Friday, March 29, 2019



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 -- 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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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.