Monday, December 11, 2017

THE BLACK BEETLE IN: NO WAY OUT

A mystery tale by Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot | The Black Beetle created by Francesco Francavilla

I got into this one in a weird way. At some point last year, I think around September, an artist I follow on Twitter -- I believe it was Paulo Rivera, though I could be mistaken -- retweeted a writer -- and I can't recall who it was, unfortunately -- who posted a photo of the new releases he'd picked up for the week. Among these was a graphic novel called THE BLACK BEETLE: KARA BÖCEK, a mystery tale by Franco Francavilla published by Dark Horse Comics. I thought the cover looked really cool; the Black Beetle was clearly based on old pulp heroes, and Francavilla's art style greatly appealed to me.

A little research uncovered that KARA BÖCEK was the second Black Beetle story, following from NO WAY OUT, which was available digitally from Comixology. I added it to my wishlist and figured I'd pick it up at some point down the line, but then, just a few weeks later, the New York Comic-Con took place and Comixology offered a Dark Horse 50% off coupon. Thus I picked up NO WAY OUT sooner than expected, read it within the week, and slotted it in for a post at the end of the year.

Which, as it happens, is now.

So here we go!

Friday, December 8, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #4

Written by Tim Seeley | Pencils by Joe Ng, James Raiz, & Alex Milne
Inks by Rob Ross, M3th, & Alan Tam | Letters by Brian Crowley
Colors by Kevin Yan, Rob Ruffalo, & Tom Liu | Edits by Mike Sullivan

The Plot: Optimus Prime drives around, rescuing Autobots during the Decepticon assualt, until he's cornered by Menasor and Reflector, who put Prime in communication with Serpentor. Prime agrees to surrender to the Decepticons if Serpentor releases his captives. Meanwhile, on Earth, Cobra Commander and his science advisor, Doctor Knox, are up to something.

Serpentor has a chat with Hawk on the nature of war and needing something to fight for, then Snake-Eyes and Scarlett break free of their cell and bust out Hawk and Roadblock as well. Meanwhile, Hot Rod rallies the Autobots to invade Serpentor's headquarters and rescue their friends. Inside, Optimus Prime is brought before Serpentor, but quickly breaks free and attacks the diminutive warlord. On Earth, the assembled G.I. Joe team prepares to travel to Cybertron and join the fight.

Continuity Notes: Cobra Commander at one point refers to "Mindbender and his lobster-wearing friends." This is presumably a reference to Cobra-La, who captured Mindbender at the conclusion of the previous mini-series, and it seems to imply that Cobra is aware of Cobra-La's existence, at least to some extent.

Ratchet is seen among Hot Rod's team still sporting the modifications he acquired during his two years fighting in Earth's future in G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS II.

Storm Shadow is seen among the assembled Joes on the final page, implying he's switched sides since the events of the first mini-series.

Monday, December 4, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 11

SEPTEMBER 1st, 1980 – NOVEMBER 1st, 1980
NOVEMBER 2nd, 1980 – JANUARY 11th, 1981
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Morose over breaking up with Carole, Peter pays a visit to Aunt May but finds her living in terror over a mystery man called “the Protector”. May explains that this guy has been shaking down the elderly in her neighborhood, demanding protection money in exchange for not roughing them up. Eager for something to take his mind off Carole, Peter sends May to stay with Anna Watson and awaits the Protector’s impending arrival.

Side note: Recall that briefly when the strip started in 1977, Aunt May and Anna were roommates as they had been during the Lee/Romita comic book run a decade earlier. Then, quickly, it was established that no, May lived by herself (albeit in an apartment rather than a house, which is still the case here), but it seemed as if Anna was her neighbor. But now, it looks like Anna lives someplace else entirely, away from the neighborhood and out of the Protector’s reach! She sure moves a lot.

Anyway, the Protector does show up, and surely this is one of John Romita’s finest character designs. He’s just a big bruiser with curly hair, a cowboy hat, an open vest with no shirt underneath, and a bullwhip. And wouldn’t you know it, just as he’s about to come to blows with Peter, Mary Jane arrives and starts flirting with him!

Friday, December 1, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #3

Written by Tim Seeley | Pencils by Joe Ng, James Raiz, & Alex Milne
Inks by Rob Ross, M3th, & Alan Tam | Letters by Brian Crowley
Colors by Kevin Yan, Rob Ruffalo, & Tom Liu | Edits by Mike Sullivan

The Plot: After receiving a briefing on Serpentor from the scientists who created him, G.I. Joe (Hawk, Roadblock, Scarlett, and Snake-Eyes) and the Autobots (Perceptor, Bumblebee, Arcee, and Grimlock) follow him to Cybertron, where they soon come into conflict with Predaking, Pirahnacon, and Serpentor himself. Serpentor kills Bumblebee and the rest of the group is taken captive.

Elsewhere, as the Autobots prepare for a peace celebration, Optimus Prime dispatches Hot Rod to lead a team to track down their missing friends. Meanwhile, more Decepticons are rallied to Serpentor's cause, and soon his Decepticon army attacks the Autobots' party.

Continuity Notes: We're told that "Serpent O.R." is short for "Serpent Organic Robot", named for the serpent which tempted Adam and Eve because the project team was tempted to use Megatron in their construction of the robot. Seems like kind of a stretch, but he had to be named Serpentor somehow, after all.

Snake-Eyes and Scarlett have a tender moment in which he unmasks for her and they share a kiss.

Monday, November 27, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 10

MAY 25th, 1980 – AUGUST 31st, 1980
By Stan Lee & John Romita

It’s bizarre, but somehow Stan Lee and John Romita seem to have decided that Mary Jane and Carole just can’t coexist simultaneously in the ongoing SPIDER-MAN newspaper saga. Carole only developed into Peter’s girlfriend while MJ was out of the picture with Kraven. When MJ returned to town, it coincided with Carole leaving to hide out from the Loomis Cult. Carole eventually returned to New York and she and Mary Jane shared maybe a week’s worth of time as supporting characters before MJ just sort of dropped off the map as Peter picked things up with Carole again.

On one hand, I understand that Carole has been positioned at this point as Peter’s main squeeze, but it’s just bizarre to write Mary Jane out (or simply ignore her) whenever Carole’s around. It’s not like there’s precedent for this. Back during their legendary run on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Lee and Romita had Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy both vie for Peter’s affections, and once Peter settled (fairly quickly) on Gwen, MJ stuck around as a member of the gang. They didn’t just send her off into limbo when Peter and Gwen got serious.


Though I suppose this speaks to one glaring problem with the newspaper incarnation of Spider-Man: there really isn’t a “gang”, at least not in the same way there was in the comics. Sure, Mary Jane is around somewhere. So are Harry and Flash. But for the most part, none of them put in appearances unless the current story arc calls for it. MJ was the catalyst that got the Rattler storyline going way back when. Harry and Flash only pop up when their disco is needed as the backdrop for the ongoing drama. It’s not like the old days, where Lee and Romita would check in on everybody once an issue or so just to remind readers they existed, whether or not they had any ongoing sub-plot of note.

This is probably due to the nature of a newspaper strip versus a monthly comic — in a daily strip, there’s not a lot of time to toss in cameo appearances that don’t further the plot, while a 22(ish)-page comic book does have that luxury.

Friday, November 24, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #2

Written by Tim Seeley | Pencils by Joe Ng, James Raiz, & Alex Milne
Inks by Rob Ross, M3th, & Alan Tam | Letters by Brian Crowley
Colors by Kevin Yan, Rob Ruffalo, & Tom Liu | Edits by Mike Sullivan

The Plot: On Cybertron, Optimus Prime broods until Hot Rod informs him that the team on Earth has run into trouble from Cobra. Meanwhile, the Joes and Autobots finish off Cobra's forces but realize Bumblebee is missing, having gone below ground in pursuit of Cobra Commander. Grimlock, Arcee, Perceptor, Hawk, Roadblock, Snake-Eyes, and Scarlett head down and stop Cobra Commander from killing Bumblebee.

Serpent O.R. appears and takes out the Joes' mechs, then brings the roof down on everyone in the room. He heads upstairs and activates the portal the Autobots used to reach Earth, departing for Cybertron. Once there, he finds the Seacons and Predacons scuffling, but quickly wins them to his cause.

Continuity Notes: Perceptor is horrified to find that humans have been working with the deactivated Megatron and Soundwave, but Hawk protests that he had no idea about it.

Serpent O.R. refers to himself as "Serpentor", so I'll go ahead and start calling him that going forward. (For the record, Cobra Commander called him Serpentor last issue, but I wasn't sure then if it was intentional or a typo.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 9

DECEMBER 24th, 1979 – FEBRUARY 24th, 1980
FEBRUARY 25th, 1980 – MAY 24th, 1980
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Christmas of 1979 finds Peter Parker, as usual, with barely two nickels to rub together in a story arc the BEST OF SPIDER-MAN book called “Requiem for a Super Hero”. Embarrassed that all he can afford for Aunt May and Mary Jane are handkerchiefs, and sobered by Aunt May’s accumulating bills, Peter decides to cast off his costume, retire Spider-Man, and become Peter Parker full time.

But as usual, things don’t work out as planned for our hero. He goes looking for a job, but runs into the age old “experience required” trap. Peter discovers what I learned when I finished college many years ago: you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. He also tries out for the ESU football team, but gets the boot. However, at the very least, Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane is looking up, as the specter of Spider-Man no longer pulls him away from her every night — but soon, as Spidey’s enthusiasm dies down and stops bleeding into Peter’s personal life, our hero becomes brooding and dull, pushing MJ away.


Further, Peter bumps into a few situations where he has no choice but to act heroically even without his costume. In the first, he saves a young child on the verge of falling from an under-construction building, then later, after Aunt May is kidnapped by a group of bank robbers, Peter pursues them and secretly uses his powers to save her.

But in the end, it’s learning that a child saved another child from drowning because he knew Spider-Man would have done the same thing that convinces Peter to don the webs once more.

Friday, November 17, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #1

Written by Tim Seeley | Pencils by Joe Ng, James Raiz, & Alex Milne
Inks by Rob Ross, M3th, & Alan Tam | Letters by Brian Crowley
Colors by Kevin Yan, Rob Ruffalo, & Tom Liu | Edits by Mike Sullivan

The Plot: At Area 52, a U.S. government research center in the New Mexico desert, scientists work on both deactivated Decepticons and a new robotic lifeform called Serpent O.R. Meanwhile, several levels above, at G.I. Joe headquarters, Perceptor, Bumblebee, Grimlock, and Arcee arrive to assist with deactivation of all Cybertronian technology still on Earth.

Cobra attacks the facility and Cobra Commander activates Serpent O.R., but but it quickly turns on him. Naming itself the son of Megatron, Serpent O.R. downloads the history of Cybertron from Megatron's deactivated head and then declares he will find the Autobot Matrix of Leadership.

Continuity Notes: The human scientists are working on the heads of Megatron and Soundwave, still offline since the first G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS miniseries. Among the scientists is one Doctor Chase, actually Zartan's sister, Zarana, in disguise.

The Autobots are disabling all Cybretronian technology on Earth under orders from Optimus Prime, to ensure the planet remains free of further Transformer influence. This includes the mechs provided to the Joes by the Autobots when they left Earth in volume 1 (and which were briefly seen at the start of volume 2).

G1 References: Among the memories he pulls from Megatron, Serpent O.R. sees Quintessons, Alpha Trion, Optimus Primal, Unicron, and the Matrix. The flashback confirms that this continuity follows the cartoon series' idea that the Quintessons created the Transformers.

Monday, November 13, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 8

JULY 16th, 1979 – OCTOBER 7th, 1979
OCTOBER 8th, 1979 – DECEMBER 23rd, 1979
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Kraven’s back! And for all the praise I heaped on the prior “Cult of Loomis” installment for its sophistication relative to the strip’s standard fare, this storyline goes in the opposite direction. But, while the plot is a little simplistic and silly, the arc is no less entertaining than the web-slinger’s exploits against the cult.

The basic story is that Kraven decides it’s time to hunt Spider-Man again, so he returns to New York (accompanied by his assistant and apparent lover, Mary Jane*), and gets Jonah Jameson to spread the word that Spider-Man is a space alien who Kraven will expose. The public quickly turns on our hero and he eventually agrees to have his blood tested on live television to prove his humanity. He succeeds and is declared an Earthling, but Kraven never truly thought him an extraterrestrial in the first place. The entire scam was a ruse to get hold of the wall-crawler’s blood and create a “jungle potion” which will sap our hero’s strength.


But Spider-Man gets the better of Kraven in the end, and the hunter’s honor demands once more that he call off the hunt and go home. Mary Jane elects to remain in New York with Peter, and despite his lovesickness over the missing Carole, our young hero is in excellent spirits as his adventure ends.

Friday, November 10, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS II #4

Written by Dan Jolley | Pencils by E.J. Su, Tim Seeley, Emiliano Santalucia, & Guido Guidi
Inks by Andrew Pepoy & Sean Parsons | Letters by Dreamer Design
Colors by Jeremy Roberts & Val Staples | Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: On Cybertron, the Joes and Cobras, having escaped from Shockwave's clutches, discus their options. Since Transformer sensors don't find anything of interest in organic material, it's decided that Lady Jaye and Roadblock should strip to their underwear and infiltrate Decepticon headquarters. There, while Roadblock distracts the enemy, Lady Jaye reactivates the time portal which Shockwave had disabled. The final Joe/Decepticon group returns from prehistoric times with the Dinobots, who quickly rout Shockwave's forces.

Later, the Autobots send the Joes and Cobras back to Earth, while elsewhere, Starscream pleads with Shockwave for his life. But when a recorded message from Cobra Commander plays from inside Starscream's cockpit, warning anyone against dealing with the traitor, Shockwave turns on him.

Three months later, on Earth, Doctor Mindbender is released from prison by the NSA and flown to a secret faclity. But the agents aren't what they seem, and Mindbender finds himself in the clutches of Pythona and the forces of the Kingdom of Cobra-La.

Monday, November 6, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 7

JANUARY 29th, 1979 – MARCH 31st, 1979
APRIL 1st, 1979 – JULY 15th, 1979
By Stan Lee & John Romita

In a first for the Spider-Man strip, the next story arc continues directly from the prior one — not in terms of a simple teaser set up as the prior storyline ended, which we’ve seen before, but in that the Kingpin, who was pulling strings behind the scenes for the entirety of the last arc, now moves into position as the main villain of this one (sort of).

Still behind bars, the Kingpin orchestrates a prison break — but while most of his fellow inmates flee one direction as unwitting decoys, the Kingpin gets one man, an ex acrobat named Nino, out separately. Kingpin himself remains behind to serve his sentence while instructing Nino in his latest plot: the young acrobat dresses up in a Spider-Man costume and begins committing crimes to ruin our hero’s good reputation. When Nino eventually threatens to walk out on the Kingpin’s scheme, the ganglord reveals that he’s holding Nino’s girlfriend, Marie, hostage against the acrobat’s good behavior.


Meanwhile, the Kingpin’s plot has an unexpected effect on Peter Parker, who suddenly wonders if he’s losing his mind and sleepwalking to commit Nino’s crimes. It’s a stretch, but Lee and Romita have already established that this version of Peter has a tenuous grasp on his sanity as he imagined he was going insane in the second Doctor Doom arc not long ago.

Friday, November 3, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS II #3

Written by Dan Jolley | Pencils by E.J. Su, Tim Seeley, Emiliano Santalucia, & Guido Guidi
Inks by Andrew Pepoy & Sean Parsons | Letters by Dreamer Design
Colors by Jeremy Roberts & Val Staples | Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: Barbecue, Spirit, Doctor Mindbender, Tomax, and Xamot are attacked by Decepticon Sweeps in the post-apocalyptic wasetland, but the Dreadnoks, now more cyborg than human, rescue them. Buzzer, Torch, and Ripper take the humans to the leader of their resistance, Duke (also now a cyborg). Duke explains that the Decepticons invaded Earth in 2014 and have ruled ever since -- but two years ago an Autobot appeared who joined the rebels' cause. Realizing this is the Transformer they came to find, the Joe/Cobra team leaves Duke to search for him. Torch joins their quest in hopes that returning the Autobot to the past will erase his history from existence.

Back in the present, Shockwave and Cyclonus discuss the imminent failure of the force field protecting the remaining Autobots and Joes from an all-out Decepticon assault. In the future, the Joes and Cobras are led by Torch across the wasteland to find their quarry, Ratchet. Now hardened by his fight against the Decepticons, Ratchet agrees to discuss returning to the past if the Joe/Cobra group will help him rescue a group of human slaves from a nearby factory. Their mission is a success, but Ratchet refuses to leave the timeline. Barbecue forces him back to the past, but as soon as the group materializes on Cybertron, Ratchet is shot in the back by Shockwave. The force field has failed and the Autobots have been defeated.

Monday, October 30, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 6

SEPTEMBER 11th, 1978 – NOVEMBER 19th, 1978
NOVEMBER 20th, 1978 – JANUARY 28th, 1979
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Spider-Man’s latest newspaper adventure finds his greatest fear realized, as a mysterious young woman discovers his street clothes — with ID inside, thus revealing his secret identity to her — in an alleyway while he’s busy stopping a robbery across the street. The entire story hinges on a silly premise, though: Peter, wired late at night after finishing his thesis, decides to go outside and clear his head. Literally every other time he’s done this in the history of creation, it’s meant some web-slinging across the city. But tonight, for some bizarre reason, he decides to go for a jog instead, which leads to his needing to change into Spider-Man when he spots the robbery in progress.


But, false premise aside, this is a pretty fun story as the woman, an ex-model named Vera Arlen, blackmails our hero with her knowledge of his true identity into harassing her former employer, beauty magnate Raymond Dexter, who replaced her as his company’s top model with a younger woman when the public demanded a new face for his products. Vera, leaving Dexter’s office in a huff, was disfigured by some chemicals and holds him responsible.

Thanks to the circles in which Dexter travels, there are some fun seventies styles on display in this arc. Big, wavy hair on all the men and women, open shirts for everyone (again, men and women alike, so cleavage connoisseur Stan* was probably pleased with this one), etc. In fact, this is probably the most seventies-looking of all the story arcs so far — and to me, as a lover of that decade’s distinctive, if often tacky, visuals, that’s never a bad thing.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

THE UNBOXING - UPDATE

You may have noticed my last "Unboxing" post was in July. Three months have passed since, with no sign of a new one!

Well, in theory I haven't stopped doing Unboxing posts -- but a confluence of events have led to the feature's absence recently. First and foremost, Marvel, DC, and the rest just haven't been offering a whole lot of stuff that piques my interest. As anyone who drops by here knows, my main comic book tastes lean toward the Bronze Age through the nineties with a strong emphasis on Spider-Man and the X-Men, and there hasn't been a ton of material on that front lately. Which isn't to say I don't have things coming -- there are four Omnibuses and two trade paperbacks on the horizon, but at the moment that's about it.

The other reason I haven't been receiving as much is that, as noted several times in recent months, I discovered the appeal of digital comics late last year. Digital collections are great for stuff I have less emotional investment in. Where before, I might have grabbed a random trade collecting classic Marvel or DC stuff I'd never read, now I'll do it digitally instead, either via Marvel Unlimited or Amazon/Comixology. It's a much smaller monetary investment in something I'm unsure of, and it takes up no physical space on my shelf. Plus, I'm especially inclined now to try digital for stuff from the non-Big Two. IDW, Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, whatever -- with rare exceptions, it's digital all the way as far as I'm concerned.

Thus I've more-or-less decided that, except for material I absolutely know I want to own -- which, since I have a great deal of the other stuff I'd want on my shelves already, is mainly classic Spider-Man, nineties X-Men, seventies Batman, and maybe a handful of other things at this point -- I'm likely to go digital in the future. No more blind buys of trades, or especially Omnibuses, on material I've never read, unless it's something universally acclaimed which I know I want, like MASTER OF KUNG FU or (spoiler alert for a future Unboxing) JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL.

Of course there are other, non-comic book things I buy. All those newspaper strip collections I've talked about recently for example, and certain other collections of material I'm trying out, outside of the superhero genre, which aren't available digitally at all. Plus every Christmas my wife gives me the two Carl Barks Duck books released by Fantagraphics in the preceding year. But I don't receive regular monthly pre-ordered shipments of those things; I usually watch the Amazon Marketplace for deals after they've been released, saving up gift cards to blow on them. Maybe I'll start doing Unboxings for those as I receive them, to supplement the regular stuff. Or perhaps I can do a monthly "Digital Unboxing", though that doesn't seem nearly as fun (and I buy most of my digital stuff on sale too, so it would rarely be current).

I'll figure something out. But for now, just know that I haven't forgotten the Unboxing, and it hasn't forgotten you. It'll be back, maybe next month or maybe in December. We'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, October 27, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS II #2

Written by Dan Jolley
Pencils by E.J. Su, Tim Seeley, Emiliano Santalucia, & Guido Guidi
Inks by Andrew Pepoy & Sean Parsons | Letters by Dreamer Design
Colors by Jeremy Roberts & Val Staples | Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: In the 1930s, Beachhead, Roadblock, the Baroness, and a Cobra Viper named Percy locate Optimus Prime and restore him to robot mode. In the present day on Cybertron, Ultra Magnus informs Stalker that the force field he's using to protect the Autobots and Joes will fail in six hours, meaning the various time-teams have that long to return before the Decepticons attack.

Back in the past, Roadblock and the Baroness infiltrate a gangster's nightclub and find their way to four more Transformers who turn out to be Sunticons Wildrider, Breakdown, Dead End, and Drag Strip. The Stunticons chase Optimus Prime and his human allies across town until they bump into Motormaster. As soon as Motormaster is transformed back to robot mode, the entire group vanishes back to the present.

Meanwhile (sort of), Barbecue, Spirit, Doctor Mindbender, Tomax, and Xamot materialize in an apocalyptic future.

Continuity Notes: Roadblock, pretending to be Miles Davis, plays trumpet for an all-black band as part of his cover.

G1 References: Not really any to speak of here.

G.I. References: Likewise.

Monday, October 23, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 5

APRIL 10th, 1978 – JULY 2nd, 1978
JULY 3rd, 1978 – SEPTEMBER 10th, 1978
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Before we get started this week, let’s have a few observations about comic strip Peter Parker and how he differs from his comic book counterpart.

Back around the point where Mary Jane left the strip and the direction began to shift more onto Peter’s social/love life, John Romita slightly tweaked his iconic character design for our hero. Peter’s hair became a bit shaggier to fit the style of the times, and he began to dress in more contemporary fashions, including trendy open collared shirts. This is no longer the shy bookworm of the Ditko era, or even the reserved, if slightly more outgoing, young man from Romita’s time drawing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. This appears to be a Peter Parker comfortable in his own skin, up on the latest trends, and a bit more dashing than usual.

And along with Romita’s visual redesign, Stan Lee’s scripts reflect a new Peter, as well. He’s still kind of mopey and angst-ridden in private, but he’s also far more outgoing than I can recall seeing him in prior Lee stories. Certainly, to reflect the strip’s interest in bringing a new love interest into practically every story arc, he’s become more comfortable with the ladies. When he met Tana in “Time of the Terrorist”, Peter immediately and without reservation invited her to sit at his table in the library, then told his classmate Carole in no uncertain terms that he wanted to meet the exotic stranger. In the final strip of the Mysterio arc, a Sunday page, Peter boarded his flight back to New York and found himself seated beside a beautiful woman with whom he immediately struck up a conversation by way of a good old-fashioned pick-up line.


This is a Peter Parker I’m not used to seeing, but as an alternate universe exercise, he’s fun to watch. This Peter has allowed Spider-Man’s cockiness to spill over into his personal life, turning him into a trendy, confident ladies’ man. I guess for a character headlining his own soap opera strip, that makes sense. And for however long this Peter lasts, I look forward to following him.

Friday, October 20, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS II #1

Written by Dan Jolley
Pencils by E.J. Su, Tim Seeley, Emiliano Santalucia, & Guido Guidi
Inks by Andrew Pepoy & Sean Parsons | Letters by Dreamer Design
Colors by Jeremy Roberts & Val Staples | Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: G.I. Joe thwarts a Cobra arms deal while Cobra Commander meets with Destro. The Commander has gotten wind of a private lab in Boston which has used Cybertronian technology to open a wormhole to Cybertron. He convinces Destro to help him steal the device. G.I. Joe's undercover agent, Chuckles, reports this new scheme to headquarters as he escapes Destro's mansion.

Eventually the Joes burst in on Cobra as they attempt to harness the wormhole tech. Joes and Cobras alike are transported to Cybertron, where the wormholes go wild and send several Transformers back to Earth at various points in the timestream. Aided by Ultra Magnus and Perceptor, groups of Joes and Cobras are transported back in time to recover the missing robots.

In the California Bay Area of the 1970s, Lady Jaye, Storm Shadow, Snake-Eyes, and Zartan recover Jazz, Bumblebee, Hot Rod, and Blitzwing, and return to the present. Meanwhile, the Baroness, Roadblock, Beachhead, and a Cobra Viper appear in another timeframe in the middle of a skirmish between two groups of mobsters.

Continuity Notes: We're told that it's been two years since the previous G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS miniseries. In that time, the Joes have integrated Transformer technology into their own gear. We see two of the large mechs left behind by the Autobots when the prior story ended, and the Joes have a number of smaller enhancements as well, such as portable force shields.

Monday, October 16, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 4

DECEMBER 18th, 1977 – FEBRUARY 11th, 1978
FEBRUARY 12th, 1978 – APRIL 9th, 1978
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Per an ad reprinted in the IDW AMAZING SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIPS Volume 1 collection, Spider-Man’s next storyline is titled “The Time of the Terrorist” and it features a bit of a departure in style, ultimately heralding something of a new direction (at least temporarily), for the ongoing serial. We begin with a brief Christmas interlude as Peter does some shopping and reflects on his supporting cast, then wonders why Mary Jane hasn’t called since her return from Miami. This is followed by MJ announcing to Peter that she’s taken a new job as an assistant to Kraven, and will be leaving immediately to tour with him!

As noted last time, the comic strip’s version of Kraven is less a super-villain and more a showman who happens to enjoy hunting Spider-Men on the side, so while Peter is troubled by MJ’s choice, there’s not much he can do about it. Thus, Lee and Romita write Mary Jane – who had already been a minor player for the past few storylines – completely out of the ongoing strip for the foreseeable future.

This allows them to change up their formula, and the strip’s concept along with it. Suddenly that MARY WORTH/soap opera style that Lee had wanted from the start begins to take shape. While there are some costumed Spider-action scenes to be found throughout this arc, it focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his love life. It also takes place over a longer period of time than most of the other arcs to date, which typically seemed to cover only a day or a few days at most.

Friday, October 13, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS #6

Written by Josh Blaylock
Pencils by Mike S. Miller | Inks by Cory Hamscher & Armando Durruthy
Letters by Dreamer Design | Colors by Lynx Studio with HI FI Colour Design
Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: With Cobra and the Decepticons mostly routed, Hawk informs the Joes and Autobots of the incoming nuclear missiles. Wheeljack proposes a plan to stop them and teams up with Mainframe and Sci-Fi to commandeer the energy satellite in orbit. After fighting off a group of Cobras including Storm Shadow and Firefly, Wheeljack accomplishes his goal and the missles are destroyed before reaching Cobra Island. However the satellite goes wild, suddenly beaming random energy blasts down at Cobra Island.

Cobra Commander hooks up with Starscream and the duo flees the island together. Megatron attempts to retreat, but is stopped by G.I. Joe and then defeated by Optimus Prime. Prime grabs Megatron's fusion cannon and uses it to destroy the satellite.

Later, the Autobots leave Earth in a newly-constructed spacecraft, having gifted G.I. Joe with Cybertronian technology. Meanwhile, Megatron and Starscream hide out on Earth, and a cabal of U.S. scientists examine the fallen Decepticons recovered from Cobra Island.

Continuity Notes: Trailbreaker, who was decapitated last issue, is glimpsed fighting alongside his fellow Autobots. This would seem to be an art mistake.

G1 References: Megatron wields the energy morning star which made a single appearance in the G1 animation but somehow became one of his iconic weapons in the ensuing decades.

Monday, October 9, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 3

OCTOBER 3rd, 1977 – OCTOBER 29th, 1977
OCTOBER 30th, 1977 – DECEMBER 17th, 1977
By Stan Lee & John Romita

As he mopes over his role in getting the Kingpin’s wife shot, Spider-Man recaps his origin. In this shorter-than-normal arc (known as “Along Came a Spider-Man” in the BEST OF SPIDER-MAN book from the eighties) Stan Lee and John Romita hit all the classic beats of the original Lee/Steve Ditko story from AMAZING FANTASY #15 – Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider-powers, attempts to use his new abilities for profit, lets a crook run free, and later finds that the crook has murdered his uncle – but they also put their own 1977 twist on a lot of it.

It’s never outright stated here, but Peter seems to be in college, rather than high school, when he’s bitten. He and a lab partner are the ones running the experiment which irradiates the fateful spider, and he’s drawn by Romita to resemble his handsome, college-age self rather than the awkward bespectacled teenager originated by Ditko. The story also forgoes the idea that Peter is a wallflower or a loner. He’s clearly friends with his lab partner, and while we don’t see any of his other classmates in this flashback, he seems perfectly socially adept with everyone else he meets.


Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as expected in this retelling. It’s an interesting choice by Lee and Romita to wait nine months into their serial before explaining the hero’s origin, and one wonders if they had ever intended to cover it at all. But in any case, it’s done and, while essential, it’s not exactly remarkable.

Friday, October 6, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS #5

Written by Josh Blaylock
Pencils by Mike S. Miller | Inks by Cory Hamscher & Armando Durruthy
Letters by Dreamer Design | Colors by Lynx Studio with HI FI Colour Design
Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: G.I. Joe attacks Cobra Island while Autobots and Decepticons do battle there as well. Meanwhile, the president approves use of nuclear weapons on the island. Megatron coerces Doctor Mindbender into using the energy satellite to create a near-limitless supply of Energon for his forces. Devastator reinforces Cobra against the Autobots' attempt to break into Megatron's commandeered hideout, while Snake-Eyes battles Starscream.

Eventually Optimus Prime smashes through Megatron's defenses, takes out his troops, and begins a duel with the Decepticon leader. Meanwhile, the Joes, Wheeljack, and Bumblebee take out Devastator while Hawk receives word of the imminent nuclear attack.

Out at sea, a U.S. submarine prepares to launch missiles.

Continuity Notes: The U.S. president here appears to be drawn to resemble George W. Bush, who was, of course, president when this mini-series was originally published.

G1 References: Energon is stored in cube format, as per the original G1 cartoon series.

Body Count: Hound is blasted in half by Devastator, and Trailbreaker (not Optimus Prime, as the cover suggests) is decapitated by Storm Shadow. However later in the issue, Optimus Prime punches a hole through Soundwave's chest while declaring that he will avoid his "vital circuits", leaving him alive. So who's to say which -- if any -- of these Transformers are actually dead?

Oh, Prime also "crunches" Ravage in his fist, which looks positively quaint when one remembers his live-action movie incarnation ripping out the Decepticon feline's spine in the first Michael Bay movie.

Monday, October 2, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 2

MAY 8th, 1977 – JULY 3rd, 1977
JULY 4th, 1977 – OCTOBER 2nd, 1977
By Stan Lee & John Romita

And now a few notable items I didn’t have time to get into last week: As we’ve seen, these strips take place in a separate continuity from the ongoing Spider-Man comics, but a continuity with a similar backstory. Notable tidbits include:
  • Peter resides in an apartment in Chelsea, which was his status quo in the comics at this time (and would remain so for much of the eighties) -- in fact, the apartment is even illustrated by John Romita with the same layout and furnishings as in the comics.
  • Aunt May lives in an apartment, rather than a house, in Forest Hills. This development dates back to the original Lee/Romita run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, where May and Anna Watson shared an apartment together after Peter moved out of May’s house to room with Harry Osborn. Interestingly, the first story arc had May and Anna living together, but the very next one saw May living alone.
  • There’s no sign of Gwen Stacy in any of these strips; she had been killed off a few years earlier in the main continuity but it’s unclear whether she ever existed at all in this one. Mary Jane Watson is Peter’s primary love interest in these stories as in the comics of the era.
  • And, as mentioned last time, Spider-Man seems to be New York’s only superhero at this early stage in the strip’s history.

Our third story arc introduces the strip’s first original villain, and features the newspaper debuts of two stalwart supporting cast members from the Lee/Romita comic book run. It’s also the most soap opera-ish of all the storylines so far, insomuch as it features more Peter Parker out of costume than we’ve yet seen.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

AVENGERS BY BUSIEK & PÉREZ - REMINISCENCES

This is a post I'd hoped to have up much earlier this year, to coincide with the release date of AVENGERS vol. 3 #1 back in February, but I just wasn't able to pull it together in time. Though at this point the post is already years in the making*, so being eight months late isn't too bad when you look at it that way.

Let's start at the beginning, a year or so prior to that late 1997 release date: It was in the aftermath of "Onslaught" that Marvel launched a slew of new #1 issues. You had DEADPOOL, HEROES FOR HIRE, KA-ZAR, MAN-THING, MAVERICK, MARVEL TEAM-UP, and more. Among this group was THUNDERBOLTS, written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Mark Bagley. I'd never heard of Busiek at the time, but Bagley was familiar to me from his days on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and I generally liked his artwork. Nonetheless, I nearly didn't grab THUNDERBOLTS because: what's a Thunderbolt? I was a senior in high school at the time and I had a tight budget; why read some random series about a bunch of new characters I'd never heard of?

Thank goodness for internet spoilers, then! I learned the twist ending to THUNDERBOLTS #1 via an America Online message board within a few days of its release, and promptly went straight out to pick it up. It quickly became one of my most eagerly awaited titles every month. And, eventually, when I learned that its writer would be picking up AVENGERS and IRON MAN when those two returned to the mainstream Marvel Universe after the year-long "Heroes Reborn" event wrapped up, I made sure to put those on my monthly reading list as well.**

Friday, September 29, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS #4

Written by Josh Blaylock
Pencils by Mike S. Miller | Inks by Cory Hamscher & Armando Durruthy
Letters by Dreamer Design | Colors by Lynx Studio with HI FI Colour Design
Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: The reactivated Autobots and Decepticons resume their civil war on Cobra Island. Cobra Commander frees Megatron from his gun mode, and the Decepticon leader challenges Optimus Prime.

Meanwhile, G.I. Joe, Wheeljack, and Bumblebee prepare to head for the island to join the fight, but Hawk is stopped by a pair of generals who order him to stand down so the U.S. can drop a nuclear bomb instead. Hawk is ordered to deactivate Bumblebee and Wheeljack and fly them Area 51 rather than Cobra Island. Hawk initially carries out his orders, shocking the two Transformers with a device provided by his superiors, but Wheeljack remains barely conscious and warns that the nuke would blow up all the energon Cobra has accumulated and plunge Earth into a nuclear winter.

Back on Cobra Island, Storm Shadow rescues Cobra Commander from Autobots Gears and Brawn, while the Baroness saves Destro and Zartan from Rumble. Meanwhile, at Megatron's command, Soundwave orders the Consructicons to spare Doctor Mindbender, and then tells them to protect the energy satellite control module.

At the Pentagon, a group of mysterious generals confers and learns that Hawk has defied orders and is flying G.I. Joe, Wheeljack, and Bumblebee to Cobra Island.

Monday, September 25, 2017

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 1

JANUARY 3rd, 1977 – FEBRUARY 27th, 1977
FEBRUARY 28th, 1977 – MAY 7th, 1977
By Stan Lee & John Romita

I read an interview some years ago with John Romita where he discussed the genesis of the SPIDER-MAN newspaper strip. It’s been a long time, but I seem to recall that Romita wanted the thing to be purely an adventure strip. He had grown up on the works of Milton Caniff and Hal Foster and imagined Spider-Man headlining a nonstop series of high adventure and cliffhangers. Stan Lee, on the other hand — at least per my recollection of Romita’s comments — wanted the series to read more like a soap opera strip in the vein of MARY WORTH.

Personally, I think either concept could fit Spider-Man. The character is, after all, the star of a monthly action-adventure comic book — but at the same time, the soap opera qualities of Peter Parker’s personal life were a major component of the series from the very beginning. And personally, at least as an adult, I’d be very happy with a Spider-Man comic strip that mostly revolved around Peter rather than his alter ego.


But in any case, the strip’s first story arc seems to go more in Romita’s direction over Lee’s. It’s more or less wall-to-wall action as our web-slinging wonder finds himself up against Doctor Doom. The idea to kick this strip off with Doom rather than an established Spider-foe is an interesting one, but it makes sense. More than, say, Doctor Octopus or the Green Goblin, Doom is (or at least was at this point) Marvel’s most recognizable villain.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

SPIDER-MAN: THE NEWSPAPER STRIPS

I bet you thought that with FLASH GORDON coming to an end last month, we were done with newspaper strips around here, didn't you? Well think again, true believers! As noted last September, I have the first two volumes of IDW's "Library of American Comics" reprints of the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN newspaper strip, covering strips from 1977 - 1981 by the all-star team of Stan Lee and John Romita, and the time has come to crack them open.


(This is the point where I go into a quick sidebar to note that, as I've probably mentioned before, Lee & Romita are the definitive Spider-Man team as far as I'm concerned. Others have done great work on the web-slinger, and I technically consider Roger Stern's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run to be more of a favorite than the Lee/Romita stuff due to nostalgia, but if we're talking the most iconic version of the character, his supporting cast, and his status quo, then it's Lee/Romita all the way for me.)

When I was a youngster -- say, maybe seven or eight years old -- I had a book called THE BEST OF SPIDER-MAN, which reprinted a handful of story arcs from the earlier years of the Spidey strip. I very nearly read the cover off that thing, to the point that it became one of the most battered, dog-eared books I owned. In a way, it was more formative of my understanding of Spider-Man than the monthly comics, since I had never really been a regular ongoing reader at that point. So while I've read some of the stuff we're about to embark upon, it's been over thirty years now -- and really, the material covered by that beloved old paperback is only a fraction of what appears in the IDW collection.

Note that while there are a total of four volumes available at the moment, I'm only covering the first two -- the Lee/Romita stuff -- for now. Someday I'll probably check out the post-Romita material as well, but for the time being, all I'm interested in are the first four years. Like most strips, this one is broken into story arcs, and my plan is to look at two arcs per week. Unfortunately, unlike FLASH GORDON, I can't find a nice list of arc titles for the Spidey stuff, so I'll just use the strip dates as identifiers instead.

So get ready, because I expect this will take us through the end of the year.

Available on Amazon: Volume 1 | Volume 2
Also available: Volume 3 | Volume 4

Friday, September 22, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS #3

Written by Josh Blaylock
Pencils by Mike S. Miller | Inks by Cory Hamscher & Armando Durruthy
Letters by Dreamer Design | Colors by Lynx Studio with HI FI Colour Design
Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: Destro inspects Cobra's Transformers and prepares to take them out for a mission. Meanwhile, G.I. Joe makes plans to defend the control center for a prototype energy satellite from an attack Mercer has told them is imminent.

Soon, Destro, Zartan, and Firefly lead an assault with several Transformers as their weapons. The Joes surprise the invading Cobras and fight back, with Wheeljack and Bumblebee soon coming to their aid. But Zartan and Firefly manage to steal the stallite's control module and blow up the building. Cobra escapes, but G.I. Joe makes peace with Wheeljack and Bumblebee.

Wheeljack inspects a bizarre e-mail sent out to hundreds of accounts a few days earlier and realizes that it's Optimus Prime fighting back against Cobra's conditioning. Using Prime's code, Wheeljack sends a signal to Cobra Island which releases the Transformers from their enslaved states. As the Constructicons make trouble for Doctor Mindbender, Optimus Prime confronts Cobra Commander.

Continuity Notes: For some reason Flint and Lady Jaye still don't have their codenames like the rest of the Joes. Maybe they're still informal observers...?

Mutt and Quick Kick (and presumably Mutt's dog, Junkyard) are severely injured when Cobra destroys the satellite control center.

Duke receives some lines this issue in his capacity as G.I. Joe's field leader.

Monday, September 18, 2017

MARVEL FANFARE #13

”THE WIDOW… ALONE”
Script: Ralph Macchio | Pencils: George Pérez | Inks: John Beatty & Brett Breeding
Letters: Diana Albers | Colors: Ben Sean | Editing: Allen Milgrom
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: An unconscious Black Widow is taken to a mysterious island complex, where Snap Dragon brings her before her master, Damon Dran. Dran explains that he has replaced the Widow with a lookalike who Jimmy Woo is bringing back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. The false Widow will lead the helicarrier to Dran’s island and then assassinate Nick Fury on the bridge, escaping just before Dran’s cannons blow the ship out of the sky.

Widow is thrown into a dungeon but manages to escape. She bumps into her guardian, Ivan, brainwashed by Dran, and knocks him out. As she explores Dran’s complex, the Widow is attacked by Snap Dragon, but this time she defeats the assassin. Ivan regains some of his old memory and joins Widow in her mission.

The Widow calls the helicarrier and convinces those aboard that the Black Widow with them in an imposter. Fury shoots the false Widow and orders all weapons to open fire on Dran’s island. The island, filled with munitions, explodes, and the Black Widow and Ivan are found drifting in the sea by a S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft.

Friday, September 15, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS #2

Written by Josh Blaylock
Pencils by Mike S. Miller | Inks by Cory Hamscher & Armando Durruthy
Letters by Dreamer Design | Colors by Lynx Studio with HI FI Colour Design
Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: While Cobra conducts tests on their Transformers, the newly formed G.I. Joe team discusses strategy. Elsewhere, two Autobots, Wheeljack and Bumblebee, have remained free of Cobra's control, and Wheeljack determines where the terrorist organization will likely strike next.

On Cobra Island, Doctor Mindbender has difficulty controlling Optimus Prime. Meanwhile, at NSA headquarters, an analyst named Mainframe is handed some important files. At G.I. Joe headquarters, Snake-Eyes demonstrates his skills to his teammates, but the sparring match is interrupted when Hawk, General Flagg, and Lady Jaye arrive with a Cobra defector named Mercer, who reveals that Cobra's "Battle Android Troopers" are actually sentient alien robots.

Destro arrives on Cobra Island and Mindbender demonstrates the Transformers' abilities to him, then reveals his newest accomplishment: Soundwave.

Continuity Notes: We learn this issue that Cobra needs energon to power their Transformers, and that Megatron, trapped in gun mode by Cobra Commander but allowed to retain his free will, has been helping them gather the ingredients.

The Joe team's ranks have swelled this issue, and they have a bunch of cool-looking vehicles in their headquarters. Among the more notable Joes seen are Scarlett, Doc, Roadblock, Rock N' Roll, Shipwreck, and Quick Kick. Duke is also name-checked (Sergeant Conrad Hauser) and glimpsed late in the issue with no dialogue.

Monday, September 11, 2017

MARVEL FANFARE #12

”THE WEB TIGHTENS!”
Scripter: Ralph Macchio | Penciler/Co-Plotter: George Pérez | Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Jim Novak | Colorist: Bob Sharen | Editor: Al Milgrom
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Black Widow defeats all of the assassins except Iron Maiden, who escapes when S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jimmy Woo bursts into the store. But Widow placed a tracking device on Iron Maiden, allowing her and Woo to follow the armored woman into the sewers. There, Black Widow and Woo defeat Iron Maiden, but both are quickly subdued by yet another assassin — the deadly Snap Dragon.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Kono the Sumo Warrior, one of the assassins, is shot… in the face. By an automatic pistol. Mark Gruenwald would later use him as a villain in the pages of CAPTAIN AMERICA with no explanation as to how he survived being shot… in the face. With an automatic pistol. The kicker: this story’s writer, Ralph Macchio, was editor on those CAP issues!

(There will be more of this next issue, which I’ll cover when we get there.)

Friday, September 8, 2017

G.I. JOE VS. THE TRANSFORMERS #1

Written by Josh Blaylock
Pencils by Mike S. Miller | Inks by Cory Hamscher & Armando Durruthy
Letters by Dreamer Design | Colors by Lynx Studio with HI FI Colour Design
Edits by Mark Powers

The Plot: A clandestine terrorist army called Cobra discovers a crashed spaceship on Earth filled with giant deactivated robots. Some time later, a group of American commandos is dispatched to guard a peace conference when Cobra attacks. Their vehicles are revealed as shapeshifting robots, and while the attack results in minimal casualties, a commando nicknamed Snake-Eyes is maimed. Cobra departs, having delivered a message to the world.

Later, one General Flagg meets with the commandos' leader, Colonel Clayton Abernathy, and with two advisors, Alison Hart-Burnett and Dashiell Faireborn. Together, the quartet makes plans to create an elite military anti-Cobra unit named G.I. Joe under Abernathy's command.

Continuity Notes: We're told that Snake-Eyes is a real chatterbox, but he gets blown up before he has a chance to speak.

G1 References: A number of Transformers from the first two years of the original toyline are glimpsed, deactivated, aboard the spaceship in the opening pages, including (but not limited to) Cosmos, Cliffjumper, Starscream, Jazz, and Megatron. The fact that all these character are aboard ship together seems to indicate that this continuity follows the established G1 backstory, at least up to this point.

Unlike most of his contemporaries (described below), Megatron's alternate mode on Earth is the same as it was in Generation One: a pistol.

Monday, September 4, 2017

MARVEL FANFARE #11

”BACK IN THE U.S.S.R.”
Scripter/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Ralph Macchio & George Pérez
Inkers: Joe Sinnott & Jack Abel (credited as “J.J. Sinabel”)
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski | Colorist: Ben Sean | Editor: Al Milgrom
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Black Widow eludes security forces on the grounds of a Russian mansion, then after making her escape, recalls the chain of events that led to that situation: She arrived in Russia weeks earlier undercover as a defecting American scientist in order to help with the project Ivan was working on for the Soviets. But, unknown to her, the KGB was aware of her identity and fed her information until she made her move to free Ivan, at which point they sprang their trap.

Following the lead of a distinctive dagger used by one of the KGB agents she fought, the Widow travels to Hong Kong — but as she investigates the dagger’s origin, she is attacked by six assassins who take her out quickly and prepare to finish her off.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: A note on the first page tells that this story takes place before the Widow cut her hair and got a new costume in the pages of DAREDEVIL. As a matter of fact, her new look debuted over a year prior to this issue (but one month less than a year before the prior installment) in DAREDEVIL #187 from October of 1982.

S.H.I.E.L.D. is identified per its usual nomenclature of this era, the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

TRANSFORMERS BY DEVIL'S DUE

The past few years beginning in September, I've looked at various smaller/shorter Transformers comic book runs from a couple of publishers. In 2013 and 2014 I covered IDW's TRANSFORMERS: REGENERATION ONE, and in 2015 and 2016 it was Dreamwave's brief time with the Transformers license. This year, my time with the Transformers comes to an end as we look at one last publisher's finite take on the Robots in Disguise.

In 2001, the tip of the spear in eighties nostalgia hit the comic book industry as Devil's Due Press, then an imprint of Image comics, acquired the license to G.I. Joe and launched a new comic book series starring the Real American Hero. Two years later, riding the success of their ongoing JOE comic, Devil's Due negotiated a limited license to team up the Joes with the Transformers. The series was successful enough to spawn three sequels in 2004, 2006, and 2007. I own all of these series, and I seem to recall mostly liking them at the time, so here we go again: for the rest of the year, I'll be looking at Devil's Due's G.I. JOE/TRANSFORMERS comics an issue at a time.

A couple notes: at some point over the past decade, I misplaced my copies of these issues, but since I really wanted to cover this stuff, I went ahead and purchased the digital collected editions in an IDW sale last year (IDW now having the reprint rights since they picked up the full G.I. Joe license several years ago). But the IDW reprints naturally omit the Devil's Due logo and trade dress from the issues' covers -- and since I like to use covers here which fairly closely resemble what was originally published, I've had to furiously Google in search of the original versions. What I've wound up with are scans of varying quality, some quite nice and others of extremely low resolution and/or quality. But know that any substandard covers you see over the next several weeks are the best I could locate!

Also, speaking of those IDW digital collections, the publisher should be pretty embarrassed by what they've put out. Maybe Devil's Due still owns the original digital files or something, but IDW could've invested a bit more in clean-up of what they're distributing. These look like scans of the original issues. Were I so inclined, I could've just pirated this stuff and gotten the same quality. I'm curious whether the physical trades look this bad too.

Lastly, as noted above, this is likely my last autumn go-round with the Transformers. Between REGENERATION ONE, Dreamwave, and now Devil's Due, I will have covered pretty much all the "micro" continuities that interest me. So next fall, whatever I cover will not be related to my favorite Robots in Diguise (though I may try to keep it somewhat sci-fi and/or toy related if I can). Don't say you weren't warned!

Friday, September 1, 2017

RED ONE, VOLUME 2

"UNDERCOVER"
Created by Xavier Dorison & Terry Dodson
Script: Xavier Dorison with the collaboration of Antoine Cristau
Pencils & Colors: Terry Dodson | Inks: Rachel Dodson | Letters: Clayton Cowles

Here we go again. I wrote about RED ONE volume 1 last March, and despite Terry Dodson's beautiful artwork, I wasn't terribly impressed with the story. But these volumes are so cheap that I decided to give the series one more chance to impress me. Did it? Let's find out...

When last we left our Soviet heroine, Vera Yelnikov, she was in battle with the Carpenter, a masked agent of a sinister American fundamentalist named Jacky Core, in Los Angeles. Vera rescues the Carpenter's target, a pregnant lesbian named Judith, and even apparently kills the Carpenter by running his truck off the road and into the water.

From there we begin to learn a few things that -- at least to my year-plus-old recollection -- were either unclear or glossed over in the prior volume: namely, gubernatorial candidate Jacky is a pastor who entertains her flock by showing them a post-World War II fundamentalist film called THE FARM, and that Vera's American employer, porn producer Lew Garner, is working on a salacious remake of THE FARM, called SEX FARM, which he believes will (somehow) ruin Jacky's reputation and cost her the election.

This is a weird book. It's really kind of obvious that it's written by someone born and raised overseas, because his grasp of how things work in the United States is tenuous. Early on, when Vera rushes Judith into a hospital, she's told bluntly that it's a private institution and the doctors will do nothing for the beaten and dying woman. Yeah, we have privatized healthcare in the U.S., and yeah, the bills for the sort of treatment Judith needs would probably sink her into crippling debt... but find me a hospital anywhere in this country that would simply and coldly turn away a mortally injured pregnant woman. You can't. Neither now, nor in 1977, and especially not in Los Angeles, has such a place ever existed.

Monday, August 28, 2017

MARVEL FANFARE #10

”WIDOW”
Wealthy Writer: Ralph Macchio | Co-Plottin’ Penciler: George Pérez
Invincible Inker: Brett Breeding | Additional Pencils: Bob Layton & Luke McDonnell
Laid-Back Letterer: Tom Orzechowski | Careful Colorist: Petra Scotese
Amiable Editor: Al Milgrom | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Nick Fury attends a S.H.I.E.L.D. meeting while the Black Widow is assaulted in her Waldorf Towers penthouse. As Fury recaps the Widow’s origin, she fights off her attackers. Eventually she barges into the meeting and demands to know why S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attacked her. Fury reluctantly informs her that S.H.I.E.L.D. has picked her for a mission to travel to Russia and bring back her one-time ally, Ivan Petrovich.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: The S.H.I.E.L.D. meeting is presided over by Sam Sawyer, Fury’s former C.O. during World War II. Fury notes that, although he is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sawyer has final say on the Petrovich operation, and has chosen Black Widow for it against Fury’s wishes.

The Black Widow’s S.H.I.E.L.D. serial number is 27684-R, she stands 5’9”, and has auburn hair and green eyes, per a display during the meeting. All other information is obscured.

Before she’s aware of who sent her attackers, the Widow sure appears to kill one of them (an assessment Ralph Macchio agrees with in the introduction to the WEB OF INTRIGUE hardcover collection of this story). Considering they’re S.H.I.E.L.D. agents sent to test her by Sawyer, I wonder what Colonel Fury has to say about this?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

BLACK WIDOW: WEB OF INTRIGUE

Remember when we were reading those Frank Miller DAREDEVIL issues and Black Widow ducked out of the storyline pretty early on? And then she returned some time later with a haircut, working for SHIELD? Have you been wondering what she was up to in the meantime? No? Well, we're about to find out anyway.

In 1983, after Miller's DAREDEVIL came to an end with Black Widow in her new look, Marvel published a four-part serial in MARVEL FANFARE showcasing her in a solo adventure set prior to those Miller stories. (We'll get into how and why this might have happened in the ensuing weeks.) I believe I first encountered this story when Marvel published it in a comic book one-shot to coincide with the initial Marvel Knights BLACK WIDOW mini-series circa 1999. Written by Ralph Macchio and drawn by George Pérez, it featured the Widow cast in more of a superspy, rather than a superhero, role, and I really liked it.

More recently, Marvel collected the mini-series, along with a graphic novel from some years later by Gerry Conway and George Freeman, in a hardcover called WEB OF INTRIGUE (conveniently reprinted this past January in paperback format as well). We won't look at the graphic novel, but for the next four weeks, I'll be using my copy of WEB OF INTRIGUE to examine the Macchio/Pérez story issue by issue. I recall liking it back when I was in college; will those positive recollections hold up? Let's find out, beginning tomorrow!

Available on Amazon: Hardcover | Paperback | Digital

Friday, August 25, 2017

BARBARELLA

Writer & Artist: Jean-Claude Forest
English Language Adaptation: Kelly Sue Deconnick | U.S. Edition Editor: Alex Donoghue

I'm not sure what I just read.

I mean, I understand in general, but...

Okay, let's see. I had known of BARBARELLA for years as some kind of campy sci-fi movie from the sixties starring Jane Fonda in a fur bikini. I think I later learned it was based on the work of a French cartoonist. I never saw the movie, but I always thought the comic might be fun to check out someday. Eventually, last year around the time I began to get into digital comics with that big IDW sale I mentioned a while back, I saw a bargain-priced digital edition of BARBARELLA and picked it up. I just read it over the past couple days, and like I said...

I'm not sure what I just read.

BARBARELLA is indeed a sci-fi story, about young woman who keeps getting into all sorts of random predicaments. We begin the story en media res as her spaceship crashes on a planet called Lythion. Barbarella gets involved in a war between the locals and eventually brings about peace between the two warring factions.

Soon after, she hitches a ride on a cargo ship with a captain named (seriously) Dildano and encounters the legendary Medusa under the sea on another planet. This segues into a new adventure as Barbarella and Dildano continue to explore their strange new world. Barbarella finds herself once more drawn into a conflict between two local powers. She infiltrates the home of a sinister hunter named Strickno, dons her famous fur bikini, and gets him killed by one of his own animals.

Monday, August 21, 2017

DAREDEVIL #191

"ROULETTE”
Writer/Penciler : Frank Miller | Inker : Terry Austin
Colorist: Lynn Varley | Letterer: Joe Rosen | Editor: Denny O’Neil

The Plot: Daredevil visits Bullseye in the hospital and plays a round of Russian Roulette with him while his inner monolgooue reflects on a boy who recently shot a schoolmate after seeing DD beat up his father, and on his own father as well.

In the end, DD reveals that there are no bullets in the gun.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: For the most part there are none. This is the final issue of Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL run and is a stand-alone installment. However we do learn that Matt’s dad once hit him after he got into a fight with some classmates.

However, way back when I covered issue 169, Miller's second issue as writer, I noted that he had provided a nice monologue from Daredevil on why, no matter how bad things got, he could never actually kill Bullseye. This issue gives us a very nice bookend to that speech as we see that, sure enough, even at his darkest, Daredevil will hew to his beliefs and Bullseye will live.

My Thoughts: So Matt’s dad once hit him while in a drunken stupor. Because heaven forbid our hero’s idolization of his father be completely earnest. There just has to be some kind of darkness under the surface, doesn’t there? Miller tries to sell this as the moment Matt decided he would become a lawyer, when he recognized that his father had lost control and that laws exist to punish people for doing such things — but why? Isn’t it just possible that a guy could become an attorney and a superhero simply because he was instilled with good values by a father he looked up to? Isn’t that enough?

Apparently not.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

FOUR YEARS

It's that time again: four years and four days ago I made my very first post here, and it's time to acknowledge that anniversary with a quick summary of where things stand at the moment.

My schedule isn't quite what it normally is at this time of year, unfortunately. Way back in December, when I took the month off to spend time with our new baby, I managed to read Frank Miller's entire DAREDEVIL run and compose posts for all of it! It was the biggest cushion for Monday posts that I've ever managed to give myself. Tomorrow the final post goes up, and I've barely even started work on what comes next. This baby has sapped a lot of my quiet evening reading time, and it took me about six months just to read three FLASH GORDON collections! But I'm not too concerned; I think I'll be back on track soon enough. At the very least, I still have Fridays lined up for a while. We just finished Flash's adventures on Friday, and after dallying for the next two weeks on smaller "one-shot" posts, we'll head into this fall's TRANSFORMERS stuff, which is coming along nicely.

And that's a nice segue into a "behind the scenes" sidebar, providing a look at how and where I find time for all these posts. I have two prime reading times during my day: my lunch break at work and in the evening after the baby is asleep. I don't usually bring books to work with me, so that's when I read a lot of the digital stuff I post about. I'll whip out the iPad, read an issue or two, then compose a quick post all in the span of my lunch hour. Then the post gets refined whenever I can find time, usually at night or in the morning.

The evenings are when I read the actual physical books: the Omnibuses, comic strip collections, etc. I try to find an hour, during which I'll read an issue (or a segment of the book or whatever), then type up a post. The only catch there is, as noted, our baby is not very good at sleeping yet, so for several months, my evening hour was often interrupted or never happened at all. Only recently have we finally hit on a routine that seems to work, and things are shaping up so I may soon be able to get comfortably ahead of schedule again.

Lastly, the stats: The X-MEN COLLECTED EDITIONS chart still has the most all-time hits by a mile; I don't think that's ever likely to change. Behind it with about a third as many hits is still my review of the INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS. That'll probably only increase as next year's INFINITY WAR movie gets closer. And more or less tied for third place are some newcomers to these standings: the CAPTAIN BRITAIN reviews and the IRON MAN by Michelinie & Layton reviews.

And those who dare to come here via Google use variations on the blog's name as the most popular search term, followed still by searches for information on the INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS, and, unexpectedly, searches for NEW TEEN TITANS reviews.

So to sum up: Mondays are kind of by the seat of my pants right now, but Fridays are looking good. And of course Sundays will continue to see The Unboxing once a month. I have much less time for the other sorts of posts I used to squeeze in on weekends, but I'm sure some will pop up now and then.

Friday, August 18, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 10

“TRIUMPH IN TROPICA”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

And now we reach the finale of Alex Raymond’s ten-year run on FLASH GORDON. When last we left our heroes, Flash and Dale had made their way into Tropica’s capitol with the assistance of an elderly woman named Tartara and her perennially shell-shocked son, Timor.

Timor quickly turns coward and tries to hand Flash and Dale over to King Brazor’s secret police, but our heroes escape with the assistance of a criminal named Trico. Trico introduces Flash to the Underground, a resistance group working against Brazor. Flash quickly assumes command of the Underground. Meanwhile, Brazor plots Desira’s execution. Flash and Trico work to rescue her, even as news from the front lines comes in: the army of Gundar, which had lain siege to the capitol, has been wiped out.


Amid all this, a female member of the Underground, Gypsa — a beautiful dancer — has made clear her lust for Flash. But, in a surprising twist, there’s no zany misunderstanding on anyone’s part. Flash shuts Gypsa down, Dale retains control of her emotions, and Gypsa — after a brief flash of anger — takes it all in stride, continuing to assist Flash in his mission. It’s all quite refreshing.

Monday, August 14, 2017

DAREDEVIL #190

"RESURRECTION”
Writer/Storyteller: Frank Miller | Penciler/Inker/Colorist: Klaus Janson
Letters: Joe Rosen | Editor: Denny O’Neil | Supervisor : Jim Shooter

The Plot: Daredevil, Black Widow, and Stone fight the Hand at a cemetery, but are unable to stop the ninjas from stealing Elektra’s corpse. Meanwhile, the Kingpin fends off an assassin sent by one of his underlings, Injun Joe. Daredevil visits the Kingpin for help in finding the Hand, and Kingpin asks DD to take out Injun Joe instead. Daredevil does so and is rewarded with the Hand’s location.

Daredevil, Black Widow, and Stone confront the Hand in an abandoned church as they attempt to resurrect Elektra. DD senses a heartbeat and attempts to use mystical arts to resurrect her, as he saw Stone do to Black Widow, but he fails. The Kingpin’s men burst into the burning church and finish off the Hand. Daredevil and Black Widow go outside, leaving Stone to finish Elektra. But before he can do the deed, he senses DD managed to purify her with his attempt to bring her back to life.

Daredevil and Black Widow enter the church once more to find Stone and Elektra’s body gone, with only Stone’s gi left behind. Later, Elektra scales a cliff in the snow, reborn thanks to Daredevil and Stone.

Friday, August 11, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 9

“JUNGLES OF MONGO” | “FIERY DESERT OF MONGO” | “BATTLE FOR TROPICA”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

“Jungles of Mongo” is a relatively short arc compared with Flash’s other recent adventures. It picks up, naturally, directly where “Queen Desira” left off, with Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and Desira having escaped Prince Brazor’s castle into the jungle of Desira’s kingdom. They fight off wild animals and make their way through a bizarre underground cavern where gravity is flipped in reverse, before finding an outpost of Desira’s army. There, they’re nearly turned over to Brazor, who has convinced Desira’s subjects that she died and that anyone claiming to be her is an imposter, but manage an escape into the “Fiery Desert of Mongo”.

This story arc opens with Flash and company fighting against nature in Mongo’s harshest locale yet. The desert presents a dragon, a lava river, and even a “waterfall” of fire as obstacles for the group. Eventually, low on water and supplies, their mounts dead from heat and exhaustion, things look bad for our heroes — until they’re found by a bandit king named Gundar.


This leads into yet another pastiche for Raymond to explore. It’s not quite as overt as some of the previous ones, but the castle inhabited by Gundar and his men carries a sort of “Arabian Knights” vibe. Gundar proves to be an honorable villain as, even while openly planning to turn Flash and Desira over to Brazor, he has the prisoners looked after by his personal physician, fed, and quartered in some very nice guest rooms.

Monday, August 7, 2017

DAREDEVIL #189

"SIEGE”
Writer/Storyteller: Frank Miller | Penciler/Inker/Colorist: Klaus Janson
Letters: Joe Rosen | Editor: Denny O’Neil | Supervisor : Jim Shooter

The Plot: Stone uses his ninja abilities to restore Black Widow’s health. The Hand attack Matt’s brownstone, outmatching the combined forces of Daredevil, Black Widow, Stick, Stone, Claw, and Shaft. Claw is killed during the fight, then Stick and Shaft sacrifice their lives to drain the Hand’s life forces, defeating them.

Stone meditates to determine the Hand’s next move, while Daredevil and Black Widow split up to search for the ninjas. Eventually they return to Matt’s home empty-handed, and Stone reveals that he believes the Hand will attempt to resurrect Elektra to replace the late Kirigi as their ultimate warrior.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: It's revealed that, rather than being his peers as the previous issue made it seem, Claw, Stone, and Shaft are Stick’s protégés.

Heather shows up at Matt's apartment, drunk and submissive. Later, Black Widow visits Foggy (clarifying that apparently the superheroine/superspy publicly dated Matt Murdock while she was Daredevil’s partner) and a Foggy tells her what Matt did to force Heather into marrying him. The pair decide that breaking up Matt and Heather would be best for both, so the Widow forges notes from one to the other facilitating this.

Friday, August 4, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 8

“RETURN TO EARTH” | “QUEEN DESIRA”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

At the end of “The Fall of Ming”, Zarkov picked up signals from Earth and learned that the planet was in the throes of a new World War (though it’s not the World War II that was raging when Alex Raymond crafted these stories; rather it’s a fictionalized war against something called the Red Sword). Seeing his homeworld in danger, Flash had Zarkov and the scientists of Mongo build a ship to take him home, and he, Dale, and Zarkov boarded the craft with advanced Mongo weaponry to aid in the good fight.


“Return to Earth” opens as our heroes splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, where they’re picked up by an American ship and brought back to Washington. Though the government has doubts about their stories of Mongo, our heroes are turned over to an old colleague of Doctor Zarkov, named Grubich, for care.

For the first time, a fairly large plot hole emerges in the otherwise mostly cohesive FLASH GORDON narrative. Though there have been minor hiccups here and there, nothing has been as overt as this: when the strip debuted in 1934, Earth was in a panic because the planet Mongo was hurtling toward it. Zarkov was a world-renowned scientist who developed a rocket he believed could move the incoming planet off course. As we know, Zarkov was successful -- but the rocket crash-landed on Mongo instead, marooning Zarkov, Flash, and Dale there for quite some time.

Now, as we return to Earth, it seems the world has forgotten Mongo ever existed. Besides that, the government appears to have no idea who Zarkov is despite his earlier fame. Plus, as we’ll soon learn in the subsequent story arc, Mongo is apparently nowhere near Earth, and it’s quite a long journey to get back there!