Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Longbox Junk - Captain America: Reborn


After reviewing the hot Morrison Mess that was "The Return of Bruce Wayne" last post, here's a time-travelling dead (but not really dead) hero mini that's actually good!  Until the end. . .then not so much. Let's do this!

A very nice start to this mini, which was intended to bring back the "real" Captain America after Brubaker went to all the trouble of re-introducing Bucky "Winter Soldier" Barnes back into Marvel continuity, "Killing" Captain America in a way that he couldn't be brought back, and making Bucky the new Captain America.
 I haven't read a good reason WHY Marvel decided to bring back Cap with some sort of convoluted explanation as to why he didn't just take a sniper shot and three more to the gut up close and just plain die in front of everyone. I have a feeling it WASN'T Brubaker's intent to bring Cap back, just because of the acrobatic hoop-jumping it took to 'splain things in this series.  Possibly fan backlash against BuckyCap or falling sales were to blame for this strange mini. . .

That said. . .

If you've got orders to bring Captain America back from the dead, whatchu gonna do? You gonna get paid, that's what. And if anyone's going to do a decent job of it, it's going to be Brubaker. Thank God they didn't pass this off to someone else.

Like I said at the start, a very nice first issue, and that's thanks to Brubaker's writing and the fantastic, gritty, realistic art.

I like that Captain America is pretty much a secondary character in this. Most of the story revolves around other characters realizing that he's not really dead. . .and now what? I also liked the fact that they didn't just dump you into the story cold. . .this is definitely reliant on the reader knowing recent (as of 2009) Marvel continuity. There's a very nicely done 4 page refresher on the status quo (at the time) right up front, as well as little info bits written into the story itself. I like being able to come back and re-read something after 7 years and be reminded of where things are at. Sometimes it's the little things, right?

All in all, a great opener. Here's hoping the team can keep up the quality.
This series stays strong in the second issue, which splits more evenly between Captain America (Rogers) stuck in time and bouncing from moment to moment. He realizes he CAN change history, but being the hero he is, he also realizes he CAN'T, so he sucks it up and lives through painful memories. I really liked that moment where Captain America understands that he can, but he can't change time. It's some great writing from Brubaker and really shows the heroic nature of Captain America in such a short space. Very nicely done. The art remains dark, gritty, and realistic. It's not easy for an artist to make Falcon in his red jumpsuit look realistic and not silly. Again, nicely done.

2 issues in and still strong despite some super-science mumbo jumbo to try and 'splain how Captain America isn't dead, even though everyone saw him get shot.

"It's not a normal gun!" Yeah. . .like nobody noticed that over the YEAR that Cap was dead? Only superheroes notice these things?  There's no FBI in Marvel World? 

"Hey. . .agent Jones. You ever see a gun like this?"
*holds up plastic evidence baggie with weird ray gun in it* 

Please. See, this is why I think Brubaker never intended Cap to come back.
Another strong issue in this series. The cast of characters has pretty much doubled since the first issue, but Brubaker keeps a steady hand on the wheel. Still no signs of things going off the rails.

I really like the "time hopping" scenes in this series. They're pretty much flashbacks to key moments in the Captain America mythos. This time out most of them involve Cap's adventures with the Avengers during the Kree/Skrull war. I really liked the idea of him leaving a message with The Vision for the future. Also nicely done was the first few pages where Cap is trapped in ice, but fully aware of his situation, and he's beginning to fray around the edges from being forced back and forth through time again and again. 

And once again, the art is very nicely done. Not everyone can make classic "Green Speedo Namor" look like a badass.
Here's something a bit confusing. . .
On the cover of this issue, it says 4 of 5 (the other issues have been "of 5" also), but on the next issue, it says 5 of 6. Did they just suddenly decide to throw on an extra issue? Was the 5th issue originally double-size and they split it into 2? What gives?

Anyway. . .

With what SEEMS to have originally been the lead-in to the final issue, I finally see some signs of weakness as Captain America is dragged back into "real time" JUST as he finally decides he's had enough and tries to change history at the moment that he lost Bucky over the English Channel.

The good news is that Cap is back. The bad news is that Red Skull is in his body.

The cliffhanger would have worked better if it was for the final issue. I still wonder what went on there. . .

All in all, the writing feels a bit rushed on this issue, even though the art remains extremely strong. Not the best issue, but still pretty damn good.
The original Solicit for this issue reads: 

"Steve Rogers is back...or is he? This is the action-packed finale of the best-selling series as the Avengers. . ."

So this was originally supposed to be the finale of this series, and I can tell. . .as 90% of it is fighting. Unfortunately, the writing suffers because of it. The art is strong, but some pages seem very overcrowded and cluttered. Also, the three-way battle between BuckyCap and Red SkullCap in the real world and RealCap vs. Red SkullCap in the mind of Red Skull is a bit confusing. One thing I really did like is the fantastic panels of 1940's New York under the control of the Nazis. . .so detailed!

I'm not a huge fan of big superhero battles, so this issue didn't really do it for me. Like I said, it seems rushed and overcrowded.
Okay. . .now the REAL conclusion to this series. And unfortunately, it's not good.

More overcrowded superhero battles, this time featuring Red Skull in a giant robot body. It's like my worst comic book cliche nightmare right in front of me.

What started off so strong ended extremely weak. Did Marvel feel they just HAD to have 40 extra pages of fighting to make this thing good? I still don't understand the whole "extra issue" thing, but that extra issue sort of brought the whole series down to the lowest common comic book denominator of superbeings punching each other.

A damn shame. One thing I DID like about this issue is the revelation that Cap wasn't just flashing back to his past, but somehow also to the future, where he saw apocalyptic visions of New York completely destroyed in some sort of alien invasion and the Avengers defeated. . .possibly dead. 

But beyond that, the ending of this series was a mess. I wonder about the justification for this series at all. It's pretty clear that (despite the good writing) Brubaker had to do some super-science backflips to figure out why and how to get a hero he pretty much killed in a "he ain't coming back" way back into regular continuity after he went to a lot of trouble to build up BuckyCap as a viable property for Marvel.

A strong start, a steady build, a disappointing ending. 
All in all, not bad for what it is. . .which I believe is actually a mini-series that was never meant to exist that was rushed out to satisfy comic fans disappointed with BuckyCap. . .but even with that hanging behind it, it was a HELL of a lot better than DC's effort at the same game with a different name, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.
Why did this series win (for the most part) where DC's failed?  I'd say it was because they pretty much made Captain America a supporting character until the end.  They focused on the other characters trying to find him and let his time-hopping focus on showcasing great moments in his history and the choice he made to not make changes instead of trying to cram Captain America into stories where he didn't belong.  
It was actually pretty good until the end and all the giant robot punching.  I was pleasantly surprised, especially after forcing my way through the mess that was Return of Bruce Wayne.  I would definitely suggest this series.
Coming next. . .
Remember when Image wanted SO bad to be Marvel? That's right. . .90's Image.  
Let's take a look at Image's version of The Punisher.  Deathblow!  The whole damn series.  
Be there or be square!

Wayback Wednesday - Combat Kelly and The Deadly Dozen #1


Welcome to the second edition of "Wayback Wednesday", where I take a look at some of the older comics in my collection that might be a little more valuable than my regular Longbox Junk, but would still be considered filler in the boxes of any SERIOUS comic collector. 

This week, we're going to crack the plastic on the first issue of a short-lived Marvel series (9 issues) from the early 70's that seems to have been created based on the theory of "If this one thing is awesome, and so is this thing. . .then another thing combining the two will be TWICE as awesome!"

In Combat Kelly's case, the two awesome things they tried to combine were the long-running Marvel war comic "Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos" and the popular 1967 movie "The Dirty Dozen".  Unfortunately, it seems that the combination didn't work out so well, and Combat Kelly and The Dirty. . .er. . .DEADLY Dozen lasted only just over a year (it was a bi-monthly book).  

So while Sgt. Fury and company went down in comic history as some of Marvel's most famous characters, Combat Kelly (which was actually spun off from an issue of Sgt. Fury and included a couple of characters from the title, and was even drawn by longtime Sgt. Fury artist Dick Ayers) is, from what information I can find on the internet, practically forgotten.

Let's take a look at the first issue, shall we?


After their first successful mission (led by Corporal "Dum-Dum" Dugan, of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos in Issue #98 of that title) an outfit made up of a diverse mix of convicted military criminals is introduced to their new commander. . .Mike "Combat" Kelly, a boxer convicted of manslaughter after killing a man during a fight.  

Their first mission under their new commander is to go behind enemy lines to destroy an advanced Nazi fighter and capture the scientist behind its creation.  The mission goes badly, with the scientist being killed and the team barely escaping with their lives after destroying the jet. . .

This first issue was a little hit and miss for me.  It's pretty straightforward in nature. . .the first half of the book is taken up with introductions to the team and their leader, and the second half with their first mission.  It's pretty briskly-written and is a quick read.  The characters are a mixed bag of multi-racial/cultural sketches with one characteristic each to define them.  Examples: An Asian who does not use contractions when speaking.  A down home country guy who loves country music.  A Native American with a mohawk that shoots a bow and arrow. . .so on and so forth.  

The problem for me was that it was glaringly obvious that, even though this was a WWII book, it screamed "THIS IS FROM THE 1970's!" on every page.  From the jive-talking black guy with a 4 inch afro, to the long sideburns and shaggy haircuts of some of the other characters, to the female commando with her tied up shirt/ bared midriff look and constant cracks about the "chauvinist" behavior of the men.  The 70's feel of this book in both art and dialogue pulls it from the 1940's setting just as badly as Donald Sutherland's character and the God-Awful soundtrack of "Kelly's Heroes" does.   

The art on this book is good, but not great.  It tells the story, but there really aren't any moments of brilliance to be found.  It's all very workmanlike. The coloring is a bit sloppy as well.  If I had to pick a single word to describe the art on this issue, it would be "Average".  The cover by John Severin, on the other hand, is spectacular!  If only he could have done the interiors.

Overall, despite this definitely being an artifact of its decade and having average artwork, I liked it. There were some good ideas in it.  The concept of an expendable commando team of convicts. . .a sort of WWII proto-Suicide Squad. . .may be derivative in hindsight, but it COULD have been great with the right artist and writer.  If this title were handled as its sort of own thing instead of being a cash-in spinoff attempt on the success of Sgt. Fury, it MIGHT have been more than a distant memory today.  Unfortunately,  it looks like Combat Kelly never really caught on with readers, so the series never got the editorial attention it needed to improve past its second hand beginnings it might have gotten over a longer run.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Longbox Junk - Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne


Welcome to what I consider one of the top 5 worst modern Batman stories!
Shall we begin?
FIrst off, let's take a look at the good. The cover. Kubert. Awesome. Two words that just belong together.

Unfortunately, the rest is a hot mess. And not just hot, but hot like a thousand suns. It's bad.

See. . .the basic problem here is that DC decided at some point to let an insane Englishman with an obsession for minutiae and the Silver age to write one of their tentpole characters for a while.

I may be in the minority when it comes to my opinion of Grant Morrison's writing. I understand that there are those who regard him as almost some sort of comic messiah. I'm not one of those people. 

That said. . .

Just because a particular person writes a particular thing, that doesn't make that thing good OR bad by default. The question HERE is whether or not this first issue can cut it on its own without the "Morrison Aura" either good OR bad.

Taken objectively. . .no. It's awful. The main reason its awful is because it relies on such a string of improbable coincidence that what little narrative there is (to be fair. . .it IS pretty much cavemen) collapses under the weight of groaning through things like Bruce Wayne just happening to find a cave filled with bats. . .one of the young cavemen painting a domino mask on and becoming Bruce's sidekick. . .Vandal Savage just happening to be the leader of a tribe just over the hill. . .and so on and so forth. . .one coincidence after the other completely ruins this story.

That was the neutral view. Here's my prejudiced view. . .Morrison smugly ruins what SHOULD be a simple, pulpy tale of a hero trapped in time with his obsession for fan service and trying to connect everything in the DCU. 

This COULD have been great. . .in the hands of another writer. As it stands, I find this first issue to be convoluted, entirely dependent on the reader having knowledge of "Batman R.I.P.", "Final Crisis" and (then current, pre New 52) DC continuity, and pointlessly smug and full of coincidence and needless fan service that stands in the way of an otherwise simple story.
Frazer Irving's art is the star of this issue. His dark, moody, and muted style is perfect for a tale of Bruce Wayne finding himself colonial times. With the exception of Superman, though. Irving never gets a handle on Superman for some reason. 

As for the story. . .

Once again, Grant Morrison bogs down what should be a fairly simple tale with a string of improbable coincidence and fan service nods to make what would probably be a decent story in another writer's hands into a muddled, almost unreadable mess that pretty much depends on the reader's knowledge of Batman R.I.P, Final Crisis, and past DC continuity. It's just bad.
This issue was a LITTLE better than the previous two. Part of that is due to the fantastic artwork. Very dynamic and detailed.

Unfortunately, the same problems that sunk the other two issues are here as well. . .and in a way they are magnified as Morrison gives us a bit of a longer look at The Justice League trying to find Batman.

Improbable coincidences pile one atop the other. Smug nods to obscure continuity details. Confusing narrative that relies on the past work of the writer in other places instead of concentrating on the fairly simple story at hand. 

One begins to wonder. . .is Grant Morrison even capable of writing a simple story? Bruce Wayne and pirates on a treasure hunt through an ancient cave. That story doesn't cry out for complexity. Still, despite Morrison's best efforts, this issue manages to elevate itself above awful to merely bad.
I love western comics and am a big fan of Jonah Hex, so I had (fairly) high hopes for this issue.

Unfortunately, once again Morrison drops the ball, but not in the same way as in other issues. For once, he didn't bog down the story with needless convolutions and reliance on past continuity. No. . .Morrison flubbed this one by breaking his own characterization of Bruce Wayne. That and a continued over-reliance on coincidence.

See. . .with the exception of Wayne grunting his way through the opening Caveman issue, he's been fairly chatty with other characters. . .in a confusing sort of way. In this issue, Wayne doesn't say a word. 

I realize that Morrison was trying to evoke the silent gunslinger archetype. . .the "Man with no name", but it makes this issue stand out like a sore thumb. To be fair, Morrison did a decent job with Jonah Hex. That was a nice surprise. 

And although the art was pretty good, how come in previous issues, Gotham is a gloomy seaside town while in this one it looks like it's in Arizona? At that point in time, Gotham wouldn't have been just a big frontier town with a dusty main street. With Jonah Hex in it, the time was post civil war. . .late 1800's. Gotham would have been a big, stinking metropolis with thousands of people.

Both the writer and the artist carried the Western theme too far in this one.
The two best things about this issue are the completely amazing Kubert cover. . .and the "To be concluded" tag on the last page.

After a short break from continuity creeping with last issue's too-western western theme, Bruce Wayne skips a huge chunk of time between the 1800's and the 1940's so Morrison can write some noir. To be fair, he doesn't do a bad job with the inner monologue, but coming directly on the heels of Bruce Wayne's "Silent Gunslinger" and giving him the most dialogue of any issue so far is just strange. . .especially when Wayne is cracking wise and making tough guy jokes.

Word of warning. If you aren't familiar with "Batman R.I.P." you will have absolutely no idea what is going on in this issue. Besides the usual pile of coincidence, this issue leans HEAVILY on "R.I.P."

For that matter, the efforts of the Justice League to find Batman in "Real Time" lean very heavily on "Final Crisis", so you'd better wiki that up too if you don't have your back issues handy for reference.

QUESTION: Why the hell do I need reference material to read a story about Batman trapped in time?

"And that. . .is why you fail."
Thank God it's over.

This issue was the worst of the bunch. 
I proudly present Grant Morrison the achievement award for convoluted storytelling in comics. *slowly claps*

I'll tell you the truth here. I have very little idea of just what the hell happened in this final issue. All I know is that at the end, as promised, Bruce Wayne has returned.

This whole series has suffered from one simple thing: Grant Morrison.

What SHOULD have been a fun romp through time with a bunch of cool moments and guest stars turned into such a hot mess that I've rarely been so glad to see the end of a series as I was with this one. I submit that almost ANY other writer could have done this story better. Morrison's obsession with obscura and fan service destroyed an otherwise simple tale of Batman trying to get back to his own time.

I asked the question before. . .is Grant Morrison capable of writing a simple story? This mini is the answer. The answer is no. 

Like I said before, just because a particular person writes a particular thing, that doesn't make that thing good OR bad by default. But when this mini is looked at objectively, the conclusion is still the same. . .Morrison or not, it's bad.
And there you have it. . .the unwanted answer to the unasked question, "What would happen if an insane Englishman were to write one of the most popular comic book characters in history?"  
Up next. . .
Hey, remember when one of Earth's greatest heroes was killed in front of the entire world?  Then his old partner decided to maintain the legacy of his fallen mentor by taking up the uniform and name and carrying on his work?  But what nobody knew was that the hero wasn't dead after all, but was trapped in time for. . .reasons. . .and was fighting his way back?  Remember that?
Batman? Please, God. . .don't make me read it again!  Naw, I'm talking about Captain America this time.
Captain America: Reborn 6 issue mini.  
Be there or be square!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Longbox Junk - Winter Soldier Part 2: Issues 10 - 19

PART 2: ISSUES 10 - 19

Shall we continue?
Part 1 had a strong start, but was beginning to show signs of weakness toward the end.  Can things hold together and stay on the rails for 10 more issues?  Lets find out!
On the back half of the run now. Lark leaves art duties and Guice steps back in for the next arc, which looks like it will revolve around Winter soldier teaming up with other heroes to hunt down a brainwashed Black Widow after she attempts to assassinate Nick Fury.

Lark's art style was perfect for the pretty much costume-less previous arc, but Guice's style is much better suited for this one so far. Either way, Marvel hit the target with both artists on this title.

Unfortunately, Marvel just CANNOT resist the crossovers and teamups. So we get Captain America, Hawkeye, and Wolverine joining up. That said, so far it's not bad at all. As a matter of fact, it's damn good! I'll keep my fingers crossed that Brubaker can keep it on the rails even with costumed superheroes coming on board.
Winter Soldier and Hawkeye team up in this one. A lot of action, so once again the art does the heavy lifting. There's a very nice 2 page sequence showing Winter Soldier thinking through a problem that stands out. Unfortunately, Novokov is a bit of a weak villain. They try to make him strong, but his plans are Bond Villain convoluted and it would seem there are more simple ways to achieve his goals. One of the side characters, a weapon smith Novokov drags into his schemes even points this out to him. It looks to me as if they're dragging out his plot so Winter Soldier can have an excuse to team up with a few more Marvel costumed heroes.

All in all, very nice art. . .questionable (but still good) writing.
This arc basically feels like an excuse for Winter Soldier to have other Marvel heroes in his title and on the cover. 

This time around, Winter Soldier goes rogue and allows himself to be programmed back from Bucky to his old self, the assassin Winter Soldier. Captain America, Hawkeye, and Wolverine are hunting him down and we find out the target he's been programmed to take out is Daredevil. For. . .reasons? 

It's not explained why Novokov wants to pit Winter Soldier against Daredevil (in this issue, anyway), but I have the feeling it's so they can have Daredevil in the mix and not much else.

Still, nicely-drawn. Most of the issue takes place in the pouring rain and Guice hits the target very nicely. The writing isn't bad either. This is pretty much a Wolverine comic, as most of the narration is in his head and he is in most of the action. . .I'm not a huge Wolverine fan, but Brubaker keeps it gritty and grounded. I'm just not liking how this title suddenly turned into "Marvel Team Up Featuring Winter Soldier".
I haven't been a huge fan of this arc, and this issue doesn't help. I find it a bit hard to "comic book believe" that it would take Captain America, Hawkeye, Wolverine, AND Daredevil to take down WInter Soldier all by himself. I mean. . .that's like half of an Avengers team. 

In any case. . .I see by the "To be concluded" tag on the last page that this obligatory Marvel All-Star team up is about done with. So that's a good thing. The other good thing is that even though the title has slipped into typical Marvel teamup/crossover territory, the art still remains extremely strong. Marvel really did pick the best artist for this title. I wonder if it was Brubaker's choice to have all the Marvel costumes in his gritty superspy story, or if he was doing the best he could on Corporate orders. Still. . .the writing's not bad, but if I wanted Avengers, I'd read Avengers.
First off. . .now THAT'S a sweet cover! Standing slow clap for Daniel Acuna.

In this issue, the "Widow Hunt" act comes to a close with Bucky finally running down Novakov and Black Widow in Arlington National Cemetary. The mini-Avengers team saves the day. . .or so they think. Black Widow has had all her memory of Bucky completely erased.

Wait. . .just last issue, Novokov made his move for some Black Widow booty and she was like (in my terrible Russian accent imitation) "No. After being undercover with Barnes for so long. . .I don't want to be touched by anyone."

So one day, she's disgusted by having to sleep with Bucky when she was supposedly undercover (as Novokov brainwashed her to believe), then ONE DAY LATER she's like "Who the hell is this guy?"

Okay. . .I realize that the dramatic end, where Bucky decides he's brought enough pain to her and that Black Widow has had her head messed with enough, so it's just better if she can't remember who he is and he dips out of the picture quietly. Okay. . .it was a nice, dramatic moment. But it fails, Brubaker! It fails! Part of her brainwashing by Novakov was her wanting revenge against Bucky for being "forced" to pretend to love him for so long! I CALL FOUL!

Anyway. . .

It was all nicely drawn and written, except for that one glaring point that sort of destroyed the ending for me. This wasn't my favorite arc, but it was still well put together. Just not to my taste. Why does there have to be Avengers and X-Men in my gritty spy story?

5 issues left in the run. Here's hoping they feature neither talking gorillas or the "Sort of Secret Avengers".
Holy Changeup, Batman!

New writer, new artist. A whole new feel for the book. What the hell? 

That said. . .

I really liked this issue. Much more than I liked the previous handful. Winter Soldier is off the grid, but Nick Fury finds him and enlists him to take on some off the books missions. I'm liking this new direction, even though there's only 4 more issues left after this one.

The new art is yet another perfect pick by Marvel for this title. I especially liked the depiction of Nick Fury as a grizzled old secret warrior. Sort of reminded me of the Max series "Fury: My War Gone By" Forget Sam Jackson Fury, THIS is a guy you don't want to mess around with.

One thing that concerns me a bit is a short prologue that takes place in outer space. 

Please, God. . .don't let Winter Soldier go to outer space.
Annnnnnd. . .now we go off the rails.

This series has been on the edge of control since it started, but Brubaker always seemed to barely manage to keep her steady. Now that he's gone, there's been a quick swerve and we're through the guardrail.

The first issue by this team was quality. From the cover to the new direction, to the new art style. That quality has turned to crap with this issue. Like taking a bite of well-done filet mignon. It looked good when they brought it out, but now you're looking for the manager.

I'm not sure if this was part of a bigger crossover, but the world is in turmoil. . .S.H.I.E.L.D. is helpless, world leaders are being killed, nuclear bombs are going off, and the world is being held hostage by "The Electric Ghost" in a hijacked S.H.I.E.L.D. satellite. 

And only the Winter Solder can stop her.

Wait. What?

In a world where THOR exists, not to mention several teams of X-Men and Avengers, Bucky Barnes is the sole hope of the world?

My "comic book suspension of belief" has officially been blown. They had Captain America, Hawkeye and Wolverine on deck to help hunt down Black Widow when she was missing. Where are they now? Where's Iron Man? Where's Captain Marvel? Isn't she usually on top of outer space threats? How about the Fantastic Four? (Nick Fury even references them in this issue) The Fantastic Four is usually on hand for these kind of things, right? WHY IS WINTER SOLDIER THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE THE EARTH?

And. . .there he goes into outer space.

Thank God it's almost over.

This entire issue is take up with the origin of The Electric Ghost. It makes very little sense, although the writer attempts to make it sound grand and meaningful. The whole time I was reading it I was wondering when Iron Man was going to interrupt her ramblings by blowing her a new Repulsor-Beam A-hole.

Like I said. . .thank God it's almost over. This series turned real bad real fast. Even the covers suck on these last few issues.
Thank God it's over. 
A terrible ending with cosmic cubes, time travel, something, reasons, things. 

Look. . .I understand. They wanted to try to end on an epic note. The problem is that Bucky Barnes A.K.A. The Winter Soldier isn't an epic character. He himself (or at least the writers) admitted as much when he was supposedly killed and he went underground to take on less epic missions than he would be expected to as Captain America. He pretty much admitted the same thing in this series in issue 14 where he dipped out of Black Widow's life quietly and went to go drink himself stupid on the beach until Fury showed up. Winter Soldier just doesn't work as epic. And so this final arc failed.

A damn shame. . .
All in all, I enjoyed this series until the end.  The writing swerved a bit here and there and it fell victim to being a mainstream Marvel book. . . basically being expected to cross over and team up with other Marvel heroes, but the art was consistently fantastic and the stories were pretty gritty and grounded for the most part.
But that ending *facepalm*
I'm going to go ahead and heartily suggest this series to anyone who is a fan of Black Widow or Winter Soldier, or wants to know more about them.  But I'm also going to heartily suggest that the story ACTUALLY ends with issue #14.  I have no idea what was going on with those final 5 issues, but it seems like a completely different book.  Seriously. . .end it with #14.
Up Next. . .
Hey, remember when one of Earth's greatest heroes was killed in front of the entire world?  Then his old partner decided to maintain the legacy of his fallen mentor by taking up the uniform and name and carrying on his work?  But what nobody knew was that the hero wasn't dead after all, but was trapped in time for. . .reasons. . .and was fighting his way back?  Remember that?
Captain America? What?  Him too? Naw. . .I'm talking about Batman!
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 6 issue mini.  Be there or be square!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Longbox Junk - Winter Soldier Part 1: Issues 1-9

PART 1: ISSUES 1 - 9 

I'm not a real fan of "Mainstream" superhero comics, with their constant "events" and crossovers, especially Marvel superheroes, who seem to have an event or crossover every couple months or so where you have to buy 10 books if you want to keep track.  No thanks, I like more self-contained stories.  But I DO like Captain America, and I liked the Winter Soldier/ BuckyCap saga.

I didn't really remember THIS series, though.
I'm not sure why. . .especially when it seems I was pulling it for over a year.
So was this post-BuckyCap series any good?  Let's find out!
I didn't remember much about this run except that Black Widow was in it until I started reading this first issue and was like "Oh yeah. This is some good stuff. I remember now." after the first couple of pages.

I like that this is the same writer that brought Bucky back in Captain America, and he brings that same "grounded" feel to this series as well. I wish Epting could have done the art, but Butch Guice does a damn fine job bringing that gritty, more realistic feel that Epting brought to Captain America. So no complaints about the art

I liked that there was plenty of introduction in this first issue and that it wasn't really intrusive, but part of the story. I know these characters, but I'm not real big on Marvel continuity. I had forgotten that at this point, Bucky was thought dead from some crossover or other, so the light memory refresher without resorting to the internet was greatly appreciated. 

All in all, I thought that this was pretty close to the perfect first issue of a series. It introduces the characters, lets you know what the bigger continuity picture is, and starts off on its own path. . .what more can you ask for?

The only thing I DIDN'T like was the Russian speaking gorilla with a machine gun at the end of the issue. With the gritty espionage tale at hand, I had forgotten that this was a book in regular Marvel continuity. I hope it doesn't get TOO silly with these things and sticks closer to the spy games in future issues.
The story continues off on a strong start. Unfortunately, the first part of the book is a battle against machine gun toting gorillas. . .but hey, Marvel, right? 

The good news is that Guice makes even gorilla gunfights look great! His art is really the start of the show here, considering that the majority of the book is basically taken up by two fight sequences with a bit of superspy information-gathering and infiltration in between.

I really like the unusual panel layouts, shapes, sizes, overlap. His art is extremely dynamic even when it's just people in a room full of computers talking about who's on the screen.

The colorist (Brietweiser) also deserves mention for the muted colors that bring a dark and gritty feel to a comic book where the heroes are fighting armed apes.

Still strong, but hopefully the gorilla nonsense will come to an end soon, before I remember why I don't really read too many mainstream Marvel books. . .
Thank God there is a lack of gorillas in this issue. . .a lack that is taken up by Winter Soldier and Black Widow teaming up with Doctor DOOM!

I love Doctor Doom as a character. He's a villain who doesn't think he's a villain, and he chews up scenery in every scene he's in, so I'm happy they decided to throw him into the mix this time. . .not as a egomaniac with a plan to take over this or that, but ALMOST as another hero trying to stop the real villain from her nefarious plans.

Speaking of the real villain, I had no idea who Lucia Von Bardas was, but in this issue there's a very nice double-page info dump on her and I was like "Oh yeah. . .Secret War. Now I remember" I really like how Brubaker slides continuity information into the story for those of us who might not be rabid Marvel fans. . .so well done on that.

I'm also really liking the idea of Doctor Doom as hero. . .as much in the grey zone as that might be in this story. And those outstanding Berjermo covers! 

I'm starting to remember why I had this book on pull for over a year.
Now THAT'S a cover! 

This issue has no gorilla action, thank God. . .but plenty of Doctor Doom, which is a good thing. There's a lot of action in this issue with Winter Soldier, Black Widow, and Doom confronting their enemies and stopping part of Von Barda's plot, only to discover that they only know the half of it.

So with a lot of fighting, once again the art does the heavy lifting. In particular is a very nice panel of Winter Soldier and Doom flying off in a jet while Black Widow takes the low road on a motorcycle. Very nicely done! 

That said. . .because most of this issue is taken up by fight scenes, I didn't like it as much, but that's not to say it wasn't good. This is still some top-quality comics.
Unfortunately, there are gun-toting gorillas in this issue. . .even one on the cover. On the bright side, Bermejo can even make ridiculous things look sweet.

The first story arc comes to a conclusion, with Doom chewing up the scenery and getting all the best lines. . .verbally sparring with Nick Fury, insulting Reed Richard's work, and dispatching Von Bardas with sneering style. I really like Brubaker's version of Doctor Doom!

But it looks like his time in this book is done. At the end of it all, the loose ends are all neatly tied up. . .except for one. It looks like the next arc will have less gorillas and more superspy action. That's a good thing.

All in all, despite the gorillas, this first arc was a great introduction, even if you aren't familiar with Winter Soldier or Black Widow. It was fast-paced and fun, with Doctor Doom as an unexpected, but great, co-star.


Now we've got some Epting! A fantastic cover to start off the new story arc. . .

Inside, Brubaker teams up with his old Gotham Central art partner, Michael Lark to remind us what a great team they were. The art maintains the same gritty, realistic style, but Lark uses a more traditional panel layout than Guice's crazy all over the place (in a good way) panel style. . .but that's not a bad thing, as most of this story is flashback info dump on the new villain. . .a missing Soviet-era assassin trained by Bucky when he was still the brainwashed and definitely unheroic Winter Soldier who woke up without the regular procedures and went a bit crazy in the process.

I'm liking the different direction this arc seems to be taking toward more focus on the characters and less focus on stopping nuclear holocaust with Doctor Doom, Nick Fury and talking gorillas.


Winter Soldier and Black Widow go on the hunt for Leo Novokov. . .who leads them along a murder-tastic trail of bodies before springing a trap to separate them and show his hand. His target is Black Widow.

I think the writing is slipping a bit on this arc and a bit too much time is spent in this issue trying to justify why Novokov thinks Bucky is a traitor to the Soviet Union and why he feels he must take away everything Bucky cares for. Still not entirely sure. . .crazy. . .reasons? Sure, why not.

And even though Steve Epting is one of my favorite artists out there, why does he make Black Widow look like a conehead on the cover?

Not quite halfway through the run and I think I see signs of decline. . .not much, just a little.


First off. . .disappointing cover by Epting. Why?

And don't let the cover fool you. Bucky and Black Widow are nowhere near to each other in this issue.

The story is focused on Bucky taking to the streets in a day filled with good old fashioned thug beatdowns as he searches for leads on where the missing Black Widow is. It's a very nicely done set of panels, showing his desperation and frustration as he gets nowhere and just starts beating dudes even though they don't give him any information. Definitely some anger issues in play here.

In the meantime, Leo Novokov is busy brainwashing Black Widow to remove her personality and replace it with another for reasons. At the end is a series of very nicely done panels of Black Widow dancing ballet under the name of Natalia.

I'm not thrilled with this issue. Not that it's bad. . .the parts with Winter Soldier were excellent. . .but Leo Novokov is turning into a bit of a joke.

Please, God. . .let this end without gorillas.


After a couple of somewhat disappointing issues, Brubaker steadies his hand on the wheel and gives us a very nicely done issue where Winter Soldier finally tracks down the brainwashed Black Widow, who is posing as a ballerina and set to assassinate the First Lady in Leo Novokov's insane plan to start a new cold war. There are some nice scenes here where Bucky breaks through Black Widow's brainwashing, and the art throughout is fantastic. At the end of it all, they find out the assassination plot was a ruse and the real game is afoot. . .

A nicely done issue all around. Things are beginning to tighten back up.


All in all, despite a few stumbles involving gun-toting gorillas in the first arc and a moustache-twirling cliche villain in the second, so far this has been a very nicely done series with fantastic art, great (for the most part) covers, and excellent (for the most part) writing.

That said. . .there have been a few signs of decline toward the end of these 9 issues.  Hopefully those signs won't degrade into a full slide off the tracks like I've seen on quite a few series.  I stuck with this one for the whole run, so hopefully Brubaker can steer it home without things going bad. . .

Up Next. . .
More Winter Soldier! Issues 10 - 19.

Be there or be square!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Longbox Junk - Adventures In The Rifle Brigade: Operation Bollock


Short Version:  This is a story about Hitler's missing left testicle.  You have been warned.
I have no recollection of ever buying or reading these comics before. All I knew going in from the cover and a quick flip was that it was a comedy war comic done by the same team from "Just a Pilgrim".  Let's do this!
This has to be one of the most profane, outrageous, and hilarious comics I have ever read! I loved every page of it!

Basically the story is about a British special operations team on a mission to recover Hitler's left testicle before its evil powers fall into the wrong hands. And it just goes on from there, bouncing from one improbably hilarious situation to another. Every page has a chuckle on it. I said. . .every page. EVERY PAGE! The funniest part of this book is that the characters are playing it straight, not mugging to the "camera". The art is spot on as well.

Be warned. This is a Vertigo title. The humor is profane and not politically correct. Lots of homosexual jokes in this first issue. So if you need your safe place to avoid microaggressions. . .just don't even open the cover of this book. Fair warning, snowflakes.

All in all, a completely outrageous and hilarious tale not for kids or. . .er. . .socially sensitive people.
Where do I begin? Another hilarious issue where there's laughs on every page as the team goes to the Arabian nation of Semmen in search of Hitler's missing testicle.

This issue begins to parody "Raiders Of The Lost Ark". It even includes an American adventurer called Maryland Smith. Also in this issue is an elephant dying after it humps an armored car into wreckage, more homosexual jokes, the team eating elephant penis at a banquet, the revelation of Hitler's testicle (floating, suspended by its own evil power), and a Nazi villainess named Greta Gasch. And those are just the high (or is it low?) points.

Once again. Hilarious nonsense not for kids or. . .er. . .anyone with a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker.
And so we come to the end of it. I can't really describe the ending, other to say that it is easily one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read. This whole series has been one of the most over the top ridiculous things I've ever read. There's a lot of laughs in these three short issues.

Now I stand and slowly begin clapping for Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra.
Well done! WELL DONE, I SAY!
And so there it is. . .Adventures in the Rifle Brigade.  All in all a very enjoyable read.  Highly suggested for anyone who doesn't weep bitter tears over politics.  Seriously.  Not for kids or sensitive types.
Next up. . .
I like Captain America.  I liked Bucky as Captain America.  Did I like Bucky in his own series?  I can't really remember!  But I'm going to refresh my memory on the subject. . .by reviewing every issue of Marvel's 2012-2013 Winter Soldier run. 
Be there or be square!

Wayback Wednesday - Shanna The She-Devil #2


Over the past few months, I've rediscovered a love for older comics through a Facebook group I joined where anything past 1986 is only rarely discussed.  To thank that group, I've decided to start reviewing older comics once a week. 

I can't really call them "Longbox Junk" because they tend to be a bit more valuable than the stuff I normally review (The issue pictured above is valued at around $40 or so in the condition it's in), but then again, most of the ones I own aren't going to be buying me a new house either. . .and truthfully, in the boxes of REAL collectors, even my more valuable comics would be considered Longbox Junk, just a little less junky than usual.

So let's get into the first non-Longbox Junk review.  The second issue of Marvel's short-lived Shanna The She-Devil series (Just 5 issues from 1972 - 1973), which was part of a Marvel initiative for female writers and comics aimed at a female audience.  Unfortunately, the initiative seems to have been a bit half-hearted. . .there were only 3 titles (Shanna, Night Nurse, and The Cat), and of the 3, only Shanna lasted 5 issues (the others only went for 4).



Shanna is enlisted by S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop a criminal named El Montano from hijacking a French rocket. She travels to his hidden fortress on the edge of the Sahara Desert, but is captured and must fight her way to freedom in order to accomplish her mission.

I actually knew nothing about Shanna The She Devil before reading this comic, but learned everything I needed to know about her through exposition as I read. You have to hand it to the writers of the Bronze Age, they were blunt, but subtle at the same time. . .at least in this case.

The story was well written and moved along quickly. Unfortunately, the plot itself was pretty ridiculous. . .a French moon rocket loaded with heroin being hijacked by a desert slaver? But that said, I still found the writing to be brisk and pretty good.

The line art and inking were very well done. . .giving Shanna the same almond eyes and lithe form that Ross Andru brought to the Diana Prince de-powered version of Wonder Woman. 

Unfortunately, the coloring is a bit slapdash. It gets worse toward the end of the book, starting to get particularly sloppy starting with page 26. There's no color "credit" for this issue, and I can hardly blame them for not wanting one. To tell the truth, this would have been a VERY nice black and white comic.

The cover by Steranko was good, but not great. Definitely not his best work, but still an eye-catcher.


At the end of it all, coming into this issue with no knowledge of the character, an overall weak plot, and some sloppy coloring, I still found myself wanting to read more about her at the end of it. It's not the greatest comic I've ever read, but it had some brisk writing and great art.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk as usual with Vertigo's 3 issue "Adventures in the Rifle Brigade: Operation Bollock"

Be there or be square!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Longbox Junk - Marvel Noir: Iron Man


Short Version: This is how First Wave should have been.
I'm not sure if Marvel had the same idea of starting a new pulp/noir side universe as DC did with "First Wave" with "Marvel Noir" or not, but it doesn't look like any actual series came out of it. Instead it looks to be a set of minis, with a couple of them getting sequels. The most notable of which was (of course, like with their 2099 efforts) Spiderman Noir. 
While the other Marvel Noir minis I have (X-men, Spider man, Daredevil) are actually Noir, Iron Man is more along the lines of high adventure Pulp fiction. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it just seems to be the odd bird of the bunch.
ANYWAY. . . is it good? Let's take a look!
The story involves Tony Stark Starking it up in the late 1930's as a sort of genius Indiana Jones. Searching for lost treasures and running afoul of Nazis. Good stuff. Fast reading, Fun. Tony Stark is pretty much the same as ever, but the setting, writing, and great art almost seem to make him a new character.
I think that's what Marvel was aiming for. . .an "Elseworlds" kind of feel where familiar characters are taken out of their settings and made new instead of the First Wave concept of just mashing together familiar characters in a new shared universe. Once again I have to say I prefer the "Elseworlds" approach of Marvel.
All in all, a strong start to this series. Nicely done.
Stark and company head out on to the high seas (and under them) in search of the lost city of Atlantis and a legendary metal supposed to have been its power source. But once again shades of Indiana Jones as it's revealed that the Nazis were using Stark to do the dirty work for them. 
Not quite as strong as the first issue, and as pointed out, the parallels to Indiana Jones are pretty obvious. That said, it was still an extremely fun issue.
I especially liked the Marvel Noir version of Namor. . .a crusty sea captain with secrets of his own. The art gets dodgy during some of the underwater scenes in Atlantis, but other than that, this mini is still pretty strong.
Now THAT'S a sweet cover! I gave this issue an extra star for the cover alone.
As for the issue itself. . .it's mostly fighting as Tony Stark and James Rhodes finally suit up in the Noir/Pulp/Steampunk version of the famous Iron Man armor and proceed to kick Nazi butt in an effort to rescue the captured Pepper Potts and take back the mystic metal trident taken from them.
I really liked the revelation of the Nautilus-like submarine being hidden by a scroungy fishing ship and making Captain Namor the Noir version of Captain Nemo! I would have liked to see a Nemo Noir mini to expand on this.
But like I said, the Captain Namor moments were overshadowed by Nazi buttkicking. It ends on a cliffhanger (as all good pulp should) when Tony gets a Luke Skywalker "I am your father." moment as Doctor Zemo pulls off his mask and reveals himself as Tony's (assumed) dead father, Howard Stark. . .A FILTHY NAZI!
All in all, good pulpy fun.
Now THIS is how First Wave should have been instead of trying to stuff Batman and The Spirit into the jungle for no reason.
Sorry to keep comparing First Wave and Marvel Noir, but they really do bear comparing as basically the same idea done in two different ways. Marvel stayed focused on the essence of the character, then made changes. DC tried to make the characters fit into the situation instead of focusing on the characters themselves. Marvel Noir is the superior product of the two. . .as much as I hate to say it, because I'm a huge fan of Batman and The Spirit and not so much Iron Man, Spider Man, and the X-Men.
This mini was a prime example of how to do an "Elseworlds" story right. At the end of it, I wanted more. I wanted to know more about Captain Namor. At the end, Tony gets a call from Nick Fury about "some lunatic carrying on in Latveria" I wanted to see THAT story! At the end of the First Wave mini, I was like "Thank God it's over." At the end of this one, I wanted to pick up the next issue. Very well done.
I would definitely suggest this mini to anyone wanting an Elseworlds take on familiar Marvel characters.
Up next. . .
I have no memory of buying this little 3 issue mini.  I have no memory of reading it.  I have no idea what the hell it's about beyond the cover telling me it's a war comic, it's British, and probably funny . . .
Vertigo's Adventures in the Rifle Brigade: Operation Bollock.  
Be there or be square!