apparently dumped into in the previous issue…pursued by Cobra and Hyde. We get some exposition (super soldier serum killing him, Cap’s under doctor’s orders not to exert himself, he’s thoroughly exerting himself anyway, blah blah blah). Even with his body betraying him, he manages to avoid being killed by the two villains…but at great personal cost. By the end of the issue, he’s pushed himself too far, and with ghostly images of the Statue of Liberty and then-thought-to-be-dead-but not-really-though-we-wouldn’t-find-that-out-for-another-20-years-when-Brubaker-does-TheWinterSoldier-story Bucky flashing before him, Steve seems to lose his battle…he’s paralyzed, a mind trapped in a worthless body.

Hank Pym finds Cap, realizes the situation, and that’s that.

The final chapter, the twelfth issue of a 12-part story…ends on a cliffhanger.

Lovely.

Yeah, yeah…what else should or would I expect…especially reading the issue closer to 2020 than to 2000?

I know Gruenwald‘s name as being one of THE names of this title, and tend to myself think of him as one of the more important writers to handle the character (perhaps for longevity on the title if nothing else). I do like that this issue is squarely a "typical ’90s super-hero brawl" type thing, and Cap is just a super-hero figure, standard ’90s stuff, nothing overly complex (if not simple) about him (compared to sharper, "edgier," more "realistic" takes that would come later). But I found this issue to be rather generic, anti-climactic, and ultimately a disappointment overall.

Of course, as stated above, I think I’d read this once before but didn’t remember anything of it; and this particular reading (either way) was as a singular, isolated issue with no context from any of the introduction and build-up to stuff.

The art was fairly bland…I recognized the characters I would expect to, visually, with no trouble, and there was not much in the way of subtlety to the story being conveyed; any doubt of action was covered by story context.

I’d also forgotten ("realized" after the fact) that despite the initial impact the very notion of this story had had on me, there was an epilogue issue or two that were rather crucial to things, or made a more effective ending (at least looking at cover images and drawing on what I recall of this period in the title’s history).

So ultimately…I do not recommend this issue for a one-issue isolated read. It’s the supposed ending of a major story, yet leaves stuff hanging and just seems like a weak ending for a character such as this after such a long storyline. That said, I would have no problem recommending the run offhand if the entire story and the follow-up issues were found in a 25 or 50 cent bin, just on principle of getting the story for a fraction of the cost of a modern story that’s–at best–equally contrived.

The ’90s Revisited: X-O Manowar/Iron Man in Heavy Metal #1

90srevisitedxomanowar_ironman_heavymetal001Heavy Metal part 1

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Andy Smith
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Color Art: Twilight Graphics
Assistant Editor: Omar Banmally
Consulting Assistant Editor: Nancy Poletti
Consulting Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor: Lynaire Thompson
Editor in Chief: Bob Layton
Published by: Acclaim Comics/Valiant
Cover Date: September 1996
Cover Price: $2.50

I vaguely remember when this series was originally out. I don’t remember details, but I’m supposing (in retrospect) that the Iron Man connection is what caught my eye…though there was probably Wizard coverage, and I wasn’t unaware of X-O Manowar from the #0 issue at least. Of course, there was the video game, which this is based on or inspired by or what-have-you. Given Acclaim was doing the video game, and had bought Valiant, it makes a lot of sense that there’d be a tie-in comic.

While I’ve found many of the "later" Valiant comics, this issue has eluded me until recently when I noticed both issues of the "crossover" on eBay. Being edged out on the bidding at the last second I looked for other instances, and including shipping scored a copy of both this X-O Manowar/Iron Man issue and the companion Iron Man/X-O Manowar for the price of a single contemporary Marvel comic. While this oughtta be quarter-bin fodder, not finding it that way made it worthwhile to me to pay a bit of a premium just to HAVE the issues.

The cover looks rather odd to me–far from an ideal thing, and rather generic. There’s something a bit "off" to me about both armors…probably the "early digital" art, which may even be a still from the video game (I don’t care enough to investigate further). Either way for a cross-company crossover this does not look like anything special from the cover alone.

Upon opening the issue I immediately saw an art style that did not appeal to me. I don’t know if I’ve seen or liked anything else from Andy Smith, but in this issue, I am not a fan. It’s not horrible art, and it’s certainly far, FAR superior to anything I could possibly do myself. It gets things across and isn’t too wonky or anything…basically it does its intended job but does not stand out as anything special.

Seeing Nicieza‘s name as the writer was an immediate appeal for me…but getting into the issue I felt rather left down. This thing’s all over the place and does not feel developed at all. We jump from villains we aren’t given much about to other villains; and world to world. I found myself confused to realize partway through that we’re actually dealing with MULTIPLE sets of Iron Man/X-O Manowar and not just the two characters being matched up for a single double-universe adventure.

I believe this was a time when Iron Man had been "de-aged" or replaced by a younger parallel-dimension version of himself or some such, so that’s not ENTIRELY off-putting to "learn" here but that’s not really explained. And given this is an issue from Acclaim, it’s certainly well-past the X-O Manowar stuff I was familiar with, am familiar with…and having just read a 2015-published issue of the contemporary X-O Manowar series found the character dull and not at all 3-dimensional here.

I’ve often enjoyed Nicieza‘s work, particularly his X-Men stuff, and find myself seeing this as being completely hobbled by BEING a video game tie-in, presumably with a bunch of "checklist" points to be hit during the issue. And with Acclaim and Marvel both getting to publish an issue, there’s probably a certain bit of symmetry that had to be achieved as well. All of which ultimately leads to an issue that I didn’t enjoy.

I would be incensed at having paid full price for this–particularly had it been published in 2015 and passed off as anything supposedly special. However, it’s still something that I’ve been curious about for years, and a definite "artifact" of its time…so despite not enjoying the issue, I do expect I’ll read the Marvel-published one as well just to "get the story," and all that. Unfortunately this does somewhat taint my expectations toward the bulk of the Acclaim-published Valiant stuff and makes me hesitate just a bit on diving into reading any of those anytime soon.

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