Friday, November 29, 2013

365 Comics...332: Avengers Arena #18 (2013)

This week's Thor's Comic Column has my review of Avenger Arena, the final issue.  Now with this review, which is about how much I love this series as a whole, I don't do any spoilers....

...but I'm gonna now, so step away if you don't wanna know anything.

Okay, so *phew* Cammi survived.  If there was a favourite character for me in the book, she was most certainly it.  Hopeless reminded me why I liked her back in the early Marvel Cosmic/Annihilation days.

Coming out of it alive...Chase and Nico (so both Runaways), Anachronism ( the only Braddock academy surivor perhaps...or maybe Bloodstone pulls through?), Hazmat, Reptil (looks like anyway) and X-23, Death Locket and Cammi...

Chris Powell, Darkhawk, is not on the dead checklist in the title page but he seemed to be killed (again) by Arcade so I'm not sure.  And we assume Apex is dead, right...but I bet we see him/her again real soon. 

I'm trying to figure out who these four kids are in Avengers Undercover with Zemo... there's Anachronism,  Death Locket, and it looks like Bloodstone and Hazmat.  If that is Hazmat I bet we'll see Reptil again.  I have to wonder where Nico, Chase, Cammi and X-23 are going to be next (though I imagine X-23 will show up in an X Book somewhere soon).

(Update)I didn't realize that Marvel already spoiled the outcome of AA a bit when they announced Undercover at NYCC in October.   Apparently Cammi is part of the team, so, yay!  But boo on such big spoilers.  Glad I didn't see that until now.

365 Comics...331: Letter 44 #2 (2013)

I wrote about how excited the first issue of Letter 44 made me not so long ago in 365 #308, but I wanted to say that the second ish is just as good, the quality holds up.  I may have a new favourite book here (well, not THE favourite,  but definitely a must read).  It's very entertaining and the execution of the story seems well thought out and nicely paced so far.  I also thought how interesting the space action sequence was give that Gravity is kind of the new benchmark for such things.  This holds up against it.  I need to dig a little more and discover if this is ongoing or a mini or what...I'm interested to know the long game in order to contextualize what I'm reading.  I guess it theoretically could run for four years, and become Letter 45 thereafter...  it would be interesting to see how a president preoccupied with an alien threat that the public is completely unaware of runs for re-election or if he even wants to.  Or when does 43, the Bush-esque ex-Pres spill the beans accidentally....?  So many story options beyond just alien threat...politics and economics and really robust shit like that can all come into play.  I hope so anyway. 

It's a great it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

365 Comics...330: Five Ghosts #7 (2013)

While I do love Chris Mooneyham's art, and I genuinely like the conceit of the series (that the main character, Fabian Gray, can channel any one of five literary archetypes - the sleuth, the samurai, the vampire, the archer and the sorcerer) I'm just not engaging with the actual character of Fabian Gray.  I liked the first arc, but the subsequent two issues haven't enthralled me quite the same.  It's like when the sequel really doesn't live up to the first movie, and then you realize that there's a confluence of elements at work with the first one that probably can't be repeated, and that within those elements of a lot of them don't work on their own, they only work together.  And when the second movie starts bringing one of those elements into the fore, the whole endeavor starts to buckle under its own weight.  Or maybe not.  I'm kind of rambling at this point and should probably go to sleep.  I may need to come back to Fabian Gray after he finds his sister or doesn't find his sister or whatever.  That was the part of the character that seemed the least interesting to me from the first arc, and not an inspiring motivational trait.  It seems to be coming into focus with at least this arc as Gray is on the search for runes or something to save his sibling and I just don't really care.

It looks really really nice though.  Mooneyham is killin it... but for some reason the shark fight just rubs me the wrong way.

365 Comics...329: Prisoner Of Space (one shot)(2013)

Released through Comixology's Submit self-publishing wing, Serg Sorokin's Prisoner of Space is a wonderful little 22-page one-off about a man alone aboard a massive space craft, unsure of what happened to the rest of the crew and slowly unwinding psychologically.  He sees visions of crew members who seem to be guiding him and pushing him to do more than just give up, but Sorokin has established this survivor as an everyday guy, one full of self-doubt and apprehension, unable to make any leaps beyond his comfort zone... even if his comfort zone is maddening solitude.

The book ends with a twist, as it seems to be aptly suited for an Outer Limits or Twilight Zone-type show.  It's nicely illustrated, with Sorokin keeping a very crisp line, with nice detailing  and vibrantly coloring.  It's a really solid effort from a new talent worth keeping an eye on.

365 Comics...328: Chronos Commandos #1 (2013)

Comixology had a 99cent sale on various Titan Comics this weekend, so I decided to give the first issue of Chronos Commandos a shot.  Military/War things aren't really my bad, nor are dinosaurs really for that matter, but time travel totally is, so mix 'em all together and... well, I'm still not that into it.  It's actually fairly entertaining on a very primal army dudes-shooting-up-dinos and dinos-eating-up-army men basis, but it's not my thing.  There's no hard sci-fi aspect to it, it's just a conceit to hang action pieces upon, which gives it a b-movie feel but with big budget visuals.  Oh, it's a Roland Emmerich film in the waiting.

365 Comics...327: Scooby-Doo Team-Up #1 (2013)

I think I've mentioned before how I have an irrational attraction towards team-up books, but I have the hardest time getting behind team-up books featuring Spider-Man.  I don't hate Spidey, but I'm definitely not a fan.  Scooby-Doo, meanwhile, I do hate.  Not passionately, mind you, but I genuinely dislike the character and the show.  So I'm finding it amusing and/or curious that I'm even considering picking up the second issue of this series... and yet I am.

From what I read it was originally supposed to be a one-shot Batman/Scooby team-up, but writer Scholly Fisch's six proposals for the special were so liked that the publisher extended it to a six-issue mini-series of Bat/Scoob camaraderie, and then liked the progress of the first issue so much that they just went ongoing.  It's ongoing bi-monthly, which is weird, and I'm curious if it will survive more than it's first year.  But I'm more curious about how it will extend out from the Bat-team ups (it's the weirdest World's Finest/Brave and the Bold until then though).

I hope they do more Blue Falcon, I surprisingly enjoyed Scooby Doo: Mask of the Blue Falcon.  I would actually like more odd Scooby/Hanna Barbera team-ups.  Scooby and the Inhumanoids? Scooby and Space Ghost?

365 Comics...326: Samurai Jack #2 (2013)

Amid all the kid-free date nights, movie watching, shopping, Doctor Who marathoning, working and Plants vs. Zombies 2-ing, I've kind of forgotten about doing this thing daily.  But then the "daily" aspect of it has been kind of a joke for a couple months now.

Anyway, last week's Thor's Comic Column  featured my reviews of the Plants vs Zombies: Lawnmageddon (see last post), Samurai Jack #2 and Scooby-Doo Team-Up #1... so, kids comics.

I want to like Samurai Jack a lot more than I do.  I like it, just I want it to be more than it is.  The story is perfect for being both a serial but allowing for each issue to be different stylistically   The artist captures the look of the show excellently as well, but he needs to push his page really push them.  Like JH Williams III pushed.  Or Francesco Francavilla... I would love to see a Francavilla Samurai Jack.

I love the subscription cover for this ish:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

365 Comics...325: Plants vs. Zombies - Lawnmageddon (2013)

I was at the store staring down the new release rack and I had the choice between two Paul Tobin efforts.  There was the known entity of Bandette (see 365 #203), an Eisner-winning title which I really want to give more of a fair shake, and Plants vs Zombies, based off the silly little video game I play on my mobile all too intensely, causing damage to my eyeballs and frequent headaches.

I chose the latter obviously, because I delight in PvZ so very much.  Nothing has tickled me more this year than to see people at Fan Expo or a mother and son at Halloween dressed up in great homemade PvZ costumes.

I have a more robust PvZ Lawnmageddon review due in Thor's Comic Column tomorrow.  Keep your bananas peeled.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

365 Comics...324: Wulf #1 (2011)

In comics you can't keep a good idea down for long.  But then again, in comics, you can't keep any idea down for long.  In the decade of property farming that is the 2010's everything that has ever come before will come again, all will be resurrected, if it hasn't been already.  With comic book properties dominating the media landscape (the San Diego Effect) everyone's trying to create something or license something and bring it to the fore in hopes that there will be some sweet Hollywood paydirt coming there way.  It's perhaps a little cynical, that view, since I, like many, absolutely love the medium itself, and somewhere there just might be someone completely keen on the Atlas heroes and wanting them to return to comics after a 35-year absence.

I'm not 100% certain the motivation of Ardden Entertainment's publishers, but Editor-in-Chief Mike Grell is certainly a familiar name in the comics world, and there's a dedication in the inside front cover to Martin and Chip Goodman, so there has to be some form of affection for the old stuff...maybe?

Anyway, for a couple years some Atlas characters and concepts returned to comics under the banner "Atlas Original".  Wulf, Phoenix and The Grim Ghost were each revived in their own 6-issue mini-series.

Now I'm a regular, almost daily purveyor of the comics blogosphere and I don't recall much, if any, fanfare surrounding the return of these Atlas creations.  Having just dove into the Atlas backstory these past few days, I definitely understand why, but Atlas Original should have made at least a little splash given that some name talent was involved.  Grell as EnC, Steve Niles on Wulf, Tony Isabella on the Grim Ghost, and Jim Kreuger on Phoenix... that lineup at least should have raised a few eyebrows towards this venture.  I suppose it may have, just not to me.

Anywho, as I was bin diving for original Atlas books, I found the first issue of Wulf, which, quite frankly, looked not quite up my ally.  A couple cops staring down a shied-and-sword wieldign rustic warrior on the cover.  No thanks.  My curiosity was more in what kind of back-matter was in this book, how was Atlas Original selling itself to the people who were trying it and buying it.  And that's where the disappointment seeped in.  There was no sell.  There was an ad for their website (now defunct) and letters pages (but just published letters, no replies, but no personality, not even a drab bullpen letter like the one Larry Lieber gave us.  Its like it wants you to be excited for the return of Atlas comics based on the merits of Atlas Comics, and there's not much merit there to be had.

Wulf #1 itself begins with fireballs raining down on the earth.  The narrative questions whether it's the end.  We follow an obvious warrior on horseback as he faces down a reveling-in-the-destruction sorcerer, a grim battle ensues, a portal to the future opens where the brutalized mage escapes.  On the other end of the portal, a gruff cop named Lomax (remember him from 365 #321?) is witness to the sorcerer's emergence, and when Wulf's hand comes through the portal, Lomax reaches out to help, only to be pulled through himself.

It's not a bad set-up, just Niles' script is terribly decompressed.  To compliment the original Atlas books, briefly, they packed in a lot of derivative story elements into one issue.  Here it's two relatively simple concepts leading to the more interesting set-up, that of a cop drawn into a world of sword-and-sorcery instead of a barbarian drawn into the modern day, though I suppose it could go that way too. The art from Nat Jones is the weaker spot, though, muddy and at times incomprehensible.  It's not outright terrible but definitely in need of refinement.

Wulf, as well as Phoenix and The Grim Ghost, all lasted through their 6-issue runs (longer than any of the original series it should be noted) from 2010 through 2012, as well as Atlas Unified, a cross-over "event" written by Tom Peyer, which does what the original Atlas didn't do: create a single universe out of these properties.

I thought I saw the Pheonix and Ardden Entertainment on Comixology when I first started with the app a few years back, but I think they're all gone now.  The only way to read anything more is to hit eBay or be fortunate in bin diving.  I'm thinking about it.

365 Comics...323: Phoenix...The Protector #4 (1975)

This would be the last comic book out the door for Atlas Comics, one of only six series to make it to a fourth issue (that's out of 28 total titles to debut in 1975).  That same, increasingly sad-sack Letter From Larry Lieber from four months previous appears on the back page, "What's Happening With Atlas" still touting a bunch of issues that have already come and gone.

The letters column is revealing in the amount of praise for there being a third publisher option, but at the same time not a lot of actual appreciation for the product.  A fan asks for them to change the color scheme of Phoenix's costume and Larry Lieber writes: "Why just change colors?  Gerry Conway's not one to do things half way.  He went ahead and gave the Phoenix a whole new costume."  This traces back to what I was saying previously about Lieber being overworked.  Gerry Friedrich wrote this issue in which Phoenix gets a new costume, not Gerry Conway.

But not only does the Phoenix get a new costume, but a new alias - The Protector - new powers, a new face, a new origin.  Basically, this was a hard relaunch 4-issues-in.  I mentioned before about the 3rd issue switches (365 #321) but this was ridiculous.  Ed Tyler, enraged with how his behavior as the Phoenix has essentially cost the lives of millions and the destruction of Iceland's capital city and New York, is all set to kill himself.  Seriously.  He's depressed, thinking he's ineffectual as a hero (and he is right, to be sure), and he's all set to let the aliens destroy the world.  He carves a tombstone for the Earth in some rock, and plans to rocket into space so fast he burns up in the atmosphere.  But another group of aliens blast him unconscious mid flight and save him.  Recalling very much the same events of issue #1, when Tyler awakens he freaks his shit out and starts attacking his saviors.  These guys shut that shit down quick though, and manage to convince him that they're the good guys.  They tell him humanity is a vile, destructive species, but that they also have the capacity for change, and their continued survival all rests upon Ed Tyler proving them right... with a new face, new superpowers and showdown with a mammoth four-armed cyclops to test them all out.

This is virtually the same breakdown as the first issue, but almost like the publishers are telling the new writer "do it right this time, make it like Marvel, quit destroying the world".  With this being the last issue of the entire line, it would have been far more fitting if The Phoenix really did give up on himself and the world, killed himself in the first few pages, and the remaining pages were the world burning.  But then the Atlas universe wasn't a shared universe.  The characters did not cross over and generally the worlds the characters inhabited were their own.

There's an incredible Atlas resource on-line, the Atlas Archives, which has a rundown of all the comics Atlas/Seaboard published, as well as an extensive collection of articles, interviews, and reviews both from back in the day and retrospective.  It's all fairly interesting reading, particularly the Vengeance Incorporated article from Comic Book Artist #16.

Though I'm sure there might be some folks who have affection for these things as a piece of their childhood, or, like me, appreciate them as a curiosity from the past, a "what could have been" alternative to Marvel and DC, mostly they're a collection of fairly substandard comics and derivative characters who were not given any chance to come into their own, nor did they really deserve to.  It's a collective 72 Comics and Magazines maybe not left forgotten, but certainly not worth bemoaning their loss.  Would anyone really be clamoring for their return...?

No, but it happened anyway...

Monday, November 18, 2013

365 Comics...322: The Cougar #2 (1975)

By the time the second issue of The Cougar appeared (cover date was July '75) Atlas was on its last legs.  This issue of the comic is as much mail-order catalog as it is comic book, with only 18 pages of story.  Fan reaction was mixed with as many negative letters as positive found in the letter columns of later books.  Meanwhile, with Jeff Rovin leaving his editorial position, all the work fell on Larry Lieber's desk and so it was up to him to become the face of the company, the bullpen booster, like his brother was.  Debuting in the comics with July cover dates, "A Letter From Larry Lieber" appeared on the bullpen pages (and the same letter was still appearing in October cover date comics).

Half the "letter" was treading on his (sort-of) family name, and his past with Marvel before getting to talking about the company at hand.  Atlas gets name-checked in his letter less than Marvel does, which is telling.  He talks, briefly, about the talent on board (mentioning only omnipresent Atlas writer Gary Friedrich and illustrator Frank Thorne).  He then attempts to summon some good words on Chip Goodman, but the best he can say is "his father founded Marvel Comics way back when."  The letter ends with saying:

"And now, to the overdue point of all this.  Every comics company in this industry wants to give you, the reader, the best written and best illustrated stories possible.  Here at Atlas, our intent is no less.
"I'm certain that we'll succeed! Just wait and see!"

Not exactly the most enthusiastic portrayal or hard hitting sales pitch, certainly not providing much excitement for the books or confidence in the publisher.  It's amazing that it ran for four months, but then Larry likely didn't have any more time to write another one.

As for The Cougar, he's Jeff Rand, Hollywood stuntman, who starred in a superhero movie ("The Cougar") that was intended to be career-making but bombed instead.  But Rand decided to keep the outfit and be a real superhero.  I'm not certain what happened the first issue, but the cover promises "Beginning in this issue... the Origin of the Cougar"... and we learn about Rand's childhood history in the Bayou (Friedrich was so busy with all the books he was writing he couldn't even be arsed to fake a cajun dialect for his characters) and his brother getting cursed by a witch, turning him into a werewolf who murders his family and for some reason has arrived on set of Rand's latest production to chew out the necks of other people.  It's a nonsensical story, and unfortunately not in a fun way.  It's tedious, the art from Frank Spinger (who would go on to illustrate my favourite Action Comics Weekly segment, The Secret Six you may recall) seems equally bored with the proceedings so as not to pay attention to finer details.  Consistency wasn't much of a concern and creativity was negligible (the "bayou witch" looks like the witch from Snow White, because, hey, the script said "witch").

In the climax of issue 2, the Cougar takes a fall with his brother the werewolf and, after being rushed to the hospital, is declared permanently paralyzed.  The next issue box proclaims "A crippled Cougar -- helpless in a jungle of evil?! Don't miss Ish #3 -- introducing the most devastatingly different superhero of all time."  Was this a play on Daredevil, but instead of making him blind he would be paralyzed?  I actually would like to have seen how they pulled that off in the 1970's.  Alas, this was the last issue of the Cougar so we never found out.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

365 Comics...321: Police Action #3 (1975)

For Atlas/Seaboard, comic historians have coined the phrase "the third-issue switch" since almost every third issue of Atlas' titles saw a drastic shift in tone, or even complete about-face of character or setting.  As well, by the third issue nearly every series would see a new creative team aboard, with Gary Friedrich coming in an writing almost every title.  Meanwhile editor Jeff Rovin left the publisher after butting heads with the Goodmans far too many times, leaving the already troubled editorial production in the hands of one man, Larry Lieber (yes, Stan Lee's brother).  Publisher Martin Goodman wanted changes to almost every title to make them even more like Marvel books, rather than finding their own distinguishing brand, while son Chip Goodman notoriously had very little business or publishing acumen.  Whether it was vendetta-driven or just a misguided commercial directive, either way it the Goodman's directions decimated the line.

Police Action comics was one of the titles that Friedrich took over the writing duties of.  It featured two equally measured stories of tough-acting policemen, "Sam Lomax, N.Y.P.D" and "Luke Malone, Manhunter".  Both of these were capitalizing on the no-holds-barred police officering and revenge-based crime films appearing on both the big and small screens in the 1970s.  Lomax AND Malone are both unholstering .357 Magnums, taking inspiration from Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, as well as Mannix, Beretta and the like.

I'm sure this series started off more direly serious but Friedrich came in and seemingly turned the genre on its head.  The Lomax, NYPD feature seems more like a satire, going so completely over the top that it's only a step removed from The Naked Gun.  One could easily take this script verbatim and turn it into a Black Dynamite-styled spoof of 70's cop dramas.  Luke Malone, Manhunter is equally corny, featuring tremendous leaps in logic (as was the way of many detective dramas)... coincidences, happenstances or right-leading instincts that find a favourable end for the P.I.

Friedrich so obviously knew he was toying with already well-worn conventions at this point, and works both "Magnum Force" and "Death Wish" into the scripts with a bold letters wink.  It's hilarious cornball material that really highlights the absurdity of the 70's right-leaning view on street crime.  And I absolutely could not stop laughing at the third panel of Lomax, hotdog free-hanging from his mouth, staring at a couple of bank robbers and thinking "Looks like I should have ordered... One Hot Dog With Murder Please!" then in the next pane taking the hotdog out of his mouth, shooting one criminal in the back shouting (cheeks full of street meat) "Freeze!... Police Officer!"
Ah, comedy!

365 Comics...320: Tiger-Man #1 (1975)

The Goodmans may have been willing to spend more money on artists with Atlas comics, but they kind of skimped a bit in most other aspects of their brand's launch.  They only had two editors to start, across 20-some bi-monthly books and magazines, which I'm sure didn't do their production values any good.  Case in point, Tiger-Man #1 is an uncredited issue.  It's only from the 1/2 page bullpen article "What's Happening With Atlas" that we learn the writer is Gabriel Levy with Ernie Colon on art (Colon did sign the cover as well as a tip off).

One of the things to note about Atlas/Seaboard was not only were they a publishing company, but also a nostalgia/geek mail-order business.  The center splash to Tiger-Man is not given to any grandiose illustration, but rather to five ads for hobby kits... Super-hero kids (Superman, Batman, Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America and Tarzan, $3.00 + $0.50 postage), Star Trek model kits ($2.50 - 2.75 ea), Glow-in-the-Dark Monster Models (Creature and Wolfman were $2.50 each, Godzilla and King Kong were $3.25 each, plus postage), Planet of the Apes (6 different kits for $3.50 each) and a Flintstones  model with Fred riding the Rock Cruncher for $1.80.

Beyond that they also sold home movies, which in the 1970's were Super-8 reel-to-reel spindles.  They were 200 foot lengths of film, or about 12 minutes of movie time.  They were $7.95 per reel, but I don't understand if they were just a random 12 minutes of the film or if it was like a sizzler reel of highlights of the films.  They had all five Planet of the Apes films, which you could order together for $36, for one full hour total screen-ape time.  "Have a monkey party for your friends... be the talk of the neighbourhood."  They also had Toho greats like Rodan, Ghidrah, Battles of Ghidrah, Godzilla vs The Thing, and the Return of Captain Marvel from the '40's serials.

I'd take 12 minutes of any of those than reading the dire Tiger-Man again. It's the story of Dr. Lannie Hill, a doctor operating a clinic in Zambia who manages to  isolate the chromosome that makes tigers so powerful.  He tests the serum on himself in time to face down a tiger let loose by a jealous tribal shaman.  He kills the beast with his bare hands then heads for home, the tribal leader giving him a present of the tiger's hide.  The night he returns home his sister, a famous Broadway star is murdered and naturally Hill's inclination is to make a costume out of the tiger hide and become a vigilante hunting her murderers.  I think it's a cop of Spider-Man's origins, but it's so clunky in its assembly it's hard to really tell.  The direness of it reminds me more of The Pumaman (a notable MST3K target), but it predates that awful film by five years.

It's never quite clear what exactly Tiger-Man's abilities are either, though the "What's Happening..." article dubs him "the most powerful character in the Atlas line-up".  He seems to be stronger than the average man, and he has scent tracking skills and an ability to hide in plain sight in a ridiculous costume (actual dialogue: "Hey, now! That's a right purty outfit, an' no mistake!  Didja sew it up yerself, honey?"), plus his gloves have some serious claws for shredding and rendering.  Again the What's Happening..." announces "his steel claws and feline jaws make him the most formidable nemesis to crime our world has ever known" (the only problem, he has no "feline jaws", his mask is non-functional). Throughout the book he's referred to as "Tigerman" instead of the hyphenated Tiger-Man as is the book's title.  In the opening pages he appears to be wearing just the tiger skin over his torso, gloves boots and mask, whereas later in the book he's got blue tights on underneath it all.  This book was very sloppily edited.  Colon's art is generally nice but the subject matter is so terrible it fails in elevating it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

365 Comics...319: Morlock 2001: The World's Strangest Super-Hero #1 (1975)

In the 1990's many new superhero universes failed under the weight of their own output.  With so many new heroes and universes cropping up (even DC and Marvel were creating new ones) a new one would make a barrier for entry by starting with too many titles or characters.  Back in the 1970's there weren't many other superhero options to DC and Marvel, so a new publisher entering the fray, and doing so with 16 new titles and five black and white magazines would make a huge splash.  The problem is, if the product is not very good, then you're sunk from the get-go.
Atlas Comics emerged from Seaboard Publishing, a new entity founded by Martin Goodman, fresh off of selling Marvel Comics (and their parent publishing company) and making piles of cash.  Goodman had negotiated in good faith that his son, Chip, would be installed as editorial director after the sale, but Stanley Lieber made a play and force Chip out.  Though wholly unconfirmed, many believe Goodman was out for Marvel blood, and the purpose of Atlas was largely a vendetta against Marvel. 

Goodman wanted his books to be as much like Marvel books as possible to cannibalize their market share, and the poaching of artists (as mentioned last post) with high page rates and other sweeteners was targeted even more directly at Marvel than DC (apparently a young Howard Chaykin, employed by Atlas/Seaboard) once stood out front of Marvel's Manhattan offices and started directing artists around the corner to Goodman's new publishing headquarters.

Morlock 2001 is sub-titled "The World's Strangest Super-Hero" which it was trying very hard to be, but it's also terribly derivative, obviously Atlas' take on the Swamp Thing/Man-Thing plant-based anti-hero.  The script comes from Michael Fleisher, and is taking inspiration from -- or rather, liberally stealing concepts from sci-fi stories past.  The thought police from 1984 make an appearance, as are elements of Fahrenheit 451, and even the name is referenced within the book as being taken from the Time Machine.  It's 2001 (another sci-fi homage), with a totalitarian government keeping civilization under its thumb.  A botanist is growing strange pods amidst the typical plants in his greenhouse, and is gunned down by the police for his troubles.  His pods are transported to government laboratories where only one of them appears to survive.  Weeks later it cracks open, revealing a human-looking male inside.  He's extracted, incubated, educated and brainwashed.  His strength and abilities are assessed -- he's very strong and his touch causes a rapid-growing fungus to expand and consume any human -- and he's put to use as a state assassin.  

But as he considers rebelling against his controllers he meets a kindly, shapely female who convinces him that his job is a just one and sympathizes with his reservations.  But when Morlock learns that she is a state agent sent to placate him and keep him on the job, his anger causes him to rage (not unlike the Hulk) and turn into a hideous plant-freak (somehow on the cover, Morlock and the hot girl seem to be facing the monster Morlock himself becomes).  Calming down after his rampage, Morlock instinctively returned to the destroyed greenhouse where he was created, where he discovers the meaning behind his creation (to combat the oppressive government naturally).  He takes up the cause of his creator just as he's broadcast as a fujitive.

 With art from Al Milgrom (credited as "Allen Milgrom") with inks by Jack Abel, like Phoenix before it, it looks really good.  It's derivative as hell but it pulls in so many different influence that it could easily forge its own path in a few short issues, were it given half a chance.  But then none of these Atlas books were given half a chance.  Morlock 2001 would last only 2 more issues.

365 Comics...318: Phoenix: The Man of Tomorrow #1 (1975)

I found the AV Club article about Marvel's New Universe fascinating.  I love failed superhero universes, likely because my formative comic book-reading years were filled with Impact, Milestone, Valiant, Comics Greatest World, the Ultraverse and more.  But out of the 90's boom and bust the only "new universes" left standing were the microcosms of Image (Savage Dragon, Spawn, Top Cow etc).  DC and Marvel remained "the Big Two", as they have for over half a millennium.  What fascinates me are the other companies that had a go at the Big Two prior to the 90's, like the Red Circle/Archie Adventure heroes and Tower's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (as you may have noticed).

Atlas Comics were new to me this year.  As I was bin diving at a local used book store I discovered about two dozen of this company's titles amidst their alphabetical assortment, and I was both puzzled them and also drawn to them.  I knew nothing of Atlas Comics, I had no awareness of their existence, though the name sounded familiar as the rest stop on Timely's way to becoming Marvel Comics... but this was not the forebear to Marvel, given the very 1970's aesthetic.  How could there be so many characters and books from a company I've really never heard of before?

I was tempted to buy all copies available -- about 30 or so issues -- but given how little I knew about Atlas, I didn't want to just dive in full boar.  I needed to investigate first.  Learning that no series made it to a fifth issue, I realized the investment into this dead universe wouldn't be too heavy, especially if most of the books were only $1.  Alas, upon returning to the used book store, most of the Atlas books had be scooped up, that and I didn't have the time to dig through the bins like I had before, so I may have missed some still.  What I did manage to find were five original Atlas books, starting with Pheonix: The Man of Tomorrow, which was the title that stuck out to me the most when I first spied the books.  Something about the classic power pose of the hero with his arm around the frightened female, fending off the barrage of UFO laser fire as the city around him crumbles and civilians panic.  It's a great cover.  Even the logo is appealing in its retro design.

Inside the story begins on Threshold, a massive research satellite orbiting Earth, as disaster has struck and the station is doomed.  Its three denizens flee in shuttle but its heat shield is damaged upon reentry.  Only one manages to escape after splashdown before it explodes, but he is thrown unconscious onto an arctic mass, death looming. Smash cut to a group of alien beings monitoring the Astronaut's fate and debating about whether to interfere and save the human or let nature take its course.

It's an incredible three-page opening, with some thoroughly dynamic art from Sal Amedola.  One of Atlas' two starting editors, Jeff Rovin provides a captivating narrative that really drew me in.  If this was Atlas Comics, I was impressed.  Why didn't this last?

I need only continue reading to answer that question.  The contemplative Sci-Fi angle of the book was heavily intriguing early on, but Rovin quickly loses the handle on it once it comes time to make the Astronaut named Tyler our central focus.  He fights with his saviors, argues with them about not being allowed to return home and is the consummate ugly American in his behavior.  He's an unlikable character who quickly eats away at the goodwill of the opening.  The aliens have outfits that grant their wearer abilities like enhanced strength, flight and laser beams, and naturally Tyler steals one and makes his way to Earth.  Enraged the aliens start to firebomb Reykjavik forcing Tyler into the hero role, then destroying the aliens' Arctic outpost.  So disappointed with the outcome of their interference in Tyler's fate, the aliens prepare to destroy the Earth.

It's actually a quite competent, fairly entertaining book, though with some of the usual trappings of comics from the era -- grandiose dialogue, poor character building, lack of story focus -- but at the same time, from my background reading I learned that many of the Atlas books were derivatives of not just other mainstream comics but mainstream cinema and television as well (since publisher Martin Goodman opted to not license existing properties).  Pheonix, quite obviously, is a pull on the original Planet of the Apes storyline, complete with naming the surviving astronaut Taylor.  It deviates nicely for me though, but Taylor's unwillingness to investigate the alien society and culture, and his stubborn desire to have things his own way all the time sets him on a course for getting Earth destroyed.  Way to go, dick.  I want to read more of this, though, the main reason being Sal Amedola.

I'm always surprised when I see a comic from before the 1980's that has really interesting and unique art.  I'm so intimately familiar with the famous artists of the Silver Age like Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko, and the various "house styles" that the Big Two had, that it's always surprising to see something different.  Amedola is like a precursor to Sienkiewicz, using lines more than solid ink for shading, but also toying with panel breakdown and how characters break the borders.   He's a high caliber artist, surprising for the company I never heard of.

I learned that Atlas managed to draw a great many talented artists into their fold by offering unprecedented page rates and their artwork returned, which was unheard of at the big two.  Though unintentional, Atlas' short-lived poaching of major talent actually affected a lot of change for artists rights and equity in the mid-70's.  The Atlas story is a fascinating one, and I'm going to dive into it more over the next few posts.

Next up: Morlock 2001: The World's Strangest Super-Hero

Thursday, November 14, 2013

365 Comics...317: Shaolin Cowboy #2 (2013)

Perhaps you thought the first issue of Shaolin Cowboy was a tad too brisk, too light on story, and frustratingly lacking in any real substance beyond Geoff Darrow's insanely intricate artwork.   Well, you're going to like issue 2 even less by those standards.

But this second issue is perhaps one of the most fascinating comics I have ever read... and by read, I mean looked at because there's not a single line of dialogue, no word balloons, no words at all, in fact, beyond the credits inside the front cover and the sound effects of the chainsaw staff rumbling across the top of the page.

The oddly sized 33-page unstory starts with a splash page (where we left off last issue) with the cowboy leaping into a horde of zombies.  From there it's 16 double-page spreads, consisting of two equeally sized widescreen panels stacked one on top of the other following the movement of the Cowboy as he kicks ass and rends flesh.  It, quite literally, is one big fight sequence, or rather, a segment thereof.  Were it a movie it would be about 40 seconds of screentime.  A minute, tops.  Two minutes if Zack Snyder's directing it. 

It's one against hundreds, and Darrow shows in painstaking detail how the Cowboy progresses through the throngs literally one step at a time.  It's a ridiculous book, all things considered.  If you were to read it for story it would take literally seconds to get through, but it's Geoff Darrow and you can get lost in his nuances for half an hour.  But it's really really gross.  Piles of naked zombies of both sexes getting rendered and savaged by chainsaws and kung-fu, Darrow sparing us no gory detail.
Beyond the blood and guts, there's the poetry of the Cowboy's movements.  It's so natural it's easy to overlook.  Each step in the fight picks up from the last and leads into the next.  Your mind fills in the blanks but you can see how from one position his body arrived at the next.  I'm certain after this that Darrow could draw an actual ballet,  were he so inclined, and I would read it.

This is an audacious comic.  I've never had need of that word before but it fits here.  I'm not even sure I like it, but it's just so different than anything I've ever seen, and I've read thousands upon thousands of comics.  I am in awe.  It won't be the same reading it in the inevitable collected edition, where it will just feel like the prolonged illustrating of a fight, but here as a floppy,  it's a unique artifact, true artistic expression wrapped in the midde of a silly genre mash-up.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

365 Comics...316: Smallville Season 11 #19 (2013)

The bad news?  This is the final issue.  The good news is Smallville is becoming a series of mini-series, so its not done, not done at all.  Which is excellent because this is just amazing storytelling, and tremendous fun.  Plus, like Scott Snyder with Superman Unchained,  writer Brian Q Millar is using his vehicle as an antidote to the Man Of Steel.


Now, let me be honest and say that Superman killing Zod was one of the lesser offences of the Man of Steel... many are really stuck on the Superman Does.Not.Kill. But Clark killing Zod does have precedence.  At the same time the kind of chipper, upbeat ending yo the movie didn't imply any immediate effects on the Man of Steel.  Almost like it didn't happen.  I just think that if you're going to introduce this caliber of hero doing so by having no concern over the civilian population and snapping a bad guy's neck aren't the best ways to go about it.

Check out this issue of Smallville where Clark and Diana face Hades, and when Diana confirms the only way to assuredly defeat him is to kill Felix Faust ("To walk the Earth, Hades must have a blood bond forged to a mortal") Clark says "No deal" and..."There's always another way."

That other way: hauling Hades into the upper atmosphere and threatening to hurdle him into the endless void for the rest of Faust's life.  Total badass move, and Hades concedes.  Later Diana asks, "What power did you use to subdue him?" To which he replies, "Words."

Suck it, Man of Steel.  This sequnce trumps your neck-snapping fiasco tenfold.

365 Comics...315: Action Comics #594 (1987)

I'm fairly certain I had this comic as a lad but I don't really recall the events of the issue with any familiarity.   The opening sequence where Superman and Robin meet for the first time rings a little bell, but the particulars of the overall affair doesn't resonate at all.   Robin asks Superman for his autograph,  and after hemming and hawing for a panel he agrees, but "The word 'Superman' written on a piece of paper wouldn't have much significance.  Let's see if we can't find something more suitable. Like this piece of tin edging material.  It probably blew off one of the older buildings around this rooftop.  With my laser-like heat vision I can trim it to a useable size...then my super-hard fingernail can do the rest."  How could I ever forget scintillating stuff like that?

The rest of the issue has Booster Gold acting like a dick then somehow beating the shit out of Superman, only to end in a cliffhanger with Supes at Booster's feet and another Booster showing up on scene... to be continued in Booster Gold #23, which I know I never had.   None of the original Booster Gold series is on Comixology either, so I guess I will have to go bin digging if I ever want to find out how this ends.  But do I?

Monday, November 11, 2013

365 Comics...314: Quantum and Woody: The World's Worst Superhero Team tpb

I've only recently read the first 4 issues of the original Quantum & Woody (See 365 Comics #22, 147, 174 and 175), and have collected another random dozen issues of the series, but for some reason I feel very protective of it.  As I expressed in 365 #79 I'm an after-the-fact Christopher Priest fan and I do genuinely miss him from comics, especially after reading so much of his work this year.  After the new Q&W was announced I was quite disappointed to learn that Priest and Doc Bright weren't returning, then to read about their failed attempt to claim the characters they created when Valiant went under last time kind of soured me on supporting the new book.  But Priest has been through his share of cruddy deals on the industry,  and he's been exceptionally graceful in his concession to the new series.  The good news is that Priest and Bright will be back on a new mini series in the old continuity early in the new year.  This has actually warmed me back toward the new Q&W, as did some great work from Fowler on the Thrilling Adventure Hour anthology.  And, as with all the Valiant trades, the first volume is only $10 for four issues, or six bucks cheaper than buying them in floppies... so bargain.

It's an enjoyable book, but with reading the original around the same time, it feels like its sitting in the shadow of Priest and Bright and can't crawl out from it.  James Asmus' scripts feel too much like copycat Q&W at this point, stealing the same storytelling structure that made the original unique (but it felt uniquely Priest, and not necessarily tied to the series).  It may just be a requirement from the publisher to connect back to the original, but I'd much prefer it if Asmus found his own voice.  In the third chapter Amus attempts to update the "Noogie" conversation from Q&W #4 (365 #175) but it feels exactly that, an emulation of a previous and famous story moment rather than an organic conversation between siblings.  And the goat... sigh.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate it but it's not doing anything that feels fresh or really worth my time.  I think if I hadn't read any of the original series I'd be far more impressed.

365 Comics...313: Earth 2 #17 (2013)

Sometimes I buy certain comics for the express purpose of reviewing them, like Earth 2, which I reviewed over at Thor's Comic  Column this week.  I really wanted to like Earth 2 when it came out, because it feels more like the fresh take on the characters and the DC Universe that the New 52 was hinting at.  But at the same time I just have such a difficult time getting into James Robinson's writing.  He's a clever idea guy but his prose and dialogue often show too much of the writer behind it, feeling unnatural in many ways.  Though I don't know Tom Taylor's work at all, I was happy to hear he was stepping in as new writer so that I could sample Earth 2 again.  Alas, as my review details, it's just not something I'm connecting with.  I guess I'll just have to stick with Smallville for some alternate Earths DCU action.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

365 Comics...312: Superman Unchained #4 (2013)

Page 3,
WRAITH: It's working! They're following us up and out of the city

SUPERMAN: They've caused too much destruction already, Wraith. We still need to go higher.
In four sentences Scott Snyder captures the essence of Superman's heroic nature than Zack Snyder did in 2+ hours of cinema.  It's truly that simple Zack.

Man of Steel keeps getting more and more horrid in my mind the further removed I am from my viewing of it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

365 Comics...311: Green Arrow #25 (2013)

You can read my full review tomorrow at Thor's Comic Column, but I must gush today!  This was perhaps the most joyous issue of Green Arrow in Lemire's run yet.  While I've been loving the Outsiders tease that Lemire's been seeding in the run so far, and am quite looking forward to it starting next issue, and also while I was kind of bemoaning and dreading all of the "Zero Year" offshoots, I have to admit I'm so happy Lemire took the time out and ran with a Zero Year story here.

Why so happy?

Because with this issue Lemire introduces some of the supporting cast from Arrow into the DCU proper, Moira and Walter, yes, but moreover Diggle becomes a DCU character.  I love Diggle, I love Arrow and I'm so happy that Lemire seems to be just as big a fan.  So many great nods to the show here and some delicious tweaks to that show's melodrama.  But Diggle, yes!  Including an absolutely goosebumps-inducing back-up feature focusing on Dig and teasing the partnership between Ollie and Dig in the intervening 5 year from Zero Year to today.

Who's the world's most excitable archer?
Oliver SQUEEn.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

365 Comics...310: American Barbarian #1 (2010)

Now available in issue form from Comixology, but also still up for free reading at this is retro-Kirby-esque lunacy at its best.

The cover image looks like a classic 70's t-shirt decal, the kind that would start peeling after two or three washes.  I wonder if I could get a hi-res enough image to get a tee made...or if Scioli is selling them?  This is just funky wintermint all over.

365 Comics...309: The Double Life of Miranda Turner #1 (2013)

The Blockheads, Devo-esque-garbed, Lego-brick-hemorrhaging bad guys are perhaps my favourite supervillain concept ever*

*this week

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

365 Comics...308: Letter 44 #1 (2013)

With Barack Hussein Obamacare now entering year 6 as the POTUS, Letter 44 is not exactly timely in its conceit, but that doesn't make it any less enticing or entertaining.  I loved the first issue.
The series starts with the Obama-esque President elect entering the oval office the day before his inauguration and reading the letter left for him by the outgoing Bush-esque President, as is tradition.  It's revealed that a lot of the warmongering and defense boosting of the outgoing Presidency was in preparation for a looming alien invasion.  The incoming President spends his first day in office validating 43's claims and talking to the reconnaissance mission (with an annoying 15 minute delay) deep into space.  

I enjoyed that writer Charles Soule in some respect sought to justify the actions of the Bush Presidency and the most sensible rationale for it was alien invasion.  Beyond the high concept, Soule executes the story wonderfully and, in a sense, logically.  Both the on-the ground and in-space perspectives provide two different story threads, but equally fascinating.  I'm super keen to learn what's actually happening out in space, and to see how 44 differentiates his presidency with this burden looming over him.  

Here's a link to a 6-page preview at CBR or get a digital copy for 99cents at Comixology... an exceptionally modest price for one of the more fascinating concepts and better executed first issues of the year.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

365 Comics...307: Azure #1 (2010)

DC's Zuda Comics was a noble stab at bringing digital comics to the mainstream... but their method of going about it, by making it an on-line competition for primarily amateur storytellers, was perhaps less than best for advancing the digital form.  Zuda produced a few notable pieces, but the majority of the output, while readable, is not supremely polished from an artistic or storytelling standpoint.  It's like any first time work seen from Image or Arcana or early Boom Studios, it's just rough around the edges and doesn't feel like a fully accomplished work.  The creators were also sidled with a then-unique page structure, formatted for viewing in the Zuda app.  It transfers nicely to digital platforms like Comixology but at the time, and for new writers and artists it was just another hurdle to telling their stories.

Since Zuda has been shuttered, the properties are winding up on Comixology, like Azure here, which suffers the same fate as many of the Zuda properties.  It's interesting, but it's just not terribly good.  Vreator Daniel Govar delivers a post-apocalyptic story set in an underwater sanctuary, populated by a single individual, so it keys in nicely to my affection for differnt post-end-of-the-world scenarios. it also later involves the woman encountering a giant mutated great white, getting swallowed by it and slicing her way out of it, so that's something you don't see every day...well unless Sharknado is running everyday, but Govar did it first.  Even the breakdown of how humanity (or a very small faction of humanity) prepared of the extinction level event is interesting, but the entirety of it just doesn't feel refined.  It reads, and looks, like an early effort but there's definitely talent underneath.

It's one of those things where I'm interested in knowing where the story goes but I'm not certain that I'll like it or that it'll be good or even worthwhile... do I spend the 5$ to read the rest of it or do I just go with my instinct and not venture any further, or just spend another buck or two to see whether I should continue, or if it's too much to bear?

365 Comics...306: Theremin #3 (2013)

I reviewed the first issue of Theremin for Thor's Comic Column a few month's back and I quite liked it for it's weird and different take of super-science and espionage.  Still not entirely comfortable with the digital format, I hadn't kept up with new releases, so I was surprised to find I only missed the second and third issue.  The second issue was a bit of a muddle and I'm not truly certain what happened within it (Hawaiian monkey cult?), but the third issue was a mind-twisting non-linear narrative of assassination and double-crosses.  It's best read in full pages, rather than via Comixology's guided-view (where the story is revealed panel-by-panel) as it shows the rhythm of the jumbled narrative, which is a very important aspect to understanding and enjoying the story.  This would actually be even better in physical form, being able to flip back and forth between pages manually would make putting the pieces together (seems to be three different timeframes in play at once).  It's a fun exercise in storytelling but also a fun read just generally

Saturday, November 2, 2013

365 Comics...305: The Fox #1 (2013)

My write-up of The Fox popped up on Thor's Comic Column yesterday and the one thing I didn't get a chance to point out was the fact that Mark Waid wrote many, many, many of the Red Circle heroes (or variations thereof) back in the very early 1990's when DC made their first attempt at modernizing them with Impact Comics... but one of the character he never wrote: The Fox.  The Fox never wound up appearing in Impact's 2-ish year run strangely... I guess they thought the Jaguar was more than enough animal-based heroism for one superhero universe.

I love Cooke's variant cover to the first ish..