Marvel, Excalibur #20-24, 27, written by Chris Claremont and Michael Higgins, drawn by Ron Lim, Chris Wozniak, Alan Davis and Barry Windsor-Smith, 1990
Captain Britain is a great character. With writers Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, he had real potential. Throw in a healthy supporting cast, deep mythos and terrific art and you’ve got yourself a winning title. Throw in a bunch of X-Men, a never-ending plot and corny Claremont-isms and you get a book that’s lost most of its potential.
I like Excalibur, I really do, but somewhere around issue 12 they decided to go on a “Cross-Time Caper”. This should have been an excellent romp through the multiverse, exploring neat alternate realities and poking into various “What if”s, but instead it was a huge mixed bag. I read issues 13-20 prior to this review, but took forever to convince myself that issues 20+ were worth reading. My fears were justified.
Issue 20 isn’t a “Cross Time Caper” book, because it seems Marvel was kind enough to give fans a break. Guest writer Michael Higgins and artist Ron Lim tell a neat done-in-one tale about the villainous Druid. Oh, and Rachel Summers goes all wonky because, you know, the Phoenix. It’s not a bad story, but I’m already struggling to remember it. The ending is a letdown—that much I recall.
With issue 21 and 22 we’re back into the Crapper with a particularly uninteresting world to explore. Here, Captain Britain is called Crusader X and Iron Man is scummy. There’s some stuff about the Hellfire Club and Jean Grey and lots of terrible art. Chris Wozniak draws these two issues and he certainly isn’t my cup of tea. His angular, cartoony style could have gone in a Simonson-esque direction, but instead falls flat and looks plain ugly. And the writing isn’t any better. Chris Claremont tries to give us an interesting story, but instead it’s confusing, melodramatic and worst of all—boring!
Issues 23 and 24 define what I meant when I said this storyline was a mixed bag. Alan Davis—Captain Britain/Excalibur artist extraordinaire—returns and brings with him an amusing take on Judge Dredd. This next jump for the team proves to be much more entertaining than the last with beautiful art and a story that was able to not only hold my attention, but make me want to tackle the next issue. Unfortunately, there’s still too much Claremont melodrama (but that’s almost to be expected). Excalibur is stuck in a world full of pistol wielding, visor-clad enforcers and they’re all after Kitty Pryde. There’s a nice twist ending, some decent character growth and… did I mention Alan Davis on art?
Now, this “Cross Time Caper” appears to have ended by issue 27, but the dimension hopping is far from over. Finding it hard to leave alternate realities alone, we’re treated to a rare crossover with the otherwise isolated Nth Man book. I haven’t read Nth Man and judging from his appearance here I’m not missing out on much. Seems baddie Jamie Braddock is up to his old reality-warping tricks and the Nth Man and his accomplice switch places with Excalibur for a brief story. This would be a completely unremarkable book were it not for the art team. Barry Windor-Smith pencils the book while Bill Sienkiewicz inks and it’s as interesting as you’d imagine. Regrettably, it’s a throw-away tale lost in a series full of throw-away tales.
Now, it’s hard to blame the “Cross Time Caper” for being too long a plot, what with modern comics and storylines that seem to never end… or even move forward! But I must say, given the dense, classic Claremont style of storytelling, this plotline drags and drags until you’re sick of it. Even with 2 out of the 6 issues I’m reviewing taking place outside the Crapper, I felt like I couldn’t wait for it to end. I can’t recommend these books, but I can tell you that the first few Excalibur issues are pretty good. And Captain Britain during the Moore/Delano/Davis years, go buy those!
Marvel, Marvel: The Lost Generation #11 (but actually the second issue), written by John Byrne and Roger Stern, drawn by John Byrne, 2000
I love it when creators tackle long forgotten characters and bring them back into continuity. Geoff John’s JSA was great back in the day, Dynamite’s Superpowers series was neat and Jeff Parker’s Agents of Atlas is still one of my favourite series of all time. John Byrne and Roger Stern looking into Marvel’s ancient past and digging up long forgotten characters should be awesome, but as far as this issue is concerned, it’s not.
The first problem is the concept. Here, we’re taking a look at the history between Marvel’s WW2 and the emergence of the Fantastic Four (and all that 60s superhero goodness). Thing is, all of these characters are made for this series. These aren’t obscure characters pulled from the void, these all creations attempting to fill gaps in continuity. That in itself isn’t a bad idea, but that fact that there isn’t a single interesting creation in these pages really plays against the concept. I mean, Mr. Justice? A robot guy? A girl with fire for hair? These aren’t interesting original creations—they’re boring, derivative and flat. There’s a neat sub-plot about the Skrulls, but it isn’t enough the save the lacklustre tone of everything.
Oh, and let me explain the numbering. This is billed as issue 11, but in fact it’s the second in the series. They actually started at issue 12 and count down with this title. The stories are apparently backwards too, with each issue going farther back in time. Perhaps this was a neat gimmick, but I never got the benefit of it. As far as this single issue is concerned, I could have used more gimmicks.
Now I won’t talk about John Byrne too much, because I’m pretty sure I do that each and every week. It’s getting old. Suffice to say, his art here isn’t great and the colours don’t help things one bit. Roger Stern’s scripting is ok, but again the story wants us to care about characters that are simply unlovable. Who is the mysterious Black Fox? Who cares?
I do not recommend this issue at all. I wanted to like it, but found myself trudging through to the end. The creators could have taken the concept and been unique, exciting or at the very least in homage to the classics of a bygone era, but they don’t. It treads along with an uninteresting plot, gaudy, by-the-numbers art and a cast of nobodies we aren’t likely to see again.
DC, Doc Savage #15, written by J.G. Jones, drawn by Dan Panosian, 2011
When DC started their whole “First Wave” thing, I was skeptical. The launch of The Spirit was awesome and the main series by Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales turned out pretty good, but Doc Savage? It fizzled immediately.
Then, a few issues in, things started to look up. After the initially rough start with writer Paul Malmont, writers Azzarello and Ivan Brandon came aboard and brought artist Nic Klein with them. The series got better—much better! I found myself fully invested in a Doc Savage story, something that had never happened before. But all good things must come to an end, right?
With the demise of the Azzarello/Brandon/Klein team came the beginning of the end. Each and every issue (including that rough first arc) had been graced with a gorgeous cover by the wonderful J.G. Jones. With issue 13, Jones began to write the series. Bad idea!
It isn’t that Jones can’t write—he can. His sentences make sense, he characters speak with appropriate voices and his stories manage to flow properly. His stories simply aren’t that interesting. Here we deal with an island from the past, complete with dinosaurs and cavemen. Doc Savage is captured, he meets a blonde, Russian temptress and fisticuffs ensue. There’re also jetpacks, rocket launchers, the Doc’s agents and Mongolian tribesmen… but I simply didn’t care. The dialogue fails to entice. The plot, though filled with neat things, is completely dull. The characters—classics, with little life breathed into them.
On the plus side, there’s the art of Dan Panosian. Playing in his signature sketchy, jagged style (and thankfully not his 90s Image Liefeld-a-like style) Panosian gives us some nice panels. I like his work and its decent here, but the colours are so overly saturated that the book feels like a cheap relic from the turn of the millennium. In fact, it reminds me of the poorly coloured work in Marvel: The Lost Generation. This book is from 2011, it should know better!
If you’re looking for a great Doc Savage story, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a pretty good Doc Savage comic, look to the issues before this one. If you’re looking for a poorly coloured, by-the-books adventure story with bland dialogue and a terrific looking cover, this one is for you!
Image, Spawn #42, written by Todd McFarlane, drawn by Tony Daniel, 1996
Judging from the recap at the beginning of this book, there were a cool few Spawn issues right before this one. It seems Spawn had gotten into a tussle with The Curse, Cy-Gor was on a rampage heading towards New York and Sam and Twitch were investigating a web of political intrigue connected with the murder of a senator’s daughter. Sounds neat, eh?
We pick up where the recap left off and Spawn finds himself hurtling through the sky after an explosion. Sam and Twitch dig deeper into the corruption at the police department. Cy-Gor continues to make his way to New York. And then it all goes to poop. Spawn lands in a barn and we get the after-school special nobody asked for. You see, little Billy (or whatever his name was) always gets picked on and loves to collect comic books. McFarlane gives us inspired lines of dialogue like “X-Force used to be my favourite until Tony Daniels left. It’s still okay I guess” and “The Pitt. Wish that book came out more often”. Wow McFarlane! Making little Billy comment on real comics even though he’s inside one? Gag me.
The story gets worse. You see, little Billy wants to be a superhero and wants to have the courage to talk to his crush. He thinks Spawn is awesome but Spawn’s all like “Oh boy, kids! Am I right!?” Next time those bullies come around, Billy stands up to them, but Spawn intervenes and things get really scary. Luckily, Billy stands up to Spawn and the kids all respect him. His little girly-friend even sits next to him at lunch. Awwwww! Gag me some more.
This is the worst kind of book. The kind that thinks it’s meaningful. The kind that thinks it’s clever. The kind that thinks it can teach you a valuable lesson, buddy up to you with inside jokes, make you laugh and warm your heart. This book is baloney, pardon my French.
Tony Daniel’s art does nothing to salvage the title. He does his 90s image thing, mirroring McFarlane and Greg Capullo’s art styles and makes the book feel cohesive, at least. I don’t care for the style, but this is Spawn and that’s just the way Spawn looks.
So, despite a few interesting sub-plots and some nice character moments outside the main “Spawn vs. the bullies” plot, I can’t recommend this book at all. Reading it made me mad, and how often does that happen outside of a Brian Michael Bendis title? I’m sure there are better issues of Spawn out there. There has to be!