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X-Men comics (July 23, 2014)

This is a fairly light week, blissfully. So let’s get to it.

First Storm #1, by Greg Pak and Victor Ibanez. I got the Skottie Young variant cover, because really, why wouldn’t you? Storm is flying above a little village that’s about to be hit by a tsunami. Beast says she can’t stop a tsunami, but Storm says she actually can, then thinks that it would just divert the problem, and she’ll require finesse. Instead, she forms some cyclones, which moves the water around the village. A girl laughs, and once the village is saved, runs over and hugs Storm. Some soldiers show up, and say mutants aren’t allowed in Santo Marco. She wants to kick some ass, but Beast talks her down, saying it’ll just make the situation worse. She returns to the school, and talks to a student who’s been nicknamed Creep. She wants to go home, and calls Storm a sell-out. She gets pissed, and in the morning, she’s back in Santo Marco. This is good. Pak writes Storm as being perhaps a touch too casual at times, but the overall personality is great. Confident, regal, and with a definite attitude. The story’s a done-in-one, showcasing both who she is and what she can do, and holy hell does it ever show what she can do. The art is likewise excellent. Very clean, very pretty to look at. This is a good first issue, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Wolverine and the X-Men #6, by Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar. Idie and Quire are in the future, and she’s pissed off at him. Evan is in the World, with a bunch of monsters. Back in the future, Future Quire explains that Evan turned Apocalypse, and Idie became his Death. Since killing Evan would’ve made Idie into Apocalypse, Quire trapped him in Cerebra. Blah, whatever, I can’t care about any of this. I can’t. The writing is flat, the art is mediocre, the story is dull. There is absolutely nothing here that is the least bit interesting.

Deadpool #32, written by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, art by John Lucas. I apparently missed #31. Huh. Oh well. Ellie and her adoptive father are running from Ultimatum goons, and get on a train. Deadpool, with his ’70s look, shows up to ask the damaged Agent Preston what happened. He heads to the train station, and gets shot. Meanwhile, Dazzler is in danger from a bunch of vampires. Shiklah comes to the rescue. Preston meets up with Adsit, and we find out that Adsit saw Deadpool murder his own parents. This is another serious, dramatic issue, which is something I always appreciate with Deadpool, though it probably still could’ve used a couple more jokes from him. I hate the art, though.

Deadpool vs. X-Force #2, by Duane Swierczynski and Pepe Larraz. Deadpool does a quick recap, before remembering that recap pages don’t exist in 1863. The Civil War soldiers open fire on X-Force, who take cover. Deadpool slips away during the fight, and some steampunk weaponry shows up. Cable pops back to 1777 to tell Cannonball and Boom Boom that the US Army loses the Battle of Germantown. In 1863, he wants Domino and Warpath to hold off both sides as long as they can. And Cable goes after Deadpool. Another fun issue. Duane writes a spot-on Deadpool. He gets the humour, without it being the whole of the character. The story’s a lot of fun. And Larraz’s art is great – ’90s without being terrible. This is a fun mini, a nice change of pace from the increasingly shitty Deadpool minis we’d been getting.

That’s the X-titles. Some other stuff:

Original Sin: Thor & Loki #2, plotted by Jason Aaron and Al Ewing, scripted by Ewing, first five pages drawn by Lee Garbett, the rest by Simone Bianchi. Out in space, the Guardians of the Galaxy are being attacked in warp drive. They fight back, and they hear thunder. Angela senses that the doorway to the Tenth Realm is open, and she can go home. In the Tenth Realm, Thor introduces himself to the Angels. And then they attack him and Loki. While Thor fights, Loki vanishes, and slips into the Queen’s chambers. There’s some interesting stuff. The Queen is a rather cruel, corrupt bitch, which makes her oddly charming. The action is exciting, though I find Bianchi’s style a bit muddy. Ewing’s writing is sharp as ever. It’s good. Not great, but good.

Original Sins #4. First is a story by James Robinson and Alex Maleev. Some broker is telling his friend that he’s going to bring Doom to his knees. He was caught in the Eye-bomb thing, and learned one of Doom’s secrets, and he’s going to use it as blackmail. He heads to the Latverian Embassy, and finds out that all the people he’d entrusted the secret to are now dead. Then he gets to meet Doom. Then we continue the Young Avengers story by Ryan North and Ramon Villanova. Noh asks Kate to join him, Hulkling and Prodigy at the apartment, but Kate’s in San Francisco (with a dog). Then he tries Miss America, but she’s on a date. They just ordered dessert. Teddy chats with Billy, but tells Billy to keep studying. Noh also uses his phone to scan the information being taken out of people’s heads, and finds it’s being encrypted so only Hood can read it, then uploaded to the Internet. He wants to benefit from the knowledge. My favourite part might be the knowledge that Miss America was on a date. I like to think that after dessert, she and the girl went for “dessert.” By which I mean sex. I want to believe that Miss America got laid. And the final story, written by David Abadta and Pablo Dura, art by Erica Henderson, is at a superhero parade, with various people cosplaying superheroes. Including, for some reason, a Howard the Duck costume. Anyway, an Inuit guy in the crowd flashes back to when he was a kid, and accidentally peed on the frozen Captain America. It’s a silly story, but amusing. Overall, this book is OK. Probably not really worth picking up.

Avengers 100th Anniversary Special, by James Stokoe. After a war with the Badoon, the planet is being poisoned and America is in the Negative Zone. The remaining Avengers consist of Dr. Strange (reincarnated in a black man’s body), Beta Ray Bill, and Rogue (with Wolverine’s healing factor). Some Moloids activate some bombs. They’re under the command of Mole Man the Third. I can’t say I enjoyed this. The art was very off-putting, and the writing was too over-the-top.

 

 

Edit: Apparently, I totally forgot about All-New Doop #4, by Peter Milligan and David Lafuente. We start in 1957, with Ingmar Bergman creating Doop. Then we cut to the present, where Doop asks Mama Doop what awful secret Raze could use as blackmail. We flashback to his childhood, growing up in the deep Marginalia, a realm filled with creatures born of dreams and imaginings. Doop wanted to see the real world, and Papa Doop got mad at him and left, which led to Mama Doop beating Doop. In the present, she yells at him, and he gets fed up and demands to know again what secret Raze might know. In his memories, he finds a camera, and decides to be a chronicler of life in the Margins, until Jung told him to go to California. There, X-Statix! And then he learns his mother’s secret, which I won’t reveal. But I’ll translate the Doop speak. “Doop!” “But it it. It is.” “Oh my sweet Ingmar.” “It is Bergman.” “Who are you? Who are you?” “Bergman. The great Ingmar Bergman.” “You’re having a laugh.” L-leave me alone.” This continues to be ridiculous fun. Just a great book. Tike and U-Go Girl show up. Wolverine, at one point, tells Tike that maybe it’s time X-Statix made a comeback, and Tike agrees that maybe they will. Please please please yes! So much yes! I would love to see X-Statix make a comeback. That series was so good. Milligan’s clearly lost none of his insane talent. So do it, Marvel! Do it!

Pull list for July 23, 2014

Now that I’m doing this weekly pull list post, I’m going to be updating every single day. That’s quite a shift from the couple years of college where I posted once a week. I guess being unemployed has its advantages! Of course, money is not among those advantages, so I’d still rather be working. Someone hire me, dammit! Anywhere looking for a Library Technician, I’m begging you, give me a try!

Anyway, tomorrow. At the store, I’ll pick up Mighty Avengers #12, by Al Ewing and Greg frigging hack-tastic Land; My Little Pony: Friends Forever #7 (Pinkie Pie tries to teach Luna comedy! It is going to be so much awesome!); and Storm #1, by Greg Pak and Victor Ibanez.

I’ll also review Avengers 100 Anniversary Special, by James Stokoe; All-New Doop #4, by Peter Milligan and David Lafuente; Deadpool #32, written by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, art by John Lucas; Deadpool vs. X-Force #2, by Duane Swierczynski and Pepe Larraz; Original Sin: Thor and Loki #2, written by Al Ewing and Jason Aaron, art by Lee Garbett and Simone Bianchi; Original Sins #4, by various; and Wolverine and the X-Men #6, by Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar.

So, after the wallet-crushing beating from last week, this week’s very light. I’ll be picking up three comics at my LCS, and reviewing an additional 7, giving me 8 reviews total.

The Marvel comic I’m probably most looking forward to is Storm, if only by default. Much as I love Ewing’s writing on Mighty Avengers, Land’s constant tracing and recycling drags it down, so I look forward to the writing while dreading the art. (Luckily, it seems Land will soon be leaving the book; then I’ll no longer feel guilty and dirty when I buy it.) Nothing else coming out this week excites me enough for me to add them to my physical collection, taking up space. So Storm becomes most-anticipated by default.

Storm’s never been one of my favourite characters. I like her well enough, there’s just a lot of characters I like more. I do prefer her with a hard edge and an attitude, and that’s the Storm we’ve been getting lately. Hopefully, Pak keeps that side of her prominent. But anyway, even if Storm’s not one of my favourites, she’s definitely an iconic character, one of Marvel’s biggest (I would argue that she’s both their biggest female character and their biggest character of colour, and their third-biggest X-Man behind only Wolverine and Cyclops, and even then, it’s debatable if she’s less big than Cyclops). So the fact that, in the 39 years since she was created, she had never had a solo title was ridiculous. Gambit got several tries, Cable got multiple solos, Rogue got a couple chances, even frigging Jubilee had a short-lived solo title. (Speaking of that Jubilee solo, while it wasn’t a good book, I thought there was some potential in it. It could’ve been good. There were elements in it that worked for a Young Adult series, the problems came about from it just not being all that interesting.)

Storm was long overdue for a chance at an ongoing. And given my own desire to see more diversity in comics, I feel like I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t at least try it, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is and picking it up. I like that they gave it to Greg Pak, a person of colour. He’s talked about how he, as an Asian-American, really appreciated Storm, because she looked different from the people around her, the way he did. Pak’s a good writer, too. Again, not one of my favourites, but a solid, talented writer. And, again, I want more diversity behind the scenes, so I’m going to support this move.

Speaking of diversity . . . Lady Thor and Falcon as Captain America. These have gotten a lot of attention. Personally, I have no problem with either move. Thor’s lost his hammer before, and others have been worthy to use it, so I see no reason why a woman couldn’t be worthy. One bit of speculation I saw – strangely, I found it in the comments of a horribly offensive and mind-numbingly stupid article on a Men’s Rights Activist site (MRAs, of course, being universally offensive and stupid, and if you are one, and you feel insulted, good, you should feel insulted, because I’m insulting you, you worthless genital wart masquerading as a person) – was that the woman could be on of Thor’s future granddaughters. That might be interesting. I’d be down with that. The complaint I have with Lady Thor (by the way, I do want to make clear that I’m using “Lady” in the formal sense, “Lady” being equivalent to “Lord”) is the costume. It’s just not a very good design. The helmet, the metal bra, the chunks of metal around her ankle, the weird slit exposing a couple inches of her belly – it’s just a weak design.

I’m also fine with Falcon as Captain America. (Or, as Colbert put it, Captain African-America. Or, the stupid version I came up with, Captain Samerica. The version a lot of people are using is Captain Falcon.) It makes sense in-story. So whatever.

The big complaint about these things is that they’re gimmicks. And, honestly, it’s hard to argue with that, though it’s worth noting that just about everything in superhero comics is a gimmick. I do find it hard caring one way or the other, since these are both likely to be reversed by thetime Avengers 2 comes out. (Tom Brevoort says they won’t. We’ll see. Either way, I don’t see these stories lasting a long time.) I do hope that both characters get their own books after leaving these identities, and I hope having the identities leads to people following them. I don’t plan on picking up Captain America, because I don’t care about Falcon, and I don’t like Remender’s writing style. I also probably won’t be picking up Thor, unless the storyline turns out to be really, really good. Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder has been great, but not enough to get me to buy it. I do feel a bit guilty about the fact that I won’t be buying Captain America while Falcon’s in the title role, and I also don’t plan on buying the upcoming Deathlok series. I want to support diversity, so I feel bad not buying books that do that. But at the end of the day, I’m going to buy books I enjoy, and I don’t think I’ll enjoy either of those. So, oh well.

I’ll end the topic by linking to perhaps the best satire I’ve seen of the whole thing: New Wolverine is a trangender Samoan atheist. The key part is the very end: Quesada agreed that this is a lot of fuss about nothing. “Jesus Christ, people. It’s just a gimmick. It’s not like we’re hiring minority writers.”

On another note, I read the first volume of Hopeless Savages, by Jen Van Meter and Christine Norrie. It was released by Oni Press, the same publisher who put out the Scott Pilgrim books (which were amazing). I loved it. It’s hilarious. It’s violent, but cartoonishly so. It’s vulgar, but the profanity is all either nonsense words or British (which is nonsense words anyway). The main character is named Skank Zero Hopeless-Savage. Her brothers are named Rat and Twitch Strummer, and her sister is Arsenal Fierce. The story involves their punk icon parents being kidnapped by a producer who wants the rights to a cheesy pop hit the father wrote before he turned punk. It’s utterly ridiculous, and thoroughly enjoyable. The art is fairly conventional, but with just enough of that punk attitude shining through. It’s a great book, and I’d definitely recommend it (if you can find it). And it makes me even more convinced that Marvel needs to give Jen Van Meter more work. It’d be nice if they gave some work to Christine Norrie, too. And to Chynna Clugston-Major, who did some flashback sequences.

I still haven’t won any books from Goodreads. I guess I’m just not very lucky. It’s tragic. It’s not surprising, though. When the odds are one in several hundred, you probably shouldn’t get your hopes up. I think the best thing I’ve ever won was in, like, grade 7 or 8. I won a hat. A Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup Champions hat. It was signed by 9 or 10 of the players, though I have no idea who. I can’t make out any of the scribbles. I wonder how much the hat is worth. I should try to sell it online. The thing is, without knowing the names, I don’t know how much I should hold out for. I mean, I might be able to get a hundred or so for it if there’s no future Hall of Famers, but maybe I could get more if there’s someone who ended up being a huge star. I don’t know.

Jeopardy is doing its Teen Tournament. I like the Teen Tournament, because I know more of the clues. It makes me feel smart, until I remember that these are meant for people literally half my age. “Yeah, suck on that, you high-schooler planning a career in astrophysics! I know slightly more useless trivia than you do! I rule!”

That’s probably enough rambling for today.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights

I finished reading Nelvana of the Northern Lights (which is available here), so it’s time to give my thoughts on it.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights was a Golden Age superhero, created by Adrian Dingle. The character debuted in Triumph-Adventure Comics in August 1941. She was actually inspired by stories Dingle heard from a friend of his, painter Franz Johnston (of the Group of Seven), that Johnston brought back after spending time with some Inuit people.

In the comics, Nelvana is the daughter of Koliak, King of the Northern Lights. She comes to Earth to help the Inuit against the “Kablunets” – it’s the Nazis. She works with her brother, Tanero, who can change his shape (with Nelvana’s help) from man to dog. Eventually, Tanero drops out of the book, and the focus actually shifts away from the war as Nelvana enters a world beneath the surface of the Earth, “Glacia.” After a little while there, it shifts focus back to WW2, but the villains now are the Japanese. After the war ended, Dingle tried to carry the character on as a special agent fighting various criminals, but that didn’t last long, and he abandoned the character.

One thing to keep in mind when reading these stories is the time period. It was the ’40s, before the idea of “racial sensitivity” existed. So there’s definitely elements in the stories that, looking on them now, are pretty cringe-inducing. But I honestly think that, for their time, they were shockingly progressive. Take the character of Nelvana herself. While she does sometimes get captured, it doesn’t happen very often. She has an amount of agency that one wouldn’t expect in the ’40s – hell, it’s about equal to what you’d expect of female characters today. She’s a commanding presence – she sees a problem, comes up with a plan, and anyone around her immediately falls in line. Her powers aren’t really well-defined, and she actually has no real powers of her own – she’s simply able to call on her father’s aid, and he does whatever’s needed at any given moment. Invisibility is a fairly common power. She’s also able to use Koliak’s power to wreck Nazi planes. Just totally destroy them. She’s also capable of instantaneous travel through her father’s lights. So for the most part, her powers wind up being “get daddy’s help.” But she’s also capable of coming up with her own solutions to problems.

Also of note is that she rarely gets truly surprised. She’s almost always in control, if not of a situation, then of her own reaction to it. She doesn’t get afraid, or angry, or lose her confidence in herself. This sort of iron will and self-control is rare in female characters today (slightly less rare in male characters, though still very rare). It’s interesting to see.

So it’s surprisingly progressive in terms of gender. How about race? Well, it was the ’40s, so obviously, it was horribly racist. But even there, it feels progressive by the standards of the day. While it treats the Inuit in a condescending and patronizing way, it did at least make heavy use of them, and it does feel like it’s coming from a good place. And honestly, it’s not hard to find modern stories that are even more condescending in their treatment of First Nations and Native American people. Reading Nelvana, I got the feeling that Dingle was at least trying to be respectful, he was simply held back by the colonial views of his era, and it’s hard to truly fault him for it.

Much the same actually applies to his treatment of the Japanese. Yes, there’s references to their “slit eyes.” Yes, the words “Yellow Peril” are used. Yes, there’s the offensive phonetic accent when Japanese characters speak. But despite the racism, it comes across as an oddly Canadian type of racism – offensive, but weirdly polite about it. It’s not even close to being the worst depiction of Japanese people during WW2. Honestly, it’s probably the least awful depiction from the whole period. He doesn’t do too much in the way of exaggeration of their features, and he actually does have some Japanese characters speaking fairly normally.

Now let’s talk about the art. I’m not generally a fan of Golden Age comic book art. I find most of it to be rather crude, compared to what I’m used to. I can respect that it set the foundation that’s been built on, but in the end, I’d rather look at what’s being done today. Nonetheless, there is a certain power to Dingle’s art. It’s probably because he was already a successful and mature artist before he turned to comics. A lot of Golden Age comics were drawn by people who were basically kids. Dingle knew what he was doing, and he did it well. The art is still distinctly crude by modern standards, but less so than with a lot of other comics of that time.

The stories themselves had the same weaknesses as so many other stories back then. They were very simple, and routinely had things happen for the sake of convenience. Dingle did seem to at least try to maintain a degree of coherence, which not all writers back then did. He sometimes tossed away elements that were inconvenient. (For example, early on, Tanero wasn’t allowed to be seen by the eyes of white men. But in another story, that gets completely ignored as he masquerades as a German officer.) The Glacian stories wind up being a little convoluted. A story where she and an RCMP officer go fight “Etherians” – beings who live in the ether, unseen by human eyes, and who are apparently being driven crazy by radio waves – is kinda silly. The final few stories, where she fights various criminals, are bland and feel like they’re missing most of the story. But there’s a certain quaint charm to the stories, all the same.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Nelvana of the Northern Lights. It was a really interesting look at Canada’s first national superhero, a little piece of Canadian history. I’d definitely encourage anyone to check it out. It costs $45 for the hardcover, or you can buy a PDF version for $15. I’d like to say you can also try your local library, but even Ottawa Public Library doesn’t have it, which is insane to me. Anyway, it’s a great read. It makes me want to see modern stories published using Nelvana. Someone should make a new Nelvana of the Northern Lights series. She’s a compelling character, so it’d be fun to see.

Dazzler #29 (1983, November)

I’ve finished Nelvana of the Northern Lights. I’ll try to post a review tomorrow. Today, by Jim Shooter and Frank Springer, “Fame!”

Fame!

Kinda uninspired for Bill Sienkewicz. A bit of a let-down.

We start with Dazzler dreaming about success. Lois disturbs her, and they lounge by the pool. Dazzler mentions that she can stare at the sun without hurting her eyes, and only learned a year earlier that normal people can’t do that. I have to say, that might be one of my favourite lines in Dazzler’s entire run. It’s such a little thing, but it makes so much sense, and adds to her character. Anyway, Lois talks about how much she hates being a mutant, and Dazzler talks about the trouble her own power’s gotten her into. Lois then talks about how weird it is meeting her father again, after not seeing him since she was a toddler. Lois is a little scared of him, and Alison agrees. She also mentions that she’ll be meeting Roman Nekoboh shortly.

We cut to Roman Nekoboh’s mansion. He’s a fat, bald, toothless old man wearing glasses. But he puts in dentures, contacts, a wig, a girdle and some fine clothes, and then gets into the character of an arrogant, conceited asshole. He heads down to meet his business manager, who warns him about how broke he’s getting. Roman says he’ll make a pirate movie, with himself as the star, and that Dazzler’s going to be his co-star.

Then to Alison doing a photo shoot. After the shoot, Roman shows up to meet her, and flirts with her. He takes her out the back way, and buys an $80 000 car on the spur of the moment. He talks fast, and Alison feels overwhelmed. He takes he to his private jet. She looks out the window at the mountains, and we get an aerial shot of the plane. The dialogue suggests that Roman is basically trying to force himself on Alison. She keeps telling him no, and he keeps insisting. Then a fighter jet flies around them and attacks. Roman’s knocked out, so Alison fires a laser blast out the window at the attacking plane. But the pilot was shot, and is hurt badly, and Dazzler doesn’t know how to land the plane.

I hate Roman Nekoboh. He’s an asshole. There’s no two ways about it. He’s a sleazy asshole who was trying to force Alison to sleep with him. He even referred to it as a “screen test,” though the more common phrase would be “casting couch.” And guys who pull that shit are reprehensible. Beyond that, no means no. As soon as a woman says no, you back right the fuck off. You don’t keep telling the girl she wants it. She knows what she wants. So Roman’s an awful, awful person. Which makes it so much worse that, eventually, she actually does wind up falling in love with him. Of course, that was a common problem with Dazzler’s series – the guys she was put with were always either painfully dull or overzealous assholes who refused to take “no” for an answer. Maybe it’s just different times. Maybe, 30 years ago, pressuring a woman like that wasn’t seen as all that bad. In which case, holy shit, people 30 years ago were awful. Either way, reading this today is deeply uncomfortable. The fact that the “camera” cut away outside while it was going on makes it even worse, because we don’t actually see what Roman’s doing. But we can imagine. We all know what he was doing. And well know that what he was doing was reprehensible, no matter how much Shooter and Springer tried to play it for laughs.

Beyond that, Shooter’s writing is OK. Springer’s art is also OK. I do like that the story tried to get back to Dazzler’s career. The photo shoot was for album artwork, apparently, and we do get other references to it. Pretty soon, though, the book is going to shift focus to her pursuing an acting career.

Also in November 1983, Marvel Team-Up #135, by Bill Mantlo and Ron Frenz. It features the team-up of Spider-Man and Kitty Pryde. Who’s actually called Kitty Pryde on the cover. I find it funny that, prior to becoming Shadowcat, she basically had no codename. No one in the comics called her Ariel or Sprite, so eventually, it was simply conceded that she was Kitty Pryde. Anyway, it starts with Spider-Man being captured by Morlocks. Meanwhile, Kitty is babysitting a couple of kids playing Sewers & Serpents. Kitty is not having a good time. Storm says it can’t be that bad, but Wolverine says he always agreed with WC Fields on kids: “I like ‘em broiled.” Well said, Wolverine, well said. She gets fed up hearing the kids bickering, and yells at them and puts them to bed. The kids sneak away to the site of a housing development. It’s at the early stages, just a pit. One of the brothers slides down, and drops a rock, which he doesn’t hear hit the bottom. Then he lets out a scream, and the other brother runs away to get Kitty. They’re attacked by Morlocks, and the second brother is taken away. Kitty follows, and finds an underground magnetic railroad. Magne-cars. How a bunch of people living in sewers managed to come up with something that advanced will never be explained. Oh, comics.

The brother is taken to the Morlock leader. It’s a group of human Morlocks. The brothers are reunited in a cell which also has an unconscious Spider-Man. The little brother is acting brave and smart, and manages to knock out the energy bands keeping Spider-Man unconscious. Kitty manages to catch up, but almost gets killed when Spider-Man kicks the door off its hinges. The Morlocks attack them all. The kids are being threatened by the leader, so Spider-Man pulls a Fastball Special with Kitty. I won’t count it towards the Fastball Special Tracker, since it didn’t happen in an X-title. They all manage to get out, in New York City.

It’s a fun story. Mantlo had a good grasp on Kitty’s voice. She was smart, brave, sarcastic, a little petulant – she was pretty much what she needed to be. The story itself was simple, but enjoyable. It does treat it as though it’s the first time Kitty and Spider-Man have met, but she did meet him once before, when Wolverine brought him home. I suppose this was the first time she got to see him in action, though. She was suitably impressed. Though she was impressive, herself. And this was before she even got a crash course care of Ogun and Wolverine! So, yeah, good story.

A couple other comics I want to mention from that month. Amazing Spider-Man #246 had a bunch of daydreams from various characters. It was hilarious. A fantastic issue by Stern and Romita, Jr. Meanwhile, Defenders #125 had Beast, Iceman and Angel as part of the core of the new team (which also included Moondragon, Gargoyle and, of course, Valkyrie, who was arguably the core Defender). And Thor #337 saw the start of Walt Simonson’s legendary, definitive Thor run. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Song of the day: Sophia by Laura Marling.

Alpha Flight #4 (1983, November)

We’ve got more Marrina today, with “Resolutions!”

Resolutions!

Doesn’t seem like much of a trap. The more the globe crumbles, the easier it’ll be for her to get free. What happened to classic death traps like tossing Ant-Man in a bathtub?

Before I get to it, I should talk about Fantastic Four #260, to explain how Invisible Woman and Namor got there. It starts with Namor exploring the Arctic after hearing about something weird going on. A bunch of barbarians had shown up at Atlantis asking for refuge. Namor dives into the water, and his wristbands start dissolving, and he gets weaker. At the end of the issue, Namor shows up, asking her for help. Now, to AF #4.

Sue and Namor are in the Arctic, and he explains about the toxic waters. The Fantasticar’s sensors pick up something, and Sue manages to get better resolution. It’s the Master’s base. The car is shot down. Snowbird, in bear form, hears it happen, then enters the base. Inside, Guardian explains to Sasquatch that Aurora is a split personality. She wakes up and runs off, and Sasquatch follows after revealing that he’s been boning Aurora. He talks to her, telling her about the fact they’ve been boning, and she remembers it, and gets angry. Guardian manages to find Northstar, and says they need to shut the place down.

Outside, Sue and Namor land after she protected them with a force field. Namor tears out a chunk of ice, and they go into the water to reach the base. They eventually reach the Master, in the middle of lecturing Marrina. He tells her about an alien race whose planet is dying due to overpopulation. They colonize other planets, stripping them bare. Their strategy is to send a ship to a planet, drawing in the dominant lifeform, and then its genetic pattern fed into millions of eggs, which will then be launched to every corner of the world, to hatch and eventually conquer. The one sent to Earth had a problem, and one of its engines exploded, and when it crashed, it launched out the eggs early. One of the eggs was Marrina’s.

Sue and Namor drop in, and the Master has his ship attack them while he escapes, thinking about how everything goes according to his plan. Snowbird shows up to free Marrina, and Guardian and Northstar damage the power plant. The various heroes regroup, and the base blows up, with everyone saved by Sue’s force field. Namor and Marrina search the waters for the Master, but there’s no sign of him or the base. Snowbird heads back to her job, and Marrina leaves for Atlantis with Namor. Guardian goes to let Marrina’s adoptive brother, Dan, know about it.

John Byrne was continuing to kill on Fantastic Four. On Alpha Flight . . . less so. It’s not that this was bad. It’s that it wasn’t really great. Way, way too much exposition. There’s a little bit of characterization here and there, and it’s very good where it appears. But there’s an insane amount of exposition, and it’s not very interesting exposition. Like I said last time, the Master was a goofy villain, and a lame one. Marrina leaving with this issue may have also potentially hurt her character. We didn’t get much time to get used to her and figure out who she is, and we never really wind up getting that chance in the years to come, where she makes fairly sporadic appearances in Alpha Flight and later Avengers. Also, the finale of this issue, with Dan Smallwood, ends up feeling really weak, because we never really saw him and Marrina together. It’s supposed to be sad, that he lost the girl he loved, but we have no reason to care about him or his unrequited love. (Also, they were raised as siblings, so should he really have romantic feelings for her? That feels weird to me. The Westermarck Effect should’ve come into play to stop that. Though the same criticism applies to the Nightcrawler/Amanda Sefton romance.)

On the plus side, Byrne’s art is always excellent. Has Byrne ever done a bad drawing? He’s got a very distinctive style, but it’s also a very, very appealing style.

Song of the day: A Whole Lot Better by Brendan Benson.

New Mutants #9 (1983, November)

My copy of Nelvana of the Northern Lights (available for purchase here!) came in the mail today. I’ll try to read it over the weekend and post a review soon. But for today, by Claremont and Buscema, “Arena.”

Arena

Who’s he giving the thumbs-down to? Is he disappointed with the fight itself?

The Mutants are taken to Nova Roma (“New Rome,” we’re helpfully told, in case we’re not able to pick that up). Anyway, it’s a Roman city. Despite the cloud cover, it seems to be pretty bright. Just like the Savage Land, in that sense – constant cloud cover, yet it looks like a sunny day. Amara’s feigning unconsciousness, and asks Sam not to fight the Legionnaires. The five of them are thrown in a dungeon, where Amara gives her full name as Amara Juliana Olivia Aquilla, daughter of the First Senator Lucius Antonius Aquilla. She explains that the city is made up of a mix of Romans and Incas, and while Nova Roma is a republic, some want to go with the monarchy of the Inca Empire. She opposed that, but fears that if her activities are discovered, it’ll ruin her father’s career. The Mutants talk it over, with Rahne and Bobby not trusting her. Dani accidentally pulls out Amara’s nightmare – being thrown into a volcano. Foreshadowing! Sam and Bobby want out, so Bobby smashes the door, which releases a bunch of darts with a knock-out drug.

We cut to the Senate baths, where everyone speaks Latin, as they logically should. Senator Aquilla is asking a Marcus Domitius (Gallio), commander of the civic guard, about the captured Mutants. Sam and Bobby will be sent to the arena, and the girls will be sold into slavery. Gallio goes home, angry at his plans being thwarted. His wife, Selene, offers to kill Aquilla, but he declines. She brings him into a dungeon to speak with Castro, the guy who drugged the Mutants last issue. Castro offers to broker a deal with his own boss, trading weapons for mining rights.

Later, the girls are at the House of Women, being pampered, to prepare them to be sold into slavery. The girls are enjoying the pampering. They’re given drugged wine, which Dani and Rahne drink, and start acting drunk and giggly. That night, Amara tries to get them to leave with her, but it’s no use. She starts slipping away herself, but starts feeling really hot. Then she’s found by the Black Priestess, the woman who throws girls into a volcano.

Beneath the Circus, a couple gladiators are doing some training, while Bobby and Sam are chained up.  Later on, the games are about to start. Sam and Bobby are drugged before being tossed into the arena. Bobby uses his powers to take out the two gladiators in front of him. Sam and Bobby start kicking some ass. Then they attack each other, and wind up hitting so hard they’re both left drained. Rahne is cheering on Sam, calling him her love, and when she sees him in trouble, it causes her to change to wolf form. Her mind-link with Dani winds up snapping Dani out of her drugged stupour. Dani snaps the others back to normal by summoning up a psi-image of Xavier.

Everyone’s ready to tear the Mutants apart, but Gallio has another idea. He declares them heroes and demi-gods, and Rahne as a descendant of Julius Caesar, and of the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus.

A good story, and a fairly important one. We learn more about Amara, and it’s interesting stuff. We get some foreshadowing of her powers. And we’re also introduced to Selene. She, of course, will wind up being a major villain, for both the New Mutants and even more for the X-Men. This issue doesn’t tell us much about her, except that she has “dark powers,” but it hints at quite a bit. The characterization’s good. One interesting thing is that Bobby succumbs to the violence drug immediately, while Sam tries to fight it off. I think that says a lot about both of them. Bobby’s got a lot of anger – especially since he doesn’t know in this issue if his mother’s alive or dead – while Sam’s got a strong moral code. Sam’s also the only one who shows a real willingness to trust Amara, and I have to wonder if it’s because she’s a pretty girl. Bobby’s too angry to care about her looks, Rahne resents Amara for hiding the fact that she speaks English, and Dani . . . Dani actually seems a little overwhelmed. She doesn’t really do much, for the most part. It’s interesting, the way she can switch from headstrong to cautious so much.

Buscema’s art is good. Everything looks appropriately Roman. The amount of light the city seems to get seems odd to me, but I guess it can be marked down to being a comic book. The arena fight is great. It’s exciting and well-choreographed. Buscema does action really, really well.

Song of the day: Brodka by Varsovie.

Uncanny X-Men #175 (1983, November)

A special extra-sized issue! By Claremont and Smith, “Phoenix!”

Phoenix!

A cool cover, but I feel like it could still be better.

The X-Men are cutting down an old, near-dead tree. Storm feels bad about not sensing its illness. Then the Phoenix bird shows up and drops Scott. They all gather in Xavier’s study, to talk about the return of Dark Phoenix. Xavier’s got some questions – he didn’t sense Phoenix’s rebirth, even though he should have, and he’s also not sure why Phoenix fried Scott then healed him. He tries to use Cerebro to find Phoenix, but it winds up putting him in a coma. Then Phoenix emerges from Scott. She easily defeats the team, then leaves. The team tries to contact the Starjammer, only to see it destroyed. Then they contact Avengers Mansion, but it’s destroyed, too, along with the rest of New York City.

In the infirmary, Nightcrawler says Xavier should recover, but Scott, while healthy, seems to have simply lost the will to live. His spirit leaves his body, but is sent back by his mother. He wakes up, alone, and figures out what’s going on, and who’s behind it. He decides he needs to do some planning before meeting with the X-Men. Ten minutes later, when he enters the briefing room, they see him as Dark Phoenix. Colossus breaks a couple of his ribs with a punch. And from here on out, we see why Scott is a badass. He blasts Colossus, then topples him into Storm. He blasts at Nightcrawler, hitting Wolverine instead, then hits Nightcrawler coming out of his teleport. He runs out of the room, but Kitty tackles him. He uses that to his advantage, toppling them off the balcony and through the floor, down into the Danger Room. Nightcrawler teleports down to activate the Danger Room. Scott knocks Kitty out with a nerve pinch, then Nightcrawler gets shocked when he tries to activate the Danger Room.

And then the rest of the X-Men arrive, but Scott’s ready. He transferred control of the Room to a portable console. He activates a Savage Land simulation.

Elsewhere, Mastermind is impressed with Scott’s resourcefulness, while Maddie wants to know where she is and why she’s dressed like Dark Phoenix. He wants vengeance against the X-Men, and he’s going to achieve it by tricking them into killing Maddie. It’s strongly hinted, though not explicitly said, that he was responsible for Emma’s coma and Mystique’s nightmare. What’s not explained is how he put Emma in a coma, or made Rogue leave Mystique, or a few other questions of how he achieved some of the things he did. He takes Scott’s form and makes Maddie kiss him, then retuirns to his normal, creepy-pervert look, then back to Wyngarde.

Down in the Danger Room, Scott takes out Wolverine with an optic blast to the back of the head. Yay! Always nice to see. Colossus chases him, but drops into quicksand. Cyclops reaches a clearing with a cave at the end. He puts on a breathing mask, then runs into the field of flowers. He takes out Storm with an optic blast, then Rogue lands in front of him. He blasts up some Oz-Poppy dust to take out Rogue. Then he turns off the entire house. He heads to the infirmary with Rogue, and makes her touch Xavier. She absorbs Xavier’s telepathy, and freaks out, but Scott helps her through it. When the other X-Men show up, Rogue helps them see through the illusion.

The rest of this issue is drawn by John Romita, Jr. Dark Phoenix shows up again, and Scott’s laid out with a bullet. Wolverine tells Storm that Scott was right, and she whips up a tempest. She fills the infirmary with water, so that when the doors open, Mastermind is washed out, stunned and confused. In the aftermath, Maddie’s unconscious and not breathing. Scott brings her back.

Then, an epilogue. Scott is in the cemetery where Jean’s headstone is, saying goodbye to her. Then, he heads over to marry Maddie.

And then a letters page, “answered” by Xavier.

This is a really good issue, especially for Scott fans. He shows off what a tactical genius he is. He figures out what’s going on quickly, gets a plan ready, and then implements it. Even with broken ribs, he manages to stay ahead of the other X-Men, and if he’d actually wanted to defeat them, he probably could have done it. We also see a bit more of Storm’s leadership, in her willingness to do whatever it takes to beat Phoenix, then to beat Mastermind. Speaking of Mastermind, I assume his experiences with Dark Phoenix gave him some sort of telepathic abilities beyond just the illusions. He mentions being able to make Maddie love him no matter what form he took, and there’s other touches in the previous issues that make me think his powers were vastly more powerful than they’d previously been. Even so, it’s tough to think of Mastermind as being a real threat. His illusions were effective at making the X-Men fight themselves, but I still look at him as a bit of a wuss. Claremont didn’t sell his threat well enough, I don’t think. The problem might be the lead-up. It started with Emma being put into a coma, which is a pretty big start. He was being built up as a vast menace. And in the end, he doesn’t really do much.

The epilogue, with Scott getting married, was sweet. But it maybe could’ve stood to be longer. Oh well. We’ll just have to wait another decade for Scott’s wedding to Jean, to get a full wedding issue.

Smith’s art, in the first chunk of the book, is excellent as always. He draws Scott kicking ass well. Scott’s journey into the afterlife is also well-done, though doesn’t quite match the narration. Smith draws it as just blackness, while Claremont has Scott talking about the spirits he sees, and the one he’s looking for (Jean). It might’ve been nice if Smith had drawn some ghostly figures. JRJr’s art, for the end, is also good. It doesn’t look too different from Smith’s work, which I’m guessing was at least partly the work of inker Bob Wiacek. JRJr takes over as artist after this issue. I can’t say I’m a fan of his style, but he does actually wind up doing a good job on UXM.

I should mention this issue was the 20th Anniversary of the X-Men, sort of. The very first issue was cover-dated September 1963, which means it probably would’ve come out in January. This issue came out in September, and was cover-dated for November. So it’s a couple months late, technically. (Meanwhile, this month marks the 50th Anniversary. Hurrah!)

And the song of the day: We Are the Pipettes by the Pipettes.

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