Monday, December 11, 2017

THE BLACK BEETLE IN: NO WAY OUT

A mystery tale by Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot | The Black Beetle created by Francesco Francavilla

I got into this one in a weird way. At some point last year, I think around September, an artist I follow on Twitter -- I believe it was Paulo Rivera, though I could be mistaken -- retweeted a writer -- and I can't recall who it was, unfortunately -- who posted a photo of the new releases he'd picked up for the week. Among these was a graphic novel called THE BLACK BEETLE: KARA BÖCEK, a mystery tale by Franco Francavilla published by Dark Horse Comics. I thought the cover looked really cool; the Black Beetle was clearly based on old pulp heroes, and Francavilla's art style greatly appealed to me.

A little research uncovered that KARA BÖCEK was the second Black Beetle story, following from NO WAY OUT, which was available digitally from Comixology. I added it to my wishlist and figured I'd pick it up at some point down the line, but then, just a few weeks later, the New York Comic-Con took place and Comixology offered a Dark Horse 50% off coupon. Thus I picked up NO WAY OUT sooner than expected, read it within the week, and slotted it in for a post at the end of the year.

Which, as it happens, is now.

So here we go!

Friday, December 8, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #4

Written by Tim Seeley | Pencils by Joe Ng, James Raiz, & Alex Milne
Inks by Rob Ross, M3th, & Alan Tam | Letters by Brian Crowley
Colors by Kevin Yan, Rob Ruffalo, & Tom Liu | Edits by Mike Sullivan

The Plot: Optimus Prime drives around, rescuing Autobots during the Decepticon assualt, until he's cornered by Menasor and Reflector, who put Prime in communication with Serpentor. Prime agrees to surrender to the Decepticons if Serpentor releases his captives. Meanwhile, on Earth, Cobra Commander and his science advisor, Doctor Knox, are up to something.

Serpentor has a chat with Hawk on the nature of war and needing something to fight for, then Snake-Eyes and Scarlett break free of their cell and bust out Hawk and Roadblock as well. Meanwhile, Hot Rod rallies the Autobots to invade Serpentor's headquarters and rescue their friends. Inside, Optimus Prime is brought before Serpentor, but quickly breaks free and attacks the diminutive warlord. On Earth, the assembled G.I. Joe team prepares to travel to Cybertron and join the fight.

Continuity Notes: Cobra Commander at one point refers to "Mindbender and his lobster-wearing friends." This is presumably a reference to Cobra-La, who captured Mindbender at the conclusion of the previous mini-series, and it seems to imply that Cobra is aware of Cobra-La's existence, at least to some extent.

Ratchet is seen among Hot Rod's team still sporting the modifications he acquired during his two years fighting in Earth's future in G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS II.

Storm Shadow is seen among the assembled Joes on the final page, implying he's switched sides since the events of the first mini-series.

Monday, December 4, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 11

SEPTEMBER 1st, 1980 – NOVEMBER 1st, 1980
NOVEMBER 2nd, 1980 – JANUARY 11th, 1981
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Morose over breaking up with Carole, Peter pays a visit to Aunt May but finds her living in terror over a mystery man called “the Protector”. May explains that this guy has been shaking down the elderly in her neighborhood, demanding protection money in exchange for not roughing them up. Eager for something to take his mind off Carole, Peter sends May to stay with Anna Watson and awaits the Protector’s impending arrival.

Side note: Recall that briefly when the strip started in 1977, Aunt May and Anna were roommates as they had been during the Lee/Romita comic book run a decade earlier. Then, quickly, it was established that no, May lived by herself (albeit in an apartment rather than a house, which is still the case here), but it seemed as if Anna was her neighbor. But now, it looks like Anna lives someplace else entirely, away from the neighborhood and out of the Protector’s reach! She sure moves a lot.

Anyway, the Protector does show up, and surely this is one of John Romita’s finest character designs. He’s just a big bruiser with curly hair, a cowboy hat, an open vest with no shirt underneath, and a bullwhip. And wouldn’t you know it, just as he’s about to come to blows with Peter, Mary Jane arrives and starts flirting with him!

Friday, December 1, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #3

Written by Tim Seeley | Pencils by Joe Ng, James Raiz, & Alex Milne
Inks by Rob Ross, M3th, & Alan Tam | Letters by Brian Crowley
Colors by Kevin Yan, Rob Ruffalo, & Tom Liu | Edits by Mike Sullivan

The Plot: After receiving a briefing on Serpentor from the scientists who created him, G.I. Joe (Hawk, Roadblock, Scarlett, and Snake-Eyes) and the Autobots (Perceptor, Bumblebee, Arcee, and Grimlock) follow him to Cybertron, where they soon come into conflict with Predaking, Pirahnacon, and Serpentor himself. Serpentor kills Bumblebee and the rest of the group is taken captive.

Elsewhere, as the Autobots prepare for a peace celebration, Optimus Prime dispatches Hot Rod to lead a team to track down their missing friends. Meanwhile, more Decepticons are rallied to Serpentor's cause, and soon his Decepticon army attacks the Autobots' party.

Continuity Notes: We're told that "Serpent O.R." is short for "Serpent Organic Robot", named for the serpent which tempted Adam and Eve because the project team was tempted to use Megatron in their construction of the robot. Seems like kind of a stretch, but he had to be named Serpentor somehow, after all.

Snake-Eyes and Scarlett have a tender moment in which he unmasks for her and they share a kiss.

Monday, November 27, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 10

MAY 25th, 1980 – AUGUST 31st, 1980
By Stan Lee & John Romita

It’s bizarre, but somehow Stan Lee and John Romita seem to have decided that Mary Jane and Carole just can’t coexist simultaneously in the ongoing SPIDER-MAN newspaper saga. Carole only developed into Peter’s girlfriend while MJ was out of the picture with Kraven. When MJ returned to town, it coincided with Carole leaving to hide out from the Loomis Cult. Carole eventually returned to New York and she and Mary Jane shared maybe a week’s worth of time as supporting characters before MJ just sort of dropped off the map as Peter picked things up with Carole again.

On one hand, I understand that Carole has been positioned at this point as Peter’s main squeeze, but it’s just bizarre to write Mary Jane out (or simply ignore her) whenever Carole’s around. It’s not like there’s precedent for this. Back during their legendary run on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Lee and Romita had Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy both vie for Peter’s affections, and once Peter settled (fairly quickly) on Gwen, MJ stuck around as a member of the gang. They didn’t just send her off into limbo when Peter and Gwen got serious.


Though I suppose this speaks to one glaring problem with the newspaper incarnation of Spider-Man: there really isn’t a “gang”, at least not in the same way there was in the comics. Sure, Mary Jane is around somewhere. So are Harry and Flash. But for the most part, none of them put in appearances unless the current story arc calls for it. MJ was the catalyst that got the Rattler storyline going way back when. Harry and Flash only pop up when their disco is needed as the backdrop for the ongoing drama. It’s not like the old days, where Lee and Romita would check in on everybody once an issue or so just to remind readers they existed, whether or not they had any ongoing sub-plot of note.

This is probably due to the nature of a newspaper strip versus a monthly comic — in a daily strip, there’s not a lot of time to toss in cameo appearances that don’t further the plot, while a 22(ish)-page comic book does have that luxury.

Friday, November 24, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #2

Written by Tim Seeley | Pencils by Joe Ng, James Raiz, & Alex Milne
Inks by Rob Ross, M3th, & Alan Tam | Letters by Brian Crowley
Colors by Kevin Yan, Rob Ruffalo, & Tom Liu | Edits by Mike Sullivan

The Plot: On Cybertron, Optimus Prime broods until Hot Rod informs him that the team on Earth has run into trouble from Cobra. Meanwhile, the Joes and Autobots finish off Cobra's forces but realize Bumblebee is missing, having gone below ground in pursuit of Cobra Commander. Grimlock, Arcee, Perceptor, Hawk, Roadblock, Snake-Eyes, and Scarlett head down and stop Cobra Commander from killing Bumblebee.

Serpent O.R. appears and takes out the Joes' mechs, then brings the roof down on everyone in the room. He heads upstairs and activates the portal the Autobots used to reach Earth, departing for Cybertron. Once there, he finds the Seacons and Predacons scuffling, but quickly wins them to his cause.

Continuity Notes: Perceptor is horrified to find that humans have been working with the deactivated Megatron and Soundwave, but Hawk protests that he had no idea about it.

Serpent O.R. refers to himself as "Serpentor", so I'll go ahead and start calling him that going forward. (For the record, Cobra Commander called him Serpentor last issue, but I wasn't sure then if it was intentional or a typo.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 9

DECEMBER 24th, 1979 – FEBRUARY 24th, 1980
FEBRUARY 25th, 1980 – MAY 24th, 1980
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Christmas of 1979 finds Peter Parker, as usual, with barely two nickels to rub together in a story arc the BEST OF SPIDER-MAN book called “Requiem for a Super Hero”. Embarrassed that all he can afford for Aunt May and Mary Jane are handkerchiefs, and sobered by Aunt May’s accumulating bills, Peter decides to cast off his costume, retire Spider-Man, and become Peter Parker full time.

But as usual, things don’t work out as planned for our hero. He goes looking for a job, but runs into the age old “experience required” trap. Peter discovers what I learned when I finished college many years ago: you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. He also tries out for the ESU football team, but gets the boot. However, at the very least, Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane is looking up, as the specter of Spider-Man no longer pulls him away from her every night — but soon, as Spidey’s enthusiasm dies down and stops bleeding into Peter’s personal life, our hero becomes brooding and dull, pushing MJ away.


Further, Peter bumps into a few situations where he has no choice but to act heroically even without his costume. In the first, he saves a young child on the verge of falling from an under-construction building, then later, after Aunt May is kidnapped by a group of bank robbers, Peter pursues them and secretly uses his powers to save her.

But in the end, it’s learning that a child saved another child from drowning because he knew Spider-Man would have done the same thing that convinces Peter to don the webs once more.