DC Space Trade Post: Invasion & Legion Of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga

Invasion! (DC)
Written by Keith Giffen & Bill Mantlo, drawn by Giffen, Todd McFarlane & Bart Sears
Collects Invasion #1-3

I can’t tell you how long I’ve had the (as far as I know) most recent printing of Invasion sitting in my to-read box. I mean, I probably could. I got it from the comp boxes back when it came out and I was still working at Wizard, so that gives you some idea. Anyway, I tried reading it at one point a few years back, put it down for just a little too long and forgot what I’d read, so it went back in the box. That’s partially because this 256 page trade collects only three issues. Can you imagine DC or Marvel trying to pull that now? Only three months of an event? Ha! Putting out the story in three 88 page installments? You’re out of your mind! Having each book be a specific chapter that’s related to the previous, but mostly goes in a different direction? Get out of here kid, you’re bothering me.

I’ll admit, all those elements that make this 1988 event so different than the ones I’m used to (I wasn’t reading comics when all this went down, but I’ve read many of the tie-ins over the years), did throw me a bit. The first issue is completely from the villains’ perspective. We get a lot of the details about the invading Dominators and their allies. You’re not even on Earth until the very end and only see a few heroes at all. The second issue deals with the invasion and shows the heroes successfully deflecting it. Wait, what happens in the third issue then? Well, one Dominator drops a bomb on Earth that mitigates the metagene that gives many heroes and villains their powers, so an unaffected group (mostly those who got powers from supernatural, extraterrestrial or scientific means) go on a mission to find the cure. It’s a pretty big turn, but it winds up making sense and adding an interesting extra layer to the story.

Right before reading this book I read the four existing trades of the most recent R.E.B.E.L.S. series, which I really enjoyed (the only reason I’m not reviewing them is because the last arc isn’t collected and I want to write about the whole thing). I found it interesting how heavily writer Tony Bedard mined Invasion for source material. Just about every alien in that book was in Invasion, though I’m sure some or most of them go back further than that. It’s interesting how you can stumble upon two series’ separated by decades and find so many touchstones between them. The same goes for The Great Darkness Saga too, but I’ll get to that in a paragraph.

So, the real question is whether I would recommend you my reader picking up Invasion. That’s a tough one. Like I said, it was interesting reading an event done differently. There’s plenty of allusions to the tie-ins, but they don’t seem as necessary. One thing that this book did that something like Blackest Night did not is explaining the tie-ins in a panel or two when needed. There’s also some pretty rad McFarlane and Sears artwork in these pages. It’s fun to see someone like McFarlane so known for a particular group of characters drawing other ones. I also like seeing Sears’ art recolored as a fan of his Justice League work. On the other hand, it’s kind of a tricky story to dig into because so much is going on and so many characters pop in and out. I don’t think someone who isn’t a die hard pre-DC 52 fan would have as good or as easy of a time reading this collection. At the end of the day, I’d suggest checking it out on a site like Sequential Swap where you can make a trade for it instead of dropping down the $25 cover price. I always feel better about recommending a book when I know people can get it on the cheap.

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga (DC)
Written by Paul Levitz & Keith Giffen, drawn by Giffen, Pat Broderick, Howard Bender & Carmine Infantino
Collects Legion of Super-Heroes #284-296, Legion Annual #1

The Great Darkness Saga is one of those stories that you hear a lot about how great it is from older comic readers or at least I did at Wizard. I think I tried reading one of the earlier softcover trade versions at some point but really didn’t know what was going on. This deluxe edition collects a whole year’s worth of stories leading up to, including and following the Great Darkness Saga, a story that had a mysterious bad guy sending his shadowy henchmen across the galaxy to grab a few things so he can achieve his nefarious goal.

The funny thing about this story is that it’s one of the most spoiled ones in history. I mean, you spend 12 issues trying to figure out who the bad guy is — in theory — but he’s right there on the cover and has been on every other collected edition cover I’ve seen. It’s not like people even talk about it that much, that Darkseid is the bad guy, just that it’s right there front and center. The problem with that, of course, is that it kind of undercuts the whole point of the story which is who this guy is. I thought that was kind of lame. I mean, I expect as a longtime comic fan not to go into every store completely clean and innocent, but this is a little ridiculous, isn’t it?

The huge spoiler is but one thing working against this book. The other is how infamously difficult it is to collect Legion comics from the Levitz/Giffen era. Unlike today, the stories weren’t told in six issue arcs, instead each character got the spotlight at different times and things moved along more like a soap opera than today’s comics. I actually prefer this method of comic storytelling, but it definitely poses a problem when collecting said issues. The first issue in this collection doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Darkseid, but it does have to do with characters who will pop up to fight him and his people later on. One of the reasons I didn’t read the previous version I saw was because I had no idea what was going on or who the characters were. By including so many additional issues, this book gives you a much better idea of who the Legionnaires are and what they’re up to even if you’re not exactly coming in on the ground floor. Since first trying TGDS, I’ve read the Eye For An Eye and The More Things Change collections from this era as well as a few other Legion trades from different eras, so I was much more well-versed in the characters and what was going on.

Still, I think if you’re open and quick on the uptake, this book works really well for readers completely new to the Legion concept. I was going to suggest letting a friend borrow it, but removing the slip cover and telling them not to look at the covers in the back to give them a more pure reading experience, but then I looked at the book’s cover and it has a silver embossed Darkseid on it. Oi.

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: 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?