Saturday, December 31, 2011

"The End" Week: Justice Society #10!

Well, I suppose it's more accurately "Justice Society of America," but they went with the short form on the last issue: from 1993, Justice Society of America #10, "J.S.A. No More?" Written by Len Strazewski, pencils by Mike Parobeck, inks by Mike Machlan.

While Parobeck's cartoony style was the big draw for me in this incarnation of the JSA, I did enjoy how Strazewski made the old guard of the DCU seem old; like the elderly gentlemen they were. (Actually, Hawkwoman's in there as well, but looks great; while Carter is noticeably older.) They weren't senile or incontinent or decrepit or anything (because they had cheated aging at least a couple of times) but had a different mindset than even a slightly younger team like the JLA.

Still, the book didn't find a market--which really isn't that surprising, since about a second of research shows this came out about the same time as the first batch of Image Comics. Did DC think this would compete with the first year or so of Spawn or WildC.A.T.s?

Anyway, the last issue or so featured people turning on the Justice Society en masse; to the point they were marching in the streets with torches, signs, and possibly pitchforks. A pair of hit men try to kill Ted Knight, the original Starman, who stops them easily. (How they, and the mob outside, knew where he lived is another question.) Ted suits up and heads to Gotham City to help out his friends, who are hip-deep in battle with Kulak the Sorceror. For his part, Kulak has enslaved the Hawks, been broadcasting his hypnotic message on late-night cable, and has impaled Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt for use as a battery. Oh, and he licks Hawkwoman.


Kulak fought the JSA a bazillion years ago in All-Star Comics #2 (mentioned in the editorial footnote) and ended up sucked into ancient Egypt. He tells a cock-and-bull story about being the Pharaoh Cheops; Wildcat and Atom don't buy it, since Vandal Savage said he was Cheops, and seems a bit more credible. Johnny Thunder provokes Kulak, who summons his...Legion of the Dead! (He had the same dramatic pause!) Although it takes a lot of his power, all he gets are a bunch of incompetent zombies, who smash up a bit of his stuff as well. Kulak's reeling by the time Starman arrives and zaps him so hard his third eye falls out, and Kulak is sucked back into hell.

The series ends with future member Jesse Chambers finishing her dissertation on the JSA; as the team gets together for another meeting. I'm not sure how many more they had, since several of them would be killed or retire during Zero Hour to make way for younger heroes. Yeah, that didn't really take, either.
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"The End" Week: Anarky #8!

In comics, sometimes the last issue is used to wrap up all the dangling plotlines and bring some closure to a story. And sometimes, it catches the creative team a bit more by surprise, and storylines are left unresolved. Today's book brought up a point that wasn't intended to be the last word on the hero but kind of was: Anarky #8, "The Sins of the Father" Written by Alan Grant, pencils by Norm Breyfogle, inks by Joe Rubinstein.

Lonnie Machin, the young hero known as Anarky, has tracked his birth-mother to an asylum. In case that wasn't troubling enough, she tells him his the Joker. Her mind damaged by Joker-gas, Anarky can't be sure if that's the truth, so he breaks into Arkham to get answers from the horse's mouth. This is a terrible idea, made either better or worse by Anarky leaving his weapons and computer linkup outside, since he can't risk the Joker getting them; before using his boom tube to teleport inside.

Where the Joker is already mid-escape. Quickly overpowered, Anarky questions the Joker, who may be lying or may be too insane to honestly answer. Joined by Two-Face, Killer Croc, and the Ventriloquist; they quickly take several guards hostage, keeping them alive only at Anarky's suggestion. He offers to boom tube them all out, but the Joker makes him swear on it; and Anarky's philosophy of "profound honesty" makes him hesitate. The Joker shotguns Anarky, but his kevlar costume saves him. Freeing the guards and ditching the weapons, the Joker's escape is foiled, but he tosses Anarky's boom tube device over a railing, leaving him to jump for it.

Outside the asylum, an understandably freaked out Anarky rides off, trying to tell himself "genes don't determine, they only predispose..." He really didn't have to worry that much, though: this plotline, suggested by Breyfogle, was opposed by then Batman-editor Denny O'Neil; but Grant convinced him they could do it and if needed, recant later. (Per Anarky's huge wikipedia page.) It also doesn't quite track unless the Joker had been around for over fifteen years or so. And I can't believe the rational mind of Anarky would put any faith in two madpeople--he probably would've done a DNA test before listening to a word out of either of their mouths. Still, I have to admit, he could've been rattled on that one.
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"The End" Week: Mutant X #32!

We checked out #31 earlier, but here's the double-sized conclusion to the storyline and the series: Mutant X #32, "The End" Written by Howard Mackie, pencils by Ron Lim, inks by Andrew Pepoy.

Alex Summers, Havok, has been trapped for a good thirty-some issues and some annuals in an alternate reality where he led a team of mutants called the Six. It's debatable how much of this is his fault, but this earth is pretty well doomed: Dracula and the Beyonder are after the Nexus of Realities. Alex thought it was destroyed; instead, it's inside him. (I can't remember if that was the same Nexus that Man-Thing guards in a lot of his appearances, but that would've been something.) Most of earth's heroes are already dead, and Dracula's deal with the Beyonder lets him drink the blood of many more: Dr. Doom, the Inhumans, and the Eternals are all killed (and possibly turned?) off-panel...

Using equipment built by the evil Reed Richards, and powered by Strange, Baron Mordo, (evil) Xavier, Magneto, and his (alternate) son Scotty; Alex faces the "Beyonder," who is actually the Goblin Queen. (Possibly for time, the reveal seems stepped on a bit.) The Queen had possessed the alternate-Alex's wife Madelyne for some time, probably the entire series. Freeing Maddie, Alex then casts the Queen into the Nexus, claiming it will destroy her in all realities. Madelyne is returned to her son, who knows his dad sacrificed to save them all. Floating in darkness, Alex grins: "I remember...dying. But mostly...I remember......Living!"

Of course, Alex would turn up in the Marvel Universe proper again; in Exiles and some terrible Uncanny X-Men comics around "the Draco." I think Peter David is going to get another shot at Havok in X-Factor soon as well...

The Mutant X universe didn't go complete apocalypse like Days of Future Past, but I'd say 90, 95% of the heroes and villains' counterparts that we saw, along with a good chunk of the normal population, end up dead. (That was a big gimmick of this book: look, an alternate Fantastic Four! Look, they're evil! Look, they're dead!)

If memory serves, I think Mutant X was cancelled not due to sales (or at least not completely) but as part of a paring-down of X-Men related titles. Yeah, how'd that turn out?

Oh, and Dracula?
Well, that's not anticlimactic or anything.
Yep, it's just that easy.

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"The End" Week: the Question #36!

I can still feel horror.  Yay...?
The last issue of a series you like is always going to be sad. But this one...from 1990, The Question #36, "Or maybe Gomorrah" Written by Dennis O'Neil, art by Denys Cowan and Malcolm Jones III.

As Hub City continues to slide into rioting and chaos, on the day before Christmas even, Mayor Myra Fermin and mysterious kung fu master Richard Dragon find the beaten and stripped Vic (or Charlie) Sage. Vic manages to stay conscious for a bit, then collapses after the encounter above. Dragon gets out of his wheelchair and puts Vic in it; then has to explain to the incredulous Myra why he pretended to be handicapped: when Vic met Dragon, he was "full of macho," and probably would've wanted to fight him. If Dragon had beat him, the demoralized Vic would learn nothing; so Dragon allowed himself to be handicapped, as he puts it.

After seeing her office on fire, Myra finds her police chief, formerly crooked cop Izzy O'Toole, sitting next to a body. The thug that beat Vic stole the Question's "No-face" mask; making Izzy think his guardian angel went bad and there would be no reason for him to keep trying to redeem himself. But, recognizing the thug after he shoots him, Izzy realizes he'd been in jail and couldn't have been "No-face." Somewhat reluctantly, Izzy resigns himself to being good again. Stopping a drunk in a Santa suit from attempting rape, Izzy gives the suit to the cold Myra, right as it begins to snow. He says the snow will only cover the garbage until it turns to sludge, but Myra refuses to let it ruin the now:
Making their way to Vic's mentor Aristotle Rodor's house, Izzy then tells Vic he's figured out his secret. A little disgrunted that "my guardian angel is a guy I don't even like a whole lot," he heads back out to work. Myra stays with Vic, sleeping with him. The next day, somewhat recovered, Vic has a snowball fight with her and tries to convince her to leave Hub City. She seems to agree, and arrangements are made with Dragon to get them and her daughter Jackie out of there.

At the school, a nun tries to persuade Myra into taking any other children she can; since the school is out of food, money, and fuel for the furnace. Disraught, Myra explains they have no room, taking off with Jackie.

A helicopter meets them, but the pilot collapses upon landing, as Lady Shiva disembarks. The pilot had tried to back out of coming to Hub City, and she knocked that idea out of him in a hurry. Seeing that Hub City is falling into complete anarchy, it will be an amusing place for her to practice her skills. Vic, as always, is utterly baffled by her.
Shiva is so great in this series, it's disappointing to see her used as 'kung-fu bitch' elsewhere.
In the end, Myra can't bring herself to abandon the city she's sworn to serve. Kissing Vic and Jackie goodbye, she sends them to safety, then solemnly trudges back to Hub...even though I'm pretty sure they drove there. This issue is more about the Question's supporting cast than the main character, and Myra in particular; but O'Neil had done a pretty good job with them over the last three years. It's not spilling anything to say Vic eventually returns to Hub City, but that issue makes me even sadder.
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"The End" Week: Kull #10!

From Kull #10, "While Valusia Sleeps" Written by Alan Zelenetz, pencils by John Buscema, inks by Marie Severin. Kull's number-one man, Brule, has returned to the Pictish islands; so Kull brings the warrior Gonra out of a thousand year sleep to come hang out. As you do.

Unfortunately, since the royal court of Valusia is chock full of doublecrossing bastards, a couple put Gonra up to opening a chamber Kull sealed shut with a sword, thinking it will be full of treasure. Instead, it holds a serpent-man. And a ghost. The ruckus gets Kull out of bed, and he's forced to kill the ghost, a batch of serpent-men, and and an imitation-Gonra.

Also this issue: subplots with Brule and Sleeping Beauty! (Actually a girl that was going to sleep until Kull loved her, which doesn't seem like a great way to win him over.) Maybe this being the last issue snuck up on them, since they didn't go anywhere. Kull would appear here and there in Savage Sword of Conan, but this would be the last attempt at a series for him at Marvel.
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Friday, December 30, 2011

"The End" Week: Quasar #60!

We've mentioned the not-very-good Marvel crossover Starblast before; but I'm not the only one who didn't care for that one: Soviet super-hero Vanguard died there. When his sister Darkstar went to their dad, the Presence, he blamed Quasar; especially since the radioactive villain had fought him before.

Meanwhile, the earth of Marvel's New Universe has been brought to the Marvel U, but is being quarantined by the Living Tribunal. Contaminated by her time with the Star Brand, Quasar's love interest Kayla is stuck there; and although he could give up his quantum-bands and live there, Quasar declines. (She's fine, and it's implied that she's interested in one of the heroes there, but Quasar doesn't know that.)

Blaming himself, Wendell Vaughn decides that to protect those he loves, he's going to leave earth forever. He says his goodbyes to his mom and sister, his business partner Ken, Captain America, Kismet, and the Squadron Supreme. (The Squadron was from another alternate earth, but were trapped there for a long time.) Meanwhile, the Presence and Darkstar follow Quasar, intent on ambushing him when he's not visiting some super-powered friends.

Quasar's last stop is his hardest: Kayla's dad. Trying to tell the obviously drunk man that his daughter's not coming back, he thinks Quasar killed her, and wants the daughter he never wanted back. The Presence and Darkstar then attack, threatening Quasar's family if he runs. Nova, previously seen this issue, happens by; but Quasar waves him off, submitting to the Presence and letting him disintegrate him. The quantum-bands fall to the ground, as a batch of the Avengers, New Warriors, and Fantastic Four show up; but Presence and Darkstar escape.

And so does Quasar, having glumly quantum-jumped off earth and left fake bands behind, probably blowing a hole in the ozone above Kayla's dad's house. He would show up in Starmasters with Beta Ray Bill and the Silver Surfer, but I never read those. Then, Quasar was killed off for a bit, but has since returned and is currently in Annihilators, with the Surfer and Bill again. Glad to have him back.

I read Quasar for its entire 60-issue run, and while it was often hit-and-miss on the art front, it was usually solid on the story. I also liked that Quasar himself? Nice guy. He wasn't angst-ridden, driven by guilt for vengeance, broody, grim, gritty, or full of himself. The sad thing is, while you would want to know or be saved by someone like Wendell; it probably is more fun to read about characters that are more messed-up...

From Quasar #60, "The Long Goodbye" Written by Mark Gruenwald, pencils by John Heebink, inks by Aaron McClellan.

Because New Year's Day falls on Sunday, we'll have the Year in Toys then, and at least another four "The End" posts tomorrow!
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"The End" Week: Power Girl #27!

I said I wasn't going to do a lot of DC's pre-52 last issues (Batman Confidential, Doom Patrol and Secret Six don't count; since I believe they were on the way out before) and then I find a couple in the dollar bin. Superboy #11 may have to wait until next year, though; since we're taking a quick look at Power Girl #27, "Sixty Seconds" Written by Matthew Sturges, art by Hendry Prasetya.

A quick look, since the bulk of the issue takes place under a minute: after thrashing some silly anti-Kryptonian robots, a message is broadcast in the sky specifically for Power Girl. Three "life-threatening situations" have been set up for her, using some of her scab villains--I'm pretty sure Typhoon was a Firestorm villain, and the only book to use them well was Suicide Squad. PG is given the coordinates to a captured Cyclone (her JSA teammate) but stops first to throw a giant rock in the ocean. Shades of old Superman comics here, since you know she's up to something...

Rescuing Cyclone, Power Girl tells the watching camera, "One." She then leaves a destination for Cyclone to meet her at, and takes off for the second situation: Da Bomb, at the Tower of Pisa. I think I've seen him before: he's not quite super-creepy stalker territory, more like smitten thug who won't take "Get bent" for an answer until PG actually bends him. Beating him in seconds, she tells the next camera, "Two."

Typhoon is told to kill his victim early, since PG's ahead of schedule, but the rock she threw causes a wave that takes him out. (Presumably, because he didn't see it coming: if Typhoon can be taken out by a wave, that's weak even for a Firestorm baddie.) Power Girl and Cyclone then have to stop the wave from destroying a small town, but still. She spies the last flying camera: "Three. Gotcha." Using super-hearing...which to be honest, I had completely forgotten she had...she's triangulated where her voice was coming out of the speakers, and finds a small group listening to a video presentation by the Calculator. He had set up the hostages, in order to demonstrate how to distract a superhero from a real job. Miffed that he wasn't there in person, PG takes in the criminals, saying she has all the time in the world...

Nothing that'll rock your world, but still a fun little issue. I hadn't read her series before, but I understand "Karen Starr" has appeared in the NuDC in Mister Terrific, but Power Girl has not. Ah, she'll turn up; but I'd be concerned her origin might get wrecked, again, if they try to make her non-Kryptonian. As opposed to...whatever she is now. Hopefully, DC doesn't turn her into a Donna Troy or a Hawkman.
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"The End" Week: Secret Six #36!

Another recent finish: Secret Six #36, "Caution to the Wind, part 2: Blood Honor" Written by Gail Simone, art by Jim Calafiore. After a night with his new girlfriend, Bane realizes if he can be swayed by emotion, so can the Bat. With the other seven members of the Secret Six, he plans on attacking Red Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, and Huntress. Catman vetoes Huntress, so Bane subs in Azrael: they will hurt Batman, by hurting them.

Unfortunately, their source, the Penguin rats them out, and it's Butch-and-Sundance time for the team, as they realize they might not want to hurt innocents, but they are the bad guys. The fact that the Secret Six has earned more respect plays against them as more and more heroes show up: a Green Lantern, two Batmen, Superman and his family, and more. Bane offers the Six a chance "to go out like gods" by dosing up on his Venom. They go out fighting, although Huntress is aware enough to feel like a jerk about it.

Although he would miss them, the Six's defeat was part of Bane's plan: either they would win (unlikely) or he would be free of them, of caring, of emotion making him weak. This is the downside of Bane: Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, and now Simone all tried to move the character forward from "I break you" only to have him put right back. There's a lot that could be done with the character, but the powers-that-be seem to just want the steroid-monster Bat-villain.

Hetero-lifemates Catman and Deadshot were the breakout characters for the Secret Six, so it's a little disappointing they aren't the ones to wreck their gig. Still, Simone does her usual sharp job on the script, and Calafiore isn't flashy, but he does the job even when the script calls for forty-plus characters. I didn't read it every month, but I think the Secret Six will be missed for a while.

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"The End" Week: Master of Kung Fu #125!

Here we have another Marvel last issue, where the hero falls into the same trap that befell the Micronauts and ROM: what's left after you defeat your series' big bad, final boss villain; and how can you go on when your licensing agreement is up? From 1983, Master of Kung Fu #125, "Atonement" Written by Alan Zelenetz, pencils by William Johnson and Alan Kupperberg, inks by Mike Mignola and Alan Kupperberg.

The titular Master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi, was reeling from three losses: his father and main bad guy, Fu Manchu; and longtime series writer Doug Moench and inker/penciller Gene Day. Day had recently died, Moench had left the book after a hundred issue run, and Marvel was probably losing or letting lapse the rights to Fu: Shang-Chi was Marvel-owned, but for years later would have to refer to his dad obliquely as "that guy" or such.

Even though Fu Manchu was a complete monster, Shang-Chi is feeling a colossal amount of guilt over killing him; and this issue was all about him working through it. There's an all-too-brief battle with a giant mutated turtle--not Gamera, but how cool would that be? Then Shang-Chi travels with a troupe of actors, but freaks out ala Claudius in Hamlet during a play called "the Accursed Son."

Later, Shang is attacked by a Noh-masked figure; but this is open to interpretation: it might be a minion of Fu Manchu's seeking revenge, it could be a drug trip from drinking out of his father's chalice, it might be one of the actors trying to help Shang work through his pain (iffy) or it could be a manifestation for his guilt. In the end, though, purified by battle and storm, Shang-Chi feels he has achieved atonement, and settles down for the life of a simple fisherman.

That probably looked like the last we'd see of the Master of Kung Fu, but Shang-Chi would return some five years later in Marvel Comics Presents #1; reunited with Doug Moench and his supporting cast.
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"The End" Week: Nightcrawler #12!

Sometimes, when a comic is cancelled, there are unresolved plotlines. It's inevitable: the writer's trying to wrap things up, often in a hurry and with less space than expected, and something gets missed or left open. Sometimes, I write a bunch of intros for "The End" week and they all run together and I may use the same one more than once...And sometimes a bunch of new stuff is opened up in the last issue, instead of finishing up loose ends. Like this one! Nightcrawler #12, "Happy Birthday, Kurt!" Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pencils by Darick Robertson, inks by Rodney Ramos.

The story doesn't open on Kurt's birthday (which is apparently probably November 3 or 10, unless it sometimes falls on Thanksgiving...) but with a typical week for him. Sunday he visits a local chapel for the elderly, with a blind priest. (That should tell him something about acceptance, if you ask me...) Monday, he gets a clean bill of health from the Beast, even though he still has the Soulsword in him. (Which would eventually be ganked by someone else's Mary Sue, Pixie.) Tuesday, he spars a bit with Logan. Wednesday, Emma Frost checks Kurt's mind, to make sure nothing is lingering in there from his recent troubles, then he visits his old girlfriend Amanda Sefton in Limbo. (Amanda was using the Magik tag at the time, since it was free.)

Amanda warns Kurt that the demons, ghosts, and other weird crap that he's seen lately, may just be the tip of the iceberg. Boundaries between mystical realms may be falling apart, and things may be moving...

Thursday is Kurt's surprise party, with an uninvited guest: Mephisto. Stopping time around everyone else, he has a little chat with Kurt, about why he was dragged into the supernatural investigations of late, after not really having a lot of experience with that before. Mephisto implies that a 'force of good' manipulated Storm into putting Kurt on the job, giving them no choice in the matter. Benevolently, he offers Kurt a choice: sit out the forthcoming biblical apocalypse, as a "conscientious objector." In return, Mephisto promises to spare his friends and family, and bring Kurt's foster brother Stefan back to life, whole and sane.
See where that gets you...
Not surprisingly, Kurt doesn't buy it. Socking Mephisto one, he lets him know what side he's going to be on. Time starts again, and Kurt returns to his party. His birthday wish is for his lost brother to be at peace, and when the time comes, to be strong.

...and the apocalypse was never brought up again. Well, that particular, specific apocalypse, anyway; since given the crossover schedule at Marvel, the world's been lurching from war to invasion to siege for years, who'd notice? A pity, since as Mephisto describes Leviathan rising, the Thing is there to face him.

We glanced at this issue before, while making fun of 'One More Day' way back when. Nightcrawler may not have been the best comic ever, and this wasn't even it's best issue; but I enjoyed it a ton, and the creators seemed to as well: they appear in the birthday party scene!
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

"The End" Week: Deathlok #34!

Relaunched in 1990--the same 'future' year the original series was set in--the new Deathlok was off to a good start with a mini-series popular enough to be reprinted a year later, as he began an ongoing series. Written by Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright, with art by Jackson Guice; the new Deathlok was Michael Collins, a scientist and family man, forcibly transplanted into the cyborg killing machine. Overriding the onboard computer, Collins escaped the control of the Roxxon corporation, and began his search for his old body.

McDuffie and Wright made a lot of interesting updates to the character: whereas the old Deathlok was a former soldier in a dystopian future; Collins was in the mainstream Marvel Universe's present, and a firm pacifist. That's not to say he wouldn't fight, or smash up a robot or two, but he installs a 'no killing' rule for his computer early on. And most Marvel characters would've moped and moaned about being a soulless automaton monster for the run of the book, Collins bucks up and shares his situation with his family.

Of course, since this is "The End" week, you know the book didn't last: from 1994, Deathlok #34, "Cyberstrike, part 4 of 4: Out of Time" Written by Gregory Wright, pencils by Kevin Kobasic and Anthony Williams, inks by Greg Adams. Like it said, this was part 4 of 4, so this wouldn't be overly accessible in the first place; but it's made less so by three (or more!) versions of Deathlok running around: Collins, the Luther Manning version, and a farther-future Manning called the Demolisher.

Tying into the classic J.M. DeMatteis/Mike Zeck Deathlok Lives!, the villain Timestream is trying to alter the um, timestream; while Godwulf the reformed murderer is trying to keep Timestream from changing the alterations he himself made. The mysterious jerkwad timecops of the Time Variance Authority might just wipe the whole timeline if there's any more alterations, so there's a bit at stake, just not the mainstream 616-universe. (Per Marvel U. time-travel rules, changing history generates an alternate timeline reality: the original timeline continues, with the alter branching off.)

Unsurprisingly, this is a bit all over the place; with the time-travel and too many similar characters. It would be hard enough with the various, hard-to-differentiate Deathloks; but there's also the other cyborg Siege, and Justice Peace. The entire issue congeals into a sludgey mess; somewhat endemic to Marvel's over-production at the time. (To get a glimpse at the implosion, take a gander at Deathlok #32's Statement of Ownership: "C. Total Paid and/or requested Circulation (sum of 10B1 and 10B2): Average no. copies each issue during preceding 12 months: 106,938. Actual no. copies single issue nearest to filing date: 54,385.")

It ends with a Deathlok or two less than it started with, along with a Gordian knot of timelines holding each other mostly together. Collins returns, pretty much to go into limbo until the 2006 limited Beyond!
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"The End" Week: 2099: World of Tomorrow #8!

Some of you may remember Marvel's 2099 books. Some of you may even remember when they were good, in which case this one will be new to you: 2099: World of Tomorrow #8, "The Quiet Earth" Written by Joe Kelly and Ben Raab, pencils by David Brewer and Jason Armstrong, inks by Allen Martinez and Hack Shack Studios.

Per Wikipedia, after one of Marvel's periodic cost-cutting sprees, group editor Joey Cavalieri was let go...and most of the writers of the 2099 books chose to go with him. Peter David left Spider-Man 2099 after co-creating him and writing most of the series to that point; and Warren Ellis left Doom 2099. (Maybe. I had thought Ellis just left because he was done, but he may have done it to show support.) Creatively and sales-wise the 2099 books got wobbly after that, and were then consolidated into a single book, 2099: World of Tomorrow. Which lasted eight issues...

I can't imagine this being a good idea from the get-go. Sure, Marvel might have wanted to throw the 2099 fans a bone, and maybe even figured if everyone reading those books transferred over to this new one it might sell some respectable numbers. Yeah, kinda figure it's more likely the same batch of fans were reading all or most of the 2099 books if they were at all. (Personally, I read Spidey, Ghost Rider, and Fantastic Four 2099; with an occasional look at the Doom or Punisher books. Wish I was reading that Punisher 2099 last issue now...) And cramming all those characters, and their assorted surviving supporting casts, into one book would've made a Legion of Super-Heroes writer say uncle. There's like two or more X-Men 2099 casts involved, and I think the first issue (or plotline or special...) even blows up a rocket full of characters (including Ben Grimm!) and it's still overstuffed.

Oh, and this book is crap. And it's obviously cancelled-midstream crap, since there's barely even a vague effort to wrap it up.

Joe Kelly, of course, would go on to bigger and better things with his great run on Deadpool, and as one of the creators of Ben 10. Marvel's revisited the 2099 world a couple times, and had another 2099 event that seemingly had nothing to do with anything else; and Spidey 2099 is often included as a suit option in Spider-Man video games.
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"The End" Week: Judge Dredd #18!

That anti-mime sign is redundant, since I can't think of anywhere it shouldn't be...
The end of Judge Dredd? Say it ain't so! He's a British institution...and we're talking about the American version from DC, from 1996, Judge Dredd #18, "Art Attack!" Written by Gordon Rennie, art by Kris Renkewitz and Jamie Burton.

I know I read, and still have, most of DC's Judge Dredd (although I somehow never read their companion book, Legends of the Law) but in 2000 AD Dredd was able to establish the setting of Mega-City One over years of world-building...and more than a bit of trial-and-error. No pun intended. In the American version...I don't know what happened. Think Earth-2, alternate timeline Dredd, set closer to the start of MC1's judicial program; except mid-stream that idea apparently gets tossed and Dredd is transplanted, possibly via suspended animation, to a setting more closely resembling his normal continuity. (And if you haven't checked it in the sidebar, try Dredd Reckoning, where Douglas Wolk is working through every Judge Dredd book.)

This last issue, then, is a pretty straight-forward Dredd tale, then: Block Wars! Bloody grudge matches between neighborhoods! Unfortunately, instead of the long-awaited throwdown between Charles Bronson and Sam Peckinpah Blocks; it's the Boho Blocks, MC1's "resident artistic community."
Yeah, death to Andy Warhol!
Admittedly, Jackson Pollack Block versus those Andy Warhol scum has a few jokes. Several Judges are also pinned down and exterminated by the brutal Simon Bisley Blockers, while Dredd is faced with a surreal situation:
I...I don't know what to say to that.

In the end, thirty-seven Judges are lost, as well as over a thousand citizens and three full city blocks. Dredd explains the Judges are there to enforce the law, not figure out why citizens break it; and orders the Boho blocks rebuilt, renamed, and restocked with ordinary citizens. Oh, and the remaining artists relocated throughout the city and all further artistic activities outlawed...! Dredd may be overstepping his authority on that one, but it's his last issue, so whatever.

This story needed a bit more artistic variety, and while overall I like it, Renkewitz and Burton draw Dredd (and others) as spitting like Sylvester the cat most of the time, and outright foaming at the mouth on occasion. It's a bit of artistic license, maybe a bit overused there. Writer Gordon Rennie would go on to later write a drokking pile of Dredd stories for 2000 AD, making his way from this farm team issue to the big leagues. (I can't help but notice I didn't see this one in his wikipedia credits!)
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80-Page Giants: Secret Origins of Super-Villains 80-Page Giant #1!

For the next stretch, as long as I can find them, every Thursday we'll check out an 80-page comic! Not 64, not 100, 80-page giants only! Today, even though we're in the middle of "The End" week, we'll take a second to check out Secret Origins of Super-Villains 80-Page Giant #1, featuring stories from Ron Marz, Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka, and more; with art by Cully Hamner, Phil Winslade, Jackson Guice, and more. It's a one-shot, so technically, it's the last issue...

This one opens with a Guardian telling the Spectre Hal Jordan the secret origin of Sinestro. (Written by Ron Marz, with art by Scott Kolins and Jon Holdredge.) While this is ostensibly about Sinestro being a bastard from the moment he got his power ring, killing his first foe and leaving the Green Lantern that gave him the ring to die; the Guardian also mentions almost in passing that GL's often get their rings merely by being around another GL dying, and that the Guardians may have left the yellow impurity in the rings as insurance, in case the GL's rose against them.
This issue features the forming of Tartarus, which is spread out through the issue almost like a framing device, although it doesn't tie into any of the other stories. Using a mysterious imprisoned seer, Vandal Savage is forming a team to take down the Titans. So far, he has Gorilla Grodd (good), Lady Vic (redundant, if you also have Cheshire), and Red Panzer and Siren (who?) so I'm not really surprised to have not heard more about this batch. (That and I think that run of Titans isn't remembered fondly.)

Although there are stories featuring Echo, Johnny Sorrow, Enchantadora, and Amazo; the best of the lot is the secret origin of Granny Goodness, "Goodness and Mercy" Written by Walt Simonson, art by Jon Bogdanove and Bill Reinhold. As a young woman, Goodness rose through the ranks with "Mercy," the hound she trained. Her final test? Kill her dog. Goodness refuses, but not out of sentimentality: as she explains to Darkseid, "He will obey me first, but he will obey you foremost." Darkseid then asks Mercy to kill Goodness, who is forced to save herself. Impressed, Darkseid says he has an orphanage that needs's a scary one, and the best of this issue.
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"The End" Week: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #47!

'Yeah, you can't fire me, only some guy that ain't here could--ah, crap!'
This issue: HYDRA blows up most of the United Nations building! Nick Fury gets chewed out by President Clinton and the Secretary General of the U.N. Boutros Boutros-Ghali! Nick's latest final battle against Baron Strucker! And yet it's still kind of boring. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #47, "Final Retribution!" Written by Gregory Wright, pencils by John Heebink, inks by Brian Garvey.

We even start in a weird place: HYDRA tries to recruit Gideon of the Externals from X-Force, and Fury has to put a stop to that. Did not expect to see Gideon there; especially since the rest of the issue is trying to roll back the clock to Fury's heyday in the sixties. Characters killed off in Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. are back, there's an epic battle with a helicarrier, a castle, and jetpacks; and Nick's girlfriend for this series, Kate, is completely fridged to get her out of the way and Nick back with the Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine.

I can't back this up, but that may be more dialog than poor Kate got the last six months or more of this book...
The series ends with Strucker falling to his "death," a funeral for Kate, and Fury back with the Contessa and as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Status: quo.

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"The End" Week: Unknown Soldier #25!

This series ended too soon...but it was never gonna end well, was it?

Unknown Soldier #25, "Beautiful World, conclusion" Written by Joshua Dysart, illustrated by Alberto Ponticelli. In Uganda, Moses Lwanga, the Unknown Soldier, is coming for Joseph Kony. Let's just say, it's not the last issue of the series because the Soldier brought peace to all of Africa.

I picked the first half of this series out of the quarter bins, then started getting it regularly, but it was a tough one to read. Based on real life events, things got bad quick and stayed bad. I should go back and read the whole series, but man, I'm depressed, I think I'm going to have to find a last issue with puppies and unicorns next.
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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The End" Week: Cable & Deadpool #50!

This is my favorite kind of Cable & Deadpool: with less Cable.

From April 2008, Cable & Deadpool #50, "Symbiosis Mitosis" Script by Fabian Nicieza, plot and pencils by Reilly Brown, inks by Jeremy Freeman and Bob Almond. At the time, I thought Deadpool was going to be benched for the foreseeable future, but he started his current series November 2008. I had been a fan of Pool since Deadpool #6 back in '97, and enjoyed the abortive follow-up Agent X, but only read Cable/Deadpool occasionally. Until Cable was written out and supposedly killed for Messiah Complex, leaving Pool with, as he points out, "a solo team-up book."

In the previous issue, Pool ends up accidentally teleporting a bunch of dinosaurs from the Savage Land, to New York City. For good measure, the New Avengers were apparently moving some Venom-type symbionts (or symbiotes, depending on who you ask) and they end up attached to the dinosaurs. Wade and his supporting cast (including Bob, Agent of Hydra; Irene Merryweather, a holdover from Cable whom Pool was kinda sweet on; and the now morbidly obese Agent X) have to man up and help Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four save the city. Will Deadpool become the hero he wants to be?
I think Mr. Thing could motivate anyone.
As was typical for Nicieza and the book, it's pretty light-hearted, with a couple of burns on Spidey's post-wedding status, Ms. Marvel and "Mr. Wonderful," and the Initiative-as-allegory. But Pool also gets a little encouragement from "Mr. Thing" that he seems to take to heart, and shows that he's willing to put himself on the line for his friends. And there is a little message from the book's former co-star...

A recurring problem in any Deadpool book is that instead of getting a team-up, he should almost certainly be beaten up and thrown in jail by any hero he encounters. Even though he saves the day, Pool pretty much caused most of this disaster--but not all, giving him a way out. That and he annoys Ms. Marvel too much for her to try and bring him in.
If you're incredibly pessimistic, you could argue this sequence is all in Pool's head...
The series ends on a callback to its first issue, with Pool sitting around watching the Golden Girls. Only this time, he's surrounded by his friends. Which of course won't last, since he starts his next solo book alone, and more insane, with the multiple voices in his yellow caption boxes. I remain torn on that gimmick: it has its moments, and is an interesting narrative trick, but would also be a level up in crazy.
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"The End" Week: A double-header!

We're going to try something a little different and double up on two cancelled books. Both may have been a little esoteric for the market at the time, and seemed to be taking their protagonists out of play possibly for good: from 1993, Green Lantern: Mosaic #18, "We'll See" Written by Gerard Jones, art by Luke McDonnell; and from 1986, Micronauts #20, "Worldhome!" Written by Peter B. Gillis, art by Kelley Jones and Danny Bulanadi.
From the Micros' wrap party.
We checked in on Micronauts #14 a little while back; and the team, and their Microverse, are still in a tough spot: a psychic wave of pain and anguish, created when Baron Karza killed everyone on Homeworld, still sweeps onward and gains power every inhabited system it destroys. Commander Rann has returned to the team, wearing Baron Karza's armor, to use its power and systems to help stop the wave; and mysterious team member Scion's master plan is revealed: the Micronauts have been transformed into "prime beings," their very cells now bursting with independent life, that can be used to seed new worlds. The hope is the new worlds will turn the tide of the wave of pain; as Rann puts it: "One cannot stop pain--one can only grow out of it."
Yeah, he doesn't seem shifty or anything...
Acroyear, Huntarr, and Bug sacrifice themselves; bringing new life to new worlds. Each gets a few pages to make their peace. Scion is ready to do the same, but can't yet: he was certain of his fate, but Fireflyte tells him death is doubt, and he couldn't go until he had no hope. Meanwhile, monitoring the waves, Rann tells Mari they will cancel each other out, and they don't need to sacrifice themselves. Although she loves Rann, and wants to be with him, she suspects Karza's armor is influencing him. When 'Rann' tells her "Let me live," Marionette knows the truth, and pushes them both in. The Micronauts are gone, but the wave is stopped, and the future holds new worlds...

A sad ending for the characters, that would be more or less ignored when the non-Mego-licensed characters were brought back as the 'Microns.' Bug, Mari, and Rann would appear here and there in the 90's in books like Cable, Captain Marvel, and Universe X. Bug would get a one-shot in 1997; ten years later he would appear in Annihilation: Conquest-Starlord, now full-sized. Rann and Mari have been appearing in the outskirts of the Hulk titles, and were reunited with Bug in the Enigma Force limited. The three have never returned to their height of popularity, but I'm sure Marvel will trot them out again if that planned Micronauts movie ever goes anywhere.

Mosaic I had to research a little, since the last issue doesn't recap the whole thing, and I hadn't read the whole series. At the time, most of the Guardians of the Universe were gone, except for one who, bored and lonely, started pulling cities from the alien worlds he had visited and putting them together as a patchwork world. (Aside: I'm sure that's been done before and since, but it reminded me of the Battleworld from Secret Wars.) Although that was kidnapping on a massive scale, the Guardians decide to allow it and let the Mosaic run as an experiment, and make John Stewart the Green Lantern for that world. Amongst other problems, John is stuck trying to put the various alien communities together into a unified whole; and in the penultimate issue, it was blown up by an "Amazon Hellburner" missile.

Or was it? Nah, John took care of that. And the alien armadas surrounding the Mosaic. And the heroes from earth that didn't agree with the experiment, including Hal and Guy. And then John sends "thousands of me" out to talk with each of the Mosaic's inhabitants, to see what they want. Those who want to go, can split. But those who stay, will see such things.

It's already obvious John is far more powerful than he usually is, but there more weirdness to him as well. Visiting his friends Rose and Toby, John tells a story that would have you calling the cops if it was presented without the imagery; of losses as sacrifices, killing the wise men who see what was but not what is to come, of being the one. Dead Lanterns C'hp and Katma Tui, John's murdered wife, come back to him. Comfortingly, John says he isn't really going anywhere; and when Toby is older he can have a power ring.
If you're not a Hal fan, the look of WTF on his face will make this issue worth a look.
Hal butts in, claiming John's a little free with his power, and asks where it came from. John pretends to think about that for a moment, then removes his ring, and swallows it. He then takes the red robes of a Guardian; and Hal and Kilowog both act like John declared himself Space Pope. John ignores them, flying off to talk to the big floating heads of the Guardians, who knew John's destiny from the start, but had to let him suffer through his trials to become what he needed to be.

Katma is back, although it's open to interpretation how much of her: she may be nothing more than a splinter of John's own soul, a reflection. While John has grown to the point that he doesn't need her the way he did, he's still glad to have her around. The issue ends, after John touches base with some of his brave new world's inhabitants, with John playing piano...

I honestly couldn't tell you the next time John Stewart would be seen in the comics; and I think the Mosaic world was dismantled and everyone shipped home, off-panel, and Katma--who, again, may or may not have been 'real'--may have been killed, again, off-panel! John would pull a tour of duty as a Darkstar before that organization (and comic) fell apart. After he was added to the roster of the Justice League cartoon, he would be quite probably the most visible Green Lantern for several years; but I don't think it would be wrong to say DC editorial has had conflicting ideas what to do with him. Except they seem to agree not to bring up Mosaic.

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"The End" Week: Moon Knight, Fist of Khonshu #6!

Even with super-strength, I don't know how he threw that dart through a gun...
Moon Knight #6, "The Last White Knight" Written by Jim Owlsey (a.k.a. Priest), pencils by Mark Beacham, inks by Geof Isherwood. Even though Moon Knight had his unnecessarily ornate 'Fist of Khonshu' outfit with the ankh replacing the classic moon-logo and his gold guards and belt; this issue could well have been done in MK's earlier series. (A sharp Bill Sienkiewicz cover helps.)

Investigating a heroin-smuggling, child-kidnapping, voodoo-sacrificing cult/gang; Moon Knight becomes involved with a heroin-addicted agent who is less worried about being controlled by said gang than she is over having been forced to give up her son. Although he plays the grim, spooky avenger at times, Moon Knight is also remarkably glib here:

Although it looks like there's a chance for redemption, it doesn't end well, and Moon Knight's second series ends with no explanation. Although, the back inside cover has an ad for Secret Wars II, which would force its way into every Marvel book published at the time; and I'm just fine without Moon Knight having to participate in that one.

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"The End" Week: Batman Confidential #54!

We mentioned an earlier part of this one before, but it qualifies for "The End" week, so here it is: Batman Confidential #54, "Super Powers, conclusion: The Power of Six" Written by Marc Guggenheim, pencils, inks, and some colors by Jerry Bingham. (Other colors by David Baron.)

In 2007, Batman Confidential replaced Legends of the Dark Knight after 214 issues. (Probably based on the indica, the GCD splits it, starting #37 it's "Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight.") I've read a lot of the latter, but almost none of the former; although I had been interested in the Kevin Maguire Batgirl/Catwoman issues and the return of the Wrath. Sam Kieth did a few issues as well, and Tom Mandrake had "Batman vs. the Undead," which if I found it for a buck an issue like I did this one, I'd totally read. (And since writing this, I have found a couple of those...)

This issue, and all of "Super Powers," has two narrative threads: one following young, pre-Batman Bruce in China training with super-powered martial artists the Zhuguan; the other a rookie Batman tracking an alien vampire from an early Justice League case. In China, Bruce takes the Zhugan's secret power-bestowing elixir and a totem for his costume. His codename? Hei An Wushuh, meaning "dark night." Since now, Bruce can disappear in the night. Together, the Zhugan plan to finally bring down brutal local warlord Huairen.

(Meanwhile, Batman is in over his head fighting the alien vampires, who aren't really either. They're artificially-evolved humans and a bit full of themselves, but the one the JLA fought has made more.)

In a very medieval battle, one of the Zhugan rains arrows down on Huairen and his men, before their leader Guanxi faces him one-on-one. Even with arrows sticking out of him, Huairen seemingly snaps Guanxi's neck, although he's then a bit surprised to realize all his men are dead. And that's not really surprised they're dead, but surprised since it seems poor tactics: he can get new men, but the Zhugan can't replace Guanxi; even with the healing powers of Ri, the female member of the team. Ri explains this was just to get Huairen out in the Bruce can backstab him through the heart.

(The 'alien vampire' tells Batman he's not afraid of his act, and that soon humanity will be evolved to the point that Batman is like an ape to them. But not Batman, he's going to be beaten to death by the horde...)

Ri's healing powers do save Guanxi, then Bruce wants her to save Huairen. Guanxi tells Bruce that she's too tired from saving him; and Bruce realizes that was the plan all along. Using CPR, he resuscitates Huairen, even as Guanxi berates Bruce: "The afterlife is the only secure jail...the blood of his next victims will be on your hands." Pfft, that'll never come up again...

Bruce stalks off angrily, disappointed that strength in numbers isn't working out. Also, he's having painful withdrawals. At first he seemed to think he was so angry it was actually causing him pain, but it's something else. Ri offers him more of their power-elixir, which is really a modified form of opium. He sees that as another betrayal, mostly because, gasp! Drugs!

(Under a monkey-pile of 'vampires,' Bats buys himself some time with sonics, before the cavalry rides in: the Justice League. Aquaman explains J'onn put a tracer on him last time. The head 'vampire' says all they wanted was to become more, not unlike the JLA themselves. But Batman has learned this lesson with the Zhughan: you can't force change on people, or hide its consequences.)

Ri tries to convince Bruce to stay, that some foes no one man can defeat. But Bruce has learned he can only trust himself. He doesn't know if that will change, but in the end, he hopes it will, as he answers his JLA communicator.

While not unenjoyable, there are a couple problems with this issue. First (and least) the continuity is a little dicey; not only with the JLA, but if Bats had a bad experience with opium super powers, he would probably be more wary of juicing Venom later. The "Hero goes to the mysterious East to learn mystic skills" was a hoary old plot back when the Shadow did it, and I'm also not sure why this is set up like a period kung-fu movie: if this story is set within, oh, the last fifty years or so, you'd really expect the bad guy's men to have at least a few AK-47's. But worse, although Batman won't kill Huairen, he doesn't seem to have a problem with all of Huairen's men (and horses!) being peppered with arrows. It would be like letting Green Lantern murder the Joker's henchmen, but insisting the Joker go to Arkham...

Once more thing, since this issue was on my desk for a while: the cover of Batman Confidential #54, is not great, but Huairen's costume is...what is that? I thought he was bare-chested but had shoulder pads, and some kind of nipple-ring suspenders set up there. Add the little pixie booties, and I don't know if that outfit screams Chinese warlord to me.
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