The Box: COPS #7, Magus Robot Fighter #25 & Showcase ’94 #6

I gotta say, I was surprised by this issue of C.O.P.S. (#7 from 1988, written by Doug Moench, drawn by Pat Broderick). If you’re familiar with the comic, cartoon or toy line, you’ll know that it’s about a group of specialty policemen and women brought together to help defend the crime ridden Empire City. My personal memories of the cartoon were filled with awesome cops like Longarm going on amazing adventures, but when I saw a few episodes on DVD back in my days at Wizard, I discovered it was actually pretty cheesy.

This comic is actually a pretty good amalgam of the cool aspects I remember and the cheesy aspects I more recently experienced. As you can see, the bad guy in this issue is actually a cop who flipped his lid and now eschews the law in favor of his own brand of justice…that he metes out via giant robotic elephant with a vacuum trunk. So, it’s probably not hard to see the dual natures at work in this book, which feels like it could have really been fun and cool if not aimed at kids.

The issue even goes into some detail about the cop’s origins and how they actually tie into those of the team itself (I read the first issue at some point in the last year or so) making it all pretty cohesive. C.O.P.S. is one of those properties that I would love to see make a comeback now that cartoons and animation can be a little more serious and realistic than they used to be. Just imagine a C.O.P.S. series done by the Young Justice team. It would be fantastic.

Every time I pull out a Valiant comic from The Box I hope that it will be as enjoyable as the good Turok or X-O Manowar issues I’ve read and not as incomprehensible as Archer & Armstrong or, well, that other issue of X-O. I’d put Magnus Robot Fighter #25 (1993) by John Ostrander and James Brock closer to the good ones and further from the bad, but it was a bit much to take in. I don’t blame this one on the creative team, actually. It’s a seemingly revelatory issue with lots of reveals for entrenched readers that also gives a ton of information to a new one like me but I was left with one all important question I’ve always had about Magnus: why does he fight robots?

I find out that there are certain robots he does fight and others he doesn’t and he even seems to be friends with robots, but the simple question doesn’t really get answered. I feel like it’s the kind of thing that today would be covered in one of those small, one-sentence origin boxes lots of comics use these days like, “Rocketed to Earth as a baby, Superman uses his enhanced strength and other powers to fight for truth, justice and the American way.” I mean, you’re halfway to explaining what Magnus is all about just from the extended title of the comic, I just need a little bit more information. In fact, not knowing what the deal was kept popping me out of the story a bit.

One more quick thing I want to talk about is the art in this book by Brock. It’s actually really rad. His characters are strong and bold and he’s got some extra line work in there that reminds me of Andy Clarke and guys like that. It’s also got some of that interesting Valiant coloring, but it’s a bit bolder than some of the other more pastel offerings I’ve seen so far.

This copy of Showcase ’94 #6 was one I actually picked up at a con along the line at some point. I am a gigantic fan of the mid-90s Showcase series’ for being repositories for great short stories oftentimes starring characters who might not warrant their own series or mini. This one has three one a team-up with Huntress and Robin, another with The Atom and a third with New Blood Sparx. The Robin/Huntress story was written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by the rad Phil Jimenez and is actually the third part in a three part story. I think I’ve read the other two or at least one of them. It’s about a killer priest who wears a gold mask and shoots people. This issue has the dramatic reveal but since I don’t really remember the other two issues, it’s not too thrilling. What is thrilling, however, is seeing Jimenez do Robin and Huntress from the era that I was really getting into the Batman books.

The Sparx story by Karl Keel and Scott Lee and, honestly, I remember next to nothing about it. Sparx is part of a family of superheroes and wants to learn about someone in her family and then Captain Boomerang attacks and things go sour so she leaves. That’s about all I got.

Lastly, you’ve got The Atom by Len Kaminski and Fred Reyes in a story where Ray Palmer has to use his abilities to stop a bomb from blowing up a city. I like this one because it’s one of those stories where the writer really gets into the character’s powers and figures out how they could really work. Kaminski does that in a pretty concise and clear way that I dug. So, I dug this issue and will actually be keeping it in my collection.

The Box: Protectors #5, X-O Manowar #15 & Brute Force #1

Man, what a batch of comics this week. I grew up in the age of die-cut, glow-in-the-dark, chromium and pretty much any other kind of crazy cover you can come up with. I gotta admit, there were definitely some cool ones, but Malibu’s Protectors #5 (1993) written by R.A. Jones  with Thomas Derenick artwork, was actually kind of legendary. As you can see in the picture here, it’s actually got a hole punched through it. The blood is also shiny and embossed, so that’s a lot going on.  I also thought that the hole was somehow incorporated into the story or artwork itself but that’s not the case at all, they only seem interested in mostly (not completely) avoiding characters’ heads and word balloons.

So, how’s the book? Eh. A superhero group called the Protects is going up against an armored Dr. Doom clone called Mr. Monday (?) who leads the Steel Army. A kid who took over the Night Mask identity from his dad winds up facing off against Mr. Monday and, well, you can see the cover, it’s actually a gigantic spoiler that undercuts the entire story (assuming you can really catch on to or know what’s going on).

The story doesn’t really try to bring new readers in, but it also doesn’t necessarily try to keep you out of it. It’s just hard to care, really. The names of these characters doesn’t help. You’ve got Man of War (not bad), the aforementioned Night Mask and Mr. Monday, Mighty Man, Air Man, Amazing Man, Eternal Man and Ferret. Woof. The art’s good though, Derenick’s doing a pretty serviceable Neal Adams-style riff, but he’s dealing with some pretty goofy costumes to match the names.

After my previous experience with a subpar issue of X-O Manowar, I almost threw this one right in the recycling bin, but then I noticed that Turok was in this issue. I actually liked the issue of Turok I read (the first) so I gave X-O #15 (1993) by Bob Layton and Bart Sears a read and it actually worked out that this lead right into that issue.

The issue finds X-O and Turok returning to the city after the big cosmic event I don’t seem to be privy to and don’t care enough to look up. Once there, they discover that the smart dinosaurs that Turok famously hunts are running loose in the sewers so a-hunting they go.

Unlike the other X-O issues I read, which was written by a different writer, this one doesn’t leave me confused and wondering what’s going on. X-O is from the past and has a cool suit of armor. Turok is from another dimension where smart dinos existed. They hut the dinos. I’m good. Layton doesn’t get too bogged down and offers a good solid look at both characters in a way that makes me interested in both of them.

I’m also a big fan of the Sears art. He did Justice League comics for a while, went on to do a ton of stuff for Wizard when I was a reader and seemed to have a lot of fun doing these Valiant book (he also did that first issue of Turok I dug). In this book the characters are big and mus thcly and stlyized, but it works when you consider who you’re reading about. Good stuff. I’ll keep this one around for a bit.

Lastly I came upon Marvel’s Brute Force #1 (1990) written by Simon Furman with art by Jose Delbo, a comic with an interesting history. Most people think it was a toy tie-in because Marvel was doing a lot of that in those days (and I’ll be coming across some in future installments of The Box), but the truth — as written over on Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed — is that Marvel came up with the characters in the hopes that one of the toy companies they were buddy buddy with at the time would bite. It didn’t work and the series wound up existing solely as four issues of a comic book.

So how is it? Not great. There’s a lot goin on here and most of it’s pretty ridiculous. The main bad guy sends clowns to steal a cybernetic bear, but said clowns are in the image of the fast food franchise he owns and runs. Not very smart. Anyway, the plot revolves around an environmentalist scientist who creates these cybernetic animals for some reason and then sends the remaining ones to bring back the bear. They each have a personlaity, set of skills and wacky way of viewing the world. It’s actually kind of fun. If this were a cartoon from the 80s I’d probably have a good time with it, but I think the act of reading makes me want the thing I’m exposing myself to to be better. Inetersting.

Anyway, the book is kind of like a nicer, far less violent and sad version of Grant Morrison’s Vertigo miniseries We3. I wonder if Morrison was a fan.

The Box: Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos #3, G.I. Joe Sigma 6 #1 & The Crossovers #4

This week’s trio of random comics were pretty interesting both in story and variety but also because I didn’t think any of them were stinkers, even though two of them are based on kid’s cartoons. First up we have Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos #3 (1987) from Marvel’s Star Comics, written by Jo Duffy and drawn by, ahem, STEVE DITKO (doing breakdowns) and Jon D’Agostino (finishes). I have fond memories of the cartoon and action figure line this comic was based on. In addition to being Karate Kommandos (which is inherently awesome), everyone on the team had a cool, unique power, weapon or skill set that made young me very curious.

The comic was pretty basic and surprisingly action-light, but it was still a well put together book. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is to not worry when things that are not intended for me as the audience don’t interest me. I mean, this is a comic clearly intended for a kid in the 80s, it’s not going to blow my mind. The plot is a simple one, one you’ve probably seen before, but still done well with the sumo fighter Tabe telling different people different stories about how he met Chuck Norris in the first place. It’s fun and cute, but like I said, it’s also light on action. There’s only a few fight scenes and they’re either training or in good fun.

I was a bummed out because I didn’t get to see Steve Ditko draw those rad costumes I remember so distinctly from the toys and cartoon. Ah well, maybe I’ll pick up another issue along the line.

Interestingly enough, the next comic I grabbed from The Box happened to be another toy/cartoon tie-in, this one G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 #1 (2005) by Andrew Dabb and Chris Lee. I was leery because I haven’t had good luck with G.I. Joe comics from the box and also knew nothing about the Sigma 6 version of Joe aside from the cool toys that came out in the mid 2000s.

So, I was pretty surprised to find myself enjoying this issue. It helps that it’s basically just Duke in a cool underwater armor suit trying to single-handedly take down a below-the-ocean Cobra base. Sure it’s a bit silly and light, but it’s also fun and tells a story with robots and things blowing up, so what’s to complain about.

I also liked the art and character designs for the most part, which was a surprise because, aside from one or two books, I always thought Devil’s Due didn’t get the best artists around. There are a few pages that look pixelated and strange, but I think that’s a printing error.

I wouldn’t tell someone to go out of their way to pick this issue up, but if you happen to find yourself in possession of one, check it out before tossing it in the recycling bin, you’ll have a fun few minutes with the book. Oh, and it ends with Destro’s metal mask frowning and him saying “I need a vacation,” so there’s that.

Guys, I have no idea what went on in The Crossovers #4 (2003) by Robert Rodi and Mauricet, but I still kind of liked it. Unlike a lot of other books I’ve randomly read for The Box, Rodi did a great job of giving me just enough information to understand what’s going on in a broad sense of this series, but not necessarily laying down every aspect of who these characters are and what they’re doing. The Crossovers is basically a superhero family in the vein of the Fantastic Four or the First Family in Astro City (I think).

The reason I don’t know what’s going on is because there is just so much going on in this series. There’s lots and lots of characters, many different locations and all kinds of things going on I’m not caught up on, but I kind of felt like finding out, which is a mark in the plus column for sure.

The art is also pretty interesting, kind of a mix between Mike Wieringo’s and Amanda Palmer’s style with bold figures with great expressions, but still on the cartoony side of the spectrum.

At the end of the day, I dug this issue, but did a little research and saw that it only lasted 9 issues. Are there any Crossgen fans out there? Did this series end with an actual ending or because the company fell through? I’d be interested in keeping an eye out for those other issues, but only if it feels like a complete story.

The Box: Venom Lethal Protector #3, Brave & The Bold #157 & Adventures Of Superman #473

To be completely honest, this installment of The Box is a bit of a cheat. First off, I read a pair of terrible comics I literally have nothing to say about. I won’t say what they were, but they were both mid 90s Image books that did nothing for me. I don’t want these posts to be completely negative and I also want to have some fun, so those books went right into the recycle bin. I also actually specifically purchased the latter two books at a flea market, so they’re not as random as the other picks, but we’ll get back to that next week, I’m sure. Did I succeed at picking out good comics for myself to read? You’ll have to read (or scroll) on down to find out.

The one random comic from this post is Venom: Lethal Protector #3 (1993) written by David Micheline and drawn by Mark Bagley. Venom’s not a character I’ve ever really been into, but there was always something a little cool and dangerous about seeing these comics in the pages of Wizard or on comic stands when I was looking for the books I wanted.

This issue really has all the components you’d expect from a 90s comic starring Venom. He cracks wise while beating up on bad guys wearing a LOT of armor. There’s actually a solid story underneath all that with a guy trying to get revenge on Venom for his dead son.

Overall, it’s a fine story. I think it’s hard to take a book with so many spikes and pouches seriously these days, but that was the mode of the day. On the other hand, though, Bagley’s art doesn’t look as jagged and crazy as a lot of the popular artists of the day. He is just a damn solid, classic style artist that looks rad no matter what he’s drawing. I won’t be keeping this comic nor will I be tracking down the rest of the issues, but it was a fun read for a few minutes and now I’m ready for the next thing.

I chose this comic for one simple reason: I wanted to see how Jack Kirby’s Last Boy On Earth found his way to Gotham to team-up or tussle with Batman. Brave And The Bold #157 (1979) was written by Bob Haney with Jim Aparo artwork and unfortunately, it’s pretty boring. The story revolves around a new super powered enforcer on the scene and Batman trying to figure it out. However, since we know that Kamandi’s in the issue and doesn’t show upfor a while it’s not much of a surprise that it’s him.

The worst part though is that the scenes between Kamandi and Batman just aren’t that fun or interesting, I just kept thinking about how much cooler this issue could have been or how rad the team-up between the two of them was on the wonderful animated version of this comic from a year or two back. It also sounds like the BATB issue where Batman goes to Kamandi’s time was a lot more interesting.

I think even if I wasn’t comparing this issue to those other stories that I wanted, I still would have hoped for less Batman-talking-to-people and more Kamandi-punching-people. I’m just simple like that, I guess.

It was neat seeing Aparo draw Kamandi, though.

I grabbed this issue of Adventures Of Superman #473 from 1990) because it’s not part of the wonderful Man Of Steel trade series, it has Green Lanterns in it and that Dan Jurgens cover sure looked neat!  Written and drawn by Jurgens, the issue was great looking, but it was the kind of story I’ve read before. Basically Hal Jordan’s being held captive by a giant alien who crashed and remained underground for many years. He sens out a distress signal for Superman who winds up teaming with Guy Gardner. Unfortunately, this is also the version of Guy that really grates on me: the asshole loudmouth who never shuts up. I’m more a fan of the confident, but layered version Beau Smith wrote in Guy Gardner: Warrior.

So, while the main story felt like something else I’d read (another Superman story? something with the Fantastic Four?) I was actually more interested in what was going on back at the Daily Planet because this was right after Lois and Clark got engaged the first time. I came to Superman a few years after this when he was killed, but a lot of what was going on in issues from this time were referred to when I came on and even well after Supes returned.

While I wasn’t really ennamored with this issue, I will hold on to it. I kind of want to fill all the post Crisis Superman holes that exist between the existing trades and when I started collecting. Just thinking about that makes me a bit sleepy.

The Box: Hawkeye High Hard Shaft #1, X-O Manowar #18 & Meridian #22

Like the last batch of random comics out of The Box, this one was 2/3rds great. I started off with the hilariously named and sure-to-get-some-interesting-Google-search-results Hawkeye: The High, Hard Shaft #1 (2003) by Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele, which I hadn’t heard about, but really enjoyed. There’s a type of superhero comic book story that I really like where we see some of our favorite heroes doing their thing out of costume and in the normal world. Ed Brubaker did some fun things along these lines in Daredevil and Nicieza does the same in this issue.

The comic finds Hawkeye traveling around on his bike and running into trouble with some locals. Well, he kind of inserts himself into trouble because he’s a rougeish hero, but you get the idea. Anyway, the comic has a kind of super-powered Road House feel to it as the guy who runs the town also has a few superpowered dudes on the payroll. The issue ends with Clint stocking up with gear at a sporting goods store seemingly ready to take care of things. Seeing as how I love Road House and those movies where the hero walks into a town run by a jerk and helps save the day.

The art didn’t really do it for me as it’s a little undefined and muddy. I get that they’re going for a noir-type feel, but I contend that that is a much more difficult thing to pull off in comics than artists or editors do. It’s not bad art, mind you, though there were a few times I wasn’t sure who I was reading about (the downside of reading out-of-costume superhero comics, I guess). At the end of the day, I really did enjoy this comic. I did a little looking around just now and it doens’t seem like these issues have been collected, so I guess I’ll have to look around for issues if I want to see how it ends (I bet he wins, but it turns out to be just a bit hollow).

Unfortunately, Valiant’s X-O Manowar #18 (1993) by Jorge Gonzalez and Jim Calafiore was the book in this lot that didn’t really do it for me. The long and the short of it is that I had zero idea what was going on in this book and it doesn’t help that it’s the third part in a multipart story. I’m sure it’s important if you’re already a fan of the series, but if you’re a new person like I was, you’ll be mostly lost which is the problem I’ve had with every Valiant comic I’ve come across in The Box so far except last week’s Turok, but that was a first issue.

I do want to talk about the art a bit. I’m a big, big fan of Jim Calafiore’s artwork. He first came to my attention on Peter David’s Aquaman and had a really big effect on me as a comic reader. He was one of the first guys whose style I really noticed and liked. He has a kind of blocky angularity that still looks sleek that really appeals to me. However, in this book, that doesn’t really come through. I’m not sure if he just hadn’t developed his signature look by this point or if he was instructed to stick within the house style of Valiant at the time (which seems to be very basic, “realistic” depictions of people colored in a way that makes everything look a bit light). There were a few panels and faces here and there that I saw him peeking through, but otherwise, it wasn’t the Caliafiore I know and love. By the way, he’s a super nice guy in real life too.

The last comic I read for this week’s installment might have turned out to be the most surprising one in the batch. Crossgen’s Meridian #22 by Barbara Kesel and Andy Smith really surprised me by showing me a world that I really wanted to get invested in. The idea behind this book is that a world has flying pirates and that one girl–who has the Crossgen sigil–leads a group of good guys against marauders and other bad guys. I know there’s more to it than that, but that’s what I remember without going back and reading the entire thing. It actually reminded me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender where I was equally as interested in the characters as I was in the world.

This issue itself lets me in on some of the main character’s powers and explains some of her relationships. It’s a great taste of what’s going on. It also has a few ties to the larger Crossgen Universe which I obviously didn’t understand but it wasn’t overly distracting.

I liked the book so much, actually, that I ordered a few used copies of the first two trades from Amazon. I haven’t gotten into them just yet, but I look forward to when I’m done with a few other things I’m reading at the moment. That purchase makes Meridian officially the best reading experience of The Box as far as turning me on to something interesting that I otherwise wouldn’t have read. Thanks again to my pal Jesse for sending it to me!

The Box: Tomb Raider Journeys #3, Flash #88 & Turok Dinosaur Hunter #1

My most recent batch of random comics turned out to be surprisingly good, which was a nice treat. First up, I perused Tomb Raider Journeys Starring Lara Croft #3 from Top Cow. The book came out in 2002, was written by Fiona Kai Avery, and drawn by Drew Johnson and for a video game tie-in comic, it was a lot of fun. I don’t have a lot of experience with the Tomb Raider franchise, but I did play a few of the games for the original Playstation and enjoyed them as much as those blocky, awkward games can be enjoyed.

But the basic concept of a sexy, British lady version of Indiana Jones running around, finding treasure and being awesome is a wonderful (and broad enough) one that it actually makes perfect sense for the world of comics. This issue, which seems to be a one-off story (this is my first Tomb Raider comic, so I’m not sure about how Journeys fits in with whatever else was coming out at the time) where Lara takes a job that will allow a pair of archaeologists to prove whether a potential development site is the original location of Gomorrah or not.

The comic comes packed with some historical intrigue, a few fantasy elements (skeleton army!) and an interesting way of accomplishing her goal that isn’t super obvious, but best of all, it’s all told concisely in a single issue, something you don’t see much of these days. You need to know absolutely nothing about Croft aside from what’s right there in the title to enjoy this comic, but you also get the added bonus of Johnson’s somewhat angular artwork that reminded me of mosaics or stained glass at times. Are there other Tomb Raider comics or trades worth checking out?

Much like Web Of Spider-Man #81, which I read a few weeks back, Flash #88 (1994) written by Mark Waid and drawn by the amazing Mike Wieringo is an example not of a bad comic book story, but one I’ve read plenty of times in my comic reading career. In this case, the mostly carefree Wally West comes face to face (literally) with a woman who got injured while he was working to save other people. This snaps something in him and Flash spends much of the issue pushing himself way too hard to save as many people as possible. It’s the kind of issue where, while reading (and assuming you’ve experienced a story like this before) you get it after a few panels or pages, which makes flipping through the rest of them kind of boring.

But, they’re not THAT boring because damn if Wieringo wasn’t one of the best, most interesting and dynamic artists around. I haven’t read much of his run on Flash, just issues and trades here and there, but I think this is the first book I ever experienced his artwork on. He not only kills Wally (and all the emotions he goes through both in and out of the mask), but also puts the same amount of effort in the small army of normal folks found in this issue. Sure, I wish everyone in the book had cool powers or a fun costume so he could really show off, but you can really feel Wally’s sadness when he collapses in Linda’s arms at the end as well as the emotions flowing through the surrounding crowd.

As an added bonus, this book is jam packed with house ads for DC comics I was reading at the time and will make for a ton of fun Ad It Up posts!

Of the three books, the one I was least enthused about was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 from Valiant (1993). I have not had great luck with the few Valiant issues I’ve read over the years (including Archer & Armstrong and Solar Man of the Atom issues from The Box) and know nothing about this property, but I wound up really enjoying this comic written by David Michelinie and drawn by Bart Sears.

I should note, that I had very little idea what was going on. Even though this is a number one issue, it is steeped (some might say mired) in whatever had just happened before this, which I think was the big Unity crossover that Valiant did around this time. However, even with a pretty low level of comprehension (they try to explain what’s going on, but I think it was all just too big to absorb as a new reader) I kept reading and had a fun time with a book about a Native American with a sci-fi bow hunting talking dinosaurs.

The comic is frontloaded with the continuity stuff, so once you’re done with that you can enjoy the story of a warrior finding a place he feels at home in for a while before his past catches up with him. It’s a standard part of the hero’s journey, but it’s told well and looks awesome as drawn by Bart Sears. I’ve mentioned before that the Valiant books were colored in a way I’m not as familiar with where it looks like they were finished with colored pencils or possibly water colors. That is done the best I’ve seen in this comic. I’d be very interested in reading more Turok comics by this team, any suggestions?

The Box: Solar #21, Ultraverse Break-Thru #2 & Micronauts #1

Here we have three more random books chosen at random and reviewed to the best of my abilities. I started off with Solar: Man Of The Atom #21 from Valiant, printed in 1993. The issue was written by Kevin Vanhook with pencils by Peter Grau and I’ll be honest, it didn’t do much for me making it the second Valaint book in a row that I didn’t like.

The main problem is that this is the 21st issue of a comic and I have close to no understanding of what’s going on. There’s some recap in the dialog boxes, but overall, I didn’t feel much connection to the characters or what was happening to them.

I did however like Grau’s art. It’s solid from a storytelling point of view and it looks like he got to have some real fun with the more outlandish characters and how some of the powers looked. His normal people aren’t particularly interesting, but when you’re dealing with super people in body-covering spandex, that’s not uncommon. There’s also an interesting kind of coloring going on in this comic that reminds me a bit of the original Milestone books as well as the other Valiant comics I’ve looked through. It’s got a pastel or colored pencil feel to it as opposed to the deep, rich colors you see in most comics these days. That might be thanks to different coloring methods or a difference in paper (this is newsprint and therefor not glossy).

The coolest thing about this comic? That rad Joe Quesada/Jimmy Palmiotti cover.

I had a lot more fun reading Ultraverse Break-Thru #2, though I had equally less knowledge of what the heck was actually going on. The issue came out from Malibu in 1994, was written by Gerard Jones with art by the amazing George Perez. There is a gigantic amount of information foisted upon the reader in this issue which acts as the second part in what appears to be a gigantic crossover featuring (I think) every character in the Malibu universe. You’ve got Prime, Hardcase, Ultraforce, Mantra, Sludge, The Strangers, Rune, Freex and lots more. If those names don’t ring a bell, we’re pretty much in the same boat. I had read two Prime comics in my life as a comic fan and remember watching the Ultraforce cartoon when it was on, but that’s about it.

Still, it seemed like Jones gave me enough information to follow along with what was going on, no small feat considering this is the SECOND issue of a COMPANY WIDE event. I didn’t feel lost about what was going on in the story, though I did not necesarrily know who the characters were or what their pasts were. This was a much better reading experience than something like Deathwatch 2000 Earth 4 which had a slew of characters I didn’t know or understand whatsoever. That book turned me off to pretty much all of Continuity Comics, whereas this one made me want to actually read a few more Malibu comics. I was always curious about the other Prime issues and I’ve heard from quite a few people that Sludge was actually pretty good. That alone makes this one of the better experiences I’ve had with The Box thus far.

Are you a Micronauts fan? Did you stumble across the toys at the toy store as a kid, then go on to discover and love the Marvel comic? Then, Micronauts #1 from Devil’s Due written by Dan Jolley with art by Pat Broderick might be a great read for you. If not, you’ll be shown a series of actions that mean next to nothing because they have almost no context. As a new reader I know that the Micronauts have been beaten down and their villain Baron Karza is seemingly on the loose. Or something.

They wind up working for another guy which sets a new status quo, we learn who the new Baron Karza is and what happened to the original. The problem, though, is that there’s nothing in this issue that makes me care about any of that. A number one issue like this should be a perfect entry point for everyone and get any possible reader absorbed right in. Not the case though.

I did like Broderick’s artwork, it has a fun cartooniness to it in certain panels. There’s one priceless look of shock on a regular guy’s face at one point in one of the scenes that made me chuckle. I think some of the line work was overdone with lots of extra black lines that give some of the finished product a cluttered look, but overall he did a solid job.

The Box: Lobo Annual #1, Snake Eyes Declassified #2 & Crux #6

My continued adventures with the longbox of comics my pal Jesse sent me for my birthday from Cardsone took me back into the world of Bloodlines, the history of one of the coolest G.I. Joes around and into the first of many CrossGen comics I’ll be reading.

My first pick up was Lobo Annual #1 from 1993 written by Alan Grant and drawn by Christian Alamy. It was actually a pretty interesting one as it’s an early chapter in the saga that would become Bloodlines, an effort to bring some new, edgy blood into the DC Universe by way of some aliens based on the seven deadly sins who eat people with the metagene. Back when Bloodlines was actually coming out, I didn’t have enough cash to purchase annuals at their whopping $3.50 cover price. Add the fact that they had no real real importance on what happened in the ongoing series’ and I skipped out.

The interesting thing about this issue, in addition to teaming Lobo up with a female character named Layla who took no guff from him, this issue explains how the invading parasite aliens wound up getting their human looks: by mimicking the looks of some L.E.G.I.O.N. agents they took out.

Lobo’s the kind of character you either dig or you don’t, I do so this was a fun issue. I’m also a bit of a fan of L.E.G.I.O.N. and R.E.B.E.L.S., though it’s more of a curiosity since I didn’t read the books when they came out. On it’s own, the issue actually works pretty well and it also holds some sort of importance on the oncoming Bloodlines story, but it was worth the read, though maybe a little long as these things tend to be.

Up next came Snake Eyes: Declassified #2 from 2005 which I did not have nearly as much fun with. The Devil’s Due book was written by Brandon Jerwa with art by Emiliano Santalucia and Robert Atkins. I had a pair of problems with this comics not including the fact that I’m not a die hard G.I. Joe or Snake Eyes fan. First off, the story is very obvious. The man who would become Snake Eyes winds up hooking up with a guy who is clearly using him. As a reader you get this nearly immediately, so the following pages wind up being kind of pointless. My other problem is one that I’ve had with several comics and that is that the art just doesn’t feel up to snuff. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not as good as you would expect from a professional comic book you theoretically would have paid three bucks for. The backgrounds are boring, the figures vary between strong and weak and the coloring feels very faint which makes the characters feel less bold and imposing.

At it’s heart, though, this is basically just a comic about two dudes running around committing crimes. That’s all well and good, but when you know one of them is going to become the greatest ninja warrior around, you kind of don’t care and just want to get to the good stuff. One of the problems with prequels is that we all know the foregone conclusion, so we know when risks are involved. This felt like it could have been told in a simple flashback instead of taking up an entire issue.

Lastly I came out of the box with CrossGen’s Crux #6 by Mark Waid and Paul Pelletier. This was a bit of a difficult issue to pick up on out of nowhere because it directly deals with an important event that happened at the end of #5. It’s well recapped–as are the characters and their abilities thanks to a recap page on the inside cover–but you do miss a bit of the emotional impact of something when you’re reading about it in text or in recap.

Of course, this is an ongoing comic book and that’s the trick to them. I was filled in enough to understand the story and follow along. This book is about a bunch of super type beings waking up on an Earth that’s empty and they’re trying to figure out why. There’s a few revelations that pop up, but again, since I’m not as invested in the characters or the story, they don’t hit as well for me.

Probably the most confusing element of this book and most of the other CrossGen comics I read, though, comes from the fact that a very disparate number of books on all kinds of different worlds are supposed to be connected by the sigil symbol some of them sport that looks unsurprisingly like the CrossGen logo. I still feel like CrossGen could have been a success had they not flooded the market too quickly and labored so intensely to connect all these comics that didn’t need to be connected.

By the way, Paul Pelletier is an awesome artist.

The Box: Mortal Kombat Battlewave #4, Web Of Spider-Man #81 & Deathwatch 2000 Earth 4 #2

As I explained last week, my pal Jesse bought me a longbox packed with comics, many of which had five or six copies. I put what I had in alphabetical order, put them in my sliding-top coffee table and I’ll reach in, pull out comics at random and give them a read. Sometimes I discover a gem, sometimes, not so much.

First up, I read Mortal Kombat: BattleWave #4 from Malibu, which seems to have been purchased by Marvel at this point (1995). This comic was written by Charles Marshall and drawn by Patrick Rolo and it was surprisingly one of the best of the box so far. I figured I would be completely lost because I only ever rented Mortal Kombat games in the past. But, I actually found myself pretty interested in what’s going on.

I don’t know why the different people are fighting on their particular sides, but you’ve got Johnny Cage and Jax fighting Smoke and Jade on a crashing airplane. This is a tricky thing to write and some of the artwork is a little out of control, but I think it was handled really well. There’s other stuff I didn’t necesarrily get and a back-up story about a cat-man fighting Goro, but I was actually pretty intrigued by the world that Marshall was working with here. Iconic characters doing cool things in such a way that a new reader can understand is not a terrible thing.

Also, I dug Rolo’s art. I don’t I’m familiar with his work, but it’s got an almost cartoony, exaggerated nature that never looks too cartoony or exaggerated. In other words, I wouldn’t be upset if I found more MK comics by these guys in The Box. Bonus piece of info: Marvel editor Mark Paniccia edited this comic!

I had less fun reading Marvel’s Web Of Spider-Man #81 written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Steve Butler. The story follows two brothers, one who decides to be a good person and goes to school while the other decides to become the oh-so-90s villain Bloodshed. It’s not a bad story, but it’s one I’ve read before. Actually, it’s one I’ve read from Busiek before in the pages of Astro City: Dark Ages Books 1 and 2 which set several miniseries’ worth of comics around this idea. So, seeing it done all in a compressed format with different characters just feels a little repetitive.

Mind you, this is not a slam against this comic. I’ve come to realize that there are certain kinds of stories you can read done plenty of different ways and others that you don’t. I feel like I read this idea done really well by the writer already and just didn’t feel the need to go through it again.

I will note that Butler, an artist I’m not very familiar with, did a great jon in the issue. His Spidey looks iconic, his characters bold (when they’re supposed to be) and he gets to work with several great facial expressions that he nails.

I do admit, there is a part of me that misses villains like Bloodshed. His motivations are the same as villains today, but that look is insane. He’s basically got enhanced strength and…spikes as well as a pink ponytail for some reason. In reality, if you saw this guy, you’d be torn between quivering in terror and snickering.

Lastly, I read Deathwatch 2000 Earth 4 #2 from Continuity Comics. I think that’s the title at least, I honestly can’t tell. I remember having a few Continuity books from various grab bags as a kid and never knowing what the hell was going on. That continues to be the case with this issue written by Neal Adams and Paul Stone with art by Aron Weisenfeld. Honestly, I can not tell you what happened. There’s one group of super people all with silly names like Urth and Fyre fighting another group and then a third shows up at some point.

There are some explanations along the way but they just wind up confusing more. I’m not the biggest fan of those basic information recap pages, like the ones that Marvel did in the mid-2000s, but it would have been immensely helpful in these comics, even more so considering these are brand new comics from a presumably brand new comic company. I didn’t do any research (yet) on Continuity or what was going on because I like to go in fresh, but I probably should have. The art doesn’t help matters any either. This was in the middle of the 90s heyday where nothing comes in a grid and all the panel lines look like they’ve been singed. It’s like mental color overload with stuff you’re not given enough information to care about. I think it’s also environmental, which makes it feel like a more “extreme” version Captain Planet, which I do not want to read.

Oh, I forgot to mention, this book was polybagged AND came with a trading card. Anyone want to trade for Firebat?

The Box: Defenders #10, Amazing Spider-Man #351 & Archer And Armsstrong #17

For my birthday, my pal Jesse sent me a long box full of comics from a company called Cardsone that does all kinds of bulk sales. I highly recommend checking out their site and also perusing the catalog which has some amazingly weird stuff in it. The box was packed to the gills and I felt bad for the UPS guy who had to carry it all the way to my door, but got over that pretty quickly and dove right in. Flipping through the box, I quickly realized that the majority of the books in the box were doubles, triples and whathaveyou. That’s probably a good thing because I don’t think my wife would me okay with me storing yet another long box in the house.

Anyway, my first order of business was to alphabetize everything and then go through and pull out one each of the books which was about a quarter of the contents. There were a lot of CrossGen books as well as some Valiant and Comico and a few Marvel and DC comics. With everything in order, I put them in a stack in my table (it’s got a sliding top, so you can actually put things inside of it) and have been reaching in and pulling comics out at random. I will be reviewing them in threes here on the blog moving forward, so let’s have fun with it.

I actually grabbed The Defenders #10 (2001) by Kurt Busiek, Eric Stephenson and Erik Larsen first because I remember buying the first issue when it came out. Not sure why I didn’t continue reading, but in the many years between then and now I’ve come to greatly appreciate Busiek and Larsen as creators in their own right, so then working together should be rad, right?

Yeah, it pretty much is. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost, but that’s to be expected when reading the tenth issue in a series of comics, I think. But there are enough flashbacks to get you caught up. In addition to the rad art by Larsen who gets to draw not only the Defenders, but also M.O.D.O.K. and an army of supervillains that includes Venom, Rhino, Sandman and more. It’s a fantastic example of his powers and Busiek’s ability to work so well within the world of continuity-heavy comics. Both these guys are fantastic and do an excellent job in this book. It makes me want to go and get the rest of the issues so I can enjoy this one all the more.

Up next was The Amazing Spider-Man #351 (1991) written by David Micheline and drawn by Mark Bagley. If the blurb inside the issue is to be believe, this was Bagley’s first issue as the regular ASM penciler, which is pretty cool. Man, that guy was born to draw Spider-Man, wasn’t he? He’s also no slouch rendering Nova and the Tri-Sentinel who gust star in this particular issue.

I’ve gone on record as saying I’m not the world’s biggest Spidey fan. I loved his cartoon, some of the video games and the first movie, but I’ve never really been able to sink my teeth into the comics. I don’t know what it is, but I was able to jump in and enjoy this comic. I think that’s partially because it stars Nova, a character I’ve grown to appreciate both in my own reading of books like Annihilation and also just be being friends with Rich Rider’s number one fan Ben Morse. Plus, like I said, Bagley’s art is so good and accessible that it’s hard to feel lost. He makes everyone look and feel familiar, even with characters like the Tri-Sentinel who I had never seen before.

Apparently Spidey and this thing had beef in a previous issue, but Web Head had the power of Captain Universe to help him defeat the mechanical menace. He and Nova stumble upon this while trying to find out where some high tech weapons are coming from.

Overall, the issue’s pretty fun. You’ve got great banter between Spidey and Nova, some static between Mary Jane and Peter and a big fight with a big ol’ machine. Can’t go wrong with that.

I did not enjoy Archer & Armstrong #17 (1993) by Mike Baron and Mike Vosburg nearly as much as the other two issues, however. I actually know more people who used to work at Valiant than characters in their comics (many Valiant folks moved to Wizard when the former closed up shop). I have one issue of this book in my collection where a dude is hitting another dude in front of a slot machine I think (okay, I looked it up and oddly enough it’s the issue before this one, #16) but never actually read it.

The problem with this issue isn’t necessarily in the story or the art, which kind of looks like it was colored with colored pencils, but the fact that absolutely no attempt is made to explain who these characters are. They hint that Archer (or maybe Armstrong, who knows?) is some kind of ancient indestructible fighter guy…or something. I could look it up on Wiki and maybe some day I will, but I honestly don’t care that much. If you’re writing a book like Spider-Man or Batman where the character is out there in the consciousness, then you can get away without overtly explaining who your leads are, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. When you’re only in your second year of publishing a pair of characters you just made up? Might be a good idea to throw in some kind of explanation page or even one of those text boxes in the front that explain the basic concept. You know, something like: “Sent from a dying world, an alien boy grew up on Earth to gain amazing powers under its yellow sun. Now he fights for truth, justice and the American way as Superman!” Something like that. Based solely on this one issue, I’m not surprised that the big V didn’t work out so well.