Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Longbox Junk - One Shots

Anyone who's been reading this blog for a while knows I have a love for the one shot.  If you're new, now you know. . .and thanks for reading!  One shots are tasty little bites of comic book tapas where the creative team has one and only one issue to impress the diner.  You never know what you're going to get with a one shot. Sometimes they hit it out of the park, other times it's a foul ball.

Wait. . .how did I go from food comparisons to baseball?

ANYWAY. . .

One shots! Let's do this!


FANTASTIC FOUR SPECIAL


Marvel (2006)
SCRIPT: Dwayne McDuffie
PENCILS: Casey Jones
COVER: Leinil Wu

While Reed Richards and Doctor Doom have dinner together, the rest of the Fantastic Four, along with Captain America and Spider-Man, fight Doombots in search of a unique component Doom needs to open a portal to another world that Richards has kept hidden since he and Doom were college roommates. 

I'm not a big Fantastic Four fan, but this one shot was pretty damn good! The ending in particular was very nicely done, as Richards returns the item Doom has been searching for willingly. It's a very sentimental moment between mortal enemies. The whole comic is very well written and surprisingly engaging. . .especially for someone who isn't a real fan of "traditional" superheroics like myself.

The art isn't anything spectacular. It's very nicely done in a clean, dynamic, cartoony way. The opening few pages (set during Doom and Richard's college years) could have been ripped straight from a Silver Age comic. 

Overall, this was a surprisingly good one shot with a great story and nicely done art. 


MOON KNIGHT: SILENT KNIGHT

Marvel (2009)
SCRIPT: Peter Milligan
PENCILS: Laurence Campbell
COVER: Clayton Crain

Moon Knight spends Christmas Night tracking down and punishing a group of thugs who killed a store Santa in cold blood. In the meantime his lover, Marlene, waits for him over a cold Christmas turkey.

I liked this one shot quite a bit. Milligan digs deep into both Marc Spector and Marlene. Both of them want normal lives, but both of them also realize that they sort of get off on the dirty, brutal life of being a street-level superhero and loving one. 

It's a really dark look at a "you can't have your cake and eat it too" situation where they feed into each other's insanity in a vicious circle of trying to change someone, but not REALLY wanting them to change.

The art on this one is as dark and gritty as the story and is a perfect fit for this grim little tale.

Overall, very well done all around.


HIGHLANDER #0

Dynamite (2006)
SCRIPT: Brandon Jerwa & Michael Avon Oeming
PENCILS: Lee Moder
COVER: Gabriele Dell'Otto

In 1986 The immortal Highlander Connor McCleod is once again dragged from his peaceful life when followers of the defeated Kurgan start to cause havoc in Paris and Russia.

This very short one shot serves as an introduction to Dynamite's ongoing Highlander series. It's heavily tied to the first movie (while at the same time sort of ignoring it), so anyone who hasn't seen it or doesn't remember it will be lost because this story just jumps right in without any background on who, what, or why.

The art is decent, but completely unsuited for this sort of book. McCleod looks NOTHING like his movie counterpart and the bright coloring and exaggerated features belong more in a superhero comic than one about immortals hiding in the shadows.

An extremely weak and short story tied into a movie on one end and an ongoing series on the other with an unsuitable art style make this one shot worth every penny of the .25 price tag. . .but not one cent more. 


SGT. FURY & HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS

Marvel (2009)
SCRIPT: Jesse Alexander
PENCILS: John Paul Leon
COVER: John Paul Leon

Sgt. Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos go to Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia on a secret recon mission and find themselves teaming up with a Soviet Black Widow to infiltrate a base where Baron Zemo is building a Nazi nuclear weapon. 

After destroying the weapon and failing to escape, the Howling Commandos and Black Widow are taken prisoner and taken to ANOTHER secret base, where they pretty much punch to death a giant robot built by Baron Strucker. All in all. . .business as usual for Nick Fury and The Howling Commandos. 

I found this 2009 one shot to be a lot of fun. The story is pretty ridiculous. . .especially parts where Fury jumps from tank to tank with the help of an umbrella, and the ending where the Howlers basically punch a giant robot to pieces. . .but there were also a lot of moments that were nothing but good, goofy throwback war comic fun.

The art on this one shot is fantastic from cover to last page, with a gritty, dark tone. A double-page spread introducing the Howling Commandos is a real standout in a book full of great panels. The depiction of the WWII Black Widow was also fantastic. The art isn't a perfect match for the light silver age throwback tone of the story, but it's impressive on its own.

Overall, a fun story with great art makes this one shot a winner!


THE TERMINATOR:
TERMINATION SPECIAL

Dark Horse (1998)
SCRIPT: Alan Grant
PENCILS: Guy Davis
COVER: Geof Darrow

Skynet discovers new information on John Connor's childhood and sends 2 Terminators back in time to a Satanic cult's Death Valley hideout.

This one shot serves as an introduction to Terminator D-810X, a female Terminator that is the main villain in the following 4 issue Dark Horse Terminator mini.

The story itself is pretty light. Skynet discovers information and sends Terminators back in time to investigate. Terminators completely eliminate Satanic cult. There's a bit of a side story about a private detective tracking down a girl who joined the cult, but both he an the girl are killed, so it's a bit pointless. It's not a BAD story, it's just extremely light.

The art is a bit uneven on this one. Machinery and tech, including Terminators, are very nicely done. The introductory 3 page battle against a Skynet tank in the future is a real feast for the eyes with all the detail. Unfortunately, the artist isn't so great with humans, so the art is a bit of a mixed bag, swerving from fantastic to borderline bad.

Overall, this one shot is pretty forgettable and since it's tied in with another series, I wouldn't suggest it to anyone but Terminator completionists.


And last, but not least. . .

SWAMP THING (vol. 2) ANNUAL #1

DC (1982)
SCRIPT: Bruce Jones & Wes Craven
PENCILS: Mark Texeira
COVER: Richard Hescox

Scientist Alec Holland discovers a way to combine plant and animal DNA and is killed by a wealthy man wanting the secret for himself. A woman survives the attack and manages to escape with a vital piece of Holland's research. As mercenaries hunt her through the swamp, they are hunted in turn by the creature Alec Holland has become. . .The Swamp Thing! 

This fairly hefty one shot is the adaptation of the original Swamp Thing movie. . .which I've seen, but barely remember anything but Adrienne Boobeau swimming topless in the swamp.

ANYWAY. . .

The story is pretty much one long chase scene. Nothing is really explained and beyond names, the comic book mythology is pretty much ignored in favor of all-out action. I understand that this is an adaptation of a script and a movie has to tell a story in an exact amount of time, but they COULD have expanded on things a little bit in written form. I'll be honest here and say that based on this comic, I don't really want to re-watch the movie. The ending battle with Arcane in final boss form is a particular stinker.

The art on this one is pretty good, as far as pencils and inks go. The coloring is garish and pretty sloppy in places. This probably would have looked a lot better as a black and white book. The painted cover (of the movie poster) is fantastic, showing off Ms. Boobeau's best movie starlet assets very nicely. . .and Swamp Thing looks cool too.

Overall, good art in service to a flimsy story makes this a pretty average effort. I wouldn't really suggest this to anyone but curiosity seekers.


CONCLUSION

All in all, not a bad bunch of one shots.  Only a couple of clunkers among them.  I'd say my favorite was probably Sgt. Fury. . .just because I love the old war comics and it was pretty much a Silver Age story told with modern art.  A close second was the surprisingly good Fantastic Four Special because I'm not even a fan of the FF and it hooked me in.

On the other end of things, I'd have to say that Highlander was the real stinker of the bunch.  It had an extremely thin story and art that was a definite mismatch for the subject.  Second worst would probably have to be Terminator. . .a damn shame since I'm a huge Terminator fan, but there just wasn't that much to it beyond some bits of nice art.

Up next. . .

MORE one shots, son!

Fantastic Four, Captain America, Lobo, Darkseid, Suicide Squad, and Soviet Super Soldiers.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Longbox Junk - HEX Part 3

Here we are. . .the end of the trail for DC's Post apocalyptic Jonah Hex.

It's the final 6 issues, and they're definitely the worst of the bunch.

I have to admit, they were a little hard to get through. . .but giving people comic book reviews they never asked for is what I do, so let's get it done!


HEX
DC (1985 - 1987)
PART 3: ISSUES 13 - 18

ISSUE 13
THE DOGS OF WAR


SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Mark Texeira
COVER: Denys Cowan

In the Seattle Wastelands, gang members are being captured and enslaved by a team of super-powered warriors. . .survivors of Borsten's "collection" of time-displaced gladiators, including Stanley Harris (Hex's Vietnam War-era companion), who have been given their powers by and are working for a mysterious being called S'ven Terah.

In New York City, Hex resumes his search for Stiletta by going after The Combine with guns blazing.

This series sad attempt to revitalize itself by including superheroes continues in this issue and relegates Hex to almost becoming a secondary character in his own series.

The worst part about it is that "The Dogs Of War" are probably one of the worst superhero teams I've ever seen, with clumsy dialogue that you can easily tell Fleisher was uncomfortable writing and cliché shape-changing, berserker, and light beam powers. If Batman seemed out of place in this setting, The Dogs of War are just ridiculous.

ISSUE 14
GLADIATOR

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Mark Texeira
COVER: Mark Texeira

Hex manages to finally track down Stiletta, but she's being controlled by The Combine with drugs. Hex is finally able to beat some sense into her, and after they make their escape Hex overhears an escaped slave of S'ven Tarah talking about how his mysterious captor is rumored to have come from the future. Hex decides to go take a look. . .

There's not much going for this book. The art seems very rushed and is borderline bad. The story is basically setup for Hex to return to Seattle. The Dogs of War shout exposition about their powers in the middle of a battle like some sort of Silver Age throwback. . .and I don't mean that in a warm and fuzzy nostalgic way. I mean that in an eye-rolling "didn't we move past this $hit by the 80's?" way.

ISSUE 15
CHAIN OF DOOM

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Keith Giffen
COVER: Keith Giffen

Hex and Stiletta make their way back west to Seattle and stumble onto the aftermath of a Dogs of War attack. As they investigate, Hex is attacked by the Conglomerate assassin he thought he had killed in issue #5, only this time he's wearing a super-powered suit of armor.

While Hex and the assassin battle, Stiletta goes crazy because of the Combine implants they put inside her brain to make her a stronger and faster fighter.

After a brutal fight, Hex barely defeats the Conglomerate assassin, but can't catch a break as he is attacked by The Dogs of War.

Holy art change!

With this issue until the end of the road, Keith Giffen brings his unique style to HEX.

While I'm generally a fan of Giffen's work, the garish colors and weak inking that kicked Texeira's art down a notch do the same thing to Giffen's. It's a damn shame, because done right Giffen MIGHT have bought this series a bit more time. The cover on this one is one of the top 3 of the series. . .so there's that, at least.

As for the story itself. . .pretty weak. Hex and Stiletta's 3,000 mile trip across country is given about 3 panels. Hex battles a villainous Iron Man copy. . .and that's about it. This issue is pretty much one long fight scene.

ISSUE 16
THE SLAYER AND THE SLAVE

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Keith Giffen
COVER: Denys Cowan

Hex is captured and enslaved by S'ven Tarah. It is revealed that the mysterious being is from the far future, where the human race is enslaved by aliens called Xxgg's. He is enslaving 21st century humans in a desperate bid to build a device to save his own time from invasion.

Hex engineers a mass slave escape so that he can try to find S'ven Tarah and the means he uses to travel through time. In the meantime, Stiletta infiltrates S'ven Tarah's compound in order to try and rescue Hex.

As Hex explores the compound after his escape, he is attacked by The Dogs of War, but is recognized by Stanley Harris.

The story here is pretty much a lot of robot punching and setup for the finale and not much else. The art makes it a bit of a hot mess because of Giffen's use of 9 and 12 panel pages. The tiny panels make it hard to tell what's going on when there's so much action.

ISSUE 17
THE WAR WITH THE XXGGS

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Keith Giffen
COVER: Keith Giffen

After Hex and Stiletta are brought before S'ven Tarah, an Xxgg liquidation team arrives from the future to put a stop to his plan to save the future.

The Dogs of War are beaten badly and forced to retreat, but Hex comes up with a plan that destroys the aliens, but S'ven Tarah tells him that they will never stop, so he must return to the future.

Jonah asks to be sent back to the past, but is refused because the time machine only has enough energy for one trip, and if S'ven Tarah doesn't return, then the aliens will simply invade the 21st century instead of in his time.

The Dogs of War leave earth in a starship, S'ven Tarah returns to the future, and Jonah Hex remains trapped in 2050.

This issue wraps up the whole Dogs of War/ Xxgg War storyline, but does it in a pretty sloppy way. It's basically one long fight scene as the aliens invade and S'ven Tarah desperately tries to delay them in order to launch the starship he's been building.

Giffen's art and tiny panel method aren't well suited for the amount of action involved. Plus it's been plain from issue #13 that Fleisher isn't comfortable with superhero dialogue and it REALLY shows in this issue.

There's a great character moment as Jonah Hex swallows his pride and practically begs to be sent back to 1875, and his disappointment in finding out that he can't. . .and then does the right thing by not trying to force it.

Probably the best moment for Hex in the whole series as he truly becomes the hero he insists he isn't.

Unfortunately, except for those two pages, this isn't a great issue at all. It ties everything up pretty neatly, but the art's a mess and the story it wraps up was generally weak and a poor fit for this series in the first place.

ISSUE 18
THANKSGIVING

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Keith Giffen
COVER: Keith Giffen

A badly-wounded Jonah Hex fights off bandits and hallucinates about his early life with his brutally abusive father.

After he is rescued by Stiletta and recovering from his wounds, he discovers his own stuffed corpse in a museum warehouse and realizes it means that he will return to his own time eventually.

Although the Hex storyline ended with issue #17, this standalone epilogue is a decent ending to the run as a whole.

The story is pretty well worn. . .the hero thinks back on his life as he bleeds out. . .but it's not too bad, especially compared with the superhero/alien invasion storyline that came before it.

Giffen's art has more of a chance to stretch out when not forced to portray constant, chaotic battle scenes, and the coloring isn't as garish as it had been.

The final scene of Jonah Hex coming face to face with his own corpse, stuffed and mounted as a sideshow display, was very nicely done as well.

Overall, most of this series has been a bit of a mess. . .especially since issue #8. . .but the final issue is a nice sendoff for this unusual fish out of water tale.

CONCLUSION

Although there were good moments scattered here and there, HEX was a comic series with some serious problems. . .

After the initial story arc, the series never really found its footing and was unable to continue forward in a successful way.  I'm not sure what sort of background drama was going on, but as of issue #10 there is a definite push to include superheroes into HEX. . .unfortunately, it's plain to see that Michael Fleisher wasn't comfortable with writing superhero dialogue or storylines and it pretty much sunk the whole boat in terms of storytelling.

The art on this series was never spectacular in any way. . .which is strange considering that artists like Mark Texeira and Keith Giffen were featured.  Unfortunately, the coloring from the first issue was garish.  The inkers never really complimented the artists either, so the art never reached the level that one would expect based on the names involved. It's too bad, because great art MIGHT have carried this series a little farther.

So overall what we have in this series is a strange concept that MIGHT have worked better than it did, but the whole thing was shot down by substandard art and storylines that didn't really fit either the character or the writer.

As a huge Jonah Hex fan, I was interested in reading this series, but now that I have, I can't really suggest it to anyone except those like me who want to read EVERYTHING with Jonah Hex in it and are curious to see the character in an unusual setting.  Nobody else is going to like this.

With a bit more care, HEX could have been great.  I look at the short stack of 18 issues and all I can see is wasted potential and Longbox Junk.  A damn shame.

Up Next. . .

ONE SHOTS!  I DO love the one shots.

Bite-size chunks of Fantastic Four, Highlander, Terminator, Sgt. Fury, Swamp Thing & Moon Knight.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Longbox Junk - HEX Part 2

After a pretty good start, can DC's post-apocalyptic fish out of water Jonah Hex series manage to stay on the rails for another 6 issues? Let's find out!

HEX
DC (1985 - 1987)
PART 2: ISSUES 7 - 12

ISSUE 7
RAVAGES OF TIME!

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Mark Texeira
COVER: Mark Texeira

Hex's plan to allow himself to be captured in order to get inside Borsten's base and use his time machine succeeds with the help of a Conglomerate inside man. Stiletta (unaware of Hex's plan), infiltrates the base in disguise to kill her father (Borsten) and joins up with escaped time prisoner Stanley Harris.

Hex, Stiletta, and Harris all find their way to Borsten's time machine, but the plan falls apart and mayhem ensues. Harris manages to escape using the time machine, but it's destroyed before Hex can use it. Stiletta and Hex barely escape the destruction of Borsten's base and Borsten is seemingly killed in the explosion.

I probably should have included this issue with Part 1 of these reviews because it ties an action-packed bow on top of just about all the storylines from the previous 6 issues with an explosive finale that leaves Hex trapped in the future and pretty much ends the first arc of the series. 

For some reason, it seems that Texeira's art is getting worse. Not sure if these issues were rushed or if the inking is to blame, but as this series continues I can see a definite downward trend in the art department.  The art's never been GREAT, but it's trending from pretty good down toward bad.

ISSUE 8
THE SHOOTING GALLERY

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Ron Wagner
COVER: Denys Cowan

After Hex and Stiletta escape the destruction of Borsten's base, they find themselves without fuel for their flyer.

Hex heads into a nearby town to try and find fuel and through a series of circumstances finds himself as a contestant in a deadly shooting gallery maze.

After fighting his way through and winning against the odds, Hex returns to find Stiletta has been abducted. . .

This issue is pretty much setup for the next story arc, which involves Hex's search for Stiletta. Overall, even though the art shows improvement, it feels half-baked, its purpose only to separate Hex from Stiletta and serve up some halfway decent action scenes.

ISSUE 9
DAY OF THE CYBORG

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Mark Texeira
COVER: Mark Texeira

While searching for Stiletta, Hex is taken prisoner by a mad scientist and has to fight his way out of a compound full of killer cyborgs.

This one and done issue can be summed up in one simple phrase: "Jonah Hex shoots a bunch of robots". And really. . .that's about all there is to it.

Moving along.

ISSUE 10
THE SIN KILLERS
SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Ron Wagner
COVER: Mark Texeira
Hex is hired to save the daughter of a wealthy man from the violent cult she has joined. PLUS a pointless cameo by some of the Legion of Super Heroes.

I've noticed a pretty steady decline in the writing since issue #7 tied up the introductory storylines. . .and this is probably the worst issue in the series so far. The cult that worships and dresses like 1930's gangsters is beyond ridiculous and borderline insulting to my suspension of comic book disbelief.

The ballyhooed appearance on the cover of The Legion Of Superheroes is pretty much a pointless 3 panels of a few members of the Legion (including Superboy) saying "Where the heck are we?" before moving along.  It's a pretty obvious and extremely weak attempt at a reader grab.

Not good. After a pretty strong start, it looks like Hex is jumping the rails and heading for the cliff.

ISSUE 11
NIGHT OF THE BAT

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Mark Texeira
COVER: Denys Cowan

Agents of the organized crime syndicate known as The Combine convince Hex that a vigilante known as The Batman in New York City is behind Stiletta's disappearance. Hex agrees to take down Batman without realizing he's being used to do their dirty work.

So about halfway through the run of Hex and it's becoming pretty obvious that DC is trying to lure readers by bringing in some traditional superheroes. . .the pointless Legion of Super Heroes cameo in last issue and this issue's future Batman.

Unfortunately, the attempt to cash in on Batman just seems painfully obvious this far down the line. Not sure how it looked then, but judging by the fact that there's only 7 more issues left, the tactic didn't work.

All in all, this issue seems forced, rushed, and desperate. Batman just seems out of place in the post-apocalyptic world of Hex, and the hoops that were jumped to get Hex to New York to team up with future Batman are pretty ridiculous.

ISSUE 12
SEIGE OF THE TERMINATORS

SCRIPT: Michael Fleisher
PENCILS: Mark Texeira
COVER: Mark Texeira

Batman and Hex engage in a good old fashioned "Heroes fight until they realize they don't need to be fighting" battle. After it's been established they aren't enemies and Hex has been played for a chump, Batman sets Hex on the trail to find Stiletta while he goes to take down The Combine.

Hex finds Stiletta brainwashed and fighting as a gladiator, but is unable to rescue her for the time being, so he joins Batman in taking down The Combine's giant terminator robots. After a brutal and destructive battle, the Combine robots are destroyed, the city is saved, and Batman is apparently dead.

Well. . .the future Batman didn't last long. Two issues in a weak-a$$ robot punching. . .er. . .shooting story. I guess DC decided that IF they wanted to do a future Batman, they'd better steer clear of connections to the failing Hex title.

All in all, except for the decent Stiletta/ Blonde Fury gladiator fighting scenes, this issue was pretty much giant robot fighting.

One sort of creepy thing that DID catch my eye. . .and I wonder why nobody else has mentioned this before. . .but Hex takes down a giant robot by dynamiting the foundations of the World Trade Center and collapsing the twin towers on top of it. This comic was written in 1986.

CONCLUSION

After a decent start, I have to say that there's not much to like at all in the second batch of HEX issues. . . except for issue #7, which REALLY belongs in the first part of these reviews as it is the conclusion to the storylines of the first 6 issues.

The art is beginning to severely swerve in quality from pretty good to downright bad and the writing is increasingly aimless and wandering. . .it seems like they were wanting to go toward "one and done" issues like most of the previous Jonah Hex series but really couldn't manage it.  Not sure if there was editorial/executive interference with the story, but there's definitely some sort of conflict going on.

Lastly, there are obvious signs of this comic beginning to fail on the stands with a sudden swerve toward including superheroes in the story. . .a pointless cameo by the Legion Of Superheroes in issue #10, and Hex teaming up with a future version of Batman in issues #11 and #12.  It just looks forced and desperate. . .and SPOILER FOR PART 3. . .the superhero shenanigans just get worse.

All in all, this batch of issues is just sort of sad.  DC should have made HEX a 6 issue mini instead of trying to sustain it as an ongoing series.  After a clearly defined first story arc, it's just sort of wandering at this point.

Up Next. . .

The last (and worst) issues of DC's HEX.

Be there or be square!



Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Longbox Junk - HEX Part 1

Their nuclear ravaged world NEEDED a hero. . .what it got was Jonah Hex.

THE SCENE: A meeting room at DC Comics.  The year is 1985.  Three members (who I won't name) of DC's Editorial and Executive staff sit around a table.  Marijuana smoke drifts through the air. . .

MAN #1: (coughs) So, anyway. . .you guys seen Road Warrior?
MAN #2: (Exhales a cloud of smoke) It's a fu**ing great movie, man!
MAN #3: Do we have a comic like that?
MAN #1: No. . .but check this out.  I got this great idea.
MAN #3: Say it, man!
MAN #2: Hey. . .pass that $hit! Fu**ing bogart.
MAN #1: You know Jonah Hex?  How about we make him like. . .IN THE FUTURE!
MAN #2: (coughs loudly, almost choking) WHAT? He's a fu**ing cowboy!
MAN #3: (Thinks a moment, then blows a huge cloud of smoke) Do it.
MAN #1: Really?
MAN #3: DO IT, MAN! DO IT!
MAN #2: (laughs uncontrollably)

The scenario above is about the only way I can see how this comic series happened.  Oh, sure. . .there's some interviews and such describing a much more thoughtful decision-making chain, but I have the feeling that those were trumped up to conceal the ACTUAL thought process of turning Jonah Hex into a post-apocalyptic warrior.

Can this idea possibly be ANY good?  Let's find out!


HEX
DC (1985 - 1987)
ISSUES 1-6

ISSUE 1
ONCE UPON A TIME. . .IN THE WEST?!?

Script: Michael Fleisher
Pencils: Mark Texeira
Cover: Mark Texeira

Jonah Hex is pulled from 1875 almost 200 years into a post apocalyptic future, captured and held prisoner for an unknown reason. Hex escapes his prison and rescues a beautiful woman, who invites him to join a sketchy gang. Hex ends up eating giant grasshopper and realizing he's thrown in with the wrong kind of people during a raid gone bad. . .

Hex hits the ground running with a great first issue! It's mostly action, as Hex makes his escape after being kidnapped through time, and then goes on a water raid with a wasteland gang, but it does slow down a bit a couple of times for some info-dumping on the scenario. . .it's 5 years after a nuclear holocaust in the year 2050, and except for a few pockets of civilization, the world is a chaotic wasteland with barely any water. 

In other words, Jonah Hex meets Mad Max. . .but it works!

The art by Texeira is very nicely done throughout and really helps sell the strange idea of this series. The scene of Hex witnessing a 15 foot long grasshopper being barbecued for dinner is a definite standout, letting Hex (and the reader) know for SURE that he ain't in Kansas anymore.

There's a few problems. . .the villain's info dump at the beginning is informative, but seems out of place, and Texeira's vehicle designs are the weakest part of the art. . .but other than that, this is overall a great start to the series.

ISSUE 2
CAN SHE BAKE A CHERRY PIE?

Script: Michael Fleisher
Pencils: Mark Texeira
Cover: Mark Texeira

Hex teams up with a squad of Vietnam war soldiers also kidnapped through time and decide the best strategy is to return to the place where Hex was originally imprisoned and try to find the time machine. 

Hoping to find something to help them, Hex and the soldiers make their way to an abandoned military base, where they are saved from cyborg dogs by the woman Hex rescued in the first issue (Stiletta), who then helps them infiltrate the high-tech installation where Hex was imprisoned. . .but she turns out to be a robot sent to lure Hex back. Hex makes his escape, but is forced to leave behind his new comrades. . .

There's a LOT packed into these issues! Once again, this issue is mostly action, but there's a lot of it, along with several twists and turns. It's almost exhausting to read, to tell the truth. There's more stuffed into this single issue than gets put into a year's worth of story in today's comics.

Unfortunately, the background of the new world Jonah Hex finds himself in suffers for the sake of the relentless action, becoming a vague sort of stage scenery.

That and the way this series is ALREADY heading toward lots of robot punching. . .er. . .shooting. . .knocks this second issue down a rung or two from the great opening issue.

ISSUE 3
THE LOTUS EATERS!

Script: Michael Fleisher
Pencils: Mark Texeira
Cover: Denys Cowan

After Hex's escape from the trap set for him, he eludes his pursuers and finds himself working as a bodyguard for a drug dealer. Hex realized that he's thrown in with the wrong crowd AGAIN and kills the dealer then steals his ship to continue his getaway into the wasteland. . .

Drugs are bad, kids.  This Public Service Announcement brought to you courtesy of Jonah Hex and a goddamn bullet to the head.

That's pretty much the story on this issue. It seems like a filler issue more than anything. The art by Texeira continues to impress (except for his awful vehicles), but the inking by Garzon takes things down a notch, compared to the previous two issues. It just goes to show that a good inker is just as important as good pencils.

ISSUE 4
WORMS

Script: Michael Fleisher
Pencils: Ron Wagner
Cover: Mark Texeira

Hex crash lands his stolen flyer and encounters Stiletta in the wasteland. Together, they go in search of water without realizing that Hex is being pursued by the partners of the drug dealer he killed. An encounter with bloodsucking worms in a pitch black cave convinces Hex his life has taken a definite turn for the worse. 

All that AND the origin of Hex's kidnapper. . .Reinhold Borsten. . .who is a time traveler who learned about the upcoming nuclear apocalypse and traveled forward with advanced technology in order to rule society. He captures warriors from various eras of time in order to pit them against each other in high-stakes games with other wealthy survivors. 

There's still plenty of action in this issue. . .especially the horrific encounter with the titular worms, but things slow down a bit for some world building, giving us more information to fill in some of the sketchy outlines of post-apocalyptic 2050 America.

Overall, a pretty good issue with just the right mix of story and action.

ISSUE 5
THE SEATTLE CHAIN SAW MASSACRE

Script: Michael Fleisher
Pencils: Mark Texeira
Cover: Mark Texeira

The Conglomerate (A de facto wasteland government made up of surviving organized crime families) sends a deadly assassin after Hex and Stiletta for killing a squad of hit men they sent after Hex killed one of their drug dealers.

The assassin strikes as Hex and Stiletta hijack a shipment of Conglomerate Soames (water purifying tablets that are wasteland currency controlled by The Conglomerate) and is defeated only after a brutal battle, but in the end, Hex and Stiletta are captured by The Conglomerate. . .

Once more, this issue is pretty much all out action, but there is a bit more world building with the introduction of another faction trying to control the American wasteland. Unfortunately, The Conglomerate seems a bit weak and cliche. The assassin they send after Hex has a definite feel of "Villain of The Month" to him. . .as he's introduced and defeated in the same issue. Texeira's art also continues to suffer a bit with Garzon's inks.

ISSUE 6
THE SOAMES CONSPIRACY

Script: Michael Fleisher
Pencils: Mark Texeira
Cover: Mark Texeira

After the Conglomerate captures Hex and Stiletta, they tell Hex that they want to hire him to destroy Borsten's time machine in order to prevent him from going back in time to undermine The Conglomerate's present hold on power. . .and that the best way for Hex to get inside is to allow himself to be captured and then escape with the help of an inside man. 

Hex agrees, as long as he can use the time machine to send himself back before blowing it up with a time charge. Stiletta reveals that she's Borsten's daughter and also wants to infiltrate Borsten's base in order to kill him. Hex is like. . .whatever, just don't get in the way, woman. 

AND 

Stanley Harris (one of the Vietnam soldiers Hex had to leave behind in issue #2) escapes captivity and is running loose through Borsten's base. 

First off. . .great cover! Texeira may be $hit at drawing vehicles (and there's some truly God-Awful ones in this issue), but he can damn sure draw women right.

As for the issue itself. . .it's a bit weak, but not bad.  It feels like it's leading up to an explosive conclusion soon. There's some more background on the world, but this time around it seems a bit too long to serve the simple purpose of the story. . .The Conglomerate wants to remove Borsten's most powerful weapon, his ability to travel through time, and Hex is just the one man army with the proper motivation to do it.

Overall, this issue isn't bad, but feels a little bloated, especially when you add in the sub-plot of the Vietnam soldier escaping Borsten's captivity and Stiletta's subplot about wanting to kill her father.

CONCLUSION

Overall, despite some weak points in the story and Texeira's strange inability to draw futuristic vehicles that don't look ridiculous, these first 6 issues are a surprisingly strong opening for this series.  As a huge Jonah Hex fan, I was a little skeptical about the whole idea, but am pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying these comics more than I ever thought I would.   

Now let's not be hasty and call them GREAT.  They're nowhere close to great.  They're pretty good, but ultimately the story is nothing but a vehicle for action scenes. . .sort of like the story in a Call of Duty video game.  It's there and it's pretty good, but once the action starts, you sort of forget it until the next bit of story comes along to remind you there's other stuff going on besides shooting.

Now that I think of it. . .this would probably make a decent video game.
It sort of has the same "story/action/story/action/story" construction as your typical shooter.

Up next. . .

More Hex! Issues 7 - 12.  
Can they keep this thing on the rails for at least a few more issues?


Be there or be square!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Longbox Junk - Silver Surfer: Parable

With the recent passing of Stan "The Man" Lee, it's inevitable that there will be a flood of tributes complete with lists of great characters, classic issues, and epic storylines. . .of which there are indeed many.  Stan Lee was a prolific writer with a great imagination and creative talent, and along with equally-talented collaborators such as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, he helped to create many of the characters that we know and love today.  

So of course we're going to hear about Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The X-Men.  We're going to hear about "This Man, This Monster" and "Spider-Man No More", among many other classic stories. . .and rightly so!  

BUT. . .

THIS is Longbox Junk.  And while I DO feel a need to try to pay a small amount of tribute to a man that stood larger than life as the outspoken and ever-present goodwill ambassador of comic books for. . .well. . .pretty much my entire life, I'm not one to reach for the low-hanging fruit.  

No. . .if I'm going to show my respect for Stan The Man, I'm going to dig a little deeper and go right past those well-known issues that are probably FAR beyond the budget of most comic collectors (outside of reprints and collections) and talk about a great Stan Lee story that can be found in original copy at quite an affordable price that will certainly be passed over by many collectors in favor of more "valuable" comics.

Rest In Peace Stan Lee.  You taught me that the value of comics isn't just measured in dollars.  I didn't know you, but I'll miss you, and the world will be a sadder place without you.

Let's do this!


SILVER SURFER: PARABLE

MARVEL (1988)
SCRIPT: Stan Lee
PENCILS: Jean (Moebius) Giraud
COVERS: Jean (Moebius) Giraud

ISSUE ONE

A little background first?

So from what I've read about this odd little two-shot, it came from a chance meeting of Stan Lee and French artist Moebius at a comic book convention.  They were in almost immediate agreement as to what character they should collaborate on and the issues were written using the "Marvel Method" of Stan Lee writing an outline and letting Moebius build the visuals around it, then Stan doing the finished dialogue and Moebius putting in the final touches (including the lettering).  

Moebius saw this project as a bit of a self-challenge, as he'd never worked on an actual mainstream superhero comic book before, and he had to make some changes to his art (in particular the coloring) to fit the newsprint the comics were printed on.  In an interview I read about this comic, Moebius claims it was one of the hardest projects that he'd worked on, as the color palette was extremely limited compared to what he was used to.

At the time of publication, this comic sold very well (It had a pretty high print run, which is probably why it can still be found in dollar boxes today) and was well enough regarded that it won the Eisner Award for best finite series. I find it strange that despite the good reception and critical accolades, it seems to be somewhat forgotten and certainly not very "valuable" to collectors today.

But enough about that.  Let's get into it!

The story goes like this:

A gigantic spaceship is sighted heading for Earth,  plunging the population into fear and panic.  When it lands, the huge figure of Galactus comes forth and demands that mankind worship him, and that their obedience to him will usher in a new age for the planet.

Almost overnight, religions spring up around Galactus, the primary one being led by Evangelist Colton Candell. . .who positions himself as the self-appointed prophet of Galactus.  As Galactus declares his followers worship him by throwing aside their laws and inhibitions and do as they will, the Earth quickly descends into chaos and anarchy.

The Silver Surfer, who has been living in exile (and disguised as a hobo for some reason) on Earth since Galactus' last visit, finally has enough of the chaos and decides it's time to confront Galactus and find out why he's returned when he previously vowed not to harm Earth or Mankind.


And that's pretty much it for the first issue.

It's a deceptively slim story. . .Godlike alien lands on Earth and demands obedience.  Mankind falls into chaos and religious fanaticism.  The forgotten hero decides to take a stand.  But despite the somewhat skeletal framework, there's quite a bit to chew on here.  

Basically, this first issue asks the question, "What would happen if (a) God was right THERE telling you what to do. . .even if it was against what you believe in?  Would you have the courage to resist, or would you just join the crowd and do what you were told to do?"

It's well written and Stan Lee steps outside of his usual bombastic superhero box to ask the reader some hard questions.  There's very little traditional "action" in this comic beyond a few scenes of Earth falling into chaos and rioting.  There's also no other superheroes on the scene of this worldwide event, which I found odd in light of Stan Lee being one of the creators of the modern connected "Comic Universe".  

Judging from the title, I'd venture to say that the oddly isolated nature of this story is meant to teach a lesson more than it is to entertain with superhero appearances.  An interesting departure from what one would expect from someone like Stan Lee, who usually revels in the extended Marvel Sandbox of heroes  he helped create.

The art was also somewhat unexpected.  I'm mostly familiar with Moebius through his "Blueberry" western series.  The lines are a lot thinner than in Blueberry. . .almost to the point that it looks like the work of a different artist.  That's not to say that it's bad by any means. . .the art on this issue is superb. . .it's just different than what I would think of from Moebius.  But then again, I don't have many other examples of his work to compare to beyond Blueberry (which is a great series.  If you haven't read it and you like western comics, you MUST read Blueberry!)

The thin lines, sparse backgrounds, and flat colors combine with very cinematic angles and an unusual lettering style to perfectly complement a story with hardly any traditional superhero action.  Moebius gives what is (in my extremely humble opinion) one of the WORST Marvel villain designs an actual presence, weight, and sense of size that is impressive. . .especially considering that we're talking about a giant purple-clad guy with a ridiculous hat.

Overall, this first issue was a great read.  Stan Lee took a skeletal narrative that can be summed up in 3 short sentences and fleshed it out with a surprising amount of thought-provoking dialogue.  Moebius took one of the most ridiculous Marvel villains and gave him a sense of size and power that makes you believe that he COULD throw mankind into chaos with a demand to be worshiped.  Together, the two of them have crafted a quite interesting comic.



ISSUE TWO

Continuing directly from the first issue, the story goes like this:

The Silver Surfer confronts his former master and demands to know why Galactus has broken his vow not to attack Earth.  Galactus smugly informs his former herald that no vow has been broken, and that he has done nothing except allow humanity to destroy themselves by choosing to worship him as a God.
Silver Surfer decides to take his case to the people, but his pleas for humanity to not follow Galactus without question fall on deaf ears and the Surfer is attacked by the military for speaking against "God".  Their attacks do no harm and the Surfer doesn't retaliate, which makes Galactus angry enough that he takes up the battle with Silver Surfer himself.
As the battle between the Silver Surfer and Galactus rages across the city, it becomes clear to the onlookers that while Galactus has no care for the damage and destruction he is causing, the Surfer is trying his best to save bystanders caught up in the fight, even though they were attacking him only a short time ago.  
Finally, the sister of Galactus' self-proclaimed prophet is killed during the battle in full view of the world as the Surfer begs him to stop the destruction.  The "prophet" publicly denounces his "God" and the U.S. Air Force attacks Galactus, making him realize that his ruse is over and humanity no longer worships him.  Galactus ends his battle with Silver Surfer and leaves Earth. . .but not before promising to return again because he is eternal and man's memory is not.
In the aftermath of Galactus' short reign and his defeat, Silver Surfer is invited to the United Nations, where the leaders of the world now want HIM to be their God.  The Surfer is disgusted that mankind learned nothing from the recent events and purposely makes such impossible demands as a condition of his worship that the Surfer is immediately denounced as a tyrant.  As he leaves, only the former "prophet" of Galactus realizes that the Surfer sacrificed his chance to be a God for the greater good. . .but by then, the Surfer is gone and it's too late.
In the end, Silver Surfer is alone and hated by humanity.  He can only look down on the planet from space and wonder if it's worth protecting at all.  

The End.

Where the first issue is primarily concerned with setting up the conflict between Silver Surfer and Galactus, the second leans HARD into the religious aspects of the narrative, so your enjoyment of this part of the story will depend a lot on how you see panels such as this one:



As you can see, the religious allegories in this issue are not exactly subtle.  There are several layers to be found that question religious belief in general and organized religion specifically.  The title of this story is "Parable" and this second issue takes that to heart. . .giving us a battle between organized religion and  humanistic agnosticism in the guise of a fight between Silver Surfer and Galactus.

There are a lot of questions asked during the course of this issue, and the answers are mostly left up to the reader to decide.  It really shows a different side of Stan Lee than what is normally presented, and I can sort of see why this story generally flies under the radar even though it seems to be pretty well regarded.  It's a thoughtful story that (although it's a bit heavy handed, to tell the truth) asks the reader to look not only inside themselves, but at the world around them.  It doesn't ask "What would Jesus do?" but "What would YOU do?"

CONCLUSION

Basically, this is not so much a Silver Surfer vs. Galactus story as it is a parable illustrating the conflict between organized religion and humanistic agnosticism.  If that sentence made you grit your teeth a little, then this comic is probably not going to be for you.

BUT. . .

If you want to see a side of Stan Lee that isn't often on display,  paired up with one of Europe's finest artists for a one-time collaboration, then this story is definitely worth a look.

This is an unusual story, to be sure.  And it's not for everyone.  But you can feel the spirit of Stan Lee in this story as he uses the comic medium that he loved so much to give us the message that you don't need God to be good, you just need to be good to each other.  To me, that's as fine a memorial to the late, great Stan "The Man" Lee as any.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Longbox Junk - Wolverine/Gambit: Victims

As far as Marvel is concerned, EVERYTHING is better with a little Wolverine in it.
Let's take a trip back to 1995 and put that theory to the test, shall we?


WOLVERINE/GAMBIT: VICTIMS


MARVEL (1995)
SCRIPTS: Jeph Loeb
PENCILS: Tim Sale
COVERS: Tim Sale
ISSUE ONE
IN HARM'S WAY


The X-Men's Gambit travels to London to investigate the death of an old friend, one in a string of murders of women that seem to mirror those of Jack The Ripper. He quickly finds himself hunted by the police and running into fellow X-Man Wolverine. . .who can't explain why he's in London or why he's covered in blood. 

Not a bad start for this mini. The story hook of Wolverine possibly being a serial killer is a decent one, but it's pretty obvious that's not how this is going to play out. 

This issue is more of a Gambit comic, with Wolverine showing up only in the final couple pages and being told from Gambit's point of view. I like that the focus was more on Gambit investigating than on superheroics and punching through problems.

Tim Sale's art is really good on this issue. I'm a fan of Sale but he can sometimes get a bit over-impressionistic. Except for Gambit's face sometimes looking demonic or like a vampire, there's nothing holding this comic back from being a showcase for his dark and moody style. 

Overall, a great opening issue that makes me want to get right into the next one.

ISSUE 2
IN DEEP

After Wolverine and Gambit escape from an elite anti-terrorist unit with the help of a mysterious and beautiful woman claiming to be working for Interpol and Nick Fury, they find themselves trapped in an underground maze of sewer tunnels. . . 

After a great opening issue, things take a turn for the worse with this second part.

It turns out that Gambit and Wolverine are being played for suckers in some sort of game being played by the villain Arcade and the mysterious woman (who turns out to be the daughter of the villain Mastermind), but the book is completely propped up with a series of coincidences and unexplained situations that lay a convoluted trail to the final villain reveal.

The art also takes a bit of a turn as well. . .while still generally good, Sale begins to indulge in some of his particular habits of over-exaggeration, with the features of Gambit becoming more gaunt and demonic and Wolverine becoming more bloated and muscular as the issue goes on.

Overall, I wouldn't call this issue BAD. . .I'd just say it's not as good as the first and showing signs of the typically worst parts of Loeb/Sale collaborations.

ISSUE 3
NO WAY OUT



The villains Arcade and the New Mastermind manipulate the thoughts and memories of Wolverine and Gambit, forcing the heroes to fight each other. 

Not sure what Arcade and Mastermind's end game is, but Mastermind has the ability to manipulate memories, so most of this issue is Gambit flashing back to when he met the detective whose death he was investigating, and Wolverine married to Mariko and living happily in Japan.

Gambit manages to fight his way free and somehow is able to enter Wolverine's flashback in order to try and bring him back to the real world. . .all while the villains laugh evilly. 

Sales art swerves back to very strong here, with Wolverine's scenes in Japan being exceptionally good. . .but the story is a bit weak and riddled with holes. A cliche "heroes fight until they realize they're being used", then escape and villain beat-down for the next issue is obviously projected.

All in all, this third issue has some of the best art so far, but that great art is in service to a weak story that pretty much is nothing but setup for the finale.

ISSUE 4
A WOMAN SCORNED



When Mastermind discovers that she is being used by Arcade, the two villains turn on each other, giving Gambit and Wolverine the chance to escape captivity and bring their scheme to an end.

The final issue brings it all together in a hot mess of robot punching, deus ex machina, dangling plot threads, and things that have absolutely nothing to do with the previous 3 issues being extremely important to the conclusion.

The good news is that while the writing has been on a steady downward curve since the first issue, the art has been on an upward curve, with this issue having probably the best art in the set, especially the final scenes of Wolverine and Gambit in a graveyard discussing what happens next in their lives (SPOILER: They're both going to remain gloomy a$$holes for the time being).

Overall, this issue feels disconnected with the other 3. Instead of finishing up THIS story in a satisfactory way, it seems to want to set up future story threads. 

It wasn't until this issue that I realized the whole mini was ACTUALLY for the introduction of the New Mastermind to the Marvel Universe.

And here, I thought it was a Wolverine/Gambit teamup.

CONCLUSION

If I had to describe this mini-series in one word, it would have to be: Misleading.

On the surface, it obviously seems to be a Wolverine/Gambit teamup comic, but in reality it's the introduction of a new villain to the Marvel Universe (Mastermind II).  Of course, this doesn't become clear until the final issue.  By the time you realize the true purpose of the story, it's over with.   I'm not sure if that's extremely clever or just plain deceptive.

That aside, this mini is pretty forgettable.  The story is okay.  The art is pretty good.  Neither is great in any way.  There's nothing standing out as excellent or memorable. This mini is like a popcorn action movie that you forget the plot to immediately after leaving the theater.  It's not BAD, but it's not good either.  It's just sort of. . .there.  I found these comics in the dollar box.  That's right where they belong.


Up Next. . .

How about some more 90's -Tastic Wolverine Team Up Action? Iron Fist/Wolverine, then more Punisher/Wolverine, then some Elektra/Wolverine and THEN Nightman/Wolverine!

Just kidding.  No more Wolverine teamups for now.

HEY! Anybody remember the time that Jonah Hex traveled to the future for some apocalyptic mayhem? DC's HEX. . .all 18 goddamn issues.

Be there or be square!