Saturday, August 1, 2009

Originally posted on my myspace blog on 4/7 & 4/27/2009

The Marvel Masterworks program has most certainly had its ups and downs. The original batch had glued binding and coloring that was not faithful to the original comics, but it did have nice paper. Then came the second generation, or "ComiCraft" versions, called such because of the dustjackets which were designed by ComiCraft. These had superb paper and sewn binding, but were plagued with unfaithful coloring. In 2003, we got the Re-Masterworks, which had sewn binding, slick magazine paper, and garish, gradient shaded computerized coloring. Between the slick magazine paper and that, they were painful to the mind and eyes. Not to mention the fact that they were unfaithful to the original issues again. Enter Cory Sedlmeier. First, he got the program moving forward with new releases, which Marvel was skeptical about. His first new Volume, Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 6, was not without it's problems. While the coloring was faithful to the original issues, there were some linework and restoration problems, and the binding was glued. It still read well, laying flat comfortably in one hand. The slick magazine paper made the colors again seem garish. After much griping by whiners such as myself, Marvel switched to a duller matte finish paper. It was fantastic! By this time, the restoration techniques were getting better, and thanks to this new paper, the coloring was "there". But now a new problem emerged, one that I lovingly refer to as "mouse trap binding". You see, these were still perfect bound (read: glued) hardcovers, and this new paper was so thick, that it made it impossible to read this book without using both hands to pry it open. Let is go, and SNAP, it shuts just like a mouse trap. Enter more message board whining and pestering letter writing by yours truly, and we got to vote to switch to sewn binding for $5 more per hardcover. This was a no-brainer! Done. Now, we had sewn binding! Hooray, all will be well again. That is, until the first book with sewn binding arrived. Now, we had books with stiff sewn binding, which, with a bit of work, did lay flat comfortably in one hand. Not perfect, but better. But it got worse again! The printer uses glue on the signatures prior to sewing the binding...that's just how it is done, kids. This printer used so much, that it seeped in between the pages, making it so bad that there were typically 4-8 different points in each book that had to be pried apart. I was livid! Adding more insult to this injury, the printer then insisted on GLUING the dustjackets on to the cover! GAHHHH!! More message board whining and annoying letters were sent out to Marvel. Finally...finally, they moved Masterworks production over to China. While I am sad that they are no longer made in the US, the uptick in quality far outweighs my patriotism. This book is the first of the Chinese made Masterworks. Superb, quasi-dull/slightly shiny paper, wonderful sewn binding, ensuring a lifetime of reading pleasure, faithful coloring, linework restoration and, when needed, reconstruction...Masterworks have finally gotten to where they need to be. I can sleep well at night, no longer hearing the glue on the binding disintegrating in the middle of the heirlooms will be safe for generations of my offspring.

Collects Cable Nos. 77, Uncanny X-Men No. 378, Uncanny X-Men Annual 1999, Wolverine (Vol. 2) No. 148, X-51 No. 8, X-Men No. 98, X-Men Unlimited No. 26 and X-Men: The Search For Cyclops Nos. 1-4 (cover dates March, 2000- March, 2001).
These stories show a marked improvement in writing and artwork when compared to just a few years earlier in the Complete Onslaught trades, but still mostly suck. The artwork is sloppy and still Liefeld-esque, or showing signs of the forthcoming Manga influence and/or cartoony look. Why in the Hell would they draw Nightcrawler with a goatee? There's still too much corny dialogue and "over writing", as I like to call it, and way too many *boxes. The brightest spot in all of this is Alan Davis' story and artwork in X-Men #98. All of the cheeseball '90s characters with nonsensical names like Cable...why would they call him that? At least in the days of yore a name had something to do with the character's powers. Wolverine had claws, Cyclops had a visor that looked like one eye, Colossus was...well, colossal! Cable? He's the most powerful super badass psi-mitar wielding cybernetic techno-virus organism fighting Omega squared level psychic in the world, man! I think I may have missed one of his multitude of powers. I know he uses a gun as well. What does all of that have to do with the name Cable? Beats me! Equally stupid is Siphon, whose only displayed power are eyebeams. If she can indeed siphon people's powers they don't show it here. With the exception of the Uncanny X-Men Annual and The Search For Cyclops mini-series, all of these issues carried a March, 2000 cover date, and goes to show you how many damn X-Men titles Marvel used to publish! It also shows how stupid it is for there to be variant covers for a mini-series like this! I bet you I could find those "valuable" variants in a quarter box if I look hard enough.

SECRET WARS OMNIBUS (Marvel, 2008; Hardcover)
Collects Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars Nos. 1-12 (cover dates May, 1984- April, 1985), She-Hulk No. 10 (cover date February, 2005), Thor No. 383 (cover date September, 1987) and What If? (Vol. 2) Nos. 4, 114 (cover dates October, 1989 and November, 1998).
OK, I am a Grade A sucker. I bought the floppies of the core series as they came out in 1984. Then I bought the trade 4 or 5 years back. Then they announced this, a 480-something odd page hardcover with a MSRP of $99.99 and I scoffed at it. Pfaugghh! I already own this. Then I saw the Alex Ross painted variant cover. I still scoffed. It was solicited and released, and I resisted. Then X-Mas came and went, and with some extra coin in pocket, I gave in to temptation. It really is a nice book, even though the page count is downright paltry when compared to the 800 page average of other Omniboo at the same price point. All of those considerations aside, this was a wonderful romp down memory lane. This was the first 'big' crossover event, where you could find all of the heroes fighting all of the villains (or so my 10-11 year old brain thought at the time). Contest of Champions, a 3 issue mini-series from two years prior, was something of a blip on the radar, but this...THIS was important! This series made me a fan of Dr. Doom and the Wrecking Crew, and introduced me to the X-Men. Sure, Jim Shooter's writing is a little clunky, but give the guy props: he may have been difficult to work with/for, but the results speak for themselves. This series made a generation of kids comic book fans. The quality of Marvel's titles during his tenure is incontestable. They had longstanding nods to continuity while being new reader friendly, and most variants! There was one cover per issue. This was an era where readers were enticed to buy more through quality material, not gimmicks. A year later, Secret Wars II would be the first mega-crossover, and I was suckered into buying every single crossover issue, regardless of whether it was a regular read of mine or not. The powers that be noticed, and the world of comics has never been the same. So, while I romanticize this era because it was "my" Golden Age of Comics, I can understand why many older readers point to this series as the beginning of the end. Like Slurpee's, gummy bears, 7-11's long defunct Big Wheel ice cream sandwiches, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, this series will always be loved by me, not just for how much I enjoyed it at the time, but for the era that it represents. The extra, non-core title issues are little more than padding. Only the Thor issue by DeFalco and Frenz is really worth reading in the context of this book.

POWER PACK: DAY ONE (Marvel, 2008)
Collects Power Pack: Day One Nos. 1-4 (cover dates May- August, 2008)
This re-tells their origin, which took 4 issues instead of the 40 pages it took 25 years ago. This added in several things that may or may not have been revealed in the original series, as I stuck around to #33 or 34, and haven't read anything beyond the first few issues in 20+ years.

Collects Spider-Man Family Nos. 7-9 (cover dates April- August, 2008)
These were decent but inconsequential reads that at times defy continuity. If it weren't available in the cheap-o digest format I wouldn't even bother with this title.

Collects American Dream Nos. 1-5 (cover dates July- September, 2008)
Solid stuff by Tom DeFalco and Todd Nauck. What more can one say, especially when I've already stated what a DeFalco fan I am in past blogs? Okay, I'll say it again. Tom DeFalco is one of the last true Silver Age inspired comic book writers. True, he didn't start until the Modern Age of Comics (1980s), but he learned the lessons of Stan Lee well and, unlike many modern day writers, sees it as an honor and not a detriment to follow in those footsteps. There is nothing wrong with writing all-ages, continuity honoring super-hero comic books, people! The MC2 line doesn't get nearly enough props for my taste. Todd Nauck's artwork is solid, with great pacing and storytelling.

Collects Y: The Last Man Nos. 37-42 (cover dates November, 2005- April, 2006)
Collects Y: The Last Man Nos. 43-48 (cover dates May- October, 2006)
Collects Y: The Last Man Nos. 49-54 (cover dates November, 2006- April, 2007)
Collects Y: The Last Man Nos. 55-60 (cover dates May, 2007- March, 2008)
More goodness by Brian K. Vaughn. I loved this series, and the only reason that you don't is because you haven't read it yet. The end of the series (Issue 60) leaves me with more questions and no definite answers...arggghhhh!! I guess it's one of those endings that you are meant to discuss, but man... *S-P-O-I-L-E-R-S* I want to know Agent 355's real name! I want to know what definitely killed all of the males! I also wish that there were more issues to read. Oh well. I am sure that I will revisit this material in the future, and wouldn't be at all surprised if this is remembered as one of the best titles of the Aughts.

BANE OF THE WEREWOLF #1 (Silver Phoenix, Cover date March, 2009)
I normally wait for the trade, but when it comes to small press stuff like this, it's better to be safe than sorry. Cover dates are usually dated 2 months ahead these days, but this cover date was actually behind the release date of April 8! This is decent for what it is: Late Silver/Early bronze Age flavored Horror/monster comics. The artwork is servicable, and the story seems to flow for the most part. LOTS of reading here...this is not a Bendis picture book by any stretch of the imagination! The paper (or the ink) smell funny. This is a black and white series but doesn't suffer for lack of color. I am on the fence about picking up Issue 2, so I guess we'll have to wait and see if it's a slow week.

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