Sunday, August 2, 2009

Originally posted on my myspace blog on 4/27, 5/9, and 5/19/2009


THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOL. 3: THE BOOK OF THE IRON FIST (Marvel, 2008; Hardcover)
Collects The Immortal Iron Fist Nos. 7, 15, 16, Immortal Iron Fist: The Origin of Danny Rand and Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death (cover dates August, 2007- October, 2008).
THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOL. 4: THE MORTAL IRON FIST (Marvel, 2009; Hardcover)
Collects The Immortal Iron Fist Nos. 17-20 and Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California (cover dates September, 2008- January, 2009).
Matt Fraction keeps it moving, while the artwork varies from passable to unappealing. The storytelling and pacing of it is fine, but I am not a fan of scratchy artwork. The lettering by David Lanphear is probably the aesthetic highlight of this title. *S-P-O-I-L-E-R-S* This whole thing has been building for a while, and if this is indeed the climax, then it is a letdown. All signs point to it not being the end of the Seven (or is it now Eight?) capital cities of Heaven, so we'll have to wait and see. Immortal Iron Fist: The Origin of Danny Rand is a slightly tweaked and re-packaged version of Marvel Premiere #15 and 16, rendered with modern coloring. Old school artwork does not work well with all of the gimmicky bells and whistles. There is a major continuity snafu in these arcs. In Iron Fist's origin, he was 9 years old when he entered the mystical city of K'un L'un. Fine. The city's entrance/exit appears every ten years on Earth. Check. That makes him 19 in 1975, which in Marvel time isn't very long. It is estimated that since Fantastic Four #1 in 1961, approximately 12 years have passed. Some disagree, saying that it is less. So, if Peter Parker was still a college student in Marvel Comics circa 1975, it would put him in his early 20s. It is estimated that his age is 25-27. So, since 1975 we have had maybe 6 or 7 years of continuity unfold. Are you with me? Why is it that this huge sticking point in this arc is Danny Rand's 33rd birthday? It is not possible! If here were 19 in 1975's comics, then he couldn't possibly be older than 25 or 26. It's called continuity, Marvel! And no, I don't live in my Mom's basement, and I have kissed many girls, so don't even try that argument! Continuity is very important in a serialized format like comic books.
JLA: THAT WAS NOW, THIS IS THEN (DC, 2008)
Collects JLA Classified Nos. 50-54 (cover dates Early March- May, 2008)
Yes, this is DC, but it is DC by Roger Stern and John Byrne! These two old-schoolers kick out the jams and show the new-jack, deadline missing "artistes" how it is done! Everything is perfect...Roger Stern's writing is clear and concise, undoubtedly referring to continuity but doing so in such a way that a non-DC fan like me can easily grasp and follow exactly who these people are and what they can do. Writing for all ages is not an insult, people, it's a compliment and takes a lot of talent to write something that a 10 year old and a 35 year old can both enjoy. John Byrne's artwork provides fantastic pacing, plenty of ramped-up action sequences, and is just nice to look at! Mark Farmer is a solid inker that complements Byrne's pencils, and Allen Passalagua's coloring is contemporary without being gimmicky or overpowering to the artwork. Computer color separations and digital painting can sometimes be so overwhelming that you have to wonder if there was ever any penciling going on there before the colorist got involved...not so here. I honestly couldn't care less about Batman, Superman, etc., but I would read any title that Stern and Byrne did on a regular basis.
IRON MAN: DRAGON SEED SAGA (Marvel, 2008)
Collects Iron Man Nos. 270-275 (cover dates July- December, 1991)
Good stuff written by John Byrne with artwork by Paul Ryan. Fin Fang Foom, the Mandarin, and ten other dragons...what is not to love here? The coloring, and especially the lettering are dated and below today's standards, but this was still an absolute blast to read. Paul Ryan is a competent penciler, but lacks a certain polish. A lot of the lettering in the days of yore sucked. If it's not Artie Simek or Tom Orzechowski, then it generally detracts from the artwork.









WEAPON OMEGA (Marvel, 2008)
Collects selections from Marvel Comics Presents (Vol. 2) Nos. 1-12 (cover dates November, 2007- October, 2008).
Yet another half-hearted attempt at an Alpha Flight reboot. Come on Marvel, just jump in with both feet! The Omega Flight mini-series that spun out of Civil War was decent, but I wish that Marvel would make amends with John Byrne (and vice versa) so that Byrne could come back and give his baby a kick in the butt. All in all, this was a decent read but I would like to see an Alpha Flight ongoing.







MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 3 (Marvel, 2009)
Collects Captain America Comics Nos. 9-12 (cover dates December, 1941- March, 1942)This book is a heaping helping of Golden Age fun! Joe Simon & Jack Kirby's Captain America frickin' rocks. I can't get enough of these dated/slightly corny/possibly offensive snapshots of this bygone era. Like all Golden Age comic books, there are back-up features. Headline Hunter sucks! He is a news reporter who somehow always gets involved in some adventure while chasing down a story. Hurricane, Master of Speed is always fun. His alter ego is named Harry Kane. Grooooooooaaaaaannn. It was 1941. He mysteriously gets a fat, oddly dressed sidekick named Speedy Scriggles in Issue 10, with no explanation given. Father Time is always hilarious, as his costume consists of a scythe/sickle, a cape with a hood, a pair of shorts, gloves, boots, and some underwear, and a clock on his chest. Not on a shirt, but ON HIS ACTUAL CHEST! None of his adventures or powers have anything to do with his name, and the fact that he uses his sickle as a pole vault is hilarious. Cartoon characters were all of the rage during this time, in animated shorts at the movie theatre and in comic books. Never one to turn down a buck, Stan Lee created the Imp, an odd character who didn't last very long. All in all, a lot of fun, and a total bargain considering what you would pay even for beat up copies of the originals...if you could even find them!




SPIDER-MAN: A NEW GOBLIN (Marvel, 2008)
Collects Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 176-180 (cover dates January- May, 1978)
This is one of those left-field trades. Why on Earth would they collect a 30 plus year old arc that has no bearing on today’s continuity? I’m not complaining, just curious! I owned all of the floppies as cheap-o back issues some 20 odd years ago. Len Wein's writing is great with the exception of the over-used phrase "web slinger", as if everyone who meets him would call him that. It would be more fun if you made a drinking game out of it, I imagine. While most of the peeps on the Intrawebs hate on Ross Andru, I actually enjoy his take on the character. Sure, it's a bit rough around the edges, but his action sequences are good and he met his deadlines. Trades like this are great because they offer a slice of Bronze Age goodness at an affordable price.

ESSENTIAL SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP VOL. 1 (Marvel, 2004)
Collects Avengers Nos. 154-156, Champions No. 16, Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up Nos. 1, 2, Super-Villain Team-Up Nos. 1-14, 16, 17, and selections from Astonishing Tales Nos. 1-8 (cover dates August, 1970- June, 1980).
This book was a hit or miss affair, depending on the creative team(s) involved, and that pretty much sums up the biggest problem with Marvel in the '70s: a lack of consistency. There are some gems between these covers, though. Astonishing Tales starts off strong, with writing by Roy Thomas and artwork by EC alumni Wally Wood. Wood stays on board for issues 3 and 4 with Larry Lieber (Stan Lee's brother, for the uninitiated) handling the scripts. Gerry Conway and Gene Colan wrap up the AA stuff well, and this screams for a Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover! SVTU is handed off like a baton, from every Bronze Age journeyman one would expect: Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Tony Isasbella, Herb Trimpe, etc. The series runs out of steam, and gets cancelled with Issue 14...or did it? It was always a bi-monthly affair, and Issue 15 was a reprint of two AA issues. Six months after that, the series gets re-tooled with the Red Skull and the Hatemonger for an interesting, entertaining tale, and then...nothing. Fin.











ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN VOL. 10 (Marvel, 2009; Hardcover)
Collects Ultimate Spider-Man Nos. 112-122 (cover dates October, 2007- July, 2008)
I am done with this title. Brian Michael Bendis' writing sucks, and so does new artist Stuart Immonen. Why couldn't they get the guy(s) who did the beautiful cover art to do this series? Also, this over-sized hardcover seems downright anorexic when you compare it to the earlier volumes on the shelf.












THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN OMNIBUS VOL. 1 (Marvel,2007; Hardcover second printing)
Collects The Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 1-38, Amazing Spider-Man Annual Nos. 1, 2 and selections from Amazing Fantasy (Vol. 1) No. 15 and Strange Tales Annual No. 2 (cover dates August, 1962- July, 1966).
I have bought the issues contained in this hardcover countless times. First, I bought many of them off of the stands in the '80s when they were reprinted in monthly intervals in Marvel Tales, so that really gave me the thrill of serialization like they did when the issues first came out. There was no Internet as such, so I didn't know what was coming next until those Official Marvel Indexes (Indices?) came out in 1985. I acquired the actual floppies of some of these in the '80s, in various condition: Issues 8, 19, 20, 25-27, and 29-32, so that makes it the second time that I purchased those issues. Then I bought the Masterworks containing these issues, then the first printing Omnibus so that I could get the state of the art restoration and faithful re-coloring, only to have it marred by glued binding. A 1,088 page book will not lay flat with glued binding, and weighing in at over 7 pounds, there is no way that you want to hold this thing while reading it. So, I did something that I hate: I rewarded Marvel by buying the second printing because it has sewn binding (selling the other copy on eBay).
These issues are among the greatest comic books ever made. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko kept upping the ante', and each issue seemed to top the last. I will try to keep my analysis to a minimum, as everything that I wish to say has undoubtedly been said elsewhere on the Internet or more eloquently in one of the many books on Steve Ditko out there. Ditko has such a fantastic sense of pacing, and as the sole plotter as the series progressed, really deserves the lion's share of the credit in my opinion. Of course Stan Lee can write, and he and Kirby created the name and initial idea for Spider-Man, but Ditko scrapped that idea and re-worked into something fresh. The Crime Master in Issues 26 and 27 is undoubtedly Alan Moore's inspiration for Rorschach from the Watchmen. It is common knowledge that Rorschach was based on Charlton's The Question (by Steve Ditko), but look at the Crime Master. His mask, etc. It's Rorschach! Couple that with Moore's love of Ditko's tightly structured 9 panels per page layout, and there you have it. Stan Lee deserves credit as well, as his snappy, witty dialogue and narrative helped make these some of the most memorable stories in all of comics. It should also be mentioned that he was writing or plotting all of Marvel's titles during this time period, 8 a month, while Ditko held down this title and Dr. Strange, among occasional fill-ins. So tell me, what excuse do modern day comic 'artistes' that can't even turn in one comic book per month on time have now? These old school cats created it as they went along, never missing a deadline, and changed the world. I have always subscribed to the notion that creativity coupled with work ethic equals success. Self-absorbed artistes who sit around wondering what everyone will think of everything that they do will never accomplish what these cats did. Food for thought for the starving artists out there.
The villains! Lee and Ditko tossed off brilliant villains that are staples to this day. I will omit repeat appearances and villains from other titles, as this stuff is readily available on the Internet. 1. The Chameleon 2. The Vulture and the Terrible Tinkerer (OK, there were some duds here) 3. Doctor Octopus 4. Sandman 6. The Lizard 8. The Living Brain (see Tinkerer comment) 9. Electro 10. The Enforcers 13. Mysterio 14. Green Goblin 15. Kraven the Hunter 20. The Scorpion 25. Profressor Smythe and his eventually named Spider-Slayer robots 26. The Crime Master 28. The Molten Man (one of my favorites) 30. The Cat 36. The Looter (later called the Meteor Man) 37. The Robot Master All of this in less than 3 years' time. Take that, Bendis! This is the Bible of comic books, kids. Go out and get it and worship at the altar of the House of Ideas!








SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 3 (DC, 2009)
Collects The House of Mystery (Vol. 1) Nos. 212-226 (cover dates March, 1973- September, 1974)
At last! This series of phone books reached the issue that was the reason that I ever got into Horror comic books in the first place: House of Mystery #222. My oldest sister had that comic book, and let me read it as a small child, and it scared the living crap out of me. It was coverless by the time I got to it, and I spent years looking for it in back issue bins, from 1983 until 1989, when I snagged a copy in Near Mint condition for $1.00. The first story in it, Vengeance Is Mine is decent, but it was the second story, The Night of the Teddy Bear, with it's insanely creepy artwork by Alfredo Alcala that made my skin crawl as a 7 or 8 year old. The idea of a guy wearing a teddy bear mask killing people really struck a chord in me. Of course I realize how ridiculous the premise is an adult. The story takes place in London in 1872, riffing on Jack The Ripper while simultaneously pre-dating both that killer and the teddy bear stuffed animal itself! They didn't come about, or at least weren't called that, until the early 1900s! Technicalities aside, the story has a spectacularly chilling sequence on Page 9 (or 250 in this 518 page phone book) that is still effective to this day.
Of course there is more goodness in this book aside from that issue. The aforementioned Alfredo Alcala is one of those 'lost' greats, who seemingly vanished into the mists of time. The stories are good, solid, old school Horror by Doug Moench, Jack Oleck, Michael Fleisher (especially Issue 221's Pingo and the aforementioned Teddy Bear), Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, and Len Wein. This series has so much eye cnady, courtsey of artists extraordinare Berni Wrightson (who handles mostly covers and splash pages, but also occassionally contributes art to a story), John Calnan, Adolfo Buylla, Ruben Yandoc, Sonny Trinidad, Bernard Baily, Nestor Redondo, Eufronio Reyes Cruz, Ralph Reese, Bill Draut, Neal Adams, Frank Giacoia, Jess M. Jodloman, Curt Swan, and Murphy Anderson. Most of these cats never achieved any sort of fame, but are still top flight artists whose work deserves to be mentioned here. The sales on this line have been strong, and I hope that they continue cranking them out. Or better yet, put them out as DC Archives.


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