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Comic-Shop Memories: All About Books & Comics (Part I), 1986-87, Phoenix, Ariz.

I don’t know how quickly I was able to discover All About Books & Comics after moving to Arizona, but it was pretty quick, likely within a month or so after arrival.

The shop was farther from home, about 16 miles from home or a half-hour each way in the car, at 535 E. Camelback Road. Like most comics shops, it was in an unremarkable building, albeit one that had bright letters and even characters at times painted on its street-facing windows.

It would be an understatement to say I was impressed when I first walked into the store. Not only was the space large, but it was crammed to the gills with new and back issue comics — more than I’d ever seen in any other shop. And, I quickly learned, there was lots more in the back. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for, just ask, and they’d come back shortly with the book you needed in fantastic shape. I have a stone-cold mint copy of X-Men #147 I acquired from the “back room,” and an equally nice copy of X-Men #142.

What impressed me most at first was the back issue selection, which was deep. I checked out the X-Men selection and — just in the box — they had just about every issue back to #143, the end of the John Byrne run. The issues before that were prominently displayed along the walls in mylar sleeves for “exorbitant” prices that ranged from $10 to $30 for most except the earliest issues of the “new” X-Men run. Every other title was stocked just as deeply, if not more so, since those early new X-Men issues were the hottest thing going at the time and there were no reprints. So to read them, you had to get the originals. Classic X-Men had just started and it was going to be a while before it got to the Dark Phoenix issues.

A later printing of the first X-Men trade paperback, with a great cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.

I say that with one exception, that applies directly to this visit. While checking out a rack in the corner, I came across the first X-Men trade paperback, published in 1984, collecting issues #129-137, for the cover price of $7.95. I had to have this book, but couldn’t afford it at the time. Luckily, Christmas was coming up, and I told my parents this is what I wanted. So my dad drove me down to the store again, we bought it — I was sure it would be gone by that point — and it went home to be wrapped awaiting Christmas morning. I remember reading it that Christmas Day of 1986 and absolutely loving it. I’ll have to do a whole post on that book another time.

The following May, I graduated high school and was due to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson starting in the fall. My dad was working for a personnel company that had a temp business that served American Express, which had extensive operations in the Phoenix area. So he got me a summer temp job at one of their call centers, answering a national informational toll-free number for the Amex business card. The hotline was advertised in USA Today and other high-profile places, so my job was to answer these calls, answer basic questions about the card, take down the caller’s information and pass it on so that an application would be sent to them, or — if they were a larger company — a sales rep could contact them. It was boring and easy. Most of the calls came from the East Coast, so the afternoons slowed to a crawl and I’d read sci-fi books I borrowed from the library at my desk until I was done at 4:30. The perks included being able to look up cardholder addresses in the computer — few comics folks seemed to have Amex cards, but I never stopped putting their names in the system — and a fantastic deli in the complex called The Duck and Decanter, which is still there and makes the most incredible sandwiches. And it was located at 16th Street and Camelback road, just nine blocks down the street from All About Books & Comics!

So 4:30 would hit and, about twice a week, I’d make All About my first stop. I had this summer job and sufficient financial aid to pay for university, so I felt free to spend a little money on comics. I was in full-on X-Men fandom mode at the time, and so these trips were used primarily to raid those deep back issue bins. I’d grab four or maybe five issues per visit, adding in a few other back issues to series I still had holes in — The New Mutants and Alpha Flight in particular. When I started frequenting All About, my X-Men collection ran back from the current issue (around issue #220) back to about #174, with a couple of older issues in there. By the end of the summer, I’d filled it in all the way back to #141, plus annuals. I’d also brought up to date my run of The New Mutants.

I was really interested at the time in the issues from Dave Cockrum’s second run as artist, which I was reading for the first time. They were very different in tone and style than the stuff that hooked me on X-Men: issues Claremont produced with artists Paul Smith, John Romita Jr., John Byrne and Art Adams. But the more I read the Cockrum stuff, the more I really came to love it fully and completely, faults and all.

I also started trying out more comics, still mainly Marvel. Favorites included: Avengers by Roger Stern, John Buscema and Tom Palmer; West Coast Avengers by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom; and Silver Surfer by Englehart and Marshall Rogers. All About was well stocked, and you could pick up at cover price, new off the racks, the last six or so issues of these titles plus any recent annuals. And new comics cost 75 cents at the time, so it was not terribly expensive to try out six or so issues of a new series.

I recall flipping through a copy of an issue of Batman: Year One and not buying it — which was, again, really dumb. I did later acquire those originals for a very reasonable price.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had been getting my subs through Fog Hollow Comics until it closed, and then those subs were transferred to a shop called AAA Best Comics. On Fridays, I would often hit All About and then drive up to Fog Hollow for my subs and then home. It took an hour in the car in Phoenix summer heat — without air conditioning. But this was my thing and I was all in. I almost always went for a swim as soon as I got home to refresh my sweaty self and remember for a moment what it was like to be cool.

The day before I was scheduled to drive down to university with my parents and move into my first apartment with a roommate I had yet to meet, I wanted to get my new comics from All About. It was new comics day, but in those days that was far less of a weekly event than now. The books came in and sat in piles on the counter throughout the afternoon as the staff worked to verify quantities before they could be put on sale. So I waited. For quite a while. I looked through back issue bins. I checked out the small section next to the comics where All About stocked used paperbacks and discount comics. Finally, the new books were freed and I picked up my comics, including X-Men #224, and began the long drive home in the late-afternoon heat.

Cover to X-Men #224 (Dec. 1987). Cover art by Marc Silvestri and Bob Wiacek.

If you’ve ever been to Phoenix in the summer, you know it gets really damn hot. And when the monsoons come, it gets worse because the humidity goes up from nothing to something. This was a monsoon day. I could see the thunderheads building up in the mountains, and was driving toward them as our house was near the foothills of the McDowell mountains. I had sweat through my clothes several times over in my AC-less VW Beetle. And then I got a flat on Hayden Road, just north of Via de Ventura. I pulled off onto a side street and, having no working spare, found a nearby pay phone to call for help. Which took a very long time to come because it was rush hour and our other car was otherwise occupied. So I found some kind of shop to sit in, with my comics, and read them until I got some help and could get home, wash off the day with a dip in the pool and try to prepare for the next day’s events. But I had my comics. That made me happy. And since I had an apartment, I did take with me my collection — about three long boxes at this point.

On to Tucson, and another town of new comics shops.

Comic-Shop Memories: Fog Hollow Comics, Phoenix, Ariz., 1986-87

Old Town Scottsdale is the kind of place where tourists like to overpay for snakeskin cowboy boots, extra-hot salsa, cheap turquoise jewelry and elaborate Kachina dolls. On the plus side, you can just as easily find some really good tacos and cold Mexican beer.

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.

Not the actual car I owned, but a photo of the same model and color. It had the original floor mats, 4-speed manual transmission and ran on regular gas — back when you could still buy such a thing.

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.

Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (Feb. 1987) is one of my all-time favorite comics. Cover art by Mark D. Bright.

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.)

Cover to the first printing of the Wolverine trade paperback, which collected the four-issue series by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller and Josef Rubinstein for the first time. Cost me all of $4.95!

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.

Cover to Spider-Man: Hooky, published in 1986. Art by Berni(e) Wrightson.

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.

From Google, the flip covers to Against Arcturus and Time Thieves, published in 1972.

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.

Comic-Shop Memories: Fragments and an Alpha Flight mall Fantasy, Edmonton, Alta., 1985-1986

There were a few other Edmonton comic shops from the time that I visited but no longer remember. I’ve hunted online for any trace of these shops and they are, I’m sure, long gone and exist now only in the memories of those who shopped at them.

I recall one shop located on Stony Plain Road that I visited some time in 1986. I know the year because the woman who was working there was having a loud conversation with a friend about how much she was enjoying both Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and John Byrne’s The Man of Steel. There were plenty of back issues in this shop, which is what I remember the most. And I remember scoring a beautiful copy, that I still own today, of this pivotal issue of X-Men:

X-Men #166 (Feb. 1983). Cover by Paul Smith.

This was my first issue with Paul Smith art and, when I got it home, I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. It was double-size, had all kinds of amazing stuff happening in it, and it concluded the long-running Brood saga with a satisfying punch — and still ended with a cliff-hanger that ensured next issue was going to be even better. This was a high point of writer Chris Claremont’s long run and did a lot to cement X-Men as my favorite comic book.

The other shop I recall was located in West Edmonton Mall. For those who don’t know, WEM was as much an amusement park and tourist attraction as it was shopping mall. When it opened in 1981, it was just a nice mall. Big for the times, but nothing too special. It had the usual anchor stores, food court and movie theater (six screens!) where I saw Time Bandits more than once. In 1983, the mall doubled in size and exposed its ambitions, adding an NHL-size skating rink, even more movie screens, a huge McDonalds, and an amusement park area called Fantasyland that featured a handful of rides and attractions for mostly younger kids. In 1985, it doubled in size again, adding a third set of movie screens, a second food court, submarine rides, a dolphin tank, a replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, miniature golf, a massive water park with a wave pool and slides, and two theme streets: Europa Street, which evoked a European feel for high-end fashion stores as tenants, and Bourbon Street, with restaurants and bars for lovers of the night life. There was a hotel with theme rooms planned, and Fantasyland doubled in size, adding a triple loop rollercoaster and “drop of doom” style ride for older thrillseekers. Yes, it was a lot. And legal action from Disney did prompt a name change from Fantasyland to Galaxyland.

Cover to Power Pack #1 (Aug. 1984) by June Brigman and Bob Wiacek.

When the second phase opened, it included an area for smaller retailers who sold things like sunglasses and jewelry. I forget the name of that part of the mall, but it was located above the massive video arcade in Fantasyland. You’d take an escalator up from Fantasyland, and then if you went to the immediate left, there was a small comics shop that sold new issues and had a modest selection of back issues. I remember buying there a copy of Power Pack #1 for $3, which was a good deal at the time. And the store ended up being drawn by former Edmonton resident John Byrne into Alpha Flight #26 (Sept. 1985).

Alpha Flight #26 (Sept. 1985). Cover by John Byrne and Bob Wiacek.

The issue starts with Alpha Flight — newly reunited in the previous issue with its founder, Guardian, who was believed killed in Alpha Flight #12 — undergoing a training exercise with the Canadian Military near Red Deer, Alberta. This takes up 12 pages of the issue’s 22 pages. Guardian then gets a message from his wife, Heather Hudson, that Alpha Flight is needed at West Edmonton Mall! They arrive and some man in a suit tells them everyone was chased out of the mall by these super-powered types who called themselves Omega Flight! The team splits up and each member is defeated by a member of Omega Flight — with help from a mysterious benefactor. Finally, we find Heather, who’s in front of the mall’s real comic shop when Guardian finds her.

Heather Hudson strolls past a comic-shop in West Edmonton Mall in Alpha Flight #26 (Sept. 1985).

Byrne draws the shop pretty much exactly as I remember it, though there appears to be more Byrne issues on sale there than I remember them having.

The story concludes with Guardian revealing himself to not be James McDonald Hudson, but the android that previously posed as Delphine Courtney in the death of Guardian arc. The story continues into Alpha Flight #27 (Oct. 1985), Secret Wars II #4 (Oct. 1985) and concluded in Alpha Flight #28 (Nov. 1985), which was Byrne’s last as writer and artist on the series.

The comic shop eventually moved to a larger retail space on the lower floor. There, it was the last comic shop I visited prior to our family’s move to Arizona. I distinctly remember that visit, and buying copies of the just-released X-Men #213 (Jan. 1987) with Sabretooth fighting Wolverine on the cover, and a copy of The ‘Nam #2 (Jan. 1987), which I had seen in a report on one of the American network news shows and decided to give it a look.

The only other comic shop I can recall was in the now-defunct Heritage Mall. It was mostly a gaming store, but they did have a small rack of comics and I recall thumbing through copies of Star Wars #104 (March 1986) and Power Pack #21 (April 1986) there, likely while just killing time until the next bus home.

And that’s it for Edmonton comics shops. I’ll do one more post on my newsstand experiences there, then move on to shops in Arizona.

Comic-Shop Memories: Comic Master, Edmonton, Alta., 1985-1986

Though Starbase 12 was the best stocked store around, Comic Master was the most convenient shop for me to get my comics fix from in the mid-1980s. Located at 201-10326 82nd Ave. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Comic Master was found on the second level of a two-story building on the city’s cosmopolitan Whyte Avenue strip. You accessed the store by entering a door at the far left side of the front of the building and climbed the stairs, took a left into a small hallway and another left through the door into the store itself.

Comic Master was not a big shop, but it was open and benefited from a bank of street-facing windows that let in a nice amount of natural light (at least when there was some natural light to be let in). It had the usual racks for new comics with most of it space devoted to back issues. Comics of note were on wall racks for display purposes. And at the register, a large glass display case for more expensive books. I recall the layout of the shop changed more than once.

Star Wars 68 Cover
The cover to Marvel’s Star Wars #68 from 1982.

I recall stopping in one summer day to find the shop had found almost all of the remaining issues of Marvel’s Star Wars comic I needed at that point. I think these were mostly issues from 1982 and 1983, and included my copy of Star Wars #68, which I wrote about here.

What made Comic Master convenient was its location. I was attending high school not far from Whyte Avenue, so the strip and its shops were a popular after-school stop. It also was close enough to home to be easy enough to swing by on weekends. I recall one day in the autumn of 1985 borrowing the family truckster (it was a station wagon with faux wood paneling, I promise) to head over and get the new issue of Star Wars — issue #103, I believe. I forgot, however, that daylight saving time had ended overnight and found I had to wait for the better part of an hour for the store to open.

Star Wars #103 (Jan. 1986)

At the time, I was looking for recent back issues to the series I liked. One of which was X-Men, and I distinctly recall feeling lucky to pick up for a couple of bucks a copy of issue #171, a key issue in which Rogue joins the team. At the time, it was the oldest copy of X-Men in my collection!

X-Men #171 (July 1983)

There was an amazing bonus to visiting Comic Master, in the form of a second comic shop located right next door. The name of the store escapes me. There was no sign, and the shop was essentially a narrow hallway with racks of old comics on one side of the store. They were racked in all kinds of strange bags and were generally cheap and perhaps of slightly lesser condition. But when looking for those back issues, I almost always found stuff there I needed but had eluded me at other shops in town. I specifically remember scoring my copy of Star Wars #61 there, which was one of the best of the Marvel series with a great cover by Walt Simonson.

Star Wars #61 (July 1982)

And if that wasn’t enough, another shop opened within a block of these two shops soon thereafter. But that’s another post.

Comic-Shop Memories: Starbase 12 Collectibles, Edmonton, Alta., 1985-1986

I don’t recall if this was the very first comic book shop I ever patronized, but it was the first one I remember looking forward to visiting. It was located at 10627-101st Street in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, just south of the big Brick furniture store, which remains a prominent local retailer.

The first time I visited Starbase 12, probably in summer of 1985, my dad was with me, and he thought it was the craziest thing he’d ever seen. Even the idea of a comic book shop was still a novelty back then.

I used to take the bus from school downtown to the shop, pick up some new and back issues, and then head to my dad’s office, on the 16th floor of what was once the CIBC building and is now known as Bell Tower, at 10104-103 Ave., and hitch a ride home.

The shop had a bi-level back issue rack in the middle, by which I mean there was a top level of comics and a lower level. They were all filed alphabetically by title, as is the norm. Back-issue comics were bagged but not boarded, and the shop would put the comics in the bags with the flap on the back side of the comic. The price tag was put along the top of the front side of the comic, and the flap taped over the price tag. I assume that was to prevent people changing the prices.

The back issues were the big draw. For someone just starting out, they had plenty of copies of recent issues of most books, going back a year or two. For some reason, I remember the rack as being orange in color. Prices were usually a dollar, or $1.25, for recent back issues, which wasn’t bad considering the cover price on Marvel and DC comics at the time was 95 cents in Canada and 75 cents in the U.S. On the plus side, there was no sales tax in Alberta, so you didn’t have to allow for that calculation when trying to maximize the $10 bill in your pocket.

New comics were on racks around the perimeter on about three sides in all. These were multi-level racks, so there were, I think, three rows of comics on the top level, and the same on the lower level.

The fourth side had a small glass display case for more expensive comics, and a rack for larger items like the old Marvel Graphic Novel books.

I have strong memories of buying a number of comics there: Marvel Star Wars comics, early issues of Power Pack and Cloak and Dagger, as well as my first X-Men comics, which were issues #203, #204 and Annual #9. I also remember going in there the day Classic X-Men #1 came out in the spring of 1986, and also coming home that day with an Alpha Flight Annual #1 and X-Men #209. I also remember buying Marvel Age #36, with the David Mazzuchelli cover, and Power Pack #20 there around Christmas 1985.

In 1986, the shop was celebrating Marvel’s 25th anniversary by having a drawing for a copy of Fantastic Four #1. I remember seeing that book in the display case, blown away that it was selling for a whopping $100! I don’t remember what condition it was in. I entered, but did not win.

The last time I visited the shop, sometime in 1986, they had put a rack of discount back issues in the front lobby. (You came in the building’s front door into this small lobby, and opened the door on the right for Starbase 12 and the door on the left for whatever business was in that part of the building.)

I don’t know how long the store lasted, though I recall noting on a subsequent visit in 1988 or 1989 that it was no longer there.

But perhaps because it was the first really well-stocked comic shop I frequented, it set the bar for the many shops I would frequent in the future.

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.

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.

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.

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.

‘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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