Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Comic Book Review: Factor-X #1

TITLE: Factor-X #1


COVER DATE: March 1995


22 pages


So here's a fact that hasn't been uncovered at The Random Longbox yet...I used to be a huge X-Fan. It was the second title I started collecting after The Avengers way back in 1985. For the next 10 years or so, I read every title that Marvel put an "X" in front of, behind, or smack in the middle of.

If you're looking for someone to blame for the speculator boom of the 90's, I'm sure I can accept my fair share of the blame. As collateral, I can put up my six copies of X-Force #1 or my ten copies of X-Men (vol. 2) #1.

Hell, just to show you how old school I am, I'll even throw in my five copies of X-Factor #1 from 1986! Yes, speculation before speculation was cool!

So there is a good chance that we'll be seeing more X-books here at The Random Longbox in the future. But don't worry too much, as I did ebay off my Chuck Austen run of Uncanny last year, so we've dodged that bullet.

Anyways, back to The Age of Apocalypse. I remember being so excited for this story when it came out. I actually recall thinking these exact thoughts... "You can't cancel the X-titles carte blanche! And replace them with new titles?! That's insane!"

Oh, but it was a brilliant insanity. With Professor X dead and removed from timestream, continuity took a turn for the worse with Apocalypse now ruling the world. Magneto and his band of freedom fighters are the only heroes left with any means to set things right. What happened next was thirty some issues of alternate universe awesomeness.

X-Factor became Factor-X, and it's focus was on the Summers brothers. In this reality they are the main enforcers for Mr. Sinister, who is one of Apocalypse's four horsemen. As always, however, Sinister has plans of his own, and it will only be so long before the sibling rivalry between Havok and Cyclops pops up.

So slap on your evil-version goatee, and let's get started...

Sinister Neglect

  • Writer: John Francis Moore
  • Penciler: Steve Epting
  • Inker: Al Milgrom
  • Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
  • Colorist: Glynis Oliver
  • Editor: Kelly Corvese
  • Chief: Bob Harras

In this issue, pretty much everyone we meet (with the exception of Sinister) is a direct opposite of their 616 incarnation. It opens up with Cyclops, Havok, Northstar, and Northwind chasing down a group of escaped mutants. The refugees have broken out of Sinister's breeding pits, and it's up to his elite guard to track them down.

It's really no contest, and the opening pages tell us just how different things are as Havok and Northstar lay into the mutants, killing at least one of them. It also sets the stage for the conflict between Cyclops and Havok. They've not always had the cosiest of relationships, and that is amped up in this reality.

The costume design for the elite guard is your basic black leather, with some nondescript red markings. Cyclops is the only one with a different look and he suffers the most for it. First and foremost is that hair! People give the mullet Superman a hard time, but he ain't got nothing on "Lorenzo Lamas" Cyclops. It was interesting that they gave him only one eye here, taking the Cylops nom de guerre one step further. I'm sure the real reason they did it was so that he wouldn't damage his flowing locks which perpetually dangle in front of his left eye.

His costume also has that classic 90's trope, which is the singular bare arm or leg. His right arm is bare, while his left arm not only is covered by his costume, but it also has gold plated armor covering it as well. It's purely an aesthetic design and has no functionality whatsoever, a perfect statement on costume design of the period. It's not like his energy blasts emit from his arm!

Speaking of questionable costume redesigns, up next is Sinister. Here, he is modeling his Iron Patriot Mach One armor design. He truly was a man ahead of his time.

He explains that it is time for him to double-cross Apocalypse, but to do so require him to abandon his "children". Who knew Sinister had a softer side, as he caresses the monitor with an image of Scott on it.

Back at the breeding pits, we see a couple more twisted versions of Marvel heroes with the Guthrie siblings. Cannonball and his sister, Elizabeth, now a size changing mutant, work to keep the rabble in line. Cannonball appears to be a bit of a hothead in this reality, as he gets into a pissing contest with Cyclops. There's something about how Steve Epting draws Cannonball here that I really like.

While we're busy being introduced to new characters, up comes one of my favorites from the AoA storyline...The Dark Beast! Just one look at this panel, and you know that this is one twisted version of our reality.

I love that they amped up the scientist aspect of McCoy's history and turned him into an amoral, mad genius. He's one of those characters that must be a blast to write, as Moore gets several good lines of dialogue with The Dark Beast in this issue alone.

Epting does a great job with these two pages, keeping him in the shadows and drawing him from behind. When he finally does give you a close-up, it's a doozy.

Just look at the contempt and condescension oozing from the backwards glance. It's a shame that they were never able to do anything with this character after AoA ended. Yeah, the brought him over to our reality, but his potential was never realized as a classic X-villain.

Havok decides to let off some steam from the days events by visiting The Angel. In a scene straight out of Casablanca, Warren runs a nightclub in the heart of Manhattan that is frequented by mutants and humans alike. Naturally, trouble ensues as Henry Gyrich shows up, ready to blow himself up and take the club with him in the name of human freedom.

All of that is bad enough, but that's not really the most upsetting aspect of this scene. That honor belongs to Angel's costume! How that bulky costume helps Angel maintain any level of aerodynamics while in flight is beyond me. And what's with the granny panties?

Returning from the club, Havok is confronted by Cyclops who is concerned that he has not been able to contact Mr. Sinister in days. With Havok noting his objections, they break into Sinister's private lab and find the place destroyed. Scott immediately surmises that Sinister destroyed everything himself to cover his tracks, as he has now gone obviously rogue. Scott takes it upon himself to take charge of Sinister's empire.

In a final hint of the brother vs. brother to come, Havok seems to think he should be in control.


Aside from some questionable costume redesigns, this issue was pretty damn good. John Francis Moore did a great job setting the underlying tensions between both brothers and allies alike. Everyone has their own agenda, and watching them plot, plan, and double-cross was very enjoyable.

I can't remember much of anything at all that John Francis Moore has written. His name sounds vaguely familiar to me, so I'm sure I have some more of his work in my collection. I just checked my database and it looks like he was also the writer for X-Force when Adam Pollina was the artist. I recall enjoying that run too, so maybe we'll get the pleasure of reading one of those too, if the Randomizer sees fit to do so.

On the artistic front, we are treated to the pencils of Steve Epting. As regular readers are well aware, I'm a big Avengers fan from when I first started reading comics. Steve Epting had a pretty lengthy run on that title, and while the stories during his tenure were average at best, they always looked pretty. His style here is similar to his Avengers work, which is very different from his current style on Captain America. Aside from the aforementioned costume changes, he does a bang up job on this issue and it was a real treat to see his old work again.

A couple of years ago, Marvel did the ten year anniversary of the AoA storyline. I didn't pick any of those issues up, and I'm glad I didn't. Even more so after I reread this issue. I think I'd like to keep this storyline as complete and finished as told originally. This storyline was the last hurrah for me and the X-Men. I gave 'em a shot for a while after this, but aside from Grant Morrison's revisioning and Joe Kelly's aborted run, nothing really connected with me.

There's one more observation before I go. If you have the issue, take a look at the checklist at the end of the titles that kicked off the AoA storyline. It's definitely a sign of how much the X-Men ruled the comic book landscape by the level of talent that they could get on their titles. Joe Madureira, Jeph Loeb, Chris Bachalo, Adam Kubert, Warren Ellis, Fabian Nicieza, Andy Kubert, Steve Epting, Tony Daniel, Terry Dodson, etc...

And that was only the first month of titles.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Marvel Comics
Related links for your surfing pleasure...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Up next...Factor X!

So I've been doing this for close to a month now, and I think I'm getting a pretty good feel for what type of books the Randomizer likes.

It doesn't like many books that begin with any letter past F in the alphabet. Of the 8 books that we've reviewed so far, only one of them (Ruse) has been from the latter half of the alphabet.

Secondly, it likes it's Marvel events from the mid 90's and it likes 'em big! All I have to say, is thank god I don't have any of that Clone saga nonsense lurking in my collection.

So what gem is next up on the reviewing block? Let's press the button and find out...

It's Factor X #1 from Marvel Comics!

Let's see, it starts with the letter F...check. It's a Marvel book from the mid 90's, so that means it must be part of an event. According to the cover, we are about to ENTER NOW...THE AGE OF APOCALYPSE!

Your Marvel events don't get much bigger than The Age of Apocalypse, so this one should be fun.

Read the review here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Comic Book Review: Birds of Prey #13

TITLE: Birds of Prey #13


COVER DATE: January 2000


22 pages


I already talked a little bit here, about the two main writers who drove this series for most of its issues. There was one or two artistic heavyweights that contributed to this title as well. First, and arguably foremost among them, is Greg Land.

I'm beginning to think that the Randomizer has a keen sense of humor. It remembered the rather cheap shot that I took at Greg Land's expense in my review of Ruse. The truth is, I'm not that big of a fan of his. In fact, his art is more than likely enough to make me stop reading a book these days. To each his own, and his style is definitely not my own.

It wasn't always that way though, as I used to be a huge fan and it started right here in these pages. I remember positively loving his work on these issues for the first few years. It was his art, that got me to start reading CrossGen books when he started on Sojourn. Something happened when he left that title, however. He changed his style, and with it went his sense of storytelling and dynamism.

With that said, let's travel back to when men where men and pencils were drawn and not traced...

Apokolips Express
  • Writer: Chuck Dixon
  • Pencillers: Greg Land, Patrick Zircher
  • Inker: Drew Geraci
  • Colorist: Gloria Vasquez
  • Separator: Digital Chameleon
  • Letterer: Albie DeGuzman
  • Assistant Editor: Frank Berrios
  • Rockin' The Fourth World: Joseph Illidge
We open up with Black Canary riding as part of a convoy of S.T.A.R. marshals as they are transporting super-villains under heavy guard. We don't get too much of a chance to catch our breath as their train is sent through a boom tube and crashes on the surface of Apokolips.
Dinah and the marshal in charge crawl from the wreckage to assess the damage. They look up to notice they're not in Pennsylvania anymore, as an ominous statue of Darkseid stares down at them.

Already, I'm getting that old Greg Land feel back and I can see what I really liked at the time. His linework and characters have a good presence on the page, and in no way feel traced or overly posed. I don't want to turn this into a dissertation on Greg Land, so I'll just leave it at I really like the old Greg Land and wouldn't be disappointed to see him back again. Back to the story...

It turns out that someone has been targeting and kidnapping supervillains, and that someone just brought them to Apokolips. One of the supervillains on their list was Catwoman, who has taken advantage of the situation to break out of her holding cell.

This is the 90's version of Catwoman with the violet and purple costume. I would imagine that this has to be near the tail end of this incarnation, as it couldn't have been too much longer before Ed Brubaker got ahold of her and brought her into the next millennium with a serious change of direction.

The kidnapper makes a play to return Black Canary and the S.T.A.R. marshals to their world in exchange for the prisoners. The lead marshal lets her gun do the talking for her and cuts the kidnapper down. This is not any ordinary kidnapper however, as he scrambles leaving his severed legs behind.

The marshals secure the crash site against the expected Parademon onslaught as The Black Canary and Catwoman give chase to the torso of the kidnapper. Oracle makes her only appearance in this issue as she enlists the aid of Power Girl to help search for the train, which has mysteriously disappeared.

Dinah and Selina catch up to the torso to find that it's a mechanical exo-skeleton. Their perp is getting smaller and smaller.

At this point in the story, we have an artist change. Patrick Zircher steps in, and it's a credit to Drew Geraci and his inks that the flow between artists is relatively smooth. Greg Land would leave this title with next issue, but he definitely left his mark before he went.

Dinah and Selina push on, deeper in the bowels of Apokolips. Selina does a little digging and it's revealed that at this point Dinah has never met Oracle in person. I had forgotten that at the beginning of this title, they didn't really interact face-to-face.

They finally catch up their quarry and find out that he is a parademon, but obviously the runt of the litter. He explains that he wanted the super-beings to help lead a revolt against his masters on Apokolips. How he ever thought he could get super-villains to cooperate is never explained here. Black Canary doesn't really care, she just wants his mother box so that they can get home. Oops! You mean the one with the bullet hole?

Unaware of their inability to get home, the head marshal has already written off their chances of escaping Apokolips. The only chance they have, she thinks, is to work together. That means freeing their prisoners. The issue ends with a nice of shot of Shrapnel, Mammoth, Spellbinder, Sudden Death, and Joe Gardner being deputized at the barrell of a gun.

Really! Joe Gardner?! You're going to put your life in the hands of Joe Gardner? Who the hell is Joe Gardner?


I can't help but compare this version of the Birds of Prey to Gail Simone's, since her fantastic run is still fresh in my memory. This is definitely different, but it's still just as fun. It's just a more action-packed type of fun.

This issue still holds up, and I wouldn't mind cracking open a few more of these early issues. Especially since we are currently without this title at the moment, and quite frankly, Babs has been ill served of late with the last year or so of stories.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) DC Comics

Related links for your surfing pleasure

  • So this is who Joe Gardner is
  • The official website of Chuck Dixon
  • I guess Greg Land doesn't have an official website. I tried to find one but got lost in all of the websites devoted to trying to find the source images for his artwork.
  • The official website of Drew Geraci

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Up next...Birds of Prey!

Let's all give a hearty welcome back to the Randomizer, who has returned from its sabbatical at the Shrublands Health Clinic. It would appear some time in the country was just what it needed to recalibrate and get back into the thick of things.

Since the wife got the honors last time, I decided to let my three year old son press the button today. So the next title up for review is Birds of Prey #13!

This is a title that I have every issue of, from start to finish. I remember buying the first one-shot and liking it, but for whatever reason, I never got any of the other intermittent one-shots until after the ongoing started.

I don't specifically remember anything about this particular issue, other than the fact that there is a world of difference between the Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey and the Gail Simone Birds of Prey.

Chuck Dixon was the writer for the first 50 issues and Gail Simone for the last 50. There have been a couple of other guest writer stints, and they tried to carry on when Gail left, but the quality of the title really tailed off after that. Who had the better run is up for debate, and that's not really the point I was going for. They were just really different in their tone and content.

I'm looking forward to reading this title, as I haven't read any of the original Chuck Dixon run since they came out. I remember them being a bit more fantastic and super-heroey than the down to earth stories of Gail's run. Specifically I remember a time travel tale with Black Canary fighting dinosaurs, as well as them going up against Darkseid.

It looks like we got one of the Darkseid issues up today, so join me in a couple of days and we'll see how it holds up.

Read the review here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Comic Book Review: Captain Atom #85

TITLE: Captain Atom #85

PUBLISHER: Modern Comics



24 Pages


This book, I'm going in stone cold on. I've never read it before, nor have I ever read any of the original incarnation of the Charlton characters from the 60's. My only experience with them has been from DC Comics, when they were incorporated into the DCU after Crisis on Infinite Earths.

This particular issue is a reprint from the original run of Captain Atom from 1966. It features two stories, one with Captain Atom and the other with The Blue Beetle. This is another serendipitous pick, as DC is premiering their new co-features this month. And two of the characters appearing in the new format are none other than Blue Beetle and Captain Atom!

So let's take a trip back to the hey-day of the Silver Age to see just what is it about these characters that they just keep on coming back.

Strings of Punch & Jewelee

  • Script: Dave Kaler
  • Pencils: Steve Ditko
  • Inks: Rocke, Mastroserio

Right off the bat, I know we're in for a book with a high level of quality when Jewelee's name is spelled wrong in the actual title of the story.

We open this story up with two scientists who are taking a break from their studies on a golf course. They are delayed by an attractive golfer who has misplaced her ball. It's a trap, naturally, as the beautiful golfer is Jewelee, who with her partner in crime Punch, are kidnapping noted scientists.

It's funny that how whenever I see a nine panel grid these days, I instantly think of Watchmen. Is this another one of the influences that Alan Moore took from Charlton and it's characters when creating Watchmen? I'm sure it's just coincidence. We'll have to see how many more nine panel grids we get this issue.

As the story continues, Captain Atom and Nightshade are reclining by the pool with a scientist friend of theirs, Alec Rois. Captain Atom is intrigued about a series of kidnappings that he has read about in the paper. Nightshade tries to distract the Captain, but he's all business as he tries to get Nightshade to tell him more about herself. Maybe she would have better luck distracting him if she lost that swim cap.

That's interesting, as Nightshade was until very recently played as more of a villain in the DCU. I wonder if her reluctance to share her past here has any relevance to her current status, or if I'm just misreading something and projecting it into current continuity.

Lucky for her, a giant gem appears out of nowhere and envelops Alec Rois and disappears with him inside it. Captain Atom's inquiries will have to wait, as it's time to suit up into their action togs. Speaking of suiting up...those have to be two of the worst costume designs I've ever seen.

A dark blue unitard, with powder blue full sleeves, accompanied by reddish/orange tights and blue boots. Tie it all together with a yellow belt, and it's all just too much. I can see why they went in completely the opposite direction with this character in the DCU by giving him a very basic and understated costume. After wearing this getup for 20 years, he deserves it. And the less said about Nightshade's bug mask, the better.

They get their orders from the Pentagon, and are told to split up. Obviously, the best thing to do with the only two witnesses of their friend's disappearance is to send them in opposite directions on separate cases. I'm not sure that's the call the I would have made, but I don't run the pentagon so what do I know!

We cut to Punch and Jewelee, who revel in the success of their recent kidnapping by recapping exactly how they got their new found powers. It seems that they found a chest floating on the Jersey shore recently, and discovered it contained some flying shoes, hypno gems, and sting strings.
The shoes and gems I can understand, but what exactly are sting strings. Yeah, it rhymes and sounds cool, but what the hell do they do?

I should not have been so hasty, as three panels later it's revealed that Punch and Jewelee had been puppeteers in the past. Of course, what would a puppeteer turned super villain use to commit crimes if not sting strings! No coincidence is too far fetched for a good silver age story.

And speaking of coincidences...it just so happens that the next scientist on their list to kidnap is the very one that Captain Atom was ordered to report to to undergo some testing. The silver age was such a smaller world back then.

After a full day of testing, Captain Atom is too weak to put up a good fight and ends up under the control of Punch's sting strings. I don't know what is more painful, the sting strings or Punch's horrible puns. Before he is rendered unconscious, he does have the state of mind to activate the homing signal in his belt.

Nightshade picks up on it and heads to the source of the signal, Coney Island. She senses that Captain Atom is in danger and uses her Shadow power to gain entrance unnoticed. She calls her shadow form "that dreadful power" and uses it reluctantly.

Meanwhile, with Captain Atom their prisoner, Punch and Jewelee boast about their diabolical plan of recording all of the information from the brains of the world's leading scientists and selling it to the highest bidder. The brain of Captain Atom, and the secret of his power, is just icing on the cake.

Nightshade attacks Jewelee as Captain Atom regains enough of his power to break free. The rematch between Captain Atom and Punch is back on, with puns and horrible one liners flying free. It doesn't take long, however, for Captain Atom and Nightshade to capture them and free the scientists. As they tend to the scientists, Jewelee manages to get her hands on one of her jewels and escapes using its illusion powers.

All's well that ends well for our weary heroes, except of course that Jewelee is free to strike again. They are also unaware that their scientist friend is in reality, The Ghost! I have no idea who he is, but they didn't see him teleport some of Punch and Jewelee's devices during the heat of battle. He also made no attempt to stop Jewelee from escaping, so I can only assume we'll see them teaming up in the near future to give Captain Atom and Nightshade some more hassles.

We never did see any more nine-panel grids, so it would appear that the misspelled character name in the title was more of an omen on the quality of the story than the early Watchmen influence.

Between the disjointed and coincidental storytelling, the horrible dialogue, and the one-dimensional characters...there's really not that much here. The biggest disappointment was Captain Atom himself. He is so flatly written and unexciting, that I wonder how this series made it to 85 issues in the first place. Although knowing the silver age, Captain Atom probably took over an existing title and kept the original numbering.

There were two things that I did find interesting, however, and they were the characters of Nightshade and The Ghost. I liked the intrigue with their powers, and the fact that they were plainly hiding things from Captain Atom. They were definitely the most entertaining parts of the story.

Even Steve Ditko's pencils looked a little uninspired. By this time in his career Ditko had already made history with Spider-Man, so it's disappointing to see something so lackluster here. There was some flashes of greatness in some panels, but overall it was rather boring.

We still have another story to go, so let's see if the Blue Beetle can save the day...

The Blue Beetle

  • Concept and Art: Steve Ditko
  • Script: Gary Friedrich

Right off the bat, you can tell a huge difference in the art. Whether this is due to Ditko connecting with the character more or the fact that he inks himself, I couldn't say. What I do know, is that it is definitely a more entertaining story to read as a result.

We pick up the story with Ted Kord being interrogated at a police station to reveal what he knows about the disappearance of Dan Garret, the original Blue Beetle. Ted Kord plays dumb, and is released with the knowledge that the detectives will be keeping a close eye on him.

When Ted gets back to his Beetle Lab, he hears about an airliner being hi-jacked by a spy. You gotta love the 60's, when spies were as plentiful as Nazis were in the 40's. I guess today's anachronism would be the terrorist.
With barely a second to get dressed, the Blue Beetle is off to the rescue.

Flying over the ocean in his Beetleship, he catches up to the airline and stops it from plunging into the ocean. The captain of the airplane has managed to wrestle control back from the spy, only to have him jump overboard to a waiting submarine. You think there would be better ways to get out of the country than by hi-jacking a passenger airline to catch a ride on a submarine waiting off the coast.

The chase is on underwater, as the Beetleship turns Beetlesub and plumbs the ocean depth looking for the enemy sub. Finding the sub, he dons scuba gear and a bazooka and swims out to blow up their propellers. He's met by enemy frogmen and only has a chance to disable one of the propellers before the sub veers into a reef, which damages it's guiding systems, taking it and the Beetlesub on a trip to the bottom of the ocean.

Desperate to disable the antenna lock and radar hold that the Beetlesub has on the submarine, he swims after the plunging crafts. How either an antenna or radar can tether two ships together is beyond me. I guess this uses the same technology that allowed transistors to power Iron Man's armor in the 60's.

Anyway, back to the story as Blue Beetle must now contend with a giant octopus. With both arms ensnared in tentacles, he barely manages to activate his remote control panel under his glove to disable the radar hold that ties his ship to the enemy sub. You think that would've been easier to do before he got mixed up with the octopus.

After he has freed his ship, he uses his ever versatile antenna to shock the octopus with an electrical charge. Stunned, the octopus releases the Blue Beetle. He makes it back to his ship just in time to see bubbles floating up, spelling the end of the enemy sub on the ocean floor below.

The Blue Beetle returns to the surface, knowing the country is safer with one less enemy spy abroad.

The two pages of underwater action is quite well choreographed by Ditko, as the storytelling and action are well paced. They are the highlight of this book by far and allow you to get a glimpse of what makes Ditko a legend. The scripting is not quite as corny as the Captain Atom tale and holds up somewhat better over time. All in all, it's a neat little tale and I can definitely see how Blue Beetle has fared better than the other Charlton characters over time.


I think the main thing that we learned from this book is that Alan Moore really is a genius. How he saw these characters and found in them the potential for Watchmen is beyond me. I guess it's true what they say, that there are no bad characters, only bad writers.

Related links for your surfing pleasure

  • WFMU has a very entertaining history of Charlton Comics
  • Steve Ditko's official website
  • A Steve Ditko comic weblog

Monday, June 22, 2009

Up next...Captain Atom!

All right, it's time for a bit of an intervention. The Randomizer has picked two issues in a row featuring Siamese twins, so I'm going to take matters into my own hands to avoid any trouble from the PC Police.

While the Randomizer is in exile for a few days, it's up to me to make the pick. Now I know what you're thinking, how is this going to be random if you pick it out yourself?

Have no fear, as I was recently in an antique shop and they had a stack of beat-up comics on sale for a buck a piece. I closed my eyes and shuffled 'em up and pulled one out of the middle of the stack. That seemed pretty random to me, and the book I pulled out was Captain Atom #85!

As you can tell from the cover, this issue got pretty beat up over the last 31 years. Since I just bought the issue, I obviously have no recollection of what happens in it as I haven't read it yet.

It is, however, filled with characters I'm familiar with as they've been regularly appearing in DC comics since Crisis On Infinite Earths and I'm looking forward to seeing them in their original incarnation.

Read the review here.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Comic Book Review: Dark Horse Presents #58

TITLE: Dark Horse Presents #58

PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics

COVER DATE: January 1992


30 pages


Everything I remember about this issue is Sin City...Sin City...Sin City. The title had it's birth in these pages, serialized over a year. It proved so popular that Frank Miller put out a series of limited series over the next ten years, eventually culminating into the blockbuster film of the same name.

There were actually quite a few titles that spun out of appearances in Dark Horse Presents including Concrete, Aliens, The Mask, Sin City, and John Byrne's Next Men. There was usually three or four serialized stories that rotated throughout the book. Often they were of varying quality, but there was usually something interesting in there.

This issue contains four stories; one of which I remember vividly, one just barely, and two not all.

Alien Fire "Pass in Thunder"

  • Story: Anthony Smith
  • Art/Lettering: Eric Vincent

This story opens up in the desert as some sort of technology is about to be demonstrated. It's an odd collection of people grouped for the demonstration, as they all appear to be racial or ethnic stereotypes. The man in charge of the weapon, Ed, takes umbrage but is reminded by Barrett, the man coordinating the demonstration, that he works for him and his customers.

As Ed draws closer to starting the demonstration, Barrett sits back in Ed's convertible and turns on the radio. We're at sometime in the near future as the radio plays holographic images of musicians that dance and sing on the dashboard.

Taking notice of this are a pair of Siamese twin boys that begin to mimic the dancing figures. Barrett explains to Ed that he found these boys in the desert, building stone circles and praying.

The dancing session/demonstration is interrupted by some local law enforcement approaching from afar. Everyone but Ed scatters, first and foremost is Barrett who decides to abandon the Siamese twins so he can escape faster.
Ed is loathe to abandon his convertible, so he calls on his ship orbiting in space to cast an illusion of a rampaging dinosaur hoard to scare off the local gendarmes.

The only other person who didn't run away or was abandoned was one of the token ethnic characters.

The native American Indian starts speaking in riddles (as they are wont to do) and accepts the technology that Ed was demonstrating. It was apparently some sort of weather controlling device, as it is now pouring rain. As Ed turns to leave, he accidentally drops a heart-shaped locket into one of the circles that the Siamese twins traced on the desert floor. The indian picks it up and speaks in more riddles about friends and enemies.

The story ends as the convertible is carried up to the orbiting ship by some robots, as the rain puts out the campfire on the desert surface.

It's hard to make out exactly what's going on with this story from just this chapter. It appears to be some sort of near future world where technology is scarce and sought after. It's kinda like Doctor Who meets Mad Max. The story was easy enough to follow, there just wasn't much background info given to us in this chapter. The art was serviceable, if not a little rough. I'm probably not going to be digging out the rest of my back issues to see what happens next.

Maybe we'll have better luck with the next story...

The Creep

  • Story: John Arcudi
  • Art: Dale Eaglesham
  • Lettering: Pat Brosseau

So this is apparently the same Dale Eaglesham who is enjoying a fair amount of fame right now, coming off of a two year run of Justice Society of America. I didn't realize that I had any of his art from this long ago. I love his recent work for DC, so let's see what he had to offer 17 years ago.

We open with The Creep on bended knee, pleading for his life as he is held at gunpoint by a femme fatale. Sprawled across a desk behind him is the body of another woman, obviously shot to death with the smoking gun now being pointed at the Creep.

What a fantastic opening shot. It's beautifully composed, and tells you everything you need to know right off the bat in just one panel. The line work looks a little rough, almost like it was printed from a xerox of Dale's pencils.

The Creep stalls for time and tells the woman that he still has her birth certificate in the safe back at his office. If she kills him now, the cops will surely find it.

She decides that they will walk back to his office so she can get her stuff from his safe. On the way there, the Creep puts it all together in his head and we find out that the dead woman was her mother. The Creep was set up to find her so that the girl could kill her, leaving the Creep to take the fall for her murder. We never do find out why the woman wanted her mother dead. I'm assuming that is probably addressed in an earlier chapter.

When they get to his office, they are surprised by two burglars who just happen to be stealing his safe. The woman yells at them to stop and is drawn into a shoot-out. She's a decent shot, hitting one of the thieves in the neck. Unlucky for her, he's a better shot. She falls, dead before she hits the floor.

The cops eventually show up to secure the scene and a police sergeant and the Creep get into a conversation about him being a private detective. This story is apparently early in his detective career, as the sergeant has a sort of "I told you so" moment about the level of danger he will encounter in this line of work.

It turns out that the detail about the safe was a bluff, as the Creep reveals that he has no idea what's in it, as it was there when he rented the place.

We end with the Creep telling the sergeant the one thing he has learned from this experience...tomorrow, he's going to get a gun.

What an awesome story. I love that final panel with the Creep looking over his shoulder as they zip up the woman's body bag.

I'm definitely checking out more Creep stories, as this one was really good. If this was a done-in-one story, it was just about perfect. If it was part of a larger story, they recapped enough that I was able to follow along perfectly.

So we are now one for two with the stories we've read so far. Let's see what the next tale brings...

Fancies 2 "Mikio O"

  • Story: Jo Duffy
  • Art: Joven Chacon
  • Lettering: Gaspar Saladino

This story opens up with two wizards playing poker over a huge pile of gold coins. Uchi-Umi explains how he has found a spell to change his appearance to that of his youth. He smiles as he lays down four kings. Mikio counters with five aces? Apparently he cheats too well. Uchi-Umi casts a spell transforming him into a gargoyle.

He rethinks his decision and begins to cast another spell as Mikio wakes up from a deep sleep. He was apparently dreaming the whole thing. He is joined by two companions who burst into the room after hearing his screams. Mikio really is a gargoyle after all...and he's hungry.

I really don't know what to make of this story. There's obviously a whole lot more going on here than we get in these four pages. The art style isn't really my thing, as I prefer my wizards a little less Harry Potter and more Gandalf the Grey.

We're now one for three with the stories. It's up to Sin City to even the score.

Sin City Episode Nine

  • Story/Art/Lettering: Frank Miller

Remember what I said earlier about certain panels of this story being burned into my brain? Well this was one of them. A comatose Marv falling headfirst from the darkness to the light at the lower corner.

This is Frank Miller at his best. Sometimes his style can be over the top, but here his words and pictures come together to create an exceptionally hard-hitting and stark portrait of Marv and his single-minded obsession to catch the killer of his "girlfriend".

Marv wakes up to find himself a prisoner of Kevin, the sadistic cannibal who has taken the life of his Goldie. Lucille, his drop-dead gorgeous parole agent, has been captured as well. They both share the cell with the mounted heads of his previous victims.

Lucille recounts how Kevin made her watch as he cooked her severed hands and ate them in front of her. She breaks down and finds solace in the strong arms of Marv. Kevin, meanwhile, is outside enjoying the sounds of her anguish.

They begin to piece together what is happening and who is really pulling the strings. Lucille let's it slip that Goldie was a prostitute. Marv seems non-plussed, concentrating instead on breaking the bars of their cell.

This chapter ends as Marv looks out the bars of his cell to see a car pull up and someone yells out for "Kevin." It's the first time that Marv has heard his name.

The hunt continues...

I never get tired of reading Frank Miller's Sin City stories. Every time I read them I rediscover just how good they are. They didn't reinvent the genre like Watchmen did, but they do take it to a pinnacle of storytelling that sets the stage for everything that follows.


When you're dealing with anthology titles, you can count yourself lucky when you get one story that really knocks your socks off. We came out ahead here, as there are two really good stories in this issue. That reaffirms my recollection that this title was one of the better anthology titles, and definitely one of the bright spots of the much maligned 90's.

This issue was good stuff, and I wouldn't at all be disappointed if the Randomizer chose another issue in the near future.

Related links for your surfing pleasure

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sin City in full color?

While we're waiting for me to finish my write-up of Dark Horse Presents #58, I wanted to share something I noticed about the cover. At first, I didn't catch it...but there it is...a picture of Marv in full color.

I guess I didn't dawn on me at the time how rare that would become. I don't think I've ever seen a Sin City drawing by Frank Miller since then that ever had more than one or two colors in it. I'm going to have to dig through the rest of my DHP issues to see if there are any other full color Sin City pics waiting to be rediscovered.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Up next...Dark Horse Presents!

I just got a "Dear John" letter from the randomizer. It's appealing for more freedom to see other people, and has somehow sweetalked my wife into pressing the button for the next selection.

So with a woman's touch...the next book up for review is Dark Horse Presents #58!

I have a big old run of DHP issues, but we are lucky enough to get an issue with an installment of Frank Miller's original Sin City story featuring Marv. The stark black and white style of those stories made a huge impression on me at the time. There are still panels and pages that I can recall with a near photographic memory. There truly was nothing like it at the time.

The other stories in this issue didn't leave much of an impression. I have a vague recollection of Homicide and none whatsoever of Alien Fire.

But before we start reading this issue, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank my wife for helping out today and to implore you to check out her photography for sale over here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Comic Book Review: Detective Comics #630

TITLE: Detective Comics #630


COVER DATE: June 1991


22 pages


As I mentioned in my previous post, there's not too much that I remember about this issue. It would still be a couple of years before I got into the DC universe in any sort of in depth reading. I suppose that if you're just tangentially reading the DC universe, chances are you're starting with Batman. So it's not that much of a surprise that these are some of my earliest DC books that I bought off of the racks.

The cover is a very striking image by Michael Golden, but it doesn't offer up any clues as to the story inside. It's still pretty to look at though.

Not too much of a preamble today, so let's just get to it...

"And The Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels"

  • Writer: Peter Milligan
  • Penciller: Jim Aparo
  • Inker: Mike DeCarlo
  • Letterer: John Costanza
  • Colorist: Adrienne Roy
  • Assistant Editor: Kelley Puckett
  • Editor: Dennis O'Neil

You gotta love that title. I'm getting the impression that we're in for a noir type read. The issue opens up with narration from Batman as he comes across a grizzly scene. The narration reads straight out of a pulp detective novel, so I guess the title is apropos. Lying electrocuted on the floor is Two Tone, a sociopathic Siamese-twin hitman.
This brings back memories of the last time Batman ran into him, as we go back three months with Batman in Commissioner Gordon's office with F.B.I Special Agent Hughes.

Agent Hughes explains that a contract killer has escaped from Death Row in Florida and is heading to Gotham. Saul Calvino, alias Stiletto, is after money he stashed in town before he got caught. Stiletto is supernaturally persuasive, and was able to talk his way out of prison. This is a scene we don't get much these days, with Batman inside Jim's office being officially invited in on a case.

Back at the Batcave, Batman is researching files on Stiletto for any leads on where he might show up. You can't help but laugh at the computers that are all over the Batcave. It seems odd that a comic from the 90's would have computers that look like they were leftover from the 60's. I probably have more memory on my iPod than Batman has in his whole cave. I half expected to see an old reel-to-reel to be hooked up to 'em, spitting out data cards.

Batman decides to look up Stiletto's old sidekick, The Seventh Seal. The name sounds ominous, but they never do explain the relevance. These days Bud Brown, a.k.a. The Seventh Seal, is in the witness protection program. The fact that he's still in Gotham after he ratted out a bunch of mobsters, makes me think the F.B.I. doesn't have his best intentions at the top of their to-do list. Eh, give him a new name and address and he'll be fine.

Now that's a model of the Batmobile that I don't recall at all. Where's the bat motif?

As Batman nears Bud's apartment, he sees Two Tone running out of the building.
Rushing inside, he discovers Bud super-glued to the ceiling. Apparently, this startles Batman something fierce. To me, it just seems so random and unworkable. Wouldn't Two Tone's hands have stuck to the chair as he was holding it up to the ceiling, waiting for the glue to dry? And it's not like Two Tone has an extra set of hands! Maybe he was able to brace the chair to the ceiling using his extra head, leaving his hands free to apply all that glue. And how does glue fit into the whole Siamese twin theme anyway?

It's all just a trap for Batman anyway, as Bud has a bomb glued to his chest that goes off with Batman narrowly escaping through the window. Alfred patches him back up at the Batcave as he replays the scene in his head. There must be something that he missed.

Of course there was! It wasn't the bomb glued to Bud's chest that Batman should have concerned himself with, it was the book glued to his chest right next to the bomb! For shame Batman, you would think that anytime you find the book "Stiletto: A Social History of the High Heeled Shoe" glued to the chest of the former sidekick for the hitman known as Stiletto, that that would be a major clue.

Now Batman's off to find a copy of the book that isn't glued to a burned corpse. So it's off to the bookstore, naturally...in costume and in broad daylight. It always cracks me up when Superheroes are in everyday situations in full costume. You think it would have been less conspicuous to go book shopping as Bruce Wayne.

Of course the bookstore had a copy, in fact they had three copies! Who knew the history of the high heel was a book stocked more than one copy deep at your local book store. It's revealed that F.B.I. agent Hughes also bought one of the copies earlier in the day, so Batman is off to confront him.

The book, it turns out, was the cipher that Bud used to hide Stiletto's cash. Batman finds out that he has been played as a pawn by Agent Hughes in a larger scheme involving South American drug barons. Needless to say, Batman's pissed. He cracks the code and rushes to the bus terminal where the money is hidden.

Two Tone drives a bus through the terminal wall just as Stiletto shows up to get his cash. Naturally a fight ensues. Up until this point, Two Tone has just been seen in the shadows, but in full daylight it's revealed that he is a Siamese twin with one Caucasian head and one African-American head. I guess the name Two Tone makes more sense now.

Can you imagine the uproar if you had hit the black face first?

Batman gets distracted by an innocent bystander in a life and death situation. Anytime a kid's life is in danger, Batman does the right thing and abandons the fight to save his life.
How the child's life was threatened by luggage falling off of a luggage cart seems a little overly dramatic to me.

Anway, that's enough of a distraction for Two Tone to get a lucky kick in, breaking Batman's jaw. As he gets ready to shoot a dazed and wounded Batman, a stiletto dagger comes flying from off panel, striking Two Tone in the wrist. So that's how he got his nickname. It beats the alternative of him assassinating people in high heels.

Stiletto takes the opportunity to escape in a bus, with Two Tone in hot pursuit.

I am inclined to agree.

Batman manages to catch up to the bus driven by Stiletto and is about to apprehend him when Two Tone pushes their bus into the harbor. As the bus is sinking into the murky depths of Gotham Harbor, the two have a discussion about the respective moral implications of how each other have chosen to live their lives. That's a lot of talking for someone with a broken jaw!

Stiletto has resigned himself to death at the bottom of the harbor, but Batman insists on saving him so that he can face justice. They make it back to the surface, only to find Two Tone has disappeared.

Over the next three months, Batman has wrestled with his decision to turn Stiletto over to the authorities as he only ever performed hits on mobsters and killers. The moral dilemma continues however, as the electric chair was not in the cards for Stiletto. He manages to escape the police once again, leaving Batman to hope he never comes back to Gotham.


I love done-in-one stories. When they are done well, they read as exciting and action packed as any six-parter. Even average ones have a decent amount of pay off. This story was pretty decent, if not a little silly. Take away the novelty villain and amp up the drama a little, and you'd have a comic that would still hold up today.

Peter Milligan is a writer that I have enjoyed in the past. This story seems pretty straightforward for him, but it was still pretty good.

The real star of the book is Jim Aparo. I really like his version of Batman, as it includes the yellow oval and the classic utility belt. Whenever I think of Batman, this is the costume that pops into my head.

Overall, this was a decent little story that may not necessarily set the back-issue bins on fire, but you'll at least get your dollar's worth.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) DC Comics

Related links for your surfing pleasure

  • The Jim Aparo Fan Club blog