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The ’90s Revisited: Dr. Strange #36


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.



The ’90s Revisited: The Phoenix Resurrection – Revelations



Writers: Ian Edginton & Dan Abnett
Pencillers: Kevin West, John Royle, Randy Green, Rick Leonardi
Inkers: Tom Wegrzyn, Philip Moy, Rick Ketcham, Jeff Whiting
Letterers: Vickie Williams, Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Mike Tuccinard, 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

This issue was a bit of a challenge to read. In it, much as I hold very fond memories of the Ultraverse, this really drives home the notion that my fond memories precede the Black September event, that they come from the "original" Ultraverse, before it "rebooted" into a "Marvel-Lite" imprint sorta thing. And just looking at the credits, if only from a 2018 standpoint, this reeks of non-priority to the publisher. I recognize several names that SHOULD have meant this was an excellent issue–especially seeing Dan Abnett‘s name as a writer. But when you have two writers, four different pencillers and 4 different inkers, two different letterers, two different colorists…this screams "piecemeal" and generic incoherence.

Story-wise, we basically have these characters from two different universes spouting off at each other, commiserating generically over stuff (the X-Men recognize Black Knight, for one and he them). But once again, there doesn’t seem to be any real INDIVIDUALITY to any of the characters. Night Man shows up outta nowhere and Wolverine welcomes him as if totally expected…just pieces being moved around the board, so to speak. And then for as big a threat as the Phoenix is supposed to be, everyone winds up just throwing their powers or fists at it to drive it through a portal back into its own (the X-Men’s!) universe, and the problem’s solved? If it’s a threat here, surely it’s a threat there…

We get "big" story beats in stuff like Rex Mundi’s "Alternate"–somehow because he–in this universe–did such a perfect job of cloning himself, the Phoenix–brought into this universe from another–subdivides itself to match. We "see" Mantra, and get a moment of her seeing/thinking she’s been "warned" about Topaz, but why does she get the look she does? But there’s zero explanation as to who/what she is, or the relationship…and if nothing’s going to be expounded on, why include it to begin with?

Probably another problem with this comes with reading it now in 2018, after 15+ years of being conditioned to 6-issue (minimum, mostly) story-arcs and year-long mega-crossover-events and the like. As something spanning two teams from two universes, plus so many ancillary characters from one, with a huge, cosmic, universe-threatening entity…it just seems impossible for anything to be done justice. Something like this really WOULD be fairly justified to have AT LEAST one full issue apiece for each of the Ultraverse titles, a couple "main" issues for everyone, and even an X-Men tie-in or few. Not full 3-4-6-issue arcs per title, but at least a few more full-length issues. Everything crammed into just a couple issues after just a couple pages per title…it’s rushed, and sloppy, and overall just generic and mostly incoherent.

As I’ve read these, I’ve become all the more convinced that the beauty and depth and such of the Ultraverse–the "heart" of the Ultraverse–is definitely in its first couple years, its run of titles when they were actually their own thing, before being wholly given over to Marvel and all that.

I had a hard time getting through this issue–I think it took me at least three times situating myself with it to read to get through the whole thing. Where often that would seem a compliment to a well-done, dense comic proving its 2018 "value" of a $4 cover price, this happened for lack of engagement and interest. Really, I forced myself through the issue simply to have read it (and now typing all this, which is far from my favorite sort of review/write-up!)

The cover-art, and the CONCEPT is sound; and the idea of some crossover between the X-Men and most of the Ultraverse, and their facing the Phoenix Force, and it having counterpart/ties within the Ultraverse isn’t all that bad. But this execution of it all is not much to my liking, and really feels like the sort of thing I’d say one is better off passing on. Of course, if you find it in a 25-cent bin–the whole ‘event’, anyway–it might be worth $1 or so to get all four issues; but I’d encourage one to seek out older Ultraverse stuff if you’re just interested in "trying" an Ultraverse title.


The ’90s Revisited: The Phoenix Resurrection – Genesis



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.


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


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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