Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Break On Through to the Other Side - of Comic Covers

Doug: Karen and I came up with a sampling of burst-out comic book covers, where someone's about to end up in your lap. What do you think of this genre, and do you have other examples for us today?










Monday, July 28, 2014

Why Can't We Be Friends? Incredible Hulk 340


Incredible Hulk #340 (February 1988)
"Vicious Circle"
Peter David-Todd McFarlane

Doug: Some of you may be wondering about our timeline over the past two weeks. Last week's Wonder Woman review hearkened back to 1987, today's is from 1988 -- both dates past the general parameter of 1985 that we usually use on this blog. An explanation -- since the Crisis plays so heavily on the end of the Bronze Age at DC Comics (at least according to most of us here), checking in on those reboots that came after seems wholly appropriate. Plus George Perez is just about as Bronze an artist as you're going to find. But what of today's fare? I bought this one at the comic shop due in large part to the out-of-this-world cover. Certainly that's one of the best of its era, although I could nitpick it. Whenever I first lay eyes on it, I always think Wolverine is slashing forward; but then I look again and see that we are looking at the back of his left hand. But I forgive quickly, as I'm a sucker for covers with a reflective scene in them. Anyway, this comic had gone missing for years from my collection, and I could not for the life of me figure out where it was. I wondered if I'd loaned it to a friend, but he swore I never did. So I wasn't losing sleep over it, but was nonetheless aware that I no longer possessed it. That is, until I was grading/pricing my collection a few weeks ago and was in my X-Men longbox. Back in the day I was very organized in my storage, to the point where I'd take a larger-sized magazine bag and stuff it with mini-series. So when the "Fall of the Mutants" storyline was over, I bagged the four or five chapters individually and then slipped them all into a magazine bag. Guess what? This book was ancillary to that story. Found it!! But that still doesn't answer why it's being reviewed here today. Simple -- I want to, and I want to solicit opinions on several elements of the story as we go along. So, let's go along!

Doug: First up is the coloring in this issue, which is an odd palette for my eyes to behold. Sure, I know the Hulk was now gray instead of green, but why does everything else in the book seem to be so softened? We open on a snowy road near, of all places, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. Clay Quartermain and Rick Jones are in a vehicle with the Hulk and they're lost. This doesn't make the Hulk very happy. Quartermain suggests, in these days well ahead of GPS devices, that they pull over for a break and try to regroup. The surly Hulk wants out and at first opportunity lifts off, up and away. One of the conceits you may notice on this page is artist Todd McFarlane's obligatory inclusion of a Felix the Cat face. Got it out of the way early in this one. So after the Hulk takes to the skies, we shift to the control tower at DFW where they, too, are battling the snow. As the tower advises a Pan Am flight to divert to Houston, an unidentified craft enters their airspace. It's the Blackbird, piloted by Wolverine, who really isn't in any mood to be talking to air traffic controllers. A few things to notice in this panel -- Rogue and Logan must have gone to the same hairdresser, and doesn't McFarlane sex-up Rogue's right side? You see what I mean...

Doug: On the next page, author Peter David brings those few Hulk readers who may not have been regular X-Men readers up to speed on who the players are and why they're in this magazine. As I said above, this issue tied in (loosely) with the "Fall of the Mutants" storyline. This was an interesting X-line-up, with Storm and Wolverine being the old hands and surrounded by Rogue, Havok (he'd be an old hand if he'd ever had a lengthy tenure on the team), Dazzler and Psylocke in her original "form" (pre-ninja), and recent addition Longshot. Wolverine is surprisingly under control here, and David writes him as the mature member of the group (not that any of the others are acting silly). Suddenly from a view outside the plane, we see the Hulk hurtle by, narrowly missing the Blackbird. Ah, but recall the tower's concern about the X-craft being too close to the Pan Am flight in the blizzard? Guess what the Hulk hits as he reaches the peak of his ascent?


Doug: Wolverine picks up the mayday call and orders Rogue out of the Blackbird to rescue the airliner. He orders her to remove the damaged engine from the wing Hulk had hit, and then guide the jet to a safe landing. Moments later we see the Hulk on the ground in the woods, mad that a) he doesn't have anything to eat and b) he can't find his ride. Just then, KRASH! the engine lands... guess where? Hulk not happy. Cut to the site of the jet on the ground, with Wolverine out of the Blackbird and investigating. His senses don't lie, although he's a bit confused: there's little doubt that the Hulk was the impetus for the destruction of the jet's engine, but it's a different scent. But Wolverine thinks to himself that he's the leader of the X-Men now, and although he'd love to check out this anomaly, he cannot. Cut then to a one-page scene with the Leader, in his very odd-looking revised form (I've seen from time-to-time readers state that his new "shape" was somewhat phallic in nature). Apparently there's been some plot by the Leader to take over a cache of gamma bombs being developed by the U.S. military. But that's all I know, and it's the only time it's touched on in this book, so...


Doug: We sceneshift again to a highway in the area where motorists have become snowbound. McFarlane focuses on a food truck. With a gaping hole in its side. The National Guard is out on patrol to assist motorists when they come upon the truck. Sensing some potential looting going on, they call into the darkness of the rupture. We know who's in there, right? Out comes the Hulk to a -- you guessed it -- hail of gunfire. The bullets rip into the truck's gas tank, causing it to blow. Hulk hurls it away from himself, now fully ticked off that his meal's been ruined. The truck lands a fair distance away, but near enough to an apartment complex that some folks might be in danger. That brings the X-Men to the area, and you can see where this is heading (after all, it's why I bought the book in the first place). Wolverine pulls on his mask and is out to investigate and to oversee his team's relief efforts. He says aloud that he wonders what sort of jerk could have done this. Trouble is, the wind carries his words away -- to the Hulk's ears. Yup -- game on!


Doug: The Hulk launches himself at Wolverine, but at the last instant Logan whirls, popping his claws, and slashed the Hulk across his right arm. Hulk can't believe that Wolverine cut him -- and we remarked in our review of Hulk #181 how bloodless the art was in their battle. Wolverine's body tells him that it's go time, but his mind actually calms his instincts! Yep, the runt turns and walks away! Hulk is incredulous. And isn't taking no for an answer! What follows are 40 panels of sheer carnage. Todd McFarlane really cuts loose on these two heavyweights cutting loose. There is a brief interruption for an interlude showing Rick and Quartermain driving in their van in search of the Hulk, but for the most part the second half of this issue is what the reader paid for -- and that's to answer the question, if Wolverine really went into a berserker rage, with no Comics Code Authority to hold him back (tell me the presence of the Code stamp on this cover wasn't just for tradition's sake by this point in time), could he beat the Hulk? Well, the answer is "no"... not this Hulk. Because this Hulk not only gets stronger the angrier he gets, but he also gets bigger and has a healing factor that kicks in. And oh yeah -- this one thinks a little more clearly than the Jade Giant of decades past. Enjoy some of McFarlane's action, and while you do, I'd invite your critique of (again) the coloring, and also of his figurework and proportionality between the two combatants.

Doug: So it ends with Rick and Quartermain finally finding the Hulk in the midst of his battle royal. Quartermain uses an Image-era trademark -- the biggest gun you've ever seen -- to shock the two brawlers. He then gives a pretty ballsy (sorry for the PG-13 term) lecture to both of them, which surprisingly ends the fracas. Wolverine again walks away, and that's the last we see of him in this magazine. The Hulk bows to Quartermain's wishes and hoists the van above his head and leaps with it in his hands. Inside the van, Rick and Clay muse about Betty Ross Talbot Banner, and whether or not she still thinks about Bruce Banner. Quartermain suggests, not if she's smart. And then we see the woman whose hand we'd seen during interludes throughout the issue -- it's Betty holding a snow globe, which she hurls against a wall, smashing it to pieces. Betty thinks that she and Bruce are just two figures who continue to encounter each other, but never as closely as they should. Even after marriage, the live in a sort of cycle of close, apart, and then close again. Hence Peter David's title to this issue.


Doug: Not being a regular Hulk reader, some of the periphery stuff didn't matter to me or really even make sense. As to the main part of the story, it is what we thought it would be, huh? Although the cover date is 1988, what's between these covers is a definite precursor to what would be fully unleashed on readers in the 1990s. I suppose in 1988 that wasn't bad, but who could have seen into the future? It's sort of like The Dark Knight Returns -- I loved it at the time, but that sense of awe has faded through the years as I saw what subsequent creators did in an effort to emulate or even top what Frank Miller had done in Daredevil and then with his Batman work. In closing, I suppose I'd view this as a cog in that machine that was beginning to pick up steam. And oh if it didn't then proceed like a runaway train.

PS: One more thing -- I absolutely love the return to the blue pants on the Hulk. Seriously -- no one wears purple pants.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wonder Woman -first peek


Karen: Direct from San Diego Comic Con, our first look at Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, from the Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice film. Comments?? Personally, I'd like some color in the outfit, but I am a bit surprised it is as faithful to the comics version as it is  -there's even a tiara.


Friday, July 25, 2014

You Got to Know When to Hold 'em...

Doug: Thanks to David B. for inspiring today's conversation (which, barring some unforeseen epiphany, will stretch through the weekend). In Tuesday's conversation about worst Avengers, I brought up the fact that I have finally taken the plunge on selling my comic book collection (and depending on how it goes, it may stretch into some action figures, books, etc.). David left this thought in the comments section --
David B: I **really** think you're going to regret the sale, Doug, but I totally understand the sell desire..

I know you've brought it up before.

Hope it goes well.
Doug: Karen's going to join in shortly. We don't want anyone to think we're throwing ol' David under the bus, because that's certainly not the case. Don't think that he touched on a... touchy subject. But I do hope we get a lengthy discussion on collecting, buying, selling, collecting vs. possessing, reprints, etc. today. I think the lid's off a very broad topic.

Doug: It's funny -- I think at some point we all think to ourselves that we'll amass a collection and some day it will appreciate in value and we'll make a pretty penny off those years of toil spent basking in the glory of the hunt. At the stage in life that we are as parents in our household, the time to sell is now. It's sort of a perfect storm that we've known is coming -- student loans debt (the parents' share), as well as a questionable vehicle being driven by the college junior, coming together late this summer. I'll be honest -- I'd much rather any proceeds from the sales of my comics go to the loan repayments, as I'd treat that as shifting money to another investment (my sons' careers). But to a used car? I hope we don't have to do that, because that's just all about depreciation. One does what must be done, in the end.


Doug: I just love Karen's phrase that we've all adopted -- that this is the "golden age of reprints". For me, once I embraced reprints it drew me away from new comics. These days, I'd much rather plunk down $15-25 for a trade paperback than put the same money into a single back issue. That's my personal preference, but it also jibes with my goals as a collector 20 years ago. When I was amassing my complete run of the Avengers, which ended with my purchases of Avengers #s 1 (for $190 in 1991) and 4 (for $175 in 1992), it became fiscally responsible (if there is such a notion in hobbying) to go for the Very Good to Fine copies rather than the higher grades. I know many collectors want that copy that looks great in the hands. While I don't have very many copies in my run that look poorly, there are a few that I never got round to replacing. And that was OK for me. After all, it was my collection. So you could say that I became more of a possessor than maybe the strictest definition of a collector.


Doug: I'll admit to being pretty melancholy these past few days. But then I had to ask myself -- why? It wasn't easy opening that longbox marked "Avengers 1-225" and pulling out the first 20 issues of the title for scanning. And then I realized that I hadn't had these books out in almost twenty years, and I sure wouldn't take them out of the hard plastic bags to read them. So really -- other than the hope that they would appreciate in value I found myself again saying, "It's time." And I'll also say that it is neat as you sit over the first few days of the auction and see people tag themselves as "watching" and/or the bids start to roll in. The stress for me is whether or not I have graded the book fairly (I tend to grade too high), if I have set the "Buy It Now" option too high or too low, and whether or not I'll get a fair price if the auction begins with regular bidding.

Karen: Doug's current situation has me recalling the two previous times in my life when I sold comics: during my last year of college and again about ten years ago. Both times, I was selling off mostly books from the 50s and 60s that I had inherited from my uncle, so perhaps the sentimental aspect had not been fully present. But dear lord, I think now about some of the books I sold off -I had a copy of Brave and Bold #1, Batman #100, Tales To Astonish #27....the list goes on and on. I wonder sometimes what I could get for those books now as opposed to 25 years ago? Or even 10? But is there ever a perfect time to sell? And eBay- well, it has its pluses and minuses. Obviously, a seller can reach many more people via the internet. When I first sold books, I did it through the Comics Buyers Guide, the fan precursor to the internet. I did manage to sell quite a few books that way, but I'm sure I had a very limited market. On the other hand, the fees with eBay can be a drag. Still, as I have said in private to Doug, I think it's preferable to sell to individuals than to dealers. I've tried selling to dealers, big and small, several times and each time I've declined to go through with it because they were offering me basically pennies on the dollar for my books.

Karen: I feel for my partner. It's not an easy thing, letting go of ones' collection. On one hand, I  would like to liberate myself of the dozens of boxes of comics that I feel weigh me down, almost like the chains that hung from Marley's ghost. But when I start thinking about where to make the cuts, it's not so easy. Part of the problem for me is that most of the reprints in the trades don't include letters pages. That might sound silly, but the letters pages frequently have useful tidbits and background info that I have drawn on when writing articles for Back Issue, and besides, I just find the letters pages, and the old Marvel Bullpen Page, a lot of fun to read. Now I do have the DVD ROM version of many of the major titles, so that's not a problem -as long as I can access that format. But with some of the lesser-known titles, that's not an option. Thankfully Marvel has been releasing more and more 70s books in TPB and Masterworks format. I guess I can live without the letters pages if I had to... still, there's nothing like holding the original comic in your hands, is there?


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blue Ribbon Digest - Captain America

Doug: Hi, friends  -- back again with another installment of the do-it-yourself Blue Ribbon Digest. Previously we've given you the assignment of choosing 7-8 issues of the Avengers or the X-Men to stuff inside one of these handy little trade paperbacks. Our only requirement was that the stories fall in between the years 1970 and 1985. In those two posts, some of our readers chose complete or near-complete storylines, while others did more of a scattershot approach. And even within that latter strategy, our readers went with a sampling of artists, or of villains. Today we repeat the drill, but focusing on the Sentinel of Liberty.

Doug: I was not a regular reader of Cap's mag in the Bronze Age, even though he was one of my favorite characters. I really enjoyed him in the Avengers at the time, but have had a pleasure catching up on some of his solo adventures in the past many years. I had friends who had some Captain Americas, so I was somewhat aware of the "Secret Empire" and "Nomad" arcs. A particular favorite cover of mine featured the Golden Archer getting a drop on Cap. Of course, those of you who know the issue of which I speak (if not, I decided to use it as my sample issue, below) will fondly recall the climax with one of the best rubber mask reveals of all time. I keep telling Karen that whenever we ride off into the sunset our last post is going to be a compilation of all of our favorite rubber mask scenes!

Doug: So by clicking here you can get to the Cap page on the Comic Book Database and scroll down until you find the time period that frames this exercise. From there you'll be able to get to covers, creators, and lists of villains lurking within a given issue. Have a blast -- I know we appreciate hearing everyone's suggestions.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Discuss: Your Favorite Super-Hero Head to Head Match Up


Karen: I have to go with any time the Hulk and the Thing go toe to toe, but there are a lot of other fun match ups too.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

George Perez's Amazon Princess - Wonder Woman 9


Wonder Woman #9 (October 1987)
"Blood of the Cheetah"
George Perez/Len Wein-Perez/Bruce Patterson

Doug: Is the Wonder Woman series by George Perez the best of the post-Crisis DC offerings? You'd have a tough time convincing me otherwise. Of course I liked John Byrne's work in Man of Steel and Superman and Action Comics later. Maybe with Byrne's work, though, I was always a bit on edge -- I had such a prejudice against Superman and Superman comic stories that I may never have fully invested myself in Byrne's work (I need to set about getting the tpbs that reprint his run in the late 1980s). But Perez's Wonder Woman stories, based in the DC version of Greek mythology was a tabula rasa. I don't believe I'd ever read a solo Wonder Woman story prior to checking out this series. First off, the art was some of the best of Perez's storied career, and the tales he spun were interesting. There was an Elseworlds feel to some of the post-Crisis DC offerings, and maybe that helped to up the "Wow!" factor. I'm interested to read the reflections of those who will comment on their own experiences with this series, and perhaps how it compares to the rest of the post-Crisis stable.

Doug: I'll admit that I had to laugh as I began to read today's story. Obviously written several years before Todd McFarlane's turn as Spider-scripter in his own Spider-Man vehicle, I was nevertheless reminded of McFarlane's awful use of repetitive drum beats in his first issue. Thank goodness Perez only dwelt on it for two pages! An old man stands on the roof of an urban building, hearing drum beats that signal tonight as the night of the blood sacrifice. Walking inside, he approaches the unconscious body of a nude woman, prone on a slab covered in the skins of cheetahs. The woman's arms extend to her sides, where the old man takes a sharp dagger and cuts one of her wrists; the blood from the wound drips into a large bowl. Bandaging the wounds, we are told that the wounds will heal quickly. The old man takes the blood into another chamber, where he begins to mix it with other materials. There is a large plant in the room, and we see him feed the concoction to the plant. Apparently this makes the plant happy. The old man returns to the woman, and covers her with another cheetah skin. This is Dr. Barbara Minerva, the Cheetah.


Doug: Next we land in Wakefield, Massachusetts with a beautiful splash page of Wonder Woman in flight. As a kid I never knew Wonder Woman could fly without the invisible plane (which I have always seen as a dumb idea -- what good is an invisible plane if the pilot can be seen?) -- perhaps that is due in large part to my indoctrination through Super Friends. Keep in mind, we're jumping into the second arc in this series, so I'll try to pull you along as best my memory allows. When Diana had entered the world of men, she was treated as a celebrity, even taking on a publicist (Myndi Mayer). Diana was also befriended by a Dr. Julia Kapatelis and her daughter Vanessa. Myndi remarks to Julia that she's never seen Diana so happy -- news of a letter from a Dr. Minerva about the existence of a second girdle of Gaea has Diana thrilled. Dr. Kapatelis, Harvard professor, cautions Myndi on Diana getting her hopes up; all is not on the up-and-up with this Dr. Minerva. But Myndi poo-poos Julia's cautions, and readies Diana to head to Boston for a meeting with Minerva.

Doug: Once in Boston the pair head straight to the address Minerva had sent in her letter. They are greeted at the door to the penthouse by the same man who we saw performing the blood sacrifice at the top of the story. The women are invited in, and Barbara Minerva appears immediately. She asks Diana if she has brought her lasso, that she'd like to see it before she brings out the girdle. Diana rather innocently complies, even allowing Minerva to walk away with the mystical rope. But as Minerva begins to tell about the girdle, etc. she is overcome with the lasso's true power -- to make anyone tell the truth. Minerva begins to utter aloud words that give her away -- there is no girdle, there isn't even a Barbara Minerva... She hurls the lasso from her grasp. Diana is furious, and betrayed. There's a lot of dialogue about sisterhood here, which was an ongoing theme in Perez's run -- in this revamp, actually. Minerva insists that she meant no harm, that she only wanted to meet the princess. And Diana rails at Myndi for attempting to exploit her. And then she flies away.

Doug: Back at the summer home of Dr. Kapatelis, Vanessa answers the phone to pleas from Myndi to let her speak to Diana. But the Amazon is outside in deep discussion with Julia. Julia tries to calm Diana, to explain that all has not been a waste. Diana says she knows that she is unlike her sister Amazonians and that her defeat of Ares has signaled a greater importance to her mission to the world of men. But that mission will have been a failure if she does not teach people about virtue. Julia say it will take time; Diana walks away, still stung from Minerva's betrayal. Later that same day, at the penthouse of Barbara Minerva, the ritual we'd seen before is repeated. Chuma, the man-servant, prepares the magic elixir while Minerva paints her face. She asks Chuma if he saw the lasso, and its power. She says that it must be hers! She comes to him and asks if the potion is ready. He affirms and she drinks. As she finishes it her body begins to contort, and to change. And soon there is no Barbara Minerva -- only the she-cat known as the Cheetah!


Doug: The Cheetah hits the streets with a purpose. As she prowls, we look in the window of Lt. Etta Candy, who is on the phone with Col. Steve Trevor. In the background a newscast is on, and the anchor tells of a Bostonian criminal killed last week, apparently by a wild animal. Trevor tells Etta that he won't be coming to Boston, that he must go tend to a family matter in Oklahoma. Let me interrupt myself to say that the use of real places is very refreshing in a DC mag. I've long been a proponent of Marvel's real-world settings as opposed to DC's melange of fictional cities. Cut to the outskirts of Boston's suburbs, where the Cheetah is moving fast, and with a purpose. We peek inside the Kapatelis home to see Vanessa questioning the whereabouts of Diana. Julia tells her daughter that Diana is still outside meditating on her circumstances. The low sound of a growl is heard, and Julia rises to look out the window. Nothing. Cut to a stream a short distance from the house and we find Wonder Woman sitting, leaning against a tree and asleep. This isn't going to be good.

Doug: The Cheetah has maneuvered to a spot in a tree directly above her slumbering victim. Diana rests, a raccoon asleep in her arms. The small rodent starts, and leaps away, stirring Wonder Woman. A second later a prehensile tail drops from a low branch, encircles the princess's neck, and hurls her against a tree. The force of the attack splits the tree and topples it. Before Diana can discern the attack, the Cheetah is on her, and slashes Wonder Woman across the chest -- drawing blood. Diana is incredulous that she is bleeding, and questions what manner of beast must be attacking her. The battle rages, until Diana decides that she must strike forcefully. One blow drives the Cheetah back, and into the brush. Diana calms herself, using the senses gifted her as a daughter of Artemis. She listens intently, seeking  the heartbeat of her assailant. Suddenly she throws her lasso, and drags her enemy from concealment. But the magic of the rope has no effect -- incredibly, the Cheetah is able to physically resist the muting effects of the golden lasso. Wonder Woman pulls hard, but the Cheetah resists all the harder. Then the Cheetah charges Wonder Woman, again toppling a tree. Wonder Woman lies on the ground, pinned. As the Cheetah moves for the death blow, a shot rings out. Julia Kapatelis fired a rifle, hitting the Cheetah in the abdomen. The she-creature fell into the stream, still tied with the lasso. Wonder Woman frees herself from the fallen tree trunk, and pulls the rope -- to find the looped end empty. Diving into the murky waters, a short exploration of the stream proves to be a failure. The Cheetah is gone.

Doug: Vanessa came running on the scene when she heard the shot ring out. Her mother told her to stay inside -- you know how that goes. But there's no news -- no Cheetah. The next day, Diana decides that she will return to Olympus. There are tears, and pleas from Vanessa to stay. But Diana is hearing none of it, and despite the emotional good-byes, takes her leave. She doesn't know it, but she's off to face the challenge of the gods in the next issue.

Doug: Aside from the pencils of George Perez, there have to be some kudos tossed the ways of inker Bruce Patterson and scripter Len Wein. Both play their roles well, augmenting the wonderful base that Perez provides as the centerpiece of this series. And that's the thing about it -- if I still had all of the original issues (I am reading from the second tpb, which I purchased in Chicago a couple of summers ago), I am sure I'd go back to them again and again to admire the pretty pictures. But the stories themselves are surely worth a second look as well.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Alex Ross Does the Original Guardians of the Galaxy


Doug: I'm just back home from a 10-day assignment in Washington, DC. While out there I did manage to get three comics reviews written (be on the look-out for Hulk #340 a week from Monday, and then partner reviews of the first four issues of the Marvel Presents Guardians of the Galaxy series in August -- I framed MP #s 3 and 4 for Karen to come along for the color commentary). Anyway, and speaking of the Guardians, I saw in Marvel's October solicitations a pencil-only version of an Alex Ross variant cover for Guardians of the Galaxy 3000. As has been the case, this is part of Marvel's 75th anniversary celebration. As we've long discussed Ross's color palettes, I thought it would be cool to see the raw art and have some discourse on it. So fire away!


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