Monday, May 14, 2018

Longbox Junk - Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Modala Imperative

Although this seems to have been advertised as a crossover mini between the original Star Trek crew and The Next Generation celebrating Star Trek's 25th anniversary, it's really more like two sort of barely-connected 4 issue mini's.

They share a setting (the planet Modala) and 3 characters (Spock, McCoy, and Troyka) and the Next Generation half answers a question left hanging in the first half (where did the government get the advanced weapons it used to oppress the population).

So the first half was pretty good, with great writing and. . .not so great art.
How does the second half of the story fare?  Read on!

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION  
THE MODALA IMPERATIVE 
DC (1991)
SCRIPTS: Peter David
PENCILS: Pablo Marcos
COVERS: Adam Hughes

ISSUE ONE
IN MEMORY YET GREEN. . .

Oops. . .I discovered I don't have issue #1 of this series.
I have two copies of issue #2.

The solicit for the first issue reads:

The Enterprise is invited to represent the Federation at the 100th anniversary of Modala's freedom. Going with the Enterprise to Modala is Admiral McCoy. En route they are joined by Spock. On Modala, social unrest accompanies the preparations for celebration.

But trust me, folks. . .if it's as bad as the other 3, I was better off not reading it anyway.

Sorry, folks.  I THOUGHT I had this whole series.  Moving along!

ISSUE TWO
LIES AND LEGENDS

Admiral McCoy and Ambassador Spock meet again after many years, and they become acquainted with the crew of The Enterprise as they travel to Modala for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of their freedom from the oppressive government that once ruled them (as seen in Star Trek: The Modala Imperative, Pts. 1-4).

Captain Picard, Counselor Troi, McCoy and Spock beam to Modala for the celebration while Riker, in command of The Enterprise, speeds to the rescue of a cargo ship in distress. The festivities on Modala are interrupted by a Ferengi attack. Their leader, Daimon Tran, claims ownership of the planet because of a deal supposedly made 100 years prior.

Overall. . .this was pretty bad.

In the first part of "The Modala Imperative" with the original crew, the writing was the high point of the story. I could almost hear the voices of the actors as I read. Here, I don't get anywhere close to that. The dialogue seems stilted and expository.

To make it worse, the story basically copies the first half. . .with an away team in danger while The Enterprise is captained by a substitute.

And then there's the art. GOD, THE ART! It's the same artist that worked on the first half of the story. His art was barely competent there, but definitely takes a step down in this issue. I really didn't think he could get any worse. . .I was wrong.

All in all, this issue is a barely-readable piece of crap. Not good.

ISSUE THREE
PRIOR CLAIM


The Ferengi raise havoc as they begin taking over Modala. Admiral McCoy and Counselor Troi are captured in the initial attack, but Ambassador Spock, Captain Picard, and the Modalan leader, Stroyka, escape.

The Enterprise confirms that the attack on a Federation freighter was meant to divert them and makes best speed back to Modala.

A failed rescue attempt for Troi and McCoy by Picard and Spock winds up with everyone captives of the Ferengi.

Once again, this issue is barely readable.

The writing fails to capture the voice, personality, or essence of the characters. The situation is basically a copy of the first half of the story, and the Ferengi are written as early season ST: TNG Ferengi. . .brutal, snarling, and primitive instead of the sly, intelligent schemers of later seasons and Deep Space 9. That's probably not the writer's fault, but the proto-Ferengi just add a cherry on top of the crap sundae.

And if anything, the art in this issue is WORSE than in the last. One wonders if this artist got ANY feedback on his work at all, or if they were just letting him phone it in because they knew if they slapped a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" label on anything in 1991, it wouldn't matter if it was bad or good, people would buy it.

Awful.  Just awful.

ISSUE FOUR
GAME, SET AND MATCH!


With Ambassador Spock's help, Counselor Troi and Admiral McCoy escape. To prevent the execution of Modala's leaders, Captain Picard challenges Daimon Tran, with Modala and the Enterprise as the stakes.

Picard defeats Tran in mental combat with Spock's help. Riker and The Enterprise arrive to send the Ferengi on their way.

It's over. Thank God, it's over.

What can I say about this issue that I haven't already said about the previous ones?

The writing remains bland, copying the basic outline of the first part of this half-assed "crossover" while completely failing to capture the personalities or voices of the Next Generation crew.

The art is terrible and distracting from whatever readability might be found in the story. The last few pages in particular look extremely rushed, like the artist finally just said F@#K it.

Overall, as a Star Trek fan, I'm sort of embarrassed that I even own this piece of crap.

CONCLUSION
As a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the only conclusion I can come to for this steaming pile of crap is that I would have been better off not reading it at all.  It spits in the face of those who love Star Trek.  It's poorly-written, fails to capture the voice or personalities of the characters, and the art is bad to the point of distraction.

Where the first half of The Modala Imperative (featuring the original Enterprise crew) at least made an ATTEMPT to be good, and halfway succeeded with decent writing, this half just seems like a lazy, sloppy, cash grab meant to hook fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation while it was still a hot show on T.V.

Like most comic collectors, I cringe when thinking of just throwing away a comic book.  This series is the FIRST time I've ever felt like tossing a perfectly good comic in the trash can.  It's THAT bad.

Trust me. . .unless you are an obsessive Star Trek completionist, stay away.

Up Next. . .

I feel the need to rinse the taste of bad Star Trek out of my mouth with some nice, minty Star Wars.  Dark Horse's 6 issue Star Wars: Dark Empire II mini.

Be there or be square!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Longbox Junk - Star Trek: The Modala Imperative

As a card-carrying nerd, one is expected to take part in the eternal debate:  Star Wars or Star Trek?

So here's where I stand on it. . .

I DO love Star Wars.  I probably love Star Wars more than I ever loved my first wife.  But as much as I love Star Wars, I ALWAYS come back to Star Trek.  There's just so much MORE Star Trek out there to enjoy.  Star Trek has everything you could ever want. . .action, adventure, comedy, drama, high art and pure friggin' cheese.  

Even better than Star Wars is that Star Trek doesn't just follow the same cast of characters. You can switch it up, watch your favorites and ignore the rest, leading to further debate. . .Spock or Data? Kirk or Picard? Enterprise or Deep Space 9?

But as much as I love Star Trek, I've never really gotten into the comic books for some reason.  I guess it's because (like I said above) there's just SO much Star Trek out there already, I've never felt the need to supplement. . .unlike Star Wars comics, which I absolutely read a TON of because back in the day, new Star Wars was few and far between.

ANYWAY. . .

I picked up a longbox full of Star Trek comics a month or so back at auction.  This was the only complete mini-series in the pile, so let's take a look!

STAR TREK
THE MODALA IMPERATIVE

DC (1991)
SCRIPTS: Michael Jan Friedman
PENCILS: Pablo Marcos
COVERS: Adam Hughes

ISSUE 1
A LITTLE SEASONING

First, let's take a look at the best thing about this issue. . .the outstanding cover!  I'll confess I've always had a bit of a "thing" for Uhura. . .but she never looked like THAT on T.V.! Nicely done Adam Hughes.  VERY nicely done.

ANYWAY. . .

Captain Kirk and new Enterprise crew member, Ensign Chekov, beam down to the planet Modala to determine if they are ready for an invitation to join The Federation. 

They discover that the planet is under the heel of a totalitarian government armed with off-world high technology weapons they shouldn't have. Before they can investigate further, they are caught up in a terrorist attack and taken prisoner by government forces mistaking them for rebels. 

This first issue is a bit of a mixed bag. Generally, it's pretty good. The story so far is pretty simple. . .classic Star Trek "Away Team Mission Gone Wrong" setup.

The writing is spot on and captures the flavor of classic Star Trek and the personality and dialogue of the original series crew very nicely.

Unfortunately, the art is disappointing. Although the artist captures the essence of the characters, he doesn't do very well with their likenesses. . .a big minus in a licensed property. Also, some of the art seems rushed and unfinished, especially when off the Enterprise and on the planet Modala.

Overall, I really liked the spot on writing, but the art was barely tolerable in places, so taking the good with the bad, this book gets an average grade.


ISSUE 2
TOOLS OF TYRANNY

After communication is lost with Captain Kirk and Ensign Chekov, Spock and Doctor McCoy beam down to Modala to investigate, and are immediately put on the run from government forces and forced into hiding to avoid capture.

In prison, Kirk and Chekov meet the leaders of the Modala resistance. Kirk convinces them that violence is not the only way to wage a revolution. 

Let's start with the cover. A bit disappointing after the stellar (heh) first issue. Spock and The Enterprise are great, but Kirk has a weird "O RLY?" look on his face and Chekov looks like a 16 year old kid. Not good. . .

The writing remains spot on. As I read the dialogue, I could almost hear the voices of the actors saying the lines. Very nicely done.

Unfortunately, the art is not only still dodgy, but actually takes a step down in quality. This whole issue seems rushed and in places unfinished. On page 13 there is a scene where Spock and McCoy are watching government troops forcing citizens to clean up the debris from the rebel bomb attack last issue. . .and nobody has a face. That's sloppy and definitely no bueno.

Overall, I'm really liking the writing on this series. 

On the other hand, the art is dragging it down in a big way.

ISSUE 3
THE PRICE OF FREEDOM

In prison, Kirk is offered a chance to lead the Resistance, but he turns it down and suggests that Stroyka lead them instead. Once matters of leadership are settled, the prisoners organize a breakout.

Elsewhere, Spock and McCoy follow a lead that brings them to the prison. Unfortunately, while they are scouting it, Kirk and the Resistance stage their breakout and Spock and McCoy are captured by government forces as they sweep for escaped prisoners.

Overall, this issue definitely sags. The cover is probably the worst of the bunch. Once again, Chekov looks like a 16 year old kid. Come to think of it, the interior artist ALSO draws him very young. I wonder if either artist had any good photo reference to work from. Strange. . .it's a real person with photographs of him. Kirk looks like a creeper you don't want your sister meeting at a bar.

ANYWAY. . .

Like I said, this third issue definitely sags quite a bit. The dialogue is still remarkably authentic to the characters, but the story itself takes a turn for the worse as the two separate away teams swap places, with Kirk and Chekov escaping prison and Spock and McCoy being taken prisoner. And to be honest, it's all a little predictable and boring, for all the action in this issue.

The art also remains extremely dodgy. As I mentioned above, Chekov looks like a high school kid and this time around the artist has a really hard time with Scotty's face (He's in charge of the Enterprise while the planetside shenanigans go on). 

All in all, what SHOULD be an exciting setup for the final issue turns out to be the blandest part of the story. A damn shame.


ISSUE 4
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

In this final issue, Kirk and Chekov enlist the Modala Resistance fighters to help them free Spock and McCoy, who are going to be publicly executed.

As the rebels and government forces clash, the Enterprise crew beam to safety and decide that Modala isn't quite ready to join the Federation. 

And here we are at the big finish!

Overall, it's a pretty good wrap up to the series. Chekov gets a moment to shine, inspiring the rebels (really, shaming them would be a better description) to help free Spock and McCoy when Captain Kirk fails in his attempt to motivate them.

The scenes of everyone back on board the Enterprise are very nicely done, and once again, I have to say that the writer does a remarkable job of capturing the voices and personalities of the characters.

Unfortunately, the art continues to disappoint. This artist is barely passable during static conversation scenes, but is not able to carry action scenes at all. What should be exciting and explosive is barely tolerable in his hands. 

All in all, there are some great character moments in this issue on the writing side of things, and the story is wrapped up very nicely. On the other hand, the art once again drags down what should be great into "pretty good" territory.


CONCLUSION

This mini-series was sort of a schizoprenic reading experience.  On the one hand, the writer has a remarkable knack for capturing the voices of the original series T.V. cast on paper.  The tone, the dialogue, the pacing is all spot on.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I could almost HEAR the actors speaking as I read.

On the other hand.  The art was barely passable during static scenes of conversation and was almost completely incapable of carrying action scenes.  Except for some nice covers (issue #1 made me look at Uhura in a whole new way) the art really dragged down what COULD have been a great mini.

Up next. . .

The story continues 100 years later. . .Star Trek: The Next Generation-style!

Be there or be square.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Longbox Junk - One Shots Part 2: Hellboy, Punisher, Red Sonja, Boba Fett, Tomb of Dracula & X-Files

More one shots! I DO love these little bite-size pieces of the comic world. . .


Let's do this!


HELLBOY: DOUBLE FEATURE OF EVIL


Dark Horse (2010)
SCRIPTS: Mike Mignola
PENCILS: Richard Corben
COVER: Richard Corben


This one shot presents two stories: A haunted house that forces the occupants to bring it victims and a man who calls on the wrong God in an Egyptian museum, along with a framing device of both stories being movies shown to an audience of the dead in an abandoned movie theater.

Both stories are brilliantly illustrated by one of the true masters of horror comics, Richard Corben, and the art is worth the price of admission (heh) alone.

Likewise, both of the stories are well written by Mike Mignola, but the first is more enjoyable. The second story only fills a few pages and feels very rushed, but it's not bad at all. . .just very short.

Overall, this is a fantastic collaboration between two comic legends and is quality work from cover to cover. Very well done.


MARVEL MANGAVERSE: PUNISHER


MARVEL (2002)
SCRIPTS: Peter David
PENCILS: Lea Hernandez
COVER: Lea Hernandez

In this manga-style story, The Punisher (Sosumi Brown) is a teacher by day and "Tokyo's kinkiest superhero" by night as she seeks to destroy her nemesis. . .Skang Kee Ho.

Her teenage sister (Hashi Brown) discovers The Punisher's secret lair and takes up a cursed sword to rescue Sosumi after she's captured by the demon Oni Yew and Skang Kee Ho.

Okaaay. . .

For sheer strangeness, this story fills the bill.

I can tell. . .especially with names like "Skang Kee Ho" and "Hashi Brown", and I should mention that THIS Punisher doesn't kill, but "Punishes" by tickle torture and ass-paddling. . .that this isn't meant to be taken seriously, and given that, it's a fun little one shot with occasionally clever writing and very nice manga-inspired art.

But just because it's not bad, that doesn't mean it's all good either. The story is ridiculous, there's no backstory for the main character to tell how or why she became The Punisher, and there are a few truly groan-worthy moments.

Overall, this one shot is basically a lot of "WTF?" in a small package.

RED SONJA: SONJA GOES EAST


DYNAMITE (2006)
SCRIPTS: Ron Marz
PENCILS: Joe Ng
COVER: Alvin Lee

Red Sonja travels to the far eastern realm of Khitai where she allows herself to be captured by a ruthless warlord in order to rescue an enslaved princess, the daughter of a neighboring ruler.

Unfortunately, things aren't what they seem to be. . .the princess is no slave. . .and Sonja must fight her way to freedom.

I'll say this. . .Dynamite knows how to put together a very nice book. 40 pages, no ads, heavy gloss paper. This is a nice, thick comic for your money. You can just FEEL the heft and quality in your hand when you hold it.

The story is a simple one, but well written. The art is simply outstanding, Red Sonja portrayed in brilliantly-colored and highly-detailed manga/anime style is a VERY nice change from the usual sword and sorcery style.

Overall, this one-shot is pure quality comics from cover to cover.


STAR WARS: BOBA FETT - OVERKILL


DARK HORSE (2006)
SCRIPTS: Thomas Andrews
PENCILS: Francisco Ruiz Velasco
COVER: Adam Hughes

A scheming, low-level Imperial officer on a backwater mining planet hires notorious mercenary Boba Fett to resolve a miner strike behind the back of his commanding officer, hoping to reap the benefits of promotion for his problem-solving skills. 

Unfortunately, when Boba Fett solves a problem, it's usually not in a way that benefits anyone but himself, and his explosive "solution" attracts all the wrong kind of attention from Imperial higher ups. 

Dark Horse didn't always do a great job with Star Wars, but this one shot highlighting Boba Fett is a nice example of when they pretty much hit the nail on the head.

The story is pretty simple, but interesting, and even has a few nice moments of humor. The art is cartoony and exaggerated, but fits the tone of the story very well. . .and the 3/4 page reveal of Boba Fett is outstanding.

Overall, this wasn't the greatest Star Wars tale ever told. . .but it's far from the worst. It's actually pretty good, and is a fine example of how everything in the Star Wars universe doesn't HAVE to be epic in scope and dramatic in nature.


TOMB OF DRACULA PRESENTS: THRONE OF BLOOD


MARVEL (2011)
SCRIPTS: Victor Gischler
PENCILS: Goran Parlov & Dalibor Talajic
COVER: Bryan Hitch

In this origin story of Marvel Vampire Raizo Kodo, Raizo and his younger brother infiltrate a seemingly unbeatable warlord's camp to assassinate him. They succeed, but barely escape with their lives.


During the battle, Raizo's brother is bitten. . .and the plague of vampirism sweeps through the Kodo clan, forcing Raizo to kill his entire family. But before it's all done with, he too is infected.

I had never heard of Raizo Kodo, not being much of an X-Men fan (where I guess he was an occasional recurring character), but as a stand-alone story about the origin of an ancient Japanese vampire, this was a pretty engaging story.

It was a little predictable, and the art (while generally pretty good) was dodgy in places, but overall this one shot checked all the boxes I wanted it to in a vampire story. It's not the best vampire story I've ever read, but it's not bad at all.  



The part I liked best about it was the unusual setting for a vampire tale. . .moving things away from the typical European locales to Japan.


And finally. . .

THE X-FILES: AFTERFLIGHT


TOPPS (1997)
SCRIPTS: Stefan Petrucha
PENCILS: Alexander Saviuk & Jill Thompson
COVER: Miran Kim

Scully and Mulder investigate a case in Texas that involves UFO sightings going back to the 1800's.

They quickly discover that there is more going on than they bargained for in a story involving the fading memories of an elderly professor, alien "greys", Men in Black, a scheming drifter, and the last flight of a steampunk airship. . .

There's a lot going on in this book. . .unfortunately, it seems like it is about 50% filler to pad the length out to make a 64 page "graphic novel" when the basic underlying story could have easily been a two issue story in the regular ongoing series (at the time).

That's not to say it's all bad. Once you strip away the two useless side plots that pad the book, you have a pretty good story about a man and his daughter struggling to understand what is real and what is the result of his accelerating dementia.

What I really liked about this story is that it touched on one of my personal favorite "X-Files", the mystery of UFO sightings long before the Wright Brother's first flight.

The art is a bit schizophrenic in that sometimes it is dark and moody, and sometimes it is cartoony. The artist never quite manages to capture the likeness of Scully or Mulder, and there are a few places where the art switches to an almost watercolor painted look. The art is all over the place.

Overall, I liked this book because of the unusual subject and nice touches of humor. What I didn't like was the pointless side plots to pad the length and the occasionally shaky art.

CONCLUSION


Overall, this handful of one shots were less of a mixed bag than the previous batch.  I generally enjoyed them all, and even though there were a few rough spots here and there, I could easily suggest reading any of these.  


I'm having a hard time deciding which one I liked best, but if I HAD to choose, I'd say Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil.  Corben.  Mignola.  How can you NOT like it? If I had to pick the worst of the bunch, I'd say X-Files: Afterflight.  A good underlying story unnecessarily padded for length and with somewhat shaky artwork.  It's not BAD, just a bit disappointing.


Up next. . .


Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Longbox Junk. . .
DC's Star Trek/Star Trek The Next Generation: The Modala Imperative 8 issue crossover mini.


Be there or be square!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wayback Wednesday - Fantastic Four #50

Welcome to another "Retro Review" edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a look at some of the more "Collectable" comics I own instead of my usual dollar box fare.  This time out we're taking a trip back to 1966 to take a closer look at Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four #50.

I have to admit something right off the top here. . .I've never been a fan of the Fantastic Four. 

Like I've mentioned in the past about Spider-Man (another character I'm not really interested in), most of my knowledge of the FF has been gained by comic fan osmosis.  I have a few issues of various runs lurking in the Longboxes and they've crossed over into other series I've read, but I've never gone out of my way to buy a single issue of Fantastic Four, except for the issue at hand and issue #51. . .which I bought purely for their covers.  

So what I'm saying is that I'm familiar with the FF, but am by no means a fan.  That said, this is only one of two issues I have written by the FF's original writer, Stan Lee, so I'm perfectly willing to give it an honest read and try to let Stan The Man change my mind.

I have ANOTHER confession to make before we get into this issue. . .I'm not really a fan of Jack Kirby's art.

If you've read some of the other "Retro Reviews" I've done here at Longbox Junk, you've seen me TRY to like Kirby's art.  Unfortunately, I don't have a large selection of his work in my collection and what I do have isn't BAD, but I find it sort of "Meh" and overrated in my extremely humble opinion. 

That said, I'm willing to give it another chance because number one, I DO love that cover and number two, it's some of Kirby's earlier work, and all I've seen before is from the 70's, where I've read he was on a bit of a decline.

So two strikes against this comic before I even open the cover on it, but I think I can still give it a fair shake. . .so let's do this!

FANTASTIC FOUR (Vol 1) #50



Marvel (1966)
SCRIPTS: Stan Lee
PENCILS: Jack Kirby
COVER: Jack Kirby

A little background:  I bought this comic book for its great cover back in January from an antique store (really more of a junk shop) where it was in a battered and partly burned CGC slab rated 6.5 for the oddly low price of $100.  A pretty good find, I'd say. For the comic collecting purists and slab haters out there reading this, I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear that for this review, I cracked that slab open and freed that old comic from its plastic prison for a proper reading for the first time in God knows how long (and to make it easier to frame on my office wall).

So I bought this book for the cover, let's talk about the cover. . .that glorious, MAGNIFICIENT cover!  Like I said above, I'm not really a fan of Kirby's art, but the stark figure of Silver Surfer on that unusual creamy brown background with the floating heads of 3 of the Fantastic Four and the yellow letters of the title combine to make this cover a real eye catcher.  I don't think I've ever seen another cover like this.  

I think it's the matte brown background that makes it so intriguing. . .I'm not sure if that color has ever been used in that way since.  One would think a plain brown background would be dull and uninteresting, but it REALLY makes the other elements pop in a big way.

If I have one complaint it's the whole "Human Torch Goes To College" thing taking up most of the real estate down in the right bottom corner.  I could do without that part, but even that's pretty well done, even though it seems a bit intrusive and unnecessary. Other than that, this comic definitely has one of my favorite covers in my entire collection.

So that's the cover.  Let's get into what's underneath. 

Right off the bat, I realize that, unlike most of the comics of this era that I've read, this isn't a "one and done", but part of a story continued from the previous issue.  A trip to the Wiki-Well let me know that this is actually the conclusion of a 3 issue story arc introducing Silver Surfer and Galactus, and that Lee and Kirby's extended story arcs such as this one were considered a bit of a revolution in comic storytelling. 

Unfortunately, I have the NEXT issue but neither of the previous issues, so I was sort of dropped into the middle of things.   Thankfully, the storytelling isn't nearly as decompressed as modern comics, so the splash page sums things up nicely. . .

(Not from my copy.  My scanner is broken, so I pulled this and the cover scan from online. The colors on mine aren't nearly as bright)

I have to admit, the splash didn't impress me much.  It's a little crowded and Galactus has plenty of bluster, but it's hard to pull off being threatening when you're wearing purple.  Probably why Hawkeye hardly ever wears his superhero suit these days and The Phantom is practically forgotten. . .BUT I DIGRESS!

The story goes like this:

Galactus has pretty much shown the Fantastic Four that they are powerless against him, but Silver Surfer has been convinced by Ben Grimm's girlfriend (Alicia Masters) that mankind are worth saving.  The Surfer confronts his master and pleads with him to spare Earth, but (as The Watcher points out) how can Galactus be convinced when what he is doing is not evil, but simply Galactus' way of survival?  And so an epic battle between Galactus and Silver Surfer begins.

At first, The Surfer surprises Galactus with his power and seems to be getting the upper hand, but Galactus was just holding back, hoping to convince his herald and longtime companion that humans are just another energy source and that Silver Surfer needs to come to his senses and return to his proper place as Galactus' herald.  During the battle The Thing, Mr. Fantastic, and Invisible Girl can only watch helplessly.

Meanwhile, Johnny Storm is travelling through other dimensions to a far away part of the universe under the guidance of The Watcher in order to retrieve the only thing that has a chance to deter Galactus. . .a device known as THE ULTIMATE MAGUFFIN. . .er. . .THE ULTIMATE NULLIFIER! A device so powerful that it can destroy an entire galaxy. . .possibly an entire universe.

When confronted by the Ultimate Nullifier in the hands of Mr. Fantastic, Galactus immediately realizes that it is the doing of The Watcher that the humans have come into possession of such a deadly device.  Under pressure from Mr. Fantastic waving the Nullifier and threatening to destroy everything, The Watcher demanding that Galactus recognize the infancy of a possibly great race being destroyed when there's plenty of other planets in the galaxy, and the Silver Surfer ready to fight to the death to protect humankind, Galactus decides it's not worth the trouble and leaves Earth.

But before departing, Galactus strips The Silver Surfer of his title of Herald and his Space-Time travelling powers, stranding him on Earth with the humans he fought so hard to protect.  With him, The Watcher also departs and the world is saved from a devastating fate. 

The End.

WAIT! This comic is only HALFWAY DONE!

That's right.  The entire epic battle between Silver Surfer and Galactus, Johnny Storm's trip through time and space to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier, and Galactus folding under pressure from the Surfer, Watcher, and Fantastic Four, then stripping the Surfer of power and stranding him on Earth before leaving humankind to their own fate only took up TEN PAGES!  These days, all that would take TEN ISSUES.

ANYWAY. . .

After Galactus' departure, Ben (The Thing) Grimm notices his girlfriend (Alicia Masters) showing a lot of attention to the now-stranded Silver Surfer.  He gets the wrong idea and gets surly, shuffling off and feeling like a loser without hearing The Surfer blow Alicia off in favor of exploring his new home planet. 

ELSEWHERE. . .

A mysterious bald man is setting himself up as the Fantastic Four's next villain as he obsesses over the news coverage of their defeat of Galactus (Even though 3 out of four of them just sort of stood around in a force field and watched during the whole battle). 

THEN. . .

We get a page of football team drama at Metro College as the hotshot player Whitey Mullins lets his coach know what an old has-been he is and how the team would be nothing without Mullins as the star, and the coach's wife trying to make him feel better. 

AND THEN. . .

The scene shifts to the Fantastic Four's headquarters (The Baxter Building), where Reed Richards is ignoring his wife as he sinks deep into his experiments (He's desperately trying to find a way to protect Earth from future attacks by beings such as Galactus. . .but that's not really explained until next issue). Sue can't appreciate his scientific genius and need to be alone at the moment to do some work because she's being a needy b*tch.  But can you blame her?  The goddamn world was just about drained of energy by a giant guy from outer space!  A girl MIGHT need some extra attention after almost being exterminated.

IN THE MEANTIME. . .

Ben Grimm wanders the streets of New York, still feeling surly about his girlfriend paying some attention to the Silver Surfer after he. . .well. . .saved the entire world while Ben stood watching in a force field.  He scares a random woman and punches a wall because I guess that's how you got your girlfriend to pay more attention to you in 1966.

AND FINALLY. . .

As promised on the cover. . .It's The Human Torch's first day of college!

Johnny Storm seems none the worse for wear after travelling to the ends of the universe and back to retrieve a super-weapon capable of destroying everything and everyone, and his realizing that humankind are completely insignificant in the bigger scope of the infinite cosmos in the process.  But hey. . .College!

We follow Johnny as he meets his new roomie (Wyatt Wingfoot), talks to the dean, worries about being able to make it in college, and pines over his Inhuman girlfriend trapped under an impenetrable dome at the edge of the world. 

The End (for real this time)

I joke a bit, but really I like that the epic conclusion to the Galactus/Silver Surfer saga. . .the greatest threat mankind has ever faced and the moment when the mighty Fantastic Four realizes that there are things in the universe that they are utterly powerless against takes only half of the issue, and then the rest of the comic is like, "Well, THAT happened. . .but life goes on."

And that's another thing I liked a lot about this issue. . .that the Fantastic Four really didn't do that much because there really wasn't anything they COULD do.  Even Johnny Storm's trip to get the Infinite Nullifier was under the power and guidance of The Watcher.  He really didn't have anything to do with it beside provide a body.  This was a REALLY unusual story in that the titular heroes didn't really win the day at all.  Galactus just left because he was convinced that Earth wasn't worth his trouble. 

 It's fairly common these days that the heroes don't always win, but I don't think that was the case in 1966.  Most of the time (Especially in the DC comics I have from that era), the problem is solved in one issue and the status quo never changes.  I'm fortunate to have the next issue where I can see the repercussions of this story. . .with Reed Richard's obsession with protecting Earth from future attacks by beings like Galactus almost leading to his death.  I don't mean to discuss another issue, but it's almost like Richards has PTSD from the events in this comic.  It's really a dark place to go with the bright and bombastic heroes of the Silver Age, to show them as powerless against an enemy and then to show that feeling of powerlessness as a continuing story element.

Overall, even though I don't have all three issues of this story, I found myself enjoying it a LOT more than I ever thought I would.  I said at the beginning of this review that I was willing to let Stan The Man change my mind about The Fantastic Four and I have to say that this issue might have done just that. 

That said, It's not a perfect comic by any means. . .I haven't found one yet.  The Ultimate Nullifier seems like a textbook example of "Deus Ex Machina", and some of the college scenes were pretty weak compared to the philosophical debates in the front half over whether or not something has the right to exist, even though it is of no significance to a more powerful being.  But the weak points don't take away from the fact that this comic is a genuinely entertaining piece of work that holds up well to a modern reading.

As far as the art goes. . .

At the beginning of this, I confessed that I'm not really a Kirby fan, based on what I've seen from him previously, which (to be fair) was some of his later work.  I was perfectly willing to give his art a fair shake in this comic and I have to say that now I can see why Kirby is regarded as a legend in many comic collector circles.  I'm not going to go so far as to say he's my new favorite artist. . .as far as I'm concerned, Kubert still has him beat hands down. . .but I WILL say that I'm a lot more impressed with his earlier work than I was prepared to be. 

 I was especially liking his portrayal of The Thing.  I think maybe the inker had a big hand in it, but the rocky texture of The Thing stood out in a big way, with an almost three-dimensional look that some artists on today's comics can't even come close to.  The scenes of Johnny Storm in outer space were also fantastic, with a beautiful and psychedelic style that really catches the eye and invites you to linger over the panels for a while. 

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself finally finding some Kirby artwork that made me understand why people still regard him as "King" Kirby.

CONCLUSION
I started doing these "Retro Review" Longbox Junk entries in order to more familiarize myself with the older comics in my collection.  I admit that I bought a lot of them just because I thought the covers would look nice as part of my rotating comic art collection on my office wall and I never read most of them beyond a quick flip through.  That's exactly the case with Fantastic Four #50.  I bought it for the cover and was more than happy to let it sit unread until it was time to take a turn up on the wall in a frame. . .then after a while, back into the Longbox.


But I have to say that it would have been a mistake to have never taken the time to read this comic.  Sure, it has an outstanding cover and will take a proud place on the office wall for a while, like I intended when I bought it. . .but underneath that cover, I discovered a genuinely entertaining story that really makes me want to read the other two parts of it. . .and then KEEP reading after that!  For someone who has never been a fan of The Fantastic Four, that's something. 

It's not the best comic I've ever read, but it was surprisingly good and managed to break through my pre-conceived notions of what I was going to get from a Silver Age comic.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk Business as usual with another handful of random one shots.
Hellboy, Punisher, Red Sonja, Boba Fett, Tomb of Dracula, and The X-Files.

Be there or be square!





Monday, April 23, 2018

Longbox Junk - One Shots Part One: Aliens, Ruse, Batman, Captain America, The Goon, and Saddam Hussein!

I DO love the one-shots! They're probably my favorite kind of comic book.


To me, the one shot is one of the ultimate expressions of comic art, where the creators are tasked with the challenge of telling a complete standalone story in a very limited space.  Sometimes it works brilliantly, other times. . .not so much.


ANYWAY. . .


Here's another handful of one-shots randomly pulled from my collection.


Let's do this!


ALIENS: MONDO HEAT

Dark Horse (1996)
SCRIPTS: Henry Gilroy
PENCILS: Ronnie Del Carmen
COVER: Ronnie Del Carmen

When a mining colony is infested with aliens, the owner's daughter is missing, and Colonial Marines can't get there soon enough, mercenary exterminator Herk Mondo is called in to take care of things even though Mondo's extermination methods tend to be a bit. . .destructive.

Still, despite being unarmed, surrounded by aliens, saddled with two spoiled women, and betrayed by his employer's greedy son, Mondo gets the job done.

Ah. . .the 90's. Remember when Duke Nukem was the King of video games? Herk Mondo, alien exterminator, was Dark Horse's version of Duke Nukem. Quick with the one liners. surrounded by women, and killing everything in sight with ridiculously large guns.

Overall, despite the total "90's-ness" of this one shot, I found it to be a fun, quick read. I liked that Dark Horse tried to throw a little humor into the grim world of the Aliens line of comics, and for the most part, it worked. The realistic, yet cartoony art definitely helped sell it.

All in all, a very nice little one-shot. It makes me wish Dark Horse would have done a few more Mondo stories.


ARCHARD'S AGENTS:
THE CASE OF THE PUZZLED PUGILIST


CrossGen (2003)
SCRIPTS: Chuck Dixon
PENCILS: Mike Perkins
COVER: Mike Perkins


When former boxer and agent of famous detective Simon Archard, Peter Grimes, runs into trouble from former criminal associates, he's forced to flee for his life and into the employ of a country Earl.

Peter decides to try his hand at solving the crime when the Earl ends up dead, and discovers that he's a better boxer than detective when he picks the wrong suspect with the wrong motive. Still, he ends up with the girl, so all ends well.

I really enjoyed this one shot, which is a tie-in to CrossGen's Sherlock Holmes tribute, Ruse. The dialogue was sharply-written, the story was engaging, and the detailed art was fantastic. . .it reminded me a lot of one of my favorites, Steve Epting.

I liked the humor in the ending in that the amateur detective gets everything wrong and the case is only solved by a confession made in order to stop him from beating the wrong man to death.

All in all, an extremely enjoyable one shot that really makes me miss CrossGen's short-lived Ruse series, and CrossGen in general.  They put out some really good comics during their time.


BATMAN: THE 10-CENT ADVENTURE


DC (2002)
SCRIPTS: Greg Rucka
PENCILS: Rick Burchett
COVER: Dave Johnson

The origin of Batman is retold from the perspective of Batman's new partner, Sasha Bordeax (AKA Bodyguard), as we follow them on a typical night's patrol.

When the night is done, the peaceful morning back at Wayne Manor is shattered when Bruce Wayne's ex-girlfriend, Vesper Fairchild, is found dead on his doorstep. . .leading into the "Bruce Wayne, Murderer?" crossover.

Overall, I really enjoyed this little one shot quite a bit. The retelling of Batman's origin in comics is overdone, but Rucka keeps it interesting. The chunky art is very nicely done as well. . .it reminds me of the animated series or Batman Adventures a bit.

The only thing I didn't like about this book is that as a one shot it doesn't stand on its own very well beyond the origin retelling. I had no idea who "Sasha" was and had to dip into the Wiki-Well to see how she fit into things.

That said, despite reliance on assuming the reader is up on (then current) continuity, this was a very nice issue.


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE ROAD TO WAR


Marvel (2016)
SCRIPTS: Will Pilgrim & Stan Lee
PENCILS: Andrea DiVito & Don Heck
COVER: Ron Lim


First off. . .the cover on this one is spectacular! Definitely worth a frame on the wall.

The story is okay. Nothing great, but not bad. It's a prequel to the "Civil War" movie and features the movie versions of the Avengers as Captain America tries to fit the new team members into place by taking them on a mission where they all have the opportunity to take turns punching a giant robot. TEAMWORK!

The art is serviceable and solid, once again, nothing too spectacular. There are quite a few full page shots, including one for each Avenger, that are nicely done.

The back half of the book is taken up by a reprint of Tales of Suspense #58 by Stan Lee and Don Heck. It's pretty good, depending on your tolerance for Silver Age art and dialogue.

Overall, this was a solid one shot. Nothing spectacular (except the cover!). It serves as a very nice introduction to the MCU versions of the Avengers, as well as a nice taste of Silver Age Mighty Marvel Bombast.


DESERT STORM: SEND HUSSEIN TO HELL!


Innovation Publishing (1991)
SCRIPTS: Robert M. Ingersoll, Gerard Jones & Charles Marshall
PENCILS: Michael Dutkiewicz, Dean Hubenig & Ernie Steiner
COVER: Mark Jones & Mike Witherby


Now, HERE'S an odd bird indeed.

At first, I thought the cover on my issue was loose, but the printing on the inside of the wrap around cardstock cover goes ACROSS the binding, leading me to believe that this book has a removable cover for some 90's-tastic reason.

Then, in another odd touch, the indicia reads: "This volume is not a reprint -- it is a re-binding of existing printed books, with original covers and staples removed. Contents may vary!", leading me to believe that there are multiple versions of this book.

Odd physical properties aside, there's not much to like about this book. The opening story, about an airman who crashes in Iraq and finds out the Iraqi soldiers following him are just trying to surrender, and the one page Rocky and Bullwinkle tribute are entertaining in a jingoistic way. . .but they only take up 8 pages total in a 64 page book.

The other two stories are. . .well. . .crap.

"Legacy" seems to be based on an ongoing superhero title, but it really looks like an excuse to draw sexy women. And it doesn't even do a great job at that. The artist is one of those who can draw women's bodies to perfection, but struggles with literally everything else.

The last story (Right Place, Wrong Time) is a bit more tolerable, with decent black and white art, but the story itself is convoluted and confusing. Some sort of sci-fi noir detective time travelling thing.

Overall, I have two words for this one shot:

No bueno.


THE GOON 25-CENT SPECIAL


Dark Horse (1995)
SCRIPTS: Eric Powell
PENCILS: Eric Powell
COVER: Eric Powell

A giant poker-playing spider, a goat-headed demon with a funny hat, a swamp monkey monster with an identity crisis, a zombie priest who makes the swamp monkey eat a dead guy's head, and the Goon punches lots of stuff!

Yeah, the story doesn't make much sense, and you get dumped right into the middle of it, but I still found this one shot to be pretty entertaining.

The dialogue is sharp, the art is nicely done, and the short backup story is pretty damn funny.

Overall, I didn't find this to be a great introduction to The Goon (as I was sort of hoping it would be), but it's not bad at all.


CONCLUSION


This handful of one-shots were definitely a mixed bag. . .from the excellent Ruse to the laughably crap-tastic Send Hussein To Hell! and everything in between.  Generally, I liked them all except the aforementioned Desert Storm one shot, and even that wasn't ALL bad.


The thing I DIDN'T like is that only half of these one-shots were really stand-alone stories (Aliens, Ruse, and Captain America).  When I read a one-shot, I'm looking for something that stands on its own.  The name "One Shot" sort of implies that.


Up next. . .


MORE one shots!


Part 2. . .Hellboy, Punisher, Red Sonja, Boba Fett, Dracula and The X-Files.


Be there or be square!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Longbox Junk - What If?

I've always been a fan of alternate reality stories. . .what would have happened if THIS would have been different, or if THAT was said, and so on.  Books, movies, T.V. shows, comic books, I love it all.  It's just interesting to me considering the path not taken.

Both Marvel and DC ran with this idea. DC had "Elseworlds" (Coming soon to Longbox Junk) and Marvel had "What If. . .?".  Personally, I like Elseworlds better, but since I have a small handful of random What If. . .? floating around my collection, then Why Not?

WHAT IF. . .?

ISSUE 2 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF DAREDEVIL KILLED THE KINGPIN?

SCRIPT: Danny Fingeroth
PENCILS: Greg Capullo
COVER: Keith Pollard

During the events of "Born Again" Matthew Murdock finally snaps and shoots Kingpin in the face, setting off a chain of events that leads to a mental breakdown, a showdown with Spider-Man and Punisher, his own death at the hands of Hobgoblin, and Kingpin's son taking up the mantle of Daredevil.

I found this to be a fantastic issue! The story was engaging and well-written and the early work of future New 52 Batman superstar artist Greg Capullo on art was superb and really helped elevate this story. All that an an awesome cover make this issue a winner in just about every way.

ISSUE 32 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF PHOENIX HAD LIVED?


SCRIPT: George Carragone
PENCILS: Rodney Ramos
COVER: Rodney Ramos

After the Shi'ar remove Jean Grey's mutant abilities (including her ability to use the Phoenix Force), her peaceful life as a normal human married to Scott Summers (Cyclops) is interrupted by Magneto, who has a way to return her powers. . .but she refuses, knowing it's only a matter of time before she loses control and becomes Dark Phoenix again.

Later, she's attacked by Mastermind and killed, but is resurrected by The Phoenix Force. . .revealing the truth that Jean Grey did not become Phoenix, but Phoenix became Jean Grey. Driven slightly insane by the knowledge, Phoenix finds where she hid the body of the real Jean Grey and murders her in cold blood. . .

Overall, this was a pretty good issue. A lot of reliance on convoluted X-Men continuity bogged it down a bit, as quite a few pages were completely devoted to exposition. Still, the story was well-written. The art was a bit inconsistent, with the first half being well done and the back half of the book looking a bit rushed and unfinished. The cover was deceptive in the classic Marvel newsstand "Clickbait" way, but was probably the best part of the book.

All in all, a decent issue. Not great, but not bad either.

ISSUE 43 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF WOLVERINE HAD MARRIED MARIKO?


SCRIPT: Ron Marz
PENCILS: Scott Clark
COVER: Scott Clark

Wolverine leaves the X-Men to marry the love of his life, Mariko. He seeks to help her regain the honor of the Yashida clan, and in doing so, Wolverine discovers that The Kingpin has expanded operations to Asia and is taking over all the Japanese crime families.

All out war ensues between Wolverine and The Kingpin until it all comes down to a challenge of personal combat between them. Family betrayal and revenge result in the deaths of Mariko, Silver Samurai, and Kingpin, with Wolverine returning to the X-Men at the end of it all. . .

Overall, I found this issue to be pretty much average. Nothing really stood out as above average except an occasional nice panel of art. The story was predictable and the art was mostly bland. This issue demonstrates the throwaway nature of the What If? stories perfectly.

ISSUE 51 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF PUNISHER BECAME CAPTAIN AMERICA?

SCRIPT: Simon Furman
PENCILS: Paris Cullins
COVER: Art Nichols

When Captain America is blinded and almost killed, the government searches for a new Captain, but their first choice, Marine Frank Castle, refuses until his family is gunned down by criminals in front of him.

Soon, Castle realizes that Captain America can't fight the street-level war against crime such as that which took his family from him, so he takes on the secret identity of The Punisher and wages a bloody war against organized crime until Steve Rogers convinces him that he's on the wrong path and Captain America, not The Punisher, is the legacy that would make his family proud. . .

Overall, this issue was pretty good. Not great, but the story was well-written and interesting. The art was a little too bright and cartoony for the dark subject matter, but it wasn't bad, just the wrong choice of artist for the story.

ISSUE 64 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF IRON MAN WENT PUBLIC?


SCRIPT: Simon Furman
PENCILS: Geoff Senior
COVER: Geoff Senior

Instead of keeping the Iron Man technology to himself and becoming a super hero, Tony Stark decides he can benefit the world and save more lives by going public with it.

Unfortunately, his decision leads to an international arms race that escalates to the point of all out war against Magneto as the mutant population is decimated, leading to the death of The X-Men, Spider-Man reforming The Avengers, and Tony Stark going to extreme measures to stop his technology from being abused.

Overall, I found this to be a great issue. Double-Sized at 48 pages with very few ads, they packed a LOT of story into this book for the money!

The writing was engaging, the story was interesting, and the art was very nice. This could have easily been a stand-alone prestige format book back in the day.

WHAT IF. . .? CAPTAIN AMERICA: FALLEN SON
 (ONE SHOT)


SCRIPT: Marc Sumerak
PENCILS: Trevor Goring
COVER: Ed McGuinness

In the aftermath of Tony Stark's death at the hands of an enraged relative of one of the casualties of Marvel's Civil War (Giant Man) and Captain America's imprisonment, the world is left without the leadership of two of its greatest heroes.

Tony Stark's Iron Man technology gets into the wrong hands, the national Superhero Initiative comes under the control of politicians and is gutted, The New Avengers are beaten and imprisoned, and instead of a Secret War, the Skrull take advantage of the situation and move in for a full invasion of Earth. . .

Overall, this one shot was pretty good. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. . .just pretty good.

The story is told mainly through short glimpses of what happens after Iron Man's death. These vignettes are only a page or two long each, so the story jumps around a bit too much.

The art is hit and miss. It's good at the beginning, but as the book goes on, it gets sketchy and some panels look really rushed and unfinished. The cover is VERY nice, though.

All in all, this seems a bit rushed, and doesn't have much impact out of context from the larger story it was part of.  It doesn't stand alone very well at all.

WHAT IF. . .? CIVIL WAR
 (ONE SHOT)

SCRIPTS: Christos Gage & Kevin Grevioux
PENCILS: Gustavo & Harvey Tolibao
COVER: Marc Silvestri

Main Story: What If Captain America Led All The Heroes Against Registration 
(AKA a very long and sort of awkward title)

Tony Stark is dead before the Superhuman Registration Act is passed, leaving Captain America as the only voice of reason or opposition as Henry Gyrich goes off the rails trying to exterminate unregistered superheroes with a new generation of Sentinels. After Captain America is killed, Gyrich is elected President and the future is grim. . .

Second Story: What If Iron Man Lost The Civil War?

It should really be titled "What if Captain America and Iron Man were able to reach an understanding and end the Civil War" Because that's just what happens. They stop fighting each other long enough to agree that the Registration Act needs to exist, but Captain America is the only man to be trusted to run it right. . .

Overall, this was a good one shot. I liked the art and story better on the second entry, but there was nothing really bad about the first (longer) story. . .just that the overly-exaggerated art wasn't to my liking and the story was a bit more muddled.

The main problem with this one shot is that it doesn't really stand alone. Outside of the context of the larger story of Civil War it doesn't make much sense. That doesn't make it bad in general. . .it just makes it a bad one shot for future readers who might not know much about Civil War.

WHAT IF. . .? WOLVERINE
 (ONE SHOT)


SCRIPT: Daniel Way
PENCILS: Dave Lanphear
COVER: Tony Harris

What if Wolverine wasn't a mutant and became The Punisher in 1920's Chicago and The Watcher wasn't an immortal alien being, but was a modern-day hacker who can see other dimensions through the internet?

In this one shot, you get the answer to questions you never knew you had!

Overall, this "Wolverine as Punisher" story was interesting, but a bit flawed in execution. It feels rushed and more than a bit contrived. The art is pretty good on average, but definitely hit or miss. . .some places it's very nice. . .in others it's borderline bad.

All in all, I'd have to say that this is less of a "What If. . .?" story and more resembles DC's "Elseworlds", as it doesn't show the results of going down a different path, but is a complete re-imagining of an existing character in a different setting.

CONCLUSION

Overall, I found my small handful of What If. . .? to generally be enjoyable, if a bit on the average side.  Some of them depended too much on knowledge of (then current) continuity (Phoenix and the two Civil War one shots), and one of them was more of an Elseworlds than a What If. . .? (Wolverine one shot), but there weren't any really bad ones. . .and there were a couple that were really good (Daredevil and Iron Man).

All in all, after a bit of a closer look at What If. . .? I think I'm going to keep my eye out in the back issue bins for some more.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Up next. . .

ONE SHOTS! I love the one shots!

Aliens, Ruse, Batman, Captain America, The Goon, Hellboy, Punisher, Red Sonja, Boba Fett, Dracula, X-Files, and. . .Saddam Hussein?

Be there or be square!