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: 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!