As I mentioned when reviewing the first batch of DC Rebirth trades I went through, I’d lost touch with a lot of these characters since the New 52 hit and mostly rewrote the old continuity I loved. That’s not exactly the case with the Batbooks. I’ve read almost all of Scott Snyder’s volumes of the previous Batman series and a few other entries here and there like Batgirl and We Are Robin. Still, I thought it was interesting diving into these new takes on familiar titles and characters. Continue reading Batman Rebirth Trade Post: Batman, Detective Comics & All-Star
Thanos Rising (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Simone Bianchi
Collects Thanos Rising #1-5
I’ve been requesting a ridiculous number of trade paperbacks from the library recently. I’ll sign into the system with an idea about one book to put on hold and the next thing I know, I’ve got a dozen or so books in the hold section and am getting a few messages a week from the library telling me my stacks are in. In an effort to put my thoughts down and get these books back into the system, I’m going to do some brief reviews here and move along.
First up we have Thanos Rising, an origin story for one of Marvel’s most powerful villains (and the driving force behind the fantastic Guardians Of The Galaxy) written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Simone Bianchi. I think this is probably the first interior work by Bianchi that I’ve actually read and I think he did a stellar job bringing the intensity and detail seen on his covers to the interiors.
Of course, it also helps that Aaron wove a compelling story about the bad guy who’s in love with death. This story starts with Thanos’ birth and travels with him as he grows into the genocidal maniac we’ve all come to know and love in Marvel’s cosmic adventures. Heck, there were even times when I felt bad for a character who almost killed Captain America. This feels like a great book to pass to someone who’s seen a Marvel movie and might be interested in getting into comics because it’s very much unattached to the more complicated universe.
Silver Surfer Vol. 1: New Dawn (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott, drawn by Mike Allred
Collects Silver Surfer #1-5
When I’m sitting on the computer trying to think of books to look up, I try to remember which runs everyone seems to love. Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer popped into my head and not long after, I had it in-hand. I’ve only just started reading Slott’s excellent Amazing Spider-Man work, but Allred’s an easy sell for me because I love Madman and his work on iZombie (I reviewed volumes one, two and three and have four waiting for a read).
Silver Sufer is an Allred-illustrated book that felt more like an Allred-penned comic, which was an interesting experience. The Surfer is on a vast vacation world, hanging around with a young quirky girl who could easily be played by Zooey Deschanel and having trippy nightmares about being trapped on Earth again. There’s also an awesome appearance by SS’s Defenders teammates Dr. Strange and Hulk. The story itself wasn’t my cup of tea, but how cool is it seeing Allred draw those characters? The answer is that it’s very cool. Overall, this story didn’t really latch onto me, but I liked the art enough that I’ll probably give the second volume a look just to see where it goes.
Avengers vs. X-Men (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman & Matt Fraction; drawn by Ed McGuinness, Frank Cho, John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel & Adam Kubert
Collects Avengers Vs. X-Men #0-12, Point One #1
Back in my days at Wizard I was fully up to date when it came to the big time Marvel and DC events. But, it’s been about five years since I got the axe and a whole lot of craziness has gone on since then. DC implemented a complete reboot and Marvel rolls out an event roughly every year (plus more character or team-based side events). As I’m trying to catch up and dive into some X-books, it seemed pertinent to check out Avengers Vs. X-Men.
And I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed this book. I worried going in that it might feel like Civil War which, no matter how hard any of the writers tried, always seemed very much in favor of Captain America’s side, but in this case both Cap and Cyclops have pertinent points. Better yet, Cyke gets possessed by the Phoenix Force, so you don’t have to worry about his side making sense. More impressively, though, were the little bits and pieces that hit home. The second issue does a great job of framing these events that might seem commonplace and making them seem cool and huge.
I was also impressed with how well these issues flowed considering six different writers and five artists were working on the issues. I’m not always the biggest fan of events because they can easily get bloated and plot-driven, abandoning character along the way, but that wasn’t the case here so it gets a big thumbs up from me. Oh, also, it resulted in more mutants, so that’s cool!
I was looking through unpublished blog posts and realized I had a nearly complete review of Neil Gaiman’s Eternals book and Geoff Johns’ Flash: Rebirth. I cleaned some things up and updated a few references, but otherwise this review from January 2012 was in pretty good shape.
Man, expectations can be a real bummer. If you had handed me this Eternals book and not told me who wrote it, I think I might have maybe walked away liking it a bit more than I did, but knowing that one of my all time, all around favorite writers wrote this story leaves me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. On the other hand, the artist, John Romita Jr. is not one that I tend to like and yet I thought he killed it in these issues.
Okay, to get into a little more detail, these seven issues tell the story of a group of god-like beings called the Eternals who were planted on Earth by even more godlike beings the Celestials to make sure Earth was still cool when they come back later. They’re basically super powered house sitters, but ones that were originally created by Jack Kirby five years after his New Gods books had been cancelled by DC, hence the HUGE similarities). Anyway, for some reason, the Eternals don’t remember they’re Eternals and are just living regular human lives. And…that’s about it. Yes, there’s also some stuff about trying to stop a sleeping Celestial from waking up, but the majority of these issues involves the speedster of the group, Mercury, living life as–I shit you not–Mark Curry. I guess that’s not as bad as Ike Harris, better known as Ikaris. Yeah, that happened.
The problem with this story is that I just don’t care about anyone in it. Am I supposed to care about Curry? If so, why? Because he’s a med student? Yeah, that sucks I guess, but do I need to watch him bumble around with his identity for five out of seven issues? No, not really. It’s funny, I just read somewhere that this series was originally planned as six issues, but was bumped up to seven to fit the action. I do not see that in the finished product. It seems to me like things could have been sped up to make them more interesting. Part of the reason I wound up not being invested is because I knew that these people living normal lives really were big time super powered beings. There’s nothing to lose. You’re going to regain your memories and go live your awesome life where you don’t really have to worry about anything and get to fight monsters or whatever. That’s WAY better than slaving away in a hospital or BSing your way through a party planning business you don’t really know anything about, right?
But, like I said, this is my favorite JRJR art. That boxy, Frank Miller-esque style he seems to like so much just doesn’t work for me. I remember pages of World War Hulk with Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor where it looked like his armor was made out of one of those ugly metal desks. I also couldn’t get into the boxy Iron Man he drew in his issue of Captain America: Fallen Son. But, for whatever reason, his Iron Man looks rad to me in this book as do the rest of the characters. Maybe the fact that these guys were created by the king of boxy characters–and the King of comics all around, really–put me in a different mindset, or maybe he was doing something else with his character design and placement at the time, but I really liked what he was laying down on the pages. I just wish I cared more about what was going on.
This was another reading experience where my expectations came into play heavily but from a different angle. I had read most or all of Flash: Rebirth in single issue form, but that was over a pretty large expanse of time either because of my lackadaisical reading patterns or the book’s lateness (I’m fairly certain these six issues didn’t all come out consecutively, but honestly don’t remember for sure). I remembered a few plot points from the first reading but was left with memories of confusion for the most part. Though a lot of that got cleared up this time around, it does feel like the life of Barry Allen was made a lot more confusing than it needed to be.
Allow me to explain. This book–much like Green Lantern: Rebirth–is intended to explain the return of a Silver Age Justice Leaguer, this time Barry Allen, the Flash who gave his life to save the lives of everyone in the universe back in Crisis On Infinite Earths. Considering my age — Barry died in the real world when I was two — I have never cared about Barry Allen. Wally West was my Flash and I’ve been around long enough to remember his more hound-dog ways in Justice League Europe and then the awesome runs by Mark Waid and Geoff Johns that really fleshed him and his supporting cast out as characters. So, when Barry came back in Final Crisis, I really didn’t care that much. What’s so special about this character who was only ever interesting when he died? Well, not much, but one of the cool things about this book is that it actually asks that very question through the voice of the villain Professor Zoom. Even with all the continuity tampering that goes on (Zoom killed Barry’s mom when he was a kid which is now part of his childhood) and power explanation (Barry actually creates the Speed Force by running), the real point of the story is for Barry to prove his worth to the reader. Whether that succeeds or fails depends on the reader and whether they can make it through the aforementioned confusion zones (which definitely distracted me from the point the first time I read the story).
I think it does a good job of showing the specific way in which Barry Allen can and should work in the DCU: while Wally is the more freewheeling guy (even as a dad), Barry is the straight-laced cop who spends his non-tights days trying to solve cold cases. Was that actually followed through on with the comics that followed? No idea. Was Wally given equal footing? I don’t believe so. Does any of this matter anymore considering the New 52? No, probably not.
The basic question every time I finish a trade is whether I’ll keep it or put it up for trade on my Sequential Swap page. I’ll be keeping this one, at least for now. I have an idea to get my hands on Geoff Johns’ run of Flash which I only read bits and pieces of and I think this might make for an interesting end cap to that collection if I do decide to keep it. I also love the art. Van Sciver’s level detail is amazing and gets me excited to read comics, even ones with big text blocks or huge dialog balloons explaining things like the Speed Force. Finally, this story reminds me of the ones that I occasionally read and loved from the Waid’s run like Terminal Velocity that brought a bunch of different speedsters together. I always liked the legacy/family aspect of the Flash with Wally, Jay, Impulse, Jesse Quick, Max Mercury and even Barry’s ghost coming together to pitch in when necessary. This story not only did that but also brought Max back from the Speed Force, so I dig it.
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.
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.
After getting a good deal on the second volume of Secret Avengers from Thwipster, I was pretty excited to check out the first volume. So, right after finishing, I went on Sequential Swap and set up a trade for the book. When it came in the mail on Saturday, I read it pretty much immediately. This is basically the perfect team book for Ed Brubaker to write because it’s perfectly set in his wheelhouse. Not only does it star Steve Rogers, the character he revolutionized over in the excellent Captain America, but it’s all about the black ops side of the Marvel Universe and includes characters that fit in that world either obviously like Moon Knight, Sharon Jones, Black Widow and Ant-Man (the most recent one) in ways that make a lot of sense even if you didn’t think about it like Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie and Nova. The idea is for the team to be more pro-active, a buzz concept in comics that always sounds good on paper, but doesn’t always deliver because, how do you stop crime before it happens?
So, with that team and that idea in mind, Brubaker kicks the first adventure off with a trip to Mars! It’s the kind of story that might not seem he’s suited for, but it still deals with evil corporations, brainwashed henchmen, a secret organization and heroes fighting other brainwashed heroes. Here’s the actual story: Roxxon has a mining operation on Mars, but all the workers disappeared and Rogers thinks something’s up. He sends his space guy–Nova–to check it out and he finds a crown very similar to the Serpent Crown that instantly takes over Nova and results in the rest of the team–minus Sharon Jones who is back on earth getting ambushed–heading into space. It turns out that Roxxon made a deal with a Hydra-like organization called The Shadow Council to mine there, but they accidentally stumbled upon a prophecy or something that will lead to the end of the universe. So, it’s up to Commander Rogers (don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, not that I need to), Moon Knight, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, War Machine and Beast–all in pretty awesome looking space suits, by the way–to stop Nova and save the universe, which includes seeing Steve put on Nova’s helmet and get a Nova-based costume, which I dug. It sounds like a straight forward superhero story and it is, but it’s also got a lot of those awesome espionage flavored moments that signify a great Bru comic. That really gets focused on in the fifth issue that explains who the Nick Fury lookalike that’s working for the Shadow Council is. Really fun stuff.
I talked about Deodato’s art in the last post and I feel the same way with this earlier volume. I think he’s a great choice for this book if you want to get away from the Steve Epting style set up in Captain America, or the Michael Lark/David Aja look that is actually used in the fifth issue. He’s doing great on the big superhero stuff, but also–and this might be thanks to the inking or coloring–things look shadowy, which fits the theme of the book perfectly. At first it was a little distracting, but once I started thinking that way, I was in it all the way. It’s not noir by any means, but shadows are impotant for a black ops team.
Fallen Son: The Dead Of Captain America (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, drawn by John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr. & Leinil Francis Yu
Collects Fallen Son: Wolverine, Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man & Iron Man
I am a very big fan of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. If you’re into espionage super hero comics, I don’t think you can find a better one than that. I was disappointed when Steve Rogers got killed off a few years back, but, I mean, it’s comics, so you know he’s going to come back, it’s just a matter of when and how. Plus, Bru did an excellent job making me care about Bucky Barnes just as much, so I was okay. But, when I heard that someone else was going to be writing a series of one-shots showing what Cap’s death meant to a variety of heroes in the Marvel U, I wasn’t super excited. I think I read the issues when they came out and I was working at Wizard, but didn’t remember much about them, so I was curious to see how they played out a few years later and with Steve Rogers back in the land of the living.
I gotta say, it’s a pretty melodramatic thing to read which feels somewhat unnecessary, especially considering the fact that Steve Rogers is back. I get the idea behind it, putting together one of the best selling writers in comics with a series of big time artists on the subject of the death of a popular characters. And, as a story, it’s interesting how the issues tie into one another (something I didn’t remember from the first read), and there are some cool moments and ideas like Hawkeye thinking about becoming the new Cap at Iron Man’s request and Spider-Man remembering how Cap helped him out, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem to carry any weight now. It also features at least one character issue actually saying “The death of Captain America,” out loud which just never sounds right.
However, if you are an art fan, this is a pretty fantastic book. I love Leinil Francis Yu, David Finch and Ed McGuinness and seeing them tackle a wide variety of characters is a lot of fun, especially since they’re one-shots and you don’t have to worry about them missing a future issue. I’m not the biggest John Romita Jr. or John Cassaday fan, but they turn it on full blast too.
KEEP OR DUMP? So, the big question every time I read a trade is: will I keep this book and I’m split on these two. I will definitely save both Secret Avengers trades because I think they’re great continuations of Brubaker’s run on Cap with a lot of fun other elements thrown in. On the other hand, cool art just isn’t enough to keep a book in my collection, with very few exceptions.
UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS (Dark Horse)
Written by Gerard Way, drawn by Gabriel Ba
Collects UA: Dallas 1-6
Okay, here’s the the thing. I didn’t actually read the Dallas trade, but the single issues. This is how we used to do Bookshelf back in the Wizard days. Being in the research department it fell on me to go through the massive, unorganized comic book library and dig up all the single issues from so many months back. It was terrible and dusty and hot up there, but when I wasn’t forced to dig for comics, I would do that anyway because it’s the most well stocked comic library I’ve ever seen. Anyway, I was a big fan of the first Umbrella Academy series Apocalypse Suite. Who would have thought that a rock star would write such a rad story? Anyway, I picked up the single issues as they came out, but waited to read them all at once and had a great time. Dallas isn’t an easy story to explain, but it picks up shortly after the previous story with family members going their separate ways. The main thrust of the story has to do with time travel and what happened to the diminutive #5 on his way back from the far future in the previous story. Like Apocalypse Suite, Dallas covers all kinds of territory from the aforementioned time travel to heavy-duty sci-fi killers to cartoon-headed assassins. It’s got a kind of Grant Morrison feel to it, without being as confusing. And man, Ba’s art is just sick. Way gives him all kinds of fun things to draw and I love seeing how they work together. This probably isn’t a very informative review, but if you liked the original, you’ll like Dallas and if you haven’t read either, go pick them up. Stat. Did the trade have any cool extras? I’ll get it on my shelf eventually.
THE GOON FANCY PANTS EDITION VOL. 1 (Dark Horse)
Written & drawn by Eric Powell
Collects Goon #1, 2 (Albatross), Goon #1, 3, 5, 9 (DH)
It might be hard to imagine nowadays, but even just a few years ago, Wizard magazine had the ability to help boost a book into more readers’ consciousnesses. The Goon was one of those books. It was really popular around the Wizard offices and ended up getting some pretty good coverage in the mag which helped boost the book’s sales. As a thank you for the coverage, Dark Horse and/or Powell sent the Wizard office a big box of these hardcover Fancy Pants books. I actually came in towards the end of most of this, but I benefited from it on one of my first days when a buddy handed me this volume. For some reason it took me almost four years to actually read it. I think one of the big reasons I didn’t get to it sooner is because the book reprints everything in chronological order and not as the issues came out. You can see above that the issues skip around a lot. I know some people like to read comics that way, but it puts me off going in. But, my reading experience wasn’t hindered once I actually started into this book (which Powell signed!).
As it turns out, this book is completely up my alley and awesome. The Goon killed a mobster who killed his carnie family. Now he’s got the mobster’s debt book and goes around acting like he’s working for the mobster and keeping the money for himself. He’s also assisted by his little buddy Frankie who used to be a wuss and, kind of like the kid from Son Of Rambow, now loves violence. The world is a kind of dirty, rundown version of what you might think of a larger small town back in the 40s, but with zombies. So, in addition to laying into mobsters, Goon also gets to slice, dice and punch his way through armies of zombies. I have no idea how much this book costs now, but it makes me want to get either the regular trades or the next Fancy Pants volume.
MARVEL PREMIERE CLASSIC VOL. 10 IRON MAN: DOOMQUEST (Marvel)
Written by David Michelinie & Bob Layton, drawn by Bob Layton & John Romita Jr.
Collects Iron Man Vol. 1 #149-150, 249-250
My love of Michelinie and Layton’s Iron Man is well documented in my Iron Mongering posts (find them all in the drop down to the right). As such, my buddy Ben got me this book for Christmas last year, which was super nice of him.Doomquest is definitely an interesting book, especially because the two two-issue stories have 100 issues between them. The basic idea is that the first two issues send Iron Man and Dr. Doom back into the times of Camelot where they have to deal with King Arthur and Morgana Le Fey and all that. The second two issues have them rocketing into the future where King Arthur has been reborn as a kid (as legend says will happen) along with a much hipper Merlin. This really is a wild little book. M&L nail Dr. Doom’s character. He’s just as arrogant and conniving as you would expect him to be, but in both stories he’s thrown out of his elements and has to make allegeiances he normally wouldn’t. Of all their comics I’ve read, I think this one might be the easiest to just jump right in and read because of the time travel. Aside from some stuff in the very first issue, you’re pretty much in these vastly different settings the whole time, so you’re learning things as the characters do. Well, for the most part. Iron Man 2020 kind of shows up in the future stuff. That part is kind of a combination of Camelot 3000 and any other Marvel story set in the future of the 616 where the legacies of the heroes live on in weird ways. I loved the book, but it also really makes me wish Marvel would start putting out more complete M&L runs in a Visionaries kind of series.
I’ve gained a bit of a reputation around the hallowed halls of Wizard as the dude who LOVES Reggie Hudlin’s Black Panther comic. I came into it a bit late in the game (somewhere around the early teens I think), went back, got caught up and have been reading ever since. And, while I think the book got a bit weak in the over-long Fantastic Four issues (I might get to those eventually), I still think it’s a pretty great series overall both because it made me care about a character I didn’t really have any feelings toward one way or another (I never read the previous series’) and because it felt like Reggie was really utilizing the vast resources of the Marvel Universe without getting too bogged down in said history.
So, in this semi-recurring feature called Black Panther Is Awesome, I’ll be taking a trade by trade look at why this book rocks my world. So here we go with the first trade, Who Is The Black Panther?
BLACK PANTHER: WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER?
Written by Reginald Hudlin & drawn by John Romita Jr.
Collecting Black Panther 1-6
Okay, right off the bat, I’ve got to say that this is one of the few cases in which I’ve really liked John Romita Jr.’s art. Usually it’s a little too boxy for my tastes, but for some reason it really works on this book.
Anyway, the crazy thing about the first issue is that it doesn’t even feature T’Challa, the current black panther, but instead focuses on three different Black Panthers from times past repelling foreign invasions, including a pretty rad fight between T’Challa’s pops and Captain America back in World War II that looks even more vintage thanks to Romita’s pencils (not sure how that works, but it does!). We’re made aware of these past battles thanks to a small group of American politicians and military dudes trying to figure out if Wakanda poses a threat. We’re also treated to a few small scenes of bad guys talking to each other, one of which turns out to be the Klaw, who, even I know, is the guy that killed T’Challa’s dad back in the day. I do have one complaint about these flashback scenes, though. The dialogue seems way to modern at times. It’s not a huge deal, but it is the kind of thing that could pull someone out of the story.
All of this sets up a few interesting scenarios. Who’s the bad guy recruiting Klaw? What will the U.S. government try and pull? And most of all, who is the current Black Panther? We’ve seen these past ones, so what’s T’Challa like? We’ll get the answers plus more questions as things move on.
Also of interest, the footage we’ve seen of the Black Panther cartoon, which will be on BET, looks like they just animated this first issue like those old motion comic cartoons from the 70s. As you can probably guess, I’m pretty excited about that series whenever it comes out.
You know what’s crazy about the second issue? Still no T’Challa as Black Panther. We get to see T’Challa challenge his uncle for the title of Black Panther and win which is pretty rad. Along with the scenes we also get some background about Wakanda where we find out that the Panther is the god of the people and also rules them as a king. We also get treated to some more pretty cool and sometimes brutal fight scenes between T’Challa’s uncle and the challengers.
There’s also an interesting set-up in the character of Shuri, T’Challa’s sister who also wanted to try out to become the Black Panther, but was stopped by a falling opponent of her uncle’s just as T’Challa jumped into the fray. There’s some more U.S. government stuff that gets a bit old as the series moves on, but it’s still pretty interesting here. Plus, Klaw recruits a bad guy/girl named Cannibal who seems to take over bodes based on physical contact. The seeds are planted.
The third issue is kind of an origin issue with some more team building on the bad guy’s side. It seems as though Rhino and Batroq the Leaper (minus the silly costume, but still sporting the accent) have joined Klaw’s cadre of evil somewhere in Africa. It turns out that Klaw is related to one of the dudes who we saw trying to invade Wakanda and getting killed. Klaw became an assassin hired to kill T’Challa’s dad, killed him and T’Challa’s brother only to get shot by a young T’Challa. Klaw went back to Belgium where they turned him into a cyborg killing machine. We also get a glimpse of what fueled T’Challa to become the badass dude we will eventually see in the book and got a glimpse of when facing off against his uncle.
The issue is capped with a few more additions to the villain crew in the form of the Vatican’s Black Knight, who even sports an ebony blade and a ruler of a neighbor of Wakanda who is on Klaw’s side. I’m not exactly sure how this fits into the actual Black Knight’s continuity, but they did a call out to it in the most recent issue of Captain Britain (a really great book, highly recommended to all).
Finally, in issue four we get to see T’Challa in his Black Panther gear as the bad guys finally begin the assault. I don’t want to get in too many of the details because they’re pretty cool, but we get a great look at how the population of Wakanda looks up to T’Challa and how he, in turn, respects them. We also get treated to an example of the Rhino’s toughness and an aerial dog fight with the Black Knight, plus the reveal that Radioactive Man is also on Klaw’s Crew.
Issues five and six really display the throw down between BP and his people and Klaw’s Crew (I like that name, they should get uniforms made up). The U.S. government even gets involved by deploying a group of cyborg soldiers that seem to have an awful lot in common with Deathlok, though the connection isn’t made on the page. Oh, the Panther also has a freaking flight cycle. Awesome!
In the end, Panther faces off against Klaw, while his sister takes on Radioactive Man and Cannibal takes over his cousin in America (he’s a diplomat of some kind). So, even though the good guys (and girls) prevail in their own way, there’s still some lingering trouble.
So, what do I like about this book (aside from what I already mentioned)? Well, I’m pretty fascinated by Wakanda as a setting and Hudlin sets things up really well. You get to see both its technologically advanced side but also it’s older, warrior and honor based culture. It’s a really cool setting that really serves T’Challa later on and shows how he truly is a product of his environment.
I also really like this collection of somewhat classic Marvel villains. You’ve got Rhino, Klaw, Batroq the Leaper and Radiative Man all teaming up in a way that doesn’t seem forced at all. Plus, I didn’t even realize it until just now how little Black Panther is in the series and I was still really really into it. It’s pretty cool.
Okay, this was a really long post, but I had to get in why I think BP is so awesome. Look for more installments later as I’ve read the first four Black Panther trades, but haven’t read the X-Men/Black Panther trade in a while (I might just skip that one to save some time).
Like everyone else in the world, I really dug the Iron Man flick, but it got me thinking: What are some great Iron Man stories out there? Everyone’s always talking about Armor Wars and Demon in a Bottle, but I’ve run into some trouble getting into comics from back then, what with the huge text blocks and “I’m saying what I’m doing” dialog. So, I went up to Wizard’s comic library (a truly magical place) and grabbed a big stack of trades, old and newer, and will post my thoughts as I read through them. Huge spoilers ahead. Sorry about the smaller images below, I’m still trying to work this whole thing out.
First up, Demon in a Bottle (1979)
Collects: Iron Man #120-128
Written By: David Michelinie
Drawn By: John Romita Jr., Bob Layton & Carmine Infantino
Featuring: Iron Man, Namor, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Bethany Cabe, Jarvis, Captain America, The Avengers, Justin Hammer, a slew of villains and booze
First, a quick bit of background on my comic-reading past. I grew up a DC guy, so most of my Iron Man knowledge stemmed from the short-lived ’90s animated series, whatever random Marvel books I’d pick up from time to time and what I read in Wizard. Like everyone else, I’ve heard a lot about Demon in a Bottle, but never really took the chance to read it until now because I kind of figured I knew everything that happened and didn’t think I’d like it.
Well, I was wrong. Though the trade is a bit difficult to jump into (there’s characters I’m not familiar with and the book starts with the last 5 pages of issue #120), it didn’t bother me all that much because it reminded me of what it was like when I first started reading comics. I had no idea what was going on and loved trying to figure it out.
Keeping that in mind (and knowing that not everyone likes to read comics the way I do), I wanted to offer a little background info that might help new readers. Up to this point Bethany Cabe (first appearing a few issues earlier in IM #117) was a lady that Tony Stark was eying after his break-up with Madame Masque. At the time this book opens, he’s got no idea that she’s really a bodyguard for hire. Also, at this point in his history, the world doesn’t know that Tony Stark is Iron Man, they think Iron Man is Stark’s bodyguard. That should be about enough to get you through the trade until the big origin recap.
Like I mentioned, the book opens with the end of #120, showing us a battle between Iron Man and Namor. The ensuing fight with Roxxon Oil over a Vibranium-filled island is an interesting one, beautifully and crisply drawn by JRJR, but it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the rest of the story. This brings up another aspect of the book I liked, it reminded me how comics used to be written. Nowadays we’re so used to six-issue arcs with set beginnings and endings that it can throw us off when we’re offered a glimpse of an older story like this. Michelinie wasn’t worrying about six issues here, he had a whole tapestry of stories and subplots weaving in and out of each other that probably started years earlier and went on for plenty after. Sure, the Namor section of the story isn’t necessary, but it does lead to Tony’s recollection of his origin and the eventual reveal that someone is messing with his armor.
I really thought that I would get bored with a 12-page recap of Iron Man’s origin, especially having just seen basically the same story on screen a week before, but Michelinie’s text boxes read like a novel and guest artist Infantino’s art on this issue really captures the drama and action of his origin. In the end, the story still feels fresh after almost 30 years.
As a bonus (for me at least), the origin story included two of my favorite visuals in fiction: a splash page that encapsulates a character’s costumes/history and a character wearing a trench coat even though it’s the most conspicuous fashion choice of all time (especially if you’re a dude walking around in a suit of armor).
Okay, so after ol’ Shell Head remembers how he became a man of armor (while flying his way home) something crazy happens: his suit malfunctions, sending him flying erratically through the skies, even through the offices at Marvel. As staffers huddle in fear one calls out “Gee, Jim [Shooter, EIC at the time], I uh, realize guest stars help sales–but in editorial meetings?!” There’s even a little sign on the wall that reads “Kill All Inkers” signed by Stan. It’s a great little in-joke for fans, the kind of thing I imagine Marvel did all the time back in the day.
Tony regains control and heads back to his lab where he tests out his armor in a pretty amazing sequence mixing elements of Kirby and Steranko drawn by JRJR, who absolutely kills his issues.
Finding nothing wrong, Tony heads to a casino with Bethany Cabe only to be interrupted by Blizzard (who comes in wearing a trench coat and a wide brim hat), Melter and Whiplash. Tony suits up and makes short work of the villains only to be chastised by Bethany for not guarding Stark.
Upon returning home, Tony gets a request for Iron Man to represent Stark International at a ceremony and meet with ambassador Kotznin to which Tony agrees. He then has a drink, tries to design some sciency stuff, gets fed up and suits up as Iron Man to patrol the area.
Later that night at the ceremony, everything seems to be going fine until the mystery villain works his technical mojo, causing Iron Man to blast a hole straight through the ambassador’s chest. Man, what a great scene. I remember this being referenced back when I read Avengers, but had no idea it was coming up and was blown away (like the ambassador, heh). Even today the murder of an innocent man at the hands of a hero strikes a chord. These are men and women who have sworn to help humanity often at the detriment of themselves and, when something like this happens, even if it’s not their fault, you just know that it leaves a hole inside of them that will take years to heal. Michelinie wasn’t pulling any punches and will continue to lay it on pretty thick for our armored hero, but never shows him completely beaten because this is the kind of guy who’s gonna keep fighting until his dying breath.
All of this leads into my personal favorite issue of this story, #125. The issue opens on a shadow-covered Iron Man, again drawn beautifully JRJR, contemplating all that’s just happened. He’s able to convince the cops to let him go as long as Stark brings the armor to them for safe keeping by telling him that the armor malfunctioned. Afterwards, Tony goes on a bit of a bender, looking a lot like the famous cover that this collection gets its name from. We then see Tony showing up at Avengers Mansion where he asks Captain America to give him some fight training, which is a great scene because Cap’s got no idea that Tony and Iron Man are one in the same. We’re treated to another fantastic montage scene (one that was referred to a year ago when Cap and Iron Man were having their troubles during Civil War). What I love about this scene, besides the art, is that it just makes sense. I’m a big fan of the idea that these characters don’t automatically know how to handle themselves. Even after being a superhero for years, Tony’s always relied on his suit to help him, but what he’s got coming up, an assault on the man he only knows as Hammer, will require his prowess, not Iron Man’s.
He also knows how to get help from his friends in the superhero community. Tony sets up a meeting with Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, who then uses his shrinking abilities to visit Whiplash in jail and get more information on Hammer. I don’t mean to keep gushing about this issue, but I love the sense of this being a shared universe that you get just by reading this one comic. Not only do you have the Avengers seeing the news of Iron Man’s accidental murder, but Tony training with Cap and getting help from Scott. These are the kinds of stories that make reading comics in a shared universe fun.
I also love stories in which the hero has to operate in his civilian identity, but is still a badass. Ed Brubaker did a great job with this in his first year on Daredevil, starting with Matt Murdoch in prison and then sending him to Europe. In this issue we’re treated to Tony Stark playing James Bond and not just in the bedroom. Tony follows up on the info he got from Scott and heads to Monaco with his buddy James Rhodes at his side and flying his plane.
Tony and Rhodey go on to run across some hoods that they, at first, easily dispatch, but end up with Rhodey unconscious on a beach and Tony in the clutches of Justin Hammer, the man who’s been screwing with Tony this whole time. But who is this guy? Well…no one, kinda. I mean, he’s a pretty big deal rich dude, but he’s the kind of villain that’s been waiting in the wings for his moment to attack. Kind of like what’s happening with Morrison’s current Batman run (maybe).
So, now that Tony’s in his enemy’s clutches, what happens next? Tony pulls some more James Bond-like maneuvers (electrocuting his guard and using a grappling hook belt he got from Scott Lang) to get his armor back, just in time for Hammer to unleash a legion of super-villains like the Constrictor, the Beetle, Porcupine, Discus, Stiletto, Leap-Frog, Man-Killer and more. Iron Man rumbles pretty mercilessly, but awesomely, with the villains, then goes after Hammer himself (did I mention they’re on a big boat-like island?), who’s escaped, leaving Tony to return home, get skunky drunk, snap at Jarvis and receive Jarvis’ resignation the next day.
All of which leads us to the issue you’ve seen the cover of a hundred times, but (if you’re like me) never actually read. Yup, the famous “Demon in a Bottle” Tony-looks-like-hell cover.
I gotta say, this is my least favorite of the issues. Not because it’s a poorly written or drawn, but because it just seems a little too cut and dry. Sure, plenty of writers have gone back to this aspect of Tony’s personality, but this issue really seems to steam through his ordeal with booze. Even the emotional and heartbreaking scene with a drunken Iron Man crashing through his office window, things just go by too fast for me. It turns out that Bethany had a husband who was addicted to drugs and doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to Tony, so she helps him through his withdrawal (again, drawn in agonizing detail by JRJR). Our hero also patches things up with Jarvis, finding out that the faithful butler’s mother is sick and to help offset the costs, Jarvis sold his shares (there’s a subplot running throughout the whole story that S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to buy a controlling interest in his company). Tony tells his long-time friend that he’ll pay for everything and goes on to deal with the rest of his life, including a battle with self-control over a bottle of booze that he wins. End of story.
Okay, I don’t want to end on such a downer note. Again, I really liked this book and think that, given an even bigger trade that shows more of Tony’s battle with his new found bottle demons, I wouldn’t feel the way I do. Jeez, this was a really long post. Too long? Let me know.