Sunday, February 27, 2011

A depressing odds & sods...and Birds of Prey!

How about a quick odds and sods before we get to picking the next random book to review?

  • It occurred to me today how much I miss Warren Ellis' old email list Bad Signal. Yeah, I know that there a zillion other ways to interact with him online, but there was something exciting and foreboding about seeing his name pop up in your inbox once or twice a day.

  • In the last two years I've gone from having three high quality, full service comic book shops within five miles of my house to now just one. The most recent closure was Comic Archives in Redford, Michigan which closed up shop last week. While it wasn't my weekly stop, it was a great place to supplement my regular shop and browse a different selection of small press stuff that didn't get shelved at my main store.

  • Back in the mid to late 90's, there was six or seven comic book stores within five miles of my house.

  • Looking at the sales numbers for January, it's no big surprise. It makes me scared to see February's when they're released.

  • I fear that I may be part of the problem as I like huge, universe spanning, grand dramas...the likes of which DC has been giving us over the last four or five years. You could make a strong argument that the big two need a new game plan to attract new and lapsed readers to the wonderful world of comic books, but as long as people like me continue to buy all things Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Blackest Night, and FlashPoint related...where's the urgency?

  • So yeah, blame me if you want to, but I also buy plenty of stuff with print runs under 10k. My guess is that it all evens out and the industry is in a downward spiral that's not so easy to pin on any one cause or genre.
So that was a lot more depressing than I had anticipated at the outset. How about a couple of quick positive ones to end on...

  • Superman/Batman has been surprisingly good over the last few story arcs. It almost makes up for the whole JMS fiasco...almost.

  • This is my 250th post here at the Random Longbox! Yea, me!
There we go, much better. Now let's get on with the show and get the next random book to review picked. Take it away, Randomizer...

...and that book is Birds Of Prey #35 from November 2001, published by DC Comics.

Damn, that is one nice looking cover by Phil Noto! Normally his stuff looks a tad stiff to me, but not this one. And judging from this cover, it looks like this is the story that brings back the old Canary Cry! If I remember correctly, that also means we get the bride of Ra's-al-Ghul (or something close to that, anyway).

See you in a day or two for the review, and we'll see how good my memory is.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Avengers Spotlight #40

TITLE: Avengers Spotlight #40

PUBLISHER: Marvel Comics

COVER DATE: January 1991


22 pages


I think my love for this title is entirely based on the premise of what it could have been, rather than what it ended up being. On paper, this seemed like a sure thing. You have what is essentially a Hawkeye solo-series mashed together with a second story featuring past and current Avengers who didn't have their own title.

All right, on second thought maybe that isn't necessarily the text book example of what a hit series could be. Hawkeye solo series don't have a track record of lengthy runs, with this title being the exception to the rule. As for the second story, whether you call them co-features or two-in-ones or anthologies, there's just no getting around the "not necessary" or "filler" label that so often plagues them.

No my perfect world this title would've just celebrated its 250th issue. But it didn't make it to its sestercentennial issue, it only made it to number forty.

That's right, this issue was the last one for Avengers Spotlight. The last four issues of the title broke format slightly and where single issue stories about characters other than Hawkeye. This particular one focuses on my all-time favorite Avenger, the Vision!

The fact that I don't remember anything about it other than the awesome cover by Steve Lightle doesn't bode well for this issue. Let's get reading and see what's up.

  • Story: Len Kaminski and Carrie Barre
  • Penciller: Gavin Curtis
  • Inker: Dan Panosian
  • Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
  • Colorist: Renee Witterstaetter
  • Editor: Mark Gruenwald
  • Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco
Three pages of pseudo-computer tech speak is not necessarily the best way to set the excitement for what I'm sure is coming. We did learn two things, however. First, the vision can store about a terabyte worth of audio visual data. That seems woefully insufficient for a state-of-the-art android Avenger, but I suppose twenty years ago it was pie in the sky, wishful thinking.

Second, everything checks out okay except for this lack of purpose thing. I guess that's where we're heading with this story, to find a purpose for the Vision.

Who better to turn to when you need a little pep talk than Captain America. The man practically bleeds selfless leadership and guidance.

Then again, I guess he has a hot date to go antiquing.

An Avenger always has a backup plan, and for the Vision it's newspaper advice columns.

The Vision takes Ann Landers' advice to heart, and seeks out the counsel of a therapist to help him figure out his purpose. In this case, he seeks out the help of Miles Lipton, the pre-eminent researcher in artificial intelligence and consciousness theory.

His verdict? Use a handy-dandy holographic image inducer to go out into society and interact with real people.

On a sidenote, whatever happened to holographic image inducers? They used to be everywhere in the 80's and 90's, but have seemed to have faded away since then. I guess we really are a more tolerable society, eh?

While we pondered that bit of trivia, the Vision completed his assignment and is the process of checking back in with the good doctor to talk about what he observed when his programming hits a glitch.

Luckily for the doctor, the Visions internal systems can be accessed by a couple of stray blue wires hanging out of his back. It makes you wonder why Ultron never thought to do that...slacker.

Back at his lab, Miles figures out what is wrong with Visions programming. Ever since he was disassembled, wiped clean, and reassembled, the Vision has been without a human brain pattern to provide the non-linear aspect of his personality. In a bout of incredible coincidence, Miles just happens to have a brain pattern template saved on a floppy disk that he can use to help the vision.

The pattern belongs to his son, who has recently passed away under mysterious circumstances. And since his son is no longer alive, the Vision will not be conflicted about copying another living persons brain patterns. Just as they begin the process to download them, they are interrupted by the sudden appearance of some mobsters. It would appear that they where involved with his sons death, and they're coming back to put some more pressure on Miles to stop snooping around.

Seizing an opportunity when they see it, they "convince" the doctor to come with them and reprogram the now comatose Vision to work for them. He agrees, but unknown to them, he plans on doing the old "double-cross" with the programming while using the brain patterns of his murdered son to help the Vision find purpose.

Once online, the two hatch a plan to put a stop to the mobster's mad-cap scheme. And here, the Vision does something I don't think I've ever seen him do before. He turns as intangible as he can get and enters the body of one of the gangsters and takes control of his central nervous system?

Jumping from body to body, the Vision manages to put all of the gangsters out of commission and gets a confession from the head honcho that he is responsible for killing Miles' son in the first place. Hopefully the Vision spared a gigabyte or two to record the confession.

In the end, all's well that ends well as the Vision takes the first steps towards learning to function with human brain patterns again and Miles gets back to living his life knowing that justice has been done for his son.


I now realize why the only thing I could remember about this issue was the cover...and damn, that's a nice looking cover. It's really about the only thing worth mentioning.

The story itself was an interesting concept, but the execution just seemed a bit obvious and a tad too reliant on coincidences. I'll definitely give it a solid B+ for effort, but it just seemed to limp along from scene to scene without much drama. Same goes for the art, as it did what it needed to, but not much else.

I guess I can also understand why the series petered out after forty issues...there just wasn't much life to this issue. Although maybe that was an intentional meta-reference on the nature of programming versus emotion.

Yeah, probably not.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Marvel Comics

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dwayne McDuffie, In Memorium

As I sat down this afternoon to collect some rambling comic book thoughts and pick a new random book to review, word broke that we lost another legend and that we lost him way too soon.

Dwayne McDuffie passed away at the way too young age of 49, due to complications from surgery.

The fact that it happened the day before the release of the critically acclaimed, animated adaption of All Star Superman (for which he wrote the screenplay) just underscores how much more he had to offer if only he was given more time.

His was a true talent that found success at not only Marvel and DC, but also with his own line of superhero comics that he co-created in 1992. As much of an unabashed superhero consumer that I've been over the years, it's the Milestone books that loom large in my memory and my longboxes.

Back in the early 90's, you couldn't turn around without bumping into a new imprint looking to cash in on the go-go world of flashy covers and leg pouches...lots and lots of leg pouches. Milestone was different, choosing to stress racial and cultural diversity, rather than double d heroines in thongs. For that, they kept their reputation intact long after the line had folded.

Being born into a middle-class Caucasian family, I never suffered a shortage of role models to look up to in the pages of comic books. Originally, I came to these titles looking not to be inspired, but to be entertained. Luckily for me, and it's a testament to the creators involved, I ended up being both entertained and inspired. I wasn't the only one as there was never a shortage of requests over the intervening years to bring the characters back, which eventually led to the characters return into the pages of the DCU (of which I have a few more thoughts on over at my other blog).

Rest in peace, Dwayne McDuffie.

You will be missed, but not forgotten.

One last bit of business before we call it a day, and that's to pick a new random book to review. I don't feel like too much pomp and circumstance today, so let's just get it done and get out.

...and that book is Avengers Spotlight #40 from January 1991, published by Marvel Comics!

See you in a day or two for the review.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thor #365

TITLE: The Mighty Thor #365

PUBLISHER: Marvel Comics

COVER DATE: March 1986


22 pages


My first comic book collecting obsession was with The Avengers, so I have a lot of love for Thor. It took me a while, however, to begin reading his own title on a monthly basis. I started around issue #390, so I unfortunately just missed out on reading one of the best comic book runs of all time as it was coming out.

Or at least that's what I've always heard. I had every intention of picking up those back issues, but for some reason I never did. I blogged earlier about a collection from a friend of one of my in-laws that was given to me, and in that collection was about a dozen issues of Walt Simonson's run of Thor. I still haven't gotten around to reading any of them yet, but rest assured the Walter Simonson Thor Omnibus will be mine once it's released.

So long story short...The issue we're reading today is from that collection and I haven't read it yet, nor do I know what happens in it. I guess the only thing to do now is to read it!

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner or It's Not Easy Being Green!
  • Art & Story by Walter Simonson
  • Lettering by John Workman
  • Colors by Max Scheele
  • Editing by Ralph Macchio
  • Editor in Chief Jim Shooter
So as it turns out, we have a bit of a special issue here and I didn't even realize's the issue where Thor is a frog!


Did that name ever catch on? If the Clone Thor from Civil War got a cool nickname (Clor, obviously), I think it's only fair that Thor Frog should get one too.

Since it's a special occasion and all, let's break format and live a little. Download "Ain't Got No Home" by Clarence Brown and put it on your iPod and let's live blog this frog!

10:03 pm (page 1 panel 1) As the issue opens up, Thor is already a frog and is hopping through the sewers of New York being inexorably drawn to a pied piper and his soothing tunes.

10:06 pm (page 2 panel 2) Through the magic of thought balloons (take that, modern comics) we find out that Loki has transformed Thor into a frog, but he has nothing to do with the fellow playing flute.

Thor being Thor, he takes matters into his own hands and frog smacks the piper in the face and runs off with his flute!

10:09pm (page 3 panel 4) I think Walter Simonson is some sort of mad genius. I submit as proof this shot of a frog holding a magic flute in his mouth while kicking a dead rat into the gaping jaws of an alligator!

10:14pm (page 5 panel 1) So back in the surface world, it appears that we're in the middle of a battle between a pack of rats and a reservoir of frogs? And it appears to be played rather straight...seriously.

10:17pm (page 5 panel 3) The lead rats name is Ratso!

10:20pm (page 6 panel 1) Back up in Asgard, another altogether different battle wages as the citizens of Asgard gather to pick who will lead them during Odin's absence. To Loki's surprise, in walks Thor! After all, didn't he just turn him into a frog on Midgard?

10:22pm (page 6 panel 3) Loki manages to get the althing delayed for a week, enough time for him to investigate this fake Thor and to use his arrival to his advantage.

10:26pm (page 8 panel 1) Loki follows Thor and Heimdall to their private chambers, where he turns himself into a fly to better spy on them unseen.

10:27pm (page 8 panel 5) Am I the only one seeing a problem with Loki turning himself into a fly while Thor is currently in the body of a frog? Granted, they're on two different planes of reality, but I still question your judgement Loki.

10:31pm (page 9 panel 2) Back on Earth, the rats are on the offensive against the frogs for the control of Central Park.

And there's another rat named Rizzo...I should've seen that coming.

10:33pm (page 10 panel 2) They're in for a surprise however, as the alligators from the alley have followed Thor to the surface and have decided to feast on the rats.

10:36pm (page 11 panel 5) While currently trapped in the body of frog, Thor is still the hero and now he must find a way to alert the authorities that there are a bunch of alligators in Central Park before any innocents get hurt.

Unfortunately for him, the piper has found him and soon has his flute back and Thor on the run (or hop, so to speak).

10:42pm (page 13 panel 2) Back in Asgard, Loki has discovered the true identity of the impostor Thor. It is Harokin, working in concert with Heimdall, trying to stall the meeting until they can find the real Thor and bring him back to Asgard.

10:45pm (page 14 panel 5) On Earth, Thor catches a break as the Piper recognizes in this wild frog a kindred spirit. Taking his flute, he begins to play and leads the alligators back into the sewers, leaving the frogs in control of Central Park.

Is it me, or does the Piper look a little like a certain writer/artist named Walter Simonson?

10:51pm (page 17 panel 1) The council of frogs soon gather and unanimously elect Thor to be their king after his successful guidance helped them defeat the rats.

Unfortunately for them, Thor is destined to lead a different species.

10:56pm (page 18 panel 3) Thor soon finds his way back to his two faithful goats, Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder, who have stood watch over might Mjolnir during his absence.

10:59pm (page 19 panel 7) Urged on by Toothgnasher, he hops over to his hammer, determined to lift it and reclaim his birthright.

At just the same time, two of the wayward rats return seeking revenge on the frog who bested them.

11:01pm (page 21 panel 2) And here's the money shot we were all waiting for...

The Mighty Throg in all his resplendent glory!

11:03pm (page 22 panel 2) Did I mention that Simonson was a mad genius? Who else could get away with a shot of a frog dressed in Thor's armor while driving a chariot pulled by two flying goats?

Glorious stuff.


The big thing we learned from this issue is that I was fool for letting this run stay unread for so long. I've always loved Walter Simonson's work, and this issue was the work of a man at the top of his game.

His Thor, while trapped in the body of a frog, was both majestic and heroic while his Loki was conniving and deceitful. What more could you want in a Thor comic?

It took twenty-some pages to get the return of Thor, so to speak, and the visual payoff was worth the whole price of admission. I wonder how easy of a sell it was for him to convince the editors to let him turn Thor into a frog, much less do it in a straight-faced manner that is remembered fondly by the readers, not jokingly.

Like I said, the man's a mad genius as he was also the same creator that replaced the members of the Fantastic Four with the likes of Wolverine, Spider-Man, Hulk, and Ghost Rider...and it worked just as well.

Unfortunately, this is the last issue of his Thor run that I have. To say that reading this issue has increased my anticipation of the upcoming Walter Simonson Thor Omnibus is a bit of an understatement.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Marvel Comics

Monday, February 14, 2011

The trials and tribulations of a shared universe

I've been thinking alot lately about shared super-hero universes. I know, I know...pretty heady stuff.

For the most part I'm all for them, but to some continuity is one of those "c" words that shall not be named. That's a little harsh, as in my opinion a little continuity is good for the soul. And here I stress the word "little". I'm not talking about basing your universe around some small bit of minutia that happened in the mid-80's, but rather letting your characters live and breath with actions and repercussions that are felt from title to title.

Granted, it doesn't always work flawlessly or with no hiccups, but hope springs eternal and I guess I'm the eternal optimist. I haven't always felt this way, but the economics of the current marketplace have gently pushed me in this direction. As more and more Marvel books migrated to four dollars, I found it easier and easier to give them up and put that money towards other books. Naturally, some of that money flowed to DC and the more DC books I got involved with, the easier it was to try another one...and another one...

The shared universe is a double-edged sword easy as it is to get sucked in, it's almost easier to get pushed out too. It looks like the landscape that's coming up this summer is going to do nothing more than further entrench my habits.

Fear Itself and Flashpoint

Both of these company wide crossovers are promising big things and repercussions that spread across their entire line. Being the continuity connoisseur that I am, they pretty much have my name and number.

Flashpoint I'm very much looking forward to reading through week by week, mini-series by mini-series, and issue by issue. That fact that it's an alternate universe-ish type, time traveling epic means that as far as I know they're writing this story just for me. The fact that all the books are going to be three bucks means that I can afford to digest as much as the quality of the storytelling will allow. If it keeps on entertaining, I'll keep on buying.

Fear Itself I'm very much looking forward to keeping up with the spoilers on-line, while leaving the books on the shelves. I'm not the biggest fan of Matt Fraction's super-hero work, but the idea behind this series sounds like it might be more to his style. His stellar non-Marvel stuff still reads pretty good and gives him a lot of rope, but I just can't jump in with Marvel's price point. It's a shame, as this means that it's another Stuart Immonen series that I'm not reading.

So what's the point of this rambling, stream-of-consciousness diatribe?

I guess I just miss the good old days when you could afford to keep up with more than one super-hero universe.

God help me (and my wallet and my spare time) if the digital platform ever adopts a two-dollar price point. That is also a discussion for another day, so let's get to picking the next random book to review. Take it away, Randomizer...

...and that book is Thor #365 from March 1986, published by Marvel Comics!

Now we're talking! The last time the Randomizer picked a Thor issue is was smack dab in a mediocre run with a Ghost Rider guest appearance. We suffered through and gave it the old college try, but it wasn't a very memorable issue.

This time around we're treated to an issue from one of Thor's truly stellar runs, as this issue comes from smack dab in the middle of Walter Simonson's forty issue run. See you in a day or two for the review.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A very special Action Comics story

The Day Superboy Became Superman!
  • Story: Geoff Brown
  • Pencils: Ross Andru
  • Inks: Mike Esposito
Here's the story from the second half of Action Comics #393, so if you missed the riveting here. You're here now though, so strap yourself in for one of the most over-the-top, overly dramatic Superman yarns around.

This tale definitely doesn't lose any time getting to the good stuff, as Superboy turns his back on the downtrodden in the slums of Metropolis as he has better stuff to do.

Wow, one semester at Metropolis University and he has already misplaced those mild-mannered, mid-western values that Ma and Pa Kent instilled upon him.

"Bleeding heart"?!

That's right, and it doesn't take Superboy long to show just how hardcore his new found beliefs really are.

Do you have neighborhood punks sneaking into your exclusive pool?

No problem...Superboy will just freeze them out.

Do you have neighborhood punks sneaking into your swank university cafeteria and eating all of your sandwiches and donuts?

No problem...Superboy will just take the food back from the hooligans starving younger siblings.

Do you have neighborhood punks stealing books from your library?

No problem...Superboy will take the books back, leaving the kids from the slums who are hungry for any sort of knowledge with nothing but discarded cigarette packs and empty liquor bottles to read.

Lucky for us, there's one person willing to stand up to the social injustice and Superboy himself.

Marla was a fellow student with Clark at the university, but she left after she witnessed how the fortunate treated the downtrodden. So worked up was she, that she started an impromptu academy in the slums to teach the kids what society refused to do.

Unfortunately for her, after Superboy returned all of the purloined books to their proper location, her borrowed storefront turned makeshift academy was slated for demolition. Nothing stands in the way of progress as the bulldozers are soon hard at work tearing down her school. In fact, they were in such a hurry that they neglected to make sure the building was empty first.

Uh oh...and I'm sure you can probably guess who was inside the collapsing building.

To help drive the point home just how unjust the world is toward the less fortunate, her injuries are fatal and no superpowers in the world can help her now. If only there was someone who could rise up and help these kids learn their true potential.

Yea Superman! He's going to rebuild the school and the area around the slum!

...or he's going to show them just how quickly he could rebuild it, if he wanted to. "Luckily" for them, Superboy would rather teach them a lesson in civic duty so that they can vote and petition their politicians for the changes they need.

Who's the deluded one now Superboy?

I guess it was me, as the new found political voice of the huddled masses was successful in getting the changes they needed, and in mere months the school is finished and the slums rebuilt.


It's a sad state of affairs when I can read a comic book and believe a man can fly, but when it comes to politicians listening to (let alone acting in the best interest of) their poor constituents...that's just too much.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) DC Comics

Related links for your surfing pleasure...
  • If you enjoyed this look at Superman's past, be sure to check out Superman 101 for more of the same

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Superman 101 begins

We interrupt this regularly scheduled comic book review to bring you this piece of breaking news.

Beginning today, February 1st, the Random Longbox blogging empire expands twofold with the addition of a new blog helmed by yours truly. The regular readers of this blog are I'm sure familiar with the fact that I'm a bit of a Superman fan. They may have also noticed that blogging's been a little on the light side this past month.

Those two statements may not seem related on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you'll see that the reason my posting has been a little slower is that I've been devoting some of my time to getting my new blog up and that focuses solely on the exploits of Superman!

Without further ado, let me present to you Superman 101.

It's a daily stream-of-consciousness trip through the 70+ years of Superman comic books and other oddities. The only rule is that Supes has to be somewhere in the image. Beyond that, anything is fair game.

So what are you waiting around here for, go check it out and spread some Kryptonian love.

(The web design is definitely still in a beta testing mode, so be nice. Then again, so it this one and it's going on two years old.)