Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Little Christmas miracle!

So there I am, last night, reading a bunch of comics that have come out over the past week or so and it's almost a "Little Christmas" miracle!

So many Doctor Strange, Man-Thing and "6-Dimensions" character appearances that I just couldn't believe my eyes!

I've already written about ONE such bit of goodness;
MARVELS : Eye of the Camera # 2 in the double-post from two days ago (HERE and HERE).

I'm not done filing stuff and scanning as of yet, so this will be a post that will be constantly updated over the course of the day (or two)...

But, that's all part of the "little Christmas" aspect.
It's like opening up a gift, enjoying and appreciating it for a little while before moving on to the next.
(for those of us who give our Christmas gifts on January 6th * )

So, let's get to our "presents" now:


We'll start off with MARVEL ZOMBIES-3 # 4 (of 4) by Fred Van Lente (writer) and Kev Walker (art).

Once again, we get "Zombie Dr. Strange"... doing the drooling, muttering thing, and performing the only two spells that he has left in his rotted and damaged brain:
  • Conjure Dimensional Portal
  • Manna from Heaven (which is useless to the Zombies, since all they eat is flesh)
Remember, click images to make more Miraculous-Sized!

So sad. But so funny.
Reminds me of my early days playing D&D (which sadly I didn't play more than a few times, since my friends didn't embrace the game and there was no one else with which to do so), and the neophyte mystics only had one or two spells that they could use.

But to ME, the BIG news that comes from this book is THIS:


I won't mince words here; I'd MUCH rather see a return of the Midnight Sons
(WITH Strange as a part of the "team") than see a DEFENDERS reunion (WITH Strange as a part of the "team").
Y'know... if it were an "either/or" option.

To ME, a mystical, occult, horror-type of setting is best for Strange than any type of Super-team.
EVEN if that team is the Defenders.
(let the hate-comments start ... NOW)

While THIS upcoming Marvel Zombies-4 mini-series aspect of the MIDNIGHT SONS isn't really the actual "Midnight Sons" (Son of Satan and Werewolf by Night were never "officially" a part of that assemblage, and Steel Wind - the female member shown - at least I'm 99% sure that's who that is - was a Ghost Rider villainess. At least Morbius WAS an actual member, and Man-Thing was "unofficially" since he was showcased in the Midnight Sons Unlimited series, way back when), it's STILL a welcome bit of news.

It turns out, the new solicitation text for the next mini (seen HERE) states that the female is indeed supposed to be Jennifer Kale, even though she's not wearing either the costume she started this mini-series with, nor her original, but a new ensemble that bears more in common to Steel Wind's look than her own.

However, I'm nitpicking.
I'm pleased as (holiday) punch at this!
Even if it IS just a mini-series.

Truthfully, I expected more of a showing from Man-Thing during THIS mini-series, since he was (sorta) shown in the first issue, in an almost "behind-the-scenes" manner.
A glimpse of his arm here, a shadowy look at him walking away there... but then... nada. Until now. Odd, since the series took place in his stomping grounds; The NEXUS of All Realities, one would expect for him to be shown doing exactly what it is that he was "created" to do; Protect the Nexus from invaders or those who would tamper with it.

Maybe I missed a cameo. I'll have to re-read the issues again, keeping my eyes peeled for him.

Nope. I just re-read them all. Just the first issue tease and the last issue last page.


Next up is:

- Marvel Adventures; Fantastic Four # 43 - with Baron Mordo & Moondragon making their "Adventures' style" debut.

This was a silent story, which, as an artist, I always love. If the artwork can tell the complete tale with no words, then the artist (in this case, David Hahn) has successfully brought forth the "vision" of the writer (Paul Tobin).

Tobin crafts an interesting tale here, introducing some very unique touches and creative displays of magic in use.

One nice bit is this sequence; where mystic hand-servants are sent forth to retrieve the signatures (and essences) of the Fantastic Four, who have checked into Agatha Harkness' "Suite Salem" bed and breakfast (hey... it's the "adventures" Universe. It's more friendly then the "616" M.U.).

Who knew the Thing had such nice penmanship?

The hands had been conjured by Baron Mordo, who in this incarnation is a little bit more of a Diablo stand-in than anything resembling his previous published history.

Names have power. And Mordo has the knowledge to use them.

Imbuing clay statues with the magically enchanted essence of their namesakes, Mordo brings these 'golems' to life and pits them against their counterparts.

Why? Well... that's never even alluded to. It's just that he's a bad guy and bad guys usually attack the good guys of the comic. It's a law or something.

Diablo used this trick against the 'real' F.F. waaaay back in issue #232 in 01981.
Obviously, Mordo's not a comic reader or he'd know that it doesn't turn out too well.

Writer Paul Tobin is appreciated by this blogger for his fresh uses for magic and it's practitioners.
I've already raved (mostly) about his treatment of Doctor Strange in Marvel Adventures Super Heroes # 5. In fact, I gave that issue my "Best of the Year" award for Doc appearances. (HERE)

He works some nice magic in this issue, even allowing his voice to be "silenced" by the elegance of the artwork. Many writers these days are all about hearing themselves "speak", that this was a refreshing change.

Sadly, like the aforementioned Dr. Strange appearance, there are some misses here;
Mordo is misused. A villainous sorcerer of no slight ability, Mordo should ALWAYS be a threat. I understand that this "Adventures-style" story is more kid-friendly (but not kid-centric), and as someone who started reading comics AS a kid, I appreciate that.
However, there are many characters who could have fit the bill for this tale; Diablo, for starters. This elemental-type attack was very much in his wheelhouse, except for a few touches of "regular" magic, such as the signatures, and a few mystic hoojams seen before the battle.

Agatha Harkness is unfortunately underused as well. She's the proprietor of a Bed and Breakfast and is only shown in 2 panels; smiling and giving muffins to the newly registered guests.
No backlit, ominous witchlike going's on, sadly.
I've always had some serious love for her creepy witch-governess shtick.
If she makes future appearances in this title, and they build even a little of that into her character - then I'm on board.

Lastly, another fave of mine; Moondragon is a whole new different entity in this.
Here, she's a "fortune teller" of sorts, running a "magic hall of mirrors" in a carnival.

It's ok Johnny. She brought a smile to MY face as well.
Because SHE was smiling throughout her appearances.
That was nice to see.

Firstly, Moondragon's abilities aren't mystic in nature, so this new angle makes no sense.
I can live with her being a coy, almost playful woman here. There's only so much of the usual obnoxious, overbearing rendition - that she had for many decades - that anyone can take.

Still, she's more Zatanna (DC's main mystic maiden) than Moondragon.
It might have been a better choice to have used Arcanna (from the Squadron Supreme) or even the Scarlet Witch for this role.
Especially as the "fairgrounds" aspect of the "magic mirror" show lends itself nicely to either of those characters.

Still, at the end of the issue. It made me smile. As I mentioned in the above pic-tagline, it was nice to see Moondragon as a smiling, playful woman. Obviously still strong, and not a plaything, but open and appealing. She also gets the last laugh as well.

This was still a nice story, with clean and clear artwork and it was a refreshing change of pace from all the gloom and doom being published lately.


Another stocking stuffer is:

- What if? Secret Wars by Karl Bollers (writer) Jorge Molina (artist) - presents a very good, yet ultimately disappointing Dr. Strange appearance.

I liked this issue. Quite a bit. Dr. Doom is portrayed exceptionally well.
Dr. Strange however is given some respect (in words) but ultimately dissed (in deeds) in the end.

Truthfully, Neilalien has already spelled out my exact feelings on this issue, and much more succinctly than I could. His mini-review HERE.


I open the next goodie to find:

- Avengers / Invaders # 7 with another good Dr. Strange appearance. This time with old foe; D'Spayre!

In a scene reminiscent of Ghostbusters II, the New Avengers follow a river of dark slime through the sewers to find:

Doc senses the psycho-reactive "Mood slime".

D'Spayre is using the Cosmic Cube to feed off of the ill will and sorrow of the nation. The by-product is spewing out into psycho-sensitive slime that he now uses to envelop and restrain the heroes. D'Spayre then uses the opportunity to plumb the depths of his prisoner's... despair.

D'Spayre posits a reason for Clea's departure.

One by one, D'Spayre uses the flaws of these heroes against them. Feeding off of their guilt.
(Well... except for Wolverine. I mean... c'mon. Not gonna get blood from a stone, am I right?)
The only thing is, I don't get a sense of any real anguish from the captured heroes in this scene.
The art is too basic and although we can see that they are held fast and struggling, I just don't buy that they are being tormented (except for Toro, who had learned of his eventual fate last issue and spent his entire appearance here with the same "Oh shit... I'ma gonna die!" expression).

Not much else happens to this team, as the rest of the book is devoted to the "Mighty" Avengers and their battle against the renegade "S.H.I.E.L.D" L.M.D's and a surprise mystery villain.

This series has been building the mysteries slowly and progressing steadily with the story.

Writer Jim Krueger is someone whose past works I have liked and I was more than willing to give my $2.99 a month to see what he would do with these characters.

Alex Ross co-plots, and since I know that he's got a jones for the WWII era heroes, and a healthy respect for the modern ones, no one would really be treated poorly.

The weak link here (to me) is artist Steve Sadowski (joined by Patrick Berkenkotter).
The art for this issue is a step up from previous ones. It has a basic feel, rough at times, but it's clean and clearly tells the story. Is it at the level of what this project "should" have? Well... that's not for me to say. A big project like this probably should have had a higher caliber artist. Still, the art services the story, with some scenes working better than others.

For we Dr. Strange fans, his appearances in early issues was lacking, but now it seems to be that he's stepping into the heart of the action.

Hey! As a bonus, Spider-Man mentions that he's fought against D'Spayre before alongside MAN-THING. Just as Strange also reveals his past dealings with this demon, and his forebear; The Dweller in Darkness. A nice touch of continuity.

I'm looking forward to next issue.


Another welcome gift was:

Dead of Night : Werewolf By Night # 1 (of 4)
I almost passed on this mini-series as the cover by Patrick Zercher turned me off.
A worse-looking rendition of the Werewolf's face I couldn't imagine.
Want to see it for yourself? Check it out HERE at Marvel's website. Yikes!

However, this is totally a case of "Don't judge a book by it's cover" (or a gift by the wrapping).
Interior artwork by Mico Suayan is very dynamic and bold.
The coloring, at first look seems a bit overdone and garish, however for a tale about Werewolves it might perhaps be appropriate, as the brightness of the colors made it seem as though my own senses were heightened. That, mixed with the art that seemed to be nearly always aimed at the reader like an attacking wild animal gave a good feeling of urgency and impending doom.
Duane Swierczynski crafts a gripping story of a night in the life of lycanthrope; Jack Russell, and his attempt to stifle the raging beast within him for the first night of the full moon. A story that places the reader in the head of this beast and we know that for the entirety of the issue... we can't get out.

I'm looking forward to being in this horror's head for the rest of the series.

An exciting mystery is in the works. A game of cat and mouse... or wolf and wolf.

As a MAX title, it's probably not for the kids. Lots of blood and gore.
Dr. Frederic Wertham would have wet his bed after reading this.


I save for last a big lumpy package that smells like compost and has leaves and thorns sticking out of it at impossible angles... opening it I find:

- Spider-Man : Fear Itself (oneshot) - guest starring MAN-THING!'s beautiful! Exactly what I wanted!
Cover art by
Mico Suayan and Frank D'Armata.

There's a nice "shmaltzy" story crafted here by Stuart Moore, filled with soft-hazy flashback memories of a young Peter Parker, the sage advice of Aunt May and a carry-over to this modern adventure of Spider-Man.

The interior artwork by Joe Suitor is of mixed quality. While
his coloring and backgrounds are beautifully done, his human figures and faces seem awkward and gaunt... and yet his Man-Thing is stellar.

He presents a new interpretation, that seems to take a page from the more recent looks that have been given to Manny. Such looks as seen in the "straight-to-DVD" Man-Thing film, it's prequel mini-series and the Marvel Legends action figure. All of those incarnations have large chunks of tree trunk bark jutting out from his back. Suitor follows suit with that representation.

What Moore and Suitor add that is new, is a layer of brambles that is used as an offensive weapon... and a means of infecting Spider-Man's bloodstream via the thorns.

Before I get too deep into the breakdown, I just want to share the one joke in the issue:

I laughed. No. Really.
It's like the kind of joke an 8 year old will hit you with.

Actually, it's not really the only joke in the issue, but it's one of the few, and the best.

This really isn't a jokey, big-time, fun-house Spider-Man romp, so the yuks are kept to a bare minimum. This is more of a thoughtful, low-key tale on the nature of fear.

And yet... it isn't.

It wants to be. It tried to walk that line, but truthfully, the story is more about a writer stringing together a few thin ideas and one cool metaphor (of a plant reaching for the light) and stitching them together in a web that won't hold the weight of the first fly that gets stuck in it.

The big deal here is Spider-Man walking a brief tightrope in his head (and with his DNA) between being a Man, an Animal or a ... plant... and what that means to him.

Of course, there are quite a few serious flaws with the way Spider-Man solves his dilemma and the ending, while plucking on some heartstrings, is "wrong" as well.
I wish I could go into those errors here, but I don't want to spoil anything for those who will be reading.

Sorry. But I can't even use a font color to hide the text (for a roll-over reveal) due to the particular shade of grey in my background.

Suffice to say, remember Aunt May's advice.
That's a good clue.

I'm more than willing to go into it in the comments section, if anyone wished to hazard a guess.

However, the story began with a false premise, or at least an unexplained one, (Why would Man-Thing be on a rampage, destroying the houses of poor people in the swamp? The answer put forth is... erroneous.,) and had a muddy through-line (so... was Man-Thing REALLY following Peter in New York, or was that all in his head? The writer seems to think it was BOTH, since in one scene the girl that Peter's with when he chases Man-Thing gives no sign that she sees the walking salad that is supposedly mere feet away from them) so from that point on I was just trying to stay in the story.

The last thing that hurt was the lettering by Jared K. Fletcher, which looked amateurish, and like the work of the other two creator's involved here... uneven.

I was able to read PAST the flaws however, to see the truer, purer vision of the creative team, and finally enjoy the tale for what it was (supposed to be). Don't think for a minute that I didn't get a little sad and choked up at the end. No matter if I thought it was a bit "off".

While I am being overly critical of the final product, I must commend the team for even putting forth their vision and producing a work that features Marvel's macabre muck-monster... the Man-Thing.

Thanks to the creative team, Tom Brevoort & Joe Quesada for this. It was the thought that counted.

I might be critical of the work, but I am thankful for the gift.


* ("The Epiphany" - when the 3 "wise men" brought forth their gifts to the infant Christ-child. No I'm not Greek Orthodox or anything. My family has had that custom for many years. Maybe something small on Christmas Eve, one big gift on Christmas Day - and the rest on "Little Christmas".)


Howard said...

OOOH! Baron Mordo in Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four!

Thanks Sanctum, now I gotta go back to the comic book store this week!

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