Sunday, May 19, 2019

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen by Jack KirbySuperman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen by Jack Kirby by Jack Kirby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen by Jack Kirby collects issues #133-139 and #141-148, all written and drawn by Jack Kirby.

When Jack Kirby left Marvel in 1969, his intent was to create the Fourth World at DC. In addition to the New Gods, Mister Miracle, and Forever People, he decided to take on DC's lowest selling title at time time, Jimmy Olsen.

Right out of the gate, this feels like the Fantastic Four without the Fantastic Four. Jimmy Olsen and Superman team up with the Newsboy Legion and go up against clones, bikers, monsters, the minions of Darkseid, and Scots.

I don't normally care that much for Superman of this era but Kirby uses him sparingly and he feels more like a Silver Age Marvel character than an invulnerable planet mover. He's more like Jimmy Olsen's sidekick in this book. Kirby brings the Newsboy Legion and the Golden Guardian back from mothballs and weaves them into the Fourth World saga, albeit as sons of the originals and a clone, respectively.

The influence of this run is surprising. I had no idea Project Cadmus was based on a Jack Kirby concept. The Newsboy Legion and the Golden Guardian were brought back into the fold in the 1990s as well. Darkseid makes his first appearance, although it's just as a behind the scenes manipulator.

The plots are pretty simplistic and Kirby's dialog is as clunky as Stan Lee's but the stories are pure fun in a dynamic Jack Kirby sort of way. There are giant machines, Kirby dots, aliens, monsters, and science fiction concepts like clones. Jimmy and the Newsies get shrunk, visit other dimensions, and bicker the entire time, much like the Fantastic Four did in their early days. I would say the art in the Fourth World books is Jack Kirby in his prime. I just wish Mike Royer inked the entire thing instead of Vicious Vince Colletta.

While his writing isn't the best, Jack Kirby's run on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen is a bombastic thrill ride embodying the Kirby spirit. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Slugfest

Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle between Marvel and DCSlugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle between Marvel and DC by Reed Tucker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For decades, DC was the undisputed king of comics until one fateful day in 1961 when an upstart rose up to claim the throne. Could DC fend off its new rival or would Marvel sit upon the iron throne?

This is the story of the never-ending rivalry between Marvel and DC. It has a decidedly pro-Marvel slant, though. I'll say that right off the bat. The book covers the formation of DC, the near death of the comic industry in the 1950s, and Stan Lee's last effort to write a successful comic, the Fantastic Four. From there, the rivalry begins.

The book is well-written and well organized. That being said, 80-90% of it was covered in other books I've read in the past few years. However, there were some new morsels to uncover, like Vince Colletta leaking DC stuff to Marvel while he was working at the Distinguished Competition, and DC having their eyes on the Fantastic Four while Marvel was circling the drain for the umpteenth time around the turn of the century.

Another wrinkle I was unaware of due to my absence from comics for about a decade was the Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada regime. Bill Jemas is the one who decreed that all stories should be written specifically to be collected in trades. Fuck Bill Jemas.

The book goes out of its way to take shots at DC, painting them as a bunch of monkeys trying to fuck a football while trying to figure out why Marvel's books were outselling theirs. It also glosses over Jack Kirby's struggle to get his art back from Marvel and ignores what a tool Stan Lee was at times.

Every time I read a book of this kind, I'm amazed we still have super hero comics. Both Marvel and DC are shit shows behind the scenes. When you're handed the golden ticket, try not to wipe your asses with it!

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Fantastic Four: All in the Family

Fantastic Four Epic Collection Vol. 17: All in the FamilyFantastic Four Epic Collection Vol. 17: All in the Family by Roger Stern
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fantastic Four: All in the Family collects Fantastic Four #296-307, Fantastic Four Annual 20, and Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men #1-4.

The Fantastic Four have long been my favorite Marvel team but there are a few gaps in my Fantastic Four knowledge, like how did Ben get brought back into the fold after Johnny wound up with Alicia. Fantastic Four: All in the Family answers those questions and more.

This volume bridges the gap between John Byrne's run and Steve Englehart's editorial-plagued run, although Englehart's first couple issues are contained in this volume. The gang go up against Mole Man, Doctor Doom, The X-Men, The Wizard, the Mad Thinker, the Puppet Master, Diablo, and a lot of schmoes that never appear again but their worst enemies are themselves.

The group evolves quite a bit in this collection. She-Hulk leaves the team and Ben returns, only for Reed to hand the reins to Ben so he and Sue and leave the Fantastic Four to raise Franklin, never to be seen again...

I question a lot of the logic that went into this run. John Byrne put Johnny and Alicia together. Fine, although I still think that was a bad idea. What sense does it make for Ben to want to come back when Johnny and Alicia are getting married besides restoring the FF status quo? It also doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense for Crystal to want to come back since Johnny is recently married and Johnny and Ben trying to coexist without Reed and Sue doesn't make a lot of sense either with everything else that is going on. It probably would have made more sense for Ben to recruit three other characters and Johnny to strike out on his own.

All that aside, there are some fun moments in this, like She-Hulk goading Ben into a brawl to take his mind off of Alicia, Doctor Doom taking Franklin to hell, and Ms. Marvel putting Diablo in the hospital. Overall, my favorite part of the collection was the Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men miniseries. I like the idea of a mysterious diary shaking Reed's confidence. Both the Fantastic Four and the X-Men were in transition at that point, the FF to the new lineup and the X-Men were just about to begin their Australian era. Claremont's Franklin leaves a little to be desired, though. What four year old uses the word "certain"?

While not my favorite Fantastic Four volume, All in the Family is a good transitional volume between the Byrne run and the Englehart run. 3 out of 5 stars.

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The Thing: Project Pegasus

Thing: Project PegasusThing: Project Pegasus by Ralph Macchio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Thing breaks into Project Pegasus looking for Wundarr, he inadvertently gets involved in a plot that could destroy the world...

Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew has long been one of my favorite characters, both as a member of the Fantastic Four or headlining Marvel Two-In-One with various guest stars. After a disappointing comic convention experience, I snapped this up using Amazon points.

Project Pegasus collects #42-43, #53-58, and Avengers #236-237. The Avengers issues, while involving Project Pegasus, don't really have a lot to do with the main tale. Coming on the heels of The Thing: Cry Monster, The Thing goes looking for his surrogate nephew, Wundarr, and winds up getting pulled into the day to day operation at the facility.

You may remember Project Pegasus from such films as Captain Marvel. In this incarnation, it's an alternative energy research installation and also a prison for super villains. Quasar is the head of security. When someone gets some big ideas about Project Pegasus, The ever-lovin' blue eyed Thing charges to the rescue.

This book is a slice of Bronze-Age Marvel goodness. Spawned in during the gas crisis of the late 1970s, it only makes sense that Project Pegasus would try to harness the energies of super beings to power the plant. Benjamin J. Grimm teams up with Captain America, Quasar, and some of the '70s finest like Thundra, Deathlok, Man-Thing, and Bill Foster, aka Black Goliath, aka Giant-Man.

Project Pegasus isn't a deep work but it's a lot of fun. It's a big reminder of why The Thing was a headliner back in the day. Underneath his rocky exterior, he's a softie but still tough as hell. Wundarr's metamorphosis from Superman analog to cosmic Jesus is just beginning by the end of the story.

The art team on Project Pegasus is kick ass. George Perez, Sal Buscema, and John Byrne grace the pages, as well as Al Milgrom, Joe Sinnot, and many others. Ralph Macchio and Mark Gruenwald provide above average writing. They aren't Alan Moore but they do showcase the serial storytelling that's missing in comics today, self-contained issues that still build toward something.

The Thing: Project Pegasus is an enjoyable epic from the days of the gas crisis, the days when Marvel's top tough guy was Benjamin J. Grimm. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Thing: Liberty Legion

The Thing: Liberty LegionThe Thing: Liberty Legion by Roy Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Thing: Liberty Legion collects Invaders 5-6, Marvel Premeire 29-30, Fantastic Four Annual 11, Marvel Two-In-One Annual 1, and Marvel Two-In-One 20.

I've been on a Marvel Two-In-One kick lately. I found this for ten bucks at a lackluster comic convention a little while back.

The title is a little misleading. The Thing is only in three out of the seven comics within. There's really two stories going on here: the formation of the Liberty Legion after the Invaders fall under some mind control and a missing cylinder of Vibranium that winds up falling back in time with the Fantastic Four in hot pursuit.

The Liberty Legion consists of a lot of second stringers from Marvel's Golden Age: The Patriot, Miss America, Blue Diamond, Red Raven, Jack Frost, the Thin Man, and The Whizzer. When the rest of the invaders fall under the Red Skull's influence, Bucky gathers the Legion together to battle them.

The first half of the collection feels like a trial run of what Roy Thomas would later do on The All-Star Squadron, heroes vs. Nazis in World War II. Once the Fantastic Four and the Vibranium get involved, it becomes the tale of stopping the Nazis from winning World War II with advanced technology.

The first half was fun for what it was, seeing Nazis get punched. The second half, in my opinion, was superior with the Fantastic Four, and later the Thing on his own, traveling through time. The Fantastic Four/Thing issues take place in that weird time period where Ben Grimm is human but wearing his Thing armor.

The writing is par for the course for mid-70s Marvel. I got a kick out of Reed mentioning Chico and the Man. I also found it interesting that they're still acknowledging Ben and Reed being in World War II despite the current year being 1975. Wouldn't that put Reed and Benji in their 50s at that point?

The art is probably the most enjoyable part of this. Kirby did a lot of the covers and the Buscema boys did some of the interiors.

The Thing: Liberty Legion was enjoyable enough but nothing to get overly excited about. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Justice Society Volume 1

Justice Society, Vol. 1Justice Society, Vol. 1 by Paul Levitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Justice Society members are feeling their age in these post WWII adventures, partly because of new members Star-Spangled Kid, the now adult Robin, and Superman's cousin, Powergirl!

I stumbled on this volume at the disappointing comic convention I went to not too long ago. I have some ragged copies of a couple issues in this run in a tote in the basement but I decided to snap it up anyway.

+This volume collects All-Star Comics #58-67 and DC Special #29. The stories are from 1976-77 and are fairly typical of the time period. The JSA battle Brainwave, Degaton, Vandal Savage, and the Injustice Society but most of the tension comes from within. Young upstarts Powergirl and Star-Spangled Kid upset the applecart a bit.

I didn't realize what an indepdendent streak Powergirl had at the time of her creation, much like Ms. Marvel. DC was pushing to do more relevant comics at the time so Powergirl's feminism was probably a product of that. The stories tended toward two-parters, something that slightly surprised me. They were pretty average in quality, although everyone except Powergirl looked like a chump more often than not, especially Wildcat. With all the tension within the team, it felt more like a Marvel book.

The art was good but the rotation of artists hurt it a little. Wally Wood, Keith Giffen, and Joe Staton all took a turn at the helm. I'm not sure which one of them designed Powergirl's costume with the boob window, though. Star-Spangled Kid wielding the cosmic rod and later the cosmic converter belt answered some questions I had from James Robinson's Starman run.

Justice Society volume 1 is an interesting trade that shows there have been a lot of times in DCs past that they just didn't know what to do with the Justice Society. I think Roy Thomas did a much better job with All-Star Squadron a few years later. Three out of five stars.



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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Archie Meets Batman '66

Archie Meets Batman '66Archie Meets Batman '66 by Jeff Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tired of being defeated by Batman, Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman set their sights on a new target: Riverdale! Will Batman, Robin, and Batgirl be able to stop the United Underworld when the town's entire adult population is in the thrall of those malicious malefactors?

When I saw this being solicited, I knew I'd have to read it at some point. Batman '66 is tons of fun and I loved Archie vs Predator. Totally worth it.

Archie Meets Batman '66 starts simply enough. Batman and Robin are battling Poison Ivy and her Snapdragon while The Bookworm and Footnote are plotting to steal the world's first electronic book. Poison Ivy's inevitable defeat provides Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman with the spark they need to pull up stakes and move somewhere else, a town with no criminal elements whatsoever, the town of Riverdale!

Dick and Barbara go undercover in Riverdale and the usual teenage hijinks ensue. Circe the Siren is a nice foil to use, her siren song being the main part of the plot. Wasn't she a Wonder Woman villain originally? The writing captures the spirit of Batman '66 very well, not surprising since Jeff Parker has been writing the caped crusader for something like 10 years at this point. There is a lot of humor, poking fun at both Batman and Archie. "How many classes does that crone teach?" was one of my favorites.

The art is a nice mix of Archie style and silver age DC. The Archie characters look great. The girls even have some curves. I love that Dan Parent even took the time to drawn in Cesar Romero's mustache under the Joker makeup. He also did a better job capturing the likeness of the actors than some other Batman '66 artists.

From a pure fun standpoint, Archie Meets Batman '66 is hard to top. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Mech Cadet Yu Volume 3

Mech Cadet Yu Vol. 3Mech Cadet Yu Vol. 3 by Greg Pak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The final battle with the Sharg is upon us! Can Stanford Yu and the other Mech Cadets defeat the armada without sacrificing their mechs?

Greg Pak's adaptation of an anime that never existed ends in this volume. It's pretty much one long battle with the Sharg and with authorities on earth urging the cadets to sacrifice their mechs to activate the super mech. Honestly, it was kind of a letdown.

Spoilers - proceed with caution:
It felt like an issue and a half stretched into four. The mech combat was still good but Buddy trying to make a big sacrifice was long and drawn out, robbing it of emotion. The ending was a little too safe as well. The mech battles and designs were still great, though.

I liked the Mech Cadet Yu series quite a bit as a whole but the ending leaves something to be desired. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Volume 1 - Revisited

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus, Vol. 1
Eight years after I initially reviewed this volume, I chewed my way through it again. I have many thoughts, some conflicting.

Byrne's back to basics approach to the Fantastic Four brought Marvel's first family back to prominence. The Skrulls seemed like a viable threat, Annihilus was a world-beater, and Byrne even got some serious mileage out of Terrax. Terror in a Tiny Town and Legacy are among my favorite Fantastic Four stories. The battle with Gladiator is high up on my list as well.

Galactus is given more depth by Byrne than a lot of his previous scribes. I think it was illogical for everyone to rally to save Galactus' life after he was defeated but business is business, as they say. While I think Byrne leaned on Galactus a little too much in this part of his run, the world-eater never looked better to me.

Doctor Doom was used sparingly by Byrne at this point, far from Lee and Kirby trotting him out every three or so issues back in the day. Like Galactus, Byrne showed Doom's complexity. Another thing I liked was that Byrne took some deep dives into the Fantastic Four's past, like Doctor Doom's mind-swapping power and the Skrull cows from issue #3.

Byrne's back to basics approach, while initially a great idea, was also the book's weakness in the long run. The book reads like a cover of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's greatest hits at some points. While Byrne injected some new ideas into the old concepts, he didn't really create anything new, in my opinion. I think the reason his run is so well received is that he modernized a lot of old Fantastic Four concepts, making them easier to read and better stories in general. His dialogue is still '80s comics dialogue, though.

I digested this omnibus a lot more slowly than the list time I took it on and I think I appreciated it a lot more. Byrne was on his A game in this volume and it shows. Unlike a lot of monthly comics for the time period, there weren't many filler stories. The Fantastic Four went from one world-threatening story to the next, as it should be.

Marvel is the house that the Fantastic Four built and John Byrne's run was a big reminder why. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories Vol. 2

DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories Vol. 2DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories Vol. 2 by Bill Finger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories Volum 2 collects ten out of continuity tales from Batman's past.

On the heels of reading Back Issue #111, I resolved to pick this up, primary for Batman #300, The Last Batman story. Fortunately, I was able to find it on the cheap.

Most of the stories collected within are from the late '5os or early '60s. Aside from a story where Batman marries Lois Lane and another where Batman thinks Superboy murdered his father, they primary feature Batman marrying Batwoman and their son teaming with Robin as Batman II and Robin II, complete with Roman numerals on their outfits.

The early Silver Age tales are pretty cheesy, as was the style at the time. The art is fairly typical of the time period, although Curt Swan outdraws Sheldon Moldoff, and Chic Stone by a wide margin. It's interesting that some of the stories seemed to inspire Grant Morrison's run with Dick and Damian as Batman and Robin.

The Last Batman Story from Batman #300 was worth the wait. An adult Robin and an aged Batman take on a criminal organization that seems to be consistently one step ahead of them. The story takes Batman to his logical next step in his fight against crime AND features the adult Robin costume that I've always liked. Plus the art is early Walt Simon and still looks pretty fresh thirty years later.

DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories Vol. 2 is a fun look back at when Batman and his world weren't so damn serious all the time. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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