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The ’90s Revisited: Dr. Strange #36

90s_revisited

dr_strange_0036Footnote to Infinity

Writers: Roy & Dann Thomas
Penciler: Dan Lawlis
Inker: Andrew Pepoy
Letterer: R. Parker
Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Mike Rockwitz
Editor in Chief: Tom Defalco
With Special Thanks To: Jim Starlin, Advisor
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: December 1991
Cover Price: $1.50

I bought this issue completely outside of any kind of context for the Dr. Strange: Sorcerer Supreme series. It initially caught my attention specifically for the presence of Adam Warlock on the cover with the Infinity Gauntlet. The corner blurb that this is an Infinity Gauntlet "Epilogue" solidified it for me. I’ve read The Infinity Gauntlet a couple times (though it’s been a number of years now and I’m due for a re-read–as if I’m not extremely far behind on all my NEW reading) and early issues of Warlock and the Infinity Watch. But I’d never read this issue, and I was curious as to exactly how it was addressing Infinity Gauntlet, its place in the timeline. I’m glad to say that my curiosity was satisfied.

We open on Dr. Strange arriving back home, reuniting with his supporting cast. It’s an impromptu party, and among other reunions we see Strange and Clea (who is the only other person in the room that remembers what happened). As they dance around the subject and share the joy of everyone being present, Wong announces that he’s engaged…and moments later, Pip the troll and Gamora appear, disrupting things–they’re here for Dr. Strange, hoping he might aid them in dealing with a driven-mad-with-power Warlock. Strange confronts Warlock, and winds up having to use every resource available to him, basically, just to hold his ground. After he’s "survived" attacks involving the other Infinity Gems (yes, this is back when they were GEMS, not STONES), he turns the tide by going after the Soul Gem–the one most closely linked to Warlock…and manages to get through to him, helping him see what’s happening, and stand down. After thanks, a friendly handshake, and promises to see things stay on the right path, everyone parts ways…though Strange gets a brief encounter with Eternity…the cosmic being representing the universe itself. Eternity intends to claim the Infinity Gems, by bringing Warlock to some cosmic trial…but that’s not for Strange to deal with, and he finishes his return journey home.

I’m sure I would have enjoyed this issue more if I was "up" on contextual continuity for this series at the point this issue falls. I basically remember THAT Strange was involved early on, being maybe the first Silver Surfer made contact with of the Earth heroes regarding Thanos having assembled all the Gems; and then with Warlock and the "behind the scenes" crew in taking on Thanos. I also vaguely remember that Wong was one of the "half the living entities in the universe" that were blinked out of existence at the start of Infinity Gauntlet. I’m not invested in any of the supporting cast or cameo appearances. And I felt like Warlock was extremely out of character, given the out and out attacks directed at Dr. Strange…and it all rang as the old cliché "hero vs. hero" and such that I really don’t care about. At least here, though, the situation is resolved within the same issue, it does NOT take up the ENTIRE issue, and certainly does not become an entire story arc for a mini-series or title. I was glad to see stuff resolved here, and where I was curious going in as to WHERE exactly this took place in "the timeline," the end of the issue with Eternity suggests to me that this essentially led into Warlock and the Infinity Watch #1.

Story-wise, this felt like "the next issue" of the title. That is, it didn’t waste time trying to retell that which is told elsewhere, nor did this feel like just some "middle chapter" or such of a serialized graphic novel. There are details that are obviously "subplots" being moved along, while the main focus of the issue is an encounter that is begun, run, and resolved within this issue. For a reader perhaps checking this out BECAUSE of seeing Strange in Infinity Gauntlet, it seems to have him pulling out all the stops, and in a way "showing off" for the newer readers, while perhaps reminding older readers of what he can do on his own, as more than just a single character of a huge ensemble cast in a Marvel Universe event.

Visually, I liked the art for this issue overall. For one thing, I felt like I recognized everyone I would expect to–particularly Dr. Strange himself, Pip, Gamora, and Warlock. I attribute this to a "house style" that I feel like I recall being prevalent in the early ’90s; at the least, everyone looks familiar enough that I had no problem with their appearances and nothing messed with my memory of how they "should have" looked or whatever.

As a single issue, this isn’t enough to "sell" me on Dr. Strange’s series…I’m in no particular hurry to find out what happens with the next issue (though I’m "curious" at the tease of "Frankensurfer" and wouldn’t be entirely opposed to keeping an eye out for the issue in a passive sense) nor do I feel any great need to rush out and get previous issues. That said…this seemed a solid issue, a decent follow-up to Infinity Gauntlet, and probably not the worst thing one could read from Marvel for the early 1990s. I enjoyed it enough to have more than justified the 25 cents I spent for it, and I’m glad to have read this.

dr_strange_0036_blogtrailer

Superman vs. Shazam! TPB [Review]

[Reprints All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58, DC Comics Presents #s 33, 34, 49, and DC Comics Presents Annual #3 (1984). Cover Price: $19.99]

supermanvsshazamtpbMy initial criteria for choosing this volume? “Cheap” and “Superman” and “Shazam”/Captain Marvel. Also, “new.” As in…this just came out a few months ago (March, 2013 as far as I can tell) and thus qualified as “shiny and appealing,” so to speak. I also have to admit to appreciating the Shazam logo I’m most familiar with at the moment for pre-New 52 stuff (primarily due to Jeff Smith‘s Monster Society of Evil but have noticed for other Shazam items). Surfacey stuff, sure, but it yielded the sale and put the volume into my hands.

The art’s fairly standard-ish, especially for what I tend to “picture” as the generic “pre-mid-’80s” type visuals. Not horrible or anything, but nothing that blows me away by “today’s standards.” Yet, I certainly appreciated that often–while they appear QUITE similar otherwise, I COULD distinguish Captain Marvel’s face from Superman’s face…certainly something QUITE good in my book! It could be argued that the art is limited a bit, constrained by the standard-ish panel structure…that is, a lack of contemporary creative layouts and full/half/double-page splashes and the like. With most everything being in individual panels, there’s not a lot of room for much of the artistic impressiveness that would grab me with more recent art. While that’s a bit broad considering this volume spans a number of years, I largely read it in one go, and the visual style kinda blurs for me on older stuff.

Story-wise…by contemporary standards (again), can’t say I’m all that thrilled with this. Characters didn’t seem all that deep to me (some seemed to just come out of nowhere, with little or no context), and there were plotholes one could drive a truck through. Characters were all too quick and willing to “accept” something at face value with seemingly no consideration for the depth or scope of the issue at hand…and villains’ motivations seemed extremely thin.

All that said, or despite saying all that, I rather enjoyed the volume in and of itself. Even with the extremely limited prior exposure I’ve had to Captain Marvel, I know enough to recognize Sivana, Mr. Mind, Black Adam, the multiple Earths, and have recently learned a bit about Hoppy and the extended Marvel family (Uncle Marvel was–like Hoppy–quite a bit on the far-fetched side, but I recognized the character as Billy’s uncle from Shazam: The New Beginning).

While the stories may have been published years apart, in the general sense of the pre-Crisis DC Multiverse of the ’70s/early-’80s, these fit together well enough, and it was cool to see the nods to continuity.

I don’t know that I’d really recommend this to a new fan of the Shazam or Superman stuff as any sort of ‘essential reading’ (unless you’re particularly interested–specifically–in “digging in” and “experiencing” the historical element of the characters’ earlier interactions). But this does fit in quite nicely with other “themed” classic Superman collections that take a particular element (Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Zod, the Phantom Zone, the Daily Planet, the Bottle City of Kandor, etc) and present some stories focused on it.

For the price (especially if discounted) the volume is quite a good value for the time it’ll take to read, even though the art and stories don’t hold up real well with contemporary comics. This is a time-capsule showcasing Superman/Captain Marvel (Shazam) crossover/team-ups of the past, and for me, upon filing, will be a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

The ’80s Revisited: Shazam: The New Beginning #s 1-4

shazamthenewbeginning001Writers: Roy and Dann Thomas
Artist: Tom Mandrake
Inker: Jan Duursema
Letterers: Agustin Mas
Colorists: Carl Gafford, Joe Orlando
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Dates: April/May/June/JUly 1987
Cover Price: $0.75

Until this month, I’d really only known DC‘s Captain Marvel (Shazam) as a guest-star…an important figure, but I’d only really ever stuff where he was a guest-star, not THE star, of a book. While memory may fail me, I’m pretty sure my first real introduction to the character was Action Comics Annual #4 (a 1992 Eclipso: The Darkness Within crossover).

I saw him again pictured in Death of Superman stuff–the funeral stuff at least. I believe I would have seen him in Zero Hour, and I was aware of the Power of Shazam series though I’ve yet to actually read any issues except the Blackest Night issue from a few years ago. Maybe his most significant–and to me, emotional–appearance was in Kingdom Come.

Of course, he again wound up on my radar with the Superman/Shazam: First Thunder story shortly before Infinite Crisis, and then during the magical side of that story. I was aware of (but again have yet to read) the Trials of Shazam series. I was aware of the “corruption” of Mary Marvel with the Final Crisis stuff, and recall seeing Captain Marvel in the I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League, as well as an issue or two of Giffen/DeMatteis‘ original Justice League. And of course, I was aware of the property from various things I’ve read about the history of comics, and seeing solicitations for the various collected volumes (such as the Showcase volume).

And most recently, probably getting my hands on the collected edition of Jeff Smith‘s Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil and a few issues of the Johnny DC Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam series.

shazamthenewbeginning002I saw the Monster Society of Evil and Billy Batson stuff as stand-alone/out-of-continuity things, so haven’t considered those.

Which brings me to my recent acquisition/reading of the New 52 Shazam vol. 1, which in turn led me to an immediate reading of the serendipitously having-just-bought this entire 4-issue mini in a quarter-bin…which I understand backtracks a bit from the Legends crossover and tells the origin of Billy Batson and Captain Marvel in context of the then-new DC Universe post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.

All of the above to get to actually talking about the issues this post purports to be about.

Much as I wanted to LIKE this, much as I was interested–at least conceptually–in reading this, and appreciate HAVING read it, now having the “experience” of the series as part of my Shazam/Captain Marvel knowledge-base…the series was ROUGH to get through.

First and foremost, this is a series from some 25 years ago–more than 1/3 of the character’s entire existence ago. It’s very much a product of the ’80s, and quite verbose…there were times I was taken out of the story simply being overwhelmed by the density of text in any given 2-page section I’d turn to.

shazamthenewbeginning003I’m honestly quite convinced that this same story told in present-day with all the main elements would easily be done as at least 12 issues (a 3-issue mini per issue). (Given that density, I’m honestly not going to attempt to recap the story itself in this post!).

Yet, rough as it was to get through–having read primarily “new” comics for a number of years now and rarely actually delving into anything older than 1993 for more than a single issue at a time–I’m quite glad to have read this. Sure, it’s a lot packed into few pages…but while that drives against what I’m “used to,” and so gave a bit of negative by way of my having to “force” myself to stick to the series rather than read something else and then come back to it…ultimately, I am glad I did so. 

There were plenty of plot holes and “leaps” of logic, stuff that wouldn’t fly today…but there was a lot more to ’em than I imagine there’d’ve been to similar concepts a decade or two earlier, or even at the beginning of the property in the 1940s.

But we got the “essential” stuff: Billy, the Wizard, Sivana, Black Adam…even reference to Hoppy. And with the density of narration and dialogue, while not as smooth as a modern depiction, we get quite a bit of detail and motivation. Not so much “shown” as “told,” but the end result is largely the same…especially combined with my pre-existing knowledge of the character.

shazamthenewbeginning004Visually, I can’t say I was all that impressed. The art wasn’t bad, by any means…but it really didn’t stand out all that much to me (especially not compared to Gary Frank‘s art on the New 52 volume, and my memory of the cover to Action Comics Annual #4). Sure, those may be unfair comparisons, but they are what they are. It also certainly did NOT help that the copy of the issues I read are very much “reading copy” condition…with much of the art a bit faded and blurred due to the ink/newsprint paper quality from the time.

Barring specific interest in this take on the character–time period or creative team–I don’t know that I’d particularly recommend seeking these out. However, if you find ’em in a bargain-bin in readable condition, they’re worthwhile, and if you can get the set for $4 or less, the time you’ll likely spend reading one issue would “value” the issue far beyond a modern $3.99 issue.

Having now read this, I’m definitely interested in reading/re-reading other Shazam stuff…though beyond the recent Superman vs. Shazam tpb, I don’t think I’m gonna go “older” than this series…I’ll stick to the Power of Shazam run I bought a year or two back, and whatever collected volumes I can get my hands on. I’ll also be seeking out more on Black Adam, having come to like that character quite a bit under Johns‘ writing, in 52 and in JSA.

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