Halloween Scene Trade Post: Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1

Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1: War Of The Monsters (DC)
Written by Jeff Lemire, drawn by Alberto Ponticelli
Collects Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. #1-7

Back when I read the first issue of Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E., I was pretty psyched about this as a comic. I dug the crazy sci-fi set-up created by Jeff Lemire, the spy elements and, of course, the idea of a team of monsters going out and smashing other monsters. For the most part, I’ve liked the weirder New 52 books that I’ve experienced and this is definitely up there. Since reading that first issue, I’ve read a few more Lemire books, like the soul-punch that is Lost Dogs and the first volume of his Vertigo book Sweet Tooth and have become a big fan of his. I also want to check out Swamp Thing which everyone seems to love and have The Complete Essex County waiting for me on my Kindle Fire.

Anyway, I should stay on topic. Here’s the deal with Frankenstein. He works for an organization called S.H.A.D.E. which stands for Super Human Advanced Defense Executive that’s run by Father Time who happens to randomly regenerate his body every so many years and is currently in the guise of a small girl wearing a domino mask. Frankenstein’s ostensibly married to the multi-armed Bride of Frankenstein, but they’re estranged. He also winds up leading a new team of monster-human hybrids based on the classic Universal Monsters: vampire, wolf man, sea creature and the mummy. They go on missions that include stopping an invading horde of extra-dimensional beings, saving a sentient planet from its own demons and fighting OMAC.

I was already into this concept because it’s monster soldiers, a concept I like just about every time I encounter it, including the Marvel miniseries Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos. But Lemire takes things in directions I never would have thought. This isn’t just a big monster fight book, there’s also a great mix of alternate dimensions and even super-tech. The S.H.A.D.E. HQ is actually a shrunken down floating city with an impenetrable bubble around it. You have to get shrunk down and then teleported just to get inside. I love that kind of stuff and there’s a lot of that in here. Oh, I should note here that the shrinking tech was designed by none other than Ray Palmer, which marks this series’ closest connection to the larger DCU as far as I’ve read (aside from the OMAC appearance later on).

All of which is a commentary on Lemire’s versatility as a writer. Dude made a name by writing and drawing real world-based stories and has moved on to some of the craziest comics on the stands. I’m a big fan of that. I’m not as big a fan of Ponticelli’s artwork though. It can get really messy and hard to read. I appreciate the scope they’re going for on this book — our team of monsters fighting legions of evil monsters at one time — but it can get confusing at times. I will say that he does some really interesting things with page layouts where they look like splashes, but wind up actually containing several scenes. Take the page below, see how it all seems like one thing at first glance, but then you realize the water’s surface winds up acting like the panel break? That’s pretty rad. Maybe it’s an inking thing, because when he was inked by someone else on issue #7, it looked so different I thought it was a new penciler altogether.

Anyway, I had a great time reading this comic for all kinds of reasons and would definitely recommend it to anyone. I just did some looking around and saw that Lemire’s only on the book for another few issues. This news would generally bum me out, but then I saw that Matt Kindt took over and I’m pretty excited to see what he does/did with his run.

Haha, oh man, as I finished writing this I remembered that my pal Kiel Phegley had written about some upcoming DC cancellations on CBR. I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet post-NYCC and catching up on things. So, I just gave it a glance and saw that this book will get the axe with #17. That’s a bummer, especially because it feels like the kind of project that could have just as easily been a long-running Image series with like, two tweeks. Ah well, that’s Chinatown or whatever.

Thunderbolts Trade Post: Cage & Violent Rejection

Thunderbolts: Cage (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Kev Walker
Collects Thunderbolts #144-147

Thunderbolts is one of those teams that I’ve been familiar with since its inception, but never read regularly, popping in here and there when particular arcs interested me. The basic idea since the post-Onslaught inception of the team has been “villains playing hero” in various capacities. Lately, that’s translated into criminals at a maximum security supervillain prison being allowed out to fight crimes. Run by Norman Osborn for his own nefarious reasons, the project is now run by the former U.S. Agent and Luke Cage with an eye towards actual reform. The team consists of OG T-Bolts Fixer, Songbird and Mach Mach V (now legit heroes) as well as Juggernaut, Moonstone, Ghost, Crossbones and Man-Thing. When I first heard about this series and the line-up I remember having big, huge question marks about those last two, but they’re explained very well in the series.

The adventures include some post-Siege clean-up that also serves as an introduction for a new Troll character who will, I assume, eventually become a larger part of the book as well as exploring a cave with some Terrigen crystals that also happen to be making some bonkers monsters. These larger adventures plus a few tests for the new T-Bolts and a prison riot offer plenty of room for the team members to show why they’re useful, what problems they  might present and the potential for this group.

While I can get a little tired of the A-list team books that get mired in whatever huge overarching stories Marvel or DC is working on at the time, I’ve found that I really like these lower level ones that not only have room to do their own thing, but also pull some of the less-used characters from a particular universe and do some really fun stuff with them. In the case of Thunderbolts, it helps that I’m not a hard core Marvel fan because I don’t have nearly 50 years of Juggernaut stories in my head. I’ve got a basic knowledge of all these characters and can enjoy these new stories without constantly comparing them to the old ones. One of Parker’s strengths has always been creating that balance between appealing to new and old readers alike and he does that all over the place here. He excels at looking around the sandbox, seeing what toys the other kids aren’t playing with and creating some really fun, excited stories with what he’s got.

Thunderbolts: Violent Rejection (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Kev Walker & Declan Shalvey
Collects Thunderbolts #152-157

I’d hoped to get my hands on the trade between Cage and Violent Reject in order to read all three back to back to back, but it wasn’t in the cards, so I just went on and checked out the latter after reading the former. Between a recap on the first page and Parker’s writing, I didn’t feel too behind and was able to catch right up. I had a feeling that would be the case after reading so much of his Hulk material out of order.

Anyway, I realized with this trade that Thunderbolts actually feels like an old school Marvel book where you’re not reading these big arcs necessarily, but instead one or two issue adventures that flow really well into one another. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely overarching plot lines being fleshed out, but those aren’t the sole focus of the stories. There’s no “writing for the trade” here.

This collection sees the team going up against some of the giant monsters that Parker first wrote about in Red Hulk: Scorched Earth, but you definitely don’t need to read both books to get the gist (which is basically, giant monsters are about to attack Japan, go stop them). The team now includes Hyperion who may or may not be evil (which gets answered decisevely soon enough). After that, Man-Thing disappears to fight creatures from another dimension, Cage and Dr. Strange team up to find Satana and the team gets sent to a mystical castle filled with Nazi zombies. Oh and a B team of T-Bolts gets put into motion back at the prison. Like I said before, lots of stuff goes on with tons of action, but you never lose sight of the characters themselves in these adventures, which is, I’m realizing, a Parker hallmark.

Artwise, I don’t think I’ve read a Kev Walker or Declan Shalvey comic before this, but I am definitely a fan of their work now. They both have kind of offbeat styles that I like, imagine more superhero-y Hellboy or B.P.R.D. type artists. While they look somewhat similar — you don’t get thrown out of the story with the change in styles as much as some other books — they both bring their own talents to the table and each have a knack for handling human characters next to monstrous ones and large moments with the small.

KEEP OR DUMP: I’m definitely keeping these books and looking for the rest of Parker’s trades. I hear they get into some time travel stuff, the B-team gets to take center stage and then the whole thing turns into Dark Avengers. As with most of Jeff Parker’s Marvel work, I’m in it now.

Hulk Trade Post: World War Hulk & Planet Skaar

World War Hulk (Marvel)
Written by Greg Pak, drawn by John Romita Jr.
Collects World War Hulk #1-5

After recently reading and really enjoying the first few books of Greg Pak’s run on Incredible Hulk, I wanted to go back and read what’s been happening to Hulk since Planet Hulk and World War Hulk, so I decided to give WWH another read. I had my problems with it when it first came out, for two specific reasons: first, I don’t really dig JRJR’s artwork and second, I thought some of the cooler aspects of the story were kept off panel (the fight with Blackbolt).

Did I have the same problems going in this time? Well,  yeah, mostly. I still just can’t get into JRJR’s art. I like he draws Hulk, Doctor Strange and some of the War Bound, but the new Hulk Buster Iron Man armor just looked silly. This might sound odd, but I’m also not a fan of how he draws rubble. It always looks like multicolored toothpicks thrown at a panel and glued down. His faces also don’t carry much weight when the camera is pulled back past full-figure level.

But even that didn’t completely detract from my enjoyment of a big, bonkers series where Hulk essentially wages war on Earth and the people who sent him into space. I still wish the Blackbolt fight had been shown on panel, even if it was a Skrull or whatever and I’m not a big fan of the reveal about how the Hulk’s ship actually blew up on Sakaar, but overall, it’s a compelling story. There’s definitely the feeling, though, that this could have been a lot crazier if there wasn’t so much continuity and other books to worry about.

With the end of this series, Jeph Loeb hopped in and started writing the simply title Hulk, while Hercules took over Incredible Hulk — still written by Pak — and Pak also started writing the adventures of the son Hulk didn’t even realize he had on Sakaar (Skaar). This is where I fell off as the books were originally coming out.

Hulk: Planet Skaar (Marvel)
Written by Greg Pak, drawn by Butch Guice, Ron Lim & Dan Panosian
Skaar: Son of Hulk #7-12, Planet Skaar Prologue

The reason I didn’t keep up on Skaar is because I was just confused. I was under the impression that, at the end of Planet Hulk, most of the planet was actually destroyed, so I had no idea how this little dude was alive or how he was born from a woman that died on a planet that exploded. This seemed like a good enough place to take a break on Hulk, so I stepped out of all of it.

I wanted to get my hands on the first collection of Skaar comics, but couldn’t and didn’t want to wait too long before reading this collection and moving on to some of the other Loeb books I’d picked up. This one was a lot of fun, as it turns out. Not only did I get a much better idea of who Skaar is as a character, but it was also fun to see him living something of the same life his dad did, but making very different choices. He even winds up fighting alongside and enslaved Silver Surfer, but this time, the Surfer is working for Galactus and he gets brought into the mix. The way Skaar wants to handle keeping Galactus away from his home planet is pretty intense, but again shows how he differs from pops.

I get the idea that this is basically the kind of Hulk Pak would have written if this was a creator owned book. He’s on another planet and a total badass, so he can basically do whatever the hell he wants and does. And in the fact that it acts as a nice endcap to one of my favorite comic arcs — Planet Hulk — works on it’s own and leads well into the Incredible Hulk stuff I like and I’m happy with the story all around.

Wildstorm Trade Post: Stormwatch PHD & Gen 13 World’s End

StormWatch PHD: World’s End (Wildstorm/DC)
Written by Ian Edgington, drawn by Leandro Fernandez
Collects Stormwatch PHD #13-19

By now, I assume readers are somewhat familiar with my love of Wildstorm. Not only have I written about many of their trades in many previous Trade Post and Pile reviews, but also did a full post about how much I like the universe. While at Wizard, I became the de facto writer of all things Wildstorm for a while there, but was over at ToyFare by the time World’s End started. If you’re unfamiliar, after a mostly unsuccessful attempt at restarting the universe (flagship titles Wildcats and Authority written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Jim Lee and Gene Ha respectively only produced a total of three issues combined) the powers that be at the ‘Storm decided to take drastic measures: they blew the world up. Not entirely, mind you, that wouldn’t make for very interesting comics. Instead, the kind of threat that the heroes of Marvel and DC always thwart succeeded and an army of deranged, formerly captive and brainwashed heroes went bonkers on the world before literally exploding. The trauma killed millions and even temporarily knocked the earth off its access. Much of this is covered in Wildstorm: Armageddon, Number of the Beast and Wildstorm: After the Fall.

It was bad. But there were survivors, both of the hero variety and normal folks with the former doing their best to look out for the latter. Which brings us to Stormwatch PHD. For two trades, this was a book set very firmly in the Wildstorm U that brought back members of the classic Stormwatch team and put them on more ground-level type missions. With the end of the world, though, the book shifted focus with its heroes up in the orbital Stormwatch satellite trying to keep people safe. Run by Jackson King, he has split up the super powered operatives left at his disposal into two teams and sends them on missions to both save people (they’re keeping as many as they can on the satellite, but are quickly running out of space) and defeated threats to humanity.

What I like most about this book specifically and the World’s End books in general (those that I’ve read) is that they really went for it. The world is screwed and these heroes are doing their best to keep things afloat. Even with all their teleportation and super powers, there’s only so much that you can do. This book also did something that would become a standard of the rest of the Wildstorm U in that it incorporated elements from the history of the company in ways that made sense. In this case, you’ve got Deathblow working for Stormwatch. This is not something that happened before, but it doesn’t really need explaining (though what happened between Deathblow’s last series and this does get explained at some point in a way that was pretty clever). This would become SOP a few issues down the line when the heroes were split between one group staying on Earth and the other going to space. I’ve gotten really annoyed with how bogged down and sometimes boring mainstream superhero comics can be, so it was nice to see a company stick to something as crazy as this.

I might not be the best judge on something like this, but I would even say that it’s pretty new-reader-friendly. That might sound a little crazy, but it seemed to me like enough was explained that an open-minded and curious reader could easily jump right in and follow along. That continuity stuff I mentioned is fun for people like me, but I don’t think the series as a whole is bogged down with it.

Gen 13: World’s End (Wildstorm/DC)
Written by Scott Beatty, drawn by Mike Huddleston & Dan Hipp
Collects Gen 13 #21-26

I think that same can be said for the first Gen 13 installment in World’s End. This team was what actually got me initially excited about Wildstorm. I was a huge fan because it was the it teen comic of the day. For some folks that was Teen Titans or New X-Men, but this was mine. I have been routinely disappointed by pretty much every incarnation that has come since the awful Chris Claremont relaunch years ago. It also didn’t help that they had one of the muddier post-continuity shift histories. Something about being grown as superpowered sex slaves or whatnot? Even after being so confused the first time around, I gave it the good ol’ college try again recently when reading the trade of the second volume, but it just didn’t do it for me.

But, I didn’t feel that way with this collection. Sure, there are references to the new status quo, but it kind of felt like I had just missed one arc of the old series. Beatty does a great job of capturing that old dynamic between Grunge, Fairchild, Freefall, Burnout (now blinded) and Rainmaker.

Unlike Stormwatch or Authority, which have larger, more global goals, the Gen 13 kids are just trying survive and figure out what happened. They were hopping around in time or somesuch and came back in after the big event, so they missed the whole thing. This is a pretty fun and interesting concept that fits in with the characters pretty perfectly. Same goes for the art by Huddleston and Dan Hipp, who has an awesome sketchblog you guys should all check out.

I’ve got a post in the works covering the two Authority books and the second Wildcats one (thought I had the first, but don’t). The bummer about reading through these is that they’re so fun and yet the rest of the issues leading up to the line-wide cancellation of Wildstorm haven’t been collected. I’m not going to hold my breath for them to be either. I think I’ll keep an eye out for cheap copies of what I don’t have (I made a checklist) and see how it ends. If it’s rad, I’ll probably get them bound!

Casting Internets

The awesome Jen Van Meter did me a solid and talked about her Five Favorite Avengers for Marvel.com.

I’ve also been super busy writing about comics over CBR including this great interview I did with Joe Keatinge. If you dig the logo of me and the chimp at the top of the page, check out my pal Rickey Purdin’s other sketches for possible logos over on Rowdy Schoolyard.

I do not care about the Watchmen prequels, but I dug my pal Brett White’s take on it for CBR.

Wish I had thought of doing this Godzilla misconceptions list for Topless Robot.

I am very excited to listen to Jack White’s very first solo album. It’s called Blunderbuss and drops in April. Something to look forward to! (via Rolling Stone)Scott C did an Over The Top Showdown! Awesome!

Alan Lomax was a dude who went around the country recording folk, blues and country artists to create an aural history of American music. According to Rolling Stone, his archives are being digitized and will be streaming and sold as CDs, this is very cool news.

Dave Grohl and Dana Gould are working on a rock star based sitcom for FX? Considering how solid all the FX comedies are and how much I like the Foo Fighters and Gould, this should be an excellent show. (via THR)

Finally, if you’re interested in this sort of thing, I’m selling a never opened Garindan Long-Snoot minibus from Gentle Giant over on eBay. Happy bidding.

Fantastic Voyage Trade Post: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Volume 1

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Dale Eaglesham & Neil Edwards
Collects Fantastic Four #570-574

Fantastic Four is one of those concepts that has limitless potential that doesn’t always get reached. I’ve only gotten a few issues into the series’ original run in my Fantastic Voyage posts, but I do have some on-again-off-again experience with the book. I started reading with Heroes Reborn and then moved over to the Heroes Return Chris Claremont stuff which I could only stand for about five issues or so. It wouldn’t be until I got my hands on Mark Waid’s run of the book until I really experienced how good this team could be. That is one of my favorite Marvel runs of all time and I hope to get back to it in the relative future. For me, the key to good FF stories is emphasizing both the fantastic elements while also dealing with the family drama at the same time.

And that’s exactly what Hickman does in his first volume of Fantastic Four stories. I read most, if not all, of these issues while I was still working at Wizard, so this was more of a revisiting, but I had just as good of a time the second time around as I did the first.

So, what does the book contain? Three stories, actually, which is impressive considering the collection only contains five comics. First and foremost, we see Reed join a pan-dimensional group of Reeds who have banned together to help change all of the universes. The question he’s posed with–and one that’s central to our version of Reed–is whether he’s willing to risk his humanity (read: family) and fully embrace his world-changing brilliance. After that, Johnny and Ben (with tagalongs Franklin and Valeria) head to their own alternate world and help save the day. I believe this was the location featured in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run on the book which I could not bring myself to read after about half the first issue. Finally, we end with Franklin’s birthday party which is a fun family and friend moment followed by a mysterious traveler essentially laying out the next year or so of Hickman’s story (cryptically, of course).

As I said, Hickman does a great job balancing the family and fantastic elements, but he also balances one of the other difficult things about the FF: continuity. These guys have been around consistently for 50 years. That’s a helluva lot of stories for writers to borrow from or base their own stories off of. Sometimes–as in the case of the Claremont issues–the continuity is just too deep and confusing. Other times, writers go on and do their own thing. Again, Hickman balances these elements very well. The history and continuity are there, but they’re not primary to the story. As long as you know the basics of the FF–and maybe not even that, I’d absolutely hand this book to someone who knows nothing about the team–you’re good to go.

Dale Eaglesham matches Hickman perfectly on this book. He’s been one of my all-time favorites for years because his figures always look big and iconic, even when they’re doing something small, like talking to a loved one. He’s the perfect match for this book and you can feel when he’s not drawing the issues. They’re still good, but not as good as you know they could have been. It’s a small complaint, but I want me more Eaglesham!

Annihilation Trade Post: Books 1-3

ANNIHILATION BOOK ONE (Marvel)
Written by Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Mitch Breitweiser, Scot Kolins, Ariel Olivetti & Kev Walker
Collects Drax The Destroyer #1-4, Annihilation: Prologue & Annihilation: Nova #1-4
Back in my days at Wizard, I wound up being the go-to guy for Annihilation interviews. I had just read Infinity Gauntlet for the first time and was pretty high on the idea of Marvel’s space characters getting a jump start. With very few exceptions, I had very little experience with these characters, so it was kind of fun to just be thrown into the middle of all this craziness and see where it went. When these issues were coming out, I had trouble not comparing the Annihilation set-up with that of DC’s Infinite Crisis. Both had four four-issue minis leading up to a main series. At the time it felt like Marvel did the whole thing better because their minis lead into the main series better. I can’t say I necessarily feel the same way now, but at least we didn’t have to get four one-shots to actually cap those stories. But, as usual, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Continue reading Annihilation Trade Post: Books 1-3

Gail Simone Trade Post: Wonder Woman Contagion & Secret Six Danse Macabre

WONDER WOMAN: CONTAGION (DC)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Nicola Scott, Aaron Lopresti, Chris Batista, Fernando Dagnino & Travis Moore
Collects Wonder Woman #40-44
Post Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman was one of the books that made me leery. I didn’t really care about Wonder Woman taking on the Diana Prince persona and becoming a government agent. Generally, I find the drive by some creators to go back the Silver Age, incomprehensible. The lateness of the book didn’t help either. But, I later went back and read those early Alan Heinberg issues in trade format and wound up really digging them. I would go on to enjoy Gail Simone’s run on the book as well though I’ve only posted about Rise Of The Olympians for some reason. Well, once news hit that JMS was taking over Wonder Woman, I was bummed because I thought DC had a good thing and might have been getting rid of Simone’s longterm plans for a story and costume that were immediately panned. I read the first few issues of that run and actually enjoyed them, but I got the feeling after reading Contagion, Simone’s last volume of WW (for now at least), that she was cut off a bit early.

This book feels a little all over the place. You’ve got elements from the previous volume, which I believe I’ve read, but didn’t blog about it and if I kept the trade it’s buried in a longbox in the closet because my shelf is full. So, I’m a bit lost as to what happened, why Etta Candy is in the hospital and what happened between Rise and this volume that they still haven’t found Genocide’s body (there’s a pretty big issue gap there). Those are just bits and pieces of the story though. The first two issues feature a giant snake god and bunch of little kids who have the ability to drive people crazy, including Power Girl who winds up throwing down with Diana. After that’s all figured out, a race of woman taken from various planets called The Citizenry has come to Earth to absorb its resources and take the 100 best and brightest women. Wonder Woman gets to show her stuff and, with the help of her allies, holds them back just in time for a nice group shot panel to end the book. In the end, the last issue felt like the end of an arc, not a run. Adding to that, the kind of Galactus and Storm Vs. Callisto for control of the Morlocks elements mean this one doesn’t feel like a swan song. Making matters worse, some of the artwork in the last few issues looks really bad. I’m not sure whose it is because there’s two or more artists working on the pages, but it seems like the pencils were rushed through to color without being inked. The result is some really unfinished pages that hold up like a kindergartner’s artwork compared to pros like Scott and Lopresti.

As a fan of the book, it’s a bittersweet collection because it completes my collection of this volume of Wonder Woman, but it’s not one that really wowed me or felt like a good conclusion. It’s not in Ex Machina territory where I’m still wondering whether I want to keep the entire series or not. Instead of feeling like a creator failing at the end, this one feels like the creator was not given the proper chance to close out a book she had been working on for quite a while.

SECRET SIX: DANSE MACABRE (DC)
Written by Gail Simone & John Ostrander, drawn by Jim Calafiore & Peter Nguyen
Collects Secret Six #15-18, Suicide Squad #67
After reading Simone’s last volume of Wonder Woman, I remembered I had a Secret Six trade in the to-read pile and figured they’d make a good pair for today’s Trade Post. Danse Macabre is an interesting collection because the first story was written by Ostrander and features Deadshot dealing with the death of Batman. It’s a great call-back issue to the writer’s run on Suicide Squad, which heavily featured Deadshot, but still fits pretty seamlessly into the world of Secret Six. From there the book has more of an 80s feel in that, while there is a definite arc collected, the elements flow into one another in a way that reminds me of Iron Man and Secret Six comics from back in the day. Black Alice, a magic-based character Simone created in her first run on Birds Of Prey, makes it known that she wants to join the team. Then we’re right into Blackest Night territory.

As regular readers will remember, I just finished reading the three main Blackest Night volumes, so the story is all pretty fresh in my mind. Partway through that series, DC announced an interesting idea: bringing some canceled series’ back from the dead. One of those was Suicide Squad and that issue is collected here because it’s less a one-shot for Suicide Squad fans or people super-into Blackest Night and more of a part of the regular Secret Six story. Seriously, Black Lanterns only appear in the beginning and very end of the issue. I can’t imagine how frustrated people must have been who were concerned about staying caught up on BN and got something that doesn’t really add to anything in that vein. It DOES add to the Secret Six story and is thus necessary to include in this volume.

Okay, back to the story. I think Simone did a pretty good job of including Blackest Night elements in her story. It really makes sense for this group to interact with dead heroes and villains because they’ve put more in the ground than anyone else. It’s also nice to see the Suicide Squad connection that’s running through the book as Amanda Waller sends them on a mission to distract the Six so she can attack Scandal back at the base. The story would be interesting on it’s own, but then you’ve got the looming threat of the Black Lanterns which adds another level of conflict and winds up throwing the Six and the Squad together at least for a bit. I even liked how Waller had an ace in the hole that wound up getting rid of the immediate threat of the Black Lanterns. Most of the tie-in books had something similar, but they usually relied on existing characters with light powers that wound up having no bearing on the larger story. Instead, Waller uses hers like a weapon, points it and blasts them to hell.

One problem I had with this book, and it has nothing to do with the story itself, is that I am completely confused about the Suicide Squad’s recent history. I dug Ostrander’s mini from a few years back and Waller’s appearances in Checkmate, but ever since Salvation Run, It’s been fuzzy in my mind (mostly because I didn’t read that book). I know Bane was on the team for a while as was Deadshot, but then they left or got thrown into that prison planet? It makes me want to go back and read Secret Six again going back to Villains United. Maybe it’ll be a project read down the road.

Fantastic Voyage: Fantastic Four #1 (1961)

FANTASTIC FOUR VOLUME I #1 (1966)
Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby
I recently got a great deal on one of those GIT Marvel DVDs that features decades’ worth of comics on one disc. I added the Fantastic Four AND Silver Surfer one to the Iron Man and Avengers discs in my collection already. Now, to be clear, the disc has every issue of Fantastic Four and Silver from 1961 to 2005, I didn’t buy two separate discs. Anyway, unlike Iron Man and The Avengers’ early days, I’ve heard great things about the readability of Fantastic Four from the beginning and decided it was as good a place as any to start. So, with that in mind, I’m going to attempt to read an FF issue every day for the foreseeable future. I’m sure I’ll hit snags here and there and the schedule will probably get royally screwed up when the baby comes, but I’ve got good intentions.

Before getting into my review of the first issue, I figure it’s a good idea to explain my history with the Fantastic Four. Even though the very first stack of comics I was ever given–by a neighbor who was a few years older than me and had no need for them anymore–did in fact include FF #355 (an incredibly confusing issue for someone who only knew the very very basics at the time), I was a DC kid growing up. The first time I read the actual comic on a regular basis was during Heroes Reborn. I tried sticking around with Heroes Return, but couldn’t get into it. I would stay away for a while until after Mark Waid’s run had ended and I read the whole thing at once. It’s an amazing story. And finally, I was getting into Jonathan Hickman’s when I stopped reading monthlies. I have no experience with the original, epic Lee/Kirby run or even Byrne’s well regarded 80s stuff, but I will soon enough. I was a fan of the 90s cartoon, bought a bootleg of the Roger Corman movie as well as the two actual releases. Plus, I’m a long-time comics fan so I have a pretty good idea of what the team has gone through. Or at least I think I do.

Okay, seems like a good enough time to jump right in. My first worry about reading these comics can be summed up in two words: Stan Lee. Every other comic of his from this era I’ve tried to read has been bogged down with a verbosity the sinks the dialog and thought boxes, no matter how important they might be. Well, with this issue, Lee seemed to reel himself in a bit (or maybe he wasn’t quite so in love with his own words yet). Sure the boxes explain more than you probably need to read, but you’ve always got to remember that these books were written for kids, not adults and not nerds. What surprised me about the book was it’s structure, which didn’t start with the famous origin, but instead kicked off with a flame signal in the sky requesting the FF’s presence. We’re then shown Sue, Ben and Johnny individually living their lives and running to the call. We’re not sure how long they’ve been together or how long it’s been since their trip into space, but they apparently work well enough together to be like a well oiled fighting machine.

In addition to revealing the FF and their relationships–Johnny and Sue are siblings, Sues with Reed, Ben has a thing for Sue and seems to be really antagonistic towards Reed, only agreeing to fly the ship after Sue makes fun of him–we also get to see a giant monster attack, The Mole Man’s origin (pretty goofy, people made fun of him for looking funny so he decided to go to a fabled city at the center of the earth) and the FF facing some other giant monsters.

A few other quick notes. This isn’t the Kirby you’ve come to know and love (or at least not the one I do). You can see the beginnings of his style with the big hands and square-ish features, but, the be bluntly honest, the Thing looks like a pile of mud most times. The monsters look okay, but a little weak. My favorite aspect of his art in this issue is how he handles the Human Torch who he draws like a person fully engulfed in fire with no facial features or much else visible. Such a cool visual and probably as scary if not scarier than the Thing’s visage. Also of note, the story is not set in New York City, but Central City. I’m sure I read that somewhere and it changes shortly, but it’s something I had forgotten. One last quick note for people who might be considering buying these discs, the comics therein are not reworked in any way, they are literally photographs taken of a comic book open on a table. Sure it would  be nice to see these issues redone and looking as nice as possible, but I like seeing the page bends, wear and tear and especially the ads and letter columns.

All in all, I’m excited to read the following issues and to experience historical comics personally, especially as Kirby really comes into his own. I’m far more encouraged after reading this first issue than I was after reading Avengers #1 or the early Iron Man appearances. Anyway, here’s a few of my favorite panels from the issue, this will also give you an idea of the quality of the images.

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Giant Monster Mash: Gamera Vs. Viras (1968)

I’ve got a real love/hate relationship with giant monster movies. I love the idea of them, gigantic monsters with weird powers wreaking havoc on a town or village only to become the lesser of two evils once another more dangerous monster comes along. However, I seem to hate most of the giant monster movies I see because they often spend an inordinate about of time showing me boring, uncharismatic scientists trying to either explain or worse stop the thing I want to see: giant monsters kicking the shit out of each other. That’s why we watch these movies right? To see tiny scared people running away from giant monsters and then one giant monster hit another.

So, with that in mind, I was pretty excited when I got sent two Gamera 2-packs from Shout Factory. The movie I’m talking about today is the second of a double feature on one disc that kicks off with Gamera Vs. Gyaos. Now, I know I watched that flick (from the previous year) but I couldn’t tell you whether it would fall into the category of giant monster success or failure. I can however judge Gamera Vs. Viras because it just finished and I remember every excruciating detail. This ones lands in the fail side of things.

We start off with a pretty cool looking space ship (I’m pretty sure it’s several ping pong balls on a structure with some mini antenna glued on, but it looks better than a lot of CGI space ships out there) fighting Gamera in space. Good start. But after that, we find ourselves following two little kids as they drive around the ocean in a minisub that brings them into contact with Gamera (if you’re not familiar, he’s basically Godzilla, but a giant turtle) who then finds himself caught in a force bubble created by the aliens he fought earlier (or some of their friends, I didn’t quite catch the difference).

As you might expect the aliens have a mad on for Gamera and want to kill him. So what do they do? Watch 15 minutes or so of footage from previous Gamera movies to see his weaknesses. The aliens then capture the children and use them to bribe Gamera into destroying buildings and cities (points for that). See, the aliens are looking for a planet to inhabit because theirs doesn’t work anymore. The aliens then try to bribe the government by saying they’ve got two little boys on board. Doesn’t seem like a very solid strategy to me. Two little kids for the safety of an entire planet? I wouldn’t like those odds if I was one of those little kids.

When the movie isn’t wasting time following children around or showing footage from previous installments of the series, it does sport some pretty good special effects. I’m a huge fan of the guy in a rubber suit crashing through a to-scale version of a city. In fact, I’ve often thought of building my own, putting on the monkey suit my mom made for me in college and filming it for funsies. I’ve already mentioned the spaceship, but the sets look pretty good and there’s even a weird squid thing that’s kind creepy. And Gamera looks great all around.

I’m wondering if these movies are actually aimed at kids. Like how Goonies was an action/adventure/treasure hunt movie for kids. The kids seem smarter and braver than all the adults around them and are deemed important enough by the aliens to be used as ransom. Heck, they even have the respect of a giant turtle. The whole thing feels a little bit like that old Hanna-Barbera cartoon Moby Dick where the two kids in SCUBA gear would get into adventures and then their giant whale friend would swoop in and save the day. I think I’ve got more respect for the movie if that really is the case and could see showing this one to my kids in the future because it’s not what I want in a giant action movie: intensity and brutal battles. Heck, he doesn’t even fight a brand new giant monster until the last 10 minutes!

For an adult, this movie makes no sense. It wastes huge amounts of times, somehow bribes a giant monster with two children (how are they even in contact with him?) plus they still thing they can control the big turtle after the boys are free. How does that make any sense? They try to salvage things at the end by having a regular sized squid monster decapitate five humans, spawn five more squid creatures out of their dead bodies and then absorb them to make a giant monster for Gamera to fight, but by then it’s too little too late. I don’t think even the most epic giant monster battle could save this flick which is not something to be worried about because there’s a lot of Gamera falling over and kids calling his name before he finally SPOILER wins.