Monday, July 30, 2018

Longbox Junk - One Shots: Aliens, The Assassin, Batman, Conan & Predator!

There's nothing wrong at all with a good ongoing series, but if anyone were to ask me what my favorite form of comic art is, I would immediately answer "The One Shot".  Within the framework of a single issue, the creative team is challenged to give us everything we need to enjoy a story. They're pretty much forced to swing for the fences.

 Here are 5 random single issues from my collection read and reviewed for your consideration.  Are they home runs or foul balls? Let's find out!



Dark Horse (1997)
Script: Chuck Dixon
Pencils: Henry Flint

Space pirates wanting to salvage a downed cargo ship before the rightful owners beat them to it discover that the ship is crashed near an alien hive. They decide the best way to clear the nest is with a nuclear device strapped to the back of a pig. Hilarity ensues. . .

So what we have here is a one shot set in the grim Dark Horse Alien expanded universe, but written in a lighter, more comedic tone. Dixon does a fine job balancing action, horror, and comedy here as everything that CAN go wrong DOES go wrong.

Unfortunately, the art drags an otherwise good little standalone story down into "okay' territory. The artist is one of those who can't seem to draw a straight line. Everything is squiggly and twisted.

I understand that in the Alien universe, things are dark and twisted, leaving a lot of room for artist interpretation. . . but this is a straightforward character-driven comedy of errors. Pretentious indy art isn't really called for.

Overall, I really liked the story, but hated the art. I'd definitely suggest this one for the Alien completionists out there.


Arcana (2005)
Script: Sean O'Reilly
Pencils: Vincente Cifu (Cifuentes)

This one shot about a group of journalism students investigating the murders of local business leaders focuses on a Japanese racial angle and plays like an adult version of an after-school television special. The assassin, sort of a post-modern geisha, wears white face make-up and kills people with her hair ornaments.

So basically what we have here is a sort of manga Scooby Doo without the talking dog.

The presentation of the book itself is outstanding! The cover is fantastic, the paper is heavy and glossy. This comic has some serious heft to it and I can appreciate that. The interior art is very nicely done, with a heavily-inked, but cartoony manga style that I really liked.

Unfortunately, the story is overly-wordy, filled with exposition dumps, and the twist (the aggressive killer is a split-personality shy student) is telegraphed and wouldn't have been that much of a surprise even if it hadn't.

Overall, this is a book with great art and a nice presentation brought down by amateurish writing.


DC (1992)
Script: John Ostrander
Pencils: Vince Giarrano

Batman and Robin confront gun violence on the streets of Gotham and discover that it's a problem that can't be solved by punching people.


Okay, now THAT'S out of the way, let's take a look. . .

In 1990, the adult son of one of the Warner Brothers executives who worked with DC Comics was killed in a random shooting. In response, we got this comic book, which is strongly anti-gun from first page to last. The message is extremely heavy-handed and there are parts where it seems to quote directly from government anti-gun statistics and literature.

That's not to say that the story is BAD. It's actually a pretty straightforward tale of gangs and illegal gun sales with a grim tone and extremely unhappy ending. It's just that the simple, lean story at the heart of this book is padded to the extreme with anti-gun propaganda (or information, depending on your point of view). It SHOULD be a 48 page story, but ends up being too long at 64 pages.

The art is very nicely done in an awesome 90's-tastic way. A scene where the daughter of a snitch Robin is assigned to protect gets shot in the head right next to him is particularly memorable and brutal, but the entire book, from the great Dorman painted cover to the last page is very nicely illustrated.

Overall, this isn't a bad story, depending on your tolerance for anti-gun messages. It's too long and the 90's street lingo (one thug actually says "Word to your mother") is extremely dated, but it's well drawn and it's nice to see a Batman story where he doesn't win.


Dark Horse (2006)
Scripts: Joshua Dysart & Timothy Truman
Pencils: Tone Rodriguez & Cary Nord

What we have here is a one shot giveaway comic that ties into the (then new) Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures PC MMORPG that had you playing as an adventurer during the time Conan was King of Aquilonia.

First off, the Cary Nord King Conan cover is absolutely fantastic and frameworthy on its own!

Inside are two stories. . .

A King Conan story and what seems to be a direct tie-in to the video game. The art is pretty good, but nothing special. The story is actually two stories in one. King Conan dealing with the fallout from an attempted coup, with the other story about a village attacked by supernatural forces. Neither tale is that interesting, but they're not bad either. Both are just sort of. . .there.

The second story takes place earlier in Conan's life and involves Conan first rescuing, then robbing a group of priests. It's short and sweet, with great action. Not much to it, but it's better than the main story. It's also very nicely illustrated by main (at the time) Conan artist Cary Nord, and the visuals stand head and shoulders above the opening story.

Overall, for a freebie, this one shot delivers the goods. It has two decent stories and a fantastic cover. What else could you possibly want for free?

And last, but not least. . .


Dark Horse (1995)
Scripts: Ian Edginton & Chuck Dixon
Pencils: Rick Leonardi & Enrique Alcatena

What we have here is a one shot reprinting 2 stories previously published in Dark Horse Comics (issues 1-2 & 10-12), with the connecting theme of the Predator aliens in Africa.  Let's look at them each in turn. . .

The tale of a young tribesman encountering and barely defeating a Predator, and then leaving to hunt another decades later. The story is told wordlessly and so the art does the heavy lifting here since there isn't a single word of spoken or caption dialogue. I have to say that, although the backgrounds are sparse to nonexistent and the Predator itself is a bit odd looking, the artist manages to pull off the silent story very well.

This second story is told in a more traditional manner. It's set in 1936's British colonial Africa and involves a group of hunters brought in to deal with a lion terrorizing railroad workers. . .except it isn't a lion. It's a Predator. It's a good story that moves along at a brisk pace and is fantastically illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Enrique Alcatena. His dark, heavily-inked style and intricate panel borders really elevate this story.

Overall, I highly suggest this one shot to Predator fans that might have missed either of these stories in their original publication in Dark Horse Comics.


Overall, not a band handful of one shots at all!

 I'd say the best of the bunch was probably Predator: Jungle Tales.  None of them were really BAD, but if I had to pick one for the bottom of the list, it would probably be The Assassin for its weak story and amateurish writing. But to tell the truth, it wasn't THAT bad.

Up next. . .

Hey, remember LAST time Marvel brought back the original Captain America in his original costume and went back to original numbering because fans didn't like the swerve they took the character on and they felt a course correction back to a more traditional Captain America was called for?

 Here's one of the small handful of mini's Marvel put out to say "No, Really! It's the REAL Cap now! We promise!" Oh how comic history repeats. . .

Captain America & Iron Man 3 issue mini.

Be there or be square!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Longbox Junk - Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe

Now that I think of it, I PROBABLY should have done this entry for Halloween.

BUT. . .

What we have here is a 3 issue black and white series adapting 10 of Edgar Allan Poe's shorter works, featuring the art of the legendary Richard Corben.  Edgar Allan Poe and Richard Corben. . .how can this NOT be good?

Let's check it out!

Marvel (MAX) 2006


Fair warning. . .if you're prone to depression, do NOT read this comic (or the other 2 issues in this mini)! Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but this comic is unrelentingly grim. That said, I liked it a lot.

Basically, it breaks down to adaptations of three of E.A. Poe's shorter works. The Raven being the best known. Conqueror Worm fairly well known, and The Sleeper probably known mostly to people who dig deep into Poe's catalog. All of them illustrated by comic legend Richard Corben, whose work is a bit polarizing.

With Corben it's either love him or hate him. . .not much in between, so your enjoyment of this mini will depend entirely on your opinion of Corben's art, as it is almost completely his show. Let's take a look at the 3 adaptations separately. . .

Art and Script by Richard Corben

Probably the best known of Poe's works, and brilliantly adapted by Corben on both art and scripts. Stepping outside the bounds of the original poem (which is also included in its entirety. . .a very nice touch), The Raven becomes a grim and claustrophobic journey into the mind of a man living with the guilt of murdering his one true love. I really liked this reimagining of an already dark work, making it even darker with its brutal new ending.

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Rich Margopoulos

This is one of Poe's less well known works. . .a short poem that is used word for word in this adaptation (unlike The Raven, where Corben used only short phrases) where it is imagined as a modern vampire tale where a priest is unwittingly dragged into a dark and bloody battle to save the soul of his murdered niece.

The ending to this one is particularly horrific, as the priest becomes the thing he has been hunting. These aren't sparkly, romantic vampires. . .these are bloodthirsty creatures illustrated in gruesome detail by Corben. A very nice story told in a very short space. . .and once again, the original poem included at the end.

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Rick Dahl

The final adaptation in this first issue is one of Poe's better known works, but is also the one taken furthest from the source material. Corben and Dahl imagine Conqueror Worm in the far apocalyptic future decades after humans narrowly won a victory against invading aliens that devastated Earth's environment with terraforming during the long and brutal war.

 In the time of the story, the few human survivors are barely surviving in isolated fortresses. A delegation to the remains of Philadelphia discovers to their horror the secret of that city's prosperity.

This was my favorite story of the three. It reminded me a LOT of something that would be in Heavy Metal magazine, with the truly horrific reveal of Philadelphia's secret and the brutal ending. Like I said above, this is the farthest departure from Poe's original work (once again, included in full for comparison at the end), but I thought the apocalyptic science fiction take on Conqueror Worm was brilliantly done in every way.


As I said at the beginning of this review. . .the reader's enjoyment of this mini will entirely depend on their opinion of Corben's artwork. I'm on the "love it" side of the fence, so I found this issue to be fantastic in almost every way.

I particularly enjoyed the dark science fiction adaptation of Conqueror Worm, but all three of these stories were winners in my book. But like I also said at the beginning, be warned. . .these tales are dark and unrelentingly brutal.

There are NO bright moments to be found here. There is NO victory for any of the protagonists. There is NO hope. This is an extremely dark and depressing collection. . . but in a good way?


This issue adds an entry over the first for a total of 4, of which the best known one for most readers will probably be The Tell-Tale Heart. Like the first issue, each of the works these interpretations are based on are also included in their entirety at the end of each one for comparison. A very nice touch!

Let's get into each one of these entries separately. . .

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Rich Margopolous

The longest of the original works in this issue is given only 6 pages, and unlike the other entries, is paraphrased instead of word for word. It is presented in fantastic style by Corben, with each of the 6 pages being a single page panel without interior borders so the captions and illustrations flow together in a way that is extremely easy to follow and truly showcases why Corben is a comic legend.

 It's pretty much a straight adaptation of the story, but the ending goes beyond the original story with the protagonist realizing after he confesses his crime that the beating heart was his own, and he dies of a heart attack from the stress. I'm sort of on the fence about the departure from the original ending. It's not BAD, but Poe's ending was perfect already.

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Richard Dahl

This very short Poem is interpreted by Corben and Dahl as a revenge story where black soldiers slaughtered in an ambush during the Civil War rise from the dead decades later to save a black man from being lynched by the KKK. The captions are the poem word for word and they fit the idea and illustrations very well. . .at the same time, this story could have been told without captions at all, Corben is THAT good at visual storytelling.

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Richard Dahl

Although the script is another word for word captioning of a very short poem, the visual adaptation is probably the most disturbing of the 4 entries in this issue. Corben and Dahl re-imagine Poe's ode to the beauty of a woman as a short tale about a lonely old man who orders a blow up doll and has a heart attack while having sex with it. The image of the dead man laying next to the staring, open-mouthed doll is truly horrific.

Once again, this story could have easily been told without captions, thanks to Corben's fantastic visual storytelling. The beauty of Poe's words alongside the utter visual horror of dying alone makes this entry one of the darkest in this whole series.

And finally. . .

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Rich Margopolous

Another word for word adaptation of a very short poem, this entry is imagined as the story of a serial killer whose victims finally rise from the dead to take their revenge. This was probably my least favorite of the 4 entries in this issue. Corben's art just didn't seem on point in this one. . .especially with the killer, who is sporting a 90's-tastic blown out blonde mullet.  That said, a single panel showing his previous victims weighted down and rotting at the bottom of a lake is one of the best in this whole series.


Despite a BIT of a stumble with the final entry, this was another fantastic issue. Like the first, it is unrelentingly brutal and dark. There are several places where the illustrations lingered in my thoughts for quite a while. . .and not in a particularly good way. This series so far has been top-notch horror.


The final issue adapts 3 of Poe's lesser-known works. . .a very short story (Berenice) and 2 poems. Israfel is probably the best known of these to the casual Poe reader. Let's take a look at each one on their own. . .

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Rich Margopoulos

While the original poem is about the beauty of music sung by angels in heaven, Corben's visual interpretation is about the dark and ugly side of the music business, with rival rappers and their posses getting into a brutal gunfight when they end up at the same fancy restaurant.

While the story is well told visually, the distance from the original material wasn't a very good fit, making the words and pictures two separate things entirely. Maybe that was the point. With some of these adaptations, it's a bit hard to tell.

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Rick Dahl

This early work by Poe was originally a meditation on how happiness never lasts long. . .Corben visually interprets the poem as a man attending his 10th high school reunion and encountering the same bullies who brutally mistreated him in school. It ends with him pulling a gun and taking his revenge before he is shot down himself and dies with a smile on his face.

 Reading this story now, in the age of regular mass shootings, makes the horror of a man who can only find happiness in death and violence even darker in its timely nature. It really made me think and wonder about WHY some of these shootings happen.

And finally, we come to the end of this series with. . .

Art by Richard Corben
Script by Rich Margopoulos

Like The Tell-Tale Heart in the previous issue, Berenice is paraphrased and adapted beyond the word for word captioning of the other entries in this issue. In Corben's interpretation, a dentist who regularly molests his cousin while she's under anesthesia accidentally kills her with an overdose and is slowly driven mad by visions of her teeth until he confesses his murder.

In many ways, this interpretation by Corben resembles The Tell-Tale Heart in tone and subject. Unlike that interpretation, which was pretty faithful to the original, Berenice strays a good distance from the original work. Unfortunately, it's not as good as some of Corben's other re-imaginings of Poe's work in this series. The art is definitely the strong point, with Bernice's haunting grimace. . .especially when she lays dead and staring on his table. . .being truly nightmarish.


Overall, I found this final issue to be the weakest of the three.
Don't get me wrong, it's not BAD at all. Just not as good as the other two issues. There are some really great moments here. . .the way Corben reflects and contrasts past and present in The Happiest Hour, Berenice's horrifying smile, and so on. It's just a shame that this issue is overall not nearly as good as the previous two.


If you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Corben, Horror Comics, or any combination of those three things, do yourself a favor and find this mini-series.  I'm not going to say it's ALL great, but there's a lot more to like than dislike in these three issues.

While some of Corben's interpretations of the source material are a bit off the mark, there's no denying that when he nails it, he nails it HARD.  This is brutal, dark, and unrelentingly depressing horror and a fine little piece of Longbox Junk well worthy of your attention.

Up Next. . .


Aliens! Assasin! Suicide Squad! Batman! Predator! Conan!

One shots are like the Pu-Pu Platter of comic books. . .a little of this, a little of that.

Be there or be square!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Throwback Thursday - Godzilla #1

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

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


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

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

And then there was Godzilla. 

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

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

Ready?  Let's do this!

So I bought Godzilla for the cover. . .let's start with the cover.  It's GLORIOUS!  The bright, primary colors of the sky, title, and Godzilla are about as close to perfect coloring as a cover can get.  The red sky is an especially inspired choice.  It makes everything pop against it nicely. . .especially the yellow title. The perspective of looking up at the hulking monster from the viewpoint of the terrified citizens fleeing the destruction gives the cover a great sense of scale and movement.

If I have one complaint about this awesome cover, it's that the guy with the hat and mustache in the right corner looks kind of goofy.  Other than that, this cover is a winner in almost every way!

The story goes like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back with Dum-Dum Dugan and the S.H.I.E.L.D. forces on the ground, the laser cannon is finally ready and Dugan gives Godzilla a direct shot to the head with "the fire of nine thousand amplified and combined laser beams", which SOUNDS pretty awesome, but it barely makes Godzilla flinch.

Worse, Godzilla decides that if it's gonna be like THAT, he can do it like THAT too, and breaks out the nuclear fire breath on the laser cannon, easily destroying it before turning the rest of the buildings, the forest, and pretty much everything within the surrounding valley into a flaming inferno for good measure.

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

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

The End.

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

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

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

I have to say that I liked it a lot for what it is.

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

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

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

And during his origin.

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


Overall, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Godzilla #1.

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

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual as I find who knows what lurking in the bargain bins.

Be there or be square!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Longbox Junk - Aliens: Stronghold

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

And finally. . .


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Up Next. . .

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

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

Be there or be square!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Longbox Junk - Batman: Black and White

This series is strangely confusing to me. . .

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

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

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

Let's take a look and see!

DC (1996)


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

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

Not good, not bad. Just sort of average.

Nicely done, but a little strange in that Batman's cape literally looks like bat wings.

Ted McKeever Art and Story

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

Bruce Timm art and story.

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

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

Joe Kubert art and story

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

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

Howard Chaykin art and story.

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

 It's pretty weak.

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

Archie Goodwin story, Jose Munoz art

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

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

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


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

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

Meh. . . Am disappointed.

A nice fight scene with a lot of motion to it, but it's also pretty cluttered. Average.

Story and art by Walter Simonson.

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

Art by Richard Corben, Story by Jan Strnad.

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

Art and Story by Kent Williams

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

Story by Chuck Dixon, Art by Jorge Zaffino

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

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

And finally. . .

Story by Neil Gaiman, Art by Simon Bisley.

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

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

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


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

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

Pretty average. I expect more from PCR.

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

Art and Story by Klaus Jansen

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

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

Story by Andrew Helfer, Art by Liberatore.

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

Art and Story by Matt Wagner

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

Art and Story by Bill Sienkiewicz

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

Art by Teddy Kristiansen, Story by Dennis O'Neal

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

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

And finally. . .


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

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

Ross brings his signature hyper-realistic detail to the bat-party! VERY nicely done.

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

Art and Story by Brian Bolland

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

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

Art by Kevin Nowlan, Story by Jan Strnad

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

Art by Gary Gianni, Story by Archie Goodwin

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

Art by Brian Stelfreeze, Story by Dennis O'Neal

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

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

And finally. . .

Art and Story by Katsuhiro Otomo

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

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


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

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

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

Up next. . .

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

Be there or be square!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Longbox Junk - The A-Team: War Stories

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

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

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

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

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

IDW (2010)


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Up Next. . .

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

Does the same go for Batman?

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