Marvel, Madrox #1-5, written by Peter David, drawn by Pablo Raimondi, 2005

 

I once said that Peter David’s X-Factor was one of the top ten books in publication. That’s a lie, I said it every year it came out, but I did write it down once. I also called Peter David one of the best writers that year but again, I probably said it to myself, quietly, every year.

So this is where it all began again. David had tackled X-Factor back in the day, revamping the team to showcase oddballs like “Strong Guy” Guido Carosella and the snottiest Quicksilver you’re likely to read. The run was special and I continue to cherish it to this day. David nailed every naïve Wolfsbane moment—every Havok inferiority complex and best of all (some may argue) every playful Jamie “Multiple Man” Madrox prank. David’s original X-Factor run was a terrific read and I highly suggest you go seek it out. When you’re finished—good news! David came back in 2005 and cleverly convinced the world that he was writing the very first Multiple Man solo series, titled Madrox. Little did we know it would be incredible and lead into a healthy new lease on life for X-Factor. Of course, I came late to the game and after reading and loving every minute of David’s newly revamped X-Factor I finally tracked down this little, inconspicuous mini that re-started it all. Man am I glad I did! Revisiting old friends can be ever so satisfying.

When David decided to tackle his merry band of mutants again, he took it from a decidedly un-X-Men angle. This was going to be noir—a detective book amongst a sea of superhero slamfests. And don`t get me wrong, there would be plenty of superheroing in the title’s future, but here we start with pure gumshoe. Jamie Madrox has set himself up in Mutant Town (remember that place?) as “XXX Investigations”. Wolfsbane comes to town to help, Guido takes the job of bodyguard and we’re quickly swept away into the world of mystery and crimes when one of Jaime’s dupes shows up—with a gaping knife wound in his chest. We learn that Jamie had sent many dupes out into the world to gain knowledge and return, having it incorporate back into Jamie himself. Well, his “wild party life in Chicago” dupe got in over his head. There’s a sub-plot about a cheating husband (and his astral projections) as well, which is entertaining enough, but rather inconsequential and more an excuse to keep certain characters busy. The focus here is Chicago crime, deadly damsels and reporters who get themselves into trouble. Classic noir.

Now, I could praise David’s writing from here to next week, but that’ll get old quickly. He writes sharp dialogue, is genuinely funny, creates a clever plot and writes characters exactly how they should be written. It’s an entertaining book and you’ll be thoroughly hooked from start to finish.

Pablo Raimondi nails it as well. His work is perfectly suited to the story. It’s very character focused and isn’t concerned with making anyone seem “extreme” (except the rightfully extreme Guido) or superheroic. This looks like a crime book—and rightfully so. I only have two complaints: A certain scene is rendered rather incomprehensibly and there’s no sense of which character is where. There’s only one of those scenes throughout all five issues so it’s hardly a problem, but it’s quite the disorienting scene (and I don’t think it is supposed to be). There’s also a character that is rendered to look remarkably similar to Steve Buscemi. Wow, was that distracting! It took me right out of the story.

Another of the rare misfires is the choice of cover artist. David Lloyd (that’s right, D for David Lloyd) was not the right man for the job. His covers are chunky, heavily inked and nothing like the smooth interior art of Raimondi. They also have nothing to do with the story. I like Lloyd a lot, but these covers do nothing for the series.

Absolutely buy Madrox; it’s a fun crime book, a clever take on beloved B-list characters and a great intro to one of (if not) my favourite X-books of all time.

Lodestone Publishing, The Futurians #1-3, written and drawn by Dave Cockrum, 1985-1986

 

I first heard about The Futurians right here on Comics Bulletin. I had no idea who these characters were, I’d completely missed their original Marvel Graphic Novel and the only familiar thing about the book was the name Dave Cockrum. Well, the next dollar bin I hit just happened to have all three issues of Cockrum’s short lived series (following the GN)—life is funny like that sometimes. I snatched them up and instantly devoured them.

The first strange thing about this series is the lack of ads. There are ads at the end of the book but not throughout. I don’t imagine this is much of an oddity, but I wasn’t used to it. The story was never interrupted and I was never distracted. I felt like I was reading smaller graphic novels—brilliant! The second strange thing is the reliance on the GN. This series was published by the ultra-short lived Lodestode Publishing, whereas the GN was a Marvel product—and yet we’re totally expected to have bought it. It’s not surprising that this book caters to the already familiar audience, but to continually reference work from another publisher seems odd (even if it is continuing the same story).

So without going into much detail about the world we’re thrown into or the characters that rule the pages, The Futurians kicks its story off right away. From what I gather, the world had been hit by a meteor thanks to some bad guys. The Futurians are the good guys and they go to investigate the crash site and help survivors. Before we get a grasp on the already large cast, a few new names pop up and giant worms start attacking.

The dialogue is from a different era of comics, that much is clear. Characters announce their actions, say everything they feel and constantly bicker (often only in an attempt to entertain us readers, it feels). They are each flawed in their own way. They each sport fancy, flashy costumes and their powers aren’t particularly original. This sounds like I hated the book, but read on.

The art is also from a different time. Said costumes often seem ridiculous, but I respected that. It’s a colourful cast, that’s for sure. The layouts are dense with lots of action per page and a clear sense of storytelling. Attention is paid to the backgrounds, which I always appreciate, and characters emote clearly and express themselves in pictures as well as words. Dave Cockrum is a solid artist and I doubt anyone will tell you differently. This book probably won’t thrill newer readers, but those that enjoy classic comic book mastery will find much to love.

I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t sold. This is a dense book with a lot of information. Those previously uninformed may find the climate hard to adjust to, but by the second issue you’re in the groove. At about the halfway mark in this three issue series (it was supposed to be longer, and should have been if you ask me) I found myself adjusted. I knew just enough about the characters to start enjoying their individual personalities and the seemingly new ones became interesting as well. The pace and style took getting used to, but once you’re there it’s golden. I absolutely loved the second and third issues.

Interestingly, I wasn’t sure I got the direction things were going until I read Cockrum’s column in the back of the second book. He stated he was a fan of old monster movies and that’s exactly what he set out to create. Once I understood this, The Futurians became much more enjoyable. This was a group of superheroes fighting giant space worms and cracking wise like classic Spiderman. This was a B-movie with terrific art and characters that got neater with every scene.

I am glad to report that The Futurians is well worth collecting. I’m now on the hunt for the original graphic novel. It’s a shame things came to an end so quickly—issue 3 leaves us with quite the cliff-hanger.

Marvel, Cable #59-62, written by Joe Casey, drawn by Ladronn, 1998

 

Quick, when I say Jack Kirby you think of…? The Fantastic Four? The Fourth World? Old monster comics? Romance? All those things should come to mind eventually, but as long as you keep at it it’s unlikely you’ll ever arrive at Cable. He’s the poster boy for Rob Liefeld and everything wrong with the 90s, not some retro Kirby creation that demands giant hands and crazy dots. Well, Joe Casey and Ladronn disagree.

This isn’t the beginning of their run, but it’s certainly a climax of sorts. We’re introduced to S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jack Truman, and if you’re a Casey fan like me you’ll be giddy at his mention. Truman would go on to haunt Casey’s corner of the Marvel U from here on out, becoming Deathlok at one point and a crazy old man in the hugely underrated Vengeance “event” book. Here Truman is sent to hunt down Cable. S.H.I.E.L.D’S plan for our hero is a mystery and why does that man have a pink head?

Casey is a writer I always take my chances with. Sometimes we get Godland gold. Sometimes it’s Butcher Baker and it’s nowhere near as good as it should be. Then there are those special stories, like the aforementioned Vengeance and this run on Cable, that take the off-the-rails imagination of a Casey-unleashed and somehow manage to squeeze it into mainstream, continuity-laden titles. He’s a guy with big ideas and when he’s allowed to, they make for great Big Two stories (especially at Marvel). This arc of Cable seems fairly standard at first, but maintains just enough Casey edge to make it shine.

Of course, Casey’s craziness would be nothing if not for the great artists he manages to work with. Ladronn is known mainly for his cover work (his beautiful cover work, I should say) so it’s a rare treat to see what he can do with interiors. These issues are pure Kirby pastiche so you won’t see a plethora of originality—but let me tell you, it’s one heck of a pastiche! Ladronn takes what Jim Steranko did with S.H.I.E.L.D., infuses as much Kirby as can fit and adds his own smart touch. The plot may be great, the narration gripping and the dialogue smart, but it’s the art that will force you to devour every moment of these books.

In case I haven’t made myself clear, Joe Casey and Ladronn made a terrific run on Cable and this is a great little piece of it. Cable is a character constantly drawn with strange proportions, but this is the only time it works. For fans of Kirby, Casey or fun in general, these are must read comics.

DC, Justice League Europe #15-19, written by Keith Giffen and Gerard Jones, drawn by Bart Sears, 1990

 

To avoid repeating myself for the umpteenth time, I’d like to point you in the direction of this video I made.

Now that the basics are covered, let’s review what the heck Justice League Europe might be. You know Justice League International was a funny, well-plotted, perfectly dialogued, brilliantly drawn book. You remember it was probably the best Justice League series ever (I can’t be alone there). Bargain bin collectors rejoice! It’s time to dive back into those boxes and grab another armful or three. Justice League Europe was the second helping of fun fans got back in the day and it’s currently crowding back issues bins in a store near you (or, at least, every shop I’ve been to). Snatch these up!

Captain Atom, Animal Man, Metamorpho, Powergirl and a handful of other leaguers go to France to extend the League’s international presence. In this particular arc a group of villains known as The Extremists arrive from another dimension, solely bent on ruling the world and destroying whatever they please in the process. It’s a simple premise, but the stakes rise quickly. First thing you’ll notice is the character designs. Each Extremist is modelled after a popular Marvel villain. I’ll let you (easily) figure out which is which. These guys start as a formidable threat but before the first issue is over they seem near unstoppable. Is there no defeating the Extremists? The answer isn’t great but the ride is well worth it.

Keith Giffen and scripter Gerard Jones do their usual brilliant job with plot, character and dialogue. There are gasps, laughs and enough thrills to keep just about any reader pinned to the pages. Besides the lacklustre final chapters, this story was about as solid a Justice League adventure as one could ask for.

The art by series regular Bart Sears moves right along with the writing but never disappoints. Sears squeezes the detail out of every muscle, facial expression, piece of tech and background. It’s quality craftsmanship you’d be hard pressed to find on a monthly basis these days. I’ve raved about his style before—it points towards all the “extreme” we’d get in the 90s without ever getting cheap, ugly and offensive. He’s one heck of an artist.

While JLE had a reputation for diving into comedy more often than other traditional cape books, this arc is surprisingly serious. When a series this silly gets downright violent and scary, it’s incredibly effective. Remember Brad Meltzer wanted us to believe the JLA existed in some scary reality where danger was real and nobody was safe. He ruined a good few characters (though for some reason I still loved Identity Crisis) and I can’t help but feel he was simply trying to remake this Extremists arc. Just when you think your heroes are safe, unstoppable laugh-machines the danger gets real. This is powerful stuff.