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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics Annual #4

actioncomicsannual004Eclipso: The Darkness Within / Living Daylights

Written by: Dan Vado
Pencilled by: Chris Wozniak
Inked by: Karl Altstaetter, Trevor Scott, Karl Kesel, Steve Mitchell
Lettered by: Albert De Guzman
Colored by: Matt Hollingsworth
Assistant Edited by: Dan Thorslan
Edited by: Mike Carlin
Cover by: Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.50

Offhand, this issue is my earliest memory of the Captain Marvel character. If I was “aware of” him prior, it’s not a conscious memory. I wanted to re-read this issue given my recent foray (October 2013) into the Shazam/Captain Marvel character, as well as for the nostalgia. That, and while not from the 1970s or 1980s, I would have pegged this as a perfect issue for the Superman vs. Shazam collection…and this is certainly the issue that I think of when I think of the two characters fighting.

The issue’s cover is fairly iconic for me, showing an Eclipsed Superman struggling with Captain Marvel, captioned The Evil of Eclipso vs. the Power of Shazam! It’s rather interesting to realize the cover is by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, given Quesada‘s eventual and current involvement with Marvel. The 11-year-old Me certainly had found it engaging, igniting curiosity as to the Eclipsed Superman and who this other guy was that he was fighting.

The interior art, while not nearly as thrilling, gets the job done. Particularly on this re-read, I was more interested in the characters and interactions than the actual art, though nothing about it particularly screamed “go find more that matches this art!” Given this is an extra-sized issue produced simultaneous with the weekly ongoing saga in the main Superman books, and is from 21 years ago, it’s not a great concern and largely gets a pass as such.

The story itself is a bit mixed. On one hand, I’ve read this before, I know the overall bit of the Eclipso: The Darkness Within ‘event’ and where things go; I have a fuller context all these years later of the characters, situations, and so on, so it’s hardly as engaging as it was originally.

The story picks up with a town having been captured by Eclipso, and the heroes are unable to reclaim it. The only condition by which he’ll relinquish his hold is in trade for Superman’s body–which he has, thus far, been unable to possess. Given this is Superman, of course he agrees–willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others (regardless of all the potential harm that could be done by Eclipso controlling his body and powers). While he makes the deal with Eclipso, the other heroes begin a plan to combat an Eclipsed Superman, which involves bringing in Captain Marvel–the only one to truly have a chance of going toe to toe with the Man of Steel.

The story itself isn’t terribly deep…though it does provide reasonable motivation for what occurs…stuff doesn’t come outta nowhere (such as Captain Marvel just happening to “fly by” at the exact moment he’s needed…he actually has to be called in). We have broad, ongoing plot points of the Eclipso: The Darkness Within story in general, and this feels much more like a key point in the event rather than “just” the “encounter of the week” with a Black Diamond.

I actually paid $4 for this copy of the issue, for the immediate gratification of getting to re-read the thing without having to dig through umpteen longboxes or quintuple the issue’s cost paying for shipping, etc. Despite paying that kind of money for a 21-year-old comic that typically oughtta be 25 or 50 cent-bin fodder, it was worth it for the reading experience…especially given the cost matched virtually any current Marvel, many current DC, and anything presently on my pull list–yet this issue has more than twice the content of a current series (in some cases, nearly 3 times the content!).

If you can find this in a bargain bin or just have an interest in Superman and Captain Marvel/Shazam fighting, this is definitely a worthwhile issue. Ditto if you’re looking for just a handful of the Eclipso Annuals from 1992.

Starman #81 [Review]

Full review posted to comixtreme.com.

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Captain America #600 [Review]

One Year After

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Butch Guice, Howard Chaykin, Rafael Albuquerque, David Aja, Mitch Breitweiser
Colors: Frank D’Armata, Edgar Delgado, Matt Hollingsworth, Mitch Breitweiser
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna, Chris Eliopoulos
Assoc. Editor: Jeanine Schaefer
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Cover: Steve Epting (variant by Alex Ross)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Other features and bonus materials: Credits below review

The best thing I can say about this issue, and the “core” story is that in terms of the continuity itself, it’s pretty good. Brubaker and the artists deliver a story that fits well within the ongoing narrative…however, any “surprise” or “wonder” to where things were going were totally blasted away by Marvel’s hype-machine…a hype-machine that suggested this would be the best thing since sliced bread (or Captain America #25, anyway).

Guess what?

It’s not THAT good. It fails to live up to the hype.

The story centers on the one-year in-story anniversary of Steve Rogers’ death. The various characters–particularly Bucky as the new Captain America, Sharon Carter, Falcon, and the rest of the (whatever adjective) Avengers as they recognize the date and deal with it in their own way. Sharon makes a startling discovery that seems to be the key to what will come in the Reborn mini.

WHile there are numerous extras in the art credits for this story, the art still came across quite well, and the changes in art did not seem all that glaring to me–if anything, they managed to fit the story itself for the most part. The writing continues to be the strong stuff one expects from Brubaker, and delivers in that way.

However, it seems that one must now follow the story from this issue into a 5-issue mini-series to get “the whole story,” to say nothing of 1. this title apparently will be on hiatus for the duration of the mini and 2. this is the second big-number “anniversary issue” in the last several months–with all the #1s and a couple #50s and whatnot in the last decade or so…the point kinda loses its impact.

The bonus materials were decent, but not wonderful. I enjoyed the Origin segment for the art styling and its brief overview of Steve Rogers’ origin. The In Memoriam segment was also pretty good, giving a look at characters from Cap’s past that haven’t really had a huge place in the present stories. I vaguely recall at least one of the characters from the last Cap series I’d followed (the one that ran from 1998 or so until 2001/early 2002). The other segments were decent but nothing spectacular or memorable. I did not read the reprint part–something about it just wouldn’t draw me in, and I couldn’t bring myself to force a reading of it. However, it looks to be an early Cap vs. Red Skull story, presumably to add some context to the characters’ history given the Skull’s prominence in this series/saga.

All in all, the issue is (barely) worth its cover price…it took long enough to read to at least “justify” the $2 higher price over a standard issue. It did not measure up to the hype, though…and unless you’ve been following Brubaker’s saga for awhile, I wouldn’t really recommend this issue. I assume you’ll have all you need to “get” the story if you simply know that Steve Rogers died, and then pick up with whatever the story is in Captain America Reborn.

(Core) Story: 7/10
Art (core story): 8/10
Whole (including issue’s extras): 5.5/10


Origin
By: Alex Ross, Paul Dini, Todd Klein (first published in Captain America: Red, White and Blue; September 2002)

In Memorium
Script: Roger Stern
Art: Kalman Andrasofszky
Color Art: Marte Gracia
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna, Chris Eliopoulos

The Persistence of Memoriabilia
Script: Mark Waid
Art: Dale Eaglesham
Color Art: Paul Mounts
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna, Chris Eliopoulos

My Bulletin Board
By: Joe Simon

Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge
By: Stan Lee and Al Avison (first published in Captain America Comics #16; July 1942)

Cover Gallery
Special Thanks To: Philipp Lenssen (coverbrowser.com, comics.org)

Misc. Credits
Designer, Bonus Material: Spring Hoteling
Production, Bonus Material: Jerry Kalinowski
Editor in Chief: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Dan Buckley
Executive Producer: Alan Fine

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