Monday, May 28, 2018

Longbox Junk - All New Captain America

Steve Rogers as Captain America is one of my favorite (super hero) characters of all time.

BUT. . .

I'm gonna say something here that MIGHT just be a little bit disagreeable to a lot of comic book readers out there.  I REALLY liked Sam Wilson as Captain America, and I had hoped he would STAY as Captain America.

Captain America: Sam Wilson was probably my favorite Marvel book out while it was running (super hero book, that is.  I like their Star Wars titles a lot too).  It has great art and touches on a lot of uncomfortable subjects.  It's more than just punching giant robots and monsters.

It ain't perfect, but I think Sam Wilson has a good enough legacy as Cap's partner and friend to be able to pull off being Captain America while still telling the story of how he KNOWS there's no way he can live up to the original in a very meta way reflecting the opinions of many Captain America fans.

Unfortunately, Marvel seems like they can never really stick to their guns when it comes to major changes to a "tentpole" character like Captain America (Not slamming Marvel in particular, DC is just as guilty) and we have Steve Rogers back now at the expense of some great storytelling for Sam Wilson.

BUT. . .

THAT'S "Captain America: Sam Wilson".  THIS is the initial offering of Sam Wilson as Captain America, "All New Captain America". . .an extremely short (just 6 issues) run just before Marvel's universe reboot with Secret Wars.

Is it as good as what came later? Is it any good at all? Let's find out!

ALL NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA
MARVEL (2015)

ISSUE 1

SCRIPTS: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Stuart Immonen
COVER: Stuart Immonen

The New Captain America teams up with Nomad to take down a hidden Hydra Base holding a devastating secret weapon.

This first issue starts off VERY nicely with an outstanding cover. Say what you will about Sam Wilson as Captain America, but that IS one sweet cover!

Inside, Immonen's art continues to impress, and is really the best part of the issue. The double page opening spread of Cap flying down into the Hydra base that is the main plot focus of the issue is particularly outstanding. And anyone that can make BATROC look like a badass is doing a fine job in my book.

Unfortunately, the story isn't quite as impressive as the art. It's not BAD, but it really suffers from exposition overload. . .it comes on the heels of the God-Awful "Captain America in Dimension Z" storyline. . .and it tries to team FalconCap up with Ian Rogers/Leopold Zola/ Nomad. To be kind, let's just say it feels extremely forced, and thank God they abandoned the effort in the next series.

Overall, this was a decent issue with fantastic art, but bogged down with exposition and a forced teamup.

ISSUE 2

SCRIPTS: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Stuart Immonen
COVER: Stuart Immonen

Cap and Nomad are separated while battling a "Who's Who" of Captain America villains after being teleported to a nation run by criminals. Cap is betrayed by the boy they were trying to save, Misty Knight (working undercover for S.H.I.E.L.D.) comes to his rescue and lets him know about a vast Hydra conspiracy (what other kind IS there?) and Nomad is seemingly killed by Baron Zemo.

So. . .

There's a lot going on in this issue, and to tell the truth, two issues in and the plot is starting to turn into a mess. This short-lived series is headed for the cliff almost right out of the gate.

That's not to say it's bad. . .it's decent, mindless, punch-tastic superhero nonsense. Definitely heavy on the action, and with stunning artwork by Immonen carrying the load with ease.

ISSUE 3

SCRIPTS: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Stuart Immonen
COVER: Stuart Immonen

Cap is taken prisoner by Sin (Red Skull's daughter) and is mentally tortured by revealing that Sam Wilson is a fake persona put on mob thug and drug runner "Snap" Wilson by the Red Skull in order to use him as a spy against the original Captain America. Sam shows Sin his disagreement via punches and angsty shouting.

Oh, SNAP (Wilson)!

This issue makes absolutely NO sense as part of the ongoing story. He gets on a teleporting elevator with Misty Knight and gets off alone in WWII where Red Skull's skanky daughter mentally torments him. There's absolutely no explanation of what's going on or how she manages to travel back in time.

Of course as a retcon of Sam Wilson's retconned "Snap Wilson" origin, it makes SOME sense. Marvel needed to do this at some point and they just shrugged and said "No time like the present. Just throw it in there."

Overall, except for the outstanding artwork, this issue sticks out like a sore thumb in a REALLY bad way. The retcon of the retcon is clumsy and poorly done, and will probably have to be retconned again someday.

No bueno.

ISSUE 4

SCRIPTS: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Stuart Immonen
COVER: Stuart Immonen

It's a race against time to foil Hydra's plan to sterilize the world's population. Captain America and Misty Knight split up to take down Hydra cells in India and Madripoor, then split again to take down the last cells in Moscow and Florida.

Unfortunately, Cap finds himself outmatched by Baron Zemo and is unable to stop millions of fleas with infected blood from being released on America. . .

Yeah. Millions of infected fleas.

Last issue's retcon of Sam Wilson's "Snap" Wilson gangsta background via the daughter of the Red Skull's unexplained powers to travel back in time was confusing and out of place. This issue's "Flea Apocalypse" is just plain stupid.

At this point, Immonen's outstanding art and some nice flashback moments at the beginning of each issue are this run's only saving grace.  A damn shame, considering what the next series had to offer.

ISSUE 5

SCRIPTS: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Stuart Immonen
COVER: Stuart Immonen

Captain America is rejoined by Nomad, taking down Baron Zemo and saving America by summoning a huge flock of birds to eat all the infected fleas. . .but they discover Hydra's failsafe plan: The vampire Baron Blood filled with infected blood and ready to blow himself up in Paris. . .

*facepalm*

After getting his throat cut by Zemo, Nomad comes back into the fight with what HAS to be the lamest "Not really dead" Deus Ex Machina I've seen in a while. . .some sort of wonder healing gel from Dimension Z built into his armor.

I thought the brutal death of Nomad was one of the best things about this series. I pegged it as a good move that added a bit of emotional impact. It turned out to be just another Marvel fakeout.

And finally. . .

ISSUE 6

SCRIPTS: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Stuart Immonen
COVER: Stuart Immonen

Captain America defeats Baron Blood in a battle on the edge of outer space while Nomad is seemingly killed AGAIN during a battle with Baron Zemo. At the end of the day, Misty Knight comes to the rescue and Hydra's plans are foiled. . .for now.

In an epilogue aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier during Captain America's debriefing by Nick Fury jr., it's revealed that, SURPRISE! Misty Knight wasn't working for S.H.I.E.L.D. after all. . .

Thank God it's over.

From Captain America being able to fly up to low earth orbit sans spacesuit to battle with a vampire to Nomad's second "death" in the space of 6 issues, to Redwing (Sam's best bird bud, who was "killed" last issue. . .Marvel can't even let a friggin' BIRD die for good!) being turned into a bird-vampire. . .this final issue was a hot mess of WTF.

CONCLUSION

Reading this short run, I can fully understand why a lot of people were sour on the idea of Sam Wilson as Captain America.  It is little more than a 6 issue punch-fest with a hot mess of a plot made worse by the idea of having Steve Roger's Dimension Z adoptee son as a sidekick character.

The post-Secret Wars Captain America: Sam Wilson is superior in many ways. . .but after reading this initial mess Marvel offered up, how many people didn't even give it a chance?  A damn shame.

On close inspection, one can pretty much see that this whole series was basically filler with the express purpose to do SOMETHING with Nomad and to retcon the new Captain America's "Snap" Wilson gangsta background out of existence.

All things considered, I wouldn't suggest this. . .series? Can 6 issues even be CALLED a series?  I wouldn't suggest this series to anyone but the most die-hard Sam Wilson Captain America or Falcon fans.

Up Next. . .

Let's take a trip back to 1995 and see what Dark Horse was up to with the Aliens franchise, shall we?

Aliens: Berserker 4 issue mini.

Be there or be square!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Throwback Thursday - Cloak And Dagger

Welcome to another Throwback Thursday "Retro Review" edition of Longbox Junk!  

Once again, I step outside of my usual bargain bin finds to take a closer look at a comic from my collection that might be considered more "valuable" than most of what I own and give the internet a classic comic review that NOBODY ever asked me for.

This time out, I think I've outdone myself on the "Review that nobody ever asked me for" front, in that I believe that this will be the only review of this comic that has EVER been done. . .and I'll take a safe bet that there probably won't be another one. 

I'm not exactly sure how rare this comic is. . .there's a few low grade copies for sale on the internet. . .but I had a bit of a hard time even finding out ANY information on the creative team, let alone any reviews of it.  And even what information I could find was incomplete.  I found out who painted the cover fairly easily, and one of what appears to be 3 contributing artists, but I can't even find a hint of who wrote this comic.

So sit back and enjoy a trip back to the Commie-Bashing days of 1952 as I take you through the one and only issue of Cloak and Dagger.  Ready? Let's do this!

CLOAK AND DAGGER #1


ZIFF - DAVIS (1952)
SCRIPTS: Unknown
PENCILS: John Prentice & Unknown
COVER: Norman Saunders

So I basically bought this comic for its cover in a lot of "collector comics" at an estate sale auction a couple of months ago.  Got some nice Roy Rogers, Weird Science, and Four Color comics in the same lot.  18 pre-code comics in very nice shape for $350.  But it was THIS particular cover that made me bid on the lot in the first place. . .so let's talk about it for a moment.

I love EVERYTHING about this cover.  The fierce expression on the woman, the colors, the logo. . .the whole thing just screams "PULP" right in your face.  Okay. . .I know. . .the hero is holding his pistol sorta funny.  But other than that, this is the kind of cover that was made to catch the eye on a newsstand and it succeeds in a big way.  Of course, it really has nothing to do with what's actually inside the comic, but that's how comics rolled in those days.  Come to think of it. . .that's sorta how they still roll.

Moving along. . .let's get into the first story!



The Krosno Butcher is one of the two stories in this comic that can be attributed to artist John Prentice on pencils and inks.  I was unable to find out who the writer is.  The story goes like this:

Special Secret Service Agent Al Kennedy and his partner Casimir "Cass" Stryzinski (formerly of the Polish Underground) travel to Lima, Peru to investigate the brutal murder of an American businessman.

After speaking to the dead man's wife, the duo are pointed in the direction of a local wine merchant, but when they arrive at the merchant's shop, they discover that he has also been murdered.  After Kennedy and Cass split up to try and find more information, Kennedy is attacked and brutally beaten by thugs telling him to forget the case and go home.

Despite his injuries, Kennedy stays on the trail but is ambushed a second time by the same thugs after a shifty taxi driver delivers him to their headquarters, where they beat him unconscious.  Later he wakes up with his head in the lap of a beautiful woman named Tatyana, who introduces Kennedy to a one-armed man wearing a Nazi uniform named Major Martin Klempner.

Upon seeing Klempner, Kennedy flashes back to post-war Poland where he was in charge of the inquest of "The Krosno Butcher", who brutally murdered the entire population of a Polish village and escaped Kennedy's courtroom before judgement could be passed. . .none other than the same Major Klempner standing before him.

Klempner informs Kennedy that he is speaking to the New Fuehrer before ordering his thugs to take Kennedy down to the basement to die along with the wife of the murdered businessman who put Kennedy on his trail. . .but first, Klempner decides to tell Kennedy the full details of the scheme he's stumbled upon.

Barrels of guns are bought on the black market and stored in the basement of the murdered wine merchant's shop, waiting to be used by Klempner's troops on the day they take over Peru.

Fortunately for Kennedy (and the murdered businessman's wife), Klempner's villainous monologue is interrupted by the arrival of Casimir and the Police.  After a short fight, Klempner makes a run for it, pursued by Kennedy, who shoots the filthy Nazi three times in the back with his own Luger. . .just like filthy Nazis deserve.  All's well that ends well.

Okay. . .not a bad little story at all.  

A little hardboiled detective action combined with a little Cold War spy action that establishes Al Kennedy as the type of no-nonsense guy who will shoot a filthy Nazi in the back if that's what he's got to do.   I'm starting to like Al Kennedy more than I thought I would.

The art on this story was also pretty damn good.  Nice clean lines with heavy inks.  Even the faces of the bit players were well done and individual. If this comic stopped right here, I'd be satisfied with this small dose of well-drawn detective/spy/Nazi shootin' action. . .but there's more.

NEXT STORY!



As you can see, Kismet obviously has a different artist than the first story.  Unfortunately, I have no idea who that artist or the writer of this story might be.  Looks like the same colorist, though.  Here's how the story goes:

Special Secret Agent Al Kennedy and his trusted assistant Casimir "Cass" Stryzinski (formerly of the Polish Underground), are tasked with travelling to the Middle-Eastern nation of Caesarea in order to prevent an assassination of the King and uncover the conspiracy behind the attempts.

Upon arrival, they meet the King, his scantily-clad daughter (Princess Jasmin), and the scowling Minister of Justice (Cadi Hamid).  Before they even have a chance to unpack their bags, the agents room is broken into and Cass's notebook detailing their investigation is stolen from their luggage. . .pretty much immediately blowing their cover.

Soon afterward, while exploring the city, Kennedy and Cass are fired on from a speeding car and they accidentally find themselves taking cover in the King's harem, which is forbidden.  They are taken before the Minister of Justice and sentenced to death, but Princess Jasmin orders their lives be spared.  Kennedy and Jasmin start making lusty eyes at each other while third wheel Cass is just glad to be alive.

Later, in the early hours of the morning, an assassin sneaks into Kennedy and Cass' room and falls for the old "stabbing the pillows under the blankets" trick and is captured and interrogated by the agents, who get him to spill the beans by threatening to stuff him into a pigskin suitcase and killing him wrapped in swine so he won't go to heaven.  Better than waterboarding.  Just sayin'.  BUT I DIGRESS!

The assassin tells the agents that a holy place the King will be visiting that day is loaded with dynamite and rigged to explode, but before they can get the name of who's behind the plot, a second assassin shoots the first through the window and escapes.  Cass tries to warn the King of the assassination plot, but discover that the King and Princess Jasmin have already left for the holy place.

Kennedy and Cass hustle to the Minister of Justice (who's in charge while the King is gone) and inform him of the plot.  Hamid grabs a vehicle and the trio head out across the desert to try and catch the King before he arrives.  Unfortunately, Hamid turns out to be the bad guy and surprise attacks Kennedy and Cass, leaving them to die in the middle of the desert.

Luckily for them, after wandering through the desert for a while, Princess Jasmin JUST HAPPENS to stumble across the stranded agents just as the vultures begin to circle.  She'd conveniently  headed back to find a bracelet she had lost.  As Princess Jasmin and her guards rush to the holy place to protect her father, Cass runs in to disarm the bombs.  Kennedy takes on Cadi Hamid in hand to hand combat as the Minister attacks the Princess.

After a short battle, the King and Princess are saved, the bomb is defused, and the plot is foiled.  Unfortunately, Hamid escapes during the fight.  Kennedy gets a kiss from the Princess and a bag of diamonds as a reward, and with a smooth "I wish I could stay baby -- But my work is over now." Kennedy is summoned back to Washington.

As they fly back home, Cass and Kennedy spot the body of Hamid in the desert getting eaten by vultures and solemnly agree that Moslem bastard got what he deserved.

Okay. . .not bad.  Not quite as good as the first story, but still not bad at all.

This one didn't have any of the hardboiled detective elements of the first story, but was all Spy action.  I like that these stories are switching up the locations a lot.  The first in Latin America, this one in the Middle East, so they are spreading around the mildly unconscious racism one expects from comics made in the 1950's equally.  

To tell the truth, this story was pretty thin and the bits of unintentionally funny racism (with a bit of good old 50's misogyny thrown in) are the most entertaining parts of it.  That and establishing Al Kennedy as not only the guy who'll shoot a filthy Nazi in the back when he has to, but also as a guy who'll threaten to stuff a "Moslem" into a pigskin suitcase.  Screw James Bond.  THIS guy needs a movie!

As I noted at the start of this one.  There's obviously a different artist.  Unfortunately, even though it's not BAD, the art definitely takes a downward turn.  In particular, this second artist doesn't have much of a sense of scale when it comes to vehicles.  In a scene toward the end when Kennedy is ready to head home, the plane they are leaving in looks like a toy.  The other vehicles as they cross the desert to rescue the King are also much too small for the human characters.  The coloring is also REALLY slapdash on this story as well.  

MOVING ALONG. . .



We come to a one page story.  It looks like it MIGHT be John Prentice's work (based on the art in the first story and the one following this one), but I can't really be sure. 

The story goes like this:  

Well. . .it's not really a story.  It's all right up there if you want to take a look.  It's more of a Red Scare pamphlet using historic events as examples of how you shouldn't let the Commies scare you with their filthy mind warfare tactics.  I found it to be interesting and I will continue to work at the factory, safe in the knowledge that those goddamn Reds can't keep ME from contributing to America's vital industries with their lies!

NEXT STORY!

We have a two page text piece entitled "ARCH - SPY OF THE REVOLUTION".  

There is no information I can find on who the writer is.  It's a non-fiction tale of the American Revolution and Washington at Valley Forge trying unsuccessfully to get supplies from France through Benjamin Franklin. . .the problem being that the shipments kept getting intercepted and either captured or destroyed.  The villain at hand being Franklin's own personal secretary, Edward Bancroft, who was a secret British agent that went undiscovered for almost 100 years.  The lesson of the story being that Secret Agents aren't always flashy adventurers, but can also be the unassuming clerk working in your factory office right under your nose every day.  

The story was well written and interesting, and has renewed my efforts to be vigilant in reporting all suspected un-American activities to the proper authorities, no matter how insignificant they may seem.

MOVING ALONG!



This is the second story that can be attributed pretty solidly to John Prentice on pencils and inks.  Once again, I have no clue as to who wrote or colored it.  The story goes like this:

Special Secret Service Agent Al Kennedy and his trusty assistant Casimir "Cass" Stryzinski are sent undercover as a Soviet Commissar (Cass) and a renegade Frenchman (Kennedy) into Indo-China to prevent Viet Minh General Dow from attacking French forts and joining up with Chinese Communists. . .thus preventing a similar conflict to the one raging in Korea from happening.

After parachuting in, the agents quickly find General Dow's headquarters and convince him that they have been sent by Moscow as advisors and that Moscow will not take no for an answer.  Reluctantly, General Dow agrees to bring the pair along on a raid.

At the targeted village, Dow demands all their food and the Village Head protests.  He is beaten for his trouble and his son, Yap Rok, attacks and kills one of Dow's Lieutenants, escaping into the jungle afterwards.  In retaliation, Dow orders the village burned and all the men shot.  In order to preserve their cover, Cass and Kennedy are forced to stand by while the men are machine-gunned.

After the raid, General Dow invites Kennedy and Cass to his birthday party.  Remembering that Yap Rok's father mentioned Yap was a baker, Kennedy decides to try to find him in the jungle as part of a plan he's concocted to assassinate General Dow.

Unfortunately, because the agents are wearing Soviet uniforms, Yap Rok ambushes them and it's only through the unlucky attack of a tiger on the villager that Kennedy and Cass have the chance to save him and let him know they are on the same side.  Yap agrees to bake a cake that Kennedy will fill with explosives.

But on their return to camp, Kennedy and Cass are taken prisoner because a REAL Soviet advisor happened to show up and blew their cover.  Fortunately, Yap Rok saw them being taken prisoner and brings them some explosives in order to escape.

Kennedy and Cass break into General Dow's headquarters and replace his birthday cake with the explosive-filled cake Yap Rok made, then sit back and watch the fireworks after that filthy Commie declares "We shall share the world as we share this cake!" and sets off the explosives.

Yap Rok's small band of anti-communist freedom fighters join up with some French Legionnaires to finish off the rest of General Dow's troops.  Afterward, everyone eats the real cake, proving that when it comes to fighting the Commies you CAN have your cake and eat it too.

Okay. . .not the best of the bunch.  I'd say it's the bottom of the three main stories, but still not bad at all.  I found it to be a bit chilling to be reading the light-hearted adventures of America trying to prevent a war in Indo-China. . .Vietnam for those who don't watch the History Channel. . .in 1952, right in the middle of the Korean war.  The story itself wasn't great, but it was extremely interesting for me to see the tensions of the Cold War that eventually exploded into the Vietnam War being represented fairly realistically in a comic book.

PLUS we discover that Al Kennedy will not only shoot a Nazi in the back and threaten to stuff a "Moslem" into a pigskin suitcase, but he's ALSO the kind of guy who'll kill a Commie on his goddamn BIRTHDAY.  Thank God America has sturdy men like Al Kennedy to watch over her!

AND FINALLY. . .


Another one pager.  It looks like it was done by yet another artist, but it MIGHT be Prentice's work with someone else inking because it looks a bit different.  No way to really be sure, though.

As you can see, it's a short tale taking place during WWI involving a Frenchman risking his life to gain information on a German ammo dump and getting that information to the French army.   I'm not sure if it's based on an actual event. . .an internet search didn't turn up any information on French wine merchant spies during WWI. . .but it's somewhat interesting and pretty well drawn.  I suspect this one was filler because there's not really an anti-Commie message except for the implied one of every citizen having a patriotic duty to work against their nation's enemies.

BUT WAIT. . .BONUS!


This isn't a story, but in the back of the book is what has to be one of the most "WTF?" ads I've ever seen printed in a comic.  According to the text, this is a book that not only tells the story of Leonardo Da Vinci but ALSO includes instructions on how to build an actual glider AND parachute.  

"People laughed and said it couldn't be done but Leonardo went right ahead and built the wings and then carted them to a nearby high hill and took off. . ."
That's an actual quote as to what you're supposed to do with those instructions.  And there's more!

"Yes you too can make a parachute out of cloth and string by just following Leonardo's drawing - no special tools or knack needed" 
This ad is actually probably the BEST part of this whole comic.  I read it and the only thing I can think is: As long as you weren't a Commie, the 1950's did NOT give a single F*ck!

CONCLUSION

Well. . .THAT has to be the longest review I've ever written.  But I sort of feel that this comic deserves it because it's likely to be the only review that ever WILL be written of it.  It seems to be a forgotten relic of its time that practically no information exists on.  Hopefully, this review will come up on searches and by describing the stories inside I will have added something to what's available when someone else comes across one of these comics and is interested in finding out a bit more.

It might be a small contribution, but as far as I can tell, nobody else has even bothered.

As for the comic itself. . .

I liked it.  I've definitely read worse comics from the 50's.  This one is pretty well-written and generally well illustrated.  The coloring was pretty sloppy, but I'm finding that was a fairly common problem in comics from this time.

Truthfully, Cloak and Dagger is a relic of its time, and most of the interest I had in it came from that.  It is like a sort of time capsule of the 1950's with its casual racism, xenophobia, paranoia and misogyny that went hand in hand with the Cold War.  The normal of then seen through the lens of what is normal now is an extremely interesting thing to me.

I'd have to say that my favorite parts of this comic were probably the last main story because of the weird feeling it gave me as I read in an obscure comic book a story predicting the roots of the Vietnam war.  It was just a strange thing to see history playing out in an unexpected way and place.

And then there's that ad in the back.  What the hell, 1950's?
Now I want to build a goddamn glider.  

Overall, this was a pretty good comic.  Is it the best comic I've ever read?  No, but it's nowhere close to being the worst.  Once again, I'm glad that I decided to start doing these "Retro Reviews" because they give me an opportunity to learn a little more about the comics that I collect and also to pass along a little of what I learn to others.

In the case of Cloak and Dagger, I have the feeling that it was a fairly unique opportunity to present some information that has never really been seen before, and just for that, I'd have to say that this has been one of my favorite reviews to do.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual as I take a look at Marvel's short-lived (6 issues) All New Captain America.  Sam "Falcon" Wilson's first outing as Captain America. . .can it possibly be good?

Be there or be square!




Monday, May 21, 2018

Longbox Junk - Star Wars: Dark Empire II

I said in the review for the first part of Star Trek: The Modala Imperative that I probably love Star Wars more than I ever loved my first wife. . .and I meant every word of it.  I'm gonna make myself sound old here, but kids today don't understand what a game-changer Star Wars was back in the 70's.

 It was like a pop culture atomic bomb.  Fallout from Star Wars impacted EVERYTHING. . .including me.  The original 6 issue mini-series of Star Wars comics were the first comics I bought and they are the reason I love comics today.

So, my enduring geek love of Star Wars now well-established, let's take a look at what Dark Horse was doing with Star Wars during the period of time when nobody thought there would be any more movies and things were just sort of. . .strange.

STAR WARS: DARK EMPIRE II

DARK HORSE (1994 - 1995)
SCRIPTS: Tom Veitch
PENCILS: Cam Kennedy
COVERS: Dave Dorman


ISSUE 1
OPERATION SHADOW HAND

After the Emperor's death at the hands of Luke Skywalker, one of his Dark Side minions (Executor Sedriss) carries out Palpatine's final orders (Operation Shadow Hand) starting with attacking a war droid manufacturing world turning to the rebellion.

Elsewhere, Luke Skywalker and Jedi knight Kam Solusar leave the rebel headquarters on a mission to find ancient Jedi relics while Han Solo and Princess Leia travel to a smuggler's world to find an old Jedi woman.

And then. . .

Suprise! The Emperor isn't dead after all.

Right off the bat, looking at the giant "crawl" of backstory on the first page, I had a bad feeling about this.  If you don't know the events of "Dark Empire" it might be a bit daunting to come into part 2 with just that first page mini info dump to guide you in.

That said. . .

Once you start reading, the story is actually pretty simple and straightforward. It's divided into 4 narrative threads: An Imperial officer following the last commands of his Emperor. Luke and his Jedi friend setting out to find some ancient Jedi swag. . .Han and Leia setting out to find an old woman for, reasons? And Lando going on a Trojan horse mission to infiltrate and attack the Imperial headquarters.

The story is written in a slightly annoying way, where the author tells you what is happening in the picture right in front of you, but it's not too bad once you get used to it.

The art is a mixed bag for me. Kennedy is one of those unique "love it or hate it" artists. His depiction of vehicles and technology is masterful and deeply detailed. On the other hand, he has a real problem with faces, and really people in general. None of the characters bear even the slightest resemblance to their movie counterparts. Princess Leia suffers the worst. You can barely even tell she's female. And for some reason, Han Solo has light hair. The Deus Ex Resurrecta Clone Emperor at the end looks like Count Dracula. . .

The coloring deserves "special" mention here. . .and not for good reasons.

The panels are rendered in a strange, almost monochromatic way, with each of them being mostly in one unnatural color. . .red, green, blue, purple. There isn't a single panel that is colored in a "normal" way. It's like the whole thing is an odd exercise in experimental art.

Overall, despite the odd artwork, this was a decent start to the series.
 I wouldn't call it a SOLID start. . .it's definitely a bit shaky, but it isn't that bad, either.

ISSUE 2
DUEL ON NAR SHADDAA

Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca travel to the smuggler's world of Nar Shaddaa in order to find an old Jedi woman, Vim-Da-Boda.

They quickly discover that what seems like every bounty hunter in the galaxy, including the infamous Boba Fett, is on their trail for a huge reward put on their heads by the Empire and the heroes end up having to fight for their lives, barely escaping the planet with Vim-Da-Boda.

This Han Solo/ Princess Leia-centric issue is mostly action as the heroes fight, run, and fly for their lives from bounty hunters and the Empire during what seems to be an ill-advised trip to the most obvious (to everyone but the heroes) place for a smuggler to visit.

If the first issue was a bit shaky, this one is even more so. Boba Fett seems to be written out of character, with thuggish dialogue, everyone JUST happens to be in the right place to cause problems for Solo and company, and. . .for God's sake, why are they even there? All that and Inna-Da-Vida-Boda has to be the worst-named macguffin since. . .I can't even think of a since.

The art remains a strange mixture of great and awful. Ships, droids, and anything technological is rendered in stunning detail. Anything biological looks half-assed and strange. And once again, Princess Leia suffers the most. In this issue she's wearing a trucker cap for some reason. Then there's that strange monochrome coloring where each panel is shaded with a different, unnatural color. It's just weird.

Overall, this issue is okay for what it is. . .all action and Boba Fett fan service. It could have very easily been a one-shot issue and been fine. It's pretty much a self-contained story, and as such, it feels a bit out of place and unnecessary to the mini-series it's a part of.

ISSUE 3
WORLD OF THE ANCIENT SITH

Luke Skywalker and Kam Solusar travel to the ancient Jedi planet of Ossus following clues that they hope will lead to artifacts that can help rebuild the Jedi Order.

They discover a tribe of force using natives and must fight for their lives against Executor Sedriss and Dark Force stormtroopers, barely escaping with their lives only by the intervention of a giant force endowed tree.

Ooooookay. . .

So this is where this series finally jumps the rails. The previous two issues were a bit shaky, but now we're officially in territory where even George Lucas would be like, "Whoa! Hold on now. Cut that part out."

I realize that in Star Wars lore, the Force is all around everything, but in this series, they take that notion and run wild with it. Droids have the force. Trees have the force. Stormtroopers have the force. I'm surprised that The Emperor doesn't order a ham, green pepper, and Dark Force omlette for breakfast at his favorite Naboo Waffle House.

And then there's (STILL) the art on this thing. It's a colorful mess that is oddly enough brilliant and beautifully done in places and God-Awful in others.

Here's the art question at hand for THIS particular issue. . .with all the strange, brilliant primary colors splashed everywhere else, for God's sake why the F#$K are the lightsabers all friggin' WHITE?

I'm only halfway through this series. It's getting rough now, folks.

ISSUE 4
BATTLE ON BYSS

Luke Skywalker and Kam Solusar complete their mission on Ossus with the recovery of a trove of ancient Jedi books and their first two recruits for the New Jedi Order.

Lando Calrissian and Wedge Antilles set into motion their plan to attack Imperial Headquarters with giant, deadly war droids while above the planet, The Emperor inspects his newest super-weapon. . .a huge space gun that fires intelligent hyperspace projectiles.

Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca run for their lives from their ill-advised trip to Nar Shaddaa. The Millenium Falcon is heavily damaged by Boba Fett and they take shelter in a huge gas cloud, where they discover a hidden planet with steam-powered spaceships ruled by a paraplegic Jedi Knight. . .

*facepalm*

Steam powered spaceships? Really? No. . .really?
And there just happens to be a JEDI there? Ho-Lee $H!T, what a coincidence!

Last issue this train jumped the tracks. This issue it runs straight off the friggin' cliff and it doesn't even hit the brakes.

That's not to say it's ALL bad. There's some pretty good scenes on Byss (which I guess is this continuity's Imperial Headquarters instead of Coruscant) during Lando and Wedge's "Trojan Horse" invasion. The art and writing manage to come together and make those scenes, as well as Han and Leia's escape from Nar Shaddaa pretty exciting.

But steam powered spaceship? And then there's the Emperor looking like Count Dracula just "making" a couple of Imperial Officers into Dark Jedi on the spot. If it's so easy just throwing the Force on someone, then why is Luke searching for Jedi. Can't he just make a few?

And THEN there's a scene where some chubby dude in a trucker cap declares he can sense the force on the paraplegic guy who rules the steampunk space people. . .and then I realized that it's SUPPOSED to be Princess Leia speaking. Seriously. . .this artist has severe problems drawing women.

ISSUE 5
THE GALAXY WEAPON

Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia escape Boba Fett with the help of a giant steampunk electro-gun installed on the Millenium Falcon, and in the process, gain a new recruit for the New Jedi Order. . .paraplegic Jedi Knight Empatojayos Brand.

Lando Calrissian and Wedge Antilles' attack on Byss goes badly when the Emperor unleashes Dark Force Rancors on them, forcing the rebels to abandon the attack and run for their lives with the assistance of a group of friendly smugglers who just happened to be in the area.

Luke Skywalker begins to make creepy romantic moves on his new, much younger student, Jem, as they return to the rebel base. The beginning of their inappropriate relationship is interrupted by the utter destruction of the rebel planet by the Emperor's new "Galaxy Gun".

Alrighty, then. . .let's do something different and just break it on down in an easy-to-read list!

THE BAD:

1. Giant steampunk electro-gun.
2. Huge Dark Force empowered monsters.
3. Deus Ex Machina Smuggler Rescue.
4. Inappropriate student teacher relationship with a much younger girl Luke has known for about 2 days, at most.
5. Count Dracula Emperor able to throw the dark side of the force on just about anyone or anything.
6. Princess Leia in a trucker cap.

THE GOOD:

1. The cover.
2. Some of the battle scenes.

This is NOT a good ratio.

ISSUE 6
HAND OF DARKNESS


After the destruction of the rebel base, The Emperor sets his sights on capturing the force powerful children of Han Solo and Princess Leia and sends his Dark Jedi and military forces to attack the planet of new Alderaan.

All seems lost until a friendly group of smugglers who just happen to be in the area (AGAIN!) manage to evacuate the planet and get the heroes to safety so that Princess Leia can have her third baby without the annoyance of stormtroopers in the birthing chamber. . .

Last issue. It's over, thank God.

This final issue doesn't really end the story so much as set things up for a sequel and then just sort of. . .stop.  This was an entirely unsatisfactory ending. But to tell the truth, I really wasn't surprised.

This series has been in a free fall off the cliff since the third issue, did I REALLY think it would end well? No, but I WAS sort of expecting an actual end to the story, not just a slow roll up to the last page with a little "The End" to let me know that this oddly colorful experiment in how low Star Wars can go was over with.

CONCLUSION

This mini-series started shaky, but okay. . .then went into an extreme nosedive with the introduction of Force trees, steam-powered spaceships, a Deus Ex Machina gang of smugglers who always managed to be in the right place at the right time to save the heroes, a cloned Emporer who looked like Count Dracula being able to put the Dark Side of the Force into just about anyone or anything, ANOTHER giant planet-killing space weapon, and last but not least. . .Princess Leia being drawn like a chubby dude wearing a trucker cap.

As a practically life-long Star Wars fan, I find this mini to be a slap to the face followed by a sucker punch to the nuts.  I find it hard to believe that this thing even exists.  I WANT to deny that it exists. . .but there it is, sitting there mocking everything that I love about Star Wars.

I said in my last review (of Star Trek The Next Generation: The Modala Imperative) that those issues were the first time I ever felt like throwing perfectly good comic books in the garbage can. . .

I want to set THESE comic books on fire and watch them burn to ashes.

Overall, I'd say that this is the worst Star Wars story I've ever read.

Up next. . .

The Scene: A smoke-filled room in Marvel Headquarters

Marvel Executive #1: Boy, those Avenger movies are doing GREAT! Everybody sure loves Captain America.  What can we do to expand his exposure in other markets?  Ideas?

Marvel Executive #2: We can reboot his comic book with a new #1 issue.  Everybody loves new #1 issues, right?

Marvel Executive #1: I like the way you're thinking, #2! Anyone else?

Marvel Executive #3: How about in the new #1 comic we have a completely different character than the one in the movies?  That way we can use the name recognition AND give the kids something new!

Marvel Executive #1: I LOVE IT! what can possibly go wrong?

Marvel's extremely short 6 issue run on All New Captain America. . .be there or be square!

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.