Monday, January 30, 2017

DAREDEVIL #161

"TO DARE THE DEVIL "
A: Roger McKenzie * Frank Miller * Klaus Janson Spectacular
Letterer: Diana Albers | Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editors: Allen Milgrom & Mary Jo Duffy| Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: A panicked Turk visits Eric Slaughter on Coney Island, informing him that Daredevil is coming to find Black Widow. But unknown to Turk, Daredevil has followed him and is already there. DD battles Slaughter’s men and makes his way into the amusement park, where Bullseye is waiting with the Widow and an army of assassins.

Soon, Black Widow frees herself while Daredevil overcomes Bullseye’s traps. As the Widow fights Bullseye’s men, DD challenges the villain himself and emerges victorious when Bullseye suffers a nervous breakdown after being beaten up. Slaughter and his men show up, but Slaughter lets Daredevil and the Black Widow depart, so disappointed is in Bullseye that he chooses not to fulfill the assassination contract he had previously accepted.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Ben Urich continues his investigation into the connection between Daredevil and Matt Murdock, visiting Fogwell’s Gym, where Matt’s father, “Battlin’” Jack Murdock, trained as a boxer. Urich learns that as a child, Matt’s ironic nickname from his peers was “Daredevil”.

Friday, January 27, 2017

BIG O VOLUME 3

"BIG O VS. BIG O" | “MY SWEETHEART DOROTHY”
“UNTO US A BEAST IS BORN” | “ALCOHOL, TOBACCO & MEMORIES”
Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created by Hajime Yatate

Beck is back… again. The BIG O anime used this character sparingly, at least in the first run of episodes. Of those thirteen, he popped up in a grand total of three. The manga, however, has no compunctions about utilizing Beck early, often, and unrelentingly.

This time, our volume opens with Beck breaking out of prison and then using a mech disguised as Big O to wreak havoc on Paradigm City. Beck knows Roger Smith is Big O’s pilot, and has one of his men shadow Roger so he can be sure that wherever his faux O operates, Roger will be occupied elsewhere. But Roger catches on to this scheme and, with some help from Norman and Dorothy, defeats Beck.

I have to say, tired as I am of Beck, this is a pretty fun story. It borrows elements from a TV series episode titled “Beck Comes Back”, including Beck’s prison break, the physical design of his mech after the Big O shell is removed from it, and the members of his gang (though a female associate is added who didn’t appear on the show, apparently for the sole purpose of providing a gratuitous topless scene* and making goo-goo eyes at Beck).

The story also gives us new machinations by Angel — she busts Beck out of prison and provides him with the megadeus for unknown reasons — and lets Norman in on the action, sort of, as he "pulls an Alfred" and disguises himself as Roger to dismiss Beck’s theory about Roger being the man being the Big O. However I need to give negative points to whoever translated the name of Beck’s robot (or perhaps I need to award bonus points to whoever translated it for the TV series adaptation), which is called “Super Beck” here. Its name in the anime, “Beck Victory Deluxe”, is way funnier.

Monday, January 23, 2017

DAREDEVIL #160

"IN THE HANDS OF BULLSEYE"
Script: Roger McKenzie | Pencils: Frank Miller | Inks: Klaus Janson
Lettering: Joe Rosen | Coloring: Glynis Wein
Editors: Mary Jo Duffy & Allen Milgrom | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Bullseye ambushes Black Widow at her apartment and takes her prisoner, then leaves a note for Daredevil.

Later, after a trip to the cemetery with Heather Glen and his friends, Matt Murdock changes into Daredevil and goes to visit Black Widow. He finds the note in her ransacked apartment and goes out to find Bullseye. At Josie’s Bar & Grill, he beats up a room full of Eric Slaughter’s men and tells Turk to get the word out that he's searching for Bullseye.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: At the cemetery, we learn that Heather’s father died while Matt was “…too busy playing Daredevil to help.” This scene also confirms for new readers that Heather does indeed know Matt’s secret identity.

Daredevil visits Ben Urich for information on Bullseye and Urich takes the opportunity to question DD about his friendship with Matt Murdock.

A footnote reminds us that Eric Slaughter’s gang attacked Daredevil last issue, and DD now suspects that Slaughter was hired by Bullseye.

This issue features the first appearance of Josie and her infamous bar, where Daredevil can often be found shaking down informants and shattering plate glass windows.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

THE UNBOXING - JANUARY 2017

The first Unboxing of the year is a quiet affair -- which is how I like it after the spend-a-thon of the holiday season -- featuring two trades, one from Marvel and one from DC.

First up, from the Distinguished Competition, we have BATMAN AND ROBIN ADVENTURES volume 1, collecting the first ten issues of the eponymous series, which replaced BATMAN ADVENTURES as DC's animated Batman tie-in at the point when BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was retitled to THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN AND ROBIN. Make sense? B&RA ran for twenty-five issues plus a couple annuals, one-shots, etc., so it seems likely this will wind up as a three-book series, though no further installments have been solicited yet.


And from Marvel we've got THE INCREDIBLE HULK EPIC COLLECTION: FUTURE IMPERFECT, collecting another chunk of Peter David's long run on the Green Goliath, including the popular "Future Imperfect" mini-series he did with George Pérez. I must commend Marvel on releasing these Hulk Epics in chronological order, rather than jumping around the series as they do with their other Epic lines. FUTURE IMPERFECT picks up exactly where the prior Hulk Epic, GHOST OF THE PAST, left off a year-and-a-half ago -- and some may recall that volume picked up exactly where the defunct HULK VISIONARIES: PETER DAVID line ended. Meaning, for those keeping track, if you count the out-of-print VISIONARIES trades, we have nearly a hundred consecutive issues of David's HULK collected (#331 - 419). David was on HULK through issue 467, so there's still a good chunk of issues to go, but it's nice to see more of the run behind than ahead.

Next month should look much like this one, with only a couple trades and maybe one more item, so we'll continue to ease into the new year come February!

Friday, January 20, 2017

BIG O VOLUME 2

"SISTERS DOROTHY" | “GHOST SHIP AND FALLEN ANGEL”
“NO NAME, NO MEMORY, NO FUTURE” | “TIEF IM SCHWARZWALD”
Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created byHajime Yatate

The second BIG O manga volume picks up where the last one left off, as author/artist Hitoshi Arita presents an adaptation of the anime’s second episode, “Dorothy Dorothy”, which means that good ol’ Beck is our villain for the fifth consecutive chapter. This time he continues his plot to rob the Paradigm City Mint while Roger does some deductive work and learns that Dorothy — full name R. Dorothy Wayneright — and the much larger Dorothy I megadeus were both built by Doctor Solderno based on blueprints provided by one Timothy Wayneright. But by the time Roger finds Timothy, the old man has been murdered by Beck.

Piloting Dorothy I, Beck makes another go at the mint, but is thwarted once more by the combined efforts of Big O and Dorothy. I'm the end, with both of her “fathers” dead, Dorothy comes to reside in Roger’s penthouse as his maid.

One thing I've always found odd about BIG O is how wealthy Roger Smith apparently is. He's ex-military police, so he didn't make his fortune there. He's Paradigm City’s “top negotiator”, but exactly how much does that job pay? I don't know what negotiators/mediators get in real life, but it doesn't seem like it would be enough to live in a palatial penthouse and employ a butler!

Anyway — with the opening episodes adapted and the status quo finally in place, Ariga departs once again from the TV series’ plots, going his own route even as he introduces more characters from the show. First up is the mysterious Angel, who debuts here in a chapter titled “Ghost Ship and Fallen Angel”. Angel introduces herself to Roger as “Casey Jenkins from the Ruins Research Group” and asks Roger to help her investigate a so-called “ghost ship which has been haunting Paradigm Harbor.

Monday, January 16, 2017

DAREDEVIL #159

"MARKED FOR MURDER!"
Writer: Roger McKenzie | Penciler: Frank Miller | Inker: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Jim Novak| Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editors: Mary Jo Duffy & Allen Milgrom | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: A mystery man named Pondexter hires aging gangster Eric Slaughter to assassinate Daredevil. Slaughter’s men rough up Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson for a line on DD, which leads Matt to change into his alter ego and seek the assassins out. He fights off their best attempts to kill him while Pondexter secretly videotapes the entire altercation.

Later, in his home, Pondexter reveals that he's actually Daredevil’s enemy, Bullseye, and makes plans to study the tape of Daredevil’s fighting style and then go after Black Widow to use against the Scarlet Swashbuckler.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: This issue features the debut appearance of Eric Slaughter, who will go on to be a minor recurring character throughout Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL run.

We also get the first appearance of Judge Coffin, who will pop up once or twice over the next few years as well, though here he seems to harbor some sort of dark secret (he believes criminals are guilty and must be punished "one way or another") which I don't believe ever pans out into anything.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

X-MEN: THE TRIAL OF GAMBIT

Paperback, 2016. Collects 1997's UNCANNY X-MEN #341 - 350, UNCANNY X-MEN #-1, X-MEN #62 - 64, and X-MEN #-1.

Before we dive into our latest X-MEN collected edition (released just a scant few months ago, in fact), let's address the sizable elephant in the room: the ONSLAUGHT OMNIBUS ended on UNCANNY X-MEN #337 and X-MEN #57, while this book picks up with issues 341 and 62, respectively. So we're missing three issues of UNCANNY and four issues of X-MEN as of this writing. Personally, if you toss whatever annuals and X-MEN UNLIMITED issues came out around that time, I think those contents would make for a fine ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH trade or something along similar lines, so I hope to see the errant issues collected soon.

As for THE TRIAL OF GAMBIT: the book opens with UNCANNY X-MEN #341 by Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira, an issue I seem to recall was heralded, at least by WIZARD magazine, as a modern-day classic in which Cannonball battles Gladiator of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard. This leads directly into UNCANNY 342 through 345, in which Lobdell, aided by Madureira and guest artist Mel Rubi, sends the X-Men off into one of their classic tropes which he had, up to this point, not yet done during his run on the title -- a spacefaring saga in which the group battles the Phalanx for the fate of the Shi'ar.

Then we jump over to the sister title, X-MEN, for issues 62 through 64, plotted by Lobdell, scripted by late nineties X-office go-to guy Ben Raab, and drawn by the newly arrived Carlos Pacheco and Art Thibert. The story follows the remaining Earthbound X-Men on a trip to Hong Kong for team-up with Shang-Chi and a battle with Sebastian Shaw and the Kingpin of Crime.

Friday, January 13, 2017

BIG O VOLUME 1

"TAKE BACK A MEMORY" | “ELECTRIC BUG” | “THY NAME IS DOROTHY”
Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created byHajime Yatate

BIG O is part crime noir story, part giant mech epic, and part Western superhero serial. The first manga volume introduces us to our protagonist, setting, and most of the supporting cast in quick order. Roger Smith, the hero of the story, is the best negotiator in Paradigm City, a sprawling metropolis where the privileged and wealthy live beneath massive domes lit by artificial sunlight, while the poor and downtrodden reside outside the domes beneath a perpetually smoggy darkness — and, more importantly, it’s a city where everyone woke up one day forty years earlier with total amnesia.

Roger’s not merely a negotiator, however — he is also the pilot of Big O, a “Megadeus” robot which resides beneath the city and rises to his aid whenever he encounters evil giant robots and creatures (which, conveniently, happens in pretty much every chapter). It’s interesting to note that the series’ creators intended “Megadeus” to be pronounced “mega day-us”, as in deus ex machina, since that’s basically what it is: an instrument — perhaps, as hinted throughout the series — of God’s will, which comes to the aid of humanity whenever they need it most. The American dub of the anime series butchered this, however, by constantly referring to the thing as a “mega deuce.”

With more space allotted it than the TV series which it adapts — by the time it's done, the manga will have a total of twenty-one chapters versus the anime’s thirteen episodes — author and artist Hitoshi Ariga spends a bit of extra time at the outset letting us get to know Roger on his own before moving on to establish the series’ proper status quo. Thus we open with a two-parter called “Take Back A Memory” which really helps to flesh out the world of Paradigm City — though it also raises some peculiar questions about the nature of the event that robbed the city’s inhabitants of their memories.

Monday, January 9, 2017

DAREDEVIL #158

"A GRAVE MISTAKE!"
From time to time, a truly great new artist will explode upon
the Marvel scene like a bombshell!
Ramblin’ Roger McKenzie, Kinky Klaus Janson, Joe Rosen,
Geo. Rouses, Amiable Al Milgrom, and Jim (Trouble) Shooter
confidently predict newcomer -- Lanky Frank Miller is just such an artist!

The Plot: Attorney Matt Murdock is kidnapped from his legal offices by the Unholy Trio: Cat-Man, Bird-Man, and Gorilla-Man. Matt’s friend, Natasha Romanoff — the Black Widow — defeats Bird-Man before he can escape, but the others get away with Matt.

Gorilla-Man and Cat-Man bring Matt to a graveyard where he's confronted by the villainous Death-Stalker. Death-Stalker reveals he was previously known as the Exterminator, a villain once defeated by Daredevil, and now he wants revenge. He kills both Cat-Man and Gorilla-Man while Matt changes into his alter ego, Daredevil. DD and Death-Stalker fight, but the villain becomes careless and his intangibility power ultimately kills him when he materializes inside a solid tombstone.

Later, Matt returns to the law offices to find Black Widow gone.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Before we get to the continuity notes proper, I'll mention that this issue features appearances by pretty much the entire DAREDEVIL cast of this era. In addition to Black Widow, mentioned above, there's also (left to right): Matt “Daredevil” Murdock, his girlfriend Heather Glenn, legal secretary Becky Blake, Debbie Harris, girlfriend to Matt’s legal partner Foggy Nelson, and Foggy himself.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

BIG O

The past three years I spent January and/or February on GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN, a manga adaptation of the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM saga. I figure I'll stick with the tradition again this year, too. As I've said before, I haven't read a ton of manga, but there are a few series I've looked at over the years that I really like. One of these is BIG O.

Conceived as a multimedia franchise in Japan back in 1999, BIG O was, first and foremost, an anime series. It was quickly adapted into English and thrown onto Cartoon Network's Toonami block, where it was advertised as the spiritual successor to BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. (Indeed, B:TAS' Toonami tagline had been "good guys wear black" and when BIG O premiered, its tagline was "good guys still wear black.")

In all honesty, aside from the fact that it was produced by Sunrise, one of the better animation houses to work on BATMAN, BIG O had very little in common with that earlier series other than the main character having a cool car and a faithful butler. But it was a really fun, stylish show that won me over in very quick order. I watched the show on TV and I even bought the DVDs to support it that way as well. And when Viz brought the manga to American shores circa 1999, I read it first in monthly comic book format and eventually picked it up again years later when they released the full run in a series of six trade paperbacks (in proper manga-size dimensions).

I really enjoyed the manga; it followed the same general storyline as the TV series, but took its own path to get there, sort of like an alternate telling of the same story. And, unlike the anime, which ended after thirteen episodes on a cliffhanger, the manga had a proper ending (an ending which, I believe, holds up far better than the conclusion the TV series eventually received when it returned in 2003 for a second season).

For the next six weeks, we'll look at the BIG O manga. I plan to cover all six volumes of Viz's American release*, to see just how well it holds up and, ultimately whether I prefer it over the TV show. I recall the series, which I've watched multiple times, quite well, but I have few memories of the manga so I look forward to refreshing them.

It's showtime!


* Note that when BIG O's second season appeared in 2003, there were two more manga volumes produced -- but they've never, so far as I can find, been translated into English, either officially or by fans. So this isn't the complete BIG O manga experience, but it will be the full run as originally published alongside the first season of the TV show.

Friday, January 6, 2017

TRANSFORMERS/G.I. JOE: DIVIDED FRONT

Though the Dreamwave TRANSFORMERS/G.I. JOE: DIVIDED FRONT mini-series ended in 2004 following only a single issue when the publisher went bankrupt, issues 2 through 6 were all solicited with covers shown for 2 through 5. In addition to #1, these issues are covered below for the sake of completion. All solicits courtesy of the Transformers Wiki, though they can be found elsewhere online as well.

"TARGETS OF OPPORTUNITY"
Dedicated to Larry Hama!
Writers: James McDonough and Adam Patyk | Pencils: Pat Lee
Breakdowns: Nick Kuslian | Background: Edwin Garcia | Inks: Rob Armstrong
Colors: Anthony Washington and Alan Wang | Letters: Ben Lee

The Plot: At New York City Harbor in 1985, a group of G.I. Joes led by Flint battle Cobra forces under the command of Destro. The villains escape, and later, at G.I. Joe Headquarters, Flint is reprimanded by his commanding officer. Meanwhile, a spacecraft crashes in Oregon. Cobra gets wind of this and sends agents to investigate, while Starscream does a flyover of their island.

Later, Flint is assigned a new mission: he leads a team of Joes to Oregon where they fight Cobra once more and locate the unconscious body of Autobot Blaster. Soon, back at Joe HQ, Flint is called before his elderly commander, Duke, who introduces him to fellow members of the original World War II era Joe team and begins to explain the team's past with the Transformers.

Issue 2 Solicit: The secrets of G.I. Joe and Cobra's pasts are revealed as the greatest arms race in history intensifies, blazing a path across the world. Desperate for an equalizer, the Joes raid a top-secret Cobra bunker located in the Everglades. But when Cobra's newly hired Dreadnok biker gang intervenes, will the Joes be too late to gain the advantage and, more importantly, save their Autobot allies?!

Issue 3 Solicit: FAN-FAVE FIREFLY DEBUTS! Snake Eyes is a hard ninja to kill -- which is why COBRA Commander has called in one of his biggest guns to do the job: the assassin Firefly! What is the history behind this COBRA'S rivalry with Snake Eyes? And can the Joes' ninja overcome this deadly saboteur in time to help his teammates retrieve the stolen Transformer technology from COBRA'S secret Arctic base? It's chaos on the ice as the Autobots face off against Destro's deadly COBRA/Decepticon hybrid warriors, with Starscream waiting to pick up the pieces!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

DAREDEVIL BY FRANK MILLER

So I actually came up with the idea to do this last year as I was watching DAREDEVIL season 2 on NetFlix, but at that time I was knee-deep in John Byrne's FANTASTIC FOUR, which was going to take me through to the end of the year. Thus I backburnered Miller's DAREDEVIL run until the FF stuff was finished.

Now here we are. Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL is another one of those classic late seventies/early eighties runs I missed as a kid and eventually checked out much later. Its legend was built for me over the years by publications like WIZARD, to the point that I felt I had to read it. My first exposure to the issues came via Marvel's DAREDEVIL VISIONARIES: FRANK MILLER trade paperbacks published somewhere around 2001 or so. I devoured the run then and I believe I've re-read it maybe two times in the ensuing decade and a half (which should make this my fourth go-round with this material).

Marvel released a DAREDEVIL BY FRANK MILLER AND KLAUS JANSON OMNIBUS a few years after the Visionaries trades, but I was on a much tighter budget back then and didn't want to upgrade -- plus Omnibuses were a brand new thing at the time and I didn't really know what to make of them. Eventually the Omnibus went back into print years later in 2013, and this time I sold off the VISIONARIES books to subsidize its purchase. Though I believe the contents and reproduction should be identical to the trades, I'm excited to read Miller's run in the oversize format.

One last thing: both the Visionaries books and Omnibus featured new, modern-style coloring from Steve Buccellato -- a practice of which I thoroughly approve and wish Marvel would engage in more often, as long as it's done well (I wrote a little article on the subject some time back). From what I can see, it looks like the issues on Marvel Unlimited, from which I'll be pulling my screenshots, use this same modern coloring. So be aware that, as far as color goes -- which I don't really ever bring up much anyway -- I'm not looking at the original hues (though I believe Buccellato has said he used the original colors, mostly by Glynis Wein and Klaus Janson, as a guideline for his work).

By my count, at a rate of one issue every Monday, this project should take us close to the end of August. So get ready, because beginning on Monday -- here comes Daredevil, the Man Without Fear!

Monday, January 2, 2017

FANTASTIC FOUR BY JOHN BYRNE - AFTERWORD

As I noted when I began this project just about a year ago, John Byrne's FANTASTIC FOUR run never really clicked with me as a reader. True, I missed it the first time around and read it years after the fact in reprint format, but I did the same thing with Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL and Walter Simonson's THOR, among others, and I found those runs lived completely up to their considerable hype.

Byrne's FF, meanwhile, didn't floor me. I recall thinking at the time that it wasn't bad; just not as great as I had long been led to believe. I think, at least partly, this was due to the fact that I found myself comparing it with what I consider to be the gold standard Byrne run, his time on X-MEN with co-plotter Chris Claremont. This time around, I tried not to hold the FANTASTIC FOUR issues up against the X-MEN ones, but I must say that even with that in mind, I felt much the same way as before. I think the truth is that, no matter who's churning out their adventures, the FF just don't grab me (much).


"Second only to Kirby and Lee" is praise you often see thrown Byrne's way, but I have no way to know if that statement is true, having never read that revered original run either. I've just never been a big FF fan. I like them fine as occasional guest-stars in other characters' titles, but their adventures on their own, on the rare occasions I've checked them out, have never really floated my boat regardless of who wrote and drew them. I like a lot of John Byrne's output, but perhaps expecting him to make me love a group to which I'm inherently indifferent is unfair.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Here we are once again. I had another pretty productive year, dedicating the entirety of my Monday and Wednesday postings to John Byrne's FANTASTIC FOUR. Of course I stopped doing Wednesday posts about halfway through the year to make certain I'd have enough of a backlog to keep going after my son was born in July. Things have worked out well and I intend to keep doing Mondays only for the foreseeable future.

Fridays will remain in the rotation as well, and this year's Fridays covered a plethora of items. My Dreamwave TRANSFORMERS posts from Fall of 2015 carried over into January, and that was followed by the conclusion of my three years'-long look at GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN. From there it was an assortment of books from various publishers covering things as varied as THE LEGEND OF ZELDA, Walter Simonson's RAGNAROK, Terry Dodson's MUSE and RED ONE, and a MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE graphic novel from my childhood. Conan and Red Sonja followed these various items, then we looked at the Marvel work of Alan Davis and a couple other Marvel books before jumping into The Summer of ROBOTECH. And when ROBOTECH wrapped up, it was back to Dreamwave's TRANSFORMERS for the remainder of the year.

This year, Fridays should be just as varied. With GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN finished, I have a new manga project to look at through February, which will be announced next week. After that I have about two solid months of vintage DC planned, followed by an assortment of IDW items I picked up in a digital sale last year. Then we'll have this year's "Summer of...", which is something I've wanted to read for a long time and which I'm really looking forward to finally examining. Then the Fall TRANSFORMERS tradition will continue, with another continuity from a publisher other than Dreamwave, Marvel, or IDW.

Mondays, meanwhile, should be Marvel-centric for the entirety of 2017. Thanks to the great state of California (a statement I'm not sure I've ever uttered before now), I spent the final six weeks of 2016 on paid paternity leave, and during feedings and naptimes I binged on yet another classic Marvel run, and I've already written up posts for every single issue. So my Mondays are already filled through September, which I think is the furthest ahead I've ever managed to work since I started this blog. I'll announce that project this Wednesday, following a final look back at John Byrne's FANTASTIC FOUR tomorrow.

Then there are Sundays, where The Unboxing will continue every month. I've also got two more X-Men collections to review, THE TRIAL OF GAMBIT and OPERATION: ZERO TOLERANCE, in January and February, which will conclude that monthly project I started back in October of 2015. At the moment I have no plans for something new to take the X-Men series' place, but we'll see if I come up with anything. Of course anything else that strikes my fancy will pop up on Sundays as well, though currently there's nothing slated for the near future.

So thank you once again for your patronage over the past year. I continue to have fun writing up these posts and I hope they bring some small amount of entertainment to those who read them!