Marvel, Namor: The Sub-Mariner #14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 34, written by John Byrne and Bob Harras, drawn by John Byrne and Jae Lee, 1991-1992

 

I’m constantly amazed whenever Mr. Sub-Mariner gets his own series—I mean where’s his audience? He makes a fine guest star, but a solo series? He’s had quite a few and if I’m not mistaken, this John Byrne attempt was pretty well received. Honestly, I’m still not sold on the idea.

It seems like John Byrne has tackled just about every major Marvel/DC character you can name at one point or another. I hear he was quite the comic superstar back in his day. Sure he “revolutionized” Superman, took Batman out for spin, defined the X-Men, wrote the Avengers, made the Fantastic Four worth reading and created Alpha Flight (and what other accomplishments really matter?). His drawings were awesome, his stories fresh and his workmanship second to none, but I’m really not that big a fan. I’ve met quite the few collectors who’ve told me “I used to collect comics—anything John Byrne wrote!” That’s all well and good for those that got to experience him at his prime, but I’m from a different generation. As far as I’m concerned, Byrne destroyed my favourite super-team, The Doom Patrol, created Alpha Flight (but doesn’t care about them anymore) and simply can’t draw as well as he used to. I still snatch up his She Hulk whenever I can find it and I’m more than happy to go back and read his Fantastic Four, but otherwise he’s simply not my kind of creator.

With Namor we’re once again shown just how great an artist Byrne used to be. The art is very similar to his previous work (you can’t mistake those faces—only Byrne draws them like that) but for some reason the shading really stands out. A little research shows that Byrne was experimenting with something called DuoShade, and although I can’t confirm that’s what’s going on in these issues, the inking is notable either way. I feel weird saying it, but I might recommend this book based on the inking alone. I don’t imagine I’ll be saying that again anytime soon.

The story, on the other hand, isn’t as polished. I was introduced to this series with issues 14 and 15, and from what I gather there was a heavy focus on the corporate world. Apparently Namor was involved with something called the Marrs Corporation—I didn’t really catch onto exactly what was going on but the supporting cast seemed to be split pretty evenly between Atlanteans and Marrs Corp personnel. In fact, Namor even started something of a romance with one of his business partners, which turned out to be quite the important plot thread throughout these issues.

Issues 20-23 go in a bit of a different direction and are actually a lot more interesting. First we deal with the mystery of Namora and Namorita, two characters that interest me way more than Namor ever did. Then we get into an Iron Fist story. Namor is simply along for the ride, explaining things, punching things and “Imperius Rex”-ing all over the place. With the focus away from Namor I found I enjoyed this series quite a bit. We still get some Marrs Corp sub-plot and Wolverine guest stars for some reason but by issue 23 I almost forgot what I was reading—Byrne had subversively turned Namor into an Iron Fist book. Hey, I’m not complaining.

Let’s skip ahead to issue 34 because this is bargain bin collecting and that’s how it goes. Within that eleven issue gap, a lot has changed. Byrne is gone, Bob Harras is up to bat and Jae Lee is now drawing Namor like he’s the near-nude Count Dracula. This is weird stuff, let me tell you. First thing you’ll notice is Lee’s early work. I’m now convinced he’s never drawn a background his entire career. The character work is pretty cool—much different than his current style but still heavy on the ink and sharp as a tack. I suppose if there is going to be one series that is completely void of background work, Namor (taking place mostly underwater) makes the most sense. The art is neat if you’re into that kind of thing but I found the storytelling to be wildly uneven and the sequence very hard to follow at times. Harras doesn’t do much to help in the writing department either, giving us overly dramatic doom and gloom to match Lee’s work. There’s some Atlantean political intrigue here, the return of Tiger Shark and a fight with a big … I don’t know, monster? Like I said, it’s all very stylized and unclear. This is worlds away from Byrne’s traditional work.

If you’re huge on John Byrne, Namor or a big fan of great inking—buy it. If not, you can probably skip this stuff.

Marvel, Doom 2099 #37, 38, 39, written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Ashley Wood, Steve Pugh and John Buscema, 1996

 

To me, Marvel 2099’s era will always be one of great confusion. I was a wee one at the time, still trying to get my X-Men plots straight (I’m still working on that, by the way) and suddenly everything changed. Who were these X-Men? Why did Spiderman look like that? How can I possibly fit this entire new mythos into my 7 year old brain?

I tried X-Men 2099 back in the day, but that was my entire experience with the line. As I grew into an obsessive collector, I’d heard that Warren Ellis’s Doom 2099 run was something I’d have to check out. It took a very long time to find any of his issues, but I finally got my hands on a few. Unfortunately, I was almost immediately turned off.

Warren Ellis is awesome. I know this, you know this—we all know this. When he writes something, you read it. What are The Secret Avengers? Who cares, Ellis wrote it and it was awesome. Thunderbolts you say? Yes, read Ellis’s run (and Jeff Parker’s too, but that’s a different story). The Authority? Planetary? What’s this Nextwave thing? Stop asking questions. Warren Ellis wrote those books, go read them please. Oh, and buy his Moon Knight run too—everyone agrees it’s amazing.

Doom 2099 is early Ellis, and therefore I was skeptical. I know he can write the heck out of any book he gets his hands on, but the 2099 universe? Did a younger, less experienced Ellis really have what it takes to get me into that strange, confusing world?

I can’t say I understood what was happening in these three issues, but I will say it was a unique experience. The first issue I read, number 37, left me completely in the dark. He wants to take over Halo city maybe? He’s working with a … telepath? I couldn’t even begin to understand what was happening. My first problem was obvious—I was reading the end of the run, not the beginning. There was no recap, you either knew the story or you didn’t. The other problem was more troubling. I like Ashley Wood, really, but his work here is so unclear I couldn’t even tell where characters were. There wasn’t a single panel in this issue that made things clearer. Sure, Ellis’s story was pretty hard to penetrate coming from a complete outsider’s perspective, but the art was simply incomprehensible.

Issue 38 fared much better. This time around, the story was much clearer. Doom is taking on some bad guys, getting his armor rebuilt and putting his master plan into action. From here it looked like Doom had America under control, until that control was taken away. Well those that screwed him over certainly get their comeuppance. Steve Pugh drew this one and despite being the worst work I’ve ever seen from Steve Pugh, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of Wood. The story is laid out nicely, setting is clear, action is defined and everything makes sense. I enjoyed this issue much more than I thought I would—I think I may have even understood it!

Then we get to issue 39 and I’m finally convinced I should take a look at Ellis’s entire run. John Buscema takes over art duties here and he proves to be the best of the bunch. I always forget—not only did Buscema define an entire generation of early Marvel comics, he also managed to adapt and totally rock the 90s. Talk about a pro. Buscema was one of the Silver Age artists and here he is following up Ashley Wood and Steve Pugh’s painfully 90s styles with total class—and without a hint of retro flavour. If you’re only familiar with his past work, the best way I can describe his style here is … very Tom Mandrake-like. It’s not over the top, early 90s Image stuff—it’s perfectly suited to the era without sacrificing the tenets of great sequential storytelling.

Issue 39 is done almost exclusively in full page splashes. There are very few panels and very little (if any) dialogue. It’s all narration and huge pictures. To tell you the truth, this issue reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s run on Miracleman, and that’s never a bad thing. Doom reflects on what he has done, the state of the world and what he plans to do. It seems like there was quite an interesting story in past issues and I’m now eager to fish those out. In this, his final issue, Ellis writes Doom as the ultimate ruler—a man who isn’t necessarily evil, but is certainly willing to do evil things. It’s fascinating stuff and to top it all off, we get a sneak peak at Buscema’s future issues with incoming writer Tom Peyer. I’d love to get my hands on those as well!

The lettering is worth noting as well. It’s awful, on all three issues. It’s rare that I’ll actually be annoyed with a comic book’s lettering, but this series did it for me. Cheesy looking, hard on the eyes and everything seemed too big.

If I can’t recommend all three of these issues, I can certainly recommend Ellis’s swansong. It’s a real treat. The stuff before is a mixed bag, but I have a feeling Ellis’s run (if read from the start) is still worth collecting.

Marvel, Warlock and the Infinity Watch #2, 8, 15, 26, 34, 35, written by Jim Starlin and John Arcudi, drawn by Angel Medina, Tom Raney, Tom Grindberg and Pat Olliffe, 1992-1994

 

I love Jim Starlin’s Warlock stuff. He did the character right way back in the day (http://www.comicsbulletin.com/columns/5720/bin-there-found-that-the-amazing-finds/) and luckily came back to do neat stuff again in the 90s. Sure, we got a little overstuffed with all the Infinity this and that but I enjoyed it. Warlock is one of those Marvel characters that I’ll follow anywhere. If he’s in the book, chances are I’ll buy it. If Starlin’s writing it, I’ll definitely buy it.

Warlock and The Infinity Watch was a fun little title from the 90s that I love collecting. I have a bunch more issues, but these are the ones I got around to this week. If you love Drax from the recent Guardians of the Galaxy you might hate his character here, but this was a long time ago! Apparently his brain got fried and despite still being the embodiment of power, he’s something of a man-child. For the better, we’re assured, as he can no longer remember that his daughter (and fellow Infinity Watch member) Moondragon had previously murdered him. Combine that fun daddy-daughter dynamic with the still-sexy/dangerous Gamora, sassy, cigar chomping Pip the troll, and our always cosmically unbalanced leader Adam Warlock and you’ve got one heck of a team. Throw in the amnesiac alien and bizarrely styled Maxim, a base located on Monster Island with Mole Man and his giant beasts and the fun never stops.

These issues are too spacious to get into their individual stories, but a lot of it has to do with Warlock constantly going nuts. There’s a fun encounter with Thanos in issue 8, the Avengers drop in issue 15 and Tyrannus and Mole Man duke it out in 34 and 35. There’s never much in the way of traditional super-heroing, what with going and missions and taking down bad guys, but it’s always interesting. The focus often seems to be on the characters and how they interact, simply dealing with each other and trying to maintain some sort of sanity. The surprise addition of Mole Man makes for great, unexpected plotlines and even when Starlin leaves and John Arcudi takes over, this book is just a joy to read. If you’re not really into these characters, you’ll soon be won over.

Angel Medina handles art for the earlier issues and does a great job. His style is very Bart Sears-like with exaggerated muscles and thick sinews, tight hips and large … everything else. It’s very 90s, but in my opinion Medina’s work has aged much better than his contemporaries. His attention to detail, consistent storytelling and great character work really elevate this series above the typical “extreme” scene. Tom Raney pencils an issue and does a decent job, and Tom Grindberg comes aboard for issue 26. His work is much darker, heavily inked and inconsistent, but it’s still functional and enjoyable. When Arcudi begins writing he brings Pat Olliffe with him and things begin to look less detailed, rougher around the edges and altogether cheaper. The storytelling is still good, however, and the less than stellar art doesn’t take away from the writing.

If you like Marvel’s cosmic playground, you’ll probably enjoy Warlock and the Inifinity Watch. The unique cast of characters, out-of-left-field stories and pressure-cooker team dynamics keep things interesting. I’d suggest you give this book a look, it got me hooked! (say that ten times fast)

Marvel, Warlock #4, written and drawn by Tom Lyle, 1999

Not much to say about this one. It’s more Warlock, less Infinity Watch (though they do play a role here) with Tom Lyle at the helm. If you don’t recognize the name you’re forgiven. I only knew him from his 80s Starman art and never knew him to be a writer. This brief 4 issue Warlock mini from ’99 won’t convince you he needs more writing gigs, but it’s mildly entertaining.

Like I said, if it’s got Warlock in it I’ll probably buy it. Lyle’s work is much less ambitious and deep than Starlin’s and not as fun as Arcudi’s but it’s not awful either. Here we see Adam Warlock fighting the forces of the negative zone, Annihilus, Blastaar and newcomer Syphonn. The trio of baddies work together to try and break out of the negative zone and rule the world, but of course they can’t keep it together and it quickly becomes a game of betrayal. The writing isn’t bad but the story is rather predictable. I did appreciate the appearances of Pip, Gamora and Genis-Vell (at the time, Captain Marvel).

I wasn’t sold on the art at first but eventually warmed up to it. Warlock seemed less “cosmic messiah” and was drawn to look much younger than I was expecting. Things are nice and clear though, the layouts are great and the inking gives the book a nice feel, but it was much different than the Starlin (and Medina) renderings I was used to.

This small, inconsequential Warlock mini is worth reading if (for some reason) you’re a big fan of Tom Lyle or the negative zone baddies. For Warlock fans like me, it wasn’t bad, but felt unnecessary.

Marvel, Journey Into Mystery Featuring The Lost Gods #508, written by Tom DeFalco, drawn by “Deodato Studios”, 1997

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about this one either. Tom DeFalco is a writer I don’t really care about and Mike Deodato Jr. (who I assume drew this book, at least in part) is an artist I never really liked. Together they go full-blown 90s and give us a tale of normal people who just might be from Asgard.

The writing is less than interesting, giving us a handful of characters that are not only unlikable but actively annoy the reader. The story revolves around the seemingly normal group of humans who are convinced they are the Lost Gods of Asgard and must band together to fight Seth, the serpent god. These “normal humans” come in all shapes and sizes and from the one issue I read, they could be interesting if they weren’t so irritating. There’s a constant “awwww, but I wanna fight too!” going on while grown men and women bicker like pre-teens and fight off “death troopers” with enchanted machine guns (which sounds more interesting than it actually is).

I didn’t care for the story, characters or dialogue, but it’s the art that bothered me most. This is typical 90s in the foulest way. Bulging men, chesty women, butts in the air and tight clothes all around. Worst of all, it’s got no character. This could have been drawn by anyone—it’s painfully unoriginal. If you’re into this style you’ll feel right at home, but it really bugged me.

I can’t recommend this series. I hate to judge an entire run on a single issue, but this one had me bored and bothered. I was hoping for a look into some of the lesser known Asgardians, but instead got a look at characters I want to see much less of. It’s a shame; I thought I’d really en