Monday, May 30, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #267

"A SMALL LOSS"
Writer-Artist: John Byrne | Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Michael Higgins
Editor: Bob Budiansky | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Walter Langowski convinces Reed that only Doctor Otto Octavius’s knowledge can save Sue and her unborn child. Reed heads for the South Brooklyn Psychiatric Facility and appeals to Octavius’s humanity. In a moment of docility, Octavius agrees to help.

However, en route back to the hospital, Octavius catches sight of one of the Daily Bugle’s anti-Spider-Man billboards. The image of his hated enemy sends him into a psychotic frenzy and he mentally summons his mechanical arms from lockdown nearby. Doctor Octopus battles Mister Fantastic over Manhattan, but Reed manages to shut the arms down. This time appealing to Octopus’s pride, Reed convinces him again to aid Sue. They return to the hospital together, but are too late. Sue is alive, but the baby has perished.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: She-Hulk notes that she joined the Fantastic Four in search of respect, after having been considered a joke by the public at large even during her time as an Avenger. She also recalls her past life as “a hotshot lady lawyer in California,” and reminds readers that the Richardses’ unborn child was conceived in the Negative Zone circa issues 251 – 256.

Friday, May 27, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR: THE END

Story and Pencils: Alan Davis | Inks: Mark Farmer
Color Art: John Kalisz | Letters: Dave Lanphear | Production: Anthony Dial
Assistant Editors: Molly Lazer & Aubrey Sitterson | Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada | Publisher: Dan Buckley

At some point, Alan Davis somehow became linked with the Fantastic Four. In recent years he provided regular covers for the series. Back in 1998, he was to be the FF's ongoing artist following the "Heroes Reborn" event, before dropping out after the third issue of their relaunched title. Around that time, he was tapped to provide cover art for the first printings of ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR volumes 1 and 2, as well.

And in 2007, Davis was commissioned for an entry into Marvel's series of "The End" mini-series and one-shots, for a six-issue saga describing the final adventure of the Fantastic Four.

The story is set some decades in the future, after Earth was nearly destroyed in something called the "Mutant War". Reed Richards has developed a "Methuselah Treatment" which allows the members of humanity to live in their prime long past their natural lifespans. Earth has been restored as a utopia and the solar system has been terraformed.

But all is not well. Years earlier, Franklin and Valeria Richards, children of Reed and his wife Sue, were killed in the Fantastic Four's final battle with Doctor Doom. Reed now lives as a hermit aboard an asteroid lab, estranged from Sue, working on a mysterious matter transferral experiment, while Sue spends her days on an archaeological quest on Earth. Meanwhile, John Storm is now a lead member of the Avengers, who battle villains throughout known space, while Ben Grimm, his wife Alicia, and their children live on Mars among the Inhumans.

Monday, May 23, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #266

"CALL HER... KARISMA!"
Story & Inks: John Byrne | Guest Penciler: Kerry Gammill
Letterer: Diana Albers | Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Bob Budiansky | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: As they sit in the waiting area near Sue’s hospital room, Alicia tells She-Hulk the story of an adventure shared by the Invisible Girl and the Thing some months earlier: Ben attempted to stop a robbery but was ensnared by the criminals’ leader via mind control. The woman, Karisma, sent Ben on a rampage to which Sue responded. She battled the Thing to a standstill and eventually unmasked Karisma, realizing that the woman’s makeup gave her complete control over men’s minds. Sue rendered Karisma’s head invisible and she and Ben turned her over to the police.

In the present, Reed and his advisors, the finest minds in the field of radiation, are stumped over Sue’s condition. But Doctor Walter Langowski suggests there is one man they have yet to consult: Doctor Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: The scientists Reed has assembled for help are Doctor Bruce Banner (the Hulk), Doctor Michael Morbius (Spider-Man’s occasional vampiric enemy), and the afore-mentioned Walter Langowski (a.k.a. Sasquatch of Alpha Flight). Langowski reveals that Doctor Octavius was his teacher for one semester in college.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

X-MEN EPIC COLLECTION: THE GIFT & X-MEN: GHOSTS

THE GIFT: Paperback, 2015. Collects 1985-86's UNCANNY X-MEN #189 - 198, UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #8, X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT #1 - 2, and NIGHTCRAWLER #1 - 4.

GHOSTS: Paperback, 2013. Collects 1985-86's UNCANNY X-MEN #199 - 209 and UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #10.


As noted last time, I've decided to expand my reviews of X-MEN hardcovers to include trade paperbacks as well. So, before we move chronologically forward from the two X-MEN BY CLAREMONT & LEE books, let's take a look at a couple volumes set earlier in Claremont's run, during the time he had John Romita, Jr. as his regular artist.

X-MEN EPIC COLLECTION: THE GIFT, published more recently than GHOSTS but set earlier, begins with UNCANNY X-MEN 189 through 192 in direct order, featuring the misadventures of Rachel Summers and the New Mutants' Magma, the revenge of Kulan Gath against Spider-Man, and the debut of New Mutant Warlock's father, Magus.

Friday, May 20, 2016

TRANSFORMERS: DEVIATIONS

Written by: Brandon Easton | Art by: Priscilla Tramontano
Colors by: Priscilla Tramontano & John-Paul Bove | Letters by: Tom B. Long
Edits by: John Barber | Publisher: Ted Adams

Set in the TRANSFORMERS: GENERATION ONE cartoon continuity, this one-shot features a "What If?" scenario springing out of TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE -- how would the film's events have played out if Optimus Prime had not died defending Autobot City from Megatron?

Writer Brandon Easton posits that things would have turned out more or less the same as they originally did, but with several more characters dying than in the movie. The entire chain of events springs from a point in the movie where Optimus Prime has the upper hand on Megatron, but the impetuous Hot Rod interferes in their fight when he sees Megatron reaching for a gun out of Prime's view. Here, Kup holds Hot Rod back and Prime dodges Megatron's laser blast, then blows the Decepticon leader's head clean off.

With Megatron dead, he and his followers are not transformed into heralds of Unicorn, which means this world features no Galvatron, and thus Galvatron does not kill Starscream for usurping his command. But when Unicron shows up, as in the movie, to devour Cybertron, Starscream confronts him and is transformed instead, into "Megascream". Megascrem and his minions attack an Autobot shuttle en route to Cybertron and when Hot Rod attempts a dangerous maneuver to outwit the Decepticons, the vessel is destroyed, taking Ultra Magnus, Springer, Arcee, and Perceptor with it.

Hot Rod redeems himself in the end, however, by grabbing the Matrix of Leadership from an injured Optimus Prime and sacrificing himself to destroy both Megascream and Unicron with its power. Thus the great Cybertronian war is ended and Unicron is finished.

Monday, May 16, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #265

"THE HOUSE THAT REED BUILT" | "HOME ARE THE HEROES"
John Byrne, Everything Except...
Lettering by Mike Higgins | Coloring by : Glynis Wein
Editing: Bob Budiansky | Building: Jim Shooter

The Plot: (Story 1) The Trapster breaks into the Baxter Building with plans to kill the Fantastic Four, but is thwarted by the building’s automated defenses.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Franklin’s robotic baby-sitter is named as HUBERT in this story's narration, despite my belief that Byrne never called it by name during his run. Perhaps I was simply remembering that none of the characters seem to refer to the robot by name.

My Thoughts: This is a nifty little eleven-pager narrated partly by Trapster and illustrated from his perspective, through his eyes, and partly narrated by the Baxter Building itself and viewed through its built-in cameras. The story isn’t especially action-packed or funny (aside from the inherent humor of Trapster being defeated by a building), but its creativity makes up for that.

The Plot: (Story 2) A week has passed since Mister Fantastic, the Thing, and the Human Torch vanished, along with several of New York’s other heroes. Sue, Alicia, and Franklin have been staying at Avengers Mansion to be near the heroes’ point of disappearance. As the trio goes out on a walk through Central Park, they witness the heroes’ return. But the happy reunion is cut short when Sue suffers a radiation-induced attack. The FF rush her to the hospital.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

I've got no Unboxing scheduled this month, so instead I'll take a moment to talk about the recently released CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. As I type this, I'm just back from a screening on Sunday of its opening weekend, though the post will go up one week later.

In general I've liked a lot of Marvel's output since the first IRON MAN in 2008. There have been some misses, however; I found both IRON MAN sequels somewhat lacking, for different reasons. THOR: THE DARK WORLD, while okay, didn't exactly light my world on fire either. 2012's AVENGERS is probably my favorite Marvel film, but CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is close behind, if not tied, depending upon what day of the week you ask for my opinion.

I was ready for CIVIL WAR to blow both of those last two out of the water. The movie had tremendous buzz and very positive advance reviews, and it looked terrific. I found myself really psyched up, looking forward to CIVIL WAR more than any other movie in recent memory (that includes THE FORCE AWAKENS). A few days before its release I compared my anticipation for it with my feelings toward AVENGERS in the final weeks before before it hit screens four years earlier.

Sadly, I think the hype kind of dulled CIVIL WAR's impact for me. It's entertaining and I liked it well enough, but it certainly doesn't supplant AVENGERS or WINTER SOLDIER for me. Right now I'm not sure exactly where I'd rank it in the pantheon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it's probably someplace near the middle.

Be warned -- CIVIL WAR spoilers abound, starting right now!

Friday, May 13, 2016

DANGER GIRL: RENEGADE

Written by Andy Hartnell | Art by Stephen Molnar
Colors by John Rauch | Letters by Neil Uyetake | Edits by Scott Dunbier
Danger Girl created by J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell

You know that feeling when you pick up an issue of a comic and realize you somehow missed the previous month's installment? That's the feeling one gets when reading DANGER GIRL: RENEGADE. It starts off straightforwardly enough, with a flashback to twelve years ago as we find a 13 year-old Abbey Chase in Cairo, under attack by a group of mercenaries. She and her guardian, David -- a friend of Abbey's missing father -- escape and move to Norway, but more mercs catch up with them there and David is shot, forcing Abbey to run and leave him for dead.

Issues 2 and 3 begin with similar flashbacks to Abbey's youth, one featuring her at age 16 in Tokyo with another of her father's contacts, while the third features 19 year-old Abbey searching for a treasure in Guatemala with a professor friend as well as her eventual rival (from the pages of DANGER GIRL: REVOLVER), Darren Cross. (And, in a nice touch, we learn here how Cross lost his fingertips as seen in his prior appearance.)

All this is well and good, fleshing out Abbey's past and revealing that she's spent years searching, off and on, for her missing dad. The confusion arises in the modern day storyline, which covers the remainder of the series' pages. We learn that the Danger Girl team disbanded under mysterious circumstances and that Deuce is missing. Abbey hasn't seen any of her former colleagues in over a year, and has gone back to her treasure hunting ways alongside international ne'er-do-well Dallas (featured previously in the prior two DANGER GIRL mini-series, TRINITY and MAYDAY).

Monday, May 9, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #264

"INFERNO"
Story & Art: John Byrne | Lettering: Michael Higgins | Coloring: Julianna Ferriter
Editing: Bob Budiansky | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Beneath the ground off the coast of California, Mole Man prepares to execute the Thing, but Ben pleads with him to listen to reason. Meanwhile, in New York, Reed investigates an energy signature in Central Park.

Just as Johnny's nova flame is about to be used by Alden Maas to reignite the Earth's core, the Thing and Mole Man arrive and rescue him. Together, the trio, joined by Mole Man's Subterranean Moloids, make their way through an army of Maas’s robots only to find him dead in his control room before he could complete his life's work. The remaining robots take Maas’s corpse and walk away into the sea.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Mole Man was last seen in FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #13, where he took in several outcasts from the surface world, turned over a new leaf, and lived in peace as their ruler… until Maas’s boring toward the Earth’s core let loose flowing magma in the Mole Man’s realm, killing his subjects.

(Byrne likes to talk about how often his stories get undone by other writers, but he’s not exactly above doing so himself, sometimes in extremely violent ways. As another example, much as people hate THE NEW TEEN TITANS' Terry Long, I'd argue, if only due to his prominence in the series' heyday, that he -- and his young daughter -- probably deserved a better fate than being killed off, off-panel, by Byrne during his WONDER WOMAN run.)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

SPRINGTIME GRAB BAG II

Before I get into this year's summer project (which, as noted previously, will be a bit shorter than the DANGER GIRL and STREET FIGHTER series I posted over the past couple years), we've got a few more "grab bag" items to close out the spring. The next couple Fridays will see a look at DANGER GIRL: RENEGADE, the latest installment in that franchise's ongoing world, and then IDW's TRANSFORMERS: DEVIATIONS one-shot, a "What If?" story set in the world of 1986's TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE. Then it'll be three weeks covering three relatively recent Marvel projects from Alan Davis in the writer/artist capacity.

Afterward it's on with that summer project, beginning mid-June, and that'll take things up into August, when this year's fall TRANSFORMERS series will begin. I've got the rest of the year planned out at this point, so I expect smooth sailing all the way through December.

Friday, May 6, 2016

RED SONJA / CONAN: BLOOD OF A GOD

Written by: Victor Gischler | Art by: Roberto Castro
Colors by: Alex Guimaráes | Letters by: Simon Bowland | Edited by: Joseph Rybandt
Conan was created by Robert E. Howard
Red Sonja based on a character by Robert E. Howard | In memory of Arthur Lieberman

A few months after the end of Dark Horse's CONAN/RED SONJA, Dynamite picked up the crossover reins for RED SONJA/CONAN: BLOOD OF A GOD. Written by Victor Gischler with art from Roberto Castro, this mini-series serves as a direct sequel to the story crafted by Gayle Simone and Jim Zub at Dark Horse, though it can easily be read on its own; enough backstory and recap is given that no one should feel lost within its pages.

The story begins many years ago, on the same day as the Simone/Zub tale. In that story, Conan and Sonja met as they stole a box containing Bloodroot seeds from the chamber of a corrupt prince. Here, we learn that the morning before the theft occurred, a moderately skilled mage named Kal'ang was directed by a blind shaman to steal one such seed from the prince. The story then leaps ahead many years (though just how many is open for debate as will be discussed below). Some time after their defeat of Thoth-Amon in CONAN/RED SONJA, the Cimmerian barbarian and the Hyrkanian she-devil cross paths once more, hired as co-generals for army of the kingdom of Kush. Sonja and Conan are to lead Kush's forces in an invasion of neighboring Stygia, which is ruled by Kal'ang himself, still advised by the blind seer.

Following an epic battle with giants and monsters, in which the entirety of their forces are killed, Conan and Sonja storm the castle of Stygia and battle even more horrific creatures, such as a giant three-headed rat and an enormous spider filled with many smaller spiders. All have been mutated by a strain of the Bloodroot. When our heroes finally reach the castle's throne room, they find Kal'ang killed by his advisor, now revealed as Thoth-Amon.

Monday, May 2, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #263

"R. & R."
Words and Pictures: John Byrne | Letters: Jim Novak | Colors: Glynis Wein
Editing: Bob Budiansky | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Mister Fantastic heads from the new Richards home in Connecticut to Manhattan to check on the Baxter Building. Meanwhile, in California, Johnny participates in a charity race at the Wonderworld amusement park as Ben watches from the crowd. But Johnny’s car explodes after passing through a tunnel, apparently killing him.

Ben doesn’t believe Johnny is dead and suspects he may have somehow been swapped with someone else in the tunnel. He travels to the island home of Wonderworld’s owner, Alden Maas, where he learns that Maas is using Johnny in a scheme to reheat the Earth’s core. Ben attempts to free Johnny but instead falls down Maas’s tunnel, which doesn’t quite reach all the way to the center of the Earth, instead depositing Ben in the realm of the Mole Man.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Just a few issues ago I noted that the FF had not yet re-branded all their gear with the new black "4" in place of the old blue one. As of this issue, that change has taken place.

It’s declared that more than four months have passed since the previous issue, and Reed, Sue, and Franklin are now living in Connecticut under the assumed name of “Benjamin”.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

SCHEDULING CHANGES

Big things are happening around here. The Missus and I have a little bundle of joy on the way, due in a couple months. I'm excited, but the preparations -- along with other things going on in the world -- have given me less time for reading than normal. (Or perhaps I should say "less time for reading and writing." I could read a few comics every night, but there would be no time to compose posts for every one of them.)

The result is that, in order to keep this blog on a regular schedule, I've decided to bump my "in-depth" single-issue posts down to one a week, beginning tomorrow. The only thing changing is that I'm removing Wednesdays from my regular schedule. So you'll see one John Byrne FANTASTIC FOUR a week, every Monday, then the usual rambling Friday review a few days later. Sundays will remain normal as well, with The Unboxing once a month, as well as the monthly(ish) looks at various X-Men collected editions.

So it's not that big a change, and in fact, this is the schedule I had originally envisioned when I started things up two-and-a-half years ago! The original statement was, back in August 2013, "comic reviews on Mondays to start, and then whatever strikes my fancy -- TV, movies, games, etc. -- on Fridays." Thus, just as John Byrne took the Fantastic Four back to their roots in 1981, so am I doing the same with NOT A HOAX! thirty-five years later.

Tomorrow: FF #263. Friday: Our excursion into the Hyborian Age concludes with RED SONJA/CONAN. Sunday: An announcement about the next few weeks of posts. You'll barely notice Wednesday is missing!