A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Month: July 2012

Last issues: Star Trek #61 and Marvel Team-Up #150

For some reason, I’ve always found final issues of comic book series to be of particular interest, especially ones from the pre-Internet, pre-fan press days. I’m always curious to see if there was any kind of attempt to wrap up the series creatively, or whether there was any kind of notice or explanation to readers that the book was going away.

Here is a couple of examples:

Star Trek #61 (Gold Key)

Star Trek #61 (March 1979) was the final issue of the original Trek comics series, published from 1967-1979 by Gold Key. I’ve long been a huge Trek fan and have all but eight issues from this series. (I’m missing 9-11, 14-16 and 58-59, in case anyone is interested in selling to me.) The Gold Key series was a real mixed bag. Some issues featured stories that deviated so radically from the Star Trek style that they are Trek in name only. Others, especially the later issues, were much better. They always featured nice art and, except for a couple issues like this particular one, very cool painted or photo covers. Also, there were no issue numbers on the cover, at least until this issue.

Marvel had long wanted the rights to do Star Trek comics, but was unable to get them away from Gold Key. That changed when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came along in late 1979. Paramount was looking to emulate the success of Star Wars with the picture, and Marvel was by this point looking like a pretty hot partner for this kind of licensing given the huge success of its Star Wars comic. So the plug was pulled on the Gold Key series, with this being the last one.

The story by George Kashdan is pretty entertaining. The Enterprise and the Klingons are both looking to secure a source of dilithium from an alien planet. The mysterious leader of the planet strikes a deal first with the Klingons. Kirk’s not pleased by this, and he’s even less pleased when Spock finds out this dilithium is synthetic and therefore highly unstable. The mysterious leader is revealed to be Harry Mudd, whose scam now threatens to destroy the Klingons’ vessel and start a war between the and the Federation — unless Kirk can stop it. The art by Al McWilliams is nice and polished — it’s clear and attractive and tells the story simply in that Gold Key style. It’s a really fun Trek comic.

And there’s absolutely no indication that it’s the last issue of the title. There’s no letters page, no blurb on the cover, no nothing. I’ve read online that a script exists for issue 62, so the end obviously came quickly for Gold Key’s version of Star Trek.

Marvel Team-Up #150 (Marvel)

Going in the completely opposite direction is Marvel Team-Up #150 (Feb. 1985), which alters the logo to read “The Last Marvel Team-Up,” and features a dejected Spidey in the corner box. The cover itself is a great Barry Windsor-Smith portrait of Spidey and the X-Men as they follow the cover blurbs’ advice and observe “A moment’s silence … before the action begins — .”

The story itself isn’t exactly an obvious finale. Written by Louise Simonson, the story sees Juggernaut go after the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak so he can give it (and Juggernaut powers) to his pal Black Tom Cassidy on his birthday. Black Tom is less than thrilled, and chaos ensues as both Spidey and the X-Men get involved in stopping the destruction. It’s a solid, mid-1980s Marvel comic, which means it has an actual story, competent and clear art from Greg LaRocque and Mike Esposito, and a lot of action. (All things Marvel should think about putting in its current releases.)

There is a blurb on the letters page from editor Danny Fingeroth announcing that MTU is indeed ending, but will be replaced by a new series called The Web of Spider-Man in six weeks. Of course, the “The” was dropped, and Web had a long life of its own.

‘Saga’: A lame title for a really good comic

Saga #1 (Image Comics)

Saga is one of the more interesting and, yes, even exciting new comics to come along in a while. Published by Image Comics, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have delivered an interesting science-fiction debut about a pair of soldiers from long-warring worlds who fall in love and have a child together. The series begins with their daughter’s birth, and they quickly find them pursued by robot princes, horrors and bounty hunters for being too politically inconvenient.

There’s a lot I like about this book, but I do have some major problems with it that should be addressed first.

First, I hate the title. Saga is a vague title that tells the reader nothing about the story inside, or even the general approach. Saga could be a fantasy book, a sci-fi book, or even a superhero book.

Second, I question the level of explicitness in this book. This book is rated M for Mature, and the first line of dialog in the first issue is “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting!” In addition to the language, there’s nudity and one fairly explicit sex scene in the first issue. And while that sort of thing is fine in comics, I feel like it throws away an opportunity that the underlying story could exploit to reach a wider audience and have a bigger impact. As it is, the teens who could really enjoy something truly new in comic book form from top creators will likely not be able to find Saga in their library or be able to buy it from a lot of retailers. Not that that ever stopped anyone who really wants to read it, but there’s a reason that all the biggest successes in fiction and movies are roughly PG or PG-13 and not R. The R level just limits the audience, and I think that it’s a shame this book cuts off its potential to reach that audience for some language that, to me, seems unnecessary to tell the story.

On to the things I like: The art is terrific. Staples’ makes these characters and their worlds look and act like real people. It delivers exactly what is needed for a title like this: a specific and consistent look. She also tells the story very well, and the art on the first four issues makes some significant improvements.

Storywise, Vaughan remains a deceptively strong talent. Almost alone among the current A-crop of comics writers, he eschews the self-consciously clever dialog that clutters up most superhero comics and puts enough plot into each issue without the story ever feeling crowded.

The story itself is, for me, unexpectedly compelling. While star-crossed lovers from the wrong side of the track is a well-worn cliche, the addition of the child (who narrates the series) and the sci-fi setting is a good combination that is well suited to comics. I look forward to seeing where this journey, which in some ways evokes Yorick’s travels in Y: The Last Man, takes these characters and reveals about this universe.

‘Batman: Earth One’ is redundant and pointless

It’s taken almost three years from its first announcement for Batman: Earth One to arrive, and reading it the same weekend The Dark Knight Rises was released in theaters, the only questions to ask is: Why?

This is not a bad comic, by any stretch. It’s well-written by DC’s chief creative officer, Geoff Johns, and features some very nice art by Gary Frank. Like Superman: Earth One, this is a 144-page original hardcover graphic novel selling for $22.99 aimed at new readers by retelling the origin story as though it were happening today and updating certain elements to make that work.

So we have many of the familiar elements: The shooting deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents, his struggle to find the path of becoming Batman, and being successful as Batman. We also have the younger Jim Gordon, who’s struggling with being a good cop in a corrupt city. And of course, the two form an uneasy-at-first alliance that we know will become a pivotal relationship for both.

The biggest differences this time around is that Alfred is much younger, and as a former soldier is a much more gruff and ornery bastard type character. We also have an interesting introduction for Harvey Bullock, who arrives in Gotham seeking to lift his fame and fortune above the success he’s had hosting a real-crime TV show in Hollywood.

Most all of this content has been much better before in Batman: Year One. And I don’t know that we really need yet another ongoing version of the character after the reboot of The New 52 and seemingly forgotten efforts like All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder and the endless variations of Elseworlds.

Also, this book doesn’t change the status quo of Batman as radically as Superman: Earth One did for the Man of the Steel, making it seem even more superfluous. And with the success of the many versions of Batman on film, in television and those DC Universe original animated movies, the need to radically update and constantly remind people how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman appears even more ridiculous.

It will be interesting to see how much further DC goes with the Earth One line, the very idea of which was trumped by The New 52. Short of a sales success on a par with Superman: Earth One, which is certainly possible, I see this dropping off fans’ radar quickly. For new readers, I still think Year One is better than Earth One.

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