Monday, May 20, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #437 & #438

"DEATHMASK!" | "A MONSTER WALKS WAYNE MANOR!"
Writer/Editor: Archie Goodwin | Art: Jim Aparo

And now begins the brief Archie Goodwin era on DETECTIVE COMICS. As I understand it, sales on the series had been flagging for some time, so DC decided to try and reinvigorate the title by yanking it from the editorial purview of Julius Schwartz and turning it over to Archie Goodwin (Schwartz would remain editor on BATMAN, however, and eventually retake DETECTIVE as well when the Goodwin experiment eventually reached its end). The result is a year's worth of bi-monthly issues featuring Goodwin as the writer/editor of the series, and a parade of talented artists to help him tell his stories. The first of these artists is one who many consider the definitive Batman storyteller, the great Jim Aparo.

In THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD, "Deathmask!" came immediately after "Ghost of the Killer Skies" -- as a result, child-me came to assume that Batman spent the entire decade of the seventies embroiled in solving moody murder mysteries. That's not the case by any means, but the fact remains -- this is a chilling and masterfully crafted mystery. Concerned with the opening of an exhibit at the Gotham Museum dedicated to a South American Indian tribe's god of death, it sees three men killed when the "god" seemingly comes alive and begins committing murders while wearing a ceremonial mask and robes.

Monday, May 13, 2019

BATMAN #251 & #255

"THE JOKER'S FIVE-WAY REVENGE!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Neal Adams | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

Neal Adams' brief time with Batman comes to an end in these two tales, and the first teams him with his most frequent collaborator, Denny O'Neil, for the return of Batman's best-known villain. As discussed when we looked at "Half An Evil" a while back, my understanding that in the late sixties, after the Batman TV show ended and DC wanted to reestablish the character as something closer to his puply roots, there was a conscious decision made to retire the classic rogues gallery for a time, to allow the campy screen versions to fade from memory before reintroducing them. Now, I have no idea whether this is true, but in any case the Joker returns here four or so years after his last appearance.

I've said before that the Joker isn't my favorite Batman villain -- but, nonetheless, for my money "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" is pretty much the quintessential Batman story, and probably one of the few I might show somebody to introduce them to what exactly I believe Batman is all about. To wit: we have, as noted above, the best-known member of Batman's rogues gallery. We have Commissioner Gordon summoning Batman to the scene of a murder for investigative assistance. We have Batman setting out to track down the Joker, using his detective skills to do so. We have him demonstrating his "ultra-competence" as he easily catches up with a hoodlum who believes he's given Batman the slip. Yet we also have a fallible Batman, who's clubbed from behind by that same hood after turning his back on him. But most importantly, we have a Batman who refuses to give up; who, when thrown into a death trap by the Joker, uses his wits and athleticism to find a way out.

Monday, May 6, 2019

BATMAN #245 & DETECTIVE COMICS #429

"THE BRUCE WAYNE MURDER CASE!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

The Ra's al Ghul saga is done, the villain has been brought to justice, but there's one loose end yet to tie up. Back when Batman started his crusade against the Demon in issue 242, he faked Bruce Wayne's death via a plane accident in South America. Now it's time to resurrect Wayne, but the deed is complicated when two rival political bosses get involved, one of them accusing the other of murdering Wayne. What ensues is a mystery Batman doesn't want to solve. He must, in order to bring Bruce Wayne back from the dead, but he knows that to do so will pave the way to get a dirty politician into office. However Batman does what he must, and by the story's final page, Gotham is as corrupt as ever and Bruce Wayne is alive again.

This is one of those stories that I feel should be included in any printing of TALES OF THE DEMON, but at the same time I understand why it isn't. Ra's al Ghul is never mentioned at any point; the entire saga is pretty much ignored. But it does show us how Batman brings Bruce Wayne back to life following his "death", tying up the one remaining plot thread from the O'Neil/Adams opus of preceding issues. But at the same time, TALES does not include issue 242 either, and that one is far more essential -- plus, without it, this story is even less important. If you're not gonna print the story that actually does further the main plot, why print a story that wraps up a sub-plot from it?

Otherwise, this is a decent story -- a nice palate cleanser after the globetrotting of the previous installments, it plants Batman firmly back in Gotham and sets him against that staple of his early seventies adventures: normal, everyday criminals in business suits.

Monday, April 29, 2019

BATMAN #243 & #244

"THE LAZARUS PIT!" | "THE DEMON LIVES AGAIN!"
Script: Denny O'Neil | Art: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

The Ra's al Ghul saga reaches its climax here, as Batman and his ragtag teams track the Demon to Switzerland. There, Lo Ling spies Talia and Ubu in a throng of people. The pair escapes, but Batman and friends, joined by championship skier Molly Post, pursue and enter al Ghul's stronghold -- only to find him dead. The groups departs with Talia, but al Ghul is secretly lowered by an automatic mechanism into a pool which restores his life. He emerges from his chalet and escapes with Talia.

Batman's teammmates are all injured or otherwise disabled, leaving the Darknight Detective alone as he tracks al Ghul and his daughter to the desert. There, al Ghul challenges Batman to a saber duel, but a scorpion's sting takes the Caped Crusader out of the fight. The Demon leaves Batman for dead, unaware that Talia has slipped her love an antidote. Batman appears in al Ghul's tent later, knocks him out, and hauls him away to justice.

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings regarding this story. Is it an epic? Yes, I'd say so. Globetrotting to exotic locales, a saber duel in the desert, a dramatic kiss to finish the story... it's all great stuff. But, much as I like it, I sometimes feel that it could've been so much more. I suspect that's due in large part to having seen the BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES adaptation, "The Demon's Quest", prior to reading these issues. Because of that, my opinion of the original story has long been colored by the immeasurable esteem in which I hold those episodes. (I generally consider them my favorites out of all the B:TAS installments.)

Friday, April 26, 2019

SPRING BREAK

I'm taking Fridays off for the month of May. Note that unlike last year, when I was forced to abort my look at the James Bond comic strip partway through its run due to not having time to finish reading, this break is pre-planned. That Bond fiasco last year taught me that I need to realize my limitations with regards to timing and deadlines. I'm never as far ahead as I'd like to be these days, and I don't want to have to cancel another project before it's finished. So to that end, I decided to take some time to let myself get far enough ahead for the next Friday series, which will begin in June.

Monday posts will continue as usual, of course -- there's plenty of Batman lined up, so no need to worry about anything going astray there. And I will, as I did last year when I cancelled Bond, post other stuff on Fridays in May as the opportunity arises, in the vein of the Unboxing you saw here a week ago.

Monday, April 22, 2019

BATMAN #240 & #242

"VENGEANCE FOR A DEAD MAN!" | "BRUCE WAYNE--REST IN PEACE!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Irv Novick & Dick Giordano | Editing: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

The Ra's al Ghul saga ramps up considerably in these latest installments from Denny O'Neil and Irv Novick. In our first tale, Batman is called by Commissioner Gordon to investigate the grisly murder of a scientist named Mason Sterling, who was found with his brain removed. The Caped Crusder's investigation brings him into contact with Talia, working on behalf of her father -- but when Talia "accidentally" erases the memory of Batman's only informant, he follows her to Ra's al Ghul's yacht to find Sterling's brain kept alive on life support as al Ghul interrogates it. Al Ghul and Talia escape, and the disembodied brain tricks Batman into killing it with a push of a button since it can't bear to continue living as it is.

This story, which on its surface feels like another one-off Batman vs. Ra's adventure, turns out to have more going for it by the final couple pages. It's here that Batman first witnesses the depths of al Ghul's depravity and madness. Our next story, printed three months later, picks up on that thread and begins the final act of O'Neil's Ra's al Ghul saga.

For the timeline inclined out there, it's a little over a year now since O'Neil introduced the League of Assassins in DETECTIVE COMICS 405 and 406, the November and December issues from 1970. Six months later, O'Neil debuted the mysterious Talia in May 1971's DETECTIVE 411, and Ra's al Ghul himself appeared the month after that in BATMAN 232 from June of that same year. Batman and Talia teamed up in September's BATMAN 235. Then Ra's and his daughter took another six months off until March of 1972 and "Vengeance for a Dead Man!"

Friday, April 19, 2019

THE UNBOXING - APRIL 2019

What's this? The Unboxing on Friday?! It's true, and the reason why will be explained in this very space... next Friday! But for now, after skipping the past two months, The Unboxing returns at last with three offerings from Marvel, and I think the wait was worth it!

First we have two trade paperbacks, starting with CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION: THE SUPERIA STRATAGEM. Over the past few years, Marvel has been steadily plugging away at completing Mark Gruenwald's ten-year run on CAPTAIN AMERICA in a number of trade paperbacks. Currently, thanks to this new volume and the previously released Epic Collections SOCIETY OF SERPENTS, JUSTICE IS SERVED, THE BLOODSTONE HUNT, and STREETS OF POISON, plus the out-of-print Epic-in-all-but-name THE CAPTAIN, we've got issues 307 - 397 collected. That's ninety-one issues plus associated annuals and such, covering nearly the first seven years of Gruenwald's run. Gruenwald's final CAP issue was 443, so we've still got quite a ways to go, but at the very least it's safe to say that the "prime" material is pretty much all available at this point. (Though I love all of it and will happily snap up the rest of the run as it's released!)


Next is X-MEN: ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH, and I cannot overstate how absolutely thrilled I am to own this book. Those who follow my X-Men Collected Editions chart know that this was the final piece needed to close the X-Men's 1990s gap. As of now, thanks to ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH, EVERY. SINGLE. ISSUE. of UNCANNY X-MEN and X-MEN from the full decade of the nineties has been collected. I seriously want to do a little jig over this. It's been my goal for about the past five years to have that entire run of issues on my bookshelf, and now I can finally say that the mission is accomplished.

(Of course this isn't to say I won't re-buy some of this material as it finds its way into better collections -- upgrading from paperbacks to hardcovers, for example -- but the point is that for now, the goal is complete.)

And speaking of rebuying, our last book is one that I couldn't resist even though I've purchased all of it in various formats over the years -- comics when I was a teen, trade paperbacks and hardcovers as an adult... but now we have it here, all collected in one comprehensive and definitive oversized hardcover, just in time for a certain major motion picture it inspired: the THANOS WARS: INFINITY ORIGIN OMNIBUS. The name is an inelegant mouthful, but the contents are what's important here. This book collects all of Jim Starlin's early Thanos material, from his first appearance in IRON MAN #55, through his war against Captain Mar-Vell and the Avengers, and up to his dealings with Adam Warlock -- plus everything in between, whether Thanos-related or not. I've probably mentioned it here before, but for the record, Starlin's cosmic stuff at 1970s Marvel is among my all-time favorite comic book runs, and it's wonderful to see it get the high-end treatment it deserves at long last.

Monday, April 15, 2019

BATMAN #237

"NIGHT OF THE REAPER!
Art by: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano | Story by: Denny O'Neil
(From an idea by Berni Wrightson with an assist from Harlan Ellison)
Edited by: Julie Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

I always like when old comics tell you on the cover that you're about to read a "novel" or a "novel-length" adventure/thriller/etc. It really just means the story fills the entire issue (i.e. no backup stories, which were typically included in both BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS around this period). It's one of those sort of quaint cover blurbs which I find a little corny nowadays, but love anyway.

And a novel-length tale this is. (Though technically it does not fill the issue's page count since this was a double-sized installment -- but it does run the length of a single full-issue story.) Set on Halloween in Vermont, it opens with Dick Grayson and some college friends on their way to a party. But when the boys stop a mugging, Dick changes to Robin to pursue the assailants. He finds the corpse of a man in a Batman costume, then is attacked by someone dressed as the Grim Reaper. The real Batman arrives to find his ward dazed, and brings him back to a nearby mansion where the party is in swing. Batman is in town to track some Nazi war criminals, and the manor's owner is a Holocaust survivor named Doctor Gruener, who recognized the villains in the first place.

From here, the story shifts to primarily solo Batman action, as the Caped Crusader goes about his business while Robin recovers. Eventually Batman finds the Nazis, who are after their former leader and his cache of gold, but the lead Nazi is killed. Batman realizes his underlings couldn't have committed the crime, and soon unmasks the true killer.

Friday, April 12, 2019

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN VOLUME 2

Cartoonist: Ed Piskor | Editor: Chris Robinson
X-Men Group Editor: Jordan D. White | Editor-in-Chief: C.B. Cebulski
And a bunch of other stupid credits I don't want to type out, because Marvel likes to credit every executive who took so much as a single sideways glance at every comic they publish.

I had fairly high hopes for the first X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN volume, in spite of some reservations regarding Ed Piskor's artwork. And while I didn't love some of the liberties it took with the X-Men's established history, it wasn't an awful read and, and it left me interested, if nothing else, to see what Piskor would do in the subsequent book, which would cover my personal favorite X-Men era -- and my all-time favorite comic book run -- the Chris Claremont/Dave Cockrum/John Byrne/Paul Smith era on UNCANNY X-MEN.

Unfortunately, what goodwill Piskor had gained from his first installment is squandered by this one.

The two issues contained in this book cover the entire Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Smith run mentioned above, opening with the events of GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 and concluding shortly after the "From the Ashes" storyline. Issue 3 opens with the X-Mansion deserted. We're told it's been this way for months, and the implication is that the X-Men have been trapped on the sentient island of Krakoa for that entire time -- which seems a bit odd; the story in GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 has always read to me as a very compressed timeline, with the X-Men missing for a few days or a week, tops.

At any rate, Piskor uses this absence to allow the Hellfire Club to bug the mansion, erasing from his retelling the story in which the club sends their operative, Warhawk, to do the job in X-MEN #110. Again, as I mentioned once or twice last week, I like some aspects of Piskor's work in this series. Here, he sets up the Hellfire Club as the main antagonists of this entire era, presenting them early on as a shadowy cabal spying on the X-Men. This is the sort of thing I feel a retelling of this sort should do -- set up an overarching plot where originally none existed, or where one was later retroactively established, as would be the case with the Hellfire Club's involvement in both the Warhawk episode and the attack of the Sentinels in issue 98.

Monday, April 8, 2019

BATMAN #234 & #235

"HALF AN EVIL"
Story by: Denny O'Neil | Art by: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano | Edited by: Julie Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

At some point in the late sixties, a decision was made to "retire" Batman's classic rogues' gallery for a time. This effort began prior to the first story we read, "One Bullet Too Many", and has been in place since then. In that time, both in the stories we've read and the issues we skipped, Batman has fought common criminals and new super-villains -- but there's been no sign of the classics such as Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, and so forth.

My understanding is that the villains were written out due to concerns of overexposure thanks to the Adam West TV series, plus the fact that the comics were going "back to basics" with more (relatively) grounded stories. But whatever the reason, the fact remains that until this issue, it had been some time since Batman had taken on any of his more recognizable enemies -- and even here, the first classic villain brought back is one who did not feature in the TV show.

But Two-Face is definitely a classic foe, having been created by Batman's co-creators themselves, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, in the forties. According to Wikipedia, he was mostly dropped following that decade, appearing only a small handful of times in the fifties and sixties -- I would assume due to his gruesome appearance conflicting with the values of the Comics Code Authority. But now, thanks to the creative duo of O'Neil and Adams, he's back.

Friday, April 5, 2019

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN VOLUME 1

Cartoonist: Ed Piskor | Editor: Chris Robinson
X-Men Group Editor: Jordan D. White | Editor-in-Chief: C.B. Cebulski
And a bunch of other stupid credits I don't want to type out, because Marvel likes to credit every executive who took so much as a single sideways glance at every comic they publish.

I picked up X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN solely for its premise. It's been quite a while since I bought a comic with artwork that doesn't appeal to me solely for the story, but this series' conceit was too fascinating to pass up: a condensed retelling of the X-Men's long and convoluted history, written as if everything had been planned out in advance. So I bought the first two volumes in various Comixology sales last year.

Now, I wasn't expecting auteur Ed Piskor to truly cram every bit of X-lore into his retelling; to do so would be an undertaking of insane proportions. So I figured there would be some streamlining here and there. What I didn't expect, however, was for the story to be some sort of parallel universe X-history, explicitly removing and/or changing bits of backstory in the service of Piskor's narrative. But sadly, that's what we have here.

The first issue (comprising the first half of volume 1), covers Charles Xavier's childhood and early years, and follows him as he meets a number of mutants and recruits his original team of X-Men. We see Xavier's interactions with his stepbrother, Cain Marko, and Marko's presumed death in the temple of Cyttorak during the Korean War. We see Xavier's travels in Cairo, during which he comes across young Ororo Monroe, as well as his time in Isreal with Gabrielle Haller and a young man called Magnus (whose own history as Holocaust survivor is told alongside Xavier's).

Unfortunately, this is where Piskor's changes begin to pop up. We're told that Xavier lost the use of his legs when the Cyttorak temple collapsed, rather than in battle with the alien warlord, Lucifer. In theory, removing Lucifer from Professor X's backstory is fine; however the result finds Xavier in a wheelchair during his time in Isreal, which was not the case originally. It's a little thing, but little continuity glitches are often the most likely to irritate me because there's no real reason to get them wrong.

Monday, April 1, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #411 & BATMAN #232

"INTO THE DEN OF THE DEATH DEALERS!"
Story by: Denny O'Neil | Art by: Bob Brown & Dick Giordano

"DAUGHTER OF THE DEMON"
Story by: Denny O'Neil | Art by: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano | Edited by: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

I know I had read the name "Ra's al Ghul" before my first exposure to him as a character -- because I wondered for a few years how his name was pronounced. Then, one fateful day in 1994, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES introduced me to the criminal mastermind called The Demon's Head, and told me the correct pronunciation -- which is, of course "Raysh al Gool". I don't know what the BATMAN BEGINS people were thinking when they had everyone calling him "Roz".

Of course, I still don't know the honest-to-goodness right way to say it; maybe the ANIMATED SERIES folks were wrong and Christopher Nolan got it right. But to me, for the rest of my life, I'll keep on saying "Raysh".

Anyway. Thanks to his sparse appearances on THE ANIMATED SERIES, specifically his debut in "The Demon's Quest" and his cameo in "Off Balance", which preceded it, Ra's al Ghul quickly became one of my favorite Batman villains. It's no surprise; I've always loved "mastermind" types more than any other sort of villain (see my love of Mister Sinister and the original Hobgoblin over at Marvel) -- plus, racist though it is, I've long been interested in the "Yellow Peril" trope. And, while Arabic by birth, al Ghul essentially is exactly that sort of character

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we meet the Demon's Head, we need an introduction to his beautiful daughter, Talia!

Friday, March 29, 2019

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE 1940S NEWSPAPER STRIP

(PLUS BONUS SPIDER-MAN!)

Writer & Artist: Karl Kesel
Colorist: Ben Dimagmaliw | Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Rachel Pinnelas | Associate Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Editor: Bill Rosemann | Executive Editor: Tom Brevoort
Digital Production Manager: Tom Smith 3 | Digital Coordinator: Harry Go

If there was ever a perfect way to do a webcomic for a superhero, this has to be it. Over the years, going all the way back to their earliest days on America Online, Marvel has engaged in periodic webcomics, but -- to the best of my recollection -- they have most all been done in a regular comic book format, or with silly animated effects. But, someplace in between all that, Karl Kesel found a formula that worked astoundingly well, to the point I don't know why all superhero webcomics aren't done this way! Somewhere around 2009/2010, Kesel wrote and drew a serialized comic strip starring Captain America, which was posted daily at Marvel.com -- and the results are stupendous.


It helps that Kesel has a love for the genre -- he says as much in his afterword to the collected strips, but he needn't have done so. His enthusiasm is fully evident in every daily installment. As readers of this blog know, I've developed quite an interest in newspaper adventure strips myself over the past few years, and for the most part Kesel produces a masterful pastiche of same.

The story, presented as an "arc" in a ongoing strip, sees Captain America and Bucky brought to a top-secret facility where the government is pursuing various means in search of a new type of super soldier. Cap is subjected to a battery of tests, but things go off-track when it appears the Red Skull has infiltrated the base. The FBI's Red Skull expert is called in to investigate, and Cap and Bucky find themselves joining in to get to the bottom of a series of disappearances and apparent acts of sabotage.

Monday, March 25, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #408 & #410

"THE HOUSE THAT HAUNTED BATMAN"
Story by: Len Wein & Marv Wolfman | Art by: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

Len Wein was twenty years old in early 1971. Marv Wolfman was twenty-four. And somehow they were paired with one of the hottest artists in comics at the time, Neal Adams, to draw one of their very first published stories. (for comparison's sake, Denny O'Neil was thirty-one at this point and Frank Robbins was fifty-three -- while Adams was twenty-nine). But what, you ask, do anyone's ages have to do with the story? Nothing; I just thought it was interesting that these two young whippersnappers worked with Neal Adams just as they were starting their careers.

"The House That Haunted Batman" features our first guest appearance from Robin since he departed the series in the initial issue we examined, BATMAN 217's "One Bullet Too Many" -- which was published over a year prior to DETECTIVE 408. Of course, this isn't the first time the readers of the era had seen the Teen Wonder since then -- he was a regular feature in backup stories in BATMAN, and he had popped by to team up with his mentor in a few stories we didn't look at. But for us, here and now, we haven't seen Dick Grayson in several issues, and we haven't seen Robin at all.

Funnily, the setup for this story will be reused by Denny O'Neil in just a few more months for the start of his Ra's al Ghul saga. Specifically, both this tale and O'Neil's begin with Robin kidnapped from Hudson University and Batman searching for him. But the similarities end with that single sentence. "The House that Haunted Batman" picks up en media res, with Robin already missing and Batman having located the place where he's being held -- while the upcoming "Daughter of the Demon" will show both the kidnapping and Batman's search for his ward.

Friday, March 22, 2019

SPIDER-MAN: LIFELINE #1 - 3

"PIECES OF FATE" | "SNAKES IN THE GRASS" | "A TASTE OF INFINITY"
Writer/Storytellers/Penciler: "Fabulous" Fabian Nicieza & Steve "The Dude" Rude
Inker: Bob Wiacek | Letterer: John Costanza | Colorist: Greg Wright
Assistant Editor: Brian Smith | Editor: Ralph Macchio | Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada

The earliest days of Joe Quesada's reign at Marvel feature some curiosities -- stories which fly in the face of the philosophies he and his corporate overlord, Bill Jemas, forced onto creators and readers. SPIDER-MAN: LIFELINE is one of these. Though Quesada had been Marvel's editor-in-chief for over a year by the time this series was published, it seems pretty clear it was greenlit under the previous administration. Clue number one is that it's drawn by Steve Rude, a notoriously slow artist, so Marvel probably wanted to give him a lot of lead time to complete these three issues. But beyond that, LIFELINE is edited by Ralph Macchio, who had turned over the stewardship of the Spider-Man comics to Axel Alonso only a few months earlier. It's written with third-person narrative captions and thought balloons galore. It's heavy on continuity, being a direct sequel to, and featuring numerous reference to, a storyline in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN from more than thirty years earlier. All these things had been (or would soon be) outlawed by Quesada and Jemas in their attempts to make Marvel's comics as bland and awful as possible -- and as a result, when it was published, LIFELINE was breath of fresh air in what was fast becoming an unreadable and downright unenjoyable Marvel line.

But! I don't want to start this thing off on a negative note. I mean, I'll take every possible opportunity to talk about how utterly wretched the majority of Marvel's output was circa 2001 - 2005ish, and how, for the most part, the comics have never recovered from the harm Quesada and Jemas did when they took over -- which is why I had absolutely no choice whatsoever but to write the preceding paragraph -- but from here on out, we're going positive.

I've noted here more than once that I revere the Stan Lee/John Romita run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Taking Steve Ditko's creation of the character, his cast, and his villains for granted, it is Romita's version of Spider-Man, in collaboration with Lee, that I consider definitive. And for my money, the apex of that duo's run on the character is the "stone tablet" saga. It ran for a whopping ten issues (if you include the two-part coda featuring the Lizard), which was pretty unusual at the time. It followed Spider-Man's travails as he struggled to keep an ancient tablet out of the hands of the underworld's top gangsters, including the Kingpin and Silvermane, the latter of whom believes the tablet holds a key to eternal youth. In the end, Silvermane drinks a formula derived from the tablet's inscription and dies when he de-ages to nothingness.

Monday, March 18, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #407 & THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #93

"MARRIAGE: IMPOSSIBLE"
Story by: Frank Robbins | Art by: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano
Edited by: Julie Schwartz

Batman's third go-round with Man-Bat -- and the final collaboration between the character's creators, Neal Adams and Frank Robbins -- begins with an impressive demonstration of "Bat-dickery" on the part of our Caped Crusader. Batman reads in the newspaper that Kirk Langstrom is to be married to his fiancee, Francie Lee, and immediately jumps into the Batmobile, drives to the church, and dramatically yanks off Langstrom's false face to reveal the Man-Bat beneath. Doesn't bother to spare the couple any indignity or try to keep Langstrom's mutation a secret. Nope, right there in front of family and friends, he reveals Man-Bat to the world.

What follows is a flashback to the previous Man-Bat tale five issues earlier, revealing the heretofore unseen conclusion -- Batman attempted to cure Langstrom, but he wanted to remain a bat-creature. The Darknight Detective tried to get Francine to talk some reason into Langstrom, but the Man-Bat escaped. Later, Man-Bat found Francine and learned she still loved him. He prepared a duplicate of the formula that had changed him and she took it, transforming into a Woman-Bat.

Batman then battles both bat-monsters, eventually injecting them with an antidote he's been carrying around since sometime after issue 402. They revert to human, regretful over their desire to become monsters and thankful to Batman for saving them, as our hero departs.

Friday, March 15, 2019

THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN AMERICA: SENTINEL OF LIBERTY #1 - 4

"FIRST FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE" | "BETRAYED BY AGENT X"
"BATTLEGROUND: PARIS" | "ANGELS OF DEATH ANGELS OF HOPE"

Storytellers: Fabian Nicieza & Kevin Maguire | Pencilers (issue 4): Steve Carr & Kevin West
Inks: Joe Rubinstein (issue 1) & Terry Austin (issues 2 - 4) | Inking Assist: Tom Christopher
Letters: Richard Starkings | Color Art: Paul Mounts
Logo & Book Design: Joe Kaufman | Assistant Editor: Barry Dutter | Editor: Mike Rockwitz
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Special Thanks to: Mark Gruenwald, Gregory Wright & Suzanne Dell'orto

Return with me now, to the dark days of 1991. As Marvel descended into the abyss that would result in the likes of X-FORCE and Todd McFarlane's SPIDER-MAN, they also gave us... this. An uneven, but mostly very nice retelling of Captain America's origin by Fabian Nicieza, Kevin Maguire, Joe Rubinstein, and Terry Austin. This series was published in the "Prestige" format, running 64 ad-free pages per issue. It's something I had had on my "to read" radar for years, but only recently got around to it, and now I find myself wondering why I took so long!

So, look -- right off the bat, I'll admit I haven't read many versions of Cap's origin. I've read variations on some of his earliest adventures, in various mini-series, flashback stories, and so forth. But the actual origin -- Dr. Erskine/Reinstein, the super-soldier serum, the Nazi saboteur -- I'm pretty sure I've only ever read that in the Roger Stern/John Byrne encapsulation from CAPTAIN AMERICA #255. So when it comes to the material presented here by Nicieza and Maguire, I honestly have no idea what they've kept from prior versions and what they've created anew.

But -- taking the above into account, after reading this series, I feel like the filmmakers behind CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER must have looked to this story for inspiration, at least with regards to the early parts of the movie. Heck, a near-direct line can be drawn from the first issue to the film's first act, taking into account the typical changes one generally sees in Hollywood adaptations.

Monday, March 11, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #405 & #406

"THE FIRST OF THE ASSASSINS!" | "YOUR SERVANT OF DEATH -- DR. DARRK!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Bob Brown & Frank Giacoia

DC has released a trade paperback collection titled BATMAN: TALES OF THE DEMON multiple times since the nineties, though the stories in that book were collected even earlier, via a Baxter Paper mini-series called THE SAGA OF RA'S AL GHUL. And in every one of these numerous releases, the powers-that-be, in their great wisdom, have opted to omit the stories from DETECTIVE COMICS #405 and 406.

Now, while not necessarily essential to the Ra's al Ghul storyline, their omission has long felt questionable to me. They introduce both the concept of the League of Assassins, which will play a role in the upcoming al Ghul saga, as well as Doctor Darrk, the League's leader who will feature in the first appearance of Ra's's daughter, Talia.

All of the above is my way of noting that, while nearly every one of the stories I'm covering for this cherry-picked look at Batman in the Seventies is reprinted in full color in some collection or another, for these two tales I have been forced to use the black-and-white "Essential"-style SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN volume 5. Not that I object; a lot of this vintage Batman material looks nice in black-and-white. But I felt it was worth noting.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

CAPTAIN AMERICA, SPIDER-MAN, AND THE X-MEN

It's hard to believe, but I haven't written anything about a Marvel series here in nearly a year, when I looked at X-MEN '92 last March! My Mondays have been nonstop DC for fourteen months now, while my Fridays have been dedicated to other characters, universes, and publishers. So, if for no other reason than to justify all those little heads up top, I figured I should head back to the House of Ideas for a few weeks in an All-Digital Review Grab Bag!

We'll lead off this Friday with THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN AMERICA, a 1991 limited series by Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire. Then, one week later, we'll stick with Nicieza and jump ahead a decade for 2001's SPIDER-MAN: LIFELINE, drawn by Steve Rude.

Then we'll look at a couple of odd projects that tickle my recent interest in newspaper adventure strips: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE 1940S NEWSPAPER STRIP, a project written and drawn by Karl Kesel in 2010, meant to read as it it were a vintage strip from the Golden Age, and the SPIDEY SUNDAY SPECTACULAR, a 2011 collection of backup pages from a run of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN issues, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Marcos Martin in another comic strip-inspired pastiche.

And after those, we'll wrap up with Marvel's Merry Mutants in a two-week look at X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN, a still-ongoing series of one-shots by writer/artist Ed Piskor which retells the X-Men's story from the beginning using the conceit that every later development was planned in advance.

So... face front this Friday, frantic ones! Mighty Marvel's comin' atcha!

Friday, March 8, 2019

RAPTORS BOOK 4

Art by: Enrico Marini | Written by: Jean Dufaux

RAPTORS book four starts off with an odd vignette that initially feels like there's been a multi-year time jump. We see a family being stalked by vampires in an old factory, and dialogue informs us that these places exist around the world. Called "Hell's Kitchens", they are where vampires corner and stalk humans as prey. It feels like the proclamation passed in the prior book -- that humans will be rounded up and thrown into zoos for the vampires' amusement -- has come to pass. But then Aznar Akeba shows up and kills the vampires (though not before they brutally murder the family's parents), and we cut to the vampire council, shocked that Aznar has turned against them. So apparently these Hell's Kitchens exist in the present, but humanity isn't aware of them. It is, as noted, a confusing opening scene, but it's not the end of the world.

Moving along, we find our heroine, Lenore, has become the lover of Camilla since last we saw them. But Lenore leaves Camilla, choosing to walk her own path away from the vampiress. Then we catch up with Lenore's former partner, Spiaggi, who makes a deal with the vampire council: if they put him in charge of the police, he'll find Lenore and Aznar and turn Aznar in to them in exchange for their letting Lenore and him disappear.

Next, Lenore teams up with Aznar and Camilla's brother, Drago, to attack her family estate. She kills her brother while Drago murders her mother and father, and Aznar wipes out everyone else. The vampire trio destroys the house, then Lenore leaves with Aznar.

Monday, March 4, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #404

"GHOST OF THE KILLER SKIES!"
A tribute to the great Joe Kubert & Robert Kanigher
Script: Denny O'Neil | Art: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

It's 1988. You're nine years old. Tim Burton's BATMAN movie is due out next year. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES is still four years away. You've "grown up" (insomuch as a child can be considered to have done so) with Batman, but never actually read a comic book featuring the character. Your only exposure to Batman has been via reruns of the Adam West TV show, the Filmation cartoon, and SUPER FRIENDS. But you've come to like the character quite a bit through those incarnations, and somehow you wind up with a copy of THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD, a trade paperback (published by Warner Books rather than DC Comics) collecting, ostensibly, some of the best bat-material of the past four decades.

So you start reading. You merely skim some of the early chapters because the artwork doesn't appeal to you. But soon you find yourself reading stories from the fifties and sixties. This is the Batman you recognize from TV. Colorful! Fun! Battling zany villains and accompanied at all times by Robin, the Boy Wonder!

Then you get to page 162, and suddenly things change. The artwork is more realistic. Batman looks different; longer ears, darker colors. The tone of the story is considerably moodier than what came before. Robin is nowhere to be seen. And, on the very first page -- murder! A mystery unfolds! You've seen Batman solve mysteries before, in the stories earlier in this book, but you've never seen him try to unravel a murder. Before the story is done, two more people have died. You wonder if you're supposed to be reading this stuff! Did they slip some kind of "grown-up" Batman story into this book by mistake? What would your parents say if they knew you were reading about people getting strangled to death?

Friday, March 1, 2019

RAPTORS BOOK 3

Art by: Enrico Marini | Written by: Jean Dufaux

The fourth installment of RAPTORS has way more action than either of the previous volumes. It begins with a police raid in which a gaggle of cops are killed by Camilla, while elsewhere, her brother Drago murders a senator who was depicted in the prior book as a key member of the vampire shadow council.

At the same time, a mysterious priest is, for unknown reasons, trying to track down our protagonist, Detective Lenore. Instead he finds a massive community of runaway children living beneath the city. The children reveal to the priest that they've fled their families for fear of being "turned" to vampires by their parents. Interestingly, in the prior book Lenore observed that there weren't as many children in the city as there used to be. If that many kids have run away that it's a noticeable epidemic, does that mean that the majority of the adults in the city are undead at this point?? The story doesn't get into this, but it seems likely.

However the Earth still has a decent-sized human population, as our next scene is a meeting of the vampire council in which it's decided that humanity will be rounded up and herded into zoos rather than continuing to enjoy freedom (and ignorance of the vampires' existence, apparently). It's at this point that we finally catch up with Lenore, living in solitary confinement since she was captured by the police at the second book's conclusion. She's stripped in her cell and nearly raped, but her partner, Spiaggi, comes to her rescue along with the priest.

Monday, February 25, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #400 & #402

"CHALLENGE OF THE MAN-BAT" | "MAN OR BAT?"
Story: Frank Robbins | Art: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

For the vast majority of his Batman output in the seventies, Neal Adams worked with Dennis O'Neil as writer. But he did illustrate scripts from a few others as well: Mike Friedrich, in a Christmas backup story we skipped. Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, and then Wein alone, in a pair of stories we'll eventually cover.

And, of course, Frank Robbins. According to Adams in the introduction to BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS Volume 2, Robbins had expressed interest to editor Julie Schwartz in working with Adams. Adams, meanwhile, had been doodling and come up with a character called Man-Bat. Adams and Robbins crossed paths at the DC offices, and Adams asked Robbins to write the creature's debut appearance -- which brings us to "Challenge of the Man-Bat" and its sequel, "Man or Bat?"

In the first story, Batman fights a group he calls the "Lights Out Gang", who commit robberies in complete darkness. When they bait Batman into a trap at Gotham's natural history museum, the Caped Crusader is joined by a mystery bat creature to fight them. The gang is defeated in the end, and Man-Bat escapes into the night.

Friday, February 22, 2019

RAPTORS BOOK 2

Art by: Enrico Marini | Written by: Jean Dufaux

It seems my issue with the first volume of RAPTORS somehow traveled back in time twenty years to land in the ear of writer Jean Dufeaux, because as of this second installment, the infuriating vague aimlessness has vanished and the story has become defined, informative, and compelling.

An indeterminate amount of time has passed since the first book, and our heroes, detectives Lenore and Spiaggi, are still believed dead to the world. The police are seeking answers from Lenore's brother, Newton, and he promises to inform them if she turns up. Meanwhile, the detectives have closed in on Lenore's former lover and current head of the police force, Barnes -- who was revealed in the previous book to be a member of the immortal cabal running the world. Lenore and Spiaggi catch up with Barnes just after he's murdered a young woman, and chase him to the roof of a nightclub. But he makes an impossible leap to the next rooftop and then, before our heroes' eyes, is murdered by the mystery twins.

At this point the story devotes a large chunk of its runtime to a new character named Aznar Akeba -- a college student who we learn, by way of an on-page murder and resurrection, is also one of the immortals. Akeba is taken before the secret council, where they reveal to him -- and to readers -- their origins. It turns out (though for some reason the actual word is never used) that these folks are all vampires! Centuries ago, they gave up their weakness to daylight in exchange for a loss of their bloodlust, and integrated into human society as humanity's hidden masters. The telltale cysts behind the immortals' ears have developed over time and mark them as descendants of those vampires who made the transition into humankind.

Monday, February 18, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #395 & #397

"THE SECRET OF THE WAITING GRAVES" | "PAINT A PICTURE OF PERIL!"
Story by: Denny O'Neil | Art by: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

Last week's "One Bullet Too Many!", by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, and Dick Giordano, set up the status quo which would define Batman for the full decade of the seventies (and even in to the early eighties) -- but it's DETECTIVE COMICS 395's lead story, "The Secret of the Waiting Graves", which I've seen identified in more than one place as the tale that set the mood for the upcoming decade. Certainly it unites the Caped Crusader's definitive creative team of that era, in Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams.

And there definitely is a mood here! While "One Bullet Too Many" was a decent introduction to the setup of the seventies and the sorts of Batman stories the decade would present, it also felt very straightforward and not all that different from what had come before. Even though the action was set mostly at night, it was still a fairly bright four-color adventure. But thanks primarily to Adams' artwork, "The Secret of the Waiting Graves" and "Paint a Picture of Peril" both drip with the sort of dark, gothic atmosphere one would expect from a Darknight Detective.

Friday, February 15, 2019

RAPTORS BOOK 1

Art by: Enrico Marini | Written by: Jean Dufaux

RAPTORS is the story of... well, to be honest, after finishing the first book, I'm not exactly certain what it's about. I can say it's set in the modern day, in an unnamed city which combines shades of New York and Gothic Europe, and that the protagonists are a police detective named Vicky Lenore and her partner, Benito Spiaggi. We meet them initially as they investigate the latest in a string of killings. Every corpse has been found with an unusual cyst behind the ear, and regardless of age, each victim's organs have been discovered to be young and healthy during autopsies.

Almost immediately, the story reveals that the killings are being carried out by a brother and sister with a leather/latex fetish, who have been stalking these people and usually killing them in their homes. It seems the cyst is a trait shared by all of these apparently immortal individuals. They can die, but immediately return to life -- however the mystery siblings are able to kill them permanently, and using this ability, they're working their way through all of their kind to pick them off.

Confused yet? I can't say I blame you. While my summary is sparse on the specifics, that's basically all we know by the end of the first book. There are bits and pieces more, for example the fact that these immortals live among us and form some sort of conspiracy which has infiltrated the police, the FBI, and presumably more -- but there's absolutely no explanation as to what they are or why they're doing all this.

Monday, February 11, 2019

BATMAN #217

"ONE BULLET TOO MANY!"
Art: Irv Novick & Dick Giordano | Story: Frank Robbins

Our look back at Batman in the Seventies begins with the issue cover dated for the final month of 1969 (and, for what it's worth, will end several months from now in 1981!), but this story is essential to the upcoming look at that decade in the Darknight Detective's life. "One Bullet Too Many" spends its opening pages putting into place the status quo which will define Batman for the next ten-plus years.

The story begins with Bruce Wayne surveying Dick Grayson's bedroom at Wayne Manor. He's joined by Alfred, and the two head downstairs to see Dick off as he departs for his freshman year at Hudson University. And right off the bat, it's evident to a modern-day Batman fan that this isn't the character they know. Bruce gets choked up and sobs a bit as he mulls over Dick's departure. He also calls Alfred "Alf", and comes across as more congenial and emotionally available than any iteration of the character for the past thirty-some years. He is, in my opinion, a far superior product than the Batman of today because he comes across as a real person rather than a soulless, psychotic robot. As we move along through these cherry-picked seventies adventures, I'll try to note whenever this Batman puts in any especially noteworthy appearances, because he truly is my favorite iteration of the character. (And I'll also point out whenever we see shades of the Batman-to-be, for the seventies would ultimately lay the seeds that would transform the more jovial Caped Crusader into the grim and gritty Dark Knight.)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

RAPTORS

I was so impressed with Enrico Marini's artwork on GYPSY back in December, that I decided I should read more from him. Well, not long after a finished GYPSY, Comixology held a Europe Comics sale, so I grabbed another series Marini drew, RAPTORS. (Note that I never "Unboxed" this one since I didn't want to give away this new series so soon before starting it.)

Like GYPSY, I bought this series "blind" based soley on the appealing artwork, so I really have no idea what to expect from it. I did read, subsequent to reading GYPSY< that it was Marini's crack at doing something with the layout and style of a Japanese manga, so I'm curious if he had a similar sort of pastiche in mind when he did RAPTORS (which was originally published around twenty years ago).

Anyway, starting on Friday and for the next four weeks, we'll be examining the series one volume per week!

Friday, February 8, 2019

GUNSMITH CATS BURST VOLUME 5

"MINNIE-MAY'S SOUVENIRS" | "REHABILITATION" | "BECKY FARRAH"
"DRUG TRAFFICKING" | "ANYTHING BUT DRUGS" | "HAO SHIFU" | "LIFT THE BAN"
"I CAN'T BACK UP" | "150 MPH SHAKE!" | "PERCY" | "MISTY'S DETERMINATION"
"GOOD NIGHT" | "FINAL CHAPTER: FACES OF CHICAGO"
Presented by Kenichi Sonoda
Translation and Lettering: Studio Cutie

Forget everything I said last week about Goldie's name. I mean, except for the part where it should be "Goldie Musso". For whatever reason, in this volume she's identified by the original series' English spelling of "Goldie Musou", rather than the previous volume's "Goldy Musso".

Anyway... the final GUNSMITH CATS BURST book opens with May and Ken returning from their honeymoon in Japan, to find a glum Rally waiting. She tells them that Misty now lives with Goldie, and the group sets up a plan to figure out why. They know Goldie's new drug is called Dark Ball (an evolution of her "Powerball" drug from the original series), and suspect it has brainwashing capabilities similar to Goldie's older products. Becky gets Bean on board to procure a Dark Ball sample, and May brings the sample to her contact in Chinatown, Granny Hao.

But the only way Bean can get the Dark Ball is by agreeing to run drugs for one of Goldie's dealers, breaking his promise to Rally. Word of Bean's run is leaked to the police, and Detective Bacharach returns to action, ambushing Bean when he picks up the drugs and coercing him into a race to the state line. Bean, who actually enjoys his little back-and-forths with Bacharach, agrees.

Monday, February 4, 2019

COMPLETING THE TRIFECTA

Didn't see this one coming, did you?!

Several months ago, when I was trying to figure out what to read after I finished with Superman and Wonder Woman, I had every intention of returning to Marvel -- most likely doing something involving the Avengers. But then, as the final months of the year progressed, I found myself in a pretty major Batman mood. Probably due to the arrival of the Animated Series on Blu-Ray, I suppose. But in any case, I figured I might as well keep the DC train rolling and, with Superman and Wonder Woman out of the way, take a look at the Caped Crusader next.


This will be different from most of the other review projects I've tackled in the past. I'm not looking at a specific "run" of Batman. Nothing by a set creative team or in an uninterrupted sequence. Instead, we're going to call this project "Batman in the Seventies" -- because the Bronze Age is my personal favorite era for Batman. Not as silly as the stuff from the fifties and sixties, not as grim as the stuff from the eighties and beyond... the seventies Batman sits right in the middle as a Darknight Detective who is still human; still capable of tossing out a one-liner or cracking a smile, and who seems like a generally well-adjusted member of society.

We'll begin one week from today with "One Bullet Too Many" from BATMAN #217 -- the December 1969 installment. From there, we'll leapfrog through the decade, using stories from my various Batman collected editions along the way. This is, I suppose, a "curated" look at Bronze Age Batman -- for, while there's a lot of great stuff for the character in the seventies, there's a good amount of dreck, too.

So -- we've got Frank Robbins! Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams! We've got Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Jim Aparo, Steve Englehart, and Marshall Rogers! And, as recurring mainstays through all of it, we've got Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. That's a lot of talent, and there are a lot of good stories coming up -- though I should admit now that I have no idea exactly how long this project will take, since I'm not a hundred percent certain of all the stories I intend to cover.

For those interested in such things, I'll be using the following books in this project. Not all are still in print, but I've provided Amazon links for those that are, or which can be bought cheap in the secondhand marketplace:

THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD (1988)
THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD vol. 2 (1989)
BATMAN: TALES OF THE DEMON (1991)
BATMAN: STRANGE APPARITIONS (1999)
BATMAN IN THE SEVENTIES (1999)
BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS vol. 2 (2004)
BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS vol. 3 (2006)
LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT: MARSHALL ROGERS (2011)
TALES OF THE BATMAN: DON NEWTON (2011)
TALES OF THE BATMAN: ARCHIE GOODWIN (2013)
TALES OF THE BATMAN: LEN WEIN (2014)

...And the above will be supplemented only a handful of times by stories from the black-and-white SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN vol. 5 and vol. 6, as well as a few single issues bought from Comixology.

Lastly, I should add that this is not meant to be a comprehensive look at the best Batman stories of the seventies. It is, strictly speaking, a reading of tales to which I have easy access via the above books. For the most part, the Bronze Age stories acknowledged for their greatness are collected in these volumes, but there will certainly be some missing.

So -- as noted above, we'll start on Monday with BATMAN #217. I hope you'll be along for the ride!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

MUSINGS ON MASTERS

Ever since I spent a few months writing about MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE last fall, I've found myself thinking about the property -- the toys, the cartoons, the comics, everything. As I noted once or twice at the time, I love the series' mythology. When I was a child, Filmation's cartoon was the end-all, be-all for me, and any other versions of the continuity were "wrong" in my head -- but as I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate those other tellings of He-Man's story.


One of the cool things about the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS toyline that Mattel conceived in 2008, was it's "everything counts" philosophy. Through the figures' cardback bios, Mattel weaved a MASTERS tapestry that found ways to legitimize some of the extraneous continuities alongside the familiar setup presented by Filmation. Suddenly, thanks to some finagling, the earliest minicomics by Don Glut and Alfredo Alcala could have happened, in some way or another, in the same universe as many of He-Man's cartoon adventures.

In part this was accomplished by Mattel declaring that the Sword of Power, originally known as the Sword of He, was passed down through the ages, through a series of guardians -- with each one taking on the title of "He-Man". Prince Adam retained his special destiny, however, as being a direct descendant of the sword's first user, King Grayskull, and therefore being the first protector of the sword who was able to tap into its magic and transform himself with it. Thus, the "He-Man" in those early minicomics is actually Oo-Larr, who watched over the sword before Adam -- and who even had a few encounters with Skeletor himself during Adam's lifetime.

Friday, February 1, 2019

GUNSMITH CATS BURST VOLUME 4

"THE POST-BALL STORIES" | "CHATTING AWAY"
"A FAMILIAR FACE FROM THE PAST" | "GOLDY" | "THE SCAR'S MEMORY"
"GUARD GOLDY!" | "ONE-HANDED" | "THE WOUNDED ONES"
"A SHOOTOUT IN THE SMOKE" | "FLASHBACK?"
"LOST MEMORY, RECOVERED MEMORY" | "AFTER THE HOUSE PARTY"
Presented by Kenichi Sonoda
Translation and Lettering: Studio Cutie

Before we get started, I should make a general note about the translation of GUNSMITH CATS and GUNSMITH CATS BURST, and a specific note regarding the spelling of Goldie's name. Dark Horse's original run of GUNSMITH CATS in the nineties was credited as being translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith (collectively known as "Studio Proteus"). The pair handled the entire series from start to finish. I commented a bit on some of their scripting when I looked at those volumes last year. Mostly everything read fine, but there were some tics here and there that I didn't like. But the main thing to note about the Lewis/Smith work is that they adapted their script for a pretty natural and flowing English language experience.

BURST, on the other hand, is translated by a group called Studio Cutie -- and they seem to take a much more literal approach with their script. Obviously I don't know what Sonoda's original Japanese script looked like (and I can't read Japanese so it wouldn't matter if I ever saw it), but Studio Cutie's work feels like a straight translation with no liberties taken to adjust the words and phrasing for an English-speaking audience. More or less, it reads like some of the "scanlations" of manga I've seen on the web now and then -- somewhat stilted in places, with occasional weirdly archaic words thrown in (such as Roy, in this very volume's opening chapter, asking Rally if she considers Bean Bandit a "comrade").

Overall, I think I like the script from Lewis and Smith, which, while occasionally mired in tics I disliked, had a more naturalistic style to it, over the BURST script from Studio Cutie.

Monday, January 28, 2019

WONDER WOMAN #23 & #24

“GOD AMONG MEN” |“COMBAT ZONE”
Written & Penciled by: George Pérez | Finished by: Bob McLeod
Letters: John Costanza | Colors: Carl Gafford
Assistant Editor: Art Young | Editor: Karen Berger

The Plot: (issue 23) Hermes appears on Earth, announcing his intention to join Diana in her mission there. But before long, the princess learns that Hermes plans to rule over humanity in a station befitting his godhood — and he wants Diana to join him. However, Hermes is lured into a trap by a young woman who soon reveals herself as a gorgon named Euryale and her partner, Phobos. Together, they send Hermes underground, where he’s confronted by a stone figure he identifies as Ixion the Assassin.

(issue 24) Phobos uses Hermes’ stolen staff to reanimate Ixion, who begins a rampage across Boston. Hermes summons Diana to his aid, and she arrives to tie up Phobos with her lasso and then battle the monster. Wonder Woman flies Ixion to Martha’s Vineyard, away from the population of Boston. Menawhile, Euryale tries to free Phobos, but Hermes appears and kills her. U.S. Air Force jets arrive and destroy Ixion, and the battle ends. Hermes departs with Phobos, while Diana returns to the Kapatellis home.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Some of Vanessa’s photos of the Paradise Island trip have been published in The World Today magazine, leading to her becoming a celebrity of sorts at school—but a result of this newfound popularity is Vanessa spending less time with her best friend, Eileen.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

THE UNBOXING - JANUARY 2019

We'll kick things off this month with the Christmas Unboxing -- a few gifts from my family on December 25th. First and foremost among these is STAR WARS ART: RALPH McQUARRIE, a massive two-volume slipcased set collecting all the artwork McQuarrie did as a concept artist on the original STAR WARS movies. I'm positively in love with these books, and I may have to do a post about them at some point, if I ever get around to it.


Also, from my wife, we have Fantagraphics' CARL BARKS DISNEY LIBRARY: THE LOST PEG LEG MINE and CARL BARKS DISNEY LIBRARY: THE BLACK PEARLS OF TABU YAMA. I think I mentioned last year that my wife has been giving me these books every year for Christmas for a few years now (Fantagraphics releases two volumes per year). I believe there are only around ten books left before the full series is collected, but I could be mistaken. In any case, I read Barks' stories through Gladstone Comics when I was in elementary school, but I've never touched them since. Still, somehow they're indelibly burned into my brain to the point that every time I get a new volume, memories rush back as if I just read them yesterday.

I also made a number of digital purchases through Comixology via their year-end sales. From Dark Horse, several books which are no longer available to buy, since the company has now lost its license to Marvel: THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN vols. 1 - 9 (the series ran much longer, but I believe this is the full Roy Thomas run, which is all I really wanted), and CONAN: THE DAUGHTERS OF MIDORA AND OTHER STORIES.

From DC, I grabbed WONDER WOMAN/CONAN and BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS vol. 2. From Fantagraphics, I picked up THE CARL BARKS LIBRARY: THE BLACK PEARLS OF TABU YAMA (yes, I'm double-dipping on these. I like having "digital copies" of a lot of my books) and THE DON ROSA LIBRARY: THE THREE CABALLEROS (I want to own Barks in physical format, but I'm okay going digital-only for Rosa).


And from Marvel, I got THOR BY WALTER SIMONSON vol. 3 and vol. 4, TOMB OF DRACULA: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION vol. 2, X-MEN CLASSIC: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION vol. 1, X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN vol. 2, and X-MEN: THE MAGNETO WAR.

And that about covers my merry holiday haul. We'll check in next month for more of the same!

Friday, January 25, 2019

GUNSMITH CATS BURST VOLUME 3

"KING COBRA" | "HOW TO AIM AND SHOOT" | "THE MONEY-SUCKING CAR"
"THE V8 FREAKS" | "THE DIRTY COP" | "TRAFFIC JAM"
"THE AMBUSH" | "RPG 7" | "THE STANDOFF" | "STALLED!"
Presented by Kenichi Sonoda
Translation and Lettering: Studio Cutie

The third installment of GUNSMITH CATS BURST opens with a few one-off chapters to fill space between last volume's Bean Bandit serial and this book's sequel to that story. We open with Rally getting a new car in the form of a Mustang "King" Cobra, and catching a bounty as well in the process. Then comes one of those "interesting" mainstays of the series, a chapter about Rally doing some teaching at a shooting range and allowing Kenichi Sonoda to have his characters blabber nonstop about guns, how to fire them, and how their internal workings function.

I will, however, give this story a little credit for bringing up one of my favorite subjects in serialized fiction: a timeline! At one point, Rally says that she's only been a bounty hunter for about two years -- which is approximately the amount of time covered by the original GUNSMITH CATS. I talked a bit about the series' timeline when I looked at the final volumes of the original run, specifically how certain facts didn't quite jibe with regards to characters' ages, how long Rally had been bounty-hunting, and when her father disappeared from her life. I haven't gone back to check those notes, but I strongly suspect this little tidbit doesn't really hold water either. Rally being a bounty hunter for only two years feels way too short, since she was already established in her profession when the original run of stories started.

Anyway -- after the gun range snoozefest ends, we move into the story which fills out the remainder of the book: Rally learns that Bean is entering an illegal street race, and that Bean has learned Detective Percy is entering the race as well. Bean makes no secret of his desire to see Percy dead and off his trail, but he tells Rally he won't murder the detective himself -- he does, however, plan to get Percy killed in an "accident". Percy, meanwhile, hires some terrorists and arms them with a rocket propelled grenade launcher, setting them up along a detour in the race and instructing them to kill Bean when he approaches. To make certain the race will follow this path, Percy leans on its organizer by threatening the lives of his wife and daughter.

Monday, January 21, 2019

SUPERMAN #22

“THE PRICE”
Story & Art: John Byrne | Lettering: John Costanza | Coloring: Petra Scotese
Assistant Editor: Renee Witterstaetter | Editor: Mike Carlin

The Plot: Above the ruined surface of the Pocket Earth, Superman, Supergirl, Lex Luthor, Pete Ross, and Bruce Wayne (the latter two in jet fighters) make their last stand against General Zod, Zaora and Quex-Ui. Bruce is killed by Zod, and Pete dies when Quex-Ui attacks Smallville Base. Zod and Zaora shoot Supergirl out of the sky with heat vision, transforming her into a being of pink goo. Luthor sends Superman to Smallville Base to locate some gold Kryptonite, which the Man of Steel uses to rob Quex-Ui of his powers. Superman does the same to Zod and Zaora, then traps all three Kryptonians inside a prison of his own making.

Superman finds Luthor, shot down and dying. After he passes away, Superman returns to the prison and uses green Kryptonite to execute Zod and his followers. The Man of Steel then finds the remains of Supergirl and takes her back to Earth, leaving her in the care of Lana and his parents as he departs to sort things out.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Lex reveals that Lana died during the Kryptonians’ earliest attacks on Earth, and that “Supergirl” was a being he created in her image to fight against them. My understanding is that this creature would go on to become the “real” post-CRISIS Supergirl for several years.

Friday, January 18, 2019

GUNSMITH CATS BURST VOLUME 2

"FINDING SHELBY" | "EXPLOSION" | "GT 500"
"SHOOTING RANGE" | "BREACH OF CONTRACT" | "GET OUT OF HOSPITAL"
"INRUSH" | "THE PRICE TO PAY" | "MACH 1 COP"
Presented by Kenichi Sonoda
Translation and Lettering: Studio Cutie

GUNSMITH CATS BURST's first story arc wraps up somewhere around the midpoint of this second volume. As described last time, the mob had stolen Rally's Shelby Mustang and threatened to use it in a terror attack if she didn't hand over their errant accountant, Howard. This book sees Rally gather her team to stop the attack. Becky locates the car, May and fiance Ken (making his first real appearance in the series here after a cameo in volume 1) work together in an attempt to defuse the bomb, while Rally keeps watch.

But of course things go awry -- Rally is forced to start the car before May and Ken have finished disarming it, then learns that the bomb is set to explode if she drops below eighty-five miles per hour, so she's forced to drive it into an abandoned construction site where it explodes. No one is killed, but Rally is down one dearly beloved automobile.

Other stuff goes on here, but like I said last time, it all feels very repetitious from stories we saw in the original series. The mob, a bomb, Rally and Bean on opposite sides of a situation -- it's like Sonoda threw some darts at a board spelling out his standard plots and then ran with whatever result he got. I suppose it's possible that with GUNSMITH CATS out of first-run circulation for a few years, he wanted to ease readers back into the story with something familiar, but I can't help feeling he misfired (no pun intended) if that was the idea. Familiar it is, but because of that it's also kind of boring.

Monday, January 14, 2019

WONDER WOMAN ANNUAL #1

“AMAZONS”
Written by: George Pérez
Lettered by: Todd Klein | Colored by: Carl Gafford
Assistant Editor: Ken Young | Editor: Karen Berger

Artists: Brian Bolland & Mark Farmer, Chris Marrinan & Will Blyberg, Arthur Adams,
John Bolton, José Luis Garcia-Lopéz, Curt Swan & Bob McLeod, Ross Andru & George Pérez

The Plot: Princess Diana brings Julia and Vanessa Kapatellis to Paradise Island, where they meet the Amazons and learn of their history. Eventually, a few days later, Diana and her guests return to Man’s World.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: This story is composed of a series of vignettes, each illustrated by a different art team as outlined above. First up, with the help of Arthur Adams, the Amazons demonstrate their sacred diving ceremony to the Kapatellises, and we learn of how Diana, as a young girl, got over her fear of diving.

Next, John Bolton draws Hippolyte’s tale of her younger days, explaining how the Amazons’ prior leader, Antiope, met and adopted a girl named Pythia, who eventually left with her to seek revenge on the men who had enslaved the Amazons under Heracles. (This feels like setup for an upcoming storyline, but as we only have two more issues of WONDER WOMAN to look at, I doubt we’ll see a payoff before we’re done.)

José Luis Garcia Lopéz draws Phillipus’s story of the Amazons’ first captain of the guards, Egeria, and her heroic sacrifice to seal the doorway to the realm beneath Paradise Island.

Friday, January 11, 2019

GUNSMITH CATS BURST VOLUME 1

"SHORT SERIES #1" | "#2 GUNSMITH CATS MINI THEATER HP (HIGH POWER)"
"#3 HIDDEN GUN" | "BURST" | "OASIS" | "MONROE INN"
"MUZZLE TO MUZZLE" | "GIMME MORE SLICES OF TAKE!" | "RETURN" | "DEAL"
Presented by Kenichi Sonoda
Translation and Lettering: Studio Cutie

After the original GUNSMITH CATS series ended, Kenichi Sonoda revisited the characters a handful of times before eventually restarting it as an ongoing story with BURST. Those few intermediary appearances are a trio of one-shot stories called the "Short Series". The first of these is a pretty straightforward affair in which our heroines Rally Vincent, Minnie May Hopkins, and Misty Brown protect a hooker who's seen too much from a group of hitmen dispatched by a cocaine-dealing senator. It reminds us that in Sonoda's version of Chicago, nearly everyone in a position of power is corrupt in some way or another (which may not be far from the truth, though this heightened reality has a crooked senator conspiring with a crooked assistant district attorney to kill a hooker, which seems a bit extreme).

The second "Short Series" installment is one of those dreadfully boring affairs in the gun shop, where Rally and Minnie May work on a custom weapon for a client and gab away about it as if it's supposed to be interesting. I think I said this when I looked at the original GSC last year, but these scenes absolutely kill me. Sonoda is a gun nut, of course, and it's his prerogative to gush about them in the context of his stories -- and I suppose it's to his credit that he doesn't do this sort of thing too much -- but devoting an entire manga chapter simply to two characters talking about a gun is absurd. There's no story here; it's like I'm reading an infomercial for a Browning pistol! (Though there is a funny bit on the last page: when May learns along with readers that the client is Rally's information broker, Becky, May says that had she known, she wouldn't have put as much effort into polishing the gun.)

Our final "Short Series" story is short and sweet; a straight action affair in which Rally attempts to bring in a bounty but is attacked by his cohorts. They disarm her and hold her at gunpoint, but she manages to get the drop on them with the tiny pistol she keeps hidden up her sleeve. Sonoda throws a bit of pathos into this one, as the bounty's daughter witnesses the entire thing and cries for him in the end as Rally hauls him away.

Monday, January 7, 2019

WONDER WOMAN #21 & #22

“THE COSMIC MIGRATION”
Story & Pencils: George Pérez | Finished Art: Bob McLeod
Lettering: John Costanza | Coloring: Carl Gafford
Editor: Karen Berger

The Plot: Following Myndi Mayer’s funeral, Princess Diana is summoned back to Paradise Island by her mother, From there, Diana, Hippolyte, and Menalippe are transported to Olympus by the gods, who inform them that the Amazon’s help is needed for the “Cosmic Migration”. The Amazons agree to help and, through Diana’s strength and the Amazons’ prayers, the gods move on to the next plane of their existence.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: It’s revealed that Wonder Woman’s indestructible bracelets were forged from Zeus’s own shield.

My Thoughts: Ehh. It’s more god stuff, which in general never impresses me, as I’ve noted before, but this story commits the additional crime of just being boring. I don’t really think we needed an entire issue dedicated to the gods having people pray for them so they could leave Olympus. This would’ve worked much better as the second half of an action story or something. So let’s move along, shall we? Nothing more to see here.