Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wayback Wednesday - X-Men #23


X-MEN #23




Welcome one and all to another Wayback Wednesday edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a look at some of the older comics in my collection, and give YOU yet another review you never asked for!

First off, my apologies for being a bit late with this one.  The hotel I manage in Northern Utah was smack in the middle of an Eclipse Madness travel route as people flocked to Idaho and Wyoming for some of the best viewing.  And (in my extremely humble opinion) that's about the ONLY reason large groups of people would ever want to flock to Idaho and Wyoming.  I think the government could give away land in Idaho for free and there still wouldn't be any flocking to be had.

BUT I DIGRESS. . .

X-MEN #23 (1966)

Let's start at the beginning and take a look at the cover.  It's pretty well-drawn, but seems extremely busy.  The lightning bolt being shot by "The Eel" over on the left side just looks bad.  It's not a terrible cover, but it's certainly not that great either.  It loudly proclaims that this particular issue is for action lovers, but (as you'll see below) that isn't really true at all.  THIS comic is for lovers of 1960's-style madcap comedy, the likes of which hasn't really been seen for quite a while.  Read on!

The story goes like this (and it's a doozy):

In the previous issue, the X-Men have been captured by Count Nefaria, who wanted to recruit them to his criminal "Maggia" organization (Marvel's hilariously obvious way of dodging code-violating references to the "Mafia").  But he quickly learns that he needs to improve his recruiting methods when the Merry Mutants tell him to sit and spin.  Despite this minor setback, Nefaria decides to go ahead with his plan. . .to take Washington D.C. hostage for (insert best Doctor Evil voice imitation here) One Hundred MILLION dollars. 

To accomplish his. . .er. . .Nefarious. . .plan, Nefaria covers D.C. with a clear dome created by a 1960's super-science ex-machina device, and then, since the X-Men inconveniently decided not to help him, he sends his B-Team of minor Maggia supervillains disguised as the X-Men by way of hologram to deliver the ransom demand, giving the government 3 hours to pony up the cash or all the oxygen gets sucked from the dome.

Of course, the obvious weak point in this plan is thinking the government can do ANYTHING in 3 hours.  I can't even get my address changed at the DMV in less than 3 hours.  But once again, I digress. . .

IN THE MEANTIME. . .

Back at Nefaria's base, the X-Men are trying to escape.  Jean Gray tries and fails to contact Professor X, not realizing that he's busy working on a secret project and has pretty much decided to ignore all incoming mental calls.  While the captured X-Men bungle around trying to figure out how to escape, Professor X is finally disturbed by a regular phone call.  It's the military requesting he get his bald behind to Washington to consult on how best to destroy those evil X-Men holding the city hostage. . .which comes as a bit of a surprise to him.  About that time, the X-Men finally free themselves and Professor X manages to get a "What the hell is going on, guys?" Mental call through to Jean Gray, and a plan of action is formed.

AND WHILE THAT'S GOING ON. . .

Nefaria is contacted by the government and they've agreed to his terms.  Even better, the X-Men show up and tell him they've changed their mind and will work with him.  He sends the X-Men to pick up the ransom, then tells his fake Maggia X-Men minions (B-Listers Unicorn, Plant Man, Porcupine, Eel, and Scarecrow) to keep an eye on the X-Men for a double cross.  The Maggia quickly decide to double cross Nefaria and steal the ransom for themselves.  While all that is going on, Professor X arrives on the scene and sends his astral form into Nefaria's base to spy on him, learning the secrets of the ex-machina machine forming the dome over Washington, but unable to do anything because he's pretty much a mental ghost.

AND THEN. . .

The X-Men collect the ransom and are chased by both the military AND a mob out for the blood of those filthy, unpatriotic muties.  They are rescued by the Maggia, but only so they can steal the ransom.  A brawl ensues, complete with quips galore and expository power explanations shouted during battle in such a way that there can be NO doubt that this is a 1960's comic.  In the end, the X-Men prevail, but Unicorn double crosses his Maggia partners, grabs the money and runs.  The X-Men give chase and get the money back, but the other Maggia villians regroup and there's a hilarious juggling back and forth of the bag with the ransom in it until Marvel Girl finally manages to escape the battle with it.

AFTER THAT. . .

Jean returns to Nefaria's hideout and gives him the ransom bag.  However, their discussion about how great the Maggia is going to be with all this new money is interrupted by a mysterious masked man just strolling in and ignoring them while turning off Nefaria's machine forming the dome over D.C. The other X-Men finally arrive and are distracted long enough for Nefaria to escape with the ransom bag.  The mysterious masked man is revealed to be Professor X walking around with the aid of his secret project. . .a transistor powered set of leg braces.  Everyone takes a moment to say "Hold on. What?" before realizing Nefaria and the ransom is gone.

IN THE MEANTIME. . .

On board Nefaria's escape boat, the criminal mastermind THINKS he's gotten away with the money, but Unicorn shows up for a final double cross, only for it to be revealed that the ransom bag is an illusion, created by Professor X using Nefaria's own illusion machine and they are taken into the custody of The Coast Guard.  The real money is returned and the X-Men are cleared of wrongdoing. All's well that ends well, right?  WRONG!

After an extremely brief victory celebration.  Jean Gray reads a letter she got in the mail and tearfully tells the X-Men she has to leave the team.  Wait, What? Nope. . .to be continued.

SPOILER FOR NEXT ISSUE: It's from her parents and they want to transfer her to another school.

Okay. . .so that was the story.  And there was a lot of it for one measly issue of a comic book.

Overall, I really liked it.  But not so much for the superhero action promised on the cover, but for the unintentional (or maybe not) comedy of it all.  It reminded me a lot of those "madcap" or "screwball" comedies of the past, where everyone is running around and the situation just gets crazier and crazier.  There are so many double crosses and inconvenient situations in this issue that I couldn't help but laugh as each new one popped up. By my count, there are 6 double crosses in this story, with "Criminal Mastermind" Nefaria being the victim of 3 of them! 

I'm not really sure that this book was meant as comedy, but there's just a zany feel to it that makes it really enjoyable to read.  In particular, when the X-Men and the Maggia are fighting over the briefcase that has the ransom in it and it keeps getting passed from person to person. . .nobody can keep it for longer than a few moments before someone else grabs it. It's like something straight from an old Monkees episode!  

The art on this book was pretty good.  Nothing really stood out in a big way, but there weren't any really bad parts either.  It was just good workmanlike art, pretty standard for a 60's superhero comic.  The coloring was pretty sloppy throughout the book, though.  Not so much that it made for a bad read, but definitely noticeable enough to distract from time to time.

CONCLUSION

All in all, I really enjoyed this issue. . .but probably not for the reason the creators originally intended.  I found the multiple double crosses, inconvenient situations, ex-machina problem solutions, and cases of mistaken identity to be some good, funny reading.  Like I said above, I'm not sure if the creators MEANT for this book to be funny in a madcap comedy way, but that's what I got out of it.  I'd be interested in finding out if anyone else has the same take on this issue.

See you next Wayback Wednesday.  Be there or be square! 


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wayback Wednesday - Star Spangled War Stories #120

STAR SPANGLED
WAR STORIES
#120


I have to admit that I'm not very familiar at all with Star Spangled War Stories.  What I DO know about it is from later issues featuring The Unknown Soldier, which is a great character. . .but really, as far as war comics go, I've always been more of a Sgt. Rock and Weird War Tales kind of guy.

I found this issue at a flea market back a couple of months ago in pretty good condition for the measly five bucks I paid for it, and it's been sitting lonely and unread in a longbox ever since. . .the only pre-1974 issue of this title in my collection.  

BUT. . .

Since "Longbox Junk" is all about reviewing comics that have probably never been reviewed before, and "Wayback Wednesday" is about taking a look at some of the older comics in my collection, I decided to crack the plastic on this lonely outcast and see what's going on under the cover.

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES #120 (DC)

First off, we have a cover by the great Joe Kubert.  Unfortunately, it's not that great of a cover.  His trademark sparse/primary color background make it pop nicely, and the tank is great, but other than that it just seems sort of. . .phoned in.  The creature seems very generic.  The purple and green coloring of it is just not good. The positioning is kind of strange.  A mediocre cover by Kubert is STILL better than a good cover by a lot of artists, but this is certainly not one of his better efforts.

MOVING ALONG!

The interior art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito is. . .okay.  It's not great, but it's not bad, either. The art tells the story in a competent way, but it doesn't have a single really good moment in the entire issue.  The coloring brings the art down another notch with pink and purple dinosaurs.  The art in the backup story (Dryland PT Boat) is actually better than what's up front because it takes place in a darker and more realistic setting than "Dinosaur Island", and it looks like the inker (Esposito) had more of a hand in things.  

Overall, the art in this issue isn't really bad. . .it just seems somewhat workmanlike and uninspired, especially considering the science fantasy elements featured in the main story.

So, that was the art.  Let's consider the writing. . .

There's two stories in this issue, both by writer Robert Kanigher. Unfortunately (Like the art), there doesn't seem to have been much effort or inspiration put into either of them, although of the two, I found the backup story to be better than the main.  Let's take a look at both.

THE TANK EATER

The lead is a "War That Time Forgot" story involving two members of DC's proto-Suicide Squad on a secret mission to deliver and test a new tank that can do just about everything but fly.  On the way to their destination, they are attacked by a flying dinosaur and end up stranded on Dinosaur Island after a mid-air battle where they are rescued from falling to their death by a baby dinosaur they themselves had rescued during an earlier mission (in a previous issue).

On the island, their tank is attacked by another creature and dragged underwater.  They manage to escape, but the tank ends up on a Japanese submarine.  They decide to find the submarine's lair and destroy the tank, and during their search, they come across a young caveboy fighting a giant dinosaur.  They save the caveboy and he joins up with them.

While tracking the submarine, they are attacked by ANOTHER dinosaur and are dropped into the water by their friendly flying dinosaur baby.  While the Suicide Sqad members fight off Japanese frogmen, Caveboy plants explosives on the sub.  They make their escape as the sub and tank explode, then the baby dinosaur carries them to safety.

Ooooookay. . .hmmmmmm.

If I had to describe this story in one word, it would have to be "Juvenile".  

Like the art, it doesn't seem as if much effort was put into this story at all.  It has interesting elements, but the execution of those elements are so simplistic and uninspired that one has to wonder if this was written as part of a bet over whether or not a comic book story can be written in 60 minutes or less.  Okay, maybe I'm being a bit harsh.  I completely understand that in the 1960's, comic books weren't exactly written with a 50 year old reader like myself in mind.  They were being written for kids.  Given that, I suppose that the writer did the job he was hired to do.  Unfortunately, that was all he did.  Now, I'm not going to say this story was terrible.  It's not.  But it's definitely not good, either.

DRYLAND PT BOAT

The backup story involves the son of a famous naval officer being put in command of a PT boat that is almost sunk during his very first mission.  He is told that he needs to rescue some army officers on the other side of a peninsula, but there is to many mines and enemy patrols to get there by sea, so his PT boat needs to be trucked overland to the other side.

On the way, the truck carrying his boat is attacked by Japanese planes and tanks, which he fights off by commanding his boat like he was on the water instead of on a trailer, eventually destroying a pursuing tank by dropping a depth charge on a bridge.

Once back on the water, he is faced with an overwhelming enemy in the form of a destroyer, but hoping to live up to his father's famous deeds (He rammed a battleship with a cruiser during WWI), he goes on the attack and risks his life diving into the water to repair his last torpedo, winning both the battle and gaining the respect he had not been given living in the shadow of his father.

I found this backup story to be the better of the two.  The art, the subject matter, and the writing were all a notch above "The Tank Eater".  That's not to say it's a great story. . .it still seems as if not a great deal of effort was put into it. . .but it holds up better to a modern reading than the Dinosaur Island shenanigans of the lead story.  I thought the idea of a PT boat commander having to wage a battle from the deck of his boat while on a trailer driving across dry land was pretty clever.  And like I said above, the art was a bit better with a more realistic story to illustrate.

CONCLUSION

Overall, even though there were some good elements to be found, this issue was pretty mediocre.  It wasn't like the artists and writer didn't have some interesting stuff to work with, it just seems like they were doing their jobs and nothing more than that.  Even the great Joe Kubert's cover was uninspired and average! I know that there are pretty good issues of this title later on with Unknown Soldier, but if all I had to go on was THIS issue, I'd probably just take a pass on the whole thing.  

Up next. . .

They can rebuild him.  They have the technology.
They can make him better than he was.  Or can they?
Dynamite's Six Million Dollar Man: The Fall Of Man mini-series.

Be there or be square!