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Archive for the ‘Retro-Read’ Category

Retro-Read #52 Marvels: Eye of the Camera

13 Jul

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: 6
First Issue: February 2009 ($3.99)
Last Issue: April 2010 ($3.99)
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Jay Anacleto

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

Phil Sheldon is one of the top names in photo-journalism. For decades, his work introduced the people of the Marvel Universe to the super-heroes who exist within it. His book, Marvels, collected some of his most powerful photographs and intended to shed some positive light on these super-beings who are sometimes feared by normal, everyday people. Phil wanted the world to believe in these heroes – to trust them – and Marvels was his way of engendering those feelings.

But, the media tends to focus on negative events – after all, they’re more newsworthy. “Spider-Man: Murderer?!” sells more paper than “Do-Gooder Rescues Elderly Woman”. And, in this modern, cynical era, the public has begun to mistrust its heroes. Captain America & the Falcon fighting alongside the X-Men against S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents. Hulk – on a rampage. Captain America accused of murder. Mutants – living among us in secret. The world had grown frightened of the Marvels.

At this point, Phil Sheldon finds out that he’s got lung cancer – and only a short while to live. Faced with his mortality, Phil looks back upon his life and wonders if he’s truly accomplished anything. Many times, he’s missed out on time with his family to run off to photo opportunities. But, what has he accomplished? What has he done? In this dark hour, Phil feels as if he’s done nothing. He’s stood witness as others have done great things … but, he was only documenting the greatness. Not actually creating it.

After facing his fears and accepting the news of his impending death, Phil latches on to a new idea. An idea that drives his hopes up and, with his spirits lifted, staves off the ravaging effects of the disease – for a time. He’ll create a sequel to his book, Marvels. It will remind the public that they shouldn’t be scared of these super-powered heroes. This book will be part of his legacy – a way for people to remember him, long after he’s gone.

As he begins to contemplate the photos he’ll use in his next book, Phil can’t help but notice the newscasts on a daily basis. The Punisher – killing unconvicted criminals. Ghost Rider – an actual demon? Wolverine – a blood-thirsty Canadian super soldier. And now, Captain America – a neo-Nazi? Perhaps the Marvels had changed. Even the villains have changed: Molecule Man rescued the world from the Beyond’s damage. The Hulk had earned a Presidential pardon. Galactus had saved Manhattan from a renegade alien. Phil decides to approach his new book with a different angle: showing the good with the bad. Illustrating that there might be a dark side to the heroes … but, at the same time, the villains had some light in them, as well.

Sadly, before Phil could finish his book, he had gotten extremely ill. Confined to a hospital room, he eagerly sorted through his photographs – pondering which to include and what to write alongside them. He enjoyed visits from his wife and two daughters – and one other guest: Maggie. In her younger years, Phil and his family had taken Maggie in. She was a mutant on the run and that act of kindness had a profound affect on the young woman. Now, years later, here she stood – a testament that Phil had, indeed, done something great with his life. At the time, he toook the chance of a mutant-hating mob finding out and destroying his home or hurting his family. But, he took the risk to help a young girl who didn’t deserve the fear that her physical deformities bred in the hearts of less-understanding people.

In the presence of his family (Maggie included), Phil passed on – the cancer had finally taken its toll. The memorial service was packed – a crowd filled with family, friends and co-workers – all attesting to his family how he’ll be missed. How influential his work had been. And, how great a guy Phil Sheldon was. With the help of some of those friends, Phil’s family intends to complete his book, leaving behind a legacy he’d be proud to have.

The Bad: none that I can find

The Good: Although Phil Sheldon, everyman, is certainly the focus of this story, the super-heroes of the Marvel Universe are truly an essential part. Even though they’re barely in the limelight here, they are the driving force behind Phil Sheldon. And, with that in mind, Kurt Busiek includes references to actual bits of continuity in every nook and cranny. Each news report, headline and street conversation about what Captain America’s doing or who the X-Men are fighting is taken from the story found within a Marvel Comic. That attention to detail was truly appreciated by a Marvel Zombie, like myself, who actually remembers reading almost all of those referenced stories. It’s amazing how each brief headline or news report byline triggered memories of the entire story being referenced. I am truly impressed by the amount of research Busiek had to do to create all those references – or, possibly even more impressive, he pulled them out of his head – having read (and remembered!) all the same stories that I had enjoyed.

I’d be remiss if I took the time to talk about this series without mentioning the stunning artwork. Jay Anacleto’s pencil work is just beautiful. The realistic art style he employs adds an important layer of sincerity to this heartfelt tale. He also took the time to get the costumes right for the stories that were being referenced. Again, a lot of research must have been done to make sure those details were right – and, as a Marvel Zombie, I really appreciated that. In fact, his artwork was so superb that a variant of each issue was also published showcasing just his artwork – unhindered by the coloring process that can sometimes hide or cover over the original art. I hope you won’t read into that statement too much because Brian Haberlin’s painstaking coloring job was phenomenal – a truly important part of crafting the mood and tones of the story.

The Verdict: Wow! After 15 years, the long-awaited sequel to Marvels has finally arrived. At times, I had given up hope on it ever being created – but now, after reading it, I can honestly say: it was worth the wait. Seriously! Kurt Busiek has crafted a heartfelt tale that rivals the original in emotion (but not quite scope. The first one showcased Galactus’ initial arrival on Earth, for Pete’s sake!).

I’ve never felt as upset about the death of a comic character as I did by Phil’s. Why? Because it was permanent. Because Phil was me. He was you. He was Kurt. He wasn’t some super-hero that would magically come back to life a few years later. He was just a normal, every day guy. An everyman who just happened to show us the greatness of the Marvels. And, this was the last we’d see of him.

I’ve already mentioned earlier at how much more you’ll appreciate this story if you’re a true Marvel Zombie. Busiek took the time to carefully reference dozens of events from actual Marvel continuity and Jay Anacleto lovingly rendered them the way they actually took place (with the right costumes, and all!). And, while the original series showcased Busiek’s own admiration for the Marvel super-heroes, it seems that this one was even a little more personal. Sure, it continued to display the wonder of the Marvels but, it’s easy to read into Phil’s questions and ponderings about life – and take them to be Busiek’s own. Is Busiek, himself, pondering his own self-worth? After all, like Phil, he’s “chronicled” great moments in the lives of the Marvel super-heroes. But, is he now pondering and weighing his own accomplishments? I hope you’ll allow this story to serve as a shining testament to the greatness of Kurt’s writing. His amazing ability to tell a story that, while it does features super-heroics, can truly affect the reader on an emotional level. Have no fear, Mr. Busiek, long after you have shuffled off this mortal coil, this story will serve to inspire future generations to believe in great things and look for the best in everything. What a wonderful legacy for you … and Phil.

On Ebay: Marvels | Kurt Busiek | Jay Anacleto
On AtomicAvenue: Marvels

 
 

Retro-Read #51 X-Men: First Class

03 Jun

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: 8
First Issue: November 2006 ($2.99)
Last Issue: June 2007 ($2.99)
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Roger Cruz
Cover Artist: Marko Djurdjevic

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

This limited series is set within the confines of the continuity of the original X-Men series. All eight issues are one-and-done tales that take place between the first 66 issues began by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and later continued by other great creators including Neal Adams). We’re given an inside look at the first team of X-Men (Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl) as they’re just learning how to use their powers and how to work together as a team. They’re not yet angst-ridden and jaded against a world that hates and fears them just for being different. They’re fun. They’re new and they’re having a good time. They’re also in danger. Constantly. And, that’s where the action comes in, as they’re exposed to threats like the Lizard, Skrulls, Frost Giants and more!

The Bad: The only thing that’s always a detriment to stories set within past stories is that there’s no real believable element of danger because we already know that these characters will escape safe and sound.

The Good: Jeff Parker returns the fun to the X-Men that they’ve long been missing. The team is young and new to this whole world of action and adventure. They’re a tight-knit group and they like to goof around with each other. Iceman fans will really enjoy this one, as he steals the scene quite often. Roger Cruz‘s dynamic artwork is complemented by the dynamic and bright coloring. It’s a real pleasure to read and look at!

The Verdict: These stories are quick, fun, one-and-done reads that are nestled within the early years of already-laid X-Continuity. Parker is careful not to contradict any of the continuity and does a great job of using it to his benefit. The artwork is slick, colorful and dynamic. This series is a refreshing look back at these characters before they went through all the changes and heart-break they’ve experienced over the years.

And, if you’ve enjoyed this series, there’s more where that came from! Aside from multiple specials, this series was promoted to an ongoing title that lasted for 16 issues and was then followed up with a four-issue mini-series that falls closer to the end of the original X-Men run. The concept proved so successful that other First Class titles later emerged and today, X-Men: First Class debuts on movie screens all over the country.

On Ebay: X-Men | Jeff Parker | First Class
On AtomicAvenue: X-Men | First Class

 
 

Retro-Read #50 Conspiracy

18 Mar

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: 2
First Issue: February 1998 ($2.99)
Last Issue: March 1998 ($2.99)
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Igor Kordey

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

A freak accident at the Daily Bugle leads Mark Ewing to discover files that lead open the door to a conspiracy theory that could be connected to the origins of nearly every Marvel super hero and villain. The theory suggests that a group called Control was secretly put together with members including Howard Stark, Bolivar Trask, General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and others. It purports that Control put together events that led to the “accidental” creation of the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Ant-Man, Iron Man, etc!

Ewing’s investigation leads him to bases and hideaways previously used by the Hulk, Thanos and others. Admittedly, the theory does sound too far-reaching. How could all of these events (created by all manner of experiments with unknown technology and forces) be controlled by one small group? Well, if there’s no truth to the concept … then why is S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to kill him?

The Bad: A series like this leaves you with a strong desire for a follow-up. A desire that will never be fulfilled.

the Good: Igor Kordey’s paintings are absolutely beautiful. He utilizes an excellent understanding of lighting and shadows.

The Verdict: What a great read! It’s told in a somewhat pulpish style and it touches base with a LOT of characters from the Marvel Universe. The theory laid out is an interesting one – was the creation of the Marvel Universe orchestrated by a small group of powerful people? This is no random shot in the dark, here. No! Abnett reaches deep into Marvel continuity and is able to proffer some interesting concepts that makes the claim plausible. And, lest you think it’s just two issues of conspiracy theories, the story also takes you on quite an adventure as the investigation unfolds. It’s a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller and I want more!

On Ebay: Conspiracy | Dan Abnett | Igor Kordey
On AtomicAvenue: Conspiracy

 
 

Retro-Read #49 the Eternals

11 Mar

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: 19
First Issue: July 1976 (25¢)
Last Issue: January 1978 (35¢)
Writer: Jack Kirby
Artist: Jack Kirby

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

In this series, Jack Kirby offered up a fictional account of how humanity was created on Earth. He posits that the Celestials, a race of space gods, journeyed to Earth millennia ago. Conducting on the primates, they created three new species: humans, Eternals and Deviants. After their experiments, this First Host of Celestials departed for the stars.

The Eternals were thus named because they could not die. These wondrous beings could fly and developed other interesting powers. They formed their civilizations high in the mountains and some of them served as the basis for early mythology. The Eternal Prime, Zuras, made his home in Olympia – a clear inspiration for the Zeus of Mount Olympus. Other Eternals include Ikaris of the Polar Eternals, Sersi (inspiration for Circe), Makkari (or Mercury), Sprite (well-known for his part in a Shakespearean work), and Thena (daughter of Zuras).

The Deviants were a misshapen species – ugly by human standards. These misformed beasts took control of the Earth and made slaves of mankind. When the space gods came back to Earth to check on their creations, they were displeased with the Deviants’ wrathful rule. Their reign of cruelty was ended by the Second Host of Celestials and their cities were driven under the sea.

As the Deviants were forced underground, mankind then emerged as the dominant species. They began to develop great civilizations and when the Third Host of Celestials returned to Earth, the space gods inspected and cultivated these growing cultures. Primarily, they had a profound impact upon the Incas. During this time, an Eternal named Ajak (known to the Incas as Tecumotzin) served as a go-between for the Celestials and mankind. When the space gods departed for a third time, he imprisoned himself within the Incan Chamber of the Gods to await their return.

The series begins with the return of the Celestials’ Fourth Host. At the same time, a disguised Ikaris and two humans (Doctor Daniel Damian and his daughter, Margo) discover an awakened Ajak as they explore the Incan Chamber of the Gods. They bear witness to the space god, Arishem, as he descends from the Celestial space craft onto his pylon with his hand oustretched. Arishem is a planet-killer and he and his fellow Celestials will observe the Earth for the next 50 years. When that time is up, he will pass judgment on the sentient species of Earth and if they fail it will lead to the utter destruction of their world.

After establishing the main premise, the series then follows a number of different plotlines as each species reacts to the presence of the Celestials. Mankind has no idea what they are – some nations delicately probe while others prepare to attack them. The Deviants also prepare to attack the Celestials and the Eternals are hoping to improve relations between the space gods and their creations. Although, as is expected, some members of each species deviate from the actions of the majority.

In an effort to impress the Celestials, the Eternals join themselves together, creating the Uni-Mind - an embodiment of their entire species. However, upon its disassembly, the Uni-Mind unleashed strong cosmic power throughout the Earth. Some of this power infects a robotic Hulk replica that quickly goes on a rampage that is quashed by Ikaris. After defeating the Hulk replica, the Eternals find themselves battling Dromedan (a powerful Deviant bred to destroy the Eternals) and rogue Eternal, Druig. Druig’s plan to destroy the space gods is quashed and the Celestials continue to observe the Earth.

The Bad: The series was cancelled before we could even get close to the 50th year – the final judgment of the Celestials. Also, while Kirby’s art works great for fantastic concepts, I find his humans to be downright ugly. The book is also very low on characterization as it focuses more on events and its own fictional history.

the Good: Kirby is at his best when creating out-of-this-world creatures, space craft, and architecture – the concepts he laid out in this series really played to his strengths.

The Verdict: The initial concept of this series was pretty neat. What if our creator came to Earth to unleash judgment? How would we react? The groundwork is laid for a truly great storyline accompanied by a huge cast of characters. Normally, a cast this large would be a hindrance but, when dealing with a concept like this, it’s ideal for displaying all the different types of reactions this scenario would generate. However, the series begins to stagnate around the time that the Uni-Mind imbues the robotic Hulk with cosmic-powered life. At this point, the book becomes just another super-hero slugfest and leaves behind the story and concepts that made it unique. After that, it never recovered and was soon cancelled – leaving us without a resolution. What would Earth’s judgment be?

I really wish Kirby had continued to focus on Earth’s reaction to the Celestials. I feel that’s where the true “meat” of this series lies. Now, I don’t know why Eternals was cancelled – if it was due to a decline in readers, I would say that the impetus for their departure was Kirby’s move from exploring these heavier concepts into the comfortable, “tried-and-true” slugests. But, if that’s what the readers of Eternals wanted, they would have just been reading the real Hulk’s series. In the end, the lack of any resolution – coupled with the un-met, great expectations I had for such a judgment coming down upon the Earth – are not enough for me to strongly recommend this series as a “read”. Now, if you’re interested in reading it for its importance to the Marvel Universe – then that’s another story. Over the years, Marvel has incorporated many of these characters into its mainstream universe – although, it does introduce a whole host of potential continuity errors. For example, if Zuras was the inspiration for Zeus – then, how do you explain the existence of Zeus as well as the entire Greek pantheon? Also, if these giant space gods are continuing to roam the Earth while they form their judgment – then you’d think that they’d play a much larger role in the status of the current Marvel Universe. But, now, I guess I’m just being nitpicky.

Note: This series shows that comic prices increased by 10 cents in just 2 years. Now, this may not seem like very much in today’s dollars but if we consider it on a percentage basis, comic prices jumped up a whopping 40%! In contrast, the rise from $2.99 to $3.99 was a 33% increase.

On Ebay: Eternals | Jack Kirby
On AtomicAvenue: Eternals

 
 

Retro-Read #48 Plastic Forks

04 Mar

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: Epic Comics
Number of Issues: 5
First Issue: 1990 ($4.95)
Last Issue: 1990 ($4.95)
Writer: Ted McKeever
Artist: Ted McKeever

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

Doctors Henry Apt and Albert Finger have been working on a revolutionary device – the Electro-Pinealator. Their creation has only been tested on apes so far but, once applied to humans, it’ll allow a man (or a woman) to self-impregnate himself. They propose that it’ll reduce birth defects, create better genetics and increase humankind’s overall health. But, it seems that progress may grind to a halt when Doctor Kaffirs (their overseeing administrator) reveals to Apt that Doctor Finger has died.

In an emotional display, Henry Apt visits the ape test subjects as he contemplates shutting down the Electro-Pinealator research. But, something goes wrong! The apes go nuts and savagely attack him. Apt wakes up days later covered head to toe in bandages. As he begins his rehabilitation, he’s told that he’s been castrated. Over a month later, he gets the feeling that something is being kept from him so he breaks free from the hospital and once he removes the bandages, he discovers that he has become the first human test subject for the Electro-Pinealator!

Now, he’s on the run from some shady men-in-black type characters who are trying to recapture their test subject for a mysterious mad scientist! They’ve also taken his wife and young son with the intentions of making them their next test subjects. Along the way, Apt makes some friends who join him in his mission to rescue his family and perhaps, save his very soul.

The Bad: This series was originally published as a set of five 60-page, prestige format comics – my least favorite, physical comic format. Luckily, it was beautifully collected into a limited, signed & numbered hardcover by Graphitti Designs.

The Good: Ted McKeever’s art is wonderful! It’s all over the board: simple and then beautifully intricate. disgusting and then emotionally resonant. This extended, 60 page format really allowed him to expand upon the subtle, quiet moments. Oftentimes, he was able to take several pages just to capture the setting or mood.

The Verdict: What a great read this was! Ted McKeever wonderfully captures the emotional journey of a scientist as he begins to realize that people are not just “plastic forks” – disposable. This adventure teaches him that very lesson – that each life can be important and can make a difference – but the lesson comes at a very steep cost. McKeever’s art is gorgeous – you can lose plenty of time analyzing many of the pages and panels that he clearly created with much painstaking thought and detail. I understand that the ‘mad scientist’ aspect of this story may lose your interest but, the real crux of this story is the emotional journey of Henry Apt – not the physical adventure.

On Ebay: Plastic Forks | Ted McKeever
On AtomicAvenue: Plastic Forks

 
 

Retro-Read #47 Scene of the Crime

25 Feb

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: Epic Comics
Number of Issues: 4
First Issue: May 1999 ($2.50)
Last Issue: August 1999 ($2.50)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Michael Lark

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

Jack Herriman is a private eye who’s seen better days. He’s moved his practice in with his Uncle Knut (a much-lauded crime photographer) and is trying to get back on his feet again. When an old friend of his father’s turns him on to a missing-persons case, it opens the door to a panoply of unresolved crimes including murder, drugs and child abuse. Jack’s determined urge to uncover the truth and the motivation behind it pushes him to risk his very life to solve this case.

The Bad: This story shows you how sick and twisted some people can become.

The Good: It’s a page-turner with plenty of twists.

The Verdict: Brubaker’s created some well-crafted pulp fiction complete with a “damaged” hero. He utilizes the comic format perfectly by ending on a cliffhanging, game-changing last page in every issue (except for the last, naturally). Lark’s style and the cover designs (along with the great logo) complement the pulp style, perfectly. If you’re into seedy detective stories, I’m sure you’ll enjoying going along for this twisty, turny ride.

On Ebay: Scene of the Crime | Ed Brubaker | Michael Lark
On AtomicAvenue: Video Jack

 
 

Retro-Read #46 Video Jack

18 Feb

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: Epic Comics
Number of Issues: 6
First Issue: September 1987 ($1.25)
Last Issue: September 1988 ($1.25)
Writer: Carey Bates with Keith Giffen
Artist: Keith Giffen

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

Jack Swift is a dark-haired outsider addicted to television. His best friend, his only friend for that matter, is Damon Xarnett, a mischievous blonde. Damon’s uncle, Zachary, yearns for the old days; when the people of Hickory Haven were friendly neighbors and not overtaken by the daily grind. Utilizing astrology, black magic, and state-of-the-art video technology, Zach intends to change the town. By playing It’s a Wonderful Life through his high-tech video room, the town will reflect the mood and feel of that movie. Unfortunately for him, the boys sneak into the room and, growing bored with the old flick, change the channel.

Hickory Haven is now a twisted version of its old self, warped into something barely recognizable! But, all that can change with a flick of the remote control. This series follows Jack and Damon struggling for control of the remote throughout the town of Hickory Haven as it’s turned into reflections of black and white 50s TV, Sesame Street, monster movies, MTV, pirate movies, late-night soaps, sci-fi movies, and more!

The Bad: I fear that, as time marches on, the TV and movie references will continue to be outdated.

The Good: Even though they may become outdated, the TV and movie references are lots of fun for those of us who know the source material.

The Verdict: Bates and Giffen provide a wild ride, paying tribute to all kinds of television on the way. At first, it appears that the book has little direction but, once you hit #3 there’s a crystal clear picture of where the story’s headed. Although, I don’t recall the subplot of the serial killer on the loose ever being resolved. Giffen’s art is most certainly all his own feel (instead of being pushed towards some manner of “house style”) and is able to capture the aspects of all the different realities thrown into the story. He even calls upon some unique friends to illustrate some of the different tributes. Joe Barney, Stephen DeStefano, Alan Weiss, Carmine Infantino, Michael Gilbert, Fred Hembeck, Kevin MacQuire, Jose Marzan, Trina Robbins, Walter Simonson, Jim Starlin, and Bill Wray all pitch in to lend an artistic hand.

Noteworthy: although these comics were published five years after the first Epic Comic came out, this title had the lowest cover price of any Epic series.

On Ebay: Video Jack | Keith Giffen
On AtomicAvenue: Video Jack

 
 

Retro-Read #45 Red Wolf

11 Feb

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: 9
First Issue: May 1972 (20¢)
Last Issue: September 1973 (20¢)
Writer: Gary Friedrich (#1 & 9), Gardner Fox (#2-8),
Artist: Syd Shores (#1-8), Dick Ayers

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

The masked avenger of the western plains is certainly a complex hero. His Native American parents were killed by white men when he was young. Later, Native Americans killed his adoptive parents! Now a grown man living in the 1800s, Johnny Wakely walks a fine line between “red man” and “white man”. Possessed of the blessing of Wakan Tanka, the Cheyenne Nation’s Great Spirit, armed with the coup stick, garbed in a wolf headdress and assisted by Lobo (his wolf sidekick), he is called upon to be his generation’s living embodiment of Owayodata – the Red Wolf!

Wakely lives on Fort Rango, a U.S. Army base run by Colonel Sabre. And, while the Colonel is friendly towards men of all color, many of the others who live on the base aren’t as accepting of Native Americans. As you can imagine, tensions continue to flare between the white men on the Army base and the surrounding villages of Native Americans. These situations are continually calmed by Red Wolf – he’s dedicated his life towards improving relations between both races. In addition to squelching racial conflicts, Red Wolf occasionally gets pitted against other unique individuals like Ursa (a Native American raised by bears) and the Devil Rider (a glowing, masked bandit).

As of the seventh issue, the series switched focus to the Red Wolf of the 1970s, a descendant of Wakely. With similar weapons and abilities, this Red Wolf is a costumed crime-fighter and adventurer based out of Phoenix, Arizona. He’s also got a wolf sidekick named Lobo and while the first Red Wolf worked hard to remain unattached – this Red Wolf has a policewoman girl friend named Jill Tomahawk of the Mohawks.

The Bad: The last three issues are exceptionally bad comics.

the Good: The first six issues put a unique spin on the concept of Western comics – the Native American as the hero!

The Verdict: It’s strange for a book to shift focus as severely as this did. In one issue, we got a new protagonist and the timeframe it was set within jumped a whole century forward!

I suppose the original concept, while unique, was doomed to fail. Y’see, the Red Wolf of the 1800s put himself in the position of improving relations between Native Americans and the white men. But, we all know how that really turned out – that’s a problem with historical fiction. And, despite the neat spin on the Western concept, the stories weren’t all that great. Adding to the drama, a love triangle between Red Wolf, Molly Brennan (the white girl whose parents were killed by Native Americans) and Fawn (of the Cheyenne camp) was developing – but Red Wolf felt that he was fated to remain single so he could dedicate his life entirely to his cause. I think I would have enjoyed it more if they focused on developing some of the characters inside the Fort and created racial tensions from them. This would have put an ongoing face to the problem instead of the “new-threat-of-the-latest-issue” that the one-and-done story format utilized. However, as mediocre as the first six issues were – the last three were terrible.

As I mentioned earlier, the final three issues changed centuries and protagonists. This Red Wolf didn’t have much of a direction to set him apart from other, more popular and established super-heroes. The writer did very little to establish what being a minority super hero could mean in the 1970s and beyond that, the stories (and the dialogue!) were just poorly executed. At one point, he and Lobo are sneaking into a house and he’s shouting … shouting! … about how they’re supposed to be quiet so they don’t alarm anyone. Even worse: the new direction was heralded as “Now! Set in the Holocaust of Today!” Really? Daily life in the 1970s was being described as a holocaust [def: great destruction or loss of life]? How extremely overdramatic!

But, wait! There’s more! For continuity-freaks like myself, this’ll really get you going. There’s already a modern-age Red Wolf. His name was William Talltrees and he debuted in Avengers #81 (1970). However, Red Wolf #9 reveals that this hero’s name is Thomas Thunderhead and it asserts that he’s from the Sioux. But … wait a minute. It also says he’s a descendant of the original Red Wolf, a Cheyenne. Something’s not adding up here. Now, it should be noted that #9 was written by Gary Friedrich (who wasn’t the regular writer) and, it appears that he didn’t really do his homework (although, it’s not like there was all that much research to be done – he’d only made a handful of appearances prior to this issue). So, I think it’s just best to pretend that these last three issues and the Thunderhead version of Red Wolf never existed.

On Ebay: Red Wolf | Gardner Fox
On AtomicAvenue: Red Wolf

 
 

Retro-Read #44 Lions, Tigers and Bears

04 Feb

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!

Lions, Tigers and Bears #1Publisher: Image Comics
Number of Issues: 4
First Issue: January 2005 ($2.95)
Last Issue: April 2005 ($2.95)
Writer: Mike Bullock
Artist: Jack Lawrence

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

Joey’s not too excited that he’s got to move now that his mom got a new job. But, to cheer him up, his grandmother bought him the Night Pride - a collection of four jungle cat plush dolls. Touted as “Protectors of the Innocent”, the Night Pride consists of Minerva (a jaguar), Venus (a tiger), Pallo (a lion) and Ares (a white tiger). But, there’s more to these plush dolls than one might initially suspect. Through a magical portal under his sheets, Joey gets sucked into the Stuffed Animal Kingdom where a war is brewing between noble and evil stuffed animals. The devious rat plushes are attempting to capture their creator’s young daughter for some malicious reason. Now, it’s up to Joey and the Night Pride to rescue her!

The Bad: N/A

The Good: This book is fun for all-ages! It calls out to the imaginative little kid in all of us.

The Verdict: I would imagine that at one point or another most kids dream or pretend that their toys come to life. Well, this series explores that fantasy with fantastically appealing art! The story’s not too advanced but when developing a concept like this, simple and straightforward is best. There are good stuffed animals and bad ones. Drop in a human so we can explore this new world and creatures through an outsider’s eyes and you’ve got a great start to a fun all-ages story! I’m sure that when I’ve got kids, this will be one of the first comics I expose them to. It’s great proof that comics can be pure, brightly colored light-hearted fun. Someone should get an animation company to make this a feature film. It’d surely be an eye-catcher and the dynamic character designs would be easily marketable!

On Ebay: Lions, Tigers and Bears | Mike Bullock | Jack Lawrence

 
 

Retro-Read #43 Doctor Zero

28 Jan

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: Epic Comics
Number of Issues: 8
First Issue: April 1988 ($1.25)
Last Issue: June 1989 ($1.50)
Writer: D.G. Chichester with Margaret Clark
Artist: Cenys Cowan with inks by Bill Sienkiewicz (#1-4), Brett Ewins (#5), Dan Spiegle (#6-8), Gary Kwapisz (#8)

*Warning! Plot Spoilers Below*

Doctor Zero was the first series published in Epic Comics’ Shadow Line Saga. The Shadow Line was a shared universe that focused on an Earth very similar to ours – inhabited by billions of normal humans. Similar to ours except for the existence of a second race of powered humans that evolved over the centuries. This race is much smaller in numbers than the humans, so they’ve chosen to hide in the shadows – referring to them as Shadows seems appropriate, doesn’t it? Over time, some of the Shadows have slipped up and had encounters with humans. These events have led to sightings of mythical creatures like yetis, vampires, and djinns.

In the late 1980s, one of these Shadow Dwellers stepped forward into the public spotlight as the world’s first super hero. This do-gooder named himself Doctor Zero and began saving humanity from itself. He stepped in to help defeat threats produced by Muslim terrorists, nuclear weapons, deadly diseases, nuclear meltdowns and more. With such great accomplishments, how could the public do anything but embrace this new-found savior of humanity?

Well, if they knew the truth, it’d certainly affect their feelings toward Doctor Zero. It turns out that he’s been behind the scenes – manipulating these events to happen and then stepping in to squash them or direct them elsewhere. It’s becoming clear to us, the readers, that he’s following his own motives and they’re not necessarily in humanity’s best interests. But, what are his motives? Well, that’s the fun of the book – trying to figure out what grand scheme he’s putting together.

The Bad: Nearly 25 years later, the threat of terrorism and nuclear annihilation haven’t changed for the better. As for the comic, it was unfortunately canceled at issue 8 (even though plans were underway up to #13) so we miss out on any kind of conclusion showcasing what the series was actually building to.

The Good: Moody inks by Bill Sienkiewicz and an interesting story concept. Great covers by Sienkiewicz, Jon J. Muth, Kevin Nowlan, Gray Morrow, Kent Williams and more!

The Verdict: The concept’s great! Everyday people think he’s a true hero but, what they don’t know is that he’s orchestrating the events he saves them from. That leaves the question: what is he building towards? And, that’s where the rub is – the series was canceled before it was revealed (now, perhaps more is seen in the final Shadowline Saga title, Critical Mass - but, I’ve yet to read it). The first four issues are great: the story is clearly building towards something and Bill Sienkiewicz’s inks add a moody, seedy feeling to the book. The final four issues shift more of the focus on to the less-interesting government team hunting Zero and the art becomes more typical 1980s super-hero fare. So, as much as I enjoyed the initial build-up, the lack of any solid conclusion says “skip it”.

On Ebay: Doctor Zero | Shadowline Saga | D.G. Chichester | Bill Sienkiewicz
On AtomicAvenue: Doctor Zero