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From the Archives: Superman #650

superman0650Up, Up, and Away! (part 1)

Writers: Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns
Artist: Pete Woods
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Associate Editor: Nachie Castro
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover Artists: Terry & Rachel Dodson
Cover Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

It’s been a year since Superman apparently disappeared, and the fine folks of Metropolis have moved on, though many take an evening to revisit the past, watching a retrospective on the life and times of their favorite son. Among the spectators are Lois Lane and Clark Kent, who discuss the authenticity of the retrospective with a couple different viewpoints. Shortly after, other familiar elements of the Superman story are reintroduced–Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Perry White. A familiar "villain" is introduced here as well–one that may be familiar to older readers, but I’m not sure this character has appeared in the Superman comics since the mid-80s reboot. As this villain is attended to, we as readers are clued into at least part of why Superman has been absent for a year.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this issue. I’ve been concerned at the idea of "my" Superman–that is, the character (re)introduced in Byrne‘s Man of Steel mini-series–being shuffled off to the side in favor of yet another/different reimagining of the character. While this is only the first of an 8-parter that re-establishes the character post-Infinite Crisis, the writing team of Busiek & Johns has assuaged some of my concerns as several aspects that have defined the character and supporting cast for the last 18+ years are re-established here. However, there seem to be a number of minor or subtle shifts that distance things from the past, settling the characters very much in a sort of "timeless" present.

Busiek wrote my favorite Superman story in 2004’s Superman: Secret Identity. Johns on the other hand has written some other very compelling stories that I have really enjoyed over the past several years (including pulling me into following The Flash for 30 issues after never previously caring for the character). That said, both writers have a lot to live up to in my eyes, and for the moment, I’ll cautiously advance the idea that yes, they have lived up to those high standards.

The writing here is clear and definitely gets across the idea first of the broad strokes of Superman’s history that just about anyone will be vaguely familiar with (whether you know the character solely from last month’s issues, the Christopher Reeve films, Smallville, Lois & Clark, a parent/grand-parent’s stack of older comics, or just picking up on elements from years of the character’s suffusion of popular culture. If this is the first-ever comic starring Superman that you’ve read, you’ve got yourself a good starting point. If you’ve been following these comics for 20 years, you’ve got a good read that revalidates the character for the present, showing that both the old and newer elements can come together in a single well-written manner that gives us a story of Superman.

Offhand, I am unfamiliar with Pete Woods‘ art, but this issue makes for a good introduction. Everything seems nice and clear/clean–reading along with the story, the art shows exactly what is going on and pretty much just does it’s job of enhancing the written word to contribute to the overall look and feel of the issue. The art’s not perfect–but very little is. The main quibble I have is the depiction of the S-shield; it comes across a bit too "shiney" or metallic for my own tastes.

However–whether in Woods‘ art itself or the coloring (or both)–this issue somehow has a "brighter" feel to it than a lot of recent DC issues–by design or not, this lends itself to this being an upbeat, bright start to a new "generation" of Superman.
I very much recommend this issue, whether you are a new, old, or an on-the-fence reader.

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The ’90s Revisited: X-Men Prime

90s_revisited

xmenprime001Racing the Night

Writers: Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Bryan Hitch, Jeff Matsuda, Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Terry Dodson, Ben Herrerr, Paul Pelletier
Inkers: Al Milgrom, P. Craig Russell, Cam Smith, Mark Farmer, Mark McKenna, Tom Palmer, Tim Townsend, Hector Collazo
Letttering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Coloring: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Cover: Bryan Hitch
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 1995
Cover Price: $4.95

With this issue, we’re back to the “real” reality/universe/timeline/whatever. The 616 Marvel Universe. Bishop and his mission was a success, and by stopping Legion from killing Xavier…the Age of Apocalypse never happened, things have been set right. Or have they?

We have a bunch of plot points sharing this issue…while the various Age of Apocalypse mini-series led into X-Men: Omega, this issue now serves as the focal point for the return of the “regular” X-Men titles…as a “regular universe” Alpha issue to introduce readers to the current status quo of the characters and teams that make up the X-side of the Marvel Universe and send the readers into the mix of titles having had this bit of setup for where things are moving forward.

I do think that if Free Comic Book Day had been around in 1995, this would certainly have been a Marvel offering…an in-continuity quasi-anthology to get readers to jump aboard the entire line of X-comics.

I can’t say I’m honestly all that thrilled with this issue on this re-read. I certainly appreciate that there are “only” two writers credited, offering a bit of consistency to the story side of things. The issue is quite a mix visually due to the numerous pencilers and inkers getting their chance to work on pages presumably germane to the individual titles. Reading through this time, I noticed a bit of wonky art at points, but somehow was not particularly jarred by the shifts…perhaps for familiarity with the Age of Apocalypse stuff as a whole.

After the shiny “chromium” covers for X-Men: Alpha and X-Men: Omega, seems Marvel felt the need to give this a special cover as well–a clear plastic-ish thing with an inner orangey background. We also get the “alternate” X-Men logo, with the Prime part next to it…and the whole thing is a wrap-around (which I very much appreciate 20 years later in an age of VARIANT “interlocking” covers).

The story introduces or re-introduces some characters–and I even see hints of Onslaught in this reading. We find out that several characters–Nate Grey, Dark Beast, Sugarman, and Holocaust–escaped the Age of Apocalypse and wound up in the real timeline. Nate first appears in the “present,” while Magneto’s Acolytes only now in the present discover what will be revealed to be Holocaust…but Beast and Sugarman arrived 20 years ago, and were responsible for the Morlocks and Genosha’s Mutates, respectively. Marrow is reintroduced, aged twenty years from a prior appearance…Rogue and Iceman are on a roadtrip, the former haunted by whatever she saw in Gambit’s memories (Gambit’s in a coma). Trish Tilby reveals the Legacy Virus to the public along with the knowledge that it’s affecting humans as well as Mutants. X-Factor chases Mystique and Havok’s powers act up on him; X-Force’s base is destroyed. Wolverine is living in the woods outside Xavier’s mansion (refusing to reside under the same roof as Sabretooth) and Bishop is having unconscious outbursts as a result of the visions he’s having as a result of his temporal status in relation to the Age of Apocalypse. Amidst all this a mutant seeks the X-Men but winds up victim of humans lashing out against something they fear and do not understand.

This certainly sets up the various X-titles moving forward, so for that alone is pretty much an “essential read.” Yet, unless one intends to pursue those issues from mid-1995 that this is immediately germane to, there’s not much to really dig into singularly with this issue. Outside of characters involved and how they now will interact in the 616 universe, there’s no actual story-content directly tied to the story of the Age of Apocalypse timeline.

Given that, my covering of this issue is much like why I covered the non-Legion Quest X-books that preceded Age of Apocalypse: this is stuff coming out on the “other end”, the border, “bleed,” or whatever butting up against the Age of Apocalypse without actually BEING an issue of that..

While rarer than the Alpha or Omega issues in bargain bins, I certainly would not pay much more than cover price for this (and that would be a grudgingly-paid price). I’d seek this out to use as a starting point diving into any or all of the X-books of the time but certainly not if you’re only interested in the Age of Apocalypse.

Unlike contemporary Marvel, this does not kick off “the next” EVENT but rather gives the individual titles time to flex and explore their own things for awhile before everything heats up again with the following year’s Onslaught stuff.

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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Factor X #4

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factorx004Reckonings

Writer: John Francis Moore
Pencilers: Steve Epting w/ Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Milgrom
Lettering: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Cover: Steve Epting
Editors: Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

The order has been given–the pens of humans are to be culled. The newly "promoted" Alex Summers lords it over the others to enforce the order. Meanwhile, Cyclops and Jean are trying to save the humans, help them escape. This leads to the two having to fight through multiple obstacles (though they find unexpected allies). Things ultimately come down to brother vs. brother, and a new leader of the would-be-culled humans. Also meanwhile, Angel’s club is shut down, while Worthington himself ditches the place, essentially laying aside his neutrality in things.

This issue really does not offer any true finality or closure to what’s been set up throughout…more, it’s the fourth chapter of this side-trip following Alex, Scott, and (Dark) Beast and whatnot–our glimpse into things going on within Apocalypse’s ranks with characters we’re familiar with from the "regular" universe. To get finality for these characters and their arc within AoA, one definitely needs to follow this with X-Men: Omega.

The story, though, is good, and AS a story I don’t really have much to say on it; the writing is solid and consistent and not unexpected. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s also something to Cyclops as written here that made me think he’s portrayed as a lot more interesting than I recall his being at the time in the regular Marvel universe. Perhaps the notion of his having served with Sinister and Apocalypse at all, or a number of other potential angles of the character that could be explored to answer "Why is he where and how he is now?"

My surprise with the issue’s creative side is just how much I really like the art. My one actual "problem" with the visuals is Jean’s hair–I’d swear she’s had much shorter hair in prior appearances, where Jean in this issue has the longer hair of her 616-counterpart of the time. I could be annoyed at the inconsistency…but I prefer long-haired Jean as depicted here, so I like it.

I’m not nearly as familiar with Havok in general, and it’s been rather strange seeing him as so thorough a villain in the Age of Apocalypse (same for Beast). Still, there’s a lot more than could be explored between just Alex and Scott’s relationship, that it’s sort of regrettable this four-issue journey is over.

I’ve enjoyed the series, and enjoyed this issue. Were it a self-contained mini-series I’d almost certainly be quite disappointed at the ending. As-is, it leads into X-Men: Omega, and I recall a definite end-point for Jean, Scott, and Alex as well as the fate of the Beast; looking ahead to that, it occurs to me that Omega serves in many ways as a #5 for the various minis, with Alpha having served as a #0.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Universe #2

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xuniverse002Dying Breath

Story by: Scott Lobdell
Script: Terry Kavanagh
Pencilers: Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson
Inkers: Cam Smith, Robin Riggs
Colorist: Kevin Tinsley
Color Separations: Electric Crayon
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Pacheco & Smith
Editors: Marie Javins, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $3.50

We open on a new/arbitrary character–a father holding his child, as people are given over to Rasputin for upgrading, a last chance to stand with mutants without being eradicated. We then move to our Phenomenal Five (I saw THAT term in the monthly checklist on the X-Books This Month section) who have been captured and are helpless…at least until a contingency plan kicks in. Meanwhile, no one’s told the humans of the atrociously low survival rate of the upgrade process, that only one in a hundred-thousand survive any length of time and few of those survive indefinitely. Stark’s plan kicks in, and the humans begin breaking free, and the rebellion is on. After the battle, few humans are left, but they’ve acquired technology from Mikhail’s ship and make a last bid for permanent escape from Apocalypse’s rule.

This issue is all over the place. And when it ends…I only know it does because there are simply NO MORE STORY PAGES. There’s no particular icon or note or any indication the last page is the last page. It has all the makings of a second-to-last page, that you’d turn the page for some full-page image to finish out the series, but instead it turns to a double-page ad, then a double-page info/profile section, another couple ads, and that’s that.

The art’s so-so…not bad, not spectacular, and a bit minimalistic at points and just somehow looks a bit "off" from the rest of the Age of Apocalypse. Of course, multiple pencilers and inkers, suggesting (to me, with contemporary sensibilities) that this issue had run behind and needed to be caught up in a hurry to get it out on time. That’s also something that suggests further to me that this series was an afterthought of sorts, a late addition to the AoA stuff.

The story’s also only so-so. It could certainly be worse, but it doesn’t really feel like it has any real significance, given we’ve had no real reference, even, to these characters, nor any dealings with Rasputin elsewhere in the AoA, so this is just stuff going on "in the World of the Age of Apocalypse" and can be pretty safely ignored in the grand scheme.

Another element that lends the notion of this X-Universe series being set apart from the rest of the AoA is the covers. These are $3.50 cover price with cardstock covers and foil-ized logos. The chromium double-size bookend issues make sense as they’re "special," kicking off and concluding the entirety of the story. But the issues in-between have all been standard covers with no fancy enhancements or foiling or such. This mini just reeks of typical ’90s saturation.

Unless you’re–like me these last number of weeks–specifically determined to read the entirety of what was published as part of this original Age of Apocalypse series, this seems like a safe mini to skip. And I’m thankful to be through this because now I can jump into the #4s and the final parts of the story, as the various threads in the minis begin to–finally–pay off.

Red One #1 [Review]

redone001Welcome to America, Part 1

Script: Xavier Dorison
Pencils & Colors: Terry Dodson
Inks: Rachel Dodson
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Published by: Image Comics
Cover Date: March 2015
Cover Price: $2.99

I had an itch last week to try something new. I saw several #1s and have noticed others in recent weeks, so figured what the hey, I can try SOMETHING new. And after seeing a bunch of variant covers for Chrononauts, I opted for something withOUT a ton of variants so went with Red One. I actually didn’t pay attention to the price–I’m so used to $3.99 that I figured as an Image comic this would at least be $3.50 (since Image books seem much more reasonable about their price creep). Noticing this is a $2.99 book is a huge mark in the “positives” for it.

The issue opens on a film premiere…a film of the “adult” variety. The primary actress is on-site, though the premiere has been picketed and she’s essentially chased off by the crowd seeking to turn her from her ways. Leaving, her car is attacked by a figure from an overpass and the car crashes…and she’s left to burn. Later in Moscow, a female agent is recruited to go to the US. She will become a “super-hero” to rival The Carpenter (the vigilante that caused the death of the adult film star). She’s provided a cover identity and equipment and a starting job to get situated in the US…though she has other “talents” that help. Once she meets with her contact and gets a costume she’s pretty much ready to go…though the costume isn’t the exact fit that was intended.

While the cover was a bit offputting–I’m not really into comics going for blatant sex appeal–the back cover’s question “What happens when America’s greatest superhero is a Russian spy?” sold me. I was curious.

On reading the issue, the story and art work very well together providing a pretty dense experience–plenty of dialogue, and the layouts are primarily small panels–many pages carrying at least 6-7 panels, some with 10. As I read primarily for story but appreciate art when it works well…this was a real treat. I’m not exactly a fan of the Dodsons, though I’m familiar with them from past stuff I’ve read–but I do like the look of this book. There’s no prior history of any characters for me to compare their work/interpretation to, so it just IS.

And the story’s concept is a good one…as said, it was the elevator pitch posed on the back cover that did “sell” me on checking this out. I don’t know that I’d ever heard of Dorison…which left the concept to be that much more impressive as I was taking a shot on (to me) an unknown.

I like that even though this could have gone for gratuitous visuals it still leaves plenty to the imagination…which allows the story to be itself as a story and draw one in. That the issue takes longer to read for so much packed onto each page is a welcome change-up from full and double-page splashes and multiple pages of blown-up visuals with little text to slow one from flying through the pages simply soaking in the images. This issues is far more worthy than most $3.99 books of the price point and yet it’s only $2.99.

I by far prefer collected volumes for most of my comics these days, and Image doing so many vol. 1s for only $9.99 provides a great entry point to the format…even a $14.99 “regular” volume with 5-6 issues makes for a darned good price (especially compared to the more expensive volumes from certain other publishers. Given that, I don’t know if I’ll stick with this for the long haul as single issues…but it’s certainly got my interest with this issue such that I’ll be very likely to pick up the first collected volume in a few months and go from there.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Factor X #3

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factorx003Open Wounds

Writer: John Francis Moore
Pencilers: Steve Epting with Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Milgrom
Lettering: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Cover: Steve Epting
Editors: Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Hostility between Havok and Cyclops openly breaks out in this issue, as Havok makes his move to get his brother outta the way and take his place within Apocalypse’s hierarchy. Getting to that point follows the arrival of Jean Grey (who left her partner Weapon X in the most recent issue of that mini). Havok capturing and presenting her to Cyclops to further entrap him doesn’t go quite according to plan…and word quickly reaches Apocalypse on the transfer of power between the brothers.

Aside from a rather distractingly cartoony panel of Jean, I really dug the art for this issue…as I have the previous ones as well. Everything seems familiar and consistent overall–something I definitely like in issues of a single mini-series–and I can’t really complain. It’s cool seeing a couple "new" characters taken on by this creative team in flashing back to Weapon X #2.

Story-wise it’s very cool to see Jean’s arrival for a number of factors–but certainly at least for the notion of continuity and the shared universe of the X-books. I identified her so closely with Weapon X due to that series’ start and the cover to its first issue, and it’s interesting to see the crossing over as things build and develop, and get to see Jean interact with Cyclops…especially given what they were to each other in the "main" Marvel Universe prior to Legion screwing stuff up.

With this issue, we’re three-quarters through the series. Past the point of introduction, no treading water, and racing toward a conclusion…though I recall certain characters continuing into X-Men: Omega, so there’s a different sense of things for me looking back on this.

This would not be a singularly favorite issue for me, and the cover is a bit disingenuous–though in a very loose sense it could be seen as accurate given what goes down here. However, I definitely enjoyed reading the issue and seeing stuff progress in general as well as the feeling of things coming together. While the various X-titles sort of split apart coming out of X-Men: Alpha, the "universe" is shrinking a bit and I recall the minis all leading their set of characters back together into the pages of X-Men: Omega to conclude the entirety of the original Age of Apocalypse event/story.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Chronicles #1

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xmenchronicles001Origins

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colorist: Matt Webb
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

"Traditionally," this is one of my favorite Age of Apocalypse issues. As much as anything tied to the larger AoA epic really is, this is a self-contained issue, functionally a one-shot. And it’s double-sized, a larger chunk of story in one go than anything but X-Men: Alpha itself so far.

Everything else to this point has been set in the "present-day," the contemporary X-Universe of the time, 20 years after the death of Xavier. This issue is set some years earlier than that–at the dawn of the Age of Apocalypse itself, at Apocalypse’s "first strike" of sorts, against humanity at large.

We meet a young-ish Magneto training his band of X-Men in a secret location in the mountains. The group is introduced to a new teammate–the older and more dangerous man known as Logan…or Weapon X. As training draws to a close, a second new member is brought to their location–a young woman named Rogue. Amidst all this, Apocalypse strikes…forcing Magneto into action sooner than he’d expected. And while he and his young mutants fight off Apocalypse’s minions…another strike is carried out against their home.

Probably the most "glaring" thing about this issue–for me–was a narration box stating (after introducing the characters) "Together, they from the mutant team known as…the X-Men." They FROM the mutant team? Not form–eff oh are emm–they "from" it? A simple transposing of two letters, but for me it stands out in a huge way. Maybe it’s been corrected in digital reprints or other reprint editions, but I’m pointedly reading the single issues that were actually put out at the time.

But to be frank on it…if the worst I see in editing is a spelling glitch and I’m not grousing about huge giant plot-holes or character inconsistencies…I’d say things are going pretty well on that front. Being human, I can forgive the only spelling error I’ve noticed in however many issues so far.

The art has an interesting flavor to it, feeling at once "typical ’90s" to me and yet definitely conveys an "older" tone just from the look, even though the story is pointedly set in the past. As I often find myself saying: the visuals don’t blow me away, but they were quite well for the issue and I didn’t particularly notice anything worth grousing about.

Given the real-world quantity of comics chronicling the adventures of the X-Men through the years and the amount of time purported to have passed for these characters…there is still a huge body of stories that could be told of the characters in this Age of Apocalypse timeline. At the time this was published, everything was ‘face value’ and this issue was the sole, primary glimpse into "the past" of the characters, giving us one of THE key stories–that of Apocalypse’s first strike against humanity as well as the fate of the Scarlet Witch.

And this has that feel…sort of like having all these contemporary issues, but then picking up an old issue and reading a good story that "still matters" in current continuity. While I’m consciously aware of plenty of "Untold Tales from the Age of Apocalypse" stories that eventually came out, this is the first and one of the best. We see a version of the characters both familiar yet different…but not yet as "dark" as they are by "present day." This gives us–as readers–the chance to witness the introductions of Rogue and Weapon X to the team, Apocalypse striking out, without having to solely be "told" it happened.

It’s also rather nice to get "just" a story of these X-Men that does not directly tie to the premise of the main epic, of bringing pieces together for the final showdown at the end of the Age of Apocalypse. Knowing solely the basic premise–that Xavier was killed in the past and Magneto formed the X-Men instead–one can easily read and enjoy this issue in and of itself as a one-shot without even having to read any of the other Age of Apocalypse issues.

To me, this truly is Age of Apocalypse done right…unlike most everything done SINCE the 1990s involving the timeline.

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