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: Solar #21, Ultraverse Break-Thru #2 & Micronauts #1

Here we have three more random books chosen at random and reviewed to the best of my abilities. I started off with Solar: Man Of The Atom #21 from Valiant, printed in 1993. The issue was written by Kevin Vanhook with pencils by Peter Grau and I’ll be honest, it didn’t do much for me making it the second Valaint book in a row that I didn’t like.

The main problem is that this is the 21st issue of a comic and I have close to no understanding of what’s going on. There’s some recap in the dialog boxes, but overall, I didn’t feel much connection to the characters or what was happening to them.

I did however like Grau’s art. It’s solid from a storytelling point of view and it looks like he got to have some real fun with the more outlandish characters and how some of the powers looked. His normal people aren’t particularly interesting, but when you’re dealing with super people in body-covering spandex, that’s not uncommon. There’s also an interesting kind of coloring going on in this comic that reminds me a bit of the original Milestone books as well as the other Valiant comics I’ve looked through. It’s got a pastel or colored pencil feel to it as opposed to the deep, rich colors you see in most comics these days. That might be thanks to different coloring methods or a difference in paper (this is newsprint and therefor not glossy).

The coolest thing about this comic? That rad Joe Quesada/Jimmy Palmiotti cover.

I had a lot more fun reading Ultraverse Break-Thru #2, though I had equally less knowledge of what the heck was actually going on. The issue came out from Malibu in 1994, was written by Gerard Jones with art by the amazing George Perez. There is a gigantic amount of information foisted upon the reader in this issue which acts as the second part in what appears to be a gigantic crossover featuring (I think) every character in the Malibu universe. You’ve got Prime, Hardcase, Ultraforce, Mantra, Sludge, The Strangers, Rune, Freex and lots more. If those names don’t ring a bell, we’re pretty much in the same boat. I had read two Prime comics in my life as a comic fan and remember watching the Ultraforce cartoon when it was on, but that’s about it.

Still, it seemed like Jones gave me enough information to follow along with what was going on, no small feat considering this is the SECOND issue of a COMPANY WIDE event. I didn’t feel lost about what was going on in the story, though I did not necesarrily know who the characters were or what their pasts were. This was a much better reading experience than something like Deathwatch 2000 Earth 4 which had a slew of characters I didn’t know or understand whatsoever. That book turned me off to pretty much all of Continuity Comics, whereas this one made me want to actually read a few more Malibu comics. I was always curious about the other Prime issues and I’ve heard from quite a few people that Sludge was actually pretty good. That alone makes this one of the better experiences I’ve had with The Box thus far.

Are you a Micronauts fan? Did you stumble across the toys at the toy store as a kid, then go on to discover and love the Marvel comic? Then, Micronauts #1 from Devil’s Due written by Dan Jolley with art by Pat Broderick might be a great read for you. If not, you’ll be shown a series of actions that mean next to nothing because they have almost no context. As a new reader I know that the Micronauts have been beaten down and their villain Baron Karza is seemingly on the loose. Or something.

They wind up working for another guy which sets a new status quo, we learn who the new Baron Karza is and what happened to the original. The problem, though, is that there’s nothing in this issue that makes me care about any of that. A number one issue like this should be a perfect entry point for everyone and get any possible reader absorbed right in. Not the case though.

I did like Broderick’s artwork, it has a fun cartooniness to it in certain panels. There’s one priceless look of shock on a regular guy’s face at one point in one of the scenes that made me chuckle. I think some of the line work was overdone with lots of extra black lines that give some of the finished product a cluttered look, but overall he did a solid job.

The Box: Mortal Kombat Battlewave #4, Web Of Spider-Man #81 & Deathwatch 2000 Earth 4 #2

As I explained last week, my pal Jesse bought me a longbox packed with comics, many of which had five or six copies. I put what I had in alphabetical order, put them in my sliding-top coffee table and I’ll reach in, pull out comics at random and give them a read. Sometimes I discover a gem, sometimes, not so much.

First up, I read Mortal Kombat: BattleWave #4 from Malibu, which seems to have been purchased by Marvel at this point (1995). This comic was written by Charles Marshall and drawn by Patrick Rolo and it was surprisingly one of the best of the box so far. I figured I would be completely lost because I only ever rented Mortal Kombat games in the past. But, I actually found myself pretty interested in what’s going on.

I don’t know why the different people are fighting on their particular sides, but you’ve got Johnny Cage and Jax fighting Smoke and Jade on a crashing airplane. This is a tricky thing to write and some of the artwork is a little out of control, but I think it was handled really well. There’s other stuff I didn’t necesarrily get and a back-up story about a cat-man fighting Goro, but I was actually pretty intrigued by the world that Marshall was working with here. Iconic characters doing cool things in such a way that a new reader can understand is not a terrible thing.

Also, I dug Rolo’s art. I don’t I’m familiar with his work, but it’s got an almost cartoony, exaggerated nature that never looks too cartoony or exaggerated. In other words, I wouldn’t be upset if I found more MK comics by these guys in The Box. Bonus piece of info: Marvel editor Mark Paniccia edited this comic!

I had less fun reading Marvel’s Web Of Spider-Man #81 written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Steve Butler. The story follows two brothers, one who decides to be a good person and goes to school while the other decides to become the oh-so-90s villain Bloodshed. It’s not a bad story, but it’s one I’ve read before. Actually, it’s one I’ve read from Busiek before in the pages of Astro City: Dark Ages Books 1 and 2 which set several miniseries’ worth of comics around this idea. So, seeing it done all in a compressed format with different characters just feels a little repetitive.

Mind you, this is not a slam against this comic. I’ve come to realize that there are certain kinds of stories you can read done plenty of different ways and others that you don’t. I feel like I read this idea done really well by the writer already and just didn’t feel the need to go through it again.

I will note that Butler, an artist I’m not very familiar with, did a great jon in the issue. His Spidey looks iconic, his characters bold (when they’re supposed to be) and he gets to work with several great facial expressions that he nails.

I do admit, there is a part of me that misses villains like Bloodshed. His motivations are the same as villains today, but that look is insane. He’s basically got enhanced strength and…spikes as well as a pink ponytail for some reason. In reality, if you saw this guy, you’d be torn between quivering in terror and snickering.

Lastly, I read Deathwatch 2000 Earth 4 #2 from Continuity Comics. I think that’s the title at least, I honestly can’t tell. I remember having a few Continuity books from various grab bags as a kid and never knowing what the hell was going on. That continues to be the case with this issue written by Neal Adams and Paul Stone with art by Aron Weisenfeld. Honestly, I can not tell you what happened. There’s one group of super people all with silly names like Urth and Fyre fighting another group and then a third shows up at some point.

There are some explanations along the way but they just wind up confusing more. I’m not the biggest fan of those basic information recap pages, like the ones that Marvel did in the mid-2000s, but it would have been immensely helpful in these comics, even more so considering these are brand new comics from a presumably brand new comic company. I didn’t do any research (yet) on Continuity or what was going on because I like to go in fresh, but I probably should have. The art doesn’t help matters any either. This was in the middle of the 90s heyday where nothing comes in a grid and all the panel lines look like they’ve been singed. It’s like mental color overload with stuff you’re not given enough information to care about. I think it’s also environmental, which makes it feel like a more “extreme” version Captain Planet, which I do not want to read.

Oh, I forgot to mention, this book was polybagged AND came with a trading card. Anyone want to trade for Firebat?