Monday, October 31, 2011

Scary Heroes

Hey, it's time to get some free candy today from the neighbors! But before you do, let's remember some of the scarier "heroes" who tried to save the day from time to time even though they didn't look like Captain America.

Swamp Thing

I never really understood the appeal of this guy, but I used to watch him on Nicolodean's late 70's/early 80's comic book show where they read comic books with sound effects. Definitely low-key for a kid's show, but I loved it (I still hear the theme song of "Flight of the Valkyries" every time I go through the back issues of an old comic store).

From what I understand the comic took a freaky turn after he became a part of the Vertigo line. He's recently returned to the DC universe as the "big reveal" of the Brightest Day storyline.

The Spectre

Ok, so he's not that terrifying to look at, but you'd better believe that when he showed up to hurt you, it was not going to end well.

Jim Aparo took this otherwordly character and made him one serious avatar of justice, having him deal with criminals by cutting them in half with giant scissors, turning them into a wooden statue before cutting it to pieces with a buzzsaw, and having their flesh melt off. Yep, he was someone even Batman thought was too tough on bad guys.

Aparo's entire run can be found in a trade paperback collection that you really want to read. Even though the Spectre today has been turned into a caricature of himself, the Aparo version will make you respect him again.


Again, not scary to look at, but how tough must it be to be a superhero no one else can ever see or talk to?

He can possess anyone and has often gotten involved in many JLA adventures and teamed with Batman quite often in the original Brave and the Bold series of team-ups. The thing that really makes him fresh and tragic is the fact that he was the bearer of the White Lantern ring for a while, got to come back to life and be normal again, and then died saving Dove only to become Deadman again rather than have peace in the afterlife. I have to give DC credit on this one: they really did it right for this character in recent books.

Neal Adams' work on this character is unparalleled. While there have been a number of folks who've drawn him, I think Adams still stands as the best.

The Phantom Stranger

While Deadman was the hero no one could see or hear, the Phantom Stranger is the hero no one understands. DC has never (to my knowledge) given this hero a true origin--and I'm absolutely fine with that! Wolverine shall forever stand as a lesson for those who wish to take the mystery man and give him a backstory thinking it will make him interesting. Wrong move, Marvel!

What powers does the Phantom Stranger have? Mysterious magic stuff. Nothing definite, but he can pretty much defend himself against most magic attacks. He appears when needed and disappears immediately afterward. He's never been a regular member of any team, and has pretty much kept the same costume since his first appearance. Like the character, the look is timeless and always a fun read.

Werewolf By Night

Jack Russell (yep, just like the terrier) became Marvel's Werewolf by Night every time the full moon came out (which in the Marvel Universe was whenever he needed to become the monster rather than once a month). And he somehow always wore green pants. I guess he got his clothes from the same color-changing tailor the Hulk got his always-purple pants from.

I don't know how Marvel managed to keep this character going through his own series for so long, but they did. The gimmick seems simple enough--man becomes wolf, doesn't want to be wolf, tries to find cure while not hurting those he loves, etc--yet he found his way working through a number of Marvel titles, helping Spider-Man and even fighting Dracula himself. The title even introduced the world to Moon Knight, who was originally a werewolf-fighting hero.

Ghost Rider

I couldn't finish the list without including this guy, the original Spirit of Vengeance. He suffered a rather less-than-stellar movie adaptation (and a sequel that will at last give every comic fan something they've always wanted to see: Ghost Rider using the bathroom), but the title started out interesting enough.

Ghost Rider was a member of the Champions for the entirety of their existence, and he was a part of the new Fantastic Four along with Wolverine, Hulk, and Spider-Man for a very short bit.

It was very fortunate Johnny Blaze became Ghost Rider. Think of how much less you would respect the hero if his secret identity was Cecil Feather.

The Legion of Monsters

I'm just throwing this in to grab a few remaining ones I missed. Morbius, Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night (as opposed to Werewolf By Day, which isn't nearly as scary) and Ghost Rider teamed up to fight the baddies for an issue of Marvel Premiere.

Give Marvel credit on this one, it was a fun little group. I'm just glad they didn't throw Howard the Duck in there with them.

Now go grab some free candy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reasons the 90's Almost Killed Comics (Part 2)

Last week we looked at the first of my list of why the 90's are the "Dark Ages" of comics. Here we go with some more:

1. Feral Wolverine

I have to admit that stealing the adamantium from Wolverine by having Magneto rip it from his bones was a pretty cool idea. I give them points for being daring as far as that goes. And letting him have bone claws was pretty cool as well because that meant his claws were actually a part of his mutant abilities and it was a shocker to see them pop out.

And then Marvel got greedy.

For some strange reason the Marvel writers decided to take things to the extreme by having him slowly turn into an animal. The decision to make him an actual wolverine that had mutated apparently raised its ugly head again and they brought him down. He eventually went to wearing a bandana and even a ninja mask before it was all said and done.

2. Jackets and Pouches Everywhere

I can appreciate how comics try to stay relevant to the times with some changes. In the 90's, things went crazy. The X-Men were the epitome of crazy as far as costumes went.

I don't know if Xavier kept it freezing in the mansion or of they were just cold-natured, but for some reason jackets were in style. Gambit wore his well and it was cool. Everyone else just ripped him off.

Dazzler (a hero who shouldn't be in any comic) wore a jacket. Rogue wore a jacket. Jubilee wore a coat. Cyclops had more pouches than Batman's utility belt. But let's not leave out the Avengers, who loved their jackets too.

Black Knight wore one over his armor. Sersi wore one (sleeves pushed up, of course) over her costume. Crystal, the Wasp, Wonder Man, Firestar, Jusice and even Black Widow sported jackets during the 90's. I don't know why it became the norm for Marvel heroes, but they definitely weren't afraid to put them out there.

Eventually jackets phased out for a while and spandex made a return, but the damage had been done. At least Spider-Man never wore a jacket...unless you count the Scarlet Spider's hoodie.

And don't get me started on DC's Vibe. That costume just has no explanation. 

3. Bloodwynd

The 90's gave us a number of weird heroes, but we can't skip Bloodwynd. I'm the first to admit I wasn't a huge Justice League fan, but when I saw him show up in their confrontation with Doomsday (just before he killed Superman) my first thought was "When did Spawn join the JLA?" This character was an unabashed ripoff of Spawn and I have no idea how they avoided a massive lawsuit.

Just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone. I don't know that he's made any major impressions in the DC universe in over a decade. As a matter of fact, I doubt he made it through the recent reboot alive.

I have no idea if you should blame the writers for not knowing what to do with the guy, or the character itself, but Bloodwynd was a ripoff that stumbled out of the gate. But hey, at least he wasn't wearing a jacket.

4. Destroying Major Heroes...Then Bringing Them Back

The purpose of a reboot is to give us something new. Maybe sales are flagging on a title and they need to give the old horse a shot in the arm. Maybe new writers come in with new ideas. Or maybe a hero has just outlived their usefulness. For whatever reason, reboots are a hit-and-miss affair.

The 90's were brutal to the major heroes. Last week I talked about how Marvel tried to replace Spider-Man, but DC went ape-crazy in the 90's with wiping out their crew...though most of those deaths were short-lived.

So what did they do in the 90's? Well, they killed Superman (for a few issues). They broke Batman's back and replaced him with Azrael, who eventually went crazy and had to be put down by a healed-up Bruce Wayne. They turned Green Lantern into a crazed homicidal maniac who killed Sinestro with his bare hands...along with several members of the Green Lantern Corps. Then eventually he became Parallax, died saving the universe, became the Spectre, and then came back as Green Lantern again.

Many publishers would stop there, but they didn't. They had Aquaman lose his hand to piranhas and decide getting a harpoon/hook thing in there was a bright idea. They also gave him a new long hair and beard look that was supposed to make him "edgy". He stayed like this for a while, then they gave him a magic "water hand".

They killed Green Arrow with a bomb, until Parallax brought him back just before he died himself. They killed Hawkman and brought him back again thanks to his reincarnation powers. They didn't kill Martian Manhunter, who didn't deserve the pass but they made up for it big time by killing him off in the mid-2000's.

And hey, Marvel had their fun too. Besides replacing (and then bringing back) Spider-Man, they went brutal on their guys. Wolverine lost his adamantium through having it ripped from his very pores. The Fantastic Four and the Avengers were thrown to a new universe for a 12 issue "Reborn" reboot. They destroyed the Avengers again and gave us such classic "extreme" teams as "Force Works" (remember them?). Then Marvel had an "extreme fest" by giving us so many X-Men titles to follow that it was impossible to understand where any hero was supposed to be at any time. X-Treme, X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Man, and so many other titles brought to you by the letter "X".

The thing that annoyed me about it in the 90's was how short-lived it all was for the most part. In some cases it lasted for a couple of years, while in others the changes were mere months before you could see things reverting back (Superman was foreshadowed as back in the game almost immediately). On the other hand, it was a good thing those changes were short. Most of them were horrible choices.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Trailer Thursday: Batman and Space Ghost

Not a trailer, but because your Thursday needed more awesome...

I'm gonna miss this show when it goes off the air.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NYCC Gives Us Possibilities...

This image recently came from the NYCC. While it could be for anything from a comic book line to a new cartoon series, I'm hoping for new toys. As I've said in a previous post, the Micronauts are a personal favorite of mine. If they're coming back and it's handled right, sign me up!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reasons the 90's Almost Killed Comics

While the 70's and 80's may have really helped comics, it was the 90's that almost killed them. Many people call the 90's the "Dark Ages" of comics, and it's easy to see why. Here are a few reasons:

1. Heroes Reborn

While DC got all the press for their recent reboot, Marvel tried it in the 90's with horrible results. The Avengers and the Fantastic Four were sent to another dimension, and we were treated to 12 issues of "meh" at best storytelling.

Marvel farmed out the work on their major titles to Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and others at Image Comics. It was a "daring" move that they hoped would generate sales. Instead, the 12 issues we have of this storyline through various titles were met with confusion and ridicule in many instances. I mean, when Captain America is stacked more than Power Girl, you should see problems coming.

While they did manage to bring the team back to the "real world" later, they can never fail to admit the idea stunk. The concept might have been good, but their execution left a lot to be desired. You can get the trade paperback editions of their storylines now if you need a good laugh.

2. The X-Men Get a New Title...and a Million Copies of It

Any avid fan of The Uncanny X-Men from the 80's still had some hope as the 90's rolled in. Jim Lee was the top artist out there, and when we were told he'd be taking over a new X-Men title we were thrilled. You were hard-pressed to find a comic book fan who wasn't scrambling to find that coveted first issue of X-Men when it came out, certain we were holding a million-dollar collectible in our hands! What we didn't know was that Marvel was anticipating a sell-out, so they were feverishly printing and reprinting copies of this book.

At first we were proud and excited to say we owned that first issue that was sure to go up in value. Then we noticed comic shops and bookstores were still selling it. Then they couldn't give copies away. Now what could have stood as a landmark collector's item is notorious for being one of the least valuable back issues of the X-Men franchise.

3. Weird Cover Stuff

The 90's were a decade of dazzle for comic book covers. Never mind paper, the publishers decided what we needed were gimmicks!

We had foil-embossed covers! We had hologram covers! We had more variant covers than you could shake a stick at! We had lenticular covers! We had polybags with and without collectibles!

Some comics came bagged with trading cards! Some covers actually glowed in the dark! A few were die-cut to get them that extra edge! We had gatefold covers that spread out for miles (it seemed)!

Of course, many of the more spectacular cover enhancements meant that the comic itself would cost a little extra that month to cover it. At the time, it may have seemed like a spectacularly cool gimmick to begin with, but soon everybody was on the bandwagon and some months it was hard to find a comic that wasn't decked out in some gaudy cry for attention.

Now this is considered a joke of the comic book industry. Whoever was selling holograms to the comic companies in the 90's retired a very rich man.

I have to admit I was right there grabbing holographic copies of Spider-Man comics thinking I was having something special to give to my sons one day. Now they are stuffed in a box somewhere in the attic collecting dust with my copy of X-Men #1. Still, if you were willing to destroy the comic itself to get the hologram off you had a cool collectible sticker.

4. The Clone Saga

Oh baby, if you want to look at a low point in the 90's, look no further than this "turning point" in the life of Peter Parker. This confusing mess of storytelling reigned supreme as the worst Spider-Man storyline of all time until "One More Day" came out ten years later.

What's so sad is that the original story this is based on from the 70's was actually a pretty good story. The Jackal (Professor Warren) created a clone of Gwen Stacy and later Spider-Man himself. Spidey had to fight the clone and disposed of his body later. The story left just a little ambiguity as to whether our Spidey was the real thing or the clone.

Well, the Marvel writers in the 90's decided to turn things on their ear and say that our Spidey was actually the clone, and the real Peter Parker had been living another life since that incident. Even another clone named Kaine was eventually brought into the story and we were given quite the ride for a while. Peter Parker left with a pregnant Mary Jane to live a hero-less life while Ben Reilly stepped in with a new suit and took over as Spider-Man.

Looking back on this, it's easy to see where this could have indeed been a killer project for Marvel. It really did give them a chance to partially reboot Spider-Man while keeping the long-time fans happy by not erasing years of comic reading. Instead, the concept became so convoluted that even the writers themselves were unsure as to where it was going and who particular heroes and villains were. Aunt May was killed off (something I say should have been left alone) but she was subsequently brought back by saying it wasn't really her that died. Gwen Stacy's clone ran away and we never ever saw her again in any storyline. So many possibilities that were tossed aside.

Because of sales, the storyline continued on for far longer than it ever should have. If three clones were selling, why not add hundreds more and create "Maximum Clonage"? Let's bring back dead guys like Kaine and drag this sucker on for another year! Eventually Peter and Ben had to team up to find out who really was the clone, and we ended up with a reveal that Ben was the clone and Peter was real...or was he?

The only really cool thing to come out of the 90's Clone Saga was Ben Reilly's Spider-Man costume. I'm sorry, but whoever designed that one really nailed it as an incredible update to the suit while still paying homage to the original. I wish they'd still left that one around. It did come out in an action figure though, so it's better than nothing.

As I mentioned before, this was the potential for a reboot that could have worked, but they didn't have this mapped out well enough before they started and it soon became a write-as-we-go-along scenario that was doomed. Marvel had no lower Spider-Man point until they came out with "One More Day".

Two years ago they put out a miniseries by some of the original writers who were allowed to redo the saga in six issues with no interference from higher-ups like last time. In those six issues, they managed to put together a good story that would have made the saga (if they'd been allowed to do it right) one of the highlights of the 90's. Though the story feels rushed in some parts (there are several weeks that pass between most issues so the story can progress in a logical sense) it's still a lot better than the original.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Toys from the NYCC

Wish I could be at the New York Comic Con (maybe next year), but here's a look at some of the awesome toys coming up. I know not everyone is a toy collector, but this grabbed me. Watch the 1:15 mark when you'll see the Mad Magazine display behind them. You can just see the Sergio Aragones Black and White Batman statue, along with a few other goodies.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Trailer Thursday: The Avengers

I know you've probably already seen this, but it's a ton of awesome. Wish there had been more of the Hulk, but I'm sure they're saving that for later.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Moments That Made the Bronze (and Modern) Age: The Dark Knight Returns

This one was from the 80's, I know, but I consider this a game-changer for the character. Growing up the 70's to Neal Adams' Batman interpretation that later gave way to the awesome Jim Aparo, I knew Batman was cool and tough. I missed the campy 50's and 60's "fat" version of the character, so I'd always seen him that way. But sales on the title were at a lull and he needed a boost.

And along came Frank Miller.

"The Dark Knight Returns" couldn't be considered a reboot. It's supposed to take place in the future, and to my knowledge it's never been branded an "Elseworlds" title, but at the same time the ramifications were felt back into the "real" version of the character as Alan Moore stepped in with "The Killing Joke" and soon the comic book had a gritty hero again.

What makes The Dark Knight Returns stand out to me is the hopeless view given of Gotham City without its hero. We see this place where anarchy pretty much rules and the police can do little to stop it. Then, over the course of several pages, an aging Bruce Wayne decides to suit up again and stop the madness. He has a monster Batmobile that was a nice precursor to the Tumbler we see now in the movies. In one particularly awesome scene, we see Batman pulling along the mutant leader, goading him into escaping Gotham jail only to find himself in a fight with Batman himself. That's the cool stuff.

I also like how we find Superman aging as well, and not quite the same in his views on everything while still holding on to enough Clark Kent to give us someone to cheer for. And then the Joker was crazier than we'd ever seen him before. I think this story was instrumental in helping everyone perceive him as a true threat to Batman rather than the caricature he'd become over time. 


Of course, the to-the-death fights in here are what made the story stand out to me. First of all, there is the Joker. How many times have we read: "No more! Tonight this ends!" in Batman comics (even today) and known ahead of time he was just going to put Joker away and let him escape again? But this time...this time was different.

Even though Batman technically didn't kill the Joker (the madman broke his own neck to frame him), it was still nice to see a little closure on this never-ending conflict.

And then we had the throwdown with Superman himself. This fight actually changed the way people saw Batman and Superman after this, with Jim Lee letting him beat Superman down in Hush and everyone else practically making him invincible since then.

And of course, the ending is killer. While the story itself is good, it wouldn't be anywhere near that great if it didn't end well. Fortunately, it does.

Unfortunately, when Miller went back to this universe several years later, he gave the world a horrible sequel that could be consider the "Batman and Robin" movie of the comic book world. It successfully killed the universe for all of us.

The coolest part of this is the fact that the upcoming Batman:Arkham City game will have the option for you to play as TDKR version of Batman, gritty looking and all! It's one of the key reasons I'm buying the game.

While not the best Batman story ever necessarily, it's definitely in the top 5 for me.

Next week, we start a new series of posts called "What I Hate About the 90's". Feel free to chime in about your own hated moments of the "Dark Ages" of comics.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Batman Family Feud

Just saw this the other night and loved it. I'm a fan of Mad magazine, and so far the cartoon has been a hit-and-miss thing with some funny stuff and some stupid stuff (like the magazine, I guess). This was good...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Moments That Made the Bronze Age: Wolverine Begins

When we talk about shining moments of the Bronze Age of the 70's, there is one hero that we have to mention: Wolverine. His first sighting was an almost-unnoticed-at-the-time appearance in Hulk #181, a battle in which he fought the Wendigo and the Hulk, and lost when the Hulk sucker punched him.

He disappeared for a while until he was picked up in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. Ironically enough, the hero wasn't supposed to be a mutant, and his claws were actually just supposed to be attached to the gloves. That meant technically anyone could have become Wolverine later on. The guys are Marvel decided he'd make a good fit, turned him into a mutant, and threw him into the team.

Wolverine was a hit with the rest of the group, but unfortunately Thunderbird and he were both deemed too close to the same character and one had to go. Instead of just retiring the guy, they decided to kill Thunderbird in a toss-up decision that turned out to be the best one they could have made. Imagine how differently the next few years would have turned out if Wolverine had been the one they chose to kill off!

When John Byrne picked up the X-Men, he immediately focused on Wolverine as his favorite because they were both Canadian (true story) and he wanted a cool Canadian superhero. With Byrne's artwork, Wolverine became a superstar and helped propel the X-Men to one of the most popular comic titles of the 80's.

I can still vividly remember the first time I read X-Men #132 and saw that final panel where a soaked and beaten Wolverine finished the issue off with "Now it's my turn!" I couldn't wait for the next month!

When X-Men #133 came out, it did not disappoint. Wolverine was finally given the spotlight with his first solo cover! Inside he was basically the last free X-Man (the rest were captives of the Hellfire Club) and he tore through the faceless bad guys with some amazing action! There was no graphic scene of blood or guts like there would be today, but the story itself was so incredibly effective in every way. After the Dark Phoenix Saga ended, Wolverine got a new costume of brown and orange, and slowly the book focused more on him with the appearance of Alpha Flight, and even the return of the Wendigo.

If you missed out on this golden age of the X-Men, I highly encourage you to grab a copy of the "Essential X-Men" from that time. Even in black and white, Byrne's artwork and Chris Claremont's stories show you why everyone flocked to the title.

Today Wolverine is in just about every Marvel comic you pick up, either as a guest star, team member, or focal point, but back in the 70's and 80's all we had were these once-a-month appearances (imagine that: just one X-Men title a month!) to feed our Wolverine frenzy.

Then in 1982, Frank Miller gave us what we were hoping for: Wolverine's own title. Granted, it was just a four-issue miniseries, but it was wonderful. Having grown used to seeing Wolverine's sleek look from John Byrne's pencils, it took a bit to adjust to Miller's gritty style and his odd way of drawing Wolverine's claws like they were coming out of his fingers rather than the back of his hand. Still, it was Wolverine and he was solo, so I was a happy camper.

Eventually Wolverine moved to a regular solo title with Madripoor as the setting, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, the Marvel execs soon realized that every comic with Wolverine as a guest star sold a bunch, so they started dropping him into every comic out there. His first showdown with Captain America was cool...his "battle" with Power Pack was not. It was a hit-and-miss affair that eventually diluted the character to the point where it was actually more fun trying to find a title that went six months without an appearance by him.

Today he's in Wolverine, X-Force, X-Men, and a few other titles on a regular basis. They've stripped him of his adamantium claws, given them back, killed him off, brought him back, gave him a son and a female clone daughter, and the list goes on and on. But for me, I'll always remember him as the cool yellow-and-blue guy in the X-Men who really gave us something to look forward to each month. I guess in hindsight giving him his own title was the beginning of the end. Maybe he was just one of those awesome secondary characters who was best in smaller doses.
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