Monday, December 31, 2018

"The End" Week: Still more Star Trek!

So Gold Key's Star Trek #61 has been a book I've been looking for, for several years now, for this "The End" feature, and I finally found a copy. Kind of. On eBay, I bought a used Star Trek: the Complete Comic Book Collection DVD-ROM, which featured about 500 comics from 1967 to 2002 across several companies; and included the three books I have here, that I had to scrounge and scavenge for...from 1982, Marvel's Star Trek #18, "A Thousand Deaths" Written by J. M. DeMatteis, pencils by Joe Brozowski, inks by Sal Trapani; from 1996, DC's Star Trek: the Next Generation #80, "The Abandoned" Written by Michael Jan Friedman, pencils by Gordon Purcell, inks by Terry Pallot; and from 1996, Malibu's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #32, "Turn of the Tide" Written by Chris Dows and Colin Clayton, pencils by Rob Davis and Terry Pallot, inks by Craig Gilmore and Terry Pallot.

First up, Star Trek #18, which I know I had as a kid. Marvel was chasing that Star Wars money--not unlike Paramount in that matter--but never seemed to hit their stride on this one. Maybe the start point, the somewhat bland Star Trek: the Motion Picture, was to blame, since Marvel began with a three issue adaptation of that; and the somewhat off-model Star Trek #5 is one of the only others that stuck in memory. This issue, a robot caretaker of a massive ship abducts Kirk and Spock, and tells them, without malice, one of them is going to die. They are then placed in a not particularly accurate simulation of a pirate raid, and Kirk is killed, sacrificing himself to save Spock. The robot tells Spock he can revive the captain, and does; then puts them in a logic-trap drawn from Spock's mind, where Spock is killed saving Kirk. After Spock is brought back, the robot tells them now one will have to sacrifice themselves to save the Enterprise: Spock tries to take the decision out of his captain's hands by giving him the nerve pinch, but Kirk gives a mighty effort to fight through it.

The robot then explains, it was created to watch over a race that had almost destroyed itself, by being selfish pricks: billions had died, since as a whole they had been completely self-centered. It needed Kirk and Spock's example, to introduce the concept of selflessness to them, and now could. The robot never had any intention of hurting any of them, but couldn't tell them, since it needed their reactions to be real. The Enterprise is free to go on, with "the human adventure--is just beginning!" Maybe not a great sentiment for a last issue; DC would take the Star Trek license in 1984, after the far stronger Wrath of Khan. That would be a much more dramatic start point, even if the continuity would be a bit iffy.

Technically, this next issue may have been the latter published, but the series had run longer: Star Trek: the Next Generation #80. This was the conclusion of a two-part story, but also tied into an earlier three-parter, in which Picard's seemingly harmless words of encouragement to Worf--to the effect of, "I wish I had an entire crew just like you"--is put to the test by Q, who turned the entire crew of the Enterprise into Klingons! Here was another variation on that theme: Q turns the crew into androids like Data this time. Just as the all-Klingon crew had taken some of the worst of those traits, the android crew have all of Data's abilities but none of his socialization, drive to improve, or empathy. (Picard perhaps should be colored as an android on the cover this issue; but I wonder if he wasn't since it was the last.)

When a colony is infected with a lethal virus, android Dr. Crusher's bedside manner is pretty much just a shrugged, 'enh, everyone dies sometime.' Troi finds it hard to counsel anyone without her own emotions, and the rest of the crew are unimaginative sticklers for rules. Q changes them back after they muddle through their mission, but Data points out Q's vision of androids was two-dimensional, at best.

I'm not sure I had this issue when it came out, but I had been reading DC's Next Generation comic here and there for most of it's run; and I like artist Gordon Purcell, who did a ton of Trek books. He had also done at least a few issues of Malibu's Deep Space Nine comic. (For whatever reason, although DC had the original series and Next Generation licenses, Malibu got DS9. They would have a crossover miniseries between them, though.) That series would end here, about a month after DC's books, since Marvel was taking back the license, for about a year and a half, around the same time Marvel was going bankrupt. In this issue, "Turn of the Tide," Major Kira and Gul Dukat are presumed dead, killed when their ship's warp coil ruptured while they were on their way back from mining talks. (I'm not sure why they would've been on the same ship; but this may have been before Dukat really went bad.) O'Brien suspects something, but can't put his finger on it; and Sisko can't spare the time to investigate since a Federation meeting was beginning soon.

Kira and Dukat had survived, and are forced to work together, which is a lot harder on her: she'd almost rather die, while Dukat is probably relishing the chance to show off. Still, they do have to work together, against a militaristic band of Cardassian war criminals--and for them to consider someone a war criminal, they must have been really bad. They've put together a weapon to destroy Deep Space 9, the wormhole, and Bajor; and leave Kira and Dukat onboard to die; so of course they get free and rig it to go off early; while O'Brien and Odo beam them out in the last second. Still, Kira is by no means ready to accept the unctuous bastard Dukat as a friend; later episodes of the show would reveal Dukat's relationship with her mother, which retroactively makes his attentions here all the more horrible.

Along with these issues, looking at the directory for that DVD-ROM, I had maybe half of them already? Well, it still saves me a lot of digging. It would feel weird, for me anyway, to blog something from a scan, though.
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"The End" Week: Aquaman #13!

Huh, I wonder if I've seen the Aquaman movie yet? I'm writing this one just after Thanksgiving, but here's our second Aquaman last issue for this year! From 1992, Aquaman #13, "My Hero" Written by Shaun McLaughlin, pencils by Chris Schenck, inks by Bob Dvorak.

This one isn't quite "The Kid Who Collects Aquaman," but close: a terminally ill young boy, instead of writing a letter or getting those Make-a-Wish guys, takes off in search of his hero, Aquaman. As he hitchhikes from Erie, PA. he gets to hear several stories about Aquaman: a trucker claims he, and the rest of the JLA, are carnival fakes. A WASP-ish older woman describes Aquaman's war on whale-hunters, in a story so full of holes the boy can see right through it. Finally, he meets a surprisingly trustworthy source: longtime Aquaman villain the Scavenger!

After a ship carrying medical supplies to Toronto went down, the Scavenger was picking over the shipwreck for goodies, when Aquaman came to stop him. The usual fight is cut short when Aquaman explains it's for a measles epidemic, and Scavenger relents, helping him get the supplies delivered. Aquaman then introduces Scavenger as a partner, starting him on the road to rehabilitation; and Scavenger introduces Aquaman to the boy in the end. Yay, what an uplifting story! Except that kid is still going to die, and a later story made Scavenger a pedophile, who would be killed by Hawkman in 1994. That doesn't make a ton of sense in the context of this issue, but this issue doesn't line up with him becoming a mystic "Scavenger of Souls" in 1987's Warlord #124. I don't think any writers that used Scavenger were real concerned with his last appearance.

This series of Aquaman was wrapped pretty quickly: next in 1993 would be Peter David's Time and Tide miniseries, basically Aquaman: Year One. The next Aquaman series would begin in 1994, starting the hook-hand era with the second issue or so.
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"The End" Week: Young All-Stars #31!

This issue was the conclusion of a four-part storyline, and about a hundred issues across two series. It also heavily references perhaps two classic novels, for good measure! From 1989, Young All-Stars #31, "Men...and Super-men" Written by Roy and Dann Thomas, pencils by Lou Manna, inks by Bob Downs and Ken Branch.

Arn "Iron" Munro was the replacement for Superman in the post-Crisis universe, and was the son of a possible influence in the Man of Steel's creation: Hugo Danner, of the novel Gladiator. In that story, Hugo had received super-strength and a degree of invulnerability from prenatal chemical treatments, but had never seemed to find either a place in the world or a way to use his powers for good. An archaeologist suggests he use his chemical treatment to create a race of superhuman champions, but Hugo is killed by lightning while praying instead. Or was he? In the DC version, Hugo not only fathered Arn with his old high school sweetheart, he does change an Accala Indian tribe into supermen, his "Sons of Dawn." What he had planned on them doing is unclear, because they're mostly smashing stuff up here, which pits them against both the Young All-Stars and the All-Star Squadron! (Arn claims, "--the entire All-Star Squadron!" but that's not true: several heavy-hitters like Spectre and Dr. Fate are absent; even Hawkman's mace might've come in handy today.)

The Sons are all about as powerful as first appearance Superman--one cheerfully smashes a car ala Action Comics #1--which make them more than a match for the usual mystery-man types. Green Lantern is hit by a thrown tree early on, Flash and Johnny Quick can't do enough damage, nor can Liberty Belle or Firebrand. How can they possibly beat them? Germs, War of the Worlds style. One of the All-Stars had a cold, the Indians had no immunities, and that's about that. Hugo seemingly kills himself, but the story ends on a up note, as the Young All-Stars are offered seats at the big-boy table with the All-Star Squadron. Still, this issue was set in 1942, so what did the rest of the war hold for them? I know Tsunami and Arn would appear in Peter David's Aquaman years later, but they're the only ones I know of, off the top of my head. Looking up a couple, not all happy endings: this being DC, at least one died a pointless, throwaway death in a crossover...
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"The End" Week: Micronauts #11!

This will be the fourth Micronauts last issue we've looked at during "The End" week, from the third different company. And like a couple of those, this one wasn't really the end, either. From 2017, Micronauts #11, written by Cullen Bunn and Jimmy Johnson, art by Max Dunbar.

Like all the previous versions based on the toys, this incarnation of the team had a Biotron, Microtron, and Acroyear, even if they were slightly different than before. The other three members are more linked to the toys than previously, because this was produced with Hasbro: in fact, Space Glider Phenolo-Phi would get a (tiny) action figure in the IDW Revolution set! This was part of their shared universe plan, with tentpoles Transformers and G.I. Joe and supporting acts ROM, Action Man, Visionaries, and the Micronauts here. (They squeeze one more toy line in here unannounced, as Acroyear uses a Weeble as a weapon more than once!) Nothing wrong with that...except that they may have jumped the gun a bit. IDW's Transformers continuity had been running since 2005, over a decade before Revolution tacked on these new elements. Just this year, IDW wrapped their current Transfomers runs, and by extension everything else, with Transformers: Unicron. (That included the end of Transformers: Lost Light, one of the best books out there.)

While the series ended here, there were two miniseries next, Wrath of Karza and ROM vs. the Micronauts, the latter a crossover Marvel never got to. (A brief aside: IDW needs an intern or something to update the GCD, especially since there were a number of variants.) These Micronauts would get a short goodbye story in Transformers: Unicron #4, since they are doubtless to be reformatted as well. Sometime, somewhere, the Micronauts will face Baron Karza again; just maybe not this line-up. I wonder if Revolution might not have been a better idea if saved for a full reboot, and I'm not even sure if the new continuity planned in 2019 will be a shared universe again: I thought Hasbro was steering IDW closer to the movie continuity, although if they go with the Bumblebee rather than Michael Bay movies, maybe it would be okay.
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"The End" Week: Extreme Justice #18!

Huh, my caps lock was stuck when I started this post. Maybe I should've left it on, it seems appropriate. From 1996, Extreme Justice #18, "Deathmatch Doom" Written by Robert Washington III, pencils by Tom Morgan, inks by Ken Branch.

Sometimes, reading these last issues can be a chore: I had to read this one twice, to see if the main villain was ever referred to by name. He was not; but I think it's a cartoonishly insane and redesigned Brainwave, Jr. In a sick jacket, though. He looks like an evil Grant Morrison. It's his Legion of Doom--wait, really? DC must not have thought the name was worth anything in those "EXTREME" days--versus Captain Atom's breakaway Justice Leaguers: Maxima, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, a new Amazing Man, and the Wonder Twins. Wait, really?

I'm not positive any continuity from this book was carried forward: Captain Atom mentions having a hole in his chest, that I don't think was ever seen again. Maxima is heroic here, but would probably go back to stalking Superman; I don't think Booster's "Midas" armor would be back. Did we see these Wonder Twins again? Beetle uses a "fibrous-polymer grenade," "the recipe from this guy who just drifted through from some alternate universe recently." That's mostly for a joke, but no way they'd let him use that again! And Amazing Man would (allegedly) be killed off by the Mist, in Starman #38, which seems a waste.

This book, along with Justice League America and Justice League Task Force, was being wrapped up to clear the decks for the new "Big 7" JLA. Which still holds up as a good comic, but if you read it coming off of this one? Like going from a burger on the dollar menu to an eighty-dollar steak.
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"The End" Week: Star Trek #56!

I still haven't seen more than the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery, although maybe by the time this posts I'll have gotten the DVD's; but there was a write-up on it in Entertainment Weekly that mentioned during filming, an actor got notes that he'd be allowed to swear before saying "god." Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry famously excluded religion from the show, since he thought religion as it exists today would be defunct by the 22nd century. So I'm not sure about today's book. From 1988, Star Trek #56, "A Small Matter of Faith" Written by Martin Pasko, art by Gray Morrow.

Set back in the five-year mission era, the Enterprise is transporting injured crew members from an accident on the Defiant, one of whom is an old friend of Dr. McCoy's. The injured had taken a lot of radiation, but could be saved if they could get to Starbase 27 in the next 24 hours. (As usual, that's given as a hard number: 23 hours and 59 minutes they'd be fine, 24 hours and one minute, dead.) McCoy's more than a little irritated that they have to make another stop first, to the Starfleet Veterans' Hospital on Lavinius V, to deliver supplies. (That hospital apparently was the radiation hospital...) What no one expected, however, was an attack from the hospital--by Starfleet officers! (Actually, that seems a lot like the first part of "Dagger of the Mind.") (The Star Trek episode, not the Columbo one.)

The officers are terminally ill vets, led by En-Lai, a chaplain and faith healer. En-Lai was an alien of unknown origin, found on an uncharted planet as an infant, and was trying to get to Calydon, a system that had periodic visits from a mysterious ghost-like entity that healed anyone it came in contact with. Spock has already started to see the connection, but plays it close to the vest until he can be sure, leaving Kirk and McCoy to wonder. En-Lai does heal Kirk's broken arm--I'm not sure we see the arm getting broken, but okay--but taking the Enterprise this far off course will doom the Defiant survivors. After a failed attempt to retake the ship, McCoy tells Kirk why he's so opposed to En-Lai, besides to save his friend: his dad had wanted him to be a preacher, but he had chosen medicine instead, losing any of his remaining faith when his dad died.

On Calydon, there's a crowd of the hopeful already gathered, but they beam down the veterans and injured before En-Lai, who approaches the explode and die. Spock explains he was compelled to return, like a salmon, somehow born from energy to matter, then returning to energy. The release of energy heals the gathered people, and the vets surrender, although Kirk logs that he will recommend clemency for them. And although McCoy proclaims this is all science, he still heads to the chapel afterwards.

This doesn't sit especially well: it occurs to me that like Roddenberry, I'm basically a godless heathen, and I wonder how much Star Trek figured into that. This might've been a fill-in: per the GCD, this issue came out July 21, 1988; the next issue would be a new number one August 31, 1989! That would feature returning regular writer Peter David; and I still love the first year or so of that run.
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Friday, December 28, 2018

"The End" Week: Deadpool Team-Up #883!

Look, I love Marvel, but they've never had a good idea that they couldn't overuse to death. A character becomes popular? Why, have them guest-star everywhere! And give them another title! Hell, give 'em two! Then act surprised when they're completely played out within a year. From 2011, Deadpool Team-Up #883, written by Skottie Young, art by Ramon Perez.

Yeah, Deadpool had at least three titles going then: original flavor, then during Daniel Way's run; the moderately-enjoyable if Liefeld-tinged Deadpool Corps, and Deadpool Team-Up. I don't know if it was supposed to, but I don't think the latter had a regular creative team, which may have contributed to its wild unevenness. Some issues seemed to be fairly straight team-ups not unlike the ones Spidey used to have, others were more off the wall; and as is sometimes the case for Deadpool, sometimes the jokes landed, sometimes they really, really didn't. This issue...well...

Broke again, Deadpool takes a new job, as Herald of Galactus. The Silver Surfer shows up to stop him. Hilarity...strongly fails to ensue. It sets up a bit of a shaggy dog punchline; but the only bit I liked was Deadpool cold-calling for work and the Kingpin telling him "Yes, I am very happy with my current assassination provider." The variant cover, with "Deadpool Team's-Up with unemployment," is good; but they used the same cover for Deadpool Corps #12. In fact, they may have mixed them up, since on the DTU finale he's holding Corps covers, and vice versa.

If you do find them: the Satana team-up was good; Thor's has its moments, and I think the Watcher, Thing, Machine Man, and U.S.1 issues have at least some jokes. I do need to dig out the Hellcow one, though. Seriously, that's the one to find. And things probably turned out OK for Deadpool, I couldn't tell you how many books he has out now.
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"The End" Week: Blackhawk #273!

I know I've bought this issue twice, as I come across it, but had I read it yet? Let's see. From 1984, Blackhawk #273, "No Information Available at Press Time!" Written by Mark Evanier, art by Dan Spiegle; and "Deserter!" Written by Mark Evanier, pencils by Mike Sekowsky, inks by Richard Howell.

The Gil Kane cover is nice, if not at all indicative of the inside story; and the "Final Mission?" blurb is a bit misleading, since this was set fifteen months before Pearl Harbor. Reporter Ginny Mueller wants to follow a story with the Blackhawks in China; they're looking for their man Chop-Chop, who's been fighting a one-man rebellion against the Japanese. He managed to destroy some blueprints and set them back, but they had completed a new weapon, a massive dragon-tank! The Japanese had captured Chop-Chop and his girl, to lure in Blackhawk, to kill him as part of their deal with Germany. They had even called in the press to cover it, which is how Blackhawk realizes it's a trap--right before it's sprung!

Chop-Chop, who does all the heavy lifting this issue, lures the tank into firing at explosives and blowing itself up, then returns to the Blackhawk roster. Ginny is left without a story, since Blackhawk tells her they have to figure out who leaked that info, hence "No information available at press time."

Mark Evanier has other writing credits, yet I'm most familiar with his long run editing Sergio Aragon├ęs Groo. The letters page has a piece from him that mentions he was the book's current editor, but had to fire himself as writer, which in turn caused Spiegle to quit; but DC cancelled Blackhawk before Bill Dubay and Carmine Infantino could take over. He also suggests a new fan look into back issues, but keep it under his hat, as to not drive up prices: "I made the big mistake of opening my cavernous mouth about how good old Fox and Crow comics were...then ZOOM!" Meanwhile, I'm not sure Blackhawk appeared again until Howard Chaykin's miniseries in 1988. No, he probably was in Crisis, wasn't he? He still turns up here and there, and DC's tried to repurpose the name with the New 52. He'll be back.
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"The End" Week: Aquaman #63!

So many of these last issues have "The End" or some such on the cover; so it's unusual to find one that doesn't mention it in the slightest. In fact, there's a blurb at the end, "Next issue on sale during the first week in July," and nope! From 1978, Aquaman #63, "My Brother's Keeper" Written by Paul Kupperberg, pencils by Don Newton, inks by Dave Hunt.

You can probably guess from the title, but this issue features the semi-annual return of Aquaman's half-brother, Orm, the Ocean Master! Like Black Manta, he probably doesn't show up quite that often; but it feels like it sometimes. Previously, Orm sent a robot villain called Seaquake to do his job, but now had to step in and try to destroy Atlantis himself; all to better get at the goodies beneath it. He had discovered an ancient Atlantean vault with a sea serpent and incomplete plans for a forbidden super-weapon, and wanted in. The fight goes back and forth, and while Aquaman tussles with mutated fish that won't obey his telepathic commands, Orm finds the weapon, which is basically a box. Said box is supposed to drain the aggression out of Aquaman, who I didn't think was supposed to be the most aggro guy anyway, but he overpowers it, and that's that.

He doesn't get much to do here, but Aqualad returns as well; having taken off in search of his heritage in Adventure Comics. I had thought I had read that, but may have been thinking of the Aquaman reprints in the digest-sized Adventure Comics, with Jim Aparo art, those weren't half-bad. Even if the cancellation isn't alluded to, this issue still ends on a down note, when Aqualad asks how Arthur Jr. was doing, apparently not knowing (or forgetting?) 'Aquababy' had been killed by Black Manta in Adventure #452. That death never sat right with me--I have no idea how Arthur or Mera would be able to go on, or how they hadn't murdered Manta every time he's ever appeared since--but that issue was his last with that title before getting relaunched back to his own book, but with his old numbering and only for seven bimonthly issues.

This issue came out about the same time as Freedom Fighters #15, but that cancellation had been planned; this one was part of the infamous DC Implosion, wherein a large scale expansion of the DC line didn't really take off as planned. At a glance, over the years we've seen a few other books that were taken out there: Secret Society of Super-Villains #15, Kamandi #59, Claw the Unconquered #12, and hey, Mister Miracle #25! I didn't have my formatting down back then and didn't realize that was a last issue. Kinda think I have DC Super-Stars #18 somewhere, too...
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Thursday, December 27, 2018

"The End" Week: Daken: Dark Wolverine #23!

We've seen a couple issues of this series; but today the finale: from 2012, Daken: Dark Wolverine #23, "Lost Weekend, conclusion" Written by Rob Williams, art by Matteo Buffagni, Paco Diaz, Riley Rossmo, and Andrea Mutti.

His healing factor failing due to his drug use, Daken was looking to go out in the proverbial blaze of glory: blowing up a building, drugging Reed Richards, getting Wolverine friendly fired by the Human Torch. Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Iron Man are there; but the Thing catches up to him first. Taking a massive dose of Heat to keep himself in the fight, he's tripping hard as the heroes save the bystanders, but feels lower than dirt as he watches. Or maybe just sorry for himself.

Daken goes down in Time Square, surrounded by maybe a dozen heroes and a SWAT team; and apologizes to his dad, Wolverine. That is, apologizes for leaving a time bomb at his Westchester school, before blowing himself up! Frantic, Wolvie has Thor fly him out to Westchester, but all he finds there is a Wolverine doll, as Daken's caption reads "I so desperately wanted to leave him with nothing."

This was the end of Daken's run as the protagonist, but he'd be back to lash out at his dad again and die again in Uncanny X-Force #34. And I don't think that even kept him down. Still, every story I've seen with him Daken is portrayed like a moody teen lashing out and making bad choices, but he was born in 1946!
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"The End" Week: Werewolf by Night #6!

As far as Marvel's horror characters go, Werewolf by Night had a pretty good first run, and has never been that big since. I think Morbius has had more relaunch success, and he didn't have much. From 1998, Werewolf by Night #6, "Love is Colder than Death, part 1" Written by Paul Jenkins, art by Leonardo Manco. It's not a good sign to see "part 1" when you're looking at the last issue...

Marvel had gone into bankruptcy the end of 1996, and I'm pretty sure the bloom was off the rose of the speculator market at this point; since I seem to recall this as a period when they would launch titles in little mini-imprint blocks, like M-Tech or this one, Strange Tales. Most of those didn't last twelve issues, Werewolf by Night only got six, then he and Man-Thing would get a whopping two issues of a new Strange Tales. The title for Man-Thing's story in that last issue is part one as well, although this Werewolf story might get wrapped up there. I'd never even seen that one before, though, so I suspect sales were not great.

We've seen work by artist Leonardo Manco multiple times over the years: among other things, he did Druid and Hellstorm and seems a perfect fit here. Still, the utter nineties of this one struck me: sort of a monster-goth gloom that both seems of the period yet completely unreal, like a rave on a CSI-type show. And that's even without the actual monsters. And even though this was written by Paul Jenkins instead of Manco's previous collaborator Warren Ellis, there are a couple bits that seem similar: the psychic girl investigating a murder sees dead people. I assumed she was recurring WbN supporting character Topaz, but her name wasn't given. And Jack has to chat with current ruler of (a) hell, Ghost Rider, tying into the then-continuity on that series that we just saw.

Although it feels unlikely that Disney-owned Marvel is ever going to give him a big push again, there's still enough love for Jack that he'll still get a one-shot every so often to keep the copyrights fresh; or he'll guest-star, usually with some monster friends. And I know he made a somewhat surprising appearance in Deadpool #17. (Or a Deadpool #17. Frickin' Marvel numbering. Ugh, I think Deadpool's had like eight last issues since last I looked...)
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"The End" Week: RoboCop #23!

The original RoboCop is one of my favorite movies ever. I have a huge affection for RoboCop 2 as well. RoboCop: the Marvel comic, well...From 1992, RoboCop #23, "Beyond the Law! Part 3" Written by Simon Furman, art by Lee Sullivan.

RoboCop balances gruesome violence, gripping action, and brutal satire; in attempting to match those tones the comic was all over the place from the start. The early issues written by Alan Grant read like Judge Dredd-lite, with the technology a bit more sci-fi than seen in the movie, and the satire somewhat more blunt. (To say nothing of the whole affair being Comics Code Approved, as apposed to a hard R rating.) Furman would come on with #12, but he may have run across another problem: coming up with decent villains. Robo can't bring down OCP, since doing so would wreck the status quo for the title; that would be like Luke killing Vader in a Star Wars comic. This month, he faces Aztec-themed lunatic Aza, and returning evil cyborg Flak, now upgraded to the latest version of RoboCop.

Flak makes not one but two fatal errors, though: Murphy had been on the verge of giving up when he was attacked, but then refuses to die and leave his Detroit to the likes of Flak, the "Old Man," and OCP. Second, a cyborg's memory is admissible as evidence, so everything Flak blabbed about framing Robo would've been recorded to exonerate him. Robo has a massive three-page monologue as he takes out Flak; admittedly with some flair, whipping a helicopter, in flight, into him. This one wraps up with all the toys back in their boxes, and was by no means RoboCop's last swing at comics. (Remember, the first RoboCop vs. the Terminator is so great, the 2011 Terminator/Robocop: Kill Human is fishwrap, except for the Simonson covers...)
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"The End" Week: Punisher: Countdown!

This took me a couple years to complete, during which I couldn't even look at the first parts! But we've finally got the conclusion to the Punisher's first three series, from 1995, Punisher: War Zone #41, "Dead and Deader" Written Chuck Dixon, pencils by Rod Whigham, inks by Mike Witherby; Punisher #104, "The Murder Men" Written by Chuck Dixon, pencils by Rod Whigham, inks by Enrique Villagran; and Punisher War Journal #80, "The Last Bad Man" Written by Chuck Dixon, pencils by Doug Wheatley, inks by Steve Moncuse. (It bothers me slightly that this didn't end with the main title, Punisher!) For good measure here, we've got the start of "Countdown," Punisher #103, "The Butcher's Block" Written by Chuck Dixon, pencils by Rod Whigham, inks by Enrique Villagran.

We had checked out a couple issues leading up to this; but at this point Frank was on the outs with his long-term tech support Microchip, to the point of wanting to kill him, although the nature of their rift didn't seem to warrant death. For his part, Micro has a new Punisher, Carlos "C.C." Cruz, who, at the start of this storyline, was still trying to finish off mob boss Rosalie Carbone. Cruz has the bulletproof-armored Phalanx on his side; but Rosalie has Bullseye on hers! The expression is "like bringing a knife to a gunfight," but in Bullseye's case the knife is deadlier: Phalanx catches one in the eye; going into shock, he throws himself on a grenade to save Cruz, and the concussion kills him. The suit held up fine, though...! (I had thought Phalanx was a throwaway character for the 1993 annuals and hadn't realized he appeared again. He may have gotten killed, though, since the name was going to the Borg-like aliens in the X-Books.) While Rosalie has Phalanx's body--and suit--taken, Bullseye and Cruz have to team up against an army of mob goons, and are out of ammo when they turn on each other. Still, Bullseye knows full well Cruz isn't Frank.

I'm still missing the second chapter here, counter-intuitively numbered "3" since they were counting down; but the Frank/Microchip showdown is interrupted before Frank can kill him, as Micro is killed by Stone Cold! This would be the most devastating heel-turn of the Texas, not Steve Austin! But it would be a couple issues before we would see his deal. The next chapter, Frank is seemingly back to work wacking druglords like nothing had changed, but is interrupted by Cruz. Frank drops him like a bad habit, and didn't think he had what it took, but is surprised when Cruz nearly kills them both with a grenade! Frank is forced to upgrade his opinion of Cruz from useless to dangerous, and is set on killing him as well, but they are separated during the firefight and Stone Cold kills Cruz as well!

Now, I would've thought Stone Cold was a bit of a narrative cheat: a way to kill off Micro and Cruz, returning the Punisher mantle exclusively to Frank, without Frank having to be the bad guy and kill them. Except, as the shootout continues, Frank apparently accidentally guns down a pair of innocent bystanders in Central Park! (Later, it's implied he killed an entire family; here it looks like he got a couple and a stuffed Stimpy doll, which is possibly the most dated reference in the entire series!) Finishing off the druglords, Stone Cold lets Frank walk, since he knows he broke him. In a dingy hotel room, Frank puts his gun to his head...but opts to turn himself in, instead.

"The Murder Men" opens with Frank, unarmed but with his Punisher shirt, marching himself into the police station, where several cops fail to notice him strolling over. (I've long maintained, in the Marvel Universe, wearing a trenchcoat makes you functionally invisible!) The cops also miss Frank being stopped and taken by Jules and Vincent, to the Kingpin! (It's entirely conceivable some portion of the cops present are on the take.)

Having "fallen" himself, Kingpin offers Frank a chance at redemption, "Valhalla." He leaves Frank a ton of guns, as well as info on the big crime bosses in the city. Even though the Punisher had been killing crime bosses by the dozen for years now, the Kingpin tells him these are the big guys: Frank knows he's being used in the Kingpin's latest power grab, but can't really pass up the chance, and plans on going after the Kingpin if he finishes the others.

Elsewhere, longtime mob snitch and unwilling Punisher associate Mickey Fondozzi, survives an encounter with Bulleye, who is wearing the Phalanx suit; then another with Stone Cold. Fondozzi had been introduced in Punisher War Zone #1 and displayed a remarkable ability to not get killed by virtue of just seeming super pathetic. Bullseye takes up with some "lucky mooks" since he realizes Frank had got "insider information" and thinks he'll be there soon enough; but instead Frank hits the Carbones with a rocket launcher. Rosalie, however, was on vacation, and would live to die another day.

Stone Cold is enjoying the chase, and figures Frank is almost to the end of his line, but is surrounded by S.H.I.E.L.D. He escapes, and Mickey is rescued from his trunk. Nick Fury gets a briefing on "Stone Cold" from three stooges--I mean, agents. He had been trained and placed as a contingency, against a "runaway government agency," but had gone rogue and expanded his targets to include vigilantes.

Awake for 76 hours now, Frank is on the last name on the Kingpin's list, and plans on crossing it out and going on to the Kingpin himself. While he's shooting up a lab on a Coney Island pier, Stone Cold shows up in a stolen Fed Ex truck, just to set up a joke; but Frank runs into Bullseye first. From prior experience, Frank knows he needs a .50 cal to knock down the Phalanx armor, so he's hoping for a headshot and not getting one. S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually already on the scene, although Fury has no intention of sending men "into that meat grinder? No way." He does hint someone who could go in was on his way, though.

Toying with Frank, Bullseye teases him with the names of the tourist family he killed, now four members. Bullseye may regret discarding the uncomfortable helmet here as Frank pistolwhips him a bit, but then Stone Cold shoots Bullseye with a .50 cal, blowing him off the pier, presumably to drown escape super easily. Stone Cold gets real talky here, explaining how he took out anti-vigilante task force V.I.G.I.L., the Trust from the first Punisher mini-series, and then Frank's "organization." Great, but why, exactly? No real reason, except he had been trained as a "contingency plan" and just decided to go ahead and do it. And then get murdered by Shotgun.

Shotgun had been introduced during Ann Nocenti's Daredevil run, but is credited as created by John Romita Jr, and was little more than a gun-psycho there, but JR JR brought him with him to Punisher: War Zone, where he had been more of a hero. Frank sees him as a friend, but still dives for Stone Cold's gun, so he can shoot the pier out from Bullseye, seemingly dropping him into the water again! No one seems to follow up on this, as Shotgun brings Frank in to S.H.I.E.L.D. Frank muses that the Kingpin had been right after all, and he was going to Valhalla, "a place ruled by a god with one eye."

While he seems okay up to here, Frank pretty much checks out at this point, and goes largely catatonic in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. Fury wants the docs to bring him back. Why? Ah, they'll figure out what to do with him later. Considering there's an ad for Double Edge: Alpha here, that wasn't a great plan, Nick. Looking back at that old post, that issue featured "Spook," a shifty CIA-type that convinces an addled Frank that Fury had killed his family in Central Park. (Which Doc Samson notes as happening April 17, 1990; which seems far too late a date for Frank to be a Vietnam vet; but also far too early in the year for a picnic in Central Park!) Spook just struck me as being very similar to Stone Cold, as in, a really obvious narrative cog to try and move the plot in a new direction.

I don't think the family Frank killed was necessarily walked back, although it very easily could have been: the mob or Stone Cold could have shot the family instead of Frank, and why were they in Central Park in the middle of the night, especially when they should have heard the gunfight? In continuity Frank has killed innocents by accident or while mind-controlled; and it's tough for me to imagine him not eating his gun immediately after something like that. Partially because it breaks the character for me: in-story the Punisher works as wish-fulfillment, the good guy with a gun fantasy. Regular people getting shot knocks me right out of that.

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