Monday, March 23, 2009

On Vacation

Taking a little break this week for vacation with the family. We'll be back April 2nd with more comic book whining!

Mark your calendars, enjoy your week, and we'll talk when I get back!

Monday, March 16, 2009

10 Essential Team-Up Books Crossover!

Well, I told you March would be "Essential Reading" month, and we're off to the second and final part. I wanted to take a look at "10 Essential Team-Up Books", and I thought I'd go to the expert to see what he considers the best.

Rick runs the Mail It to Team-Up blog, and he's taken over the team-up section of the posts for me. Head over there this week to find out what he considers "Essential". Trust me, he's got some good ones on there you've probably missed altogether!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

10 Essential Comics You Should Read (Conclusion)

Rick mentioned that I stepped into the modern age with my last list of picks, and I hadn't noticed but he was absolutely right. As such, I've retitled this last part of my Essential Reading posts with a more appropriate name. These are still goodies though.

Action Comics Annual #1 (1987) - "Cry Vampire!"

Ok, so I realize this is the second vampire-related story to make it into the list, but this one rocks for so many reasons. If you haven't read it, don't read this post or the pages of the story I've listed, but go buy it right now! It's worth the relatively small price you'll pay for a copy.

In this story, we get a Superman/Batman team-up that absolutely takes the cake. The Batman in this story is more like a "Dark Knight Returns" version of the character than anything else.

Citizens of Gotham have been murdered, and Batman has come to track down the killer. Along the way, he finds a town of people scared to death of the night. It doesn't take long to find out why: they have a little vampire problem. Obviously, Batman's outfit makes him look a little too "undead" to this country town and they go after him thinking he's the killer.

Eventually, he finds the girl responsible, only to almost die in the process. Superman flies in to lend a hand, but realizes a little late that he's not that effective against vampires because of their magic origin. As such, he's almost turned into one himself if not for the timely intervention of a not-so-dead-after-all Batman.

As I mentioned before, this Batman is one tough dude, and the last page just proves it. Even though they're only actually teamed up for 2 pages, this is a killer story you should grab as soon as possible.

Avengers Annual #10 (1981) - "By Friends Betrayed"

When a comic book opens with a superhero attempting to commit suicide, you know you have an interesting story ahead. Of course, reading this for the first time in 1981, I had no idea I was looking at a group of villains who would headline various Marvel stories for the next 20-plus years.

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants gets reformed here (sans Magneto), in an Avengers story no less! We are introduced to Rogue and Mystique here (among others), while seeing old familiar faces like The Blob again. While I'm no fan of his, I have to say he did manage to hold his own in the fight against the Avengers.

Of course, the key point of the story was the return of Carol Danvers--a.k.a. Ms. Marvel. Turns out she'd been back for a while, though powerless now thanks to Rogue's touch. Not only that, but she had a major hate-on for the Avengers having left her behind with Korvacs years earlier.

Today, Ms. Marvel has her powers back and is still a major player in the Marvel Universe, and this story is where it started.

G.I. Joe #21 (1984) - "Silent Interlude"

I still vividly remember this comic as well. I had a vast collection of the action figures, and like everyone else, Snake Eyes was my favorite. This story from the "Assistant Editors Month" era was his first full-fledged solo tale, and appropriately enough it was wordless.

I was a huge fan of these comics growing up (and the television show as well). Each story was a good one to my childlike tastes, but this was the top for me. We are introduced to a white ninja in this tale. Later we found out his name was Storm Shadow, but for this story he was still the unknown new villain.

Snake Eyes must sneak into a Cobra base to rescue Scarlett. True to character, she's busy making her own way out of the base (she was one tough redhead) so as Snake Eyes breaks in, she's breaking out oblivious to his rescue attempt.

His confrontation with Storm Shadow is brief, but it was meant only to set the stage for the future. The final panels of the story show matching tattoos on both character's arms, giving us the hint they are linked somehow.

To show you how popular this story is, 20 years later it would be a pivot point in the telling of Snake Eyes' origin in his solo mini-series. In that, we learned how Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes were linked and their history. The mini-series actually ended at the opening panels of this story from two decades before. A great little tale you shouldn't miss.

New Teen Titans #20 (1982) - "Dear Mom and Dad"

I've already mentioned in an earlier post how Perez and the New Teen Titans made the Bronze Age for me. This story shows why. It's a letter Wally West (Kid Flash) is writing to his parents about a typical day with the Teen Titans. Each of the Titans face a new villain called The Disruptor who has apparently found the ultimate suit that will allow him to destroy any hero.

One by one, he takes them down. Ultimately, Wally tracks him down and finds out he's just this teenaged kid wanting to be loved by his father (this was years before we got to blame out parents for everything that went wrong in our life, so this was unique). The TT bust in, defeat the villain, and save the day.

The thing that made this story so powerful (along with most of the TT stories from that time) was that it was more than just mindless action. The greater part of the tale was relationships. We saw Wally's relationship with his parents paralleled with the Disruptor's own family life. In the end, this tense tale ended on a feel-good note, and I miss harmlessly-fun stories like that today.

So that's it, my "Top 10" stories. I'm sure you have your own favs, and I'd love to hear any from you that I might have overlooked.
Next week, we begin our crossover. Show up here Monday morning and I'll tell you what's up and where's it's happening. More Essential reading next week, as we look at "10 Essential Team-Up Stories You Should Read"!

Monday, March 9, 2009

10 Essential Bronze Age Comic Stories You Should Read (Part 2)

Flash #182 (Volume 2) "Absolute Zero"

Let's be honest, Captain Cold never gets much respect. He's been around so long he's just taken for granted. He's fought Barry Allen, Wally West and Bart Allen, and has only succeeded in killing one of the three (with help). Still, it's those quiet ones we often take for granted.

This story find Captain Cold on the hunt for his sister's killer. Through this story we are given perhaps the biggest back-story this character has ever received outside of his 2-page origin years ago. We find out just how close he was to the Golden Glider and what she meant to him.

But more than that, we find out just how far he's willing to go to avenge her death.

Golden Glider's ex-boyfriend, Chillblaine, gets some of Captain Cold's old equipment from the Glider and then she's dead. This doesn't sit well with CC, so he tracks Chillblaine down through the underworld until he finally finds him for an all-or-nothing fight to the death.

This is the one time in a comic book that Captain Cold's threats actually seem like they should be taken seriously. When he threatens to stick his gun inside a guy's mouth and freeze him from the inside out, it's enough to make the Punisher stop for a minute.

The final showdown is great as we see the classic cold villain take on the newer model. While he's never been one to take down many heroes, this story will show you what Cold's capable of...and even manages to end on a tender note on the very last page as he makes peace with the memory of his sister for what he's done. All around, this is one of the best Flash villain stories ever (that never actually has the Flash in any of it).

Green Lantern #188 - "Mogo Doesn't Socialize"

Forget the cover story in this issue. It's a rather forgettable John Stewart tale, but the back-up story is a gem. Watchmen-scribe Alan Moore pens the story of perhaps the most powerful Green Lantern of all...and why he doesn't hang around the other Lanterns.

Thanks to the recent "Sinestro Corps" storyline, I'm sure everyone is very familiar with Mogo. He finally became a key player in a Green Lantern story with that one. But when this tale came out, Mogo had never been heard of. He was considered this legendary Green Lantern, and thought to be a myth.

Through this story, we are introduced to a galactic bounty hunter who is out to make a name for himself by finding and killing this great Green Lantern. We are treated to his search for the character until he finally finds exactly who he's looking for...and high-tails it out of there!

Ok, in truth this is more of a light-hearted tale than a rough, scary one like you find in the series today, but that's what makes it fun. And even though the punchline is lost today since Mogo's been such a big part of GL history lately, it's still a great introduction to the character (and he never says a single word in the whole thing).

X-Factor #87 (Volume 1) - "X-Aminations"

I'm a big X-Factor fan and I don't deny it. This story is one of the reasons why. Each character is interviewed by a psychiatrist (bet you'll figure out who it is if you think about it) who gives them insight into their actions.

Through 2-and-3 page vignettes we are given an intimate glimpse into each character and why they act the way they do. Why does Polaris keep pushing people away? What does Havok think of his leadership abilities? What secret does Strong Guy keep from the rest of the world? Why does Jamie Madrox keep dupes around? All of these actually come as startling revelations in this almost completely non-action tale.

The biggest revelation? Why is Quicksilver such a jerk? The answer is because he's perpetually stuck behind every slowpoke in the world since he thinks and moves so much faster than everyone else. He's not the same man today he was then (dead and all), but this makes his hot temper a little easier to understand.

In the end, Val Cooper gives the mystery psychiatrist (figured it out yet?) her take on the heroes...and she's wrong on every count. She's completely misread them all, just as they have misread each other.

This exact same format was done recently in the newest version of the series, and it's what makes it such a great one to follow. X-Factor is a cerebral comic and not one necessarily filled to the brim with action. A lot can happen without a single bad guy getting squashed in the process.

We continue our look at essential stories in our next post!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

10 Essential Bronze Age Comic Stories You Should Read (Part 1)

The problem with comic books is that there are so many of them published over the years you can't help but miss a few of the good ones. For every stinker you buy, there are bound to be a one or two great ones you skipped altogether.

Let's jump beyond the obvious choices like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, and let's pick some of the lesser-known stories you might have missed over the years. Some of these were back-up stories in a book, while some carried the spotlight, but they all only lasted one issue. They might not have resonated with some effect throughout the comic universe for years to come, but they are great storytelling and worth the time and effort to find.

X-Men #159 - "Night Screams"

What do you get when you combine mutants (comic's most popular hero type) with vampires (television's most popular villain type)? You get X-Men #159 from 1982!

This one is a rarity because 1) it's a self-contained story and 2) it's got Dracula himself returning to the Marvel Universe! Dracula basically ruled the 70's for Marvel as their horror comic of choice, and this reappearance of him in the most popular book of the day made happy readers everywhere. Storm becomes seduced to the dark side...a familiar setting for this team that made for a tense story.

At the time, this was the first time Marvel's mutants had ever faced a villain of this magnitude. Sure, they'd fought Magneto a hundred times or so, but this was a villain they couldn't even touch! Dracula tossed them around like they were nothing.

And though Nightcrawler's religious leanings had been hinted at in earlier issues, this was the first time we got a strong acknowledgment not only of the depth of his beliefs but of the power behind them. His famous, "I believe!" statement with the cross was the turning point of the battle for the team. In the end though, they couldn't even claim a clean victory over Drac, as he left on his own after a confrontation with a now-free Ororo.

This was a high point for the X-Men during the early 80's. They were the most best-selling comic book out there, and this story managed to show one of the reasons why.

Fantastic Four # 245 - "Childhood's End"

This is another big issue from 1982, and it stands out for a lot of reasons. The Invisible Woman returns to the Baxter Building to find Reed and Ben trashed in the hall and some mysterious blond guy choking Johnny. As soon as the stranger tosses Johnny aside, Susan finds herself fighting for her life against a villain who can somehow counteract her powers.

This was a great issue because it finally allowed Susan to cut loose and show herself a powerful hero in her own right and not just the customary damsel-in-distress she was for the first years of the FF's run. She does things in this issue with her powers that she'd never done before (breaking her fall from the top of the Baxter Building by creating a giant, invisible force cube, for one thing) and every single thing she tosses at the guy just doesn't seem to work.

In the end, the villain turns out to be a very familiar character in a different form, and the only way Susan defeats him is by emotion and not power.

This issue also reveals a big secret from another member of the team: Ben Grimm. As one last act of kindness, the "villain" of the story offers to heal the Thing. But as he probes Ben's mind, he discovers a secret that he mentally shares with Mister Fantastic: Ben doesn't want to be cured! All his years of trying to come up with a cure for Ben, and Reed suddenly finds out Ben didn't actually want him to succeed in any of them.

And finally, the identity of the bad guy in this story gave us a glimpse into the future possibilities of a regular character in that book. Over the years we've seen glimpses of what he might become, but nothing on this scale of power yet.

The Incredible Hulk # 340 - "Vicious Circle"

A Hulk/Wolverine confrontation isn't something new, but this particular match-up from 1988 actually was. For the first time, Wolverine was facing off against the "smart" Hulk. No longer just brute force, Hulk now kept a clear head through it all. And to top it all off, Wolverine actually tried to be the voice of reason this time around!

Of course, things never turn out the way they're supposed to in a comic book. Eventually, Wolverine pops the claws and it's off to the slash-and-smash for the two of them.

The thing that helps set this issue apart is the artwork from Todd McFarlane. His style gives a savage look to this brutal smackdown, and it really makes this story memorable.

I've never been a fan of the grey Hulk look. To me, it sort of makes him look more like Frankenstein than a hero, but it adds to the story here. Throw in my favorite Wolverine costume, and you have a winner.

Of course, as with every confrontation these two have, there is no clear cut winner. Interference at the end of the fight causes them to break it up and move on, but while it lasts this is one of their better battles.

Next week, we look at 3 more essential stories!

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Real Watchmen

We all know the movie is on its way this weekend, and I wanted to be a faithful comic blogger and jump on the bandwagon before it was too late. So here is my obligatory "Watchmen" posting.

You've probably heard this story a dozen times before, but Alan Moore's original proposal for the Watchmen was "Who Killed The Peacemaker?", and it used the Charlton Comics characters in what could only be called a never-before-seen brutality that would add emotional weight to the story. DC balked since they had just purchased the characters and had high hopes for their future, so they told Moore to create his own originals for the story. Moore, being the individual that he is, did just that by creating a series of heroes who were thinly-veiled versions of the originals. But did you ever wonder "What If?"

With that, I'd like to present a look at "The Real Watchmen"...

This story was so grim and dark that it would have definitely forever changed the way the Charlton characters were perceived from that point on (even though the story would have been considered an "alternate reality" or "Elseworlds" type tale). The good-and-bad were meshed into a deep gray murk that made the heroes human. So What If...

I've never seen this done before, so through the modern miracles of technology I'd like to give my readers a little treat: I will show you what one of the scenes from the book would have looked like if DC had left Moore alone and let him have the Charlton heroes for real.

Is it original, never-before-seen concept artwork kept from the world for decades? Nope, it's my son's amazing Photoshop skills. Still, it should give you a little taste of what might have been and what we missed.

The original scene appears in Chapter 1 as The Question (Rorschach) attempts to gain some insight into the death of Christopher Smith (aka "The Peacemaker"). Here we are with "Who Killed the Peacemaker?", chapter 1:So there's a feeling of what might have been. Thanks, Khristian!

Next it's time to look at some essential reading as we lead into our awesome guest-posts later this month!

Oh, and Happy Anniversary, honey! Thanks for marrying this crazy comic geek!
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