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Archive for October, 2010

Comic Book Cover Swipes Exposed #29 Avengers

19 Oct

After looking at hundreds of comic book covers, it becomes quickly apparent that not every cover is 100% original. Whether done intentionally or even underhandedly, there’s something about uncovering these “swipes” that adds a new element of fun to reading and collecting comics.

Here’s a more-subtle-than-usual “cover swipe”. In fact, if I were into specifying swipes, I’d call this one an inspiration. Art Adams just uses the same theme as Jack Kirby used years before … but, he doesn’t force the characters into the same positions.

Avengers Annual #1
Avengers Annual #1
September 1967
Jack Kirby
Badrock Annual #1
Badrock Annual #1
July 1995
Art Adams

On Ebay: Avengers | Badrock | Jack Kirby | Art Adams

 

One-Shot At Greatness #29 Marvels Comics: Captain America

18 Oct

Because publishers want you to buy their product every month, comics are typically serial in nature. However, occasionally (and more often nowadays than ever before) publishers launch a comic title that is only meant to last for one issue. While ongoing series often have multiple chances to hook in new readers, the comics highlighted in this ongoing investigations only had One-Shot At Greatness!

Marvels Comics: Captain America #1Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 2000
Cover Price: $2.25
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Ron Frenz (first half); Mark Bagley (second half)
Cover Artist: John Romita, Sr.

In 2000, Marvel published a series of one-shots that revealed what Marvel Comics would be like in the Marvel Universe.

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

In an attempt to thwart Doctor Doom’s plan to travel back in time to eliminate all of the super-heroes, Rick Jones is stranded back in WWII. He’s saved from a squad of Nazi soldiers by Captain America and Bucky. Unfortunately, none of them can prevent Baron Zemo’s ambush that leads to Bucky’s death! With Bucky Barnes’ blessing, Rick Jones assumes the mantle of Cap’s sidekick and the pair travel to Rathskeller Castle to avenge the young hero.

At the castle, the duo is defeated by numerous robots. Our heroes are then strapped to a missile aimed at London and operated by Baron Zemo and the Red Skull. Once freed of their bonds, the new Bucky desperately tries to set the missile off course (just as it happened in the Marvel Universe we know) as Cap plummets into the ocean. However, this time around, Rick Jones’ granddaughter manages to get the time travel mechanism working again … transporting him to the White House in the year 2030 to find the President of the United States is … ?!

The concept is certainly an interesting one but because Captain America is such a public hero in the Marvel Universe, not much of his history is left up to guesswork. Sure, they’ve concoted the secret identity of Roger Stephenson and dark hair … but the true essence of the character is still intact. It was cool to see Rick Jones inserted into the famous Bucky death scene only to be snatched away at the last moment to a future world where Cap needs his help yet again to battle the Red Skull.

Peter David easily channels classic Cap comics with this story and Ron Frenz’s art captures the silver age style (utilizing an interesting mix of Kirby and Romita styles). Stepping up the intensity, Bagley’s Cap is superbly rendered and to top it off, we’ve got a Cap cover drawn by a comic legend: John Romita, Sr. But, as cool as the art is, the cliffhanger at the end isn’t really all that unbelievable and once again, our hero’s rushing off to stop the Red Skull (which we’ve only seen about a hundred times).

On Ebay: Marvels Comics | Captain America | Peter David | Ron Frenz | Mark Bagley

 

Minimate Spotlight #24 Sabretooth

16 Oct

Action figures have long been a perfect compliment to comic books, since every kid (or kid at heart) has that natural desire to act out adventures with their favorite heroes off the drawn page. Every so often, a unique style of figure comes along that breaks the mold, so to speak. Each Saturday, Donny B will be showcasing various offerings from Art Asylum’s take on the ‘block figure’, with a weekly spotlight on Minimates.

Costume changes are pretty common with comic book characters. Sometimes the changes are the result of a specific storyline (remember Superman’s electricity phase?), and sometimes they’re simply the result of evolving art styles (Wolverine’s ‘Astonishing X-Men’ costume is a perfect example).
Whatever the reason, just about every popular character in comic history has several distinct looks.

Art Asylum took this into account when planning out their Marvel releases, giving every wave one short-packed ‘variant’ figure. The variant figure is always an alternate design of one of the characters released in the wave, with the differences ranging anywhere from a different face to a completely different costume.

Marvel’s 28th wave gave us the long awaited Minimate incarnation of Wolverine’s arch-nemesis Sabretooth. Just to make sure all those patient fans were happy with the anticipated release, they added a first appearance variation as the short-packed figure.

Behind the Image:

I always enjoy a photoshop-heavy project. With this one, I wanted to showcase the comic sources of each costume design. The top image is the cover of X-Men #33, and the bottom is the cover of Iron Fist #14. To achieve the sleek, tech-y look of the image, I ran everything through various filters, and fiddled around with the layer transparencies. It was a little time consuming, and ultimately, it didn’t pay off as well as I was envisioning… but then, none of my ideas ever pan out the way I see them in my head.

On Ebay: Sabretooth

 

Retro-Read #28 Mighty Avengers

15 Oct

With years spent reading single issues here and there, juggling storylines of dozens of titles, I decided it was time to find a better way to read comics. So, it was off to the back issue bins armed with the longest want list you’ve ever seen! Putting together series after series and reading them in their complete goodness, I was reborn as the Retro-Reader!

the Mighty Avengers #1Publisher: Marvel Comics
Number of Issues: 36
First Issue: May 2007 ($2.99)
Last Issue: June 2010 ($2.99)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis (#1-20), Dan Slott (#21-36; with some assists from Christos Gage)
Artist: Frank Cho, Mark Bagley, Alex Maleev, Khoi Pham and others

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

After the events of Marvel’s Civil War, Iron Man established a new team of Avengers to safeguard the world. It’s led by Ms. Mavel and also includes Iron Man, the Wasp, the Sentry, Wonder Man, the Black Widow and Ares. Their first battle was against the Mole Man, his Moloids and his large monsters. During that battle, Iron Man’s armor/body was taken over by a much more powerful threat: Ultron! Appropriately enough, Hank Pym (the creator of Ultron) devised a “virus” (for lack of a more in-depth explanation) to take down his creation; it was delivered by a shrunken-down Ares invading Ultron’s body.

At Iron Man’s request, Spider-Woman was added to the team, even though Ms. Marvel wasn’t quite confident in this decision. But, regardless of their disagreement, the Avengers were ready to deal with the next upcoming world threat: an invasion by alien (Venom/Carnage-type) symbiotes accidentally set in motion by Doctor Doom’s computer system. After the invasion was eliminated, the team journeyed to Latveria to take Doom to task for his apparent “crimes”. This led to an interesting time-travel story involving Doom, Iron Man and the Sentry.

Issues 12-20 happen concurrently with the Skrulls’ Secret Invasion and are composed mostly of one-and-done stories that are not related to each other. We get solo stories of Elektra, Captain Marvel, Hank Pym and the creation of the Secret Warriors; all set amongst the back-drop of the Secret Invasion (some of them lifting scenes directly from other series).

the Mighty Avengers #18Following the Secret Invasion, Hercules and Amadeus Cho were determined to start a new group of true Avengers together (they’re not overly fond of Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers) to battle the Chaos Cascade causing … well, “chaotic” events throughout the world. They put together a team with the new Wasp (Hank Pym), U.S. Agent, the new Vision (Jonas), Stature (Scott Lang’s daughter), Jocasta and Jarvis. In order to stop the Chaos Cascade, the team had to battle Modred the Mystic (now calling himself the Darkhold) and Quicksilver (possessed by Cthon). Following their victory, Quicksilver joined the team, as well and they went on to be backed by the Global Reaction Agency for Mysterious Paranormal Activity (aka G.R.A.M.P.A. – 1st appeared in Amazing Fantasy vol. II #15). The team enjoyed much public affection after defeating plenty of threatening villains including A.I.M., Swarm, the Unspoken (a powerful, ancient Inhuman), Zzzax, Terminus and more. Their high approval-rating didn’t sit well with Norman Osborn, though, since he was trying to establish his team of Dark Avengers as the “premiere” super-hero team. This led to a tense meeting as both teams joined forces to defeat the Absorbing Man (powered by a Cosmic Cube).

Soon after the incident with the Dark Avengers (wherein Osborn stripped U.S. Agent of his rank), the Mighty Avengers fell apart after a battle against Loki revealed a darker side of Hank Pym. Finally, Hank Pym was left to take on his most dangerous creation, Ultron, with only the aid of Jocasta and two G.R.A.M.P.A. Agents (Ace and Black Jacquie). However, even Pym was not able to defeat Ultron and was saved by Jocasta who offered herself up to be “married” to Ultron in exchange for his willing banishment. Unwilling to dwell on these events, Pym quickly took off to join his fellow ex-Mighty Avengers in Oklahoma to help out during the events of Marvel’s Siege.

The Bad: This book is extremely disjointed and takes three different “directions” within just three years. Bendis’ original team has plenty of action and great artwork but doesn’t do much to develop much in the way of ongoing plots. The “tie-in” issues that follow are all only relevant to Marvel’s Secret Invasion and their purpose is lost if not read in tangent with (or without working knowledge of) that story. The final direction, involving Pym’s Avengers, is mostly free of interference by Marvel Events). The exception being important events that happen between #34 and #35 that are just briefly mentioned in passing (this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I just figured I’d round out the explanation of all three ‘directions’).

the Mighty Avengers #26the Good: The book was off to a decent start with a well-rounded team. It offered some instability with the Sentry’s questionable sanity, the beginnings of some intra-team romance, and a conflict between the team leader (Ms. Marvel) and Iron Man (who seemed to tread upon her leadership by making executive decisions without her consultation). The Secret Invasion “tie-in” books were cool reads, as they developed some important parts of that storyline BUT, when read within the confines of Mighty Avengers, they just don’t work and totally detract from the previous eleven issues. Finally, Dan Slott jumps in as writer with issue 21 and brings this title back to a real, ongoing series. He puts together a new team of heroes and pits them against some powerful foes. But, more importantly, he gives the series a sense of ongoing storyline. It’s clear that things are building towards something. “What?” – we’re not sure … but I really enjoy that sense of ongoing purpose with ongoing comic series. The art started off really strong with Frank Cho and Mark Bagley and ended in the less-flashy but still-capable hands of Khoi Pham.

The Verdict: The only parts of this series that I really enjoyed was Pym’s Avengers (21-36). Finally, after flailing around and being mired down in a one-sided love affair with Secret Invasion, the book was able to stand on its own as a fun Avengers series. The team took on some powerful foes and also developed Hank Pym’s character some more (much to the near non-development of the other characters – aside from U.S. Agent being stripped of his rank). Some of the Pym highlights include: taking on the new codename of Wasp (in memory of his dead ex-wife), developing an all-new Avengers base (that had pocket doorways all over the globe – and off it, too!) and being told by Eternity himself that he is Earth’s Scientist Supreme. Not bad for a guy that you can squish with your shoe! However, as fun as the final story direction was, it’s overshadowed by the previous twenty issues. Bendis used these mostly to develop the Secret Invasion storyline, much to the detriment of this series. So, let it be known that my final judgment is based on the series as a whole and does not reflect accurately on Slott’s later issues.

On Ebay: Avengers | Brian Bendis | Dan Slott | Frank Cho | Mark Bagley | Khoi Pham | Mighty Avengers | Avengers

 
 

Famous Fanmail #28 Leinil Francis Yu

14 Oct

You may not be surprised to learn that most people in the comic business grew up reading comic books. However, you might be interested in knowing what they were reading. Here’s a look at “Famous Fanmail”!

Leinil Francis Yu has been the artist on some high-profile work including Secret Invasion, Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk, and Ultimate Comics: Avengers 2. In his early 20s, he was following a very unique title from DC Comics. He got his letter printed in Challengers of the Unknown #11 (cover date – December 1997) just as his career was beginning at Marvel with his run on Wolverine.

Challengers of the Unknown letters page with Leinil Francis Yu

On Ebay: Challengers of the Unknown | Leinil Francis Yu

 

Glow in the Dark Comics #12 Spectre

13 Oct

During the speculator boom in the 1990s comic book market, publishers enhanced comic covers to increase sales. These gimmicks included shiny foil, holograms and even pop-ups! But, one of the coolest enhancements was the glow in the dark cover. Let’s shed some light on the subject, shall we?

the Spectre #13 glows in the darkPublisher: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

The Spectre is an undead spirit who puts fear in the hearts of criminals. He was introduced in the 1940s but, he’s not necessarily an A-Lister. He was brought back to the forefront in the 1990s with a third series that lasted over 5 years. It featured some glow in the dark covers, including this one.

On Ebay: the Spectre

 

Comic Book Cover Swipes Exposed #28 Tom Strong

12 Oct

After looking at hundreds of comic book covers, it becomes quickly apparent that not every cover is 100% original. Whether done intentionally or even underhandedly, there’s something about uncovering these “swipes” that adds a new element of fun to reading and collecting comics.

Alan Moore made his return to the comics field in a big way when he started America’s Best Comics (a bold company name … especially coming from the UK). The top three titles from this line were Top 10, Promethea and Tom Strong. Tom Strong allowed Alan Moore to explore different times and worlds, creating stories that gave a nod to the golden age of comics.

Tom Strong #1
Tom Strong #1
June 1999
Alex Ross
Tom Strong #20
Tom Strong #20
June 2003
Chris Sprouse

On Ebay: Tom Strong | Alex Ross | Chris Sprouse

 

One-Shot At Greatness #28 Legends of the Dark Claw

11 Oct

Because publishers want you to buy their product every month, comics are typically serial in nature. However, occasionally (and more often nowadays than ever before) publishers launch a comic title that is only meant to last for one issue. While ongoing series often have multiple chances to hook in new readers, the comics highlighted in this ongoing investigations only had One-Shot At Greatness!

Legends of the Dark Claw #1Publisher: Amalgam Comics
Cover Date: April 1996
Cover Price: $1.95
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Jim Balent

When the DC and Marvel Universes merged in Marvel vs DC, a new one was created: the Amalgam Universe. This one-shot combined Batman with Wolverine.

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

The Huntress (Huntress/Ms. Marvel) stumbles across Dark Claw‘s true identity while snooping around his Gotham penthouse. But, before she can do anything with the information, she’s thust into a team-up with the hero and his sidekick Sparrow (Robin/Jubilee) to stop the Hyena (Joker/Sabretooth) from killing Bill Clinton, the President of the United States of America, by filling Air Force One with poisonous gas. It ends with the President saved and the Hyena on the run.

This is a pretty straight-forward hero vs villain storyline. No real twist or hook to go on, except for the fact that the main character is a combination of two of the most popular characters in pop-culture. We get a taste of Dark Claw & Hyena’s shared origin but not much else to keep this book all that interesting. Although, Jim Balent’s artwork is great to look at, as always.

On Ebay: Amalgam | Larry Hama | Jim Balent | Batman | Wolverine
On AtomicAvenue: Amalgam Comics

 

Minimate Spotlight #23 Captain Picard

09 Oct

Action figures have long been a perfect compliment to comic books, since every kid (or kid at heart) has that natural desire to act out adventures with their favorite heroes off the drawn page. Every so often, a unique style of figure comes along that breaks the mold, so to speak. Each Saturday, Donny B will be showcasing various offerings from Art Asylum’s take on the ‘block figure’, with a weekly spotlight on Minimates.

In addition to hundreds of comic book licensed Minimate releases, Art Asylum has also gives us several waves of Star Trek Minimates.
Unfortunately, this particular license only lasted 5 waves, which is arguably because of their marketing tactic. The first 3 waves were made up completely of characters from the original Star Trek series, and it wasn’t until wave 4 that fans were given anything from a different series. The one Next Generation pack we were given was Captain Picard and a Borg Drone, and in wave 5 we were given Captain Sisko and Gul Dukat from Deep Space Nine.

Apparently, the thought process must have been that TOS (The Original Series) was the most recognizable character lineup of the entire franchise (and had these Minimates been released after the latest movie, that would have inarguably been the case), but it’s apparent that fans felt otherwise. At the very least, the average customer drew the line at 5 different versions of each main TOS character (they even started getting into movie variations, which showed a considerable age difference in the actors. And the one boxed set that was released as a supplement to the traditional wave-style releases was a complete lineup of the main cast from one episode where Kirk traveled to an alternate “mirror” universe – where evil counterparts are apparently characterized by having goatees).

Regardless of which series sells the best, Art Asylum clearly couldn’t make fans want 5 waves of TOS characters. For years, fans called out for a complete set of TNG (The Next Generation) characters, but sadly, those fans were only teased with a small taste of what could be.
Still, that tease was a well received one, as Captain Picard is revered by many Star Trek Minimate collectors as one of the best made releases of all 5 waves.

Behind the Image:

This was part of a set of images that I did all at once, including the Street Fighter image from August 28th’s article. As part of that set, I made this photo with the exact same simple technique – I lined up a computer screen with an image on it (in this case, the Enterprise D from the Star Trek: The Next Generation tv show) and placed the Minimate in a pose in front of the screen. Short, sweet, and to the point, with no photoshop editing required.

On Ebay: Star Trek

 

Retro-Read #27 Spider-Man/Human Torch

08 Oct

With years spent reading single issues here and there, juggling storylines of dozens of titles, I decided it was time to find a better way to read comics. So, it was off to the back issue bins armed with the longest want list you’ve ever seen! Putting together series after series and reading them in their complete goodness, I was reborn as the Retro-Reader!

Publisher: Marvel Comics
Number of Issues: 5
First Issue: March 2005 ($2.99)
Last Issue: July 2005 ($2.99)
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Ty Templeton

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

Over the years, Spider-Man and the Human Torch have been enemies, rivals and friends. This series is a tribute to their ongoing relationship as it’s progressed through the years. Each issue is a one-and-done story that is told in a different Marvel Era and has no affect on the others. In the first issue (which takes place in the Silver Age), Johnny Storm hires Peter Parker to take pictures of him for the newspaper to increase his PR. But, when he gets captured by Doctor Doom, it’s up to Spidey to bail him out. Issue two takes place on the border between the Silver Age and the Bronze Age. Spidey & Torch decide to switch places for a day. Each figures that he can do the other’s job better. So, Spidey gets sucked into an exploration of a new dimension with the Fantastic Four …. meanwhile, the Torch has to stop Kraven the Hunter from releasing a new drug onto the streets.

In the third issue (the Bronze Age story), the Red Ghost tries to steal the Spider-Mobile from Spider-Man and the Human Torch. Years later (in the Copper Age story), the Black Cat lures Johnny Storm on a heist to steal something from the Wakandan history exhibit. Spidey and the Black Panther get involved for some fun hero vs hero action. And finally, in the last issue (the Modern Age story) the Human Torch learns Spider-Man’s true identity. This reveal allows for some cool story-telling to be seen for the first time as both heroes are able to open up completely and compare their lives with each other.

The Bad: This is one of the rare instances where the cover art is worse than the interior art.

The Good: Dan Slott continues to show off his familiarity with Marvel continuity by incorporating great dialogue that references it (much to the delight of long-time Marvel fans, like myself). He includes some fun references to those Hostess fruit pies ads and also adds in a neat cameo by Dan Ketch as a young kid. Templeton’s attention to details was well-researched and pays off in his costume designs for each era (although there’s one shot of Black Panther that looks a little too modern for the story’s point in time).

The Verdict: Wow! What a fun read this was. It reveals the true fondness that Slott (and thousands of fans, with him) has for these characters and the stories that have been created for them over the past four decades. It’s clear that these are comics created by true fans of the characters and that lends an important hand in creating great comics. Each issue wonderfully captures the era it takes place in and can be enjoyed independently of the others but as a whole, it creates a wonderful look at the relationship between Spider-Man and the Human Torch as it’s evolved over the years.

On Ebay: Spider-Man | Human Torch | Dan Slott | Ty Templeton