Monday, May 25, 2020

AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES II #1 - 8

Writer: Joe Casey | Penciler: Will Rosado | Inker: Tom Palmer
Colorist: Wil Quintana | Letterer: Comicraft | Cover Artist: Dave Johnson
Assistant Editors: Molly Lazer & Aubrey Sitterson | Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada | Publisher: Dan Buckley

It kind of fascinates me how infatuated Joe Casey seems to be with the Avengers' "A-1 Priority Clearance". It was this intangible McGuffin through all eight issues of the previous EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES series: "We need priority clearance. It's imperative that we have priority clearance. How can we get priority clearance? We have priority clearance! Our priority clearance is contingent on Captain America staying with the team. Now that we have former criminals joining us, will that jeopardize our priority clearance?" All this would make sense if the riveting priority clearance sub-plot had culminated in... anything. But it's just this thing Iron Man goes on and on about throughout the series, and nothing ever comes of it. They get it, but there's no huge event that shows what happens if they don't have it or how great things go if they do.

Now, maybe the above would've been better as part of last week's review... but I decided to mention it here instead, because -- we're not finished with priority clearance, folks. Almost as soon as EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES II opens, the characters are going on about it again!

EMH I chronicled the "between the panels" lives of the Avengers circa issues 2 - 16 of their original series. EMH II picks up during issue 58, the famous "Even an Android Can Cry", in which the recently-created Vision joins the team. And since Vision is a synthezoid, created to kill the Avengers no less, our heroes immediately find themselves wondering whether -- you guessed it -- his presence on the team will jeopardize their priority clearance... especially since Captain America is currently a part-time member.

Monday, May 18, 2020

AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES #1 - 8

Writer: Joe Casey | Art: Scott Kolins
Color Art: Morry Hollwell & Will Quintana
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Assistant Editors: Andy Schmidt, Nicole Wiley, & Molly Lazer
Editor: Tom Brevoort | Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Dan Buckley

As noted last week, AVENGERS: THE ORIGIN was actually published subsequently to AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES and EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES II. As a result, while the story feels mostly seamless in its progression, there are some hiccups created by the fact that when he wrote EMH, Joe Casey was working with the established Avengers backstory, and not the revised and lightly ret-conned backstory he came up with for THE ORIGIN.

EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES begins after the events of AVENGERS #1 (and therefore after the events of THE ORIGIN), with the Avengers signing their charter and bylaws, all drawn up by Tony Stark's legal staff. But the ever-disgruntled Hulk refuses to play along, putting a quick end to his involvement with the team. Unfortunately, part of Iron Man's pitch to the U.S. government was that the Avengers would keep the Hulk under control -- and now that the Green Goliath has become a free agent again, the Avengers need to track him down in order to earn their government clearance. But following a failed attempt to apprehend the Hulk, the group finds the body of Captain America, frozen in suspended animation.

Even though he doesn't appear in the first issue until its final page (and even then he's frozen in a block of ice), EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES is really Cap's story -- either focusing on him, or centering plot developments around him. The entire second issue focuses on Cap adjusting to the modern day, while Iron Man conspires to use the super soldier's still-active security clearance for the Avengers' benefit. Cap meets Rick Jones, hanging around with the group since the Hulk's departure, and immediately forms a protective bond with the teen, who reminds him of his lost partner, Bucky.

Monday, May 11, 2020

AVENGERS: THE ORIGIN #1 - 5

"THE NECESSARY EVIL" | "FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE"
"RESPONSE TIME ZERO CULT" | "RUMBLE FISH" | "ONE SHOE DROPS"
Writer: Joe Casey | Artist: Phil Noto
Letterer: RS & Comicraft's Albert Deschene
Production: Taylor Esposito, Randall Miller, Irene Lee, & Mayela Gutierrez
Associate Editor: Lauren Sankovitch | Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada | Publisher: Dan Buckley
Executive Producer: Alan Fine

Back in 2010, two years before the Avengers became a household name and worldwide phenomenon, Marvel published this five-issue limited series written by self-avowed Avengers fanboy Joe Casey, and illustrated by Phil Noto. It served as an extended retelling of the Avengers' very first issue, presenting an in-depth look at the formation of the team. And while I've gone on record many times about my dislike for "decompressed" comic book storytelling, in this case I have to say that I don't mind it all that much. I've found that whenever I try to read Marvel comics from the early sixties, they feel incredibly dense -- too dense for my tastes sometimes; especially those drawn by Jack Kirby. So here, giving the Avengers' first mission some time to breathe is fine by me.

I'm less enamored with Casey's decision to set the story in the modern day. Yes, I fully understand that the way "Marvel Time" works, the Avengers' first meeting would have occurred around ten years prior to when this story was published -- so in 2000 -- but just the same, I prefer when these sorts of flashbacks are set at some nebulous time "in the past" -- even when they're clearly set in the era when they originally happened! That's one of the things I loved about the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale "color" series (and something I mentioned at the time when I covered them here years ago): they're all flashbacks, ostensibly to the 1990s at the latest, but Sale clearly drew them to take place in the early sixties, and they're far more enjoyable to me for that reason.

Friday, May 8, 2020

AVENGERS BY JOE CASEY & FRIENDS

Time for a few limited series from the twenty-first century House of Ideas -- and as you should know by now, I'm generally not a fan of much of Marvel's post-2000 output. At worst, I find it stupid and ill-conceived. At best, I find it uninteresting. But there are some diamonds in the rough, and this trio of limited series, written by Joe Casey between 2004 and 2010, are among those Marvel projects that I really enjoy from the era.

These three stories are "refreshed" versions of the early Avengers continuity, mainly the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/Don Heck and Roy Thomas/John Buscema years. Casey retells the Avengers' origin and presents new sub-plots (or enhances existing ones), and my recollection is that these stories -- especially EARTH'S MIGHTEST HEROES II -- were really, really good. I hope my recollection proves correct!

Please note that I've decided to present the series in chronological order rather than publication order. EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES and EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES II were published in 2004 and 2006, respectively, and THE ORIGIN came in 2010 -- but since THE ORIGIN is a retelling of the first issue of AVENGERS while EMH begins with team just formed, I'm going to cover THE ORIGIN first and then move onto the prior two series. Got it?

So, beginning Monday, let's take a jaunt back to one of Marvel's classic eras, by way of a modern-day retelling!


* Interestingly, it seems to mostly be Marvel's modern continuity titles that I have no use for, post-2000. I actually like a fair number of their out-of-continuity and/or "flashback" type of one-shots and limited series -- which these stories happen to be. I suppose it makes sense; by their nature, these sorts of stories can't include any of the modern characters, status quos, costumes, etc. that I dislike -- but also, these sorts of stories often tend to be written by guys who were on Marvel books pre-2000, which makes them "grandfathered in" for my approval.

Monday, May 4, 2020

STAR TREK VS. TRANSFORMERS #1 - 5

"PRIME'S DIRECTIVE"
Written by: John Barber & Mike Johnson
Art By: Philip Murphy (#1, 2, 4, 5) & Jack Lawrence (#3)
Colors by: Priscila Tramontano, Leonardo Ito, & Josh Burcham
Letters by: Christa Miesner | Edits by: Chase W. Marotz & David Mariotte

I'm not typically interested in these sorts of crossovers in general. STAR TREK characters encountering characters like the Transformers (or, way back in the nineties, the X-Men) just feels kind of silly to me. They're so, so different that such a crossover could never be "real" in my mind, no matter how much effort the creators might put into it.

So under normal circumstances, I woudln't have glanced twice at this series, even though STAR TREK and TRANSFORMERS are both near and dear to me. I certainly wouldn't have bought it... except I did, for one reason and one reason alone: the stunningly gorgeous Sunbow-style TRANSFORMERS artwork. (Technically it's both Sunbow-style and Filmation style, though since the STAR TREK characters are drawn in the style of the TREK animated series Filmation produced in the seventies).

But we'll get to the art shortly. First, a quick plot rundown and my thoughts on the story: In the twenty-third century (stardate 5892.7, to be exact), the starship Enterprise arrives at planet Cygnus VII to investigate a distress signal from a Federation dilithium mine. Upon beaming down, Captain Kirk and crew find the mine under attack by Decepticons. Optimus Prime bursts forth from the mine, injured, and Kirk orders an orbital bombardment of photon torpedoes to scare the Decepticons off. While Kirk's crew works to resuscitate Prime, The Decepticons flee to a nearby moon, where they find Trypticon has shot down some Klingons. The Decepticons and Klingons form an alliance, while the Enterprise crew encounters more Autobots in the mine.

Monday, April 27, 2020

FLASH GORDON: KINGS CROSS #1 - 5

Written by: Jeff Parker & Jesse Hamm | Drawn by: Jesse Hamm
Colored by: Grace Allison | Lettered by: Simon Bowland
Packaged & Edited by: Nate Cosby

I don't really follow Dynamite much. I peruse their Comixology sales now and then, but I don't pay a lot of attention with what they're doing with their various licenses -- I just buy stuff that looks interesting. And FLASH GORDON: KINGS CROSS looked like something I might enjoy. Starring some of King Features' most popular comic strip heroes and drawn in a really clean, cartoony style, it looked like a lot of fun. So I picked it up and let it sit for a while, finally reading it recently.

...And boy was I confused! At first I thought we were jumping into some new epic en media res, with the characters having already met at various points in the past and lots of references to things that had already happened, but had never actually been published. Sort of like George Lucas's concept for the original STAR WARS: joining the saga as if it were the middle of an ongoing movie serial. So I figured things like the presence of a black Phantom and a Phantom-in-training named Jen would be explained as we went along, and the oblique references to unseen past events would be fleshed out.

This was my impression, at least, until partway through the second issue when a footnote appeared. "Check KINGS QUEST 1 - 5 for that epic tale!", it said.

KINGS... QUEST? Wow, they're really going all-in on pretending there were stories that preceded this one! A fake footnote! Clever, I thought. But still... I figured maybe I should just Google this to be sure.

Monday, April 20, 2020

RED SONJA: THE BALLAD OF THE RED GODDESS

Writer: Roy Thomas | Artists: Esteban Maroto & Santi Casas
Letterer: Tom Napolitano

Did you know that Esteban Maroto created Red Sonja's iconic "chainmail bikini" look? I had no idea! I knew that John Buscema was the first to draw it in the monthly CONAN THE BARBARIAN comic, but I'm pretty sure I read someplace years ago that it was Neal Adams who came up with the famous metal two-piece. Turns out, according to the foreword to this volume, Adams inked the outfit's debut, but Maroto penciled it at the request of writer/editor Roy Thomas.

Now I'm sure this little tidbit has been known in general for quite some time, but it was news to me, so I thought I'd share it before we move along into THE BALLAD OF THE RED GODDESS, an original graphic novel created first for the Spanish market and eventually translated into English by Dynamite. This story reunites Thomas, Maroto, and Sonja several decades on, and teams them with another artist, Santi Casas, for good measure.

Again per the forewords (there are three; one by each creator -- plus an afterword by Maroto as well), the story was created in the "Marvel method" -- and that means the purest form of that method, from the dawn of the Marvel age. It was plotted by the artists, Maroto and Casas, and then scripted by Thomas. But the overall package is pretty seamless, and it's nigh-impossible to tell the collaboration was done this way.