Marvel, X-Factor Annual #5, written by Louise Simonson and Peter David, drawn by Jon Bogdanove and Dave Ross, 1990
Boy, they don’t make X-Men comics like they used to. Or maybe they do. I wouldn’t know. I can’t afford an extra 12 books a month, so I’ve reluctantly steered clear of that whole scene since the mighty Brian Michael Bendis took command. I, like so many of you, have such fond memories of the X-Men. I’d love to jump back into that pool, but Marvel, you push me right away. Constant (and I mean constant) series reboots, rising prices, more “ongoing” series than you can shake a stick at—is the norm now to milk the fans you’ve got and scare away those that want to come home? But I digress.
X-Factor was a pretty nifty series back in the day, bringing the original five X-Men back together for their own book. Iceman, Beast and Angel had been hanging around with the Defenders, Cyclops with the X-Men and Jean… well they had to refigure the Dark Phoenix Saga to get her back into the books. Nevertheless it was a happy reunion that only got happier when the Simonsons came aboard. With Louise writing and Walt drawing, this book quickly became a favourite of mine and I snatched up every issue from every bargain bin I could find.
Now this is an annual. This thing is also huge. It cost me 50cents, and you know what? There’s a heck of a lot of story in here! Right up on the top of the cover we can read that this is “Part 2 of the Days of the Future Present Story” but if you bought this issue alone (like I did) you’ll be very satisfied with the amount of plot that is contained and resolved within this issue alone. I’d like to go out and find the other three parts of this story, but I don’t need to run around and buy fifty other books to get any sense of fulfilment. There is an awesome, complete-yet-connected story in this book, and as someone who is used to the modern ways of storytelling (24 money-grabbing issues per arc, 30 money-grabbing tie-ins minimum) I can honestly say I was impressed.
Now looking at the cover, I assumed Walt Simonson’s work would be found within these pages. I’m not sure why, I suppose I didn’t study the cover carefully enough. That’s Jon Bogdanove’s art, and let me tell you, it’s fan-freakin’-tastic. I knew Bogdanove’s Superman work of course, but I’d never seen anything he’d done earlier. In this X-Factor annual his work is very curvy and expressive—almost like Walt Simonson but without the angular edge. I loved every panel of it. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but those last few panels struck me in a truly profound way. When you consider what had actually happened and how it would all eventually play out, it’s almost silly, but Bogdanove tugs at those heartstrings with a few perfectly placed lines. I fear this is a comic book art style we may never see again.
As far as story goes, we’re dealing with Rachel Summers and her crazy dystopian future, a grown Franklin Richards and a bunch of guest stars like the Fantastic Four, Cable and the other X-Men. Louise Simonson knows how to write a decent superhero adventure and she does fine work here. It’s also nice to see an X-book of this era that isn’t stuffed to the brim with Chris Claremont-isms. Simonson still knows when to inject the melodrama, but in my opinion her work is more tasteful.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves the good old days of the X-Men. I can’t afford to follow the team these days, but by diving into the cheap sections at my local comic shops I can still enjoy their stories. Remember, if you haven’t read it yet, continuity be damned, it’s new to you.
Deluxe, Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1, written by Dann Thomas, Stephen Perry and Steve Englehart, art by George Perez, Keith Giffen and Dave Cockrum, 1984
I love the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and I’m not entirely sure why. I know I’d experienced them prior to Nick Spencer’s DC series (which was great by the way) but I can’t quite put my finger on how, or when, or where. On the surface, they aren’t anything too special. They’re sort of a G.I. Joe/Avengers hybrid really, with characters like Lightning, NoMan and Dynamo doing very little to break the mould of established superheroes. There’s plenty of espionage action, which may have been ground breaking back in the day, but really these are unremarkable characters fighting unremarkable foes. And I love’em!
Now this series is a bit of an anomaly. Apparently, Deluxe Comics didn’t have the rights they thought they did and after five star-studded issues, this series (and company, I believe) was canned. But boy howdy was it a neat ride!
In this first issue we open with a James Bond-ish story starring Raven—sort of the Batman/Hawkman type. It’s ably written by Dann Thomas and expertly drawn by George Perez and Dave Cockrum. Next up is a neat little character study of Menthor, the (in this case) woman with a telepathic helmet. It’s written by Stephen Perry and drawn by Keith “makes an appearance in this column every week” Giffen. Giffen is in his Jose Munoz mode and alone makes this issue worth purchase. The big finale by Steve Englehart and Dave Cockrum, however, might steal the show. It’s a classic NoMan story—by no means groundbreaking, but thoroughly entertaining and expertly crafted.
Future issues of this series would see similar artistic line-ups and no expense spared when it came to quality. It’s sad to see that this truly stellar series couldn’t go on, but do yourself a favor and appreciate the issues we got. This is pure bargain bin gold—creators at the top of their game making you care about a book (and characters) you might have otherwise ignored.
Dynamite, Masquerade #1, written by Phil Hester and Alex Ross, drawn by Carlos Paul, 2009
I found a bunch of Dynamite books a while back and have been nibbling away at them for a while now. I enjoyed Phil Hester’s other book, Black Terror so I was confident that Masquerade would be decent, at the very least. And it was, so there.
Dynamite’s Project Superpowers line of books was a mixed batch. I loved the characters, the concept and for the most part, the plot. It started strong but eventually as the line grew and expanded, the quality became a roll of the dice. Whereas the first Project Superpowers was a neat introduction, Project Superpowers Chapter 2 seemed to fall apart. Black Terror was great—The Death-Defying ‘Devil , not so much. Most of the time, the covers looked fantastic (thanks to Alex Ross, no surprise there), the interior art was okay and the colours weren’t my cup of tea. The dark, thick, supersaturated look that Dynamite tends to inflict on all their books hampered otherwise nice pencils. I’m happy to report that Masquerade doesn’t fall victim to this trend.
Yes, Carlos Paul might be the best artist of the Superpowers bunch. His pencils are expressive, loose but not sketchy or edgy. Characters move and flow with terrific dynamics and the story is told with precise clarity. The facial features, the anatomy, everything about this art screams “Yes! This is exactly what this book should look like!” The colours by Debora Carita are picture-perfect as well. This book doesn’t scream vibrancy, but instead a restrained almost painting-like approach is taken. One may say this book looks drab, but I’d disagree and say that the colours are appropriate given the story, and add a dreamy, washed look to a book that could have been subject to the faults of so many of Dynamite books. Kudos, Masquerade art team, you surprised me and left me enthralled.
The story isn’t a surprise—in fact it’s quite basic, but enjoyable nonetheless. We get a taste of an origin story, a little Nazi robot fighting and a bunch of welcome guest stars. It’s all very easily digestible while remaining a satisfying comic book package.
If you like what Dynamite was doing with all those public domain heroes but never gave Masquerade a try, you ought to. It could be the most finely crafted book of the Superpowers bunch!
Marvel, West Coast Avengers #24, written by Steve Englehart, drawn by Al Milgrom and Mike Machlan, 1987
“What are the West Coast Avengers?”
“They’re like the Mighty Avengers.”
“The New Avengers then, they’re like the New Avengers.”
“Oh, they’re the Illuminati?”
“No, no, they’re like… Force Works!”
“Secret Avengers? Uncanny Avengers? Pet Avengers? Look, they were just like… the second Avengers title okay? The team got too big so they made two books.”
“Only two? How did they ever tell a story with only two books?”
Kids, am I right?
I have a bunch of old West Coast Avengers books but I rarely dive into them. I mean, how average can you get? It was the second Avengers book featuring a few characters I like and a bunch I didn’t care about. What should I expect? Our heroes tackle a villain and everything ends up okay in the end. I suppose that cynical attitude could ruin one’s outlook on comics in general, but I simply don’t care about West Coast Avengers. And this issue did little to change my mind.
So it seems our villain, Dominus, is up to no good. He’s an alien who wants to take over the world! Luckily the West Coast Avengers are on their way to stop him. Included in this team is a depowered Hank Pym sporting a funny hat, coat and scarf, looking like a cross between the Phantom Stranger and Dr. Who. We also see quasi-religious member Firebird, an out-of-place Moon Knight and the bickering pair of Hawkeye and Wonder Man. It’s as standard a story as you get with our heroes duking it out with the minor minions before busting the big baddy’s face in.
Despite my reluctance to care, I found I did enjoy reading this book. It’s the Avengers and it’s all about seeing the good guys beat the bad guys, right? Some characters pull tricky moves to throw the villains off, other quip taunts and throw fisticuffs. You know what to expect, and it’s all done well. I can recommend this book if you’re looking for a brief escape from reality—if you want to feel like a kid again, simply enjoying superheroes as they have an adventure. This one doesn’t break the mould—in fact it fits into as nicely as possible. It’s cozy in there, y’know?