In 1990, with few journalism classes under my belt, I decided to write a letter good enough to get published in a comics letters page.
I loved the letters columns in DC’s Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I think editor Bob Greenberger did the most professional, fun and informative letters columns I’ve ever seen. Not only was this letter column the best place to discuss the comic, but for Trek in general.
I wrote off one letter, commenting on Star Trek #5 (Feb. 1990). And another on the following issue.
The first was printed in Star Trek #9 (June 1990).
And the second letter showed up in the following issue.
I wanted to write a serious letter. I had just read and had some criticisms of Wolverine #25 (June 1990), which had a spiffy Jim Lee cover. This is a fill-in issue written by Jo Duffy and drawn by John Buscema. In it, an old friend of Logan’s named Morrow calls in a debt. He needs Wolverine to protect his son, Gabriel, during the climactic battle of a gang war. Logan reluctantly accepts. He tells Gabriel a story about a boy lost in the Canadian wilderness who is raised by a pack of, uh, wolverines. That inspires Gabriel to “help out” when the gang war comes home, allowing Logan to decide the battle in Morrow’s favor.
I really disliked the story at the time. Wolverine had become quite the success as a solo character and the number of writers now contributing to his ongoing story had grown far beyond the vision of longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont.
Plenty of interviews quoted Claremont as saying he saw Logan as a man of mystery. It was better to never know his origin because no story could measure up. (See 2001’s six-issue Origin series for proof.) I agreed with Claremont, and therefore disliked this story.
And raised by wolverines? Really? I am a big fan of Jo Duffy’s work, but this was goofy.
So, I wrote up a letter, mailed it and — to my surprise — it saw print in the pages of Wolverine #31 (Late Sept. 1990). My letter was printed without editing — and there was a response from the editors!
And then my letter got a response two issues later.
Two issues after that one, there was another reference to my letter.
I didn’t write more letters until after I had graduated and had started a career as a newspaper editor.
It was this period when I could finally afford to subscribe to the Comics Buyers Guide, and its weekly letter column was a real highlight. I was deeply into comics now that I could afford them to some degree. I even wrote a few articles about them at the newspaper, and made my first trek to San Diego Comic-Con in 1993.
Copies of those issues of CBG my letters appeared in are long gone, but I do have a couple of printouts I made before sending them.
Here’s the first, which discusses the issue of ratings systems for comics that was controversial in 1994, the era of the V-chip!
Amazingly, I don’t cringe when I read that, and I still mostly agree with what I said.
And here’s another letter, from 1997, that’s more critical of CBG and the industry as a whole.
I received the following reply from Peter David, though I don’t recall exactly what I wrote in the letter he was replying to.
I had a couple of comics creators or publishers send me samples of their work. In particular, I remember receiving copies of an indy black-and-white comic called Hilly Rose from B.C. Boyer. It had a Pogo/Bone vibe to it, and I ordered subsequent issues after liking what Boyer had sent.
Those also were the early days of the internet, and like everyone else, I used my Macintosh Performa 630CD to log on to America Online and check out its comic book areas.
If you weren’t around in those days, AOL charged a monthly fee of something like $12, and that got you, say, five hours of connection time. Once you went over that five hour limit, they started charging you by the minute. And it quickly became clear that five hours a month was nothing, and it only took a few big bills to switch to an ISP that charged only a flat rate.
Anyway, I was in a comics group when someone from Dark Horse Comics was asking for volunteers to read a new first issue and write a letter about it so they had some letters to put into that first issue. I immediately signed up, and soon a package from Dark Horse arrived with black and white copies of a comic called Heartbreakers, by Anina Bennett and Paul Guinan.
I wrote up a letter, sent it back, and it was published in that first issue.
A number of years later, I met Anina and Paul at a dinner a mutual friend threw at Comic-Con. I told them this story and we all had a laugh. Stopping by their booth the next day, Anina had a copy of that comic on the table and I was able to show her the letter.
I forget exactly when letters columns faded away from most comic books, but I miss them. Even when they crop up these days, they lack the kind of thoughtful missives and discussion that turned up back then.
I don’t remember why I stopped shopping at AAA Best when I started my junior year at the University of Arizona. Instead, I starting shopping weekly in Tucson at Fantasy Comics, which is located at 2745 N. Campbell Ave.
Fantasy was in an unremarkable one-story building, with a glass case at the front full of its more expensive comics. New releases were racked to the immediate right. The rest of the current comics were stocked in alphabetical order in racks that stretched to the back of the shop. The main floor featured lots of back issues. Charlie Harris, a frequent DC “letter hack,” either owned the store or worked there.
One of the most memorable things for me about shopping at Fantasy was that back issues were in heat-sealed bags. To get them open, you needed scissors, so there were lots of discarded comic bags in my trash.
Into the Trek comics wormhole
I fell deep into Star Trek at the time. DC published in August new Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation series that I really enjoyed. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had done poorly at the box office and with critics, but Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s third series debuted in September and was by far its best to date.
But it was the classic Star Trek comic that really caught my eye. It had clever scripts by Peter David and slick art printed on good paper from the team of James Fry and Arne Starr. And nothing beat those covers by Jerome K. Moore. They are spectacular and I never tire of looking at them or admiring the skill Moore brought to those illustrations.
My Star Trek obsession led me to a Star Trek convention experience that cemented my fandom for that franchise. It was a weekend Creation Convention at the Tucson Convention Center, with special guest Patrick Stewart.
Prior to Stewart’s entrance, Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, Richard Arnold, previewed upcoming episodes of The Next Generation. These were sneak peeks at some of the best in the series’ run: “Deja Q,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Sins of the Father” and “Captain’s Holiday.”
Stewart appeared for a charming Q&A session at the end of the day. Among the secrets he revealed: He had accepted a teaching job at the University of Arizona. But the offer slipped through through the cracks and after landing the role of Captain Picard, he never looked back. What might have been!
Marvel’s X-Men on the rise
The other hot franchise was X-Men. It had been a best-seller for years at this point, but new artists raised the excitement to a new level. Jim Lee’s arrival on X-Men seemed inevitable after lengthy runs on Alpha Flight and Punisher War Journal. He did a few issues here and there at first, before taking the full reins in the summer of 1990. At the same time, Rob Liefeld also was pitching in on X-Men titles and getting some heat. He took over the penciling chores on The New Mutants in 1990 and introduced Cable, another high point. Erik Larsen took over penciling The Amazing Spider-Man from Todd McFarlane, who was set to launch a new Marvel title. With Marc Silvestri jumping from X-Men to Wolverine, the seeds of the Image revolution were taking root.
But Star Trek had sort of taken over my mind. I collected the first DC series, re-watched the movies and original TV shows, and even enjoyed some of the Star Trek novels. “Writer of Stuff” Peter David was the creator whose work I most enjoyed, leading me inevitably to The Incredible Hulk.
Lost in the aisles of Bookman’s
Fantasy was but one of the shops I frequented that year. Another mainstay was Bookman’s, a used-book store that filled a former grocery store space with tons of fascinating objects. Each visit took hours, it seems. I’d start with out-of-town newspapers and move on to a newsstand section full of old and new magazines. Then there were aisles full of used books, cassettes, CDs, and bargain low-grade comics. I always flipped through Comics Scene and the Comics Buyers Guide, catching in the latter news of a Peter David signing at All About Books and Comics in Phoenix. I skipped out on school to drive up from Tucson in time to hit the Thursday evening event.
The Hulk tour hits Phoenix
The signing was part of a tour promoting David and artist Dale Keown’s work on The Incredible Hulk. Keown had only drawn two issues of Hulk at this point, and the signing was sparsely attended. That gave everyone a chance to hang out with David and Keown and chat about a lot of things. David signed several Star Trek issues for me, a Next Generation novel he’d written, and some Hulks. He joked about calling his editor back in New York to rave about the warm Arizona weather.
To my surprise, Keown hailed from Alberta, so we talked about Canada and Arizona, as well as comics. I remember he sold the splash page to The Incredible Hulk #367, his first issue, for about $150. A few years later, I saw the same page for sale in another Phoenix-area store for many multiples of that.
The signing was part of a mini-tour that continued that weekend to comic shops in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. All About produced a poster for the signing similar to the McFarlane one I wrote about previously. Mine is framed but in storage.
Hunting for back issues in Tucson
After that, I started seriously looking for back issues of The Incredible Hulk. David had been writer on Hulk for about three years, and I began by tracking down his back issues. I often visited a Tucson shop called Comics and Things, located in a strip mall at 3934 E. Grant Road, in search of Hulk and Star Trek back issues. It had a good selection of recent back issues but soon vanished into the ether.
The writing and art on Hulk surprised me. David started with a fairly conventional Hulk story with McFarlane on art. Their collaboration ended with a satisfying climax that completely changed the series’ premise. David next turned the Hulk gray and got him a job as a high-end Las Vegas bouncer named Joe Fixit. Jeff Purves drew this run and did a fabulous job before disappearing from the world of comics.
Hulk was so good that Sam Kieth drew the fill-ins — if you could call them that.
Keown drew Hulk for the next three years, and it became was a huge hit. David stuck with the title for years after, and still writes new Hulk stories from time to time. Great stuff.
How much is too much Batman?
This also was a time when Batman was still riding high on the popularity of the Tim Burton movie. So Batman was super-hot and DC released in the autumn of 1989 Legends of the Dark Knight #1. Promoted as the first new solo Batman book since 1940,this series set free top talent to do their ultimate Batman story.
The first issue also marked the first time I remember variant covers from a major publisher, as DC promoted the book with a second cover that came in four different colors. They said in the book that it was “just for fun,” but the result surely made DC’s accountants happy as fans decided they needed to have a copy of each color — and therefore bought four copies of that first issue.
Pointing out the differences between Tucson and Phoenix, that first Legends of the Dark Knight sold out immediately down south. The same was true of The New Titans #60 and 61, which were key parts of the current Batman storyline, “A Lonely Place of Dying.” I easily found both on my first comic shop stop on my next trip to Phoenix.
My family moved Oct. 2, 1986, to Scottsdale, Arizona. We lived in a home in what was then the north edge of town, somewhere between Shea Boulevard and Cactus Road, just west of 92nd Street. My comics collection at the time fit in one long box.
Of course, the first thing I did was consult the phone book for a nearby comics shop, finding several listings but none nearby. The first one I found and the closest was Fog Hollow Comics, located at 3215 E. Thunderbird Road, almost nine miles away. (Thanks to the AZFandom.org folks for recalling its name!) It’s still today an 18 minute drive, without traffic, each way, from our old address. So it wasn’t convenient, but at least it was a place I could make it to once my perception of what’s too far away to drive to adjusted to Arizona standards.
At the time, there were no freeways in the area. Phoenix and Scottsdale were massively spread out areas with nary a two-story building in sight. It was, truly, a city built more for cars to live in than people. And being on the edge of Scottsdale made pretty much everything you wanted to do, aside from going to the grocery, a trip of 10 or more miles on surface streets with lights that never synched up except to ensure you hit every single one in red.
Nonetheless, with two younger sisters and two working parents, my drivers license made sure I was kept busy dropping off or picking up somebody around the entire north quarter of Phoenix in a yellow 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Thank god it had a tape player. It did not have AC. That deficit’s seriousness would not make itself fully known, however, until the following spring and summer. Either way, it was a lot of time spent in the car.
At the time, I was buying pretty much only Marvel comics. I knew exactly which ones were coming out each week, thanks to Marvel Age Magazine, and I had them on subscription at Fog Hollow — my first pull file. Money was tight, so I’d calculate the exact cover price minus the discount plus the sales tax to ensure I could pay for my comics before making that drive. More than once I paid for my weekly haul to the penny.
Fog Hollow was located in a strip mall suite and, unlike many comics shops, had large windows on two sides of the space and was therefore bright and open and inviting. There was the usual back-issue bin in the center, with new releases on racks around the edge. Under the back-issue bin, behind a small door, was where the subscriber books were kept.
I remember on my first visit finding at least two comics that eluded me in Edmonton and really shouldn’t have: X-Men #192 and Power Pack #27. The former I just never could find in any of the back issue bins at the shops I frequented despite being only a couple years old and all the issues around it being easy to find. Power Pack #27 was part of the Mutant Massacre storyline and had sold out instantly in Edmonton, but was still racked in the new comics when I rolled in to Fog Hollow. That made me happy, and I was a steady customer of the shop through the summer of 1987, when it closed.
I remember stopping in on Friday afternoons to pick up my books. (New comic-book days on Wednesday were not a thing at that time — at least not one I was aware of.) I’d take home the comics I was reading at the time — from memory, standard Marvel stuff, such as X-Men, The New Mutants, Alpha Flight, The Amazing Spider-Man, Classic X-Men, X-Factor, Marvel Saga, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, The ‘Nam, Strikeforce: Morituri, Power Pack, some New Universe titles and Cloak & Dagger — and would spend most of the evening after dinner reading, re-reading, admiring and thinking about the new books. I didn’t have anything else to do, really.
Among the cool items I procured at this shop: A copy of X-Men #141 that I scored for a whopping 50 cents in the back-issue bin, and later took to the 1993 San Diego Comic-Con to be signed by both Chris Claremont and John Byrne; a second printing of The ‘Nam #1, as I was completely in love with this series and the great Michael Golden art; Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1, which was easily one of my most re-read books for the next year; and a copy of the first printing of the Wolverine TPB, collecting the original miniseries by Claremont and Miller, costing me a whopping $4.95, plus Arizona sales tax. (A quick note: I had a tough time adjusting at first to sales tax because there was none in Alberta. There, if it cost 99 cents and you gave them a dollar, you got back a penny. In Arizona, if it cost 99 cents, you had to hand over $1.07.)
Fog Hollow was run by a woman named Susan Putney, whom I later realized wrote a graphic novel for Marvel called Spider-Man: Hooky, that was drawn by no-less-a-great than Bernie Wrightson. When I eventually acquired a copy, I really enjoyed it. I also found a site that referenced a quote from former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who said he really liked Putney’s work and thought she could be good — but she kind of vanished after Hooky and Shooter himself was out at Marvel around the same time.
A little Googling reveals Putney also wrote a science-fiction novel called Against Arcturus that was published in 1972 as a a flip-book paperback with Time Thieves, by no-less-a-great than Dean R. Koontz.
I remember she would ring up my sub titles and give me a knowing “good reads,” especially the third week of the month when X-Men, The ‘Nam and Marvel Saga all arrived.
I also remember lusting after the copy of X-Men #94 displayed behind the counter. I recall her mentioning how she’d already sold one to a kid who paid the $100 or so the book cost in cash. You never know what a motivated kid can do.
There was an arcade-style video game in one corner, that played a music loop the staff had memorized and timed down to the second. And I remember one time the staff opening a box from the distributor that included fresh copies of First’s Lone Wolf & Cub reprints. I was not yet smart enough to pick those up, but the staff was sure excited.
Later that summer, I remember coming in to pick up my books one Friday afternoon and Susan was upset, said that the store was closing and subs’ orders had been transferred to another store, called AAA Best Comics, over on North Seventh Street — even farther away from home. It was sad, she was nearly in tears. I said thank you, I had really enjoyed shopping at the store and was sorry to hear it was closing. I didn’t know what else to say — I was only 17 years old.
I proceeded to get into my car, and trek on down to AAA Best Comics, which was a fixture in my life for the next eight years or so.
And I think I may track down a copy of Against Arcturus.
But before that, my next post will feature a detour to the longstanding champion of Phoenix comic-book shops, also sadly no more. Stay tuned.
It’s interesting that X-Force, once the most laughably unnecessary re-launches in X-Men history, has become surprisingly fertile ground for the franchise in the past five or six years. Beginning with the Craig Kyle and Chris Yost revamp of the team as a covert operations unit for the X-Men, X-Force has been a consistently good and interesting read. (I will exempt the X-Force: Sex and Violence series, which painfully included not-so-subtle scenes of Domino offering — and giving – oral sex to Wolverine.)
Marvel Now! turns X-Force into a franchise with the franchise, splitting the idea into two books: Cable and X-Force and the second series of Uncanny X-Force.
Starting with Uncanny X-Force, the covert ops concept mostly continues here, though with a mostly new cast including Storm, Spiral, Cluster and Puck along with returning mainstay Psylocke. This is a pretty messed up bunch of characters, with Psylocke having serious issues with Spiral over that whole blinding and bionic eyes episode way way back somewhen in the character’s Marvel UK days. And then Cluster is a clone of Fantomex — and is in some way romantically involved with him.
Writer Sam Humphries does a nice job keeping things fun and action packed, but what I liked the most was the dominant role for Storm. I’ve said before that the character has seemed frequently lost since Chris Claremont left the X-Men in 1991, but reading Humphries version, it’s almost like she never left. I do have reservations about Puck, a character I always liked best when Byrne wrote him in the original Alpha Flight run. I really despised the ridiculous origin Bill Mantlo came up with for the character, where he sacrificed his full size body to keep a demon genie trapped inside himself. Mantlo’s run on Alpha Flight remains atop my list of Most Destructive and Regrettable Runs.
But, I digress. I like that Humphries makes Puck fun again, but I’m seeing near enough “eh’s” in his dialog. Also, I don’t recall him ever being quite so cosmopolitan, or even being from Saskatchewan. I always thought he was from Toronto, but whatever.
Oh, and Bishop is in the book, too.
The art is very solid and nice looking, with the vastly underrated Ron Garney on the first batch and the last couple of issues by Adrian Alphona of Runaways fame. I also like the redesigns on the costumes, with Psylocke in particular getting a nice full-body redesign that finally gets her out of the purple bathing suit Jim Lee designed in 1990. Overall, this is an entertaining and solid book, although I wouldn’t say it’s setting the world on fire.
Cable and X-Force on the other hand reads more like a straight Cable book. That’s not to say there’s not good stuff going on with the other characters, especially Colossus, long one of my favorites. But the supporting cast, which includes Domino, Forge, Doctor Nemesis, Hope Summers and Boom Boom is pretty nondescript. Domino and Boom Boom never really stood out as especially interesting characters, while Forge has lacked direction since 1987’s Fall of the Mutants and Doctor Nemesis has always seemed like a bad caricature of Warren Ellis, if Warren were a member of the X-Men. This book comes in second to Uncanny X-Force for me, saved in large part by the excellent artwork of Salvador Larocca, who has long been one of the better pencilers at Marvel.
Moving on to Wolverine, there’s two new series here, including a new main Wolverine title by Paul Cornell and Alan Davis, and Savage Wolverine, which looks to be more of an anthology series in the mode of Legends of the Dark Knight. On Wolverine, Cornell and Davis do a solid job of telling a good Wolverine story in more of the superhero mode. Davis’ art is always worth looking at. Cornell’s story works mainly as an action piece, giving Wolverine some cool stuff to do like bring down an airplane before it hits Yankee Stadium. If we’re going to have this many Wolverine comics, at least these are a bit of fun if not much else.
Frank Cho writes and draws the first five issues of Savage Wolverine, which feature Logan in the Savage Land with Shanna the She-Devil. That gives Cho a chance to draw what he is best known for — attractive, well-endowed women. The story is not bad, but it’s definitely on the lighter side of Wolverine. A bit of humor is always welcome in comics as grim as the mutant books often are, I just wish the attempts weren’t so clumsy and were a bit more, you know, funny. This is a lot of eye candy, and it’s really nice looking eye candy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Savage Wolverine #6 features a new creative team, this time writer Zeb Wells and artist Joe Madureira. As you might expect with Joe Mad back on an X-book, this feels like a nostalgia trip back to 1997 or so. I overall like Madureira’s art, which is expressive and shows the influences of animation and video games. But there’s a cartoonish quality to it that has always seemed at odds with the general grimness of its tone. Anyways, this so far features Wolverine teaming with Elektra and Spider-Man and the Kingpin’s in there, too, along with some new characters. It’s a fast-paced comic with lots of fun quips and cool posing and it’s a reminder that not everything about 1990s superhero comics were bad.
The light — with that being a very relative term when it comes to X-comics — tone of the Wolverine books is interesting given the thing that made the character popular in the first place was his edgy elements and the promise of real violence. I don’t think a Wolverine book needs to be graphic, necessarily, but nothing about the character really stands out or works the way it could without more serious elements. Wolverine was always all about pain — managing his own and inflicting it on others. He should always be a bit uncomfortable and out of place, and these tales are awfully safe. This is certainly nothing new in the way Marvel has managed the character, but with so much of the company’s output reading very solid and entertaining these days, it’s a shame they couldn’t take a little bit more of a chance with these books.
It’s taken me a awhile to get to reading the giant stack of comics that piled up the past few months. Reading them has been sadly dull — I don’t know if it’s the comics or if it’s me, though I suspect if everything was a great read I wouldn’t have written what I just wrote. So let’s get to it.
Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Exodus #1 (Marvel, $3.99) is the conclusion to the Utopia crossover storyline, and it’s reasonably good. That’s to be expected when you have folks like Matt Fraction writing and Mike Deodato and Terry Dodson drawing. The Utopia storyline was pretty overtly political for X-Men, starting with an initiative called Proposition X that would require medical birth control for all mutants. That leads to the mutants, who’ve established San Francisco as their new home base, going on the riot path and H.A.M.M.E.R. director Norman Osborn bringing in his Dark Avengers to restore order and discredit the X-Men and install his own lackeys — the Dark X-Men — as the public face of mutant kind. It’s a heavy handed and painfully obvious attempt to tie the mutants into the gay rights issues that are at the forefront of society. And that would probably work, but there’s such a sense of change fatigue when it comes to the X-Men franchise that none of this really has a chance to stick. It was only a year ago that the X-Men came to San Francisco, and nothing about that switch really stood out as meaningful or interesting — and now we’re on the move again to the remnants of Asteroid X, now renamed Utopia. It would have been nice for the X-Men to have stuck around San Francisco long enough for that setting to made a difference. And it’s hard when your arcs all run four, five, six issues to establish a real sense of place the way comics used to back in the days when they were periodicals through and through. I think of the first Wolverine series from 1982, where that setting of Japan really came to life and was important to the story. Nowadays, even with a half dozen spinoff titles, the X-titles (and Marvel titles in general) have become kind of cookie cuttered in the Bendis mode — where characters’ dialog rarely has much to do with the story and the overall tone is self-conscious and self-referential to the point of inanity. All of this was fresh 10 years ago, but at least for me, this style has worn out its welcome.
I also read the Utopia tie-in issues Dark X-Men: The Confession #1 (Marvel, $3.99), X-Men: Legacy #227 (Marvel, $2.99), both of which suffer from much the same symptom. Confession is basically an entire issue of Cyclops and Emma Frost having it out over the status of their relationship and their respective guilt and responsibilities in the whole thing. And character is important — it’s part of what made Marvel great — but this exemplifies the self indulgence that I think is plaguing the X-books in particular. Another example is The Uncanny X-Men #515 (Marvel, $2.99), the first issue of the new “Nation X” storyline that heralds the return of Magneto, usually a big event with lots of drama even when it’s not done well. But here, it’s sudden and just seemingly random. Even the things that should work don’t — a minor character dies in a rather nice scene, but again it’s a character who hasn’t been around long enough or done anything interesting enough for the reader to care about his passing with the same passion some of the X-Men display.
In the Wolverine corner of Marvel, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s alternate future run concludes in Giant-Size Wolverine: Old Man Logan #1 (Marvel, $4.99). Alternate future storylines can be fun, and this one has had its moments of coolness. But the ending, delayed from the regular run of the title to this special, is disappointing for just being so damn obvious. This post-apocalyptic Western tale, in which Old Man Logan has to rediscover his spine as he tries to protect his family from the victorious supervillains that rule the land. The end, however, sees Logan finally pop the claws and go to town on everyone — but it does so in so mundane and excessively violent a fashion that it’s hardly satisfying or even terribly interested. The art’s nice, even though it’s a bit gross at times, but this ending throws no curves at all and I couldn’t help but think, “That’s it?”
Still, it’s better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine #1 (Marvel, $3.99), the most recent Origins one-shot. I guess this does a decent job of recapping the character’s origin and making it jibe, both storywise and visually, with what appears in the movie of the same name. But in simplifying the story, it loses the interesting parts of the good stuff and exposes the lame stuff for being truly lame. It also doesn’t do much to explain itself — like who are Heather and James Hudson, who weren’t in the movie? The art, however, is nice — no surprise since it’s by Mark Texeira, who did a good job drawing the Wolverine series way back in the early 1990s.
X-Factor #47-48 (Marvel, $2.99 each), continues to be a consistently entertaining read. Yeah, it’s gotten complicated, with future Dr. Dooms, an adult Layla Miller, a future Cyclops and more Madrox dupes than you can shake a stick at. But writer Peter David does a good job of giving everyone a personality and structuring his story so that it’s entertaining even if you don’t remember every detail of the previous 46 issues.
Before we leave the mutant corner of the Marvel Universe, there’s X-Men Forever #7 (Marvel, $3.99), which reminds me how great writer Chris Claremont was at establishing a new direction for a series and how quickly the new status quo could be forgotten. After a memorable five-issue opening arc, the last two issues have been a lot more murky and directionless. This one features a lot of flashing back on Nick Fury’s part to the days when Logan (currently believed dead in this timeline) did a lot of dirty work as a solider. It’s all still very recognizably Claremontian, which is comforting at times, but lacks the obvious forward momentum and focus of the first arc. Given that the outcome of Claremont’s stories usually depends greatly on the talents of the artist he’s working with, Tom Grummett can’t return to these pages soon enough.
Fantastic Four #569 (Marvel, $3.99) wraps up another Mark Millar run, though this time without the artist who kicked it off, Bryan Hitch, and with an assist on the scripting from Joe Ahearne. This is a definite ending point, though I recommend rereading as much of the run before trying to tackle the finale as possible because who’s who and what’s what is, once again, a complicated matter. The best part of the book comes at the end, when Ben Grimm’s wedding day arrives at long last. Removed from the plot complexities of the first half of this book, the characters are fully enjoyable and the situation surprising for the nature of the conflicts and how they play out. The art, by Stuart Immonen, is a good imitation of Hitch’s style, giving a bit more warmth to the characters. Looking back, the run didn’t measure up to the potential of the earliest issues. Seeing the acclaim for the follow up run by writer Jonathan Hickman tells you all you need to know about fan reaction to Millar’s run. But it still turned out well and I think will grow a bit in fans’ eyes over time.
Lastly from Marvel is The Amazing Spider-Man #602-604 (Marvel, $2.99 each). The plot in these issues, written by Fred Van Lente, features a good twist on the old Chameleon character (he’s been a villain since way back in ASM #1) as he mistakenly takes on the appearance of Peter Parker without knowing he’s Spider-Man. There’s some funny moments as Chameleon manages to fix a lot of Peter’s personal problems without really trying too hard. The return of Mary Jane figures fairly prominently, not completely justifying three consecutive MJ-themed covers, but OK, they’re well done. The Amazing Spider-Man has succeeded in its attempt to be a serial of its own — it may be the only part of the Marvel Universe that doesn’t rely on constant crossovers or participation in things like Dark Reign. Shipping three times a month, it’s also worked out a unique rhythm to its plotlines that is most like that of a TV series. I don’t know how much of an effect this had had on readership — whenever I ask at the comic shop, I’m told that overall interest in Spider-Man is down — but I think Marvel should stick with it because it’s, at the very least, different.
Having dug through the Marvels, it’s time to look at a few DCs from the Batman corner. Batman and Robin #4 (DC Comics, $2.99) is the first issue drawn by Philip Tan instead of Frank Quitely. I think it takes Tan a bit to find his groove on this issue, as I had a hard time following the art in the early pages but was very much enjoying the issue by the end. Grant Morrison’s story brings back The Red Hood, though who’s under the hood remains a mystery at this point, and his sidekick Scarlet. This is a good Batman story — the plot, villains, conflicts and visuals all work as well, if not better than, the previous Quitely-drawn issues.
It’s only moving on to read Batman #689-690 (DC Comics, $2.99 each) that I wonder what specific purpose each book is intended to serve. Maybe it’s just that with Batwoman having taken over Detective Comics, they needed to start Batman and Robin to have that second main Bat-title. I don’t know. But these issues, written by Judd Winick and drawn by Mark Bagley, were also quite enjoyable. Bagley’s art, especially, is refreshing on Batman because his style is so associated in my mind, and I’m sure others’, with the sunnier superhero fare of Thunderbolts and Ultimate Spider-Man. His Batman has some of the same quality, but after so many years of downplaying the superhero aspect of Batman it comes off as cool and interesting. Of course, Winick’s script helps, emphasizing as it does new Batman Dick Grayson’s happier outlook on life when compared to that of Bruce Wayne.
Lastly, comes Detective Comics #855-857 (DC Comics, $3.99 each), featuring solo tales of the new Batwoman by writer Greg Rucka and amazing art from J.H. Williams III. Considering how easy it would be to butcher a series about Batwoman, who was introduced to the world in a flurry of news articles about her homosexuality, it’s a bit of a minor miracle that this is so good. A lot, I think, comes down to Williams, who remains underrated despite outstanding work on Alan Moore’s Promethea and the seemingly lost Desolation Jones with Warren Ellis. The “Alice in Wonderland” villain is beautifully rendered, the pages are shockingly designed to be read as comics rather than movie storyboards and the imagery is powerful and beautiful all at once. And it does so with an unmistakable homoerotic undercurrent that’s attractive and playful in a way no comic has been since Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbe’s Cobweb feature from the ABC Tomorrow Stories series. And let’s not forget Rucka, who gives Kate Kane everything a character needs to be interesting and true to herself without doing the obvious sex scene. Instead, there’s a rather romantic dance between Kate and Maggie Sawyer from the Superman books that is really well written, staged and drawn. I also like that this series doesn’t interact with the other Batman books, that the series is getting a chance to stand on its own and hopefully develop its own identity and audience. There’s also a backup strip in these issues, written by Rucka and starring The Question. This is the new Question, former Gotham City cop Renee Montoya, and it’s so far so good there too.
We’ll see how much more of the pile I can plow through this week, though I’ve been on a real Jack Kirby kick of late and am interested in revisiting some of his work. Also, I’ve been reading Moebius — Blueberry Vol. 1 (the Marvel/Epic version) and The Airtight Garage just arrived in the mail today — and picked up a couple of interesting items in France and Italy that I want to get to and will … eventually.
Switching gears, I’ll get into a bit of animation. For those who don’t know, I’ve taken on a new gig as the online editor at Animation Magazine, and have been plunging into my DVD collection to revisit various animated features and bits such as the original “X-Men” series and the 2-D edition of “Star Wars: Clone Wars.” And then arrives “Hulk Vs.,” the most recent Marvel Animation feature DVD. This 2-disc set includes two features, each about 40 minutes long: “Hulk vs. Wolverine” and “Hulk vs. Thor.” I had seen “Hulk vs. Wolverine” in its entirety at Comic-Con last summer (and wrote about it for Newsarama.) Watching it again, I still like it for its alternately violent and slightly goofy revisiting of Wolverine’s origin and first battle with the Hulk. There’s lots of Weapon X in here and some good slicing and dicing with Wolverine facing off against Sabretooth, Deathstrike, Omega Red and Deadpool. But I liked “Hulk vs. Thor” a lot more. For one, the story was better – you could almost believe that Hulk deserved top billing in this feature. Plus, it did a nice job of bringing in a whole bunch of Asgardian characters who I don’t think have been seen before in animation: The Warriors 3, Enchantress, Sif, Hela, Odin, Baldar and, of course, Loki. The plot and the action are a nice updating of the kind of classic Marvel storytelling you’d get from an issue by Kirby or, more recently, Walt Simonson. The animation also is quite nice — elegant in its look and feel, but still fast and forceful in its motion. There’s a sneak peek on the disc of the upcoming Thor feature, which promises to explore the origins of Thor’s relationship with Loki and looks pretty good. I really find myself enjoying these direct to DVD features. On the Marvel side, “Doctor Strange” in particular was a really cool way to spend 75 minutes, while “Justice League: The New Frontier” is my favorite of the DC ones. (I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to Wonder Woman.) It’s came up in the Comic-Con panel (and again in reports from Marvel Animation’s New York Comic-Con panel) that fans need to buy these if they want them to continue — suggesting that the entire program is on the bubble. These are interesting and fun, so I hope they sell well enough for these to continue for a good, long while.