Friday, December 30, 2022

"The End" Week: Marvel Super Action #37!

You might feel, the last issue of a reprint title? Who cares? But for a lot of years, these were the only way to read these stories without tracking down expensive back issues; and some of my first Avengers reads were from this series: from 1981, Marvel Super Action #37, reprinting 1970's Avengers #76, "The Blaze of Battle... the Flames of Love!" Written by Roy Thomas, pencils by John Buscema, inks by Tom Palmer.

This was the second part of the first appearance of Arkon the Imperion, who by this point had kidnapped a bunch of nuclear scientists and the Scarlet Witch, in an effort to destroy earth to recharge the energy rings that gave heat and light to his world, Polemachus. It would set the pattern for most of his later appearances: even with the best of intentions, Arkon always chooses the most violent way available to do something, and usually tries to kidnap a babe while he's there. The Avengers are trying to use a "d-machine" to travel to Polemachus after him, but haven't licked their power source problem yet; much to the irritation of Quicksilver, who wants his sister back. And because things weren't melodramatic enough, the Black Widow returns, but only to break up with Goliath, tearfully telling him she never loved him. 

Arkon intends on keeping the Scarlet Witch as his bride, and uses "the Ultimate Persuader!" to suck nuclear secrets out of one of the scientists, which cows the others. They make what looks like an atomic superball for him, that when thrown at the right spot on earth, will destroy it but keep the lights on in Polemachus for centuries. Arkon lies to Wanda, telling her the scientists figured out how to not blow up earth, but she still had to stay. Picking a flower, Wanda admits she could almost be attracted to Arkon, if he wasn't so cold and unfeeling. (And smelly. There has to be an almost-visible musk cloud following that guy around.) But no time for love, as the Avengers arrive! With Thor's help, they had been able to get there; either with or without the d-machine. Arkon's barbarian army is no match for an A-list Avengers team that was fighting mad, but his vizier advises, lose the battle but win the war: blow up earth, that'll learn 'em. Wanda realizes Arkon had lied to her, but gets dragged with him as he uses his golden thunderbolts to travel to the Empire State Building. 

Thor was able to get four Avengers back to earth quickly: Goliath, Black Panther, Vision, and Quicksilver. And they make a fairly poor showing, stopped one-by-one; with Arkon finally getting Goliath in a brutal judo-like hold. But, before Goliath is forced to tap out, the vizier sends a floating-head message: no need to blow up earth after all. Thor and Iron Man were able to recharge Polemachus's rings--at least for now! Arkon confesses to the Scarlet Witch, the trips back-and-forth from earth and Polemachus should have restored her mutant powers, so he couldn't force her to marry him, and he disappears as the other Avengers return. Still, with a flower as a keepsake, Wanda seems to ponder what could have been. 

Arkon is such a dick; I can't stand him. So of course I'd love a Marvel Legend of him!
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"The End" Week: Wasteland #18!

I know I didn't read all of this series during its original run; and I'm not even sure I like it that much. But there are a couple stories from it that I still vividly recall, even all these years later? That's something, then, isn't it? From 1989, Wasteland #18, "The Casebook of the Dead Detective: '86'" Written by John Ostrander and Del Close, pencils and letters by Donald Simpson, inks by Bill Wray and William Messner-Loebs.
Wasteland was ostensibly a horror anthology book, mostly? More of an existential dread than the usual horror fare in comics. Not as bloody...usually. Also, several issues feature possibly-autobiographical stories from Del Close, whose name you might not know offhand, but who trained and coached a ton of comedians you would recognize. I recall at least one that was pretty funny! Not entirely plausible, but you still hope it's true; like that.
This issue's a bit of a stream-of-consciousness nightmare, that seemingly ends with the writers going their separate ways; Close exploring further underground, while Ostrander briefly considers a mushroom but then decides to give it a pass. Which may or may not mean anything! It's impressive they got 18 issues out: Vertigo was still four years away, and honestly, it might've been a weird fit even there...A note I might have to come back for: editor Mike Gold breaks a rule and explains a joke, as an opportunity to plug Patricia Highsmith's book Little Tales of Misogyny, which I might have to finish later. Read more!

"The End" Week: Challengers of the Unknown #87!

I wasn't going to break my usual title formatting, but this would've been the one to do it, since "12 Million Years to Twilight!" is a heck of a title. From 1978, Challengers of the Unknown #87, written by Carla and Gerry Conway, pencils by Keith Giffen, inks by John Celardo. 

We saw the previous issue recently: most of the Challengers were in the future, along with Swamp Thing, Deadman, and a currently hypnotized Rip Hunter. The local evil head honchos, the Sunset Lords, were dumping their genetic mistake monsters in the past, and fighting local rebel Lucas Lawspeaker, who was a telepath that could 'see' Deadman. He advises the ghost to help the Challs, who make an escape attempt before they can be "re-programmed" like Rip had been. Swarmed by mutant guards, Swamp Thing tells the others to fight on, sacrificing himself to give them time...

Meanwhile, in the past, in the best team book tradition, quit team member Red Ryan un-quits, returning to Challenger Mountain as the injured Prof. Haley, in an exo-suit, still fights a bunch of monsters. They squeak out a win, while the Swamp Thing faces the Sunset Lords' cyborg Persauder, beating it.
Lucas Lawspeaker's rebels then attack, while in the past Red and Prof. are able to contact the JLA (and apparently the Demon and Lightray, just because!) to fight off the time-monsters. Beaten, the Sunset Lords are about to blow up the city, but are stopped by Rip Hunter, who breaks free from their mind-control thanks to Deadman. 

With the future now in good hands, everyone heads home in Rip Hunter's time sphere--and then apparently goes their own way, since this was the last issue. We don't see them break-up or say goodbye or anything. Aw, I don't know if the Swamp Thing ever gets to hang out with anybody like that anymore. Deadman either, I suppose. Lucky reader Andy Proctor had just come up with a new title for the book's letters' column, Address: Unknown, too; but it wasn't entirely: the Challengers would appear again in 1982's Adventure Comics #493.(I kind of liked that serial, although I don't know if there's anywhere to get it other than the digests. One episode begins, with one of the team a little irritated after a recent attempt on his life, while the other guys are reading, watching TV, balancing their checkbook...)
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Thursday, December 29, 2022

"The End" Week: Superman: the Man of Steel #134!

The reading-order "Triangle" was long gone from the covers, but was this the end of the era of weekly Superman titles? It was the end of a twelve year run, anyway. From 2003, Superman: the Man of Steel #134, "Every Little Thing" Written by Mark Schultz, pencils by Brandon Badeaux and Jon Bogdanove, inks by Mark Morales and Jon Bogdanove.
There were two plot threads here, neither of which gets wrapped up, although luckily we have seen where one ended. Clark Kent has been discredited and fired from the Daily Planet, but in fact Perry White has him deep undercover, working on "the trail of Luthor's corrupt dealings." This had even been kept secret from Lois, who was miserable for him and wanted to help, but he couldn't let her, which was making him miserable. Clark leaves in the morning to look for a new job, which Lois knows he would never be able to get; but he was really going to his secret abandoned warehouse office. Lois trails him, wearing a pacemaker in her coat to mask her own heartbeat!
Telling the story to Perry, Clark glosses over the next part: he got called away to help a friend, John Henry Irons! Or, whatever was left of him after Our Worlds At War, as he puts back on the Aegis armor. That might be to try and repair the damage done to his nervous system by Manchester Black, or he might be under the control of Imperiex. Supes is astounded John would take a shot at his niece Natasha, but he seemingly forces himself to stop, then disappears, called "home" by his master. Which would be resolved in the Superman versus Darkseid: Apokolips Now! one-shot.
I'm not sure where the other plotline ends, though: Lois goes through Clark's notes, which seem like a conspiracy-nut's, not a journalist's. Clark tells Perry, that had been intentional: his notes were set up so they would look like a jumble to anyone else; all a ploy to keep Lois in the dark and safe. Even more concerned now, Lois reaches out to Martha Kent, worried Superman was losing Clark Kent...The tailend of the issue features the return of Jon Bogdanove, who had drawn over half of this series! Superman is concerned that John had died in OWaW and not really come back, but they remember how great he was, and know what to do going forward. Read more!

"The End" Week: Valor #23!

I watched Beneath the Planet of the Apes again recently: I first saw it when I was 6 or 7; and I think every time I've seen it since I can't help but hope it will somehow end differently. It never does, and neither did this one; as I finally read two parts of the crossover that wrapped up the "Five Years Later" era: from 1994, Valor #23, "Infinite Valor" Written by Kurt Busiek, pencils by Colleen Doran, inks by Dave Cooper.
This was, like Team Titans #24, another Zero Hour crossover/last issue; but more importantly it was part 5 of the 6-part "End of an Era" crossover with Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires. Yeah, the Legion basically had three titles then! "Valor" was Lar Gand, the post-Crisis version of Legion powerhouse Mon-El, finally returned to the 30th century, pretty much just in time for it to fall apart. Among other things, time seemed to be erasing the Legion and their friends, with heroes seemingly randomly disappearing; a fate Valor had avoided only with the help of Tasmia Mallor, Shadow Lass. She remembered them being married, and they were able to keep each other in place. Mostly: when Lar starts to slip out of reality again, an old friend lends a helping hand...
Meanwhile, sort of, since time was breaking; Rokk "Cosmic Boy" Krinn faces one of the Legion's oldest foes, the mysterious Time Trapper. Who tries to explain, that wasn't what he had been trying to do, at all: the Trapper had been trying to save the future, but, well, mistakes were made. He references three attempts to help that went south, and three tries to rebuild the timeline that also failed; and also cops to creating the SW6, the younger version of the team that had been discovered in Dominator pods. The SW6 had been a time paradox, which didn't help matters. Nor does the reveal, that the Trapper actually was Rokk Krinn! Also, on the planet Talus, the remnants of both Legion teams, were getting clobbered by Mordru and Glorith, who had stolen the power of the Infinite Man. Confused and demoralized, the Legion is on the verge of defeat, when Lar and Tasmia arrive with help: Superboy! Classic pre-Crisis version.
Lar is able to distract Glorith with a bit of dirty pool: offering himself to her, if she'll spare the Legion. She really seems into that, until Superboy punches her out; and the Dream Girls play a hunch, knocking Lar into absorbing the power Glorith lost. After fighting Mordru on equal footing for a bit, the Brainiac 5's tell Lar to release the power, let Mordru have it: the infinite power is too much, which gives them the chance to exploit his weakness: burying him. The plan isn't a complete success, since Mordru buries himself within Pocket Earth, which had been pulled into that dimension in a previous issue, but was going to explode soon...Worse, Tasmia had caught a stray blast. She has time to tell Lar--Mon--she loves him, before disappearing. Lar tells the others, fix this, he was going after her, and disappears as well.
It's a brutal loss, but before the Legion can fall into despair, Superboy rallies the team, one final time, before disappearing himself. Still, even without him, the team stays rallied, for one last push...
I had read the final chapter when it came out, and I knew Superboy wasn't in it, so I knew what was going to happen here and there was no avoiding it. I don't think I had warmed to Valor before, since Mon-El's final battle--against the Time Trapper, if I recall correctly!--was surprisingly affecting. I think I liked this better than some of his other, modern appearances; but then I like the character: keep giving him shots. Read more!

"The End" Week: Marvel Fanfare #60!

Hmm, I don't know if I'd ever known that this had been a bimonthly title, for a ten year run! But I would've been buying mostly from newsstands--well, grocery or convenience stores--so I never saw any of them new! From 1991, Marvel Fanfare #60, featuring "Big Applesauce!" Written and inked by Walt Simonson, pencils by Denys Cowan; "the Mission" Written by Ann Nocenti, pencils by Dave Ross, inks by Josef Rubinstein; and "the Monkey Never Dies" Story and art by Paul Smith.
There was also the final "Editori-Al" strip from editor Al Milgrom: the final here, anyway; I can't recall if he used that gimmick elsewhere? Or, I might be confusing it with the strips Archie Goodwin did for Dreadstar...Anyway, Al explains why the title was wrapping up: low sales, mostly; but it wasn't really needed anymore and he didn't have time to maintain it with his freelance work. Not a bad way to go out, though: Cowan and Simonson on a Black Panther vs. aliens story, then an inventory Rogue story that had been meant for Classic X-Men before they did away with the back-ups. It's an interesting one: the very young Rogue has realized, if she touches someone for just a second, she can steal just moments of memories. But, she's flighty and wild, which doesn't stop Mystique from trying to break her in with a mission for the Brotherhood. This feels like it should've been a bigger deal in continuity; but with the back-ups ending probably wasn't touched back on.
Lastly, Paul Smith returns to the book he first started in, with a sequel to the Daredevil story from Marvel Fanfare #1. It was Smith's first writing credit as well. Not too bad of an issue; but then again, nothing to make you clamor for them to keep it going, either. Read more!

"The End" Week: Journey into Mystery #521!

My first thought was, if I was Marvel, I would've given JiM back to the monsters like Glob or Spragg or 'the Hulk'. But, technically I suppose it did get back to a monster...From 1998, Journey into Mystery #521, "The Long Cold Kill, chapter two" Written by Marv Wolfman, pencils by Karl Kerschl, inks by Al Milgrom. 

You may recall, Thor made his debut in Journey into Mystery #83. The numbering would continue but the book became "Thor" with #126 and would stay such until Thor disappeared during Onslaught in Thor #502. Then it became Journey into Mystery again, for 20 or so issues, first with the "Lost Gods," then Shang-Chi, Black Widow, and finally a Hannibal King two-parter. Wolfman was the co-creator of the reluctant vampire P.I. with Gene Colan, and it's a solid yarn. 

In the previous issue, a gorgeous femme fatale, Tatjana Stiles, had hired King to find her lost hubby, who had been abducted by vampires; but of course there were things she wasn't telling him. King tries to take two cartoon-watching vampires, considering them brain-dead subhumans; and gets tore up: one burns King with a lighter stunt, while the other turns to mist and attacks him from the inside out! King is captured, and the unseen bad guy tries to starve Tatjana's location out of King; who famously would not kill. He is offered a hobo to eat, and the vamp henchmen even 'open' it for him: "You're our baby bird, and we've pre-chewed your dinner." (The above page is from the previous issue, but is pretty cool: Wolfman remembers vampires have other powers, and uses them effectively.)

Having not eaten for six nights, King feeds off the dying hobo, which gives him the strength to punch a crack in his airtight cage and escape as mist. He catches up with Tatjana, to poke holes in her story and get the truth out of her: there's an Evan Dorkin panel where a character figures out a minor clue and cheerfully exclaims "I'm a detective! Yes, I is!" and I swear I could hear it here. She was really a CIA agent, as was her "husband," they had captured a foreign biological weapon, which was then stolen from them by vampires. But why? Eventually, they kill enough vamps to get word of the very spy movie lair of the baddie, Navarro. 

When Tatjana is captured, King caves, giving Navarro the codex-MacGuffin she was hiding in a necklace; which gives Navarro the chance to explain his evil scheme: the biologic weapon wasn't an instant kill, it would give people time to choose between certain death, or becoming a vampire. Navarro thought he would have five million soldiers in a single day, but that doesn't work: he doesn't have anywhere near enough vampires to convert that many people! Vampires aren't like zombies; once bitten, they wouldn't immediately convert. Each of his vampires would have to drink enough blood, per victim, to kill them; which would be a bit (so to speak!) over half a gallon each one. Even if the victims were in an orderly line, factor in how long it takes to suck that much out of somebody, and how much blood can a vampire hold...? Also, what would drinking infected blood do to the vampires? It's a crap plan all around. Also, King and Tatjana had planted bombs all over the place and only put 25 seconds on the clock: Navarro throws out a lot of threats, but gets blow'd up when he tries to save the biological weapon instead of bailing out. 

But, Navarro had bitten Tatjana: she was badly injured, dying, and his bite kept painkillers from affecting her. She begs King to stop the pain...and he does, turning her into a vampire, who goes right back to work for the CIA. Probably with a raise. Back in his noir-y office, King regrets his first convert, and his damnation.
I have to wonder how well this title sold, even though I did like this one; but the letters' page notes Thor would be back next month. With a new #1; it should've been #522! Or #503. Something. Still, this one probably relates back to my hatred of vampire movies where the vamps take a bite out of someone and just one drink, like popping open a Red Bull, taking one drink, and throwing it away and grabbing another. That's wasteful: you opened one, finish it before you have another...
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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

"The End" Week: The Twilight Zone #4!

This one's pretty contingent on clearing the rights for "Earth Angel," which I feel isn't dirt cheap? From 1993, the Twilight Zone #4, "Cafe Yesterday" Written by Robert Graff, pencils by Sandra Chang, inks by Tony deZuniga.

Despite his daughter reaching out for him, Walter Graham is wasting away after the death of his beloved wife Melanie. He had proposed to her in the park, at a wishing well he had never been able to find again, promising to love her forever and ever more. Finding the well again, he wishes he could see Melanie one more time. Nothing much happens.

On the way home, Walter finds himself turned around, and enters the 50's themed diner Cafe Yesterday. Which doesn't have a phone: gotta commit to a bit, I suppose. Of course,  "Earth Angel" is on the jukebox; and the young Melanie is there dancing. While Walter seems to have any number of serious things to tell her, Melanie seems a little flighty, but maybe it's just that she has all the time in the world, since Walter has finally come to her...leaving his body, dead besides the wishing well. 

Little slight, this one. This was the last of Now's second Twilight Zone series, although they planned on continuing with specials. I'm not positive that happened, but they did get a Twilight Zone Annual out at some point that year.
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I don't usually post these necessarily in the order I wrote them, but I suppose I might have to in this case, since honestly, I'm still on Alpha Flight #20? I'm looking right at it, and I'm still hard-pressed to tell you what happened that issue, let alone the entire series. Offhand, I think the art style never gelled for that type of book, and the cast of characters didn't help: it really could've been pared down some. Maybe one or two new members instead of the four or five they had along with a relatively-benign government handler and a bad one...too cluttered, too many plates spinning. Whatever they were doing wasn't working, which is probably why it was cancelled, huh? 

While I've already blogged a number of them, there's a long box full of last issues here. I'm always keeping an eye out for them, but there are a bunch that who knows if I'll ever get around to talking about. Or, more accurately, I don't know if I can work myself up for. Despite Orion #25 being one of my favorite single issues, let alone last issues; I have a seeming plethora of New Gods and Mister Miracle finales that I can't get excited about. I've mentioned before, I have an almost instinctive revulsion to the Beast/Iceman/Angel run of Defenders: I have a vague idea what happens in the last issue from old Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entries, and we don't wanna get into that. In the same vein, although I know it's way more readable: Peter David's last issue of Supergirl. Hey, remember when Supergirl was a glob, then like an angel or something? Well, here's where we throw all that away! Hope you didn't get attached over the last eight years or so! Have some alarmingly skinny jailbait instead... 

All right, settle down. I do this blog to remember these comics, not to cause myself psychic harm or anything. Let's grab one and...oh, grife. Spoke too soon. From 2008, Legion of Super-Heroes #50, "Enemy Manifest, conclusion: Hack the Infinity Net!" Written by "Justin Thyme," pencils by Ramon Bachs, inks by John Livesay. 

We'll probably look at the plot, but first, missed opportunities and diminishing returns. This was the last issue of the so-called "threeboot", the third version/second reboot of the Legion of Super-Heroes--and the second time Mark Waid had rebooted the team, since as that link points out, he had been involved in the post-Zero Hour reboot! With artist Barry Kitson, the main difference in this continuity was that instead of a relatively benign, Federation-style future; the threeboot was set in a less-utopian, somewhat repressed and stifling culture. All the better for the youth to rebel against, some (with powers) by joining the Legion as superheroes to inspire and make a difference, and their (largely powerless) fans and supporters, the Legionnaires; who are largely considered a cult by the authorities, parents, and other adults. Supergirl from the present (post-glob) would join the team and headline the book starting with #16, for about 20 issues; then I'd guess the Superman-editors wanted her back. With issue #37 the book was the Legion's again, under former writer Jim Shooter; and pretty sure it became a lot closer to what a Legion comic had looked like one or two reboots ago...Unfortunately, the book was cancelled somewhere in the middle of what Shooter had planned as an 18-issue arc: he was asked to boil it down to a big finish, but told them no, so this was pieced together from his notes, but he wanted his name taken off it. 

Oh, here comes another depressing comic math story problem: the Legion debuted in 1958, ran until Zero Hour in 1994. (Side note: I actually love Zero Hour. Seriously.) 36 years, then. Reboot version, 1994 to the Teen Titans/Legion special in 2004. Ten years. The threeboot started there, even if the first issue of the series was 2005, and ran until here, 2008. Three, four years? Then Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, and I'm going to reference the Wikipedia entry here: the post-Infinite Crisis era from 2007-2011, which I think was like a pre-Crisis version; then the New 52 Legion/Legion Lost. 2011-2015, although that includes appearing in Justice League United, the actual series barely made two years. Then the Bendis Legion, from 2019-2021. Wait, that was like 12 issues, shouldn't that have been just a year? Like they keep spinning shorter and faster, burning out quicker. 

At this point, it's long past time to stick a fork in continuity. Instead, give the Legion what Batman gets; creators that have a story to tell but don't necessarily have it fit in with everything. That and I would have random versions of the team show up and hassle Booster Gold or Impulse--or both!--way more often.
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"The End" Week: Alpha Flight #20!

The previous Alpha Flight #20 from '85 wasn't one of John Byrne's best; but it's probably way better known than this particular issue: from 1999, Alpha Flight #20, "Alpha: Omega, part 3" Script and plot by Steven T. Seagle, pencils and plot by Duncan Rouleau, inks by Jaime Mendoza, Harry Candelario, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Rich Perrotta.
I know we've looked at a couple issues of this relaunch of the Canadian super-team book, largely on the strength of the guest-stars.. The Alphans weren't quite doing it, despite there being a metric ton of them: classic members Puck and Vindicator, a younger version of Guardian, maybe Northstar? And new members Faith, Fast Forward, Nudge, and Fever; that nobody recalls at all; possibly because those weren't Alpha Flight's new members, those were Doom Patrol members from John Arcudi and John Byrne's separate runs. The real new Alphans were Scion, Neutron, Dexam, and Quark. Except they weren't, those were all post-original series Micronauts; the really real new Alphans were Manbot, Flex, Radius, and Murmur. Manbot maybe gets it this issue--it's not super-clear, but he appeared to be enough of an 'it' that no one feels bad or brings it up? The rest I don't think have appeared anywhere else since. (The three mutants apparently lost their powers in Scarlet Witch's "No More Mutants," but Radius has actually got his powers back and appeared at a Hellfire Gala! Presumably in a Canadian Tuxedo.)
Anyway, this issue also features a more classic Alpha Flight, with an older Guardian, Shaman, Aurora, and Sasquatch. The team we had been following for the last 20 issues also had a Sasquatch, that may have actually been a Sasquatch: I feel like it had been an actual Bigfoot that got press-ganged into that thing somehow, but I think it was killed. The teams are fighting over Weapon X...not that one. Or that one. Look, whatever Weapon X you're thinking of, it's not that one. This one's someone in armor infected with some kind of virus. He wants to kill himself in such a way the virus will be destroyed, while Alpha Flight's government-issued mad scientist Huxley thinks he can use that to take control of the virus and then the world. The teams eventually work together to try to save Weapon X, who still ends up sacrificing himself. Huxley is seen taking his talents where he thinks they'll be appreciated, namely S.H.I.E.L.D. Alpha Flight is left with a lot of members, including two Guardians, one young and one older; which I'm not sure was ever brought up again, either. And after years of Puck pining over Heather, she finally goes out with him. Which also doesn't seem to get brought up again! Maybe the spark wasn't there like he had thought.
Let's see, this issue was March 1999; I couldn't swear to it, but was Alpha Flight's next appearance in 2003, in Chuck Austen's Uncanny X-Men #421? That's not good. That's like a building gettting knocked down, then the rubble catches fire...not like a helpful, clearing-things-out fire either, a makes-everything-kinda-toxic one. Read more!


Despite repeated losses to Daredevil, in-universe I think the Hand is supposed to be scary-formidable. Non-Hand ninjas, and ninjas in video games and movies, though; you can plow through them no problem. The Ghost Dance referenced is based on Warren Ellis's description of it in X-Calibre #1, and probably isn't 100% historically accurate. In that issue, set in the Age of Apocalypse, Angel describes it to Kurt Wagner Darkholme, who considers it the dumbest thing he's ever heard, since that universe's version of Kurt had a bad experience with the church and was godless. The Hand may once have been able to bring the dream-versions of themselves to life, when they had the scary rep, but try that nowadays and you'd get fruit-slicing ninjas or disposable creampuffs... Read more!