Tuesday, June 27, 2017

It's been over two years since the last issue of Fantastic Four, which I have and totally should get around to for "The End" week. And even though I got that Walgreens exclusive Invisible Woman figure last month, it feels like I'll have the rest of the team before a new FF comic hits the racks. (I wrote this before the reveal of...whatever Marvel's Legacy thing is; which I think has a new Two-In-One? A step in the right direction, but not the same.) So luckily, I picked up about a year's worth of their last run the other day; let's check out 2014's Fantastic Four #11, "East of Eden, part three" Written by James Robinson, pencils by Leonard Kirk, inks by Karl Kesel.

As was often the case for the FF...and most Marvel characters, honestly...the writer has to spend a lot of time tearing them down, to make their later victory more dramatic. That's great, but wading through the ten issues prior it felt like Robinson was really hammering on them! An attack on New York by monsters from the "Heroes Reborn" universe is blamed on the team, even though Johnny sacrificed his powers to stop it. The court ruled against the FF, taking the Baxter Building and Sue and Reed's Future Foundation kids away; Val was already staying with Dr. Doom! During the Original Sin crossover, Ben finds out how Johnny accidentally wrecked one of Reed's attempts to cure him of being the Thing; and that Reed didn't tell him. Worse, Ben is then framed for the murder of the Puppet Master, and thrown in super-villain jail! Meanwhile, Johnny's becoming a wastrel, Sue might be reverting to Malice as she fights for her kids, and Reed's working for a science guru that you know is going to end up being a villain. (Close! That latter part is probably the most thankless job in comics: create a new villain for the Fantastic Four. Remember Hyperstorm or Crucible or the Marquis of Death?)

This particular issue opens with the aftermath of a fight with the Wizard's latest Frightful Four--this time, the girls from Salem's Seven--versus Mr. Fantastic and his magical lifeline Dr. Strange the Scarlet Witch. Reed is feeling like he can't do anything right; but Wanda tells him she's been there, and it gets better. Longtime FF associates (and occasional couple) Wyatt Wingfoot and She-Hulk meet up, and agree to investigate who was coming after the team; maybe see if they could get Johnny into rehab while they're at it. (He wasn't quite that far gone, but close.) And the prison shower scene doesn't quite go into Oz territory for Ben, but he nearly catches a beating, saved only by the subtle intervention of the Sandman, who doesn't want to be seen helping him. She's on the cover but not inside: the top dog in the prison food chain, was none other than former FF member and Ben's ex, Sharon "She-Thing" Ventura!

As Wyatt calls Johnny, his cab driver catches an arrow in the head, and Wyatt is nearly killed by...the "Heroes Reborn" Hawkeye? Luckily, She-Hulk had asked Spider-Man to keep an eye on Wyatt, but they're both confused by this turn of events. Robinson had actually written "Heroes Reborn" before: he did the 13th issues for those, the Wildstorm/Marvel crossover World War III, which I loved to death. This FF issue isn't bad, but it only moves the plot forward incrementally: much more seems to happen in the recap, than anywhere else.
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Monday, June 26, 2017

Fine, Kurt, don't tell me.

This was one of the first X-Men comics I read as a kid; it would be years before I'd see the "flying carnival wagon" incident Nightcrawler refers to there! From 1981, Uncanny X-Men #149, "And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!" Written by Chris Claremont, art by Dave Cockrum and Joe Rubinstein. (Reprinted in X-Men Classic #53.)

The issue opens with the team--a surprisingly short roster of Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler--working on the Danger Room, while Professor X worries they would soon face Magneto, whom the current roster had never beat. (Aside from flashbacks and Days of Futures Past, Mags hadn't appeared in the book since 1978's X-Men #113! A surprisingly long absence.) Did I say four X-Men? Well, they also had Kitty Pryde, who shows up wearing a new Sprite costume and roller skates, and wrecks the Professor's computer by phasing through it: the Professor hammers home that she's still a trainee. So of course, Kitty sneaks along when the team flies to Antarctica to check out Magneto's old volcano base.

Said base had been flooded with lava the last time the X-Men were there, but has been cleared out some, by what's left of Garokk: he had fallen into a pit back in X-Men #116, and Storm had been unable to save him, so now he was an angry part-crystal, part-melted rock guy. After beating the team, he creates a smaller, bottomless pit to throw Storm into; but Kitty gets the X-Men back into the fight, and Garokk takes the dive down it. Meanwhile, in the Bermuda Triangle, Scott Summers and Lee Forester are guests of Magneto, who has risen a mysterious sunken city, and neutralized Cyclops' optic blasts! This might've been quite the cliffhanger, if I gave a crap about Cyclops. (I'm kidding; actually by this point, Cyke hadn't done any of the douchey things that soured me on the character.)

I'm positive I read X-Men #150 out of a certain spinner rack I mentioned before, but I don't think I had one for myself for some time! And my personal recollection was a bit fuzzy, I would've read both of those before 1982's X-Men Annual #6.
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Friday, June 23, 2017

So I found another copy for fifty cents, which made cracking and buying it easier than finding my copy somewhere: from 1989, Punisher Annual #2, featuring "Knight Fight" Written by Mike Baron, art by Bill Reinhold.

This would be the second of five straight Punisher Annuals that were involved in some crossover, starting with the Evolutionary War and going until 1992's the System Bytes: traditionally, Punisher would be scheduled fairly early in the crossover, before things got really nuts, to keep him grounded. And this Atlantis Attacks chapter starts both grounded and weird, as a passing Marc Spector sees a guy at a pet store eat a gerbil at the counter! Curious, Spector trails the guy back to a private drug rehab clinic; meanwhile, the Punisher is on the trail of a murderer, who turns out to have checked himself in with the same organization. Frank investigates the clinic's downtown office: Baron's Punisher was still able to pass in polite society; unlike say, Ennis's version, who usually looked like a monster. Staking out the office, Frank hears a tricked-out chopper, setting up the best panels in the whole crossover.

No Marvel misunderstanding brawl for these guys, they're professionals. I know some later writer would wreck this--Frank kills Marc's insane brother or something--but I love the idea of these two just being super-cool with each other.

The office has both armed guards and loose snakes, although the latter are too sluggish in the chill to be up to much; and the same actually applies to the creepy forked-tongued goons that jump the guys. Later, at Marc's mansion, we get a bit of recap, with oddly different lettering, tying the snake men back to Viper, and last year's "snake riot" from Captain America #344. (Such a great issue, I want to read that now!) Hitting the clinic, Moon Knight and Punisher realize while the riot had been considered a "mass hallucination," these goons really were turning into snakes! Then, Frank gets ambushed by Viper, who shoots him up full of...snake juice, I guess. Which doesn't turn him into a snake, yet, but he goes wild, shooting up the place. More so than usual, even. The Viper bugs out, and I'm not sure where she turns up next in the crossover; partly because I'm reading them in no particular order.

Moon Knight manages to if not hypnotize, at least confuse the Punisher, with his shiny crescent darts; and Frank goes into convulsions and passes out. Taking him back to the mansion, Marc takes care of him until he comes out of it, two days later, and that's that for this chapter, which is still probably one of my favorite single issues of the time. Also this issue: a surprisingly dark Microchip back-up, and not just because night-vision goggles play a big part in it. There were several of those over the years, but Micro has to go straight to murder-town on this one. Then some "Punisher's Fighting Techniques" with art by Jim Lee, and the fifth chapter of "The Saga of the Serpent Crown," featuring Conan vs. Thoth-Amon!

Let's see: Atlantis Attacks was 14 chapters, and so far we've looked at six now, with a seventh scheduled. Hoping I can dredge up the rest eventually!
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Oh, no! It's Mr. Flash!

When last we saw our hero, the Flash had just been reduced to a steaming puddle by the villainous Molder; which I can't help but think would be a major setback for most heroes. Except maybe Mr. Bill, I suppose.

As we saw the previous issue, the Elongated Man had been transformed into the Molder, by E-M taking a hit of his gingold-booster for his powers, while being carried at super-speed by the Flash. The Molder turns on his criminal partner, figuring he was no longer needed, although he only melts him into the ground rather than murdering him. Still, an ambulance crew scrapes what's left of the Flash off the tarmac and takes him to the hospital, where he's given a bed--seriously, I don't know what else they thought they could do for him. Fluids, maybe?

Iris is trying to keep it together, working on a Flash retrospective at the TV station, when she gets a visit from Sue Dibny, who has to tell her Ralph was Flash's killer. They have this discussion, somewhat unwisely, at a coffee shop, and are overheard by an eavesdropping Russian spy! Still, Iris disguises herself as a nurse and sneaks in to see the Flash, and gives him a good electric shock, which revives the Flash and causes a small explosion, throwing her through a window! Flash saves her, and the next day gets to work saving Ralph, with a gingold antidote made from a tree infected with fungus. When Sue won't answer the phone, Flash heads over to see her, and finds her the prisoner of Russian spies, who were using her as a hostage to get the Molder to destroy a defector's pro-America art exhibit. Flash beats up those spies, then injects the Molder with the antidote at super-speed, and together he and Ralph beat up the rest of the spies. Easy as pie.

The Russian spy angle feels a bit out of the blue, even for a book like this! Still, probably had to get that page count up somehow. Somewhat amusingly, a letter that issue notes suburban square Barry's "Flash alias has not brought any deep emotional scars," and while the letter writer considers that a positive, that's definitely been rolled back in recent years.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Ooh, behind schedule this week; but more fun with Old Man Logan next week!
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Like this character? Here's eight more! Now they're gone!

Marvel's publishing strategy is often to flood the market; and sometimes that involves spin-off versions of a popular character. That's nothing new, really; that's how you get a Supergirl or Batwoman. But then when the market contracts, usually Marvel has to clear the boards and go back to just the original flavor. Like today's book! From 2014, Hulk #6, "The Omega Hulk, part 2" Written by Gary Duggan, pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Andy Hennessy.

I had more than lost track of the Hulk at this point, but there's a helpful recap page: the Hulk's current persona, Doc Green, has decided to rid the world of gamma-powered weapons. Great, except most of those were his close friends and his son: A-Bomb, She-Hulk, Red She-Hulk, and Skaar. (Oh, and Red Hulk, but we know he's a dick.) This issue, he's starting with Rick Jones, the blue A-Bomb.

Doc Green may have a couple points: A-Bomb was created by MODOK, so there's every possibility he left a backdoor into Rick's mind. And who knows what would happen in the future, if A-Bomb mutated or got Alzheimer's or something. It's super-patronizing, actually; but he manages to stick Rick with his untested cure, and it seems to work. Rick isn't thrilled about this, but Doc Green's next stop is give MODOK--and his current employers, S.H.I.E.L.D.--a stern talking-to and beating, to encourage them not to mess with gamma radiation. Meanwhile, "Thunderbolt" Ross, the Red Hulk, isn't going to wait for Doc Green to come at him...!

If you're following Secret Empire, I don't think Doc Green did Rick any favors. But again, Marvel does this sometimes: clear out all the alternate versions or sidekicks or spin-offs, to try to bring focus back to the original. Probably, they do that about the time you've started to accept the Player-2 versions...
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Even the comic shop that sold me this didn't know it existed...

In their defense, they've got a million books in there; but I didn't even recognize the publisher, Hermes Press: from 2013, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century #2-4, story and art by Howard Chaykin.

The first issue wasn't in this pile, so I don't know how exactly Buck ended up in the future from around the 1920's; but as was typical for the character's various incarnations, he doesn't get the "Whoo!" moment that Fry gets upon waking up in the future on Futurama. This 25th century future is somewhat more crapshack than usual, though: while America wasn't a radioactive crater like most of the rest of the world, it was being invaded by the Han (Chinese) who planned to eliminate most of the Americans left and put the collaborating rest in a theme park/nature preserve called "Americaland." The Han forces might have a pretty good shot at it, since the Americans were divided on mostly racial gang lines, and faced being picked apart unless Buck could rally them under a single banner.

Man, there are a lot of racial slurs in this one, and while Buck aspires to get Americans to see each other as Americans, there are several occasions in these three issues alone where he has to kill in a very cold-blooded fashion. This isn't as, well, smutty as you might usually expect from Chaykin; although there are some bits with Ardala Kane that probably would've gotten there if the series had more room.

Just to muddy up the waters, when I got this, I also picked up Dynamite's 2011 Buck Rogers Annual #1, "Dear Buck..." Written by Matt Brady and Troy Brownfield, art by Carlos Rafael. This version appears to be more sci-fi and less political than Chaykin's; but is also hung up on being a man out of time. Albeit, a time closer to our own, since this Buck references Major Tom and mixtapes rather than Louis Armstrong and records. When Dr. Huer works out Buck's birthday correlates with a mysterious burst transmission, they head out into the wastelands to investigate a historical archive, and find a message from his time-lost girlfriend. And robots and cannibals. Still, it ends with Buck a bit more ready to face the future, not that he had much of a choice in the matter.

At first glance, I would've assumed the shinier Dynamite version to have been more recent than Chaykin's, but nope! Still, I think that license gets passed like a mike; there's probably still some mileage for Buck in the next hundred years or so...
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