Thursday, July 19, 2018

Throwback Thursday - Godzilla #1


Welcome one and all to another "Throwback Thursday" Retro Review special edition of Longbox Junk, where I put aside my usual dollar box fare to take a closer look at comics I own that might be considered a bit more "Collectible" or "Valuable".

This time out, we head back to 1977 and check out a bit of an odd bird in Marvel's Bronze Age stable of characters. . .or perhaps I should say an odd Lizard?  It's that gigantic city-stompin' metaphor for the danger of nuclear weapons in all his green glory. . .GODZILLA!

GODZILLA #1
THE COMING



Marvel (1977)
SCRIPTS: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Herb Trimpe
INKS: Jim Mooney
COVER: Herb Trimpe

The mid-to-late 1970's was a period of great expansion and creativity for Marvel Comics.  In addition to their growing stable of superhero titles, Marvel was bringing in a lot of licensed properties from toys and movies in an attempt to expand their "universe" into other areas and genres. . .comics based on The Micronauts, ROM: Space Knight, Shogun Warriors, Logan's Run, Planet of The Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Battlestar Galactica, and the Big Daddy of the 70's. . .Star Wars!

And then there was Godzilla. 

Godzilla was a bit of an unusual licensed property in that Marvel tied him firmly into their established shared universe from the very first issue.  Other licensed property comics crossed over into the Marvel Universe from time to time, but generally remained in their own lane and doing their own thing.  

I basically bought this comic (like many of the other older comics in my collection) for the cover, to use as part of my rotating collection of comic art on the wall of my office at work.  Except for a quick flip through and confirming that yes, Godzilla is wrecking $hit, I've never read this comic. . .until now. 

Ready?  Let's do this!

So I bought Godzilla for the cover. . .let's start with the cover.  It's friggin' glorious!  The bright, primary colors of the sky, title, and Godzilla are about as close to perfect coloring as a cover can get.  The red sky is an especially inspired choice.  It makes everything pop against it nicely. . .especially the yellow title. The perspective of looking up at the hulking monster from the viewpoint of the terrified citizens fleeing the destruction gives the cover a great sense of scale and movement.  If I have one complaint about this awesome cover, it's that the guy with the hat and mustache in the right corner looks kind of goofy.  Other than that, this cover is a winner in almost every way!

The story goes like this:

We immediately get slammed in the face with an awesome splash page of Godzilla smashing his way free from an iceberg off the coast of Alaska that he's presumably been trapped inside of for a while.  He destroys a ship and proceeds inland to start doin' what Godzilla does by smashing a lighthouse.

It doesn't take Godzilla long to get a few more miles down the road, where he proceeds to attack a station on the Alaska pipeline. . .showing his monstrous dislike for America's greedy thirst for oil by ripping out a section of the pipeline and using it as a weapon on the terrified workers.

Luckily for them, S.H.I.E.L.D. has received distress calls from the destroyed ship and lighthouse and a helicarrier commanded by Dum-Dum Dugan is on its way to the scene, with a jet piloted by Nick "If you had MY job, your teeth would always be clenched too"  Fury himself following behind carrying some passengers with government clearance who claim to have some information on the situation.

Dugan sends out a battalion of troops on armed flying platforms, but Godzilla swats them like flies, so Dugan jumps into the cockpit himself and joins a squad of fighter jets on the attack.  Unfortunately, they're no match for Godzilla either and Dugan finds himself parachuting to safety and realizing that this might be more of a fight than he thought it would be.

The story pauses for breath for a moment and we get a short page and a half recap of the origin of Godzilla, slightly modified from the movie version. Godzilla is an ancient creature awakened by underwater nuclear tests instead of a creature created by those tests.  The result is the same, though. . .a gigantic creature that wreaks occasional destruction on Japan for about 20 years before mysteriously disappearing. . .until now!

After the brief interlude for Godzilla's origin story, we cut back to the battle at hand, where Dugan has choppers airlift down a giant laser cannon from the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier.  As they get it set up, we return for a moment to the jet piloted by Nick Fury and learn that the important passengers he's transporting are Yuriko Takiguchi. . .the lone survivor of Godzilla's initial attack during the nuclear tests that woke the beast and a man who has dedicated his life to studying the creature.  Along with Dr. Takiguchi are his assistant, Tamara Hashioka and his grandson, Robert Takiguchi.

It's not really explained WHY Dr. Takiguchi has decided to bring a 10 year old kid along to try and stop the destructive rampage of (in his own words) ". . .the most dangerous and unpredictable being alive." It would SEEM that one would want to keep your young grandson pretty far away from something like that. . .BUT I DIGRESS!

Back with Dum-Dum Dugan and the S.H.I.E.L.D. forces on the ground, the laser cannon is finally ready and Dugan gives Godzilla a direct shot to the head with "the fire of nine thousand amplified and combined laser beams", which SOUNDS pretty awesome, but it barely makes Godzilla flinch.  Worse, Godzilla decides that if it's gonna be like THAT, he can do it like THAT too, and breaks out the nuclear fire breath on the laser cannon, easily destroying it before turning the rest of the buildings, the forest, and pretty much everything within the surrounding valley into a flaming inferno for good measure.

As Godzilla smugly strides off down the valley looking for more stuff to destroy, Dugan realizes that he's not only been beaten, but beaten so badly that he doesn't even have a ride home.  Fortunately for him, Nick Fury arrives with his passengers to pick him up and we learn that Dr. Takiguchi has plans for some sort of secret weapon to use against Godzilla.   Dugan and Fury are skeptical, after seeing the way the creature just handed S.H.I.E.L.D.'s best their collective a$$es.

The issue ends with Godzilla stomping his way into the distance with a "Next: Seattle under siege!" to let us know that Godzilla isn't anywhere near finished destroying just yet.

The End.

All right, let's break it on down. . .

It's a pretty simple story, and does well as an introduction.  Godzilla is awakened once again, this time in North America.  He goes on a rampage (as Godzilla does) and S.H.I.E.L.D. responds.  Godzilla beats S.H.I.E.L.D.'s best and continues his rampage toward a major American city.  There's a Japanese specialist who claims to have a secret weapon.  Plus we get a short recap of Godzilla's (slightly modified) origin.

It's mostly an extended battle scene, but it's well-written and is a fast, easy read.  This first issue firmly sets Godzilla into the established Marvel Universe by bringing S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, and Dum-Dum Dugan into the picture right off the bat.

I have to say that I liked it a lot for what it is.  You don't come into something like Godzilla expecting Nobel Prize-winning literature, and with that in mind, I got a little more than I expected.  Doug Moench gives his caption boxes just the right amount of Mighty Marvel bombast to carry a story featuring a giant monster battling S.H.I.E.L.D. beyond the objectively ridiculous idea of it all, and really made me wish I had the next issue to read.

The art is also a lot better than I expected.  A lot of times with tie in or licensed properties the art tends to be weak. . .after all, why put in the effort when something has a built-in audience?  Trimpe does a great job on this comic. . .with some pages and panels really standing out, like the opening splash page. . .


As well as a few other notable panels such as Godzilla using a pipeline as a weapon:


And during his origin.


I also have to give credit to the color artist on Godzilla.  A lot of these Bronze Age comics (especially licensed material) are sloppily colored.  The coloring is good in this issue, and it makes a big difference.

CONCLUSION

Overall, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Godzilla #1.  I bought it for the cover, but discovered some decent writing and art inside for a Bronze Age licensed property about a giant rampaging lizard.  It's not the best comic I've ever read, but if you come into ANYTHING having to do with Godzilla expecting great things, you're probably going to be disappointed . .so for what it is, it's pretty damn good.  It's good enough that if I see more Marvel Godzilla comics lurking in the back issue boxes, I'll probably pick them up.  

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual with Richard Corben's take on Edgar Allen Poe.

Marvel MAX's Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe 3 issue mini.

Be there or be square!





Sunday, July 15, 2018

Longbox Junk - Aliens: Stronghold

I've said it before in other Longbox Junk entries. . .I love all things Alien.  As a matter of fact, I'm gonna commit nerdic heresy right here and right now by taking a step out of line and confessing that Alien 3 is one of my favorite movies.  And THEN I'm gonna just go ahead and throw myself completely over the cliff by actually admitting that I (mostly) like Alien: Resurrection.  But that's the movies.  What about the comics?

In between and around the various movies in the Alien franchise, Dark Horse was busy creating an expanded comic universe.  Similar to their Star Wars expanded universe, the quality of the projects ranged from really good to really bad.  There wasn't much middle ground.

So what side of the fence does the Longbox Junk at hand fall? READ ON!


ALIENS: STRONGHOLD

Dark Horse (1994)
SCRIPTS: John Arcudi
PENCILS: Doug Mahnke
INKS: Jimmy Palmiotti
COVERS: Doug Mahnke


ISSUE ONE

A supply ship lands on an isolated outpost where secret experiments are being done to discover a biological weapon against the Xenomorphs. The crew quickly realizes that the head scientist has gone insane from living alone surrounded only by aliens and synths. . . 

This first issue definitely has a strange tone to it, not the least because it strongly reminds me of other "Lone Madman in space surrounded by completely obedient artificial beings" stories. . .most notably Star Trek's "What are little girls made of?" episode, with strong dashes of Disney's "Black Hole" and "Forbidden Planet" thrown in the recipe.

The isolated mad scientist at hand, a Doctor Nordling, is SO overcharacterized that his horrible fate at the hands of either the aliens or the synths he cruelly abuses is pretty much telegraphed right from the start. . .with scenes such as his assuring the crew of the cargo ship that the synths are COMPLETELY obedient as the art swings in for a close up of his hand on the @$$ of his female synth lab assistant. 

The first issue is mostly setup, introducing the mad scientist, a ridiculous prototype synth in the form of an alien who smokes cigars, and a giant specialized alien killer synth named Dean. . .along with the married 2 person crew of the cargo ship and the unfortunately good looking synth grope target, Eve. 

The art is very nicely done, especially the cover, which is supremely detailed and, despite using ALL the colors of the rainbow, is a fantastic scene and a real eye catcher. Inside, the art is moody and detailed, far outshining the story in quality.

Overall, I found this issue to be interesting in a strange way. It's pretty far outside what I would expect in an Aliens story and extremely derivative of other sci-fi works. I wouldn't exactly call it GOOD, but it's not really BAD either. It's just sort of a weird little story so far.



ISSUE TWO

As the crew of the cargo ship investigate the isolated Xenomorph laboratory under the guise of routine safety and maintenance checks, Doctor Nordling becomes aware of their interest in his business and decides to make them part of his experiments. . .

In this issue, it's revealed that the husband and wife maintenance team are actually investigators for "Grant-Corp", the corporation funding Dr. Nordling's research. He figures their real business out pretty quickly and poisons them at dinner before throwing them into the alien hive as hosts.

Once again, the nasty personality of Nordling is SO overblown that he's pretty much a caricature instead of a character. Between that and the ridiculous alien-form synth talking casually like no other android in alien movies or comics ever, the story reads like a strange parody of sci-fi horror and edges closely into seeming like an awkward sitcom based on the Alien franchise. I'm not sure if this is what the writer intended, but it's just an odd feel for an Aliens story.

The art takes a pretty severe downward turn in this issue as well. The cover is pretty bad, and the interiors are worse. The addition of Jimmy Palmiotti on inks takes away the previous gritty detail. . .especially on character faces. . .and makes this look utterly average and uninteresting. It's a perfect example of how important good inking is to comic art. I wasn't familiar with Palmiotti as an inker before this. In my humble opinion, he sort of sucks. . .or at least HERE, he does.



ISSUE THREE

After being saved from the alien hive, the Grant-Corp investigators desperately attempt to escape the isolated laboratory, only to come into conflict with Doctor Nordling and his obedient synths. 

In the process of trying to escape, they also discover that Nordling is selling alien eggs and research to a rival corporation. The issue ends with an army of armed synths seemingly prepared to rebel against the mad scientist.

This issue moves along at a fairly brisk pace, compared to the previous two, and the ending panel telegraphs an all-out action finale. . .which seems strange in a series that so far has been more focused on character than action. It just feels a bit disjointed for the story to suddenly become "Let's shoot some $#!T up now!" after being "I'm creepy and crazy" for two issues.

The art continues its downward slide as well. The cover is nicely done. . .except for the goddamn cigar in the alien-form synth's mouth. But most of the interior art is pretty bad. There ARE some good panels here and there, but 75% of the book looks rushed and some panels look like they are only partly finished.


And finally. . .


ISSUE FOUR

In an all-out action packed finale, the rebel synths begin to dismantle Dr. Nordling's operation. In retaliation, he releases the alien hive into the outpost. As the synths make their final stand, both the Grant-Corp investigators and Doctor Nordling desperately attempt to escape the carnage. . .

The investigators get away just fine, but Nordling receives the awful fate that was pretty much telegraphed from the first issue, at the hands of his alien-form synth and. . .poisonous smoke from a cigar blown in his face.

This issue was pretty much a running battle through the outpost after the alien horde is released from the hive, but for that, it's probably the best issue of the four because it finally dispenses with the awkward attempts at humor (for the most part) and gave me more of what I expect in an Aliens book.

The art here was much stronger than in the previous issue as well. It still had quite a few rough patches, but it didn't look nearly as sketchy and unfinished. . .in some places it was really good.



CONCLUSION

If I had to describe these four issues in two words, they would be "Hot Mess".

The story was all over the place, starting off as an extremely derivative variation on the "Brilliant scientist goes mad from isolation and surrounds himself with completely obedient creations" theme, but liberally sprinkled with attempts at humor that fell flat. . .and then halfway through, the story took a sudden swerve into "KILL EVERYTHING THAT MOVES!" Action movie territory. 

The art didn't help.  It was just as uneven as the story.  It started out in the first issue being good, then in the second it got worse, then in the third issue it became pretty bad, and finally ended up being pretty good in the last issue.  Art swerving in quality like that is to be expected in longer series where creative teams get swapped in and out, but it's hard to understand in FOUR ISSUES.

Overall, this was NOT one of Dark Horse's better Aliens products.  I can't really suggest it to anyone except diehard Alien fans such as myself who want to read and watch anything and everything with the Alien name attached to it.  As far as anyone else goes. . .you can do better than this.  Skip it.

Up Next. . .

Richard Corben.  Edgar Allan Poe.  How can this NOT be good?

Marvel MAX's Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe 3 issue mini.

Be there or be square!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Longbox Junk - Batman: Black and White

This series is strangely confusing to me. . .

I remember it at one point being very popular and extremely collectible.  A little research shows me that one of the stories was nominated for an Eisner award, the series has been collected into several fairly expensive hardcover editions, and the collected edition is ranked at #13 on IGN's list of the 25 greatest Batman Graphic Novels. 

Thanks to this series, whenever a comic is given the "DEEEE-Lux" treament, it's usually done in black and white.  It seems to be pretty agreed upon as being an innovative work of art and a must have for any serious Batman fan.  Plus I still see "Black and White" versions of comic statues every time I visit my local comic shop.

That's a mighty damn fine pedigree for a mini right there.  So how come the individual issues are worth less than five bucks?  How come I FINALLY found the issue I had been missing all these years (#4) a couple of months ago in a comic shop dollar box?  WHY is this influental and pretty much universally-praised comic series Longbox Junk?

Let's take a look and see!

BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE
DC (1996)

ISSUE ONE

So what we have here is basically 5 8-page stories by different artists and writers considered to be at the top of the field at the time, with covers and inside covers done by different artists as well. There's quite a bit of variety here, so let's break it on down!

COVER: Jim Lee
Batman is sort of stiff, but well done. I really like the extremely detailed city behind him, though.

INSIDE FRONT COVER: Michael Allred
Not good, not bad. Just sort of average.

INSIDE BACK COVER: Moebius
Nicely done, but a little strange in that Batman's cape literally looks like bat wings.

PERPETUAL MOURNING:
Ted McKeever Art and Story


The opening story is typical McKeever strangeness.
The art isn't bad, except for unmasked faces. . .once again, typical for McKeever. I've never seen him draw a decent face. The story (more of a vignette. . .as are all of these entries) is basically Batman's internal dialogue while doing an autopsy on a murder victim. It's interesting, but some of the writing is borderline. . .with Batman saying things like, "Tell me, dear soul. Is it true that we live only in a dream. . ." It's pretty out of character for Batman. But once again. . .Ted McKeever.

TWO OF A KIND:
Bruce Timm art and story.


This is more of a Two-Face story, with Batman only showing up at the end in the last panel. It involves Harvey Dent being "Cured" and falling in love with his doctor, only to find out she has an evil twin sister, who he ends up killing after she kills his lover out of jealousy, which sends Dent right back to Arkham.

I'd say that this is my favorite story in this issue. It has that awesome, simple Batman: The Animated Series art. It told a simple, clear story with a beginning, middle, and end. I can EASILY see this as being a "lost episode" of BTAS. Very nice!

THE HUNT:
Joe Kubert art and story


Let it be said up front that I am a HUGE Joe Kubert fan.
Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say that this is definitely not his best work by a long shot.

The story is weak, and some of the dialogue is just plain bad. The art (which is usually Kubert's strong point) is extremely disappointing to a Kubert fan such as myself. There ARE some panels that shine and show why he's a legend, but generally the art is not that good, and in a couple of panels it's REALLY bad. . .one in particular looks like an unfinished sketch. This story just made me feel sad, and not because it's a sad story. Moving on. . .

PETTY CRIMES:
Howard Chaykin art and story.


The story involves Batman tracking down a vigilante who is killing people with bad manners.

 It's pretty weak.

The art is typical Chaykin. Highly detailed backgrounds, but all the faces look the same.
His Batman has a very wide head and just generally looks awkward.
All in all, not good, not bad. I expected better from Chaykin.

THE DEVIL'S TRUMPET:
Archie Goodwin story, Jose Munoz art


I thought this was another really good entry. It's about a jazz trumpeter willing to do anything (including kill) to gain a trumpet that can supposedly make him the best there ever was.

Once again, Batman only shows up in the final page, but this story has an eerie sort of "Crossroads, sellin' your soul to the devil" feel to it that I really liked. The art has a heavily-inked and exaggerated look that fits the supernatural nature of the story quite well.

All in all, I enjoyed this first issue quite a bit. There were some disappointing bits, but there was also a lot of variety. I liked that the stories were so short. . .more vignettes than stories. It showcased quite nicely that Batman is a character that can be interpreted in many ways. Not all of them were to my taste, but that's what's great about anthologies. So despite a few stumbles here and there, I would highly suggest this issue.

ISSUE TWO

Like the first issue, we have a series of short, unconnected 8 page vignettes done by various artists and writers. This issue has more actual teams where the first was mostly written and drawn by the same person. Let's take a look, shall we?

COVER: Frank Miller
Very nice! It's Miller's older "Dark Knight", and there's nothing wrong with that.

INSIDE FRONT COVER: Michael Kaluta
Meh. . . Am disappointed.

INSIDE BACK COVER: Tony Salmons
A nice fight scene with a lot of motion to it, but it's also pretty cluttered. Average.

LEGEND: 
Story and art by Walter Simonson.

A vignette featuring a high-tech Batman in a dystopian future. Amazing hard-edged sci-fi artwork makes up for the lack of a real story. I really liked this one.

MONSTER MAKER: 
Art by Richard Corben, Story by Jan Strnad.

A gritty, brutal story about how children are turned into gang soldiers in the inner city. Corben's art really sells this very dark vignette. One of my favorite artists of all time and he doesn't disappoint here. Another winner for this issue.

DEAD BOYS EYES: 
Art and Story by Kent Williams

In this vignette, Batman is drawn into a trap and seriously wounded. As he bleeds out, it turns into a psychedelic journey. Both the art and story on this one were pretty bad. I'd say this one is the worst of the bunch in this issue. It's basically a pretentious piece of crap. Moving along. . .

THE DEVIL'S CHILDREN: 
Story by Chuck Dixon, Art by Jorge Zaffino

Batman investigates the puzzle of how hitmen everyone thought were dead are still killing people.

Now HERE'S the Batman I love. . .the Dark Knight Detective in a gritty, street-level noir story. The art and writing are both stellar on this story and I found it to be one of my favorites, not only in this issue, but in the entire mini. Worth the price of this issue by itself.

And finally. . .

A BLACK AND WHITE WORLD: 
Story by Neil Gaiman, Art by Simon Bisley.

What we have here are two superstars imagining what if comics were like movies. . .and it all comes off like incredibly pretentious "Look how clever we are!" mutual ego stroking crap.

 It really sucks to say that about one of my favorite artists (Gaiman is. . .okay. . .in my book. Not the Comic God some make him out to be), but this vignette is pretty insufferable. Not QUITE as bad as "Dead Boys Eyes", but a very narrow second place. This amount of talent should have come up with something better.

Overall, a pretty good issue. 3 good stories and 2 stinkers out of 5 with one of the top 3 stories of the whole series and a sweet, sweet cover.  Moving along!

ISSUE THREE


5 more 8 page stories by superstar artists and writers. Let's do this!

COVER: Barry Windsor-Smith
I want this cover as a poster! BWS does NOT disappoint.

INSIDE FRONT COVER: P. Craig Russell
Pretty average. I expect more from PCR.

INSIDE BACK COVER: Marc Silvestri
Batman done Image-style. . .HELL YEAH! 
This portrait of Batman gives the fantastic Windsor-Smith cover a run for it's money.

GOOD EVENING MIDNIGHT: 
Art and Story by Klaus Jansen

When Batman misses his birthday dinner, Alfred reads a letter to himself from Bruce's father in order to remind himself of why he's needed.

The story is a very nice little character study about Alfred's place in the Bat-Mythos, but the art is pretty uneven. Very nice in places, sloppy and sketchy in others. Still, not a bad little story. Probably the best of this particular issue.

IN DREAMS: 
Story by Andrew Helfer, Art by Liberatore.

Batman helps a woman heal mental wounds from the past that he was partially responsible for. All in all. . .this story was painfully average. Not bad, not good, just sort of. . .there. It really seems like filler.

HEIST: 
Art and Story by Matt Wagner

Wagner is one of my favorite comic artists/writers of all time. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near to his best work. It's an utterly average story of Batman foiling the robbery of a mansion. Some of the stellar Batman art Wagner has shown us on things like "Faces" would have made up for the extremely light story, but the art is unusually disappointing. This story just makes me sad thinking about how good it COULD have been.

BENT TWIGS: 
Art and Story by Bill Sienkiewicz

Not only the worst story in this issue, but pretty much the worst in the whole series. Batman gets into a long discussion about parenting with an abusive father. . .and. . .that's it. The art isn't terrible, but the story is yet another pretentious piece of crap that seems to be the hallmark of the worst vignettes in this series. So much dialogue is crammed into tiny panels (15-20 on EACH page) that it's just insufferable. So bad. Moving along. . .

A SLAYING SONG TONIGHT: 
Art by Teddy Kristiansen, Story by Dennis O'Neal

Here's a perfect example of a mismatched creative team. O'Neal gives us a perfectly fine little story about Batman preventing a mob hit on Christmas by a hitman disguised as Santa. . .But then Kristiansen's exaggerated "Vertigo-Style" artwork makes it almost unreadable. It's a damn shame.

All in all, I found this issue to be a disappointment. There wasn't a single really GOOD story to be found. The only real highlights of the issue were the cover and the Silvestri pin-up on the inside back cover.

And finally. . .

ISSUE FOUR

All right. . .Last issue.
Let's break it on down!

COVER: Alex Toth
I REALLY like this cover a lot. It's extremely simple, but it's probably my favorite of the four issues.

INSIDE FRONT COVER: Alex Ross
Ross brings his signature hyper-realistic detail to the bat-party! VERY nicely done.

INSIDE BACK COVER: Neal Adams
It's not the best of the bunch, but it's not bad by any means.
 Definitely old school Adams, and there's nothing wrong with that.

AN INNOCENT GUY: 
Art and Story by Brian Bolland

An average guy wants to do something bad just ONCE in his life, and he decides it's going to be killing Batman.

This brilliant little character study takes a look at the banality of evil. It's well written and features Bolland's signature amazing artwork. There's nothing not to like about this one. The best of this issue and one of the best of the series.

MONSTERS IN THE CLOSET: 
Art by Kevin Nowlan, Story by Jan Strnad

In this ultimately forgettable story, Batman takes down a mad scientist who's been creating living abominations. It's not BAD, but it seems like an excuse to draw a bunch of creepy monsters. It just seems like filler.

HEROES: 
Art by Gary Gianni, Story by Archie Goodwin

This story takes us back to the ORIGINAL 1930's Batman with gyrocopters, dirigibles, and Nazis trying to kidnap an inventor. The story has a nice twist at the end and amazing artwork. I really liked that the creative team went back to Batman's roots for a gritty pulp adventure. Very nice!

LEAVETAKING: 
Art by Brian Stelfreeze, Story by Dennis O'Neal

Where "A Slaying Song Tonight" in issue 3 was an example of a creative team mismatch, they get it right this time by pairing O'Neal with an artist who does justice to his story.

I never really knew Stelfreeze as anything other than a cover artist, but his sharp lines and heavy inks are the perfect compliment to O'Neal's story of a wounded Batman hallucinating while he struggles to survive. Another winner for this issue!

And finally. . .

THE THIRD MASK: 
Art and Story by Katsuhiro Otomo

The closing story in this mini is a bit disappointing. The art is impressive, highly-detailed manga style, but the story itself is confusing with an ending that really makes no sense at all. Maybe it's because it was translated from Japanese. . .maybe it's just pretentious bull$#!t. It's a bit hard to tell. In any case, equal parts good and crap make for an average story.

And there you have it. The final issue of Batman: Black and White. Overall, this issue was probably the most solid of the 4. It had some borderline bad moments, but cover to cover also had some of the best stuff in the series.

CONCLUSION

Generally speaking, I found this mini to be worth the many praises that have been given to it over the years.  Not everything was to my taste, but then again, that's sort of the point of anthologies. . .a little bit of everything for everyone.

 I'm still confused as to exactly WHY Batman: Black and White is Longbox Junk. . .but despite the lack of monetary value, there's a lot to like in here.

By restraining the creative teams to such a small space (each story is only 8 pages), they were forced to strip each entry down to the core.  This makes the good entries shine like sparkly little bat-diamonds and the poor entries likewise exposed for the obvious turds they are.  Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad.

Up next. . .

A strange little moment in Dark Horse's Alien franchise. . .Aliens: Stronghold 4 issue mini.

Be there or be square!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Longbox Junk - The A-Team: War Stories

The A-Team was a force to be reckoned with back in the 80's.  Unfortunately, it seems that when an A-Team movie was finally made in 2010, the glory days were long past and the response seems to have been a fairly unanimous "Why?"

When I decided to review this 4 issue tie-in mini put out by IDW, I hadn't seen the movie.  So out of curiosity I decided to give it a go and found out that finding a copy was actually a harder task than I would have thought.  It's not on Netflix, it's not on any of the "on demand" channels I have, it's not at Wal-Mart, Target, or Best Buy.  I don't really buy things off the internet because I'm old and GET THE HELL OFF MY LAWN!  Long story short, I finally found a used copy in a Gamestop.

Yeah, you're going to get a movie review along with your comic review.  Roll with it.

I found the A-Team movie to be the sort of thing you forget about almost as soon as it's done with.  I watched it about 2 months ago, and as of this writing, I remember it had something to do with stolen money engraving plates, parachuting out of a crashing plane in a tank, crashing a truck through the wall of a mental hospital to break Murdock out,  and that the original narration and theme was at the end of it. It deserves every bit of the mediocre 47% Rotten Tomatoes score it has.

So that was the movie. . .utterly forgetable despite obviously having a huge budget and some big name actors attached.  It will NOT be the role Liam Neeson will be remembered for.  So how were the comics, you ask?  Let's find out!


THE A-TEAM: WAR STORIES
IDW (2010)

HANNIBAL
THE LUCKIEST MAN IN IRAQ

SCRIPTS: Erik Burnham & Chuck Dixon
PENCILS: Hugo Petrus
COVER: Michael Gaydos

In this prequel to the A-Team movie set during the 1991 Gulf War, Hannibal Smith flies undercover into Iraq to snatch a bioweapons scientist from Saddam Hussein. In short order, his cover is blown and he finds himself in a race for his life to escape the Republican Guard with both the scientist and a BBC reporter in tow.

I found this comic to be just about the same as the movie. . .fast-paced, full of action, and extremely forgettable. It's basically one long chase scene.

The art is pretty rough. You can tell the artist was working from photo reference because the vehicles are rendered in extreme detail, while everything else looks sketchy and almost unfinished.

Besides the somewhat poor art, the writer (s) seem to have mixed up the personality of Hannibal and Face (as I remember them), with Hannibal being an impulsive, scheming female magnet in this story instead of the level-headed leader with a plan for every situation.

Substandard art, a story that is basically an extended chase scene, and a main character out of character equal a comic that definitely belongs in the dollar bin where I found it.


B.A.

SCRIPTS: Erik Burnham & Chuck Dixon
PENCILS: Casey Maloney
COVER: Michael Gaydos

In this prequel to the A-Team movie set during the 1991 Gulf War, Corporal Bosco (B.A.) Baracus finds himself caught up in a scheme to sell U.S. weapons to Iraqi gangs. When he does the right thing and brings down the crooked officers behind the black market deal, B.A. pays the price with his military career.

On paper, the story description above seems pretty interesting. Unfortunately, the writers manage to take a decent idea and make it into a bit of a muddled mess.

Generally, "a bit of a muddled mess" is the perfect description for this entire comic. The art is heavy, dark, and overall pretty poor. The story is a decent outline poorly executed. The ending is confusing.

All in all, this comic just seems rushed and extremely average in every way. A damn shame, since B.A. was the big breakout hit character on the original A-Team. This story just makes him seem like a throwaway chump.


MURDOCK

SCRIPTS: Erik Burnham & Chuck Dixon
PENCILS: Guiu Vilanova
COVER: Michael Gaydos

"Howling Mad" Murdock relates the strange tale of his final mission for the U.S. military in Iraq during the Gulf War to his new psychiatrist. . .but did things really happen that way?

This issue of War Stories has a little different story setup than the others, being told in flashback style to a psychiatrist after the Gulf War. It's a fairly interesting idea, but unfortunately (like with the other issues in this series) the execution is not great. What should be a madcap adventure through Murdock's mind becomes an average rescue mission with some decent jokes cracked here and there.

The art on this series has been mediocre to put it kindly, but this issue is the worst of the bunch. There are a handful of obviously photo-referenced panels of vehicles and cityscapes that are okay, but the rest of it is pretty bad. On an early page where Murdock is caught while trying to escape the hospital he's in, the nurses chasing him have been drawn without faces! It's just sloppy.

Overall, this was a wasted opportunity to tell a different kind of story than what's in the other 3 issues of War Stories that fails in execution and is made worse by poor art.


FACE
QUID PRO, BRO

SCRIPTS: Erik Burnham & Chuck Dixon
PENCILS: Alberto Muriel
COVER: Michael Gaydos

When one of master scrounger Templeton "Face" Peck's schemes lands him in hot water during the final days of the Gulf War, he takes on an impossible mission behind enemy lines for a crooked officer.

Except for the initial setup (which had some interesting moments spotlighting Face's scheming nature), this issue of War Stories is pretty much a chase scene that is actually pretty derivative of the story in the Hannibal issue. . .which is sort of odd, because in my review of THAT issue, I noted how strange it was that Hannibal seemed to have Face's personality. I'm not sure which issue was written first, but it's almost like the writers just gave up at some point.

The art in this one is better than in the other three issues, but that's not to say it's great. The other issues definitely set the bar for "better" fairly low.

Overall, despite the strange feeling of having read half of this story already In War Stories: Hannibal, I'd say that this issue was probably the best of the four. . .and by saying that, I mean that it was pretty good, but not much better than that.


CONCLUSION

If there was a Rotten Tomatoes for comic books (Comic Book Roundup is pretty close ) , I'd say this mini would be sitting squarely at the same 47% that the movie it's a prequel of is sitting at. 

 At the risk of offending Gulf War veterans. . .and I happen to be one.  I served with the Marine Corps during the Gulf War in 1991. . .but the Gulf War was just too short and too one-sided for many good stories to come out of it.  The original A-Team were Vietnam veterans, and although the T.V. show didn't explore much of that background, just knowing that gives the originals a much better backstory, and it really shows in these comics (and the movie).

Weak setting aside, the stories told in this mini weren't BAD, they just weren't very GOOD.  They were right in the middle and all pretty forgettable in the end.  

The art, on the other hand, was a real problem.  The painted covers were all pretty good (obviously photo-referenced), but the interiors were all borderline crap.  Not a single artist on any of these issues was able to capture the likeness of the characters in a decent way, which is a pretty low bar to hurdle in a licensed property and probably about the LEAST I would expect.

Overall, I wouldn't suggest this mini to anybody but fans of the rebooted A-Team (if any even exist).  The stories are weak and forgetable, the art is crap, and it's just sort of. . .wrong.   These comics belong right in the bargain bin where I found them for a buck apiece.  Take my advice and stick with the original A-Team.

Up Next. . .

When naked pictures of women are in black and white, it's not porn, it's art. . .right?

Does the same go for Batman?

DC's 1996 4 issue Batman: Black and White.  Be there or be square!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Throwback Thurdsay - Green Lantern #25

I'll come right out and confess. . .I'm not really a fan of Green Lantern. 

 I don't HATE Green Lantern in any of the character's many forms.  Really, it's okay.  But I never go out of my way to buy a Green Lantern comic.  It's just that, at the heart of things, Green Lantern (Except for the original Alan Scott version) is a Science Fiction character.  I prefer my Sci-Fi more in a "Space Ships and Laser Guns" sort of military fashion. . .Battlestar Galactica would be a good example.  And then also, I've never really been a big fan of "traditional" capes and tights sort of superheroes.  Batman and Captain America are probably my favorites of the "traditional" superhero bunch.  

So two strikes against Green Lantern.  But two strikes isn't an out, right?

And so here we are with a Silver Age Green Lantern comic in hand for another "Throwback Thursday" special edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a closer look at some of the older and more "valuable" comics lurking in my Longboxes.  

This comic is actually a pretty new addition to my collection.  As of this writing, I bought it 5 days ago at a flea market, where I found it unbagged and in surprisingly good shape mixed into a pile of old Archie and Dennis The Menace comics for the low price of 12 lousy bucks.  I don't know exactly where the guy got that weirdly-specific number from, but I know a good deal when I see it and so I came into possession of my one and only 1960's era Green Lantern comic.

Is it any good? Let's find out!

GREEN LANTERN (Vol. 2) #25


DC (1963)
SCRIPTS: Gardner Fox
PENCILS: Gil Kane
INKS: Joe Giella
COVER: Gil Kane & Joe Giella

Let's start at the start, with the cover.

Unfortunately, it's not a very good start.  I usually buy these older comics for their covers in order to add them to my rotating comic cover collection on my office wall at work.  To be honest, if this was just one of a stack of Green Lantern comics, I definitely wouldn't have chosen this particular one.  But as it is, this was the only one, so here we are. 

 I like the logo and the flying villain is interesting, but other than that there's WAY too much in the word balloon, Hal Jordan looks really stiff and is posed strangely, the "swoosh" marks trying to show action are a bit overdone, and really. . .I thought Green Lantern was a flying space cop.  He just looks strange running down the street on foot.

Not a good cover.  Moving along!

The story goes like this:

Hector Hammond (a Green Lantern villain with powerful psionic abilities who has lost the ability to move on his own after exposing himself to strange radiation in Green Lantern #22) rots in prison after being defeated by Green Lantern.  What Hal Jordan doesn't know is that Hammond has faked Green Lantern into believing that he had successfully deadened the parts of Hammond's brain that give him his extraordinary powers with his power ring.  In reality, Hammond is still fully-capable of using his powerful mental abilities. . .and he has come up with a plan to defeat Green Lantern, now that the superhero thinks his enemy is helpless.

Hammond uses his mental powers to help free the villain Sonar from prison across the Atlantic in the small country of Modora. . .AKA the most ridiculously-overdressed tiny nation in Europe. . .where he was imprisoned by Green Lantern after being defeated in issue #19.  As Sonar escapes, he thinks he's somehow gained some new mental powers. . .never realizing he's being used as a pawn by Hammond.  How Hammond even knows about Sonar or where he's imprisoned is never exactly made clear, because. . .Silver Age?

ANYWAY. . .

In an oddly-convoluted plan, Hammond decides the best way to go about defeating Green Lantern using his new pawn (Sonar),  is that he's going to use his super mental powers to have Sonar attack and switch weapons with Green Lantern. . .but only in Green Lantern's mind.  This way, he can see how Green Lantern would win in a battle.  With this information, he can come up with a better plan for his enemy that will actually work and only then REALLY send Sonar in.  

Wait. . .what?  Never mind. Great plan.  Moving along!

When Hammond puts his hilarious. . .er. . .nefarious. . .plan into motion, Green Lantern is the guest of honor at the Ferris Aircraft Company picnic, because when trying to maintain a secret identity, it's ALWAYS best to be right there among people you work with all the time, right?  

Green Lantern discovers that Lois Lane. . .er. . .sorry. . .Carol Ferris has secretly entered Hal Jordan as her partner in the three-legged race, causing a bit of secret identity consternation RIGHT at the moment when Hammond's mind probe hits.

Green Lantern is plunged into an imaginary battle with Sonar in the skies of Coast City.  After escaping being tangled in steel girders and crushed by a conveniently-gold statue, their weapons are switched, so Green Lantern has to dodge energy blasts while using Sonar's sonic gun against him.  The battle eventually ends with Green Lantern tricking Sonar into an enclosed space and immobilizing him long enough to take his ring back and take Sonar into custody.

The battle against Sonar lasted only a second in Green Lantern's subconscious mind, so he just gets dizzy for a moment without realizing anything happened.  And he STILL has to deal with Carol expecting Hal Jordan to show up for the three-legged race.  So to solve the secret identity dilemma, Green Lantern hunts down his best friend. . .Pieface.

Wait.  Stop a moment. Savor the 60's flavor of Green Lantern having an Eskimo sidekick named Pieface. Pie. Face.  Piiiiiiiiiefaaaaaaaace.  Yep.  They actually had an Eskimo guy called Pieface.  

Okay, enough. Moving along. . .

Green Lantern uses his power ring in the most responsible way that a Galactic Space Cop entrusted with one of the most powerful weapons on Earth can. . .he changes Pieface to appear as Hal Jordan so that Carol won't be disappointed by not being able to run the three-legged race.  Eat THAT Spider-Man! With great power comes whatever the hell you want to use it for over in the DC Universe! 

AND THEN. . .

JUST as Green Lantern changes his best friend into Hal Jordan and they're both standing in front of Carol Ferris. . .who somehow fails to notice that Hal and GL have the same hair color, hair style, face shape, chin, height, and body type. . .the REAL Sonar attacks and Green Lantern avoids awkward questions by flying off to battle.

Everything goes pretty much exactly as the first (mental) battle, up until Green Lantern tries to trick Sonar into a trap.  Hammond uses his mental powers to help Sonar avoid captivity, and Sonar gains the upper hand, trapping Green Lantern in a solid block of emerald.

As Sonar flies the trapped Green Lantern to Modora, where he plans to put the hero on display, Green Lantern uses Sonar's sonic gun to pull off a trick from The Flash's playbook.  He uses the gun to vibrate himself so fast that he is able to pass through the solid emerald block.  Green Lantern then uses the Sonic Gun to create a waterspout that knocks Sonar out long enough for him to recover his power ring and then take the defeated Sonar back to prison in Modora.

Meanwhile, the "Mastermind" behind the whole thing finds it hard to believe that his overly-complicated plan using an underpowered C-List villain somehow failed.  As far as Hammond is concerned, the only good thing to come of it was that Green Lantern is completely unaware that it was him who was manipulating things from behind the scenes, and he swears to keep trying until he gets it right.

AND FINALLY. . .

At the end of it all, Green Lantern returns to the Ferris Aircraft Company picnic. . .which is STILL going on even though Green Lantern has made a two way trans-Atlantic flight (I guess there ain't no party like an F.A.C. party).  He learns that "Hal Jordan" did indeed help Carol win the three-legged race and gets to stand by and be jealous as a guy called Pieface kisses the girl he's been chasing since issue #1.  

The End.

Okay,  let's break it on down now!

I'm gonna be honest here and say that, as far as I'm concerned, this comic is everything good AND bad about the Silver Age.  So let's go with the good first. . .

There's a simplicity here that comes with the knowledge that this comic was NOT written for a 50 year old comic collector like myself.  It was written for kids during the 1960's.  There's a definite feeling of an honest suspension of disbelief that's possible when you're a kid in this comic.  It's hard for me to suspend that disbelief at my age.  This sort of comic makes me remember when it was easier. 

To me, that's what's great about Silver Age comics. . .the ability for them to remind the reader of a time in their life when even the most ridiculous things could be taken as they were.  I'm more of a child of the 70's so I get that feeling stronger when I read those Bronze Age comics and especially when I see those old ads, but I definitely got that whiff of what it was like to be able to completely suspend my disbelief when reading this comic.

THAT SAID. . .

Looked at objectively by the 50 year old comic collector, this isn't a very good comic.

The concept is interesting.  It's basically a villain team-up without the superhero OR half of the villain team realizing that it IS a team-up.  Unfortunately, the decent idea at the center of things is surrounded by Silver Age crap.

The Villain's plan is hilariously complicated and even unnecessary.  Hammond shows that he can influence the mind of Green Lantern.  Why not just do THAT?

And then there's the whole "Picnic" sub-plot.  I don't understand the Silver Age obsession with secret identities. . .especially on the DC side of things.  I think over at Marvel during the same era, the only characters REALLY trying to hide their identity were Spider-Man and Iron Man.  With DC, EVERYBODY had a secret identity, whether they really needed one or not.  It gets pretty. . .well. . .stupid.  This comic's secret identity shenanigans are a perfect example of the general stupidity of trying to force every character in your stable to have a secret identity.  

And now I'm gonna tip the sacred cow.  Let's talk a bit about the art.

Gil Kane is regarded highly by a lot of comic fans.  Part of that high regard comes from his work on Green Lantern.  But I have to honestly say that I don't see it in this comic.  

I'm not going to completely bag Kane's work here.  It's not BAD, but it's barely on the good side of "okay".  It's probably also the fault of the inker and/or the colorist, but I find the art in this comic to be about as utterly average as it can get.  There are a few nice moments, such as this shot of Green Lantern flying into battle. . .



. . .but for the most part, the art is pretty uninspired.  


Like I said above. . .I realize that this comic wasn't written or drawn for me.  But that said, the minimum effort that the art team put into this issue is pretty plain to see.  There's a lot to like about Gil Kane's later work, but it's a bit hard to see here.

CONCLUSION
If I had to describe this comic with one word, that word would be: Juvenile.  It has an interesting idea at its core, but uninspired art and basically being written for kids does not make Green Lantern #25 a shining example of the Silver Age evolution of comics.  That said, I'm pretty sure that if I was a kid in 1963 buying this comic off the spinner rack, I'd be about as happy as could be.  So it's kind of hard for me to kick this comic around for not appealing to a 50 year old comic collector when I can plainly see that it was perfectly written and drawn for the audience DC had in mind.

Up Next. . .

Longbox Junk business as usual as I take a look at a comic prequel nobody asked for to a movie nobody cared about.  IDW's The A-Team: War Stories.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Longbox Junk - Azrael (vol. 2) Part 2: Issues 10 - 18

After a pretty strong start, can this unwanted and almost forgotten series stay on the rails heading into the back half?  Let's find out!

AZRAEL (VOL. 2) Part 2 
DC (2009 - 2011)

ISSUE 10
THE KILLER OF SAINTS PART 1:
THE HAND THAT BURNS

SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Guillem March
COVER: Francesco Mattina

Azrael and Order of Purity Representative Father Garrett travel to London, following a trail of murdered Order of Purity members who are the keepers of their greatest secret. They arrive too late and find themselves confronting the killer, a religious warrior calling himself The Crusader.

Holy creative team change, Batman!

The first issue of the back half of this series undergoes a complete changeover. New artist, new writer, new storyline, a whole new feel to the comic.

The new art leaves behind gritty realism in favor of a more standard comic book style. Lane is drawn as a much taller, more imposing figure. It's not BAD, it's just completely different than what came before. The only real problem with the new artist is that he doesn't do a great job with faces at all.

The new storyline is also a change from what came before. . .not in the subject matter, which stays pretty much in the realm of an underlying secret religious war in the DCU, but in that the "One and Done with a little extra" style seems to be done with, as this is the first part of a 4 part continued story.

Overall, I'm not thrilled with the changes. The gritty, realistic art and self contained stories gave Azrael a feel that made it stand out a bit from the average mainstream DC superhero book, almost like a Vertigo title.

ISSUE 11
THE KILLER OF SAINTS PART 2:
THE POISON TONGUE


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Guillem March
COVER: Guillem March

Azrael learns the secret that the inner circle of The Order of Purity are giving their lives to protect. . .that they have the Shroud of Turin, the shroud is genuine, and it proves that Christ was not resurrected!

First off. . .Great cover! One of the best of the whole series. VERY nicely done.

After dipping a toe into the Gnostic pool last issue, the new writer dives deep into Gnostic belief this time out with the revelation that The Order of Purity is guarding the most devastating religious secret of all. . .that Christ didn't die on the cross and was not resurrected. The Crusader is after the shroud, trying to return it to the Vatican.

Some pretty heavy stuff in here. So despite the art switching up to a more traditional comic booky style and the writer switching to an internal narration style, the story itself remains interesting enough to keep Azrael on the rails.

ISSUE 12
KILLER OF SAINTS PART 3:
HEART OF FIRE, HEART OF ICE


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Guillem March
COVER: Guillem March

Truth and faith come into conflict when Azrael risks everything to save the life of the keeper of the True Shroud. If he fails, the secret of the shroud will be lost forever. If he succeeds, he must face the fact that everything he ever believed in is a lie.   

This issue (and Azrael in general) dives deep into dark Vertigo-style storytelling as Azrael learns more of the secrets of the Order of Purity. . .that they believe that Lucifer is a second God, Jesus not only survived the crucifixion, but also had children with Mary Magdalene, and The Order plans to reveal to the world that the resurrection never happened.

It's also revealed that the Catholic Church has purposely faked evidence the shroud is not authentic, and that their own version of Azrael, The Crusader, was created to protect the secret of the shroud.

This ain't a kids story, folks. This series is getting down deep into the dark underbelly of organized religion. It's a surprisingly good story full of questions of faith, truth, and religious obedience.

ISSUE 13
THE KILLER OF SAINTS PART 4:
THE SOUL STRIPPED BARE


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Guillem March
COVER: Guillem March

While Azrael and Father Garrett rush to save the Shroud of Turin, Father Grieve sacrifices himself to be tortured by The Crusader to buy them time. During the final confrontation, Azrael uses his swords to reveal the truth that the shroud is genuine and the Pope is an agent of evil to The Crusader, who spares their lives and lets them leave with the shroud.

Before dying, Grieve reveals the Order's greatest secret to Lane. . .the suit of sorrows was created to be worn by the ancestors of Jesus Christ. Yep. . .that's right. Michael Lane is part of Jesus' bloodline.

Once again, this issue reads a lot more like something one would expect from Vertigo than a mainstream DC superhero book. It's deep, it's dark, and it's a really thought-provoking story.

I have to say that I was a bit worried about the creative team change and new direction for this series, but this "Killer of Saints" arc was really quite impressive.  Moving along to the final story arc!

ISSUE 14
THREE MYSTERIES PART 1:
A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

First off. . .Fantastic cover!  I'd definitely like a poster of that one.

After learning the deepest secrets of the Order of Purity (including that he is of the bloodline of Christ) and being haunted by the spirit of Father Grieve, Michael Lane's sanity finally snaps. The newly-returned Bruce Wayne decides that either Azrael joins his new "Batman Inc." program or he needs to be dealt with as a threat.

As Azrael gets sucked into crossing over with Batman Inc. there's an awkward conversation in the Batcave between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. . .

BRUCE: WTF, Dick? You let this new Azrael run around Gotham killing people because GOD tells him too?

DICK: Yeah. . .I thought it would go a little better. But hey. . .you weren't here and Damian and I were being Morrisoned!

BRUCE: I don't want to hear about how YOU were being Morrisoned! I was in the friggin' stone age with a cave boy Robin!

DICK: Yeah, but Morrison had US dealing with Joker pretending to be a suave English detective and learning that the grounds of Wayne Manor are in the shape of a giant FU#%^NG BAT! Like anyone with a helicopter never noticed!

BRUCE: I repeat. . .PREHISTORIC. CAVE. ROBIN.

DICK: Okay, Okay. . .we BOTH got Morrisoned pretty badly. What now.

BRUCE: Yeah. . .and I'm STILL being Morrisoned with this whole "Batman Inc." thing. Just go take care of Azrael and see if he's good for a crossover. . .

And so we get a crossover.

To tell the truth, the story here is not bad. Lane finally snaps, refuses to listen to Batman (The Dick Grayson version), and the issue ends with him hanging on a cross, revisiting the mystery that was teased in the very first issue.

We also get another art changeup. I actually like this artist better than the one for the previous 4 issues. It's a happy medium between the gritty, realistic art this series started with and the more comic-booky style of the past few issues.

Overall, despite this being the first part of a crossover with the Morrison Madness of Batman Inc., this was a pretty good issue.

ISSUE 15
THREE MYSTERIES PART 2
VOICES IN AN EMPTY ROOM


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

Batman investigates the suicide of Michael Lane and discovers that Ra's Al Ghul is pulling the strings behind Azrael and The Order of Purity.

In this issue, we see Azrael commit suicide with the help of his old police partner, Pete Farelli. Most of the book is taken up by flashback vignettes leading to the crucifixion and flash forwards to Batman's investigation.

It's pretty much based on his belief that he's of the bloodline of Christ and will be resurrected. . .but without him knowing that Ra's Al Ghul is behind it all and has treated the Suit of Sorrows with chemicals from a Lazarus Pit to fake a spiritual resurrection.

I like how, even though this is a crossover with Batman Inc., this series still maintains its own identity of exploring the dark underbelly of religion and faith in the DCU as Lane's delusions of grandeur and religious destiny overpower his ability to deal with reality.

ISSUE 16
THREE MYSTERIES PART 3:
FIRE THE COLOR OF ICE


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

Three days after committing suicide, Michael Lane rises from the dead.  Ra's Al Ghul, the mastermind behind Lane's "resurrection", gives Batman the bad news that Azrael now serves him, whether he knows it or not.

Being a sporting man, Ra's lets Batman try to recruit Azrael to Batman Inc. But now more than ever, Lane is convinced of his religious destiny of Judgement of Sin, thanks to his crucifixion and 3 day resurrection. . .due to Ra's Al Ghul and his Lazarus Pit chemicals, of course.

In this final issue of the Batman Inc. crossover, I liked that Batman lost, and lost badly.

 Ra's had stacked the deck and manipulated Azrael and the Order of Purity so well that he even invited Batman to witness Lane's rising from the dead. At the end of it all, the only small victory for Batman was Azrael telling him he wouldn't be an enemy.

All in all, a bit of a surprising end to this arc.
It's not often you see Batman having to walk away a loser.

ISSUE 17
THE TEARS OF GOD PART 1:
SHOCK AND AWE


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

Azrael leaves Gotham for Afghanistan in order to destroy "The Brotherhood of The Sword" and their secret weapon, who turns out to be a man with pyrokinetic powers who calls himself "Fireball" and is a Muslim version of Azrael.

All in all, after the dark revelations and devious manipulations of the past 7 issues, this issue felt weak. . .like filler. I have the feeling that (like other series I've reviewed), the ACTUAL end of the story came last issue and these final two issues are going to be trade padding in order to get an even 18 issues - 6 issues in a trade.

This story was written at a time when the war in Afghanistan/Iraq was still in full swing, so in addition to feeling like trade padding, it also feels a bit exploitative.

This is NOT a good way for an otherwise pretty good series to go out. . .

ISSUE 18
THE TEARS OF GOD PART 2:
FIRE AND SAND


SCRIPTS: David Hine
PENCILS: Cliff Richards
COVER: Guillem March

After battling with the "Muslim Azrael", Fireball, it is revealed that Ra's Al Ghul is behind the confrontation. He brings the two of them to Gotham and Lane's mind finally completely collapses under Al Ghul's manipulation and Azrael swears judgement and vengeance on Gotham.

And so we come to the big finish.

Unfortunately, it's really more of a "To be Continued" (In Batman #708) as part of the "Judgement on Gotham" multi-Bat-book crossover, where he teams up with Fireball and The Crusader to bring. . .well. . .Judgement on Gotham.

Overall, not a good ending for the series. The main character turned into a villain by the manipulation of Ra's Al Ghul and a "To be continued in another comic series" ending leaving things swinging in the wind for Azrael fans (If there WERE any fans of this version of Azrael).

Once again, I maintain that the TRUE ending of this series was actually issue 16. This final issue (and the previous one) just leave a bad taste in the mouth and aren't a good ending at all.

CONCLUSION

Overall, this series surprised me.  Lousy ending aside, it was a grim exploration of religion, faith, and fanaticism in a world of superheroes.  The art was good throughout, and even though Michael Lane as a character wasn't that interesting in and of himself, the stories and world built AROUND him were good.

I really think that Azrael failed because it wasn't in the proper place.  Like the Jonah Hex series  (from about the same time) I reviewed a while back, I sincerely believe that this version of Azrael would have done better as a Vertigo title, where it could have fully embraced the dark themes it was exploring.

It's a shame that this character and this series is practically forgotten.  It's better than it has a right to be.  If you're looking for a dark exploration of religion and faith in the DCU, then give it a try.  Just skip the last two issues and there's a fine ending in issue #16.

Up next. . .

Anybody remember that A-Team movie that came out a while back?  Anybody?
Can a four issue prequel series to that utterly forgettable movie POSSIBLY be any good?

IDW's 4 issue The A-Team: War Stories mini.

Be there or be square!