Jonah Hex #7 (2006)

May 18, 2006
So far the Jonah Hex revival has been wonderful. Each done-in-one issue has offered thrills, excitement, and wonderful twists and turns. This issue is no exception.

What makes this issue a bit exceptional is its relentless darkness. After a groom is killed at a wedding, Hex seeks vengeance, but in the end, none of the copious death seems to be worth the struggle.
 
Unusual for this comic, there were a number of places where things didn’t flow as well as they should have. The key problem for me was that for some reason the key event of the story, the murder of the groom, happens slightly off-panel. We see guns firing, then a close-up of the bride splattered with blood, and then it’s just assumed that he is dead in the next panel. The scene loses some of its energy by not showing the actual event.
 
Another problem with this issue is that Hex seems too much a super-hero and not enough a conflicted anti-hero. I can accept that he’s the fastest draw in the west, and the best marksman this side of Clint Eastwood, but the scene where Hex unerringly throws a sheriff’s star without being shot really strains credulity. Sure Hex is a great shot, but can he throw like Roger Clemens, too?
There are some terrific scenes in the comic, too. The opening scene, with Hex walking out of a blazing inferno like some spirit of hellish vengeance, is spectacular. And Ross does a wonderful job of drawing distinct faces that look like they’re actually from the era he depicts.
 
But this issue was slightly less good than some of the other issues of this run. I loved the darkness and the energy of the story, but I can’t escape the feeling it could have been even better than it was.
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Captain Marvel #8 (1968)

May 17, 2006
Man, I know I read this comic but I can’t remember anything about it. I just read it a few days ago, maybe on the weekend, and I remember it was a comic I wanted to blog about. But damn it if I pick the comic up today and don’t remember anything about it. I remember noticing Captain Marvel’s amazingly ugly costume, and I think I remember the Don Heck/Vince Colletta art that actually doesn’t look like Colletta inked it. Oh, and I do remember Carol Danvers, the woman who would become Ms. Marvel, appears on the final page and acts like a withering sterotype of a pre-women’s lib chickadee.
 
But beyond that I don’t remember a damn thing. Teacher, you’ll have to give me an incomplete for today’s work.

Silver Star: Graphite Edition (2006, reprinting comics from 1982)

May 16, 2006

There are gods among us. They’re not homo sapiens but homo geneticus. The homo geneticus are the next breed. These men and women are incredibly powerful, almost Biblically powerful. The good and loyal Silver Star, homo geneticus Vietnam vet Morgan Miller, possesses amazing powers that set him against the evil homo geneticus Darius Drumm, whose overwhelming evil would transform him into the living personification of the Angel of Death.

This is the story of Jack Kirby’s last great creation, an imaginative tour de force that shows that the imagination of the King of Comics continued to soar as he aged into his 70s. Silver Star is another epic story to set alongside Kirby’s other creations. It may not be the equal in terms of the mythological impact of the New Gods or Fantastic Four, but as a creation from late in the man’s life, it’s spectacular.

John Morrow explains the story’s genesis in his introduction. Apparently Kirby first imagined this story as a movie script in the ‘70s, but nothing ever came of the script. As was true of dozens of Kirby Kreations, Silver Star sat on the shelf for many years. In late 1982, Pacific Comics approached Kirby for a companion book to his Captain Victory, which Pacific was publishing at the time. Kirby resurrected his idea of Silver Star for Pacific, creating a six-issue series. Now, as part of its plans to raise funds for the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center, TwoMorrows has reprinted the series in a collected edition, mainly shot from Kirby’s pencils.

For long-time Kirby fans, of course, this book is essential. Kirby fans will find so much to enjoy here: the wonderful look at over a hundred unlinked pages, a copy of the unproduced screenplay, and a nice black-and-white edition of a wonderful Kirby story.

But what about the general comics fan, who is only a bit of a Kirby fan? There the story is a little more mixed. It’s fair to say that in his later years, Kirby wasn’t quite the master cartoonist he had been in his glory days. Kirby’s line work was a bit less precise, his characters were less consistent in appearance, and he frequently didn’t draw backgrounds in his scenes. On the other hand, though, Kirby’s eye for action and excitement didn’t go away, and he more than lives up to his reputation for drawing amazing action scenes.

What I think both Kirby loyalists and casual fans will enjoy the most is the thoughtful characters in this story. Darius Drumm is a wonderfully evil character. He’s truly evil, a scene chewer of Shatnerian proportions who is somehow completely captivating in his villainy. When Drumm literally embodies the angel of death at the end of this collection, he’s genuinely frightening. I also liked the character of Norma Richmond, the movie stuntwoman who is also homo geneticus. She’s brave and forthright, but she also has a bit of an edge that makes her feel realistic.

The story also has an epic feel, no surprise from Kirby. This is a big story, with a global reach, that feels massive, like the big Hollywood blockbuster that Kirby no doubt imagined it to be. Giants stride major cities, men destroy tanks, and armies of slaves are obliterated in the course of the story.

This is an epic story as only King Kirby could create it. It’s not the greatest work he did in his amazing career, but Silver Star is still incredibly exciting and tremendously interesting.

Doctor Who (2006): “The Girl in the Fireplace”

May 15, 2006
I think it’s clear that the new season of Doctor Who is raising the stakes over even the amazing previous season. This episode, much like the previous "School Reunion", continues the exploration of who the Doctor really is. In doing so, it explores a new frontier in Doctor Who: the frontier of the Doctor’s emotional world.
 
"The Girl in the Fireplace" takes the Doctor to places he’s never really explored. Sure, he’s wandered space and time. But why? What motivates a man to basically be a tourist in space and time, a man who travels, chastely, with companions but never completely embraces those companions in his heart? What motivates a man to act that way?
 
The Doctor’s relationship with Madame de Pompadour is one of the most mature of his life, and also perhaps the most honest. Always before the Doctor has been able to hide his inner life behind a facade of excitement and adventure. By playing the action hero, always having a planet and running, the Doctor is able to be important while also being anonymous. As was explored in last year’s Slitheen episodes, the Doctor is able to act without ever having to face the ramifications of his actions.
 
This episode explores that aspect of the Doctor even further. When the Doctor literally opens up his mind to Madame de Pompadour, she’s able to see the Doctor as he sees himself. Since the Doctor has always been perhaps the least introspective of all the action heroes, the one who’s been the most secretive about his past, he’s always had a unique air of mystery about him. No matter how many times viewers visited Gallifrey, we still didn’t know much about the Doctor. Viewers had no idea of how he grew up, what life was like growing up on his planet, no idea of the events that shaped the Doctor’s psyche. Perhaps it was always untentional, but for a man character, in many ways the Doctor has always been a cipher.
 
Now we are really getting to see the real man, and we see it in many ways, whether it’s his wonderful relationship with Rose, his offhand dismissal then embrace of Mickey, his awkward reunion with Sarah Jane, or his somewhat adult relationship with Madame de Pompadour, we are finally getting to see who the Doctor is: a bit short-tempered, a bit cold, a bit afraid of ever getting close to anyone
 
The story of the Doctor’s doomed love affair is as wonderful thoughtful and complex as any episode has been. David Tennant has proven to be a wonderful Doctor, far more complex and far less tormented than Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. It makes sense that after a time of mourningthat the Doctor become more introspective and even grow more as a person. It’s nice to see this begin to play out.
 
Doctor Who season two has grown from being a diverting science fiction romp into a wonderfully new-feeling and intelligent series.

Mage #2 (1984)

May 14, 2006
It used to be said that the audience for comic books would turn over every four years. In other words, the vast majority of readers would be entirely different for comics every four years. My the early ’80s that began to change, as for some reason readers began to stick around longer. I guess it’s a chicken-and-egg thing whether the rise in comic shops, intelligent content and better production values made people stick around longer, or whether that was the result of fans sticking around.
 
I think it’s funny and maybe a bit ironic that the rise in comics happened soon after their nadir. It’s often been said that without the massive success of their Star Wars adaptation, Marvel would have died in the late ’70s. And yet comic shops and independent comics rose to the fore soon after that nadir. Again, you have to wonder if there’s a chicken-egg effect going on there. Did Star Wars create the groundwork for a revolution in comics, or were the companies lucky in cashing in?
 
Whatever the reason, there’s a dramatic difference between yesterday’s entry in my blog and today’s entry. "The Liberty Legion" was driven by the passion of Roy Thomas for the 1940s, but his vision was compromised by his need to stay within Marvel’s parameters and the overriding need to publish pages in a color comic book. Production quality and depth of thought were secondary to the relentless need to create more pages on schedule. Mage is just the opposite. It’s driven by the passion of Matt Wagner, the creator, who had a clear vision of a comic series tht reflected his own particular view of life. The comic was delivered on Wagner’s schedule, done in a way that was satisfactory to him, and if the comic were to miss a deadline, it was assumed to be part of the cost of doing business.
 
It’s interesting to read an early issue Mage because Wagner was still so obviously a work in progress. His art style was awkward and his faces wouldn’t have the grace and charm that they would later, but Wagner’s passion wins out in these comics. He’s free to set his own pace, so Wagner takes his time, creating mysteries that both the reader and protagonist Kevin Matchstick will learn over time. It’s amazing to consider how much Wagner’s art progressed in just a year; by the time he reached issue 10, this comic was really rocking and rolling.

Marvel Premiere #30: the Liberty Legion (1976)

May 13, 2006
This is such a damn typical Roy Thomas comic book. The story takes place in World War II, which is one of Roy the Boy’s recurring obsessions. Again and again his work returned to that era. The Liberty Legion was envisioned as a spin-off of Roy’s Invaders comic, which had premiered about a year earlier and apparently had some pretty decent sales, if Marvel was willing to consider a spin-off so quickly.
 
Or maybe the issue is that Roy was obsessed with World War II heroes. He’s well known for being one of the world’s biggest fans of the Justice Society, that sterling group of heroic figures who represented many of the finest DC heroes of the ’40s. Even in his fan days, Roy obsessed over the JSA, writing long articles about the heroes and talking up their comics every chance he got. In fact, I think I have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction against the golden age JSA due to Thomas’s continual brow-beating about the series. How can the comics possibly measure up to Thomas’s high regard for them?
 
But as you might have guessed from the title of this comic, it was for Marvel and not at DC. At Marvel, Roy created his own golden age group called the Invaders. This is a fondly-remembered but quite odd series, featuring the front-line heroes of Marvel’s predecessor Timely Comics as they fought Nazis and Japanese during World War II. It was an odd comic in part because though the Invaders actually did fight in the European Theatre during the war, they never actually affected the outcome of any major battles. How super were Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, or the Sub-Mariner if Hitler and Tojo’s war plans weren’t even dented?
 
It was also an odd comic due to the very strange art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer, which I promise to talk about in the future. It’s fascinatingly weird.
 
But I’m here to talk about the Liberty Legion instead of the Invaders. The Legion was meant to encompass some of Timely’s second-rate heroes of World War II, including crappy Cap rip-off the Patriot, speedster the Whizzer (most embarassing hero name ever) and a bunch of even more obscure second-raters: Red Raven (who had the virtue of being Jack Kirby’s least successful creation ever, lasting exactly one issue), a stretchy hero called the Thin Man, a heroine with the truly odd name Miss America, and a really cold dude who called him Jack Frost. Yeah, Jack Frost. I wonder if he liked chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
 
In other words, these characters were amazingly obscure and hokey, by definition a group of second-raters who barely rated appearances even in the ’40s. Perfect fodder for Thomas.
 
Sometimes these sorts of revivals can be fun. It’s become a cliche of the post-modern comics to have obscure characters reappear in order to call out bizarre plot threads and provide fanboys a glimmer of excitement. But this comic is actually kind of stupid. The highlight of it is the Legion standing along the first base line at Yankee Stadium while waiting for hypnotized Invaders to fly down and attack them, because they’re under the control of who else but the Red Skull.
 
The team only appeared one other time, later that year in another story by Roy Thomas. It shouldn’t be surprising that this team failed: there’s nothing seperating this group of fifth-raters from any others, no reason to really care about these empty costimes.

X-Men: Deadly Genesis #6 (2006)

May 11, 2006
Today the news came out that our shockingly inept and increasingly cartoonish President has been engaged in keeping track of the phone calls of ordinary Americans. Ordinary people like you and me, our calls are being tracked by these idiots, for god knows what reason. It’s so spooky and Orwellian and bizarre. Of course, it’s all in the name of finding the terrorists, but of course, like so many other tasks they’ve taken on, only serves to boomerang and make the administration look like the real threat to the American way of life. In their headstrong and systematic approach to stealing as many basic American rights away from the ordinary American, and in their systematic approach to creating a dictatorship without checks or balances, the Bush administration is continually putting their interests before those of any of us who live in this country.
 
All of this leads me to this nasty and despicable comic book. Like George W. Bush, the Charles Xavier in this comic book systematically puts his interests ahead of those of his students. He lies and manipulates and acts much more like a villain than a hero. Hell, Professor X acts devious and evil, a true villain.
 
This is even worse than having Gwen Stacy deliver a baby without it never being revealed because she wasn’t actually evil. Professor X is an evil man in this comic. Forty-five years of depiction has been subverted by an ill-considered and stupid comic book.
 
I have to give you a little background to even explain this story, which may in itself be the biggest indictment of this comic. It turns on an event that isn’t quite obscure – in fact it happens in what may be the most frequently reprinted comic book of the 1970s, Giant-Size X-Men #1, the first issue featuring the "new X-Men." In that issue, the original X-Men (the group with the Beast, Iceman, Angel, Havok, Marvel Girl and Cyclops) have gone missing after a mission where they attack a mutant so vast that it’s an actual whole Pacific island. Professor X goes around the world and recruits a new set of X-Men (Wolverine, of course, and Storm, Nightcrawler and a few others who escape my mind now – Banshee, the Japanese guy and the American Indian guy who died two issues later) who brave the odds and save the original X-Men. Well, Deadly Genesis is what they call a retcon, short for retroactive continuity, where a past event is changed to add more information.
 
In my experience, almost all retcons are badly thought-out wastes of time that only serve to muck up characters and make nice simple stories unnecessarily complicated. This one’s a perfect example, plus it adds character assassination to the problem. See, after the original X-Men were lost, Professor X recruited another set of new X-Men, a group of four bland characters who failed at saving the original team, one of whom is the brother of Cyclops and Havok. So the new team fails and all of them die, including the brother. The new team comes in and saves the day, eventually becoming the X-Men we all know and love, who all idolized and worked for Professor X.
 
So let me underline what is revealed here: instead of telling Scott and Havok (can’t remember his real name) that their previously unknown brother had dies, Professor X lies to everybody for years and years. The very man they trusted with their lives, whom they literally trusted with their thoughts, had lied to them over the greatest secret of their past. For no real reason. So basically they shit on the reputation of a character that’s been around for 45 years, and for what? What do readers get from this revelation? That Professor X is a manipulator and liar?
 
There’s more crap here, too: Professor X is walking, and somehow has lost his mutant abilities. There’s no reason given for that, but what the hell, why should Marvel help its readers?
 
This is all so far away from the traditional Marvel style and ideal, so offensive on so many levels, that you have to wonder just why the hell Marvel would put out such a thing.
 
Utterly wretched.

Doc Frankenstein #4 (2006)

May 10, 2006
If you want outrageous, all-out supernatural adventure, this is the comic book for you. In Doc Frankenstein #4, the Wachowski Brothers tell the story of how the Frankenstein Monster and the Werewolf got to be great friends – in an old west shootout where each gets shot at least a dozen times without harm. If one can’t kill the other, then why not go get drunk together? Meanwhile, in the present, Frankenstein is on the run from a pack of marauding werewolves, no relation to his old friend, and Vickie Von Frankenstein, "the great, great granddaughter of the modern Prometheus, Victor," is working on her own plans to bring about live via parthenogenesis. And our werewolf and his human friend are flying a very cool jet in an attempt to help someone.
This isn’t the most intellectually stimulating comic out there, but it’s tremendously outrageous fun. Any comic that starts with a character literally crapping bullets and ends with Frankenstein attacked by werewolves has to be wild, and the Wachowski Brothers and artist Skroce completely embrace that wildness. This is brilliantly, wildly, fun.

Strange Girl #8 (2006)

May 9, 2006
So a few weeks ago I reviewed Strange Girl #7 and gave it a really positive review. Rick Remender’s story charmed me: I said it provided atmosphere, thrills, surprises and a sweet ending. But what really excited me about the comic was Harper Jaten’s artwork. Jaten’s art was spectacular, hyper-detailed and exciting.
 
The problem is that Harper Jaten was apparently a fill-in artist.
Oh, there’s nothing wrong at all with Jerome Opena’s art on this issue. It’s clean and well-rendered, dynamic and interesting. Opena has a way with providing his panels with interesting angles and terrific dynamism. But Jaten – he was something really special. Jaten’s art was magically memorable for me. Honestly, some of the scenes in Jaten’s issue still stick in my mind, and I think I’ve fallen into being a big fan of his work almost accidentally. So I really miss him in this comic.
 
Is that wrong? Is it unfair for me as a reviewer to complain about an artist because he’s not another artist? I try to be honest in my reviews, and this was my overwhelming reaction to this issue. So make of this review what you will.
To be a bit more dispassionate again, this issue’s story is exciting and fun. Remender delivers his usual mix of excitement and humor, a thrilling battle with some very nasty demons. The issue depicts the battle betwen a grou of human military troops, who have Beth, the Strange Girl on their side, as they battle to escape a very strange place in which demons live. Beth is half human, half demon, and seems to be fighting her own impulses as everone attempts to break free, There are some especially memorable scenes in this comic, especially one where some people prove to be quite inhuman indeed.
 
So a strange review for a strange comic. This is a good comic, it’s just been even better in the past.

Ghost Rider #35 (1979)

May 8, 2006
Jim Starlin was obsessed with death. Obsessed. Completely fascinated with death. In Jim Starlin comics, was a literal, living being, one that lived in the physical world as much as any lead character.
 
To wit: Ghost Rider #35, written and laid out by Judo Jim, in which Jonnny Blaze, the flaming skull hero known as the Ghost Rider, rides his motorcycle in a literal race against death. Yes, a literal race. Death shows up to threaten Johnny, and wears awesome black leathers "to die for" and some reflective sunglasses. Johnny wins, of course, but not before an innocent dies and another almost dies.
 
Actually, if you set aside your prejudices and enjoy this comic for what it is, this is a very entertaining comic book. The art is professional and very slick – there’s probably inks by about a half dozen inkers in this comic – and the story is pretty darn interesting. I liked the treachery and nastiness of death, and the way that death tries to cheat Johnny in order to get what he wants.
 
Clearly this isn’t the cute and seductive death of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. This death is an asshole, a truly evil creature that only cares about itself (himself?). I love the way Death looks when he first appears, all threatening and nasty as he stares down Blaze.
 
I remember this issue especially much since it was a rare moment of quality in the midst of a very long line of mediocre or worse GR stories. Ghost Rider was a comic that was notorious for ever-chaning creative teams and never finding a consistent stiryline. Things were constantly changing in this series, which made the series a tedious read. If the flaming skull of the hero wasn’t so damn cool looking, the series would have died long before ’79. It got good towards the end of its run, around the early ’80s. but by then the series’ reputation had done it in.
 
But this issue is well worth checking out.