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: 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: 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.