Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Longbox Junk - Oracle: The Cure

Welcome to another Longbox Junk Rescue Review!

These are older reviews I wrote under contract to a very popular (and still existing) comic site that shall not be named.  These days, they can be kindly described as a comic "related" site.  Most of these "Rescue Reviews" I've pulled from their hard to access and navigate archives.  THIS review is a little different in that it was a REJECTED review (for being too long and too negative), so it's basically pulled from my own archives.

This review has always sort of stuck with me because it was the beginning of the end of my writing comic reviews for pay.  To make a long story short, this review garnered me a rare phone call from one of the editors, who informed me that it was okay to write negative reviews about lower-tier publishers and fringe projects (such as First Wave), but in order for the site to keep getting exclusive previews and so on, going forward I needed to keep any reviews of "The Big Two" comics starring major characters positive. . .even with older material.

Needless to say, I didn't like being told to basically lie in order for the site to stay on the good side of comic publishers.  On the other hand, I WAS getting paid to read and write about comic books for a major comic site!  So I tossed this one in a hole and reluctantly toed the line for about another year until something else happened that  made me quit entirely.  But THAT'S another story!  

Enough about ME. Let's get into a bit of intro and background for the review at hand. . .

I really liked Oracle as a character. She was one of the more unusual mainstream comic characters out there. . .being a former superhero (Batgirl) that was paralyzed in a horrific attack by the Joker (in the classic Batman: The Killing Joke), but came to terms with her disability and became a behind-the-scenes information source, an incredible support for other heroes, and the leader of her own team (The Birds of Prey).

Oracle was a great representation of how being a hero doesn't necessarily mean wearing a costume and swinging from the rooftops, and was a great example to readers like my daughter of a powerful female character who didn't have to throw a single punch to be a complete bad@$$.

I won't get into it, for the sake of blowing this intro into something much longer than the review itself (and honestly, just thinking about it sort of makes me a little angry), but I feel that DC made a BIG mistake in taking such a great character as Oracle off their roster just to have Barbara Gordon being Batgirl again in the New 52.

BUT. . .

That doesn't have anything to do with this mini, which is pre-New 52.

It's a tie in to the "Battle For The Cowl" event, where the world thought Batman was dead after the events of the ironically-named "Final Crisis" and everyone was trying to figure out who was going to replace Batman, or if he even COULD be replaced or SHOULD be replaced.

THAT SAID. . .

Oddly enough, this mini has absolutely NOTHING to do with "Battle for The Cowl", and barely references it at all. It is ACTUALLY more of a follow up from Final Crisis itself, as the story picks up from events directly involving Final Crisis. . .namely, the Calculator's daughter being in the hospital on death's door and the Calculator trying to assemble a version of the "Anti-Life Equation" that was used by Darkseid in Final Crisis to save her.  

I'm not sure what the reasoning was behind having a Battle for The Cowl tie-in that's actually an epilogue to Final Crisis. . .an entirely different event. . .was, but I'm sure it's an interesting story.

ANYWAY. . .

What I'm trying to say is:  If you aren't familiar with the events of Final Crisis, then you will have a hard time understanding what is going on in this mini. The story directly references Final Crisis and it assumes you have knowledge of all the characters on deck. There is no real introduction to any of them and you are basically dumped right into the story. . .and it's not a very simple story.

In other words: Fair Warning. . .This mini is NOT for the casual comic reader. 

Let's do it!

ORIGINAL INTRO:

Welcome to a "Battle For The Cowl" tie in that's ACTUALLY a "Final Crisis" epilogue.

Wait. . .What?

On a re-read for this review, I have the same opinion as I originally did, so except for some pictures, the new intro, and a bit of spit shine, I've left the review pretty much as first written.

ORACLE: THE CURE
DC (2009)

SCRIPTS: Kevin Vanhook
PENCILS: Julian Lopez & Fernando Pasarin
COVERS: Guillem March

ISSUE 1
Home Again, Home Again


Holy Rack-oly! How about that cover?
It's nicely done and eye-catching to say the least, but I'm not sure it's entirely safe for work. . .

But that's the cover.  Let's look inside and see what we've got here. . .

Honestly, it's a bit of a mess. Not only because it's basically an epilogue to Final Crisis when it's advertised as being part of Battle for The Cowl, but because it's just sort of a mess. 

It tries to mix the virtual world and the real world so that a character who spends most of her heroic moments behind a keyboard can be seen in her element. Unfortunately, scenes of people sitting around tapping keyboards aren't awesome, so they have to find ways to get Oracle out and about.

They do that by showing her undressing for a shower. . .and having angry bo stick practice in her sports bra. . .and how about that cover again?  And those are just the "highlights".  They REALLY make an effort to sexualize Oracle in this series. It's a bit distracting and frankly a bit uncomfortable to see such a strong character reduced to PG-13 shower scenes.

Why, DC?

That aside, the lack of needed background to the convoluted story of the Calculator trying to save his daughter by assembling a version of the Anti-Life Equation online and testing it on computer hackers until he gets it right makes this comic EXTREMELY new reader unfriendly. 

It all just makes one wonder why this mini exists in the first place. The art isn't bad, the writing isn't bad, but it just seems like there's no real justification for the existence of this story.

Was there a demand for a Final Crisis epilogue for The Calculator?  And why do it in a Battle for The Cowl tie in?  For that matter. . .if this is a Battle for The Cowl tie in, then why is it barely referenced at all beyond a couple of throwaway lines while Barbara has dinner with her father, Commissioner Gordon?

All in all, this mini confuses me. I like it because I like Oracle, but is this the Oracle I like?

ISSUE 2
Big Trouble In Hong Kong

If you thought the cover to issue one was a "bit exploitative", the cover to issue two definitely borders on NSFW.

And once again, the overt sexualization of Oracle continues inside. Okay. . .I like to look at pictures of sexy women just like any other normal guy. That said, they seem to be going out of their way here. Within the first few pages, Oracle is assaulted and threatened with rape. Shortly after, her new hacker buddies are commenting on her nice wet shirt look. Then there's that cover. . .and so on and so forth.

 Barbara Gordon being sexy is okay.  It's okay to say that just because someone is in a wheelchair, that doesn't mean they can't still be attractive. But do we really need to be constantly hit on the head with it?

Oracle is supposed to be saving people from a virtual threat reaching out into the real world. . .Is how sexy she is really important to the story at all? It's really starting to look like fan service of the wrong kind.

ANYWAY. . .

The glaringly overt sexualization of the main character aside, this issue suffers from the same problems as the first. The main problem being that it's an epilogue to a different "event" than the one advertised on the cover and it isn't really explained what exactly the Calculator is trying to do, how he's trying to do it, or why he thinks it will work.

Short Version: He's making a virtual recreation of the Anti-Life Equation and testing it online on hackers he is luring before cutting crystals to the specification he discovers in order to re-create the Equation in the real world.

It doesn't help that the story is very convoluted and it's never really explained how the Calculator can reach out from the internet to kill people in the real world.

Just. . .reasons?

The writing and art are still good. . .an interesting paradox. . .how can the separate parts be good, but the combination be bad? Of note is a fantastic double page spread of Oracle's avatar moving through the virtual lattice framework of the internet. It's just an awesome piece of art! 



Now THAT'S the Oracle I want to see more of. Not Barbara Gordon laying in a Hong Kong Alley being threatened by leering would-be rapists.  I'm glad that Oracle finally got a solo series, but the character deserves better than this.

AND FINALLY. . .

ISSUE 3
A Matter of Anti-Life or Death



The good news is they toned down the cover a bit from "borderline NSFW". 
The bad news is that they toned it down to "Busty pulp damsel in distress".

Thank God this mini was only 3 issues. The ending is basically a "to be continued" setup for further events in the DCU, and the journey through the rest of the issue to get to that weak ending is a hot mess.

Oracle confronts the Calculator in cyberspace and defeats him. . .then confronts him in the real world and it's shown that the effects of their avatars battling on the internet has affected the Calculator in real life. How? Nobody knows! Anti-Life Equation. . .reasons!

The ending was a real downer. No happy ending here. Calculator was just trying to help his daughter. He ends up in prison. His daughter ends up paralyzed. Oracle has this mini hanging around her neck like a sexy albatross. Calculator doesn't win.  Oracle doesn't win. The reader doesn't win.

Nobody wins.

Okay, okay. . .it wasn't ALL bad. 

They toned down the sexualization in this issue and showed Oracle as a hero fighting in her own element. The characterization was better this time around.  Oracle is depicted as a hero on her own terms. No Birds of Prey. . .no Bat-Family. I also liked that it touched in several places on the events of "Killing Joke", where she was shot and paralyzed years before, giving some nice continuity.

CONCLUSION

A convoluted story, awkward sexualization of Oracle, a downer ending based on unexplained powers suddenly showing up, and a basic lack of justification for the existence of this mini at all overshadow the few good points present.

I wouldn't really suggest this mini to anybody new to comics or new to the character of Oracle as any sort of introduction. It's definitely "in-crowd" only on this one.  For that matter, I won't even recommend it for the "in-crowd".

At the end of it all, it's just a confusing mess that really shouldn't exist.  For a fan of Oracle such as myself, it's a wasted opportunity for a great character and a damn shame.

Next up. . .

Travel with me back to 1994 and remember the wonderful world of anger, crossbows, and clenched teeth that USED to be The Huntress when she was DC's answer to The Punisher! DC's The Huntress 4 issue mini.

 Be there or be square!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Longbox Junk Retro Review - King Kong (1968)


Welcome to another "Retro Review" special edition of Longbox Junk!

On occasion, I like to step back away from my usual bargain bin fare to shine the spotlight on some of the older and more "valuable" comics in my collection.  The comic at hand for this "Retro Review" is an extra-sized (68 pages) Gold Key one shot from 1968 featuring the one and only King of Skull Island. . .KONG!

Unless you've been completely isolated from pop culture for the past EIGHTY-FIVE years, you MUST have at least a passing knowledge of the giant ape known as King Kong.

When I decided to do a Retro Review on this comic, it struck me (for the first time that I even really thought about it) as odd that the admittedly somewhat thin tale of a gigantic gorilla has survived that many years. . .especially considering the media-saturated culture of today.

A story about a giant ape doesn't really seem to have the sort of cultural impact to still even be a thing people remember 85 years down the road.  But the fact remains that if you say "King Kong" to someone today, most people will basically know what you're talking about.

So I read the comic and did a bit of research, finding out that it's based more on the original 1933 novel than on the better-known movie (due to a tangled web of copyright disputes lasting to this very day).

So then I read the original novel online (only place I could find it) and found myself enjoying a great, fast-paced little piece of pulp fiction that is still very readable to a modern audience (and much better than the original movie).  But my main takeaway from the King Kong novel is that it isn't REALLY about a giant ape!  It's ACTUALLY about colonialism and cultural appropriation. . .

Wait.  What?

Of course, you can just read the novel (and this comic) as a classic pulp adventure story, but I personally found the subtext to be an interesting reflection on how it's in the nature of man that when something new is discovered, the IMMEDIATE reaction is usually a consideration of how to profit from it.  We as a species seem to be incapable of just leaving something alone if there's ANY chance to somehow exploit it for gain.

THAT'S the real story of King Kong.  It's an uncomfortable look in the mirror at mankind's compulsion to exploit EVERYTHING!  All hidden in the background  of a pretty good adventure story about a giant ape.

Or maybe I'm just overthinking a pretty good adventure story about a giant ape.  You decide.

Let's get into this comic!

KING KONG
Gold Key (1968)

SCRIPTS: Gary Poole
PENCILS: Giovanni Ticci
INKS: Alberto Giolitti
COVER: George Wilson

Let's take a look at the cover first before we get into the story. . .and what a cover it is!

I think I mentioned a while back on one of my other Retro Reviews that I paid more than I should have for a box of "Collector Comics" at an estate sale auction a couple of years back just because I wanted this comic book.

There were more "valuable" comics in there (Including a few E.C. Weird Science comics in decent shape, and each "worth" more individually than what I paid for the whole box) but THIS cover was the one that caught my eye and made me bid on the lot.

I mean. . .just LOOK at it!

The bold colors, the details on the planes, Kong's raging face, the positioning of all the elements, the sense of height, scale and movement. . .there's NOTHING I don't like about this cover.  NOTHING!  The cover on this comic is worth the price of admission alone.  Gold Key has some of the hands-down BEST painted covers of their time, and this is one of their best, in my extremely humble opinion.

Moving along. . .

The story goes like this:

We open in the 1930's on a New York dock aboard the steamer, Wanderer (Venture in the movies), where we are introduced to Jack Driscoll (First Mate) and Carl Denham (obsessive movie maker) as Denham's agent refuses to have anything to do with his crazy idea to sail into parts unknown in order to make "The Greatest Movie Ever Seen".

Undeterred by his agent abandoning him, Denham wanders the streets of New York and finds the perfect girl for his film. . .Ann Darrow, who is homeless and starving on the streets of the city.  She agrees to take a leap of faith, and the next morning the Wanderer sets sail. . .


During the long voyage through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, and into the Indian Ocean, Driscoll and Ann fall in love.  Finally, Denham informs Captain Englehorn of their destination. . .an uncharted island with a gigantic rock in the shape of a skull and with a huge wall across it to protect the natives from "something" called. . .Kong.


Captain Englehorn is skeptical about the existence of such a large island not on any charts, but soon enough the skull-shaped mountain is spotted and the crew puts ashore on the "Isle of Kong" (Skull Island in the movie).    

On the beach, the crew hear loud drums and are afraid that the natives have spotted them and are readying to attack.  Denham claims to have heard similar drums before. . .not as war drums, but as part of a ceremony.  

The crew decide to follow the sound of the drums deeper into the jungle and discover a gigantic wall and a tribe of natives engaged in a ceremony. . .


The natives become immediately hostile when the crew of the Wanderer interrupt their ceremony.  After a tense standoff where the chief demands the strangers give up Ann (or "The Woman of Gold) as a gift for "Kong" to pay for their intrusion, the crew manage to talk their way out of the situation without violence and make their way back to the ship. . .


That night, as Driscoll, Denham, and the Captain discuss what to do next, natives sneak aboard the Wanderer and kidnap Ann!  Driscoll notices her missing and realizes what's happened.  He hastily gathers the crew of the ship to head to the island and rescue her.

In the meantime, the natives have brought Ann to the wall, where they tie her to an altar and call upon "Kong" to receive his sacrifice.  Ann is horrified to discover that "Kong" is a gigantic ape that tears her from the altar just as Driscoll and the Wanderer's crew arrive and begin shooting at Kong. . .


Unharmed by their shots, Kong heads into the jungle, taking Ann with him.  Driscoll immediately gathers a team of volunteers to pursue the beast. . .


While following Kong's trail, the rescue party is suddenly attacked by a strange creature from another time. . .a Stegosaurus!  The stunned crewmen are unable to harm the prehistoric monster, but Denham has brought some gas bombs that are able to bring the rampaging dinosaur down.


After their battle with the Stegosaurus, the rescue party continue their pursuit of Kong, only to find their way blocked by a deep river.  They hastily construct a raft, but as they cross the river they are attacked by a gigantic serpent that destroys the raft and forces the men to swim for safety, leaving them weaponless. . .


Despite their losses, Driscoll is relentless in his pursuit of Kong and they quickly catch up to the giant ape, who is in battle with a pair of Triceratops.  Kong emerges victorious and continues deeper into the jungle with Ann, followed by Driscoll and his team. . .


The rescue party comes to a steep ravine that the men are forced to cross on a huge fallen log.  As they do so, a Triceratops threatens them from one end while Kong reappears from the jungle and picks up the other end of the log, shaking the men clinging to it into the chasm below.  Only Denham and Driscoll survive by swinging on vines to the sides of the ravine.  

Since Denham is on the wrong side of the ravine to continue the pursuit, Driscoll tells him to go back and get help while he keeps following Kong. . .


With Driscoll now the sole pursuer of Kong, he watches as the giant ape barely defeats a deadly tyrannosaurus rex in a brutal battle, then continues to follow Kong as he heads toward the skull-shaped mountain with Ann. . .


At the base of Skull Mountain, Kong battles yet another gigantic creature in order to protect his prize.  This time, a huge serpent!  After defeating the snake, Kong climbs to his lair at the top of Skull Mountain, still followed by Driscoll. . .


Even in Kong's lair, he has to fight to keep his prize!  Atop Skull Mountain, Kong is attacked by a pterodactyl.  It's a fight the giant ape easily wins, but it distracts him long enough for Driscoll to make his move.  

He grabs Ann and the two of them dive off the cliff and into the pool below, with Kong in hot pursuit.  The strong current pulls Ann and Driscoll underwater and through a cave before throwing them over a waterfall and free of Kong. . .


As Driscoll and Ann float downriver to safety, finally arriving at the wall where Denham has gathered the rest of the crew, Kong crashes through the jungle, heading in the same direction.  Denham has realized that Kong is much more valuable than any movie he could make, so he concocts a hasty and dangerous plan to capture the beast.


Kong attacks the wall and rampages through the native village with berserk fury.  Denham lures Kong toward the beach, using Ann as bait, then ambushes the beast with the remaining gas bombs.  After a few tense moments the mighty Kong falls, helpless.  

Denham declares that they're going to make millions displaying King Kong. . .the Eighth Wonder of The World!


The story then moves to New York City and the crowds gathering in Times Square for the gala opening night where King Kong will be put on public display for the first time.   There's tension backstage as Driscoll and Ann try to downplay the heroic roles Denham is building up for them in front of the gathered press.



As Kong is revealed to the waiting crowd, the flashing light of the reporters cameras and the sight of Driscoll with his arm around Ann drive the giant creature into a frenzy.  Kong breaks his chains and escapes the cage he is imprisoned in, then rampages through the theater.  Driscoll tries to hide Ann, but Kong quickly finds her hiding place and once again takes her captive.


Kong evades the pursuing police as he rampages through the streets of New York City, until finally, with nowhere else to go,  he begins to climb the Empire State Building with Ann still his captive.


On top of the world's tallest building, King Kong roars his defiance.  Below, the authorities call on the army to send planes to shoot the beast down.  The army planes quickly arrive and go on the attack.  Kong gently places Ann out of danger, then turns to defend her from the strange flying things.


During the brutal battle, Jack climbs to the top of the building and manages to rescue Ann.  Kong can only watch as Ann is taken away from him yet again.  With a last scream of defiance, Kong is finally weakened enough by the machine guns to lose his balance and fall from the building to the street below.

As the crowds gather around the defeated Kong, Denham declares that it wasn't the planes that killed King Kong. . .as always, it was beauty that killed the beast.



The End.

Okay then. . .there it is.  The comic book version of King Kong.  Let's break it on down!

Overall, it's a pretty straightforward and no frills retelling of the story.  If you've seen the original movie or read the original novel, then there's really nothing new here beyond it being an illustrated version of the same thing.

That's good in a way. . .and also sort of bad.  

It's good because in 1968 they didn't have DVD, Netflix, On Demand, and what have you that lets us today just decide to go ahead and watch King Kong whenever we feel the need to watch King Kong.  It was only re-released a few times in theaters (the last time in 1956) and after that, shown on T.V. rarely. . .with each re-release resulting in a more heavily-edited version.  This was a chance for people who might never have seen the original movie to get some King Kong.

This comic was also an opportunity for Merian C. Cooper to keep the ORIGINAL version of King Kong in the public eye even as Toho Studios released strange Japanese knockoff Kong movies that he really couldn't do anything about, due to Cooper's rights being restricted to published material during that time (note on the cover that this comic is specifically authorized and copyrighted by Cooper) and Toho's rights (as well as others) preventing further theater re-releases of the original movie. 

 The whole King Kong "rights" saga was (and still is) a real mess and makes for some interesting reading, but I won't go more into it than to say that this comic was partly an effort to preserve the original King Kong. . .which is a good thing.

It's also good because it DOES take the original source material (for the most part, but we'll talk about that below) seriously, presenting it to a new audience without trying to modernize or embellish it to match the times (as with the 1976 movie version of King Kong, which is SO 70's-Tastic that all it's missing is a disco soundtrack).  King Kong is a classic pulp adventure and this comic gives you that classic adventure straight up with no mixer.

BUT. . .

Being based on the original novel, this comic misses a pretty big opportunity to include parts of that novel that didn't make it into the original movie or were censored out in subsequent releases, and that's a bad thing, in my extremely humble opinion.  

Gold Key was one of the VERY few major comic publishers in the 60's that never displayed the Comics Code Authority seal of approval on their covers.  That put them in a position where it was entirely possible for them to include scenes such as the infamous "Spider Pit" where the men thrown from the log over the ravine by Kong didn't just fall to their deaths, but were devoured by giant spiders, worms, and other insects at the bottom of the ravine (easily one of the best and most horrific scenes in the 2005 movie version of King Kong).

The novel this comic was based on is a more violent and brutal version of King Kong than any movie version prior to the 2005 release.  The "Spider Pit" scene is the biggest missed opportunity for Gold Key to take advantage of with their not complying with the CCA, but there are about a half-dozen other, smaller scenes that could have made this a TRUE adaptation of the source material.

THAT SAID. . .

The good here outweighs the bad.  A few absent scenes and missed opportunities doesn't prevent this comic from being a fast-paced, no-nonsense classic pulp adventure that stands the test of time, backed up with some (mostly) good art.

So let's talk about the art a moment and that "mostly" above.  This is a comic, so I can go on about the story, but the story is only half of what's going on in a comic book.  Generally speaking, the art in the comic is good. . .even outstanding in places.  The artist does a great job with the human characters and background elements.  Unfortunately, he doesn't do so well with the creatures that Kong and the crew of The Wanderer encounter on Skull Island. . .and in many places he does a particularly poor job on Kong.

One would THINK that if you were doing a comic about King Kong, you would absolutely NAIL the title character, but through most of this comic, Kong is sort of gangly and skinny.  His face is extremely inconsistent, and to be honest, Kong just doesn't look threatening except in a few panels.  It's not ALL bad, but Kong really stands out as the weakest part of the line art side of this comic.  It's VERY disappointing to have the title character portrayed so badly compared to everything else.

And THEN there's the colors.

If I had to describe the colors in this comic with two words, they would be: Friggin' BAD.

I didn't include every page with this review, but take a skim through the ones I did scan, taking note of the colors on each one. There's bright pink, yellow, purple, orange, and red skies.  Multi-colored trees and buildings. Kong is BLUE.  The ground changes color from panel to panel.  The colors are garish, inappropriate for the scene, lazily-applied, and distracting through about 90% of this comic.  The colors definitely take the decent line art of the comic down a notch and are probably the worst part of the whole thing.

KONG-CLUSION

King Kong is a story that just about everyone already knows.  It's a fantastic pulp adventure tale that stands the test of time in its simplicity.  It has a defined beginning, a middle, and an end.  There's nothing fancy about King Kong.  

This comic embraces a no-frills straight re-telling of the old familiar story of King Kong and I like that.  I like it in the same way that I like watching The Lion King every so often.  I've seen it a bunch of times.  I know what's going to happen.  But it's a good story and I don't mind re-visiting it from time to time.  King Kong is a classic story I don't mind re-visiting every now and then.  Do I want to re-visit King Kong (or The Lion King) all the time? I'm not THAT big a fan, but every now and then is just fine.

Is this a perfect comic? Not at all.  There were definite missed opportunities to include scenes from the novel that didn't make it into the movie or were censored out during later re-releases.  Although the art is generally good, the artist couldn't get a handle on arguably the most important thing in a King Kong comic. . .King Kong.  The colors in 90% of the comic are bad.

But those few complaints aside, this is overall a good read with a classic adventure story that captures the imagination.  It's an admittedly well-worn story, but at the end of the day it's a story that is still readable 85 years after it was originally written, and this is a solid illustrated version of that story.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual.

Be there or be square!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Longbox Junk - Fantastic Four: First Family

Welcome to another Longbox Junk "Rescue Review"!  

I'm blowing the dust off of some older reviews I wrote for a very well known comic site that isn't really focused on comics as much as they once were.  Why let these go to waste hidden in a hard to navigate archive when they can still be relevant to bargain bin diggin' comic fans such as you and me?

This time out, I'm putting a bit of spit shine on a Marvel miniseries featuring one of my least favorite superhero teams. . .The Fantastic Four.  

Now before you get out the torches and pitchforks, don't get me wrong.  I don't HATE the FF, but like I say in my original intro below, I just prefer more "grounded" superheroes (Like Zorro and The Spirit) and sort of don't like superhero "Team" books in general.  

But that's what's great about comics. . .there's something for everyone!  If YOU like Fantastic Four, get down with some Fantastic Four!  I'll be over here with a big cheesy grin reading Green Hornet.

That said, the whole point of Longbox Junk is to present things that people might otherwise pass over . . .and that goes for ME as well.  So even though I'm not a fan of Fantastic Four, does that mean I'm just going to wave off some Fantastic Four comics in my collection like they're not worthy of my attention?  HELL NO!  Let's do this!

ORIGINAL INTRO:

IT'S REVIEWIN' TIME!

Let me get this out right up front. I'm not a huge fan of most "mainstream" superheroes. That's not to say I don't like superheroes at all. . .it's just that I prefer the more "street level" or realistic (as realistic as comics can be anyway) heroes. 

About the only "Traditional" or "Mainstream" superheroes I follow on a regular basis are Batman and Captain America. . .both relatively low power when it comes to comics. I like heroes like Daredevil, Zorro, The Rocketeer, Green Hornet, The Spirit, and so on and so forth.

The point is that except for this mini and a giant-size Marvel from the 70's (The Fabulous Fantastic Four), and a random issue here and there, I don't read or collect Fantastic Four, and I don't even really like them. I don't HATE them, it's just that  I can be perfectly fine as a comic fan without ever buying a single issue of Fantastic Four.

That said, I'm willing to give ANY comic a fair shake.  Let's do it!

ON A RE-READ, I PRETTY MUCH STILL AGREE WITH THE REVIEW AS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN, SO EXCEPT FOR A BIT OF POLISH, SOME PICTURES, AND CREATOR CREDITS, IT'S ABOUT THE SAME AS WHEN IT WAS FIRST PUBLISHED.

FANTASTIC FOUR: FIRST FAMILY
Marvel (2006)

SCRIPTS:  Joe Casey
PENCILS: Chris Weston
COVERS: Chris Weston


ISSUE 1
"THERE WAS A CRASH. . ."

I REALLY enjoyed this first issue! 

I was very surprised to find myself enjoying it so much. For starters, the art is fantastic. . .the cover in particular, with Johnny Storm giving Reed Richards the bunny ears in a group photo. Other standout art moments are of Reed Richards and Ben Grimm shortly after their definitely NOT approved test flight and cosmic irradiation when they were still under government quarantine. Very nicely done! It really gave an image of just how unusual these people appeared to others. 



The writing was stellar as well. . .I could feel Ben Grimm's heartbreak when his girlfriend rejected him and ran away. For a comic to make me feel something like that is truly unusual. Very well done on this first issue!

But can the creative team keep it up? It's only 6 issues. My fingers are crossed. . .

ISSUE 2
COSMIC RAY RAMPAGE


Okay. . .so after a stellar introduction, it starts getting a bit "super-hero-y" as the FF fight together as a team for the first time against an escapee from the same detention facility where they are being held. They fail pretty hard because they still aren't used to their powers or how to work together. 

We start to see tension straining at them as Reed wants them to be one big happy family and the others aren't so sure. To make matters worse, Reed has another detainee in his head. . .a psionic psychotic who used their battle as a distraction to escape.

Plus the "team" goes on their first mission (mostly unseen, except for their report afterwards) for the government to Monster Island to fight The Mole Man.  It's a 60's-Tastic callback to their original origin story!

The art is still great, with the exception of Sue Storm. 
There are places where her face just looks. . .weird. 

I can't believe this mini is dipping on the SECOND issue. 
What started as an excellent introduction and updated origin story is turning into a punch-em-up.

ISSUE 3
THE HOMECOMING DANCE

This issue was half and half for me. . .I liked that they got back to the more personal side of people who just had their whole lives changed and how they deal with it. I didn't like the punchfest battle with a giant lizard in the streets of New York. 

Ben Grimm goes back to one of his old hangouts and finds out there's no way he can go back to his old friends and ways. Johnny Storm does the same thing and finds himself being treated like a hometown hero. I loved the opposition of the two stories!

 Reed Richards and Sue Storm also find themselves at odds because Reed wants to concentrate on the new team and Sue wants to try to continue with their plans to get married. Not as good as the other stories, but I still liked it.

Overall, this issue was superior to the second one, but not as good as the first. The art is still outstanding, once again the exception being Sue Storm's face. It seems the artist can't get a handle on her for some reason. . .


ISSUE 4
THE TIES THAT BIND


I really liked this issue for its lack of punching and having some great story content.

Reed Richards sees both his team and his life falling apart. Ben Grimm refuses to accept what he's become. Johnny Storm lets his newfound fame go to his head. Sue Storm is totally pissed that Reed cares more about the idea of being a superhero than about her. 

There's a real feeling of tension in this issue. And then there's the psychotic guy who keeps invading Reed's thoughts who finally decides that he's done trying to get Reed to see things his way and declares that he is now their enemy.

Not a bad issue at all. You really get the feeling of a team/family on the edge of breaking up. 

The art seems to be slipping a bit for some reason.  The team is still the same, but there's a slightly different look.  Unfortunately, the artist still can't draw Sue Storm consistently. On page 5 there's 3 views of her face and none of them look like the same woman, except for the blonde hair. The one at the bottom is really bad. But oddly enough, everything else looks great, especially like the fire effect on Johnny Storm.


ISSUE 5
"COLD, HARD. . ."

Okay, NOW we go off the rails.

In the run-up to the final issue, there's some decent story moments. . .Johnny Storm letting fame go to his head and almost killing some thieves in his overconfidence. . .Sue Storm having lonely woman rage over her fiancee not paying attention to her. . . Reed giving up on the team and going to confront their new enemy on his own. . . The rest of them realizing they totally suck on their own and going after Reed to help him.

But aside from those story moments, the rest is a confusing mess as Reed joins in psychic battle inside a cosmic radiation-infused crystal that a rapidly-mutating psycho that's been in Reed's head wants to blow up and radiate thousands of people.

 He also turns the guards at the base where the crystal is at into superhuman mutated monstrosities to fight the other three members of the FF in the real world as they fly into battle in what must be the lamest superhero vehicle in comic book history. 


Okay. . .did you get all that? I guess the origin is done and it's time to punch things.

ISSUE 6
SIGNS AND SALVATION

The final issue is a hot mess. 

It's split between the mental battle of Richards vs. Stahl in the radioactive crystal, where Reed proves it's not his stretchy limbs that make him awesome, but his big brain. . .and in the real world where the others take on extremely punchable monsters and prove that teamwork is the way to go! 

After the battle is won, Reed uses his big brain to realize his fiancee is unhappy and gives her a shiny ring to distract from her misery. And THAT's why they call him Mister Fantastic!

At the end of the story, it's all smiles as they fly in to battle yet ANOTHER giant monster in New York in their awesome new official uniforms and the world's worst-looking flying machine. 


Seriously. . .even Orion in his stupid Astro-Harness is laughing at the Fantasti-car.

CONCLUSION

And there it is. . .Fantastic Four: First Family. The tale of 4 people coming together as a team and ignoring the laughter of a college kid on a Segway as they fly overhead in the lamest vehicle in New York City.

It came to a  pretty weak ending after a strong start, but I have to say that overall I liked most of this series. I wasn't a fan of the Fantastic Four coming in, and this didn't change my mind, but it had some really good story moments before they decided it HAD to end with a big battle. The artwork through the series was outstanding, except for a bit of trouble with Sue Storm's face.

 All in all, I'd definitely suggest this book to fans of Fantastic Four or to someone wanting to know about the Fantastic Four without wading through 50 years worth of comic history.  If I were interested in The Fantastic Four, I'd probably call this a pretty good starting point.

2019 CONCLUSION UPDATE

Although I generally agree with the review as originally written, on a second reading I see that I MIGHT have been a bit harsh on some of the later issues.  They're still a mess, but not really as bad a mess as I originally thought.  

Yes, the ending is still weak. . .as if after coming in strong on the back of updating the FF's original origin story, the writer couldn't really get a good handle on where to go from there when adding original material.  Yes, the art swerves in quality from "WOW!" to "What?", sometimes in the same issue.

BUT. . .

As a standalone introduction to the Fantastic Four, I don't really think you could do much better than this.  There are some REALLY good story moments to be found before it all collapses into punching things, and when the artist is hitting the mark, he REALLY hits the mark.  

Up Next. . .

More superhero action as we switch over to Marvel's Distinguished Competition! 
DC's Oracle: The Cure 3 issue mini.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Longbox Junk - Planet of The Apes - Part 2: Issues 9 - 16

Welcome to the second part of my "Rescue Review" of BOOM! Studios' 16 issue Planet of The Apes series!  In the first half of this series, I discovered a surprisingly good political/war story that took a deep dive into some dark and uncomfortable social issues backed up by some fantastic art.

No long intro this time.  Let's get into the second half!

On a re-read, I still stand by what I put in the original review.  So except for a bit of polish, some pictures, and creator credits, this is pretty much as originally written. . .

ORIGINAL INTRO: 

YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! YOU BLEW THE ENDING UP!

Er. . .spoiler alert?

PLANET OF THE APES
PART 2: ISSUES 9 - 16
BOOM! Studios (2011 - 2012)

ISSUE 9
CHILDREN OF FIRE PART 1


SCRIPTS: Daryl Gregory
PENCILS: Carlos Magno
COVER: Sam Kennedy

Okay. . .I get it now.

I guess I should have thought of it before, but new ARC doesn't really mean new STORY in this age of TPB collections of series. . .it just means a cliffhanger to encourage buying the next TPB for those not reading the series issue by issue.

So my lower rating of issue #8 (the last issue of Part 1 of this series review) for not resolving the end of the story wasn't entirely justified, because things pick up right where they left off in this issue.

The insurgency is in full swing, using terrorist tactics to strike against the superior numbers and firepower of the apes. The parallels to the Holocaust become more evident as the remaining humans are branded with numbers and forced to work as slaves living in ghettos or deported to concentration camps. The apes conduct brutal door to door searches for insurgents right out of what we see from the Middle East.



 It's a very dark and deliberate reflection on real-world issues. . .mixing the Holocaust with today's war against terror to great effect. I don't know where it's going, but I can tell there aren't going to be any happy endings here. . .

ISSUE 10
CHILDREN OF FIRE PART 2

SCRIPTS: Daryl Gregory
PENCILS: Carlos Magno
COVER: Mitch Gerads

This issue was particularly brutal and dark. It's told mostly in flashback and gives us the tale of how the leader of the humans (Mayor Sully) and the leader of the apes (voice Alaya) became friends when young, united through the tragedy of them both seeing their families killed on the same day during a battle at the end of the human war of independence. They are the "Children of Fire" in the title of this arc.

The artwork on this series is still stunning! Of particular note is the battle mentioned above, even better is a centerfold 2 page spread with three thin panels stacked on top of each other of when the apes and humans finally meet each other in full battle.  There's a LOT of detail in just those 3 panels!



The writing remains great, but the art is really the star of the show in this issue. . .

ISSUE 11
CHILDREN OF FIRE PART 3

SCRIPTS: Daryl Gregory
PENCILS: Carlos Magno
COVER: Damian Couceiro

And now Planet of The Apes hits a very dark note that should be obvious to even the most oblivious reader, even if they've missed the others. The insurgents hijack an ape airship and crash it into the highest building in the city with devastating effects. The parallels to 9/11 and the War on Terror couldn't get any more clear.



BUT. . .

One little thing bothers me. The tower they crash into (known as the "City Tree") is obviously a run-down Eiffel Tower. But this series takes place in a city called Mak, which is to the WEST of the ape capital of Ape City (the same city in the original movie). This is shown on a map that the apes look at in a previous issue while they try to find where the insurgents are at.

From Issue 9

If (as seen on the map and in the original movie) Ape City is near the East Coast (with the iconic "THEY BLEW IT UP!" Statue of Liberty ending), then how is Mak's central building the Eiffel Tower?

Generally speaking, this issue was great.  It has a very strong story backed up by some fantastic artwork. It just jarred my sense of comic book disbelief a bit with the Eiffel Tower being in North America.

ISSUE 12
CHILDREN OF FIRE PART 4

SCRIPTS: Daryl Gregory
PENCILS: Carlos Magno
COVER: Damian Couceiro

Holy time jump, Batman! About midpoint of this issue, they jump the story ahead by TEN YEARS!

Before that, we see the City Tree in flames in a fantastic opening panel (It's still obviously the Eiffel Tower in North America for some reason, but it's one SWEET picture!)


Voice Alaya steals Sully's newborn son, and Bako (the main human insurgent leader) meets his end, then. . . BAM! It's Ten Years Later!

Sully is now the leader of the insurgent forces, Alaya is now the Lawgiver (the Ape that er. . .gives the Law), and her former right hand man (ape) is part of the human resistance. Oh. . .and Sully's son is a spoiled 10 year old raised as a wealthy ape and hating humans.

I found the sudden time jump a bit strange but the writing and art remain extremely strong.

ISSUE 13
THE HALF MAN PART 1

SCRIPTS: Daryl Gregory
PENCILS: Carlos Magno
COVER: Damian Couceiro

Damn it. I knew it couldn't last.

With the time jump of last issue and the beginning of the  final story arc, BOOM! Studio's fantastic take on Planet of The Apes finally goes off the rails.  It was a long time coming, but when it happened it happened quick.  One issue. . .THIS issue.

Trying to find weapons for her insurgent forces, Sully is taken to a huge Oriental-style ship on the Atlantic ocean and meets "The Golden Khan" and Princess Wengchen. The Khan is a shaved Gorilla.

Why the hell are there shaved Oriental Gorilla Pirate Kings sailing the Atlantic Ocean? WHY?


It's a testament to Carlos Magno's art skills that he can make even this ridiculous turn of events look awesome, but the direction the story is now heading is right off the rails and over the cliff.  A damn shame because this series lasted a LOT longer than any other I've ever reviewed without a single bad issue.

ISSUE 14
THE HALF MAN PART 2

SCRIPT: Daryl Gregory
PENCILS: Carlos Magno
COVER: Carlos Magno

In this issue, we learn the uncomfortable origin of The Golden Khan (shaved oriental gorilla Pirate King) and Princess Wengchen (Human woman). I guess it was only a matter of time for a Planet of The Apes story to touch on inter-species love.

It's pretty plain that at this point, the series was winding down and heading for a big finish.  Aside from the ridiculous Shaved Oriental Gorilla Pirate King/Bestiality sub-plot, the story here is actually pretty engaging as the pieces move into place for the final issues.  Lawgiver Alaya is the target of a coup and Sully gets the weapons she needs for an attack on the city. Looks like things are going to end on a violent note. . .

ISSUE 15
THE HALF-MAN PART 3

SCRIPTS: Daryl Gregory
PENCILS: Carlos Magno
COVER: Damian Couceiro

After the uncomfortable shaved oriental gorilla Pirate King nonsense of the past couple issues, this one was pretty darn good. In the run-up to the final issue, Sully is reunited with her son and discovers he hates her.  Lawgiver Alaya stumbles into a full-on coup, and the insurgents prepare to take down the concentration camps to bolster their forces for an attack on the city. All illustrated with Magno's fantastic, detailed art.


Thank God there aren't any shaved Gorilla pirates waving their cutlasses about.

AND FINALLY. . .

ISSUE 16
THE HALF MAN PART 4

SCRIPTS: Daryl Gregory
PENCILS: Carlos Magno
COVER: Damian Couceiro

I was disappointed with the end of this series, to say the least. 

Not only are we treated to more Shaved Oriental Gorilla Pirates. . .a LOT more. . .turns out there's a whole armada of them, thousands, as the Golden Khan puts it. A giant Armada of Oriental ships filled with shaved Gorilla Pirates? WHY? WHYYYYYYYYYYYY? But that's just left hanging.

That's the REAL problem with this "Finale". . . EVERYTHING is left hanging.
It all ends abruptly with NO resolution. Everything! Nothing! Why?

There's partial resolution in that we learn that Brother Kale was behind EVERYTHING in the series (He's one of the creepy atomic bomb cultists seen in "Beneath The Planet Of The Apes" who's been sort of hanging around the edges of this story from the beginning) and when things are to his liking, some more of the cult shows up with a nuke. But THAT'S left hanging as well! We see the insurgency take down the concentration camps, but what happens after that? Who knows? Left hanging!

This HAS to be one of the worst endings for a series I've seen. It's not even an ending!

I suspect there was supposed to be more, but the series was cancelled. I have the Annual, but it doesn't continue the story. The annual is a collection of short stories from various periods of the "Apes" timeline. And doesn't really have much to do with the ongoing story in the series.

This is no way to end a series! I can't believe that such a great series completely jumped the rails in the final story arc and then failed to stick the landing on the finale by just leaving everything hanging!

CONCLUSION
All in all, I really enjoyed this series, except for the final 4 issues. Consistently fantastic writing and art, touching on unexpected subjects for a book about intelligent apes including The Holocaust, Terrorism, racial discrimination, class warfare, and even (I guess) mixed race relationships. It dives deep into the darkness and shines a spotlight on a lot of the current issues facing our own society.

Overall, I'd say that if you are looking for a good political/war comic, then Planet of The Apes is definitely worth a read. Just be prepared to be disappointed at the end of it. . .in that there ISN'T an end of it!  Fortunately, the journey to that non-ending is one of the best I've seen in comics in a long time.

I just feel sad now. It was so damn GOOD and ended so damn BAD!

2019 CONCLUSION UPDATE

In the years since I wrote this review, I've discovered that there IS a conclusion to the story that was just left hanging unfinished in the final issue of this series.  It's a Planet of The Apes "Special" that came out 7 months after the ongoing series ended.  I haven't read it, but I keep my eye out for it in the bargain bins where I'm sure I'll come across it some day.  

I'm not sure what happened with the extremely abrupt "ending" of this series and then the "real" ending coming out almost a year later, but whatever their reasons, BOOM! Studios definitely hit a foul ball on the ending of this series.

THAT SAID. . .

Putting the ending aside for a moment, this version of Planet of The Apes is truly one of the all-time BEST comic series I've ever read!  And believe me. . .I've read a lot of comics.  You can take THAT check to the bank and cash it.  

This is an extremely dark story. . .a cracked mirror held up to current events in our own world and played out on a stage filled with fully-drawn and interesting characters trapped in a storm of political intrigue and violence completely out of their control. 

 Beyond the engaging political/war narrative. . .from issue one to issue last, EVERY PAGE of this series is filled with stunning, detailed artwork that perfectly compliments the story being told and raises the bar of quality FAR above my expectations for a licensed property comic from a second (maybe third?) tier publisher.

Overall, despite the disappointing ending, BOOM! Studios' Planet of The Apes is a true hidden Longbox Junk gem.  If you are a fan of Planet of The Apes or a fan of military/political drama in general, I HIGHLY recommend this series.  Trust me on this one, son. 

Up Next. . .

To tell the truth.  Not really sure right now.
Maybe another "Rescue Review".  I still have about 25 more.
Maybe something new and give the "Rescue Reviews" a break.

I must ponder.

In any case. . .be there or be square!