On average, the best part about reading random Valiant comics for my (mostly) weekly The Box column here on the blog has been seeing random ads from the early days of Wizard. These are from a few years before I got into the magazine, but if you’re unfamiliar with it’s history, Wizard covered a lot of Valiant and Image stuff in the early days because they were all coming up at around the same time. So, while it might have been harder to get DC or Marvel on the phone, there was lots of back and forth between the younger companies and the growing mag. So, it comes as no surprise seeing a full page ad in 1993’s Magnus Robot Fighter #21 nor is it surprising to see the “Especially Valiant” tag on the ad. If you want to see how strong the Wizard/Valiant connection was compare the mastheads from the first few years of Valiant comic books and Wizard issues from let’s say about 8 or 9 years ago.
In a somewhat shocking revelation, I actually liked all three of the random comics I grabbed out of The Box for this week’s post. It helped that two of them were comics I purchased at a convention in the last few years, but hadn’t gotten around to reading, but it’s still nice to know that randomness can be a good thing.
First up, I checked out 1993’s Detective Comics #662 written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Graham Nolan. This issues happens to be the eight installment in the Knightfall storyline that would eventually see Batman with his back shattered. I’ve said before on this blog that Superman’s death is what got me hooked on comics, but once I was in, the breaking of Batman helped keep me there and broadened my reading habits. I don’t exactly remember where I came in on this story, but it was after this issue because I didn’t already have it. It got me thinking of how shocking the end of this story must have been to people reading the event as it happened. Sure, Batman had been in some tough spots before, but he always made it out okay, that would happen again this time, right?
Nope. Anyway, this particular issue finds an exhausted Batman fighting Firefly at the zoo while Robin stops one of Riddler’s plots. This particular issue doesn’t do a great job of explaining what all is happening though, that Bane released all these criminals and has set them loose on Gotham with Batman trying to bring them all back in. You get the gist here and there and at the end, but if this was a Valiant or Crossgen crossover I wasn’t familiar with, I’d have been lost. Reading this issue made me want to get those new Knightfall paperbacks that came out recently as I realized I’ve never read the whole story from beginning to end as I just jumped in whenever I started reading.
Up next I pulled out another DC Comics, this one Suicide Squad #35 from 1989 by the creative team of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell. This was interesting time as I’d just finished reading the first arc of the series in trade paperback form a few weeks prior. As I mentioned in that post, I’d read a number of the issues when my pal Ben lent them to me, but can’t really remember how far I got. I’m not sure if I got up to this issue, but the adventure did seem a little familiar, so maybe I did.
Anyway, this one finds the Squad — a group of criminals who go on crazy missions to help alleviate their prison sentences — stranded on Darkseid’s planet Apokolips fighting the Female Furies and doing a much better job than they probably should have been able to do if you ask me.
The issue feels like the middle of a three parter as it’s pretty much one huge fight scene, but there’s still enough explained that I didn’t feel lost. Lashina had been abandoned on Earth in an earlier issue and basically joined the Squad, but still wanted her revenge for being left behind. The issue ended on a cliffhanger that made me wish even more that this whole series was collected in trade. I guess I’ll just have to keep collecting issues like this one and read them all together down the line.
Lastly, I pulled out another issue of Magnus Robot Fighter, this one 1993’s #21 by John Ostrander and John Bock. Huh, just realized that I pulled out two Ostrander comics back to back. After reading Magnus #25 last week, I wasn’t super excited about reading this comic, but I went through with it and it was alright. Much like last time, I still don’t really know why Magnus fights robots, but the issues does have a dream sequence that recaps a lot of Magnus’ recent adventures (and contains lots of robot fighting).
There’s some presumably big reveals to people who had been reading the series for 2o issues before this one. For them, they might have been like “Holy crap!!!!” but I was like “Oh, okay.” That’s just how these things work. You’re not going to surprise a newbie with a revelation in the 21st issue, but you can do your best to set it up for them so they at least understand what’s being revealed and why it’s important. Ostrander did that here and that’s all I can really ask for.
Oh, also, Bock’s art is still awesome in this issue.
I gotta say, I was surprised by this issue of C.O.P.S. (#7 from 1988, written by Doug Moench, drawn by Pat Broderick). If you’re familiar with the comic, cartoon or toy line, you’ll know that it’s about a group of specialty policemen and women brought together to help defend the crime ridden Empire City. My personal memories of the cartoon were filled with awesome cops like Longarm going on amazing adventures, but when I saw a few episodes on DVD back in my days at Wizard, I discovered it was actually pretty cheesy.
This comic is actually a pretty good amalgam of the cool aspects I remember and the cheesy aspects I more recently experienced. As you can see, the bad guy in this issue is actually a cop who flipped his lid and now eschews the law in favor of his own brand of justice…that he metes out via giant robotic elephant with a vacuum trunk. So, it’s probably not hard to see the dual natures at work in this book, which feels like it could have really been fun and cool if not aimed at kids.
The issue even goes into some detail about the cop’s origins and how they actually tie into those of the team itself (I read the first issue at some point in the last year or so) making it all pretty cohesive. C.O.P.S. is one of those properties that I would love to see make a comeback now that cartoons and animation can be a little more serious and realistic than they used to be. Just imagine a C.O.P.S. series done by the Young Justice team. It would be fantastic.
Every time I pull out a Valiant comic from The Box I hope that it will be as enjoyable as the good Turok or X-O Manowar issues I’ve read and not as incomprehensible as Archer & Armstrong or, well, that other issue of X-O. I’d put Magnus Robot Fighter #25 (1993) by John Ostrander and James Brock closer to the good ones and further from the bad, but it was a bit much to take in. I don’t blame this one on the creative team, actually. It’s a seemingly revelatory issue with lots of reveals for entrenched readers that also gives a ton of information to a new one like me but I was left with one all important question I’ve always had about Magnus: why does he fight robots?
I find out that there are certain robots he does fight and others he doesn’t and he even seems to be friends with robots, but the simple question doesn’t really get answered. I feel like it’s the kind of thing that today would be covered in one of those small, one-sentence origin boxes lots of comics use these days like, “Rocketed to Earth as a baby, Superman uses his enhanced strength and other powers to fight for truth, justice and the American way.” I mean, you’re halfway to explaining what Magnus is all about just from the extended title of the comic, I just need a little bit more information. In fact, not knowing what the deal was kept popping me out of the story a bit.
One more quick thing I want to talk about is the art in this book by Brock. It’s actually really rad. His characters are strong and bold and he’s got some extra line work in there that reminds me of Andy Clarke and guys like that. It’s also got some of that interesting Valiant coloring, but it’s a bit bolder than some of the other more pastel offerings I’ve seen so far.
This copy of Showcase ’94 #6 was one I actually picked up at a con along the line at some point. I am a gigantic fan of the mid-90s Showcase series’ for being repositories for great short stories oftentimes starring characters who might not warrant their own series or mini. This one has three one a team-up with Huntress and Robin, another with The Atom and a third with New Blood Sparx. The Robin/Huntress story was written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by the rad Phil Jimenez and is actually the third part in a three part story. I think I’ve read the other two or at least one of them. It’s about a killer priest who wears a gold mask and shoots people. This issue has the dramatic reveal but since I don’t really remember the other two issues, it’s not too thrilling. What is thrilling, however, is seeing Jimenez do Robin and Huntress from the era that I was really getting into the Batman books.
The Sparx story by Karl Keel and Scott Lee and, honestly, I remember next to nothing about it. Sparx is part of a family of superheroes and wants to learn about someone in her family and then Captain Boomerang attacks and things go sour so she leaves. That’s about all I got.
Lastly, you’ve got The Atom by Len Kaminski and Fred Reyes in a story where Ray Palmer has to use his abilities to stop a bomb from blowing up a city. I like this one because it’s one of those stories where the writer really gets into the character’s powers and figures out how they could really work. Kaminski does that in a pretty concise and clear way that I dug. So, I dug this issue and will actually be keeping it in my collection.
I realize that reviewing one comic out of a series might seem kind of silly, but I like to take a look at these things that are meant to be larger stories and see how one of the pieces holds up when taken somewhat out of context. Is there enough material there to grab me as a brand new reader? Does the writer lay down enough in one issue to fill me in on what’s going on, either through outright telling or clues left for inference? Plus, I just like to talk about comics.
Predator Versus Magnus Robot Fighter was a two issue mini series back in late 1992 that brought Dark Horse and Valiant together to tell a story. I’m not sure if this was the first of many or one in a series of DH/Valiant crossovers, but I think it’s kind of interesting that, today, Dark Horse holds the rights to both licenses and could reprint or recreate this comic today.
My vote would be for recreating because overall, this issue plotted by Jim Shooter, dialogued by John Ostrander and drawn by Lee Weeks falls short of really filling in a new reader as to what these two franchises are all about. I’m a pretty huge fan of the Predator franchise, but know nearly nothing about Magnus. The details I get in this book don’t really do much to tell me about the character or his motivations, though I know his red tunic disperses energy (but why he doesn’t have matching pants goes unanswered), he’s dating the president’s daughter and he likes to kick robot ass, though only certain robots. As far as the Predators go, you see one get taken out pretty easily in the beginning (though not really), learn they like to hunt and that they’re dangerous. I guess that’s pretty much all we really know about Predators anyway, now that I think about it. So, what does the issue spend it’s time with? Well, some stuff that isn’t super interesting, to be completely honest. Magnus runs into a group of people hunting robots for sport, much like Predators do, on a future version of Earth. They’ve got an X-O helmet as a trophy which I can only assume is related to another Valiant comic I never read called X-O Manowar. The helmet belonged to the Predator who now finds himself on Earth trying to get his trophy which is currently in Magnus’ girlfriend’s house. There’s a bit of a fight at the end, but most of this issue seems wasted on characters I don’t know doing things that aren’t all that interesting. If I were to write this comic, I’d focus more on the Predator trying to navigate Earth. He wouldn’t just crash land in the middle of a bunch of people but do his best to come in covertly. As we see in the beginning of this issue, robots have no trouble picking up on a Pred even when they’re using their cloaking technology. I’d use that to put the Predator more on the defensive. But hey, what do I know? If anyone at Dark Horse is reading this, though, I’m available for consultation or an outright pitch if you’re looking to bring two of your big properties together.
The real question, of course, after reading one issue is whether I’d read the second? The answer is “sure.” I wouldn’t go out of my way to find the issue or pay more than some pocket change for it, but I’d be curious to see how it ended. I’d be even more interested if I got a solid answer as to whether there’s a full-on fight between the two characters as promised by the title. If not, what’s the point?