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Tag: X-Men

Reading Comics: Mr. and Mrs. X #1-8

Mr. and Mrs. X is something rarely seen in the X-Men universe: a romance comic. (X-Force: Sex and Violence doesn’t count in my book, but Pryde & Wisdom I would say does.) The execution doesn’t always live up to the hype here, but at it does have its charms.

Kelly Thompson’s scripts on issue #s 1-8 are good, but I don’t think she’s doing enough to play up the personalities of Rogue and Gambit and give them some way to spark off of each other. The Rogue and Gambit miniseries that preceded this one was better in that regard.

Plus, the use of a power dampener collar on Rogue so that she can touch and be touched by Gambit — a necessity for newlyweds — really undercuts the forbidden nature of their attraction that made their relationship so interesting. “Solving” Rogue’s major problem like this feels like a cheat.

As for Gambit, he’s lost a bit too much of his scoundrel quotient here. He should be more trouble, one step ahead of everyone (at least he should think so).

I love the covers. It’s Terry and Rachel Dodson, so of course they’re terrific.

The interior art is by Oscar Bazaldua is solid, but he tends to use the same facial expression over and over for Rogue — and it’s one that doesn’t really look like the way she’s been drawn over the past 38 years.

A little editing would help too. Wasting panels and pages for setup shots is a writer and artist issue that’s too common in comics — stop trying to be a movie, folks.

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Reading Comics: Iceman (2018) #1, 3

Bobby Drake has always been a bland character, all the way back to 1963’s X-Men #1. But, boy howdy, there’s been no shortage of writers who’ve tried to rectify that, with often strange results. Roy Thomas sent him off in suit with his pal Beast to haunt 1960s coffee shops full of beat poets and pretty girls. Chris Claremont sent him off to college to study accounting, not even bringing him back into the X-Men fold for the death of Phoenix in X-Men #137. Louise Simonson gave him a bunch of girlfriends in X-Factor, including Opal Tanaka, which began the first of many plots about how much of a bigot Bobby’s father was. And Scott Lobdell amped up his powers, had his body taken over by Emma Frost, and then gave Bobby’s dad redemption when he was nearly killed by the Friends of Humanity.

But nothing’s raised Iceman’s profile as much as Brian Michael Bendis revealing Iceman to be gay in 2015’s All-New X-Men #40.

That brings us to Iceman #1 and #3,  part of a five-issue series following up the 11-issue 2017 run, both from writer Sina Grace and both focusing on Bobby sort of learning to live life as a gay man who’s also a superhero. The problem with these stories is they’re way too on-the-nose. You can almost line up the expected plots and watch them get knocked down one by one: How does Bobby find a date? How does he introduce his boyfriend to his parents? Does he move out west to be with his new beau? Of course, there’s some superheroing in the mix, but the focus is clearly on the personal drama, which unfortunately reads like Bobby’s got a new job and has to figure out where the lunch room is.

Issue #3 offers a bit of fun in that it brings in the amazing friends of long-ago Saturday mornings: Firestar and Spider-Man. There’s a superhero thing to do, but it’s more about the three friends all dealing with the dates they’re on when the villain attacks. Maybe it’s just me, but everyone is so interested in getting along that none of the characters feels like a real person. The art is okay, but stiff — it feels like something a fill-in artist would have done in the 1980s.

If Marvel’s going to stick with Iceman being gay, it needs to come up with better stories that don’t hinge just on the fact that he’s gay. While I know there are fans who will eat this up right now as being very in the moment, it’s too one-dimensional to be remembered for any thing but that.

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Reading Comics: Domino (2017)

Domino never stood out as character worthy of her own series, but Gail Simone has changed my mind after reading Domino #1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and Annual #1.

Most of the Simone-scripted comics I’ve read were from DC; I’ve never really read her Marvel work, and it’s clear from this she’s a much better fit at the House of Ideas. I actually want to read more about this character, whose previous most memorable comic book moments involved her being Cable’s sidekick in the early days of X-Force and the unfortunate X-Force: Sex and Violence miniseries, for the final scene in issue 3 involving Domino agreeing to give Wolverine a blow job after they successfully saved the day. (Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds.)

Here, Domino is much more interesting: she gets a dog, goes on missions with her pals Diamondback (formerly a villain in the Mark Gruenwald run of Captain America in the 1980s) and Outlaw, who’s so much of a hoot that I’m amazed I missed her completely until now.

Together, these women are fun, funny and get into a really solid superhero story involving some nasties from Domino’s past. (Not sure I knew Domino’s origin, but it’s recapped nicely here, so I got everything I needed to know without the story slowing down.) The art by David Baldeon is terrific — light, funny, nicely rendered and it tells the story.

I really like this version of Domino and look forward to filling in this collection and reading more as it continues in the upcoming Domino: Hot Shots miniseries.

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Reading Comics: Astonishing X-Men (2017) #13-17

Astonishing X-Men #13-17 is a very flat story with some nice covers. Check ’em out.

Matthew Rosenberg does something here that is increasingly common: He’s focused more on the bits and on trying to write flashy dialog than he is on telling a clear story. It’s a bit of a disease, one that I think you could lay at the feet of Joss Whedon. There must be a lot of Buffy fans out there wanting to write comics.

This series wraps up this series of Astonishing with a limp tale about Alex Summers, recently freed from being falsely turned into a bad guy in Uncanny Avengers, trying to form a new team of X-Men. Of course, he can’t call them X-Men because Kitty Pryde owns the trademark to that name with Xavier dead, and explicitly tells him not to use it. They try to make that a recurring joke, but the artist’s limited ability to draw human facial expressions gets in the way.

The threat this time out is O.N.E., a generic government agency out to do something bad to mutants. Havok tries to recruit Beast, who’s teaching at Harvard until the Reavers show up and wreck the place. Also, Kitty has Warpath follow Havok to keep him out of trouble — and to keep him from calling his group X-Men. (Still not as funny as it wants to be.)

They all crash Dazzler’s third-rate anniversary tour for Sounds of Light and Fury looking for Forge, who’s running her light show and, I assume, doubling as her roadie. He says no to the offer and vanishes from this arc, but Dazzler is desperate for something to and signs. Then, the group finds Colossus drinking away his pain in a dumpy apartment after Kitty walked away from him at the altar. Piotr is easily the most interesting character in this weak bunch, which ends up with a strange showdown at the Xavier Academy that resolves nothing and has no impact. This is five issues of treading water at the most basic level and it’s pretty depressing to read.

A brand-new era? Not quite.

Bonus comic: Dazzler: X-Song #1 (2017) by writer Magdalene Visaggio and artist Laura Braga. This issue ties into the Astonishing X-Men run, with Dazzler going on tour incognito as part of a band with the groan-inducing name Lightbringr, that brings out fans in both the mutant and inhuman communities — often with conflicts popping up at the club venues. There’s some mutant jerks who are showing up at the concerts to buIly the inhuman fans that show up. And of course, Alison has to step in and stop it. There’s some strange scenes with Colossus trying to get Alison to come back to the X-Men. And if there’s a story in here, it’s very slight.

The art fares slightly better, but the interior is sketchy in that storyboard style and doesn’t match the promise of the cover, by Elizabeth Torque and Ian Herring. Dazzler remains a tough character to crack.

Lot of people love the character’s premise and look, but solid stories for Ms. Blaire have been hard to come by, with Chris Claremont’s run with her in X-Men from 1986 to about 1990 standing out as the real exception.

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‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ Leads 2014 Comics Movie Pack

Original art for X-Men #141 by John Byrne and Terry Austin, as it appears in
 Fantagraphics’ The X-Men Chronicles II from 1982. 

2013 was a pretty good year for comic-book movies in particular — and movies in general — with 2014 also looking sharp.

Top of my list to see is, not surprisingly, X-Men: Days of Future Past, due out May 23 and looking to have the same sort of big Memorial Day box-office debut as X-Men: The Last Stand. This is adapted from one of the most influential and beloved X-Men stories, published long ago in 1980 in The Uncanny X-Men #141 and 142.

I remember being a new X-Men fan in the mid-1980s and realizing the importance of this story was second perhaps only to the Dark Phoenix saga in the mutant mythos. I scored my copy of #141 at a long-gone comics shop in Phoenix for something ridiculous like 50 cents back in the fall or winter of 1986-87. The following summer, I bought #142 at All About Books and Comics for an amount I can’t even recall. I took #141 to my first Comic-Con in San Diego in 1993 and got it signed on the first page by John Byrne and on the cover by Chris Claremont. The story — in which an adult Kate Pryde psychically travels back in time from the desolate future of 2013 to her younger self in 1980 to convince the X-Men to stop the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants’ planned assassination of future president and anti-mutant activist Sen. Robert Kelly.

This story fully brought the Holocaust themes Claremont had been hinting at into the X-Men, and the future timeline in which Sentinels rules America and had hunted down or imprisoned in work camps all known mutants was startling in its boldness. Not only were bunches of X-Men already dead, but we saw a glimpse of the future reformed Magneto, the then-mysterious redhead Rachel, and the gruesome deaths of Wolverine, Storm and Colossus. Even though it was copped from an episode of one of the Brit sci-fi TV shows like The Avengers or Doctor Who — favorites at the time of both Claremont and Byrne — the story really works well as the ultimate expression of everything that the X-Men are fighting for going wrong. The movie version will be quite different, with Wolverine reportedly put in the main role of time traveler instead of Kitty, but it’s exciting to see the X-Men movie series move forward with a kind of merging of the best parts of Bryan Singer’s original films and Matthew Vaughn’s First Class crew. I expect big things for this movie, and for the Apocalypse follow-up Singer teased for 2016.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is due out May 2 and I expect to like it much more than the first installment in the series, which spent so much time retelling the origin story that it was hard to figure out what made Marc Webb’s version very different from Sam Raimi’s. I like Jamie Foxx as Electro and Paul Giamatti as The Rhino, but I’m not looking forward to playing out once again the inevitably tragic fate of Gwen Stacy. That’ll probably be saved for part 3, but we all know it’s still coming.

300: Rise of an Empire, due out March 7, makes me scratch my head a bit. I don’t think we really needed a prequel or sequel to this movie, which I think got a bit of a bad rap when it came out from critics. It was a cool exercise in style that paid off extremely well for Zack Snyder et al., but I suspect there will be little here to make the sequel stand out and stand up on its own.

The same could be said for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which really should have been made about five years ago. Due out Aug. 22, this won’t have the same “wow” impact that the first Sin City did, but the stories Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have to work with are pretty good and should make for a fun movie and a modest hit if it turns out comparable quality wise to the original.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, out April 4, looks very good. The opportunity to see Cap working in the modern world will help keep things fresh after the obligatory World War II outing in the first movie. I haven’t read Ed Brubaker’s run and am not familiar with the specifics of the Winter Solder storyline, though people whose opinions I trust assure me it’s good, so I’m thinking this will be another hit for Marvel.

And then there’s the big wildcard and gamble of the year: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, due Aug. 1, right after Comic-Con. Marvel’s obviously putting a lot of muscle into this one, with some interesting casting and a more movie-friendly take on the franchise already tested out as a comic. I expect this gamble will pay off for Marvel, especially in the usually sleepy movie month of August, and show the studio’s savvy at turning even its C-list and D-list characters into hit movies. I wish they’d lend some of that knowhow to DC, which still is having a hard time getting B-list characters off the ground in theaters.

And that’s just the comic-book movies. There’s also cool stuff like Transcendence, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 and The Hobbit: There and Back Again to look forward to.

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‘The Wolverine’: A Lot More Good Than Bad

I’ve been thinking about The Wolverine, which I caught at a morning screening — it’s what you have to do when you have a toddler! — on opening weekend.

There’s a lot to like in this movie, but it’s far from perfect. The movie’s been out a few weeks now, so I’m going to talk about stuff that qualifies as spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
Here’s the pro side:

  • This is the most faithful adaptation of a Marvel comic-book story to come to screen so far. There are deviations from the 1982 Wolverine miniseries it’s based on, but I was surprised by how much of that story was kept intact. 
  • I liked that the female characters were interesting. Yukio in particular is a favorite of mine from the original comic. And while she’s not quite the same character here, she played a major role in the story and held her own quite well. Mariko didn’t fare quite as well. I never fully bought the romantic connection between her and Logan. The comic version, despite its hokey elements, is a bit more convincing. 
  • The end tag previewing next summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was terrific. Patrick Stewart is back! So is Ian McKellan! I am now very much looking forward to that pic and find myself hoping Bryan Singer can really pull off an amazing movie that not only heals some of the wounds left by X-Men: The Last Stand, but also unifies the whole franchise and gives it an exciting way to go forward. My biggest concern is living up to the impact of the original comic book story, which has to be significantly fleshed out for a feature film.
  • I liked that there was a lot of Japanese spoken in the film, both with and without subtitles. 
  • While Viper was probably the least necessary addition to the movie, I really liked Svetlana Khodchenkova in the role. She had just the right amount of sexy sinister for a character like that.
  • The posters with the Japanese style artwork are great.
Here’s the con side:

  • After a very satisfying and interesting set up, the final act is so conventional as to be boring. The Silver Samurai, as done in this movie, was far less interesting than in the comics. The big reveal of Harada as being inside the big robot suit is just plain dull and has almost no emotional impact.
  • I wish more had been done to play up the love triangle of the original comic, with Yukio being an obvious and very willing match for Logan, who just can’t get over Mariko. That was a nice touch in the comic that this movie could have used a bit more of.
  • Viper is not well integrated into the story. She seems pretty unnecessary and her power is oddly portrayed and never explained. I don’t recall Viper having any powers in the comics. But I do remember she somehow convinced Wolverine to willingly marry her for some reason. (I remember it was in Chris Claremont’s return to the character in Wolverine #125-128 or so, but not the reasons behind that twist.) That might have been a more interesting element to play with here.
  • I hate the ripping out of Wolverine’s claws. The bone claws, in a word, suck. I always thought the bone claws were the lamest thing ever done to the character. My problem with it is it makes absolutely no sense. We were told for decades that the claws were housed in some kind of bionic mechanism, which must have been confirmed by all the medical exams done on Logan by everyone from the Sentinels (as far back as The Uncanny X-Men #98) through the Shi’ar and onward. Even in the original Days of Future Past storyline, when the Sentinels burn off Wolverine’s flesh, you can see the manmade mechanism that operates his claws in his bones. Of course, that’s a future timeline Wolverine, so it’s easy to explain away. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not a stupid idea.
  • No credit whatsoever for Chris Claremont, Frank Miller or Josef Rubinstein for coming up with the original comic-book story. Even more interesting, it appears Claremont doesn’t get even a token payment, while Len Wein, who officially created Wolverine but had little to do with the character as he exists today, did.   
The Wolverine looks like a solid but not spectacular hit. So far, it’s made about $113 million at the domestic box office and about $195 million overseas, for a decent total of $308 million on an estimated budget of $120 million. Anticipation for X-Men: Days of Future Past is running high, and it’s clear Fox is going to continue to develop and release X-Men movies on a regular basis, thus preventing the rights from reverting to Marvel. The series appears to be on the upswing, with the well-received X-Men: First Class and now The Wolverine getting fans past the disappointments of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I would love to see the franchise move past prequels and into new, fresh territory with new characters, new villains and new scenarios. After The Wolverine, it’s looking more likely than before, and I think fans of the comics and the movies can be glad of that. 
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The 2013 Comic-Con Takeaway Post

It’s been a week, and I finally feel like I have recovered from my one day at San Diego Comic-Con.

Visiting the show for the first time in three years, it was interesting to see how little had changed. Most of the booths were the same, offering much the same kind of material. It made me feel less like I had been missing out by not being at the show every single year, and that in itself was a relief.
Marvel Team-Up #74

With only one day, I cruised around the floor most of the time and hit some key booths, including my pals at Animation Magazine. I did a tiny bit of shopping, picking up an advance copy of Alter-Ego #120 from TwoMorrows, featuring a cover story on the Silver Age X-Men. I also picked up a Wonder Woman bendable figure for my daughter, who’s become a big fan thanks to DVDs of the old Lynda Carter series, and a few inexpensive back issues, including Marvel Team-Up #74, featuring Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players (a.k.a. the original cast of Saturday Night Live). I’ve always been interested in this comic, but never had a chance to pick it up until now. I hadn’t realized Chris Claremont wrote it, making it an even more interesting oddity from the late 1970s.

I didn’t buy much more because, well, everything was so expensive. It seems every booth is pushing an “exclusive” item costing anywhere from $20 to $75 and up, and very little appeared to be discounted. Perhaps that’s just a function of exhibitors needing to recoup as much as possible the rather expensive booth rate at the show. Either way, it put a dampener on my shopping interests, especially since almost everything I was interested in can be acquired via a local comics shop or online, often for less and without the need for me to lug it around the show. 
The highlight of the day was the Sequart: Advancing Comics as Art panel, during which I talked about my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, in conjunction with the upcoming documentary Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men run on the series. Director Patrick Meaney and producer/cinematographer Jordan Rennert showed some footage from the doc. It was cool to see how well the shots they took of my original X-Men comics collection turned out, as they were going for a different look when presenting the work from an older, more analog era. 
I also jumped at the chance to join Patrick, Jordan and Sequart founder Julian Darius as they interviewed Louise Simonson for the Claremont documentary. I can now check her off my very short list of comics pros whose work I admire who have not yet had a chance to meet.
If there is one reliable result of attending Comic-Con, it is for me a revitalized interest in comics. I’ve been pulling out stuff to read ever since and have managed to catch up on some of my immense reading backlog to very enjoyable effect. I’ll write about some of the more interesting stuff soon.
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Catching Up with the X-Men, Part 1

All-New X-Men #1

The most well-read post I ever put on this blog was one that went up Feb. 23, 2012, in which I talked about breaking my 26-year weekly superhero comic-book habit.

More than a year later, I find myself drawn back to superhero comics, though not as much as I have been. I’ll start by saying I’m just not into DC’s The New 52. I’m sure there are some good books in the line, but nothing I’ve seen inspires me to invest the time and money required.

Pretty much the only thing that can get me to plunk down my coins and invest my time are my two favorite Marvel franchises: X-Men and Avengers. For me, X-Men was always the best idea Marvel had. I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: X-Men is at heart a science-fiction concept dressed up with superhero conventions. As such, it has a depth to it that straighter takes on the superhero genre generally lack. It certainly has helped it maintain a hold on my imagination and has the ability to suck me back in, repeatedly, throughout my life.

I stopped reading X-Men comics twice before. The first was in 1995, when the Age of Apocalypse came along at a time when my discontent with the X-Men titles in those post-Chris Claremont years was at a high. Like The New 52, it made a great jumping off point. It lasted a little more than a year before I was sucked back in around The Uncanny X-Men #332. And it didn’t last long — I was gone again by the time the Onslaught crossover arrived only a few issues later. This second absence lasted, again, about a year or so before I came back on board. The second return was aided by my move to California in 1996 and the discovery of numerous cheap back-issue sources that made it easy and fun to fill in the gaps in all the various series.

So it was again that, after the horrid event called Schism and the inevitable re-launch of The Uncanny X-Men after 544 issues, that it was again time to say good-bye. And, again, it held for a little more than a year before access to cheap back issues overcame my resistance and pulled me right back in.

The break has, overall, been good for me and I come back to the X-Men family of books with fresh eyes and a new appreciation for how much they’ve managed to improve in my absence. While they are in no way great works of art or classics of the genre or medium, the X-Men books have become a rather enjoyable line of comics. More than at any time in recent memory, the various books have — for the most part — a reason to exist, some kind of point to them, and are nicely executed in both script and, especially, art.

I have to give kudos to Marvel for double shipping series like All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. At first, I thought that would just be too much, but it turns out to make those series even more engaging because there’s a decent new episode coming out pretty much every week. I have heard some store owners complain how difficult it can be for them to handle orders on those titles, but overall they seem to sell well enough that no one’s nose is too far out of place.

Having recently read through pretty much all the Marvel Now! issues of nine different X-Men series, I’ll run though them all very quickly. This will take more than one post and spoiler warnings are in full effect for those who haven’t read these books.

All-New X-Men #11

All-New X-Men is the book I was fearing the most. Why? One word: Bendis. As Marvel’s go-to writer, Brian Michael Bendis has had a pretty amazing run overall at Marvel, though I found his work on the various Avengers titles became too, well, cutesy, for lack of a better word. I’m not a big fan of the kind of rambling, pop-culture filled dialog that Bendis likes to fill entire issues with when he can. I thought that stuff worked great when Bendis did his own comics, like Goldfish, Jinx or Fortune and Glory. But he’s surprised me here with more action-oriented stories and a good focus on character.

The premise of the book is, however, pretty silly. It starts with Beast thinking he’s dying (he really just evolving again) and picking up on something Iceman says about how the young Scott Summers would never become the monster that the current Cyclops is. So he goes back in time and brings the original, teen-age X-Men into the present. What’s amazing is that this is nowhere as bad as it sounds, and is actually pretty good. The jokes about anachronisms are kept to a minimum, and the younger versions all come off as very interesting takes on the characters, especially Jean Grey. That last part is even more astounding given how long it’s been since the ever-morphing Jean has been interesting.

What really helps this book is the art, most of it by Bendis’ former Ultimate Spider-Man collaborator Stuart Immonen with inks from Wade von Grawbadger. The other artist in the rotation, David Marquez, is up to the task of keeping the book moving along at a quick pace and maintaining the slick look Immonen and von Grawbadger have established.

So far, the original team has met its older versions (the ones that are still alive — sorry, Jean!), the Avengers, as well as enemies like Mystique, who don’t always appear as bad at first to the young, time-displaced mutants. After 11 issues, I’m not sure exactly where this title is going or what its long-term prospects are because it seems clear the teenage X-Men have to return to the past at some point or else completely change the timeline and invalidate years of X-Men stories (not a good idea; see the Spider-Clone saga for reference).

Uncanny X-Men (Vol. 3) #1

The flip side comes in the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, known as Vol. 3. This book follows Cyclops’ team and features some interesting character dynamics, especially with Magneto. The art by Chris Bachalo, with help from Frazier Irving, is worth the price of admission all by itself. The stories are moving along slowly, but there is a nice counter point to this comic — it complements All-New X-Men without making either series redundant.

X-Men: Legacy (Vol. 2) #1

X-Men: Legacy is the one book I decidedly did not like after reading the first four issues. This series is about David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, the son of Charles Xavier whose mind is full of split personalities, each with its own power. While I like the craziness the cover designs promise, this is just not a character I’ve ever found interesting and an entire series about him battling with his inner demons — and is largely disconnected from other X-Men series — just doesn’t cut it for me.

X-Men (Vol. 4) #1

The simply titled X-Men (is this Vol. 3 or Vol. 4? I can’t remember!) from writer Brian Wood and artists Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales got a solid launch from the apparent novelty of it being a team of all-female mutants. Of course, Wood has his own fans and they bring some high expectations to this title, most of which he easily meets. The debut issue focuses on Jubilee, apparently no longer a vampire. She’s on the run with a little baby and turns to the X-Men for help. She gets it from Storm, Kitty, Psylocke, Rogue and Rachel Grey. That’s a good lineup for an X-Men book, no matter the gender politics, but that’s been the focus of a lot of the publicity surrounding this book’s launch. I happen to like all those characters (Jubilee can be a bit annoying, but she’s better by far than, say, Marrow), and it’s a solid book. I think Storm benefits the most from this title, being a character who really dominated the series back in Claremont’s days and has since struggled to maintain her popularity. I love the return to the old 1980s mohawk look, and the overall take on her is quite promising. Rogue, Kitty and Psylocke all have received plenty of attention in recent years, but I have to say I do like the new costume for Psylocke. Rachel has been a confusing character almost from the start, but I’d like to see what Wood can do with her.

Next: We’ll get into the X-Force and Wolverine titles.

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Byrne’s The High Ways veers off course

John Byrne is at his best when he’s doing science fiction. Take Next Men as the ultimate example. That series followed the old-school rules of science fiction, by setting its premise and following through as realistically as possible. Byrne’s affection for classic Star Trek (i.e., the good stuff, not the recent reboot flicks from Jar Jar Abrams) and its attempts very early on to be the TV version of classic science fiction literature is obvious.

A lot of that drives The High Ways (IDW, $3.99 each) a four-issue sci-fi series that should be better than it is. The story begins with rookie Eddie Wallace joining the crew of the space freighter Carol Anne, along with first mate Marilyn Jones and Captain Jack Cagney. After Wallace is appropriately initiated into space life (always wear your suit!) the Carol Anne heads out to pick up some cargo on Europa. That’s where the mystery begins, with a strange creature spotted outside the science base there and no cargo for Cagney to pick up.

What follows is an odd story with a bunch of twists and turns that end up feeling very random instead of satisfyingly twisty. This is the kind of story that attempts to avoid the common sci-fi criticism of scientific inaccuracy by being as scientifically realistic as possible. And it achieves that aspect of it, but in doing so it fails to give its characters any real personality or tell a story with sufficient emotion or reason for the reader to fully engage in this world.

Byrne’s art remains consistent and I still think no one draws spaceship-style tech stuff as well as he does. The storytelling is very solid and Byrne’s style has evolved over the years into something looser and more expressive than his classic 1970s and 1980s work on X-Men, Fantastic Four and Superman. It’s quite a nice change if you can just let go of expecting his work to have that same clean and pristine quality and just enjoy it for what it is, and what it is is some damn fine drawing.

I would check out a sequel to The High Ways — I think there is something in the approach and style. A more engaging story could build this up into something really cool.

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Comics Wandering: From Gold Key Star Trek, to Howard Chaykin and more

Wow, time sure flies when you’re too busy to read comics. What have I been doing? Well, I’ve got a toddler, a new puppy, I did a lot of interviews and wrote a lot of articles for the just-concluded awards season, tried brewing beer, and I’ve been focusing on learning to play the guitar well enough that it doesn’t sound like a chainsaw cutting through a chain-link fence. I also made a guitar from a kit — a Lake Placid Blue Telecaster style that, after much tweaking and adjustment, is at last starting to play well.

And I have been reading comics, when there’s time and comics I want to read. It’s just been very inconsistent reading and a bit of an oddball selection compared to the weekly superhero habit. I am finding the overall comics habit is very hard to break, if not impossible for me to break at this point in my life. I admit to slipping back into some old habits, but I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.

I admit it: My name is Tom and I’m a comic-holic. I especially still love single issue comics. The collecting part of the hobby remains one that I find satisfying in a way that reading a collected edition is not. This isn’t true for everything, but it is for things like superhero comics, which are still written and drawn for the serial comic format, no matter how quickly they got to collected editions.

So, what have I been reading? Lots of Image comics, which for all the variations in the quality of its output, remains the only dependably creative publisher of mainstream superhero, adventure and genre comics.

I’ll just run down some of the cool stuff I’ve read and liked since my last, long-ago post to this blog. I will be unsurprised if no one is reading or still checking this blog, but just in case there’s a few of you out there, thank you! If you’re new, please be sure to check out my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, available in print from Amazon and on Kindle.

Last summer, I had two comic book pursuits, both inspired during a trip to the excellent Queen City Comics in Cincinnati, Ohio. First was completing my collection of Gold Key Star Trek comics, which I now have done. I have been a Star Trek fan ever since I first saw the show in the fall of 1975, when ITV began re-running the series weekdays at the perfect hour for me to catch it after coming home from a hard day in Grade 1. As a kid, I remember buying a few issues of the Gold Key series off the stands, but it never impressed me very much. I thought the stories were silly, such as issue #46 (Aug. 1977), in which aliens gave Spock a giant brain and he became slightly villainous before Kirk talked him down.

I got into Trek comics much more seriously in the late 1980s, when DC started publishing its second ongoing Star Trek series and launched a regular series for Star Trek: The Next Generation. On TV, The Next Generation was really kicking into high gear and I just fell right into being a pretty serious Trek fan for the next seven or eight years. In addition to collecting all of the DC output from that point on, as well as the Malibu Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stuff, I collected all the previous DC series, the Marvel series and made a pretty good start on the Gold Key series. My interest in Star Trek peaked by the mid-1990s, and Marvel’s second round of Trek comics just was not very good, in my opinion. (Remember the Star Trek/X-Men crossovers? Yikes.)

Cut to about 10 years ago, when a friend of my Dad’s had come across a large collection of comics from his parents‘ old book shop and set about sorting them and selling them on eBay. He reached out to me right at the start because he knew nothing about comics, so I helped him with the basics about getting an Overstreet guide, conventions and what to really expect from eBay sales. In thanks, he let me pick out some stuff when I was over visiting and came across a near-complete set of the Gold Key Star Treks. These were easily accessible and time was short, so I took them as compensation and was very pleased. I still had a few holes, though, and would every once in a while fill one in when I came across an issue I needed in a shop or convention.

But this past summer, when I hit Queen City Comics, they had pretty much all but two or three of the issues The prices and conditions where great, so I bit the bullet and bought them. That lead to me heading onto eBay to fill in the last two or three issues I needed, and finally the last issue — #9, with the photo cover of Spock from the episode “Amok Time” — arrived to complete the set. These are cool comics and I really dig them now in a way I did not twenty or so years ago. Yes, they’re goofy and at times completely contradictory to the show itself, but they have a unique energy and the art is often terrific. Plus, I still enjoy the tactile experience of reading an old comic printed on slightly yellowed newsprint.

My second summer comics pursuit involved the works of Howard Chaykin. This pursuit also started at Queen City, where I found mint condition copies of both Time2 graphic novels and the Epic collected edition, The Complete Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which I had never even heard of before seeing it in the bin. All were cover price, and I scooped them right up. I also found a few other 1970s Chaykin bits, including the Monark Starstalker issue of Marvel Premiere (which I wrote about last summer) and a couple of Dominic Fortune tales. Chaykin’s art has always been a joy, especially when he’s doing painted work printed on high quality paper.

Along with this came The Art of Howard Chaykin, written by Robert Greenberger and published by the nice folks at Dynamite! (As an aside: Greenberger used to edit the DC Star Trek comics and printed a couple of my letters way back when. I always thought, based on his thoughtful letter columns, he was one of the most professional and likable editors in the business.) I worked my way through these books and really enjoyed them, following them up with a few digs into the archives for some other Chaykin stuff from the 1990s, such as Midnight Men and Power and Glory.

The Time2 books were especially fascinating. I found the plot a bit hard to follow on my first read, even though I thoroughly enjoyed everything else about the books. After reading the Greenberger book with Chaykin saying it was heavily influenced by his interest in jazz music of the 1930s, it made a lot more sense and my second reading was even more enjoyable.

During my one convention visit last year, to the Long Beach Comic Con, I stopped by and chatted with Chaykin — who I had met a number of times over the past ten years — and chatted with him about the books. The Stars My Destination is a really interesting adaptation. I had read the novel years and years ago and remembered a bit about it but it hadn’t made the deep impression on me that Frank Herbert’s Dune or Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End had. I enjoyed (and surely understood) much more of the book as an adult, and really dug Chaykin’s interpretation of it. You can’t go wrong with a couple hundred pages of painted Chaykin art from the late 1970s.

And then, there’s Black Kiss 2. I waited until all six issues were out before sitting down to read this and was happily surprised with how great it was. It’s been a long time since I read the original Black Kiss (I have it in single issues and a collected edition — somewhere) but I remembered enough for this to make sense. It’s both a prequel and a sequel to the original, and it jumps around through a lot of different time periods that allow Chaykin to draw all the stuff he likes and/or is good at — cars, cityscapes, men’s fashion, jazz musicians and, of course, lots of dirty, dirty sex. All in crisp, beautiful black and white! I don’t know if the climax of the book was as satisfying as it could have been, but the ride was definitely worth it.

I haven’t read anything in the past year from DC’s The New 52 because it just plain fails to interest me in any way. I liked a few of the series at the start, but the way series suffered sometimes radical, unexplained, and usually arbitrary changes in tone, premise and creative teams debunked any true creative rationale for the relaunch. It made for a great jumping off point, and I’ve not missed any of those comics or characters. I keep hearing how great Batman is these days, and I am sure it is good because they do have some good creators on those books and Batman is far and away DC’s best character. But I still find myself uninterested. Having read so many good (and bad) Batman stories, it’s almost like my brain has no more room for Batman comics unless they’re truly outstanding, i.e. true classics in the making, on a par with Batman: Year One or the great Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams collaborations of the now-distant past.

I was always more of a Marvel fan, so my feelings for Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular are much more complicated and deserving of a post all its own.

A few more comics I’ve read and liked include Saga, Thief of Thieves, Grant Morrison’s Happy!, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ The Secret Service, Harbinger, The Massive, the new Star Wars ongoing from Dark Horse, John Byrne’s new sci-fi series High Ways, The End Times of Bram and Ben, Star Trek: The Next Generation — Hive, and my favorite new comic in the last year, Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo’s Great Pacific. I’ll try to go into more detail on those in another post.

Here’s hoping it won’t be six months until I write it. Cheers!

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