Sunday, May 30, 2010

X-Men (Vol. 2) #1

TITLE: X-Men (Vol. 2) #1

PUBLISHER: Marvel Comics

COVER DATE: October 1991


37 pages


I didn't think so at the time, but looking back, this issue can plainly be seen as the downfall of my voracious interest in all things X. It would be years before I would give up on Marvel's mutants all-together, but from this point on there would be only brief snippets of genius intermingled with monthly mediocrity.

I still can recall vividly buying this issue (and all of the different covers) from my comic book store. I also remember laying all the covers out on my floor, to make one big panorama. This was when Jim Lee was king, and at this point he could do no wrong in my book.

Oddly enough, most of my memories of this book deal with my emotional reaction and ties to the issue, and not to the quality of the actual story itself. I don't really have a sense of the story, only that Magneto returns. Although, now that I think about it, this must be where Magneto's Alcolytes are introduced as well. I really didn't care for these jokers as villains or antagonists, so if this is dealing with them in detail, color me bored already.

Still, we'll give it the old college try and see how this issue holds up after close to two decades.

  • Writer: Chris Claremont
  • Co-Plotters: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee
  • Penciler: Jim Lee
  • Inker: Scott Williams
  • Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
  • Colorist: Joe Rosas
  • Assistant Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
  • Editor: Bob Harras
  • Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco
In space, a group of mutants in a hi-jacked space shuttle are desperately trying to find Mageneto's old base of operation, Asteroid M. They are just about caught by trailing military personnel, when Magneto makes his presence known.

Demanding only to be left alone, Magneto destroys their ships and is about to hurtle them all back towards Earth when one of the fleeing hijackers appeals to Magneto as a fellow mutant, as it's him they've come looking for.

Back on Earth, the fracas in space does not go unnoticed as both the Soviets and the Americans initiate their own plans to deal with Magneto once again.

The X-Men, meanwhile, are oblivious to what is going on out in space as they are in the midst of one of their ever-present training exercises. Professor Xavier has recently returned from Shi'ar space, and is back in a leadership position among his students. After being gone for so long, however, he looks to re-familiarize himself with their abilities and fighting styles.

What we get is eleven pages of the X-Men divided up into three different teams. Rogue and her group attack the mansion from outside and above, penetrating it's walls, only to fall within feet of the Professor at the mercy of Jean Gray and her psychic powers.

Wolverine and his group take a different tack and try to infiltrate the mansion from the tunnels below. Gambit falls first, as he takes the time to impress the ladies instead of delivering the killing blow. Wolverine proves that he's the real deal and manages to pop his claws mere inches from Professor X's over.

After the battle has ended, Wolverine and Cyclops have their usual pissing match that typified much of their relationship in this era.

It's not long, however, before they are summoned by Nick Fury and briefed on the recent happenings on Asteroid M. With the Russians and the Americans both on edge, Fury thinks it's best that the X-Men are notified. Cyclops agrees, while Wolverine thinks a man should be allowed to make a mistake first, before you condemn him.

Again with the disagreement...why don't you two get a room already.

Back on Asteroid M, Magneto has saved both the mutant hijackers and the American military that were chasing them, trying to stay neutral in their struggle. All he has done, however, is bring their conflict to his doorstep as one of the mutants is gunned down at his feet.

Using his magnetic powers, he forces the soldier's gun to point itself back at it's bearer and fire. Prodded and goaded on by Fabian Cortez, another of the mutant hijackers, he is once again brought into the struggle for mutant equality. These mutants, who have pledged themselves to his cause, will be his Acolytes.

Realizing that the Americans are unlikely to let this death go by unanswered, he decides to act pre-emptively in his own self defense. Returning to the scene of one of his own greatest tragedies, he raises a Soviet submarine that he was responsible for sinking earlier. He's not here to reminisce, however, as he uses his magnetic powers to salvage the remaining nuclear missiles that are still lodged within.

Unfortunately for him, the X-Men are here to talk him out of it. Its a pitched battle, but Magneto is able to withstand their assault long enough to gather his nuclear missiles and make good his escape.

Rogue is not willing to let Magneto go without hearing a piece of her mind, however, as she tries to draw on their recent time together to reason with him.

During her speech, the two of them have inadvertently flown over Russian airspace and the Russians have decided to take this chance to get their revenge on Magneto for the sinking of their submarine. Their fighter jets open fire, with Rogue caught in the crossfire. A further enraged Magneto reacts, with the closest weapon at his disposal...a nuclear weapon!

Before the rest of the X-Men can mourn Rogue for too long, Professor X sends a psychic communication that he has found her. She has ended up in a hospital on the island nation of Genosha? Now exactly how and why this happened remains a mystery (to me, at least), but it gives the X-Men a chance to go toe to toe against Magneto's Acoyltes because they all happen to be there as well, wreaking havoc on the city streets.

It's all a bit too much, and screams plotting by committee as everyone had to get their favorite location inserted into this issue. The X-Mansion...check. Asteroid M...check. Genosha...check.

It all comes to a head, as Magneto reappears to collect his wayward acolytes and pronounce that Asteroid M shall from this day forward be a sovereign nation for all mutantkind. Any act of violence perpetrated against a mutant, shall now be answered in kind.


I think the biggest thing we've learned with this issue, is how much the economy of comics have changed in the previous two decades. Thirty-seven pages for a buck-fifty? That's crazy.

What's even crazier, is that all thirty-seven (and a two page centerfold also) are drawn by Jim Lee! I think that pretty much matches his output for the last three years?

As much as I enjoyed looking at all thirty-seven pages of this issue, it was probably twice as long as it needed to be. I mean, I love a good danger room sequence as much as the next fanboy, but a dozen pages worth? That's a bit much.

There's also an interesting kernel of a story in here, but it just gets buried by word balloon after word balloon. Claremont has never been the most terse of writers, but I don't ever remember it being this bad. Maybe it's the fact that Jim Lee co-plots starting with this issue, and it ended up cramping his style somewhat...who knows?

I liked the idea of Magneto being out-crazied by Fabian Cortez, and seeing him essentially being used by him, but it just takes us way to long to get there and did we really need to go to Genosha too? Say what you will about Claremont's meandering, years in the making, simmering plot lines, but they've always at least seemed like Claremont's heart was in it. This time...not so much.

It's too bad that this story ended up being Claremont and Lee's swan song as a team on the X-Men, as they were really put out high-quality work up until this point. Still, it didn't hurt the X-franchise any as they would go on to dominate the market for the better part of the rest of the decade.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Marvel Comics

Monday, May 24, 2010

Aw Yeah, Art Baltazar...and the X-Men too!

It's time to pick another random book to review, but before we do that I have to relate an experience that I had at the recent Motor City Comic-Con that makes being a comics fan a lot of fun.

I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with Detroit's twice-yearly comic book convention, but it's the area's largest show. It's not Chicago or New York level big, and it's a far cry from 15 years ago when I was waiting in line to get Neil Gaiman's signature on my Season of Mists leatherbound hardback, or having to walk single file through the aisles trying to avoid to the snaking lines to get Todd McFarlane or Rob Leifeld's autograph (or was that line for the Spawn-mobile...I'm not sure).

Anyway, this con has long since seen it's glory days, but they still manage to pull in a respectable list of attendees and events. At the very least, it's an opportunity for my son to get his picture taken with whatever assorted Star Wars characters happen to walk by.

One of the creators who usually shows up is Art Baltazar of Tiny Titans. My four year old son is a fan, and can name all of the characters, so we always stop by to pick up a few books and let Art now how much he enjoys the book. This year, Art Baltazar went above and beyond and worked up a sketch in marker and crayon of my son dressed as Superman!

Aw Yeah, Art Baltazar! You're the best, and you really made my son's day, not to mention making this a con to remember.

So that's one of the things that make being a comic book fan so much fun, but how about another thing? Gee, I don't know, something like picking another completely random book to review. Take it away Randomizer...

...and that book is X-Men (Vol. 2) #1 from October 1991, published by Marvel Comics!

Well it had to happen sooner or later, as the odds were in this issues favor. I was a bit of a naive comic book collector in the early 90's, so when the speculator boom was in full steam barreling down the tracks, I was was right there pulling the steam whistle. I believe this title holds the record as the most copies of a single book that I own.

It came with five different covers and I bought two of each one. So yeah, that's ten issues of a book that I only ever read once. Now, however, I get to double the enjoyment from my initial investment as the randomizer has picked this book for me to read and review next.

Besides, when my son gets ready for college these ten issues are going to pay his way into a master's degree, right? Hello? Anyone?

Well, at the very least he'll have this blog post to read while he's standing in the financial aid lines at the administration office. See you in a day or two for the review.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Synchronicity #5

If it's Saturday, and you're reading a new post around these parts, it must be another installment of Saturday Synchronicity.

Join me as we pay homage to this week's comics, by looking at whatever vague and tangential connection we can make with issues we've previously reviewed here at the Random Longbox.

  • So I'm sure everyone but me read The Avengers #1 this week. If you're still craving more of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, you can click over here to see John Romita Jr.'s previous take on them from the prior volume.

    Furthermore, if you read Age of Heroes #1 featuring the return of Kurt Busiek to the Marvel Universe, that same issue of The Avengers will get you a nice Busiek fix too!

  • Brightest Day #2 put the spotlight on Firestom, as Ronnie Raymond tries to take the mantle of douchiest superhero away from Tony Stark. Click over here to reminisce when Ronnie wasn't quite so nasty in his rebelliousness.

  • Finally, if you enjoyed the latest work from the "not heard from enough, in my opinion" Len Wein, then click here to read a classic Superman tale from thirtynine years ago that shows that the man has been consistent decade in, and decade out.
See you next week, for more random comic book shenanigans!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Ultimates #1

TITLE: The Ultimates #1


COVER DATE: March 2002


26 pages


I remember being so excited for this title when it was solicited. Ultimate Spider-Man was one of the best books on the stand, and I had high hopes for this title carrying the imprint forward. The fact that it featured two creators who blew things up really good over on The Authority didn't hurt either.

And when the issue came out, it sure as hell delivered. If only they could have kept the production on this series on pace...but that's a blog post for another day.

I haven't read this book since it was out originally, so I'm curious to see how it holds up compared to all of the work that Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch have done in the interim. Let's find out...

The Ultimates
  • Story: Mark Millar
  • Pencils: Bryan Hitch
  • Inks: Andrew Currie
  • Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
  • Colors: Paul Mounts w/Bongotone
  • Editor: Ralph Macchio
  • Associate Editor: Brian Smith
  • Editor in chief: Joe Quesada
  • President & Inspiration: Bill Jemas
Wow, Bill Jemas credited with "inspiration"...Marvel really was a different company back then.

Back to the actual book, and it's time to break the fourth wall a little bit. Usually when I do these reviews, I'll hold off reading the book until I sit down to review it and I write it as I read the book cold. This time was different. I was hooked from the first panel and didn't put the issue down until I had read it all the way through, leaving the keyboard untouched.

I honestly didn't remember that this issue was this good. Mark Millar wrote a story that was perfectly paced, action packed, heartfelt, and reverential to what has come before (both in respect to WWII and The Avengers). I know, I know...this is Mark "Kick-Ass" Millar we're talking about, but this is about as perfect a first issue that you could ask for with which to retell the Avengers story.

This issue is almost exclusively told in a World War II flashback, where Captain America is leading a crew of soldiers on a nighttime raid into Iceland. It's there that the Nazi's have succeeded in building a hydrogen bomb, currently aimed at Washington D.C.

Millar would later go on to expand the character of Captain America as some right-wing wet dream, although this was the pre-"tea bag" right-wing that was still somewhat sane. As the issue starts, however, Cap is mostly seen only in the background, leaving his fellow soldier and partner, Bucky, to bring us up to speed as he talks with the other soldiers. Bucky seems to revel in the fact that he's partnered with a living legend, ribbing and teasing his fellow soldiers, while building up the mystique of Captain America.

The good thing for Bucky, however, is that you can actually count on Captain America to not only live up to his reputation, but to exceed it as well. While the grunts are caught in a massive gun battle after parachuting onto the armored launch pad, Cap eschews a parachute in favor of driving the bomber plane right through the front door.

This brings me to one of my favorite Captain America images of all time.

Its halfway through the issue, and its the first time we see Captain America out of the background. It's a beautiful image, and Bryan Hitch has managed to re-design Cap's costume as some sort of fatigues fueled, spandex bastard child. It's so beautiful in it's simplicity, that I'm surprised no one had ever thought of it before. In all the annals of costume redesigns, this gets the gold medal from me.

While we're on the subject of Bryan Hitch, I have to say that this issue completely wowed me. I remember really liking his stuff in the past, but after his run on Fantastic Four and Captain America: Reborn, I was honestly asking myself what the big deal about Hitch was. The work that he's produced over the last couple of years is such a pale comparison of what we see here, that it's almost depressing. This is the man who helped launch "wide-screen" comics, and here he is at the top of his game.

So anyone familiar with the legend of Captain America probably knows where this issue is headed. The soldiers breach the launch pad, but it's too late as the ignition sequence has begun and the prototype hydrogen bomb begins it's journey to D.C. Now this is Captain America that we're dealing with, and he's not about to let that happen so he jumps through the exhaust plume and grabs a hold of the rocket as it takes to the sky.

Knowing he's on a one way ride, his only choice is to blow up the guidance system with a grenade, which takes care of the rocket, but unfortunately blasts Cap into the frigid seas below to be frozen alive for his eventual rendezvous in the current day. As he sinks into the ever darkening depths, Millar pulls out the "If you're reading this that means I'm dead" letter, written to Cap's fiance. It runs the danger of coming off as a hackneyed trope, but it works here as Millar keeps it short and sweet, and it's the perfect balance to the machine of a soldier we bore witness to in the previous pages.

With a hint of what's to come , the issues wraps up back in the present day with the briefest of looks at Ultimate Tony Stark, as he begins his role in the birth of the Ultimates.


It should be obvious at this point in the review as to what we've learned. Mainly that Millar and Hitch were, at one time, deserving of all the hype and hyperbole thrown their way. All right, that maybe a little harsh, but I personally have not really enjoyed much by these two creators post-Ultimates.

I'd like to think the remaining twenty-five issues are waiting to be rediscovered as masterpieces of their genre as well, but I think I'm going to hold off finding out and just savor this moment for a while. After all, it's not often these days that I can get jazzed about the Avengers, and I don't need any more doses of cruel reality harshing my buzz.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Marvel Comics
...and of course, inspired by Bill Jemas!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lines in the sand don't come cheap...and The Ultimates!

At the risk of sounding too melodramatic, today's kind of a bittersweet day. I've been waiting for what seems like forever to be able to enjoy a current Avengers book. No offense to the people who enjoy the Sentry and Wolverine rubbing elbows with, well...a bunch of other people who I couldn't really care less for.

I'm not saying Bendis' New Avengers was bad, it's just not for me. It's similar to other people enjoying Booster Gold taping KICK ME sings on Batman's cape. I wouldn't begrudge anyone else their Bwa-ha-ha League, but it's not for me.

Today was supposed to be a joyous day with the good, old-fashioned Avengers coming back into the fold. Even with my reservations about the creative team, I was looking forward to jumping back into the Avengers in a big way. I was even willing to look past my dislike of paying 4 bucks for a standard sized comic nook. After all, it was just for the first issue, right?

Wrong. I was looking at the solicits for August yesterday and noticed that both of the Avengers books that I was going to pick up are still priced at four dollars well after the first issue. I'm sorry, but that's just too much to spend month-in and month-out.

So yeah, as eager as I am to follow Cap and the boys again, I just can't do it. I'm voting with my wallet on this issue, and unfortunately the Avengers are the innocent bystanders.

I'm sure it'll be depressing leaving the issues on the racks for the first couple of months, but you know what? I dropped all the Ultimate titles when they bumped up to four bucks after Ultimatum, and I find that I really don't miss them.

Lucky for me, I still have an in with one of my favorite characters, so I'll be more than happy to put my funds towards a $2.99 book like Hawkeye and Mockingbird to get my Avengers fix until Joey Q's experiment fails or ebay lets me pick up the run at a more reasonable price.

With the soapbox back in the closet, let's get to the business at hand, which is picking a new random book for me to review. Take it away Randomizer...

...and that book is The Ultimates #1 from March 2002, published by Marvel Comics!

So I don't know what exactly I did to piss of the Randomizer, but I just get done baring my heart about the pain of having to leave some of my favorite titles on the racks and it goes and picks both an Ultimate and an Avengers title for me to read.

Actually, though, I'm looking forward to this one. It's been long enough now that the bitter taste of having to wait eight months for an issue of The Ultimates is long gone. I remember liking this issue originally, but the process of the books creation led me to become burned out on this title long before Mark Millar passed the baton to Jeph Loeb.

I haven't re-read this since it's original release, so I can't wait to see if it still holds up. See you in a day or two for the review.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Avengers (Vol. 3) #35

TITLE: The Avengers #35


COVER DATE: December 2000


23 pages


Well, that's the last time the use the word "lazy" in a blog post title. Unfortunately, I've been anything but. Life goes on, however, and the internet community of comic book fandom can now function at top speed once again, as we take a long delayed look at The Avengers #35!

In the interest of getting right into the action, let's take a quick recap of what we know going into this issue. It's smack dab in the middle of Busiek's superb run, featuring fill-in art by soon to be regular Avengers penciller, John Romita Jr.

That's the good. The bad?

It's part of a crossover I have limited memory of, featuring a cast of Avengers that's decidedly b and c-list. You know when you have Moondragon and Photon duking it out for the second most powerful member of the team, things are a little off.

Even so, Busiek was able to do wonders with a bunch of d-listers when he wrote The Thunderbolts, so it would be a mistake to right this issue off before we sit down to re-read it.

Interstellar Intrigues
  • Writer: Kurt Busiek
  • Penciler: John Romita Jr.
  • Inker: Al Vey, Mark McKenna, Chris Ivy
  • Colors: Tom Smith
  • Letters: Richard Starkings, Albert Deschesne
  • Assistant Editor: Marc Sumerak
  • Editor: Tom Brevoort
  • Chief: Joe Quesada
This issue opens up with Thor and a group of fellow Avengers demanding to speak to Lilandra, Majestrix of the Shi'ar. After a few tense moments with Thor on the verge of losing his godly patience, the Avengers are escorted in to see Lilandra.

We don't get too much info as to what exactly is going on, but we are told that this issue will probably make more sense if we read Maximum Security #2 first. They also claim they'll fill us in on the way if we didn't, so I guess we'll put 'em to the test.

Once inside the inner chambers, its Moondragon's turn to lose her temper as she demands to know why Lilandra and the Intergalactic Council have quarantined the Sol System and have begun transporting undesirables to Earth's surface. Lilandra explains that yes, Earth has been made a prison planet for the universe's most undesirable inhabitants.

It's actually a pretty clever idea as the Earth's heroes will work to keep the prisoners contained, while the prisoners will force the heroes to focus on Earth and not have the time to get drawn into cosmic affairs every other issue.

Proving that bureaucracy knows no boundaries, Lilandra explains that since this was decided in council there is nothing more that can be done...but, Lilandra has been friends and allies with Earth's heroes before, so she agrees to give them a forum to bring up an appeal. In the meantime, they are dismissed.

Back in their quarters, the Avengers take a few moments to strategize their next move. Thor talks of raising the armies of Asgard to fight on the humanity's behalf, when Moondragon senses that they are being spied upon.

She reaches out with a psychic bolt and soon incapacitates the alien eavesdropper. Before they have a chance to interrogate the Ruul spy, they are beset by more attackers.

Realizing that these aliens will never let them plead their case before the council, they decide to make their way to the council chambers immediately. All the way there, they are attacked by more and more Ruul. One by one, the Avengers are taken down, with Thor the last one to fall.

As consciousness returns to our heroes, they find themselves restrained and taken prisoners by the Ruul. Now if you're like me, you're probably wondering who the hell are the Ruul?

Luckily for us, the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree appears before the captive Avengers to fill us all in! Most of the next three pages are filled with flashbacks that recaps Avengers Forever and explains how the Supreme Intelligence was able to use the Forever Crystal from that series to evolve the Kree race by more than a millennia in but a moment. Now almost unrecognizable after their forced evolution, the Supreme Intelligence sends them back out into space to involve themselves in intergalactic affairs masquerading as a new race, instead of the war-like Kree that everyone knows and loves hates.

Using their newfound influence, the Kree have pushed the Intergalactic Council to make Earth a prison planet. All of that was just a cover for the Supreme Intelligence to impregnate the Earth with the Ego-Spore, that will slowly transform Earth into Ego, The Living Planet! With the power of their own planet to control, the Kree will once again be unstoppable in their conquest of the galaxy.

And with that, the Supreme Intelligence disappears once again, secure in the knowledge that the Avengers will soon be dead and his plans for conquest will soon come to fruition.

Realizing that the Earth's days are numbered, Quasar summons every ounce of will power that he has left to send the smallest microburst of energy back to Earth in an attempt to warn the other Avengers.

The other Avengers have problems of their own, however, as they've just been commandeered by the Federal Authority under the command of U.S.Agent!


I shouldn't have been so hard on Kurt Busiek. It's been too long, and I've forgotten how enjoyable his entire Avengers run was. Even a fill-in issue like this one, that ties into an event mini-series, is still pretty entertaining. Even an issue like this one, that features Jack-Of-Hearts, Tigra, and Starfox, is still pretty entertaining.

The Maximum Security storyline, while not making too big of an impression on me originally, sounds like an original idea for a mini-series event. Reading this issue has made me curious enough to pull out the series proper, and give it another read.

The art in this issue featured a guest appearance by John Romita Jr. Now I have a hot/cold relationship with his work, depending on what the project is. I don't normally go for his style on straight-forward superheroics, and this issue falls squarely in that vein. It was interesting to see his take on the Avengers, even though we didn't get to see too many of the big guns. It was kind of disappointing that Thor was the star of this issue, as JRJR spent a long time drawing his title around this time. I think I would have preferred to see him tackle a Captain America or Hawkeye story.

I suppose I won't have long to wait on that score. Less than 24 hours now, by my count!

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Marvel Comics