Image, Sam and Twitch #20, 21, 25, 26, written by Todd McFarlane, drawn by Alex Maleev and Paul Lee, 2001-2004
Before diving into these issues I read somewhere that Brian Michael Bendis had written Sam and Twitch. For some reason I skipped the credits and read issues 20 and 21, thinking all the while I was reading the words of BMB. I thought to myself “I usually don’t care for this writer, but when he tackles crime books he’s actually pretty great.” I saw the Alex Maleev art, noted the excessive amounts of loose, casual dialogue and figured I’d finally found a Bendis book I could recommend. I checked the credits when I got around to issue 25 and noticed Todd McFarlane’s name. Going back I realized I’d been reading McFarlane’s words the entire time. Not only that, but Paul Lee replaces Maleev in issues 25 and 26, and useless you refer back to the credits you’d never know. It’s a shame this issue isn’t about a killer in disguise or a case of mistaken identity; this could have been full-blown metafiction.
Reading experience aside, the comics are actually quite interesting. Best buddy cops Sam and Twitch find themselves at odds with each other while a mysterious (and sickly twisted, of course) killer stalks Sam, taunting him with clues. Notice the dates and issues above. This story arc started in 2001 at issue 20, with Alex Maleev on art. It ended in 2004 at issue 26 with Paul Lee on art. I missed issues 22-24 but you know what? I still feel like I had a relatively complete story in my hands.
The writing stayed crisp with fantastic, dramatic dialogue, and the story never got bogged down or worn out. Perhaps missing those 3 middle issues and tackling the rest at once was the ideal way to read this arc. The art changes hands but stays consistent, with Lee doing an amazing Maleev impression and to tie it all together we get some of the best lettering I’ve ever seen. It’s not often that lettering catches my eye, but the rotating roster at Comicraft do an absolutely fabulous job here. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read, completely removing speech bubbles from the page, and it doesn’t just suit the story—it elevates it.
For fans of crime fiction, these issues are highly recommended. Todd McFarlane, you’ve finally impressed me.
Marvel, Soldier X #9-12, written by Karl Bollers, drawn by Arthur Ranson and Scot Eaton, 2003
I loved, loved, loved David Tischman, Igor Kordey and later Darko Macan’s run on Cable. Somewhere in there the series stopped being Cable and was rebooted to Soldier X, but the run reads like a continuous story. In it, Cable becomes less of an X-character and something of a messiah. Tischman infused the series with real-world issues, having Cable deal with the troubles of our world in the way only a telepathic, telekinetic, super-mutant from the future could. Later, writer Darko Macan continued the series along the same lines but brought a surprising amount of humour to the tale. Igor Kordey, despite his bad rep from his New X-Men run, drew the heck out of Cable/Soldier X. His art was the perfect fit for the series and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. If you think you don’t like Kordey’s art, try his Cable/Soldier X stuff, it will win you over.
But enough about that, this section is about the last four issues of Soldier X. The issues where Karl Bollers came in and tried to do something interesting before the series quickly ended.
Issues 9 and 10 form the “Rebels, Freak and Prophets” story arc with Arthur Ranson handling art duties. We pick up with Cable as something of a cult leader, trying to turn people onto his futuristic Askani ways while stopping evil doers. He’s out to save humanity from itself. This arc pits him against a fellow cult leader—one who seems bent on re-Americanizing America, but of course there are deeper plans here. It plays out nice and fast in only two issues and forms a very satisfying story. Ranson’s art is unique and on the “illustrator” side of things, forgoing any cartoonish elements. The ending is especially satisfying.
Issues 11 and 12 make up “Dead Ends”, another two issue story arc to end the series. This one is drawn by Scot Eaton, whose drawing is much less notable than Ranson’s and much more generic. He’s very “Marvel house style,” and not especially good. The story is much weaker as well, taking almost all the tricks the first arc had to offer and repeating them. The ending here stinks and leaves the whole book feeling sour.
It’s a shame I can’t highly recommend these last issues of Soldier X. The first eight are brilliant, but it seems to go downhill from there. Pick up 9 and 10 if you find them cheap, but don’t bother with 11 or 12.
Image, Masters of the Universe #1,2, written by Val Staples, drawn by Emiliano Santalucia and Enza Fontana, 2003
I was never big on He-Man. I had some of the toys, but my generation just caught the tail end of his reign. I never saw the show and had only the faintest idea regarding the mythos. Still, those action figures were pretty cool, am I right?
That’s essentially how these two issues play out—kids and their toys. He-Man and his Masters of the Universe battle Skeletor and his cadre of simple-named baddies (Clawful, Beast Man, and Triklops— subtle, they are not). They fight here, they move over there, Skeletor steals this, that guy gets hurt and these dudes show up. It’s a simple story—the kind you would come up with as a kid playing with action figures. Action packed, sure, but there isn’t much else to sink your teeth into.
The art is where the detail lies. A lot of detail, in fact! The team of Emiliano Sanalucia and pencil assist Enza Fontana must have spent quite a long time drawing these issues. Each character is meticulously detailed, perfectly proportioned and expressive without being distorted. This book is, if nothing else, a treat for the eyes.
If you’re a fan of He-Man, you’ll want to read this just to see your favourite characters come to life. If not, grab these from the bargain bin and marvel at the pretty pictures.
Valiant, Eternal Warrior #11, written by Kevin VanHook and Mark Moretti, drawn by M
ark Moretti, 1993
Good ol’Eternal Warrior. I’ve written a lot about different iterations of this series, but this is where it all began.
Issue 11 gives us a nice little done-in-one with Gilad (our titular Warrior) stealing WW2 Jewish family heirlooms from a museum before modern-day skinheads get their hands on them. It’s a quick, easy to read, balanced story with a nice amount of action, flashback and exposition. Mark Moretti draws in the typical “Valiant house style” with great figure work, detailed backgrounds and realistic proportions. The colouring is dated, but what else do you expect from 90s Valiant?
Not much to say about this one. There are better Eternal Warrior issues out there, but this one is enjoyable enough. Pick it up cheap if you’re in the mood.
Marvel, Black Panther #30, written by Reginald Hudlin, drawn by Francis Portella, 2007
I love Black Panther. Between Don McGregor’s defining work in the 70s and Christopher Priest’s ground breaking series in the late 90s and early 00s there’s a lot to love. I’m also a huge Francis Portella fan. His work shows up in Marvel books every now and then and impresses me every time. His fine line work and surprisingly smooth details are always a treat.
But I hate this book.
I’m not sure how, but Reginald Hudlin managed to write Black Panther for quite a while. Poorly, I might add. Fortunately, in this particular issue we get plenty of Marvel Zombies and Fantastic Four to distract us from Hudlin’s grossly mischaracterized Panther. Hudlin actually writes the zombies pretty well, with amusing dialogue that would probably sound awful coming out the mouths of the actual characters working adequately for their zombified counter-parts. There’s nothing to the story, however, as this issue is comprised entirely of one poorly choreographed fight scene and pointless zombie tangents.
Portella does his usual awesome job, but it can’t save this lame excuse for a Black Panther story. If you’re a fan of the character, don’t let your curiosity get the better of you. This is not a Black Panther series you should read.