Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Matt Signal Presents The X-Men Present Thanksgiving: Uncanny X-Men #308, Nov. 1993




Thanksgiving is a hard holiday to shoehorn into a superhero story. It’s mostly cooking, eating and burping, which makes it better suited for sitcoms.

Unless, that is, you’ve just come off back-to-back crossovers and you need a breather issue. Which is why Uncanny X-Men #308 is a lesson in perfect timing.


The issue follows an especially rough few months for the X-Men. Illyana Rasputin dies of the Legacy Virus in #303. Magneto crashes her funeral in #304 and invites all comers to live with him and the Acolytes on his new space base, Avalon. Colossus, who’d also recently lost his brother, takes him up on the offer. Then, in X-Men (Vol. 2) #25, the X-Men storm Avalon, and Magneto rips the adamantium out of Wolverine’s skeleton. Wolverine then runs off to lick his wounds in issue 75 of his own book. Finally, the X-Men and the Avengers team up when Magneto’s new lieutenant, Exodus, goes rogue and turns the capitol of Genosha into CBS’ Under the Dome. Also somewhere in there the Phalanx made their first appearance, but meh.

Thanksgiving gave the X-Men the chance to finally get back to what they do best: hang out around the mansion, play sports and have sweet character moments.

Seriously, if you want action, don’t read this issue. The X-Men rake leaves, build a scarecrow, explain football to Bishop and his glorious mullet and eat dinner at the table from The Last Supper. There’s only one Claremont-style interlude foreshadowing the next big villain storyline, and it’s about the Phalanx.

Which isn’t to say that nothing happened. In fact, a very important something happened, as #308 is the issue in which Jean Grey orders Scott Summers to “Marry me.” And because Cyclops is so good at following orders, they were married literally two months later, in X-Men (Vol. 2) #30.



Other things to note:

My original copy has a non-house ad showing Scott and Jean at the altar a full 10 pages before the proposal. Considering the Internet was in its infancy and not everybody had a subscription to Wizard or Previews, that’s one hell of a spoiler.

There are two empty word balloons in the issue, at least in my copy, on opposing pages. There’s one on Page 20, as Xavier is about to be tackled as a result of a wayward football (note: This was not one of those periods when Xavier had the use of his legs). And on Page 21, after Jean says “Marry me,” Scott asks “What did you say,” and she says a white roundish void.

The dinner table includes some notable guests, including Kitty Pryde’s old dance teacher, Stevie Hunter; Trish Tilby, Beast’s news anchor girlfriend from the X-Factor days; and Iceman’s parents, which is shocking because Bobby’s dad is an unabashed mutant-hater, which is a major plot point later in Scott Lobdell’s run.

Check out the Psylocke twins sitting across from each other at the table. Betsy as we’ve known her since 1989 is smiling, while Revanche, who believes herself to be and looks far more like the original Betsy, is not, clearly miffed that the alleged imposter (actually the real deal) has gotten to spend all this time fighting and eating giant turkeys alongside friends and family. Revanche contracts the Legacy Virus but ultimately dies by the sword of Japanese crime lord Matsu’o Tsurayaba. The important thing is she’s dead.

Jubilee appears to have formed a bond with Beast in this issue, jumping into leaf piles together and generally goofing off. It was only a couple months before that Jubes had to say goodbye to her friend and original X-mentor, Wolverine, who had set off on a journey that would see him revisit his roster of villains sans adamantium.

There’s something comforting about John Romita Jr.’s art, all those squared shoulders and jawlines and hatchmarks. Maybe it’s the fact that he was one of the first artists whose work I remember encountering when I got into comics, maybe it’s the fact that he’s the scion of one of the original Marvel pencilers, maybe it’s the fact that he’d been drawing mutants since the ’80s, but whenever I see his art, be it in X-Men or Eternals or Captain America or now Superman, it feels like a warm, fuzzy blanket.

For some of the X-Men’s other great post-event cool-downs, check out:


Uncanny X-Men #138 (1980): Claremont did it first. After the nearly half-a-decade-long Phoenix arc, the X-Men mourn Jean Grey, a grieving Cyclops leaves the team (to find new women to love on), Angel decides to stick around for a while (before leaving for more questionable teams) and a young, wide-eyed Kitty Pryde arrives at the X-mansion to begin her training.


Uncanny X-Men #273 (1990): A too-many-mutants issue. After the X-tinction Agenda, the X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants all find themselves fighting for the bathroom in the basement of the destroyed X-Mansion. The mutants mingle and argue philosophies with Cable, the guy who showed up out of nowhere and turned the New Mutants into his own personal paramilitary unit. At the end, Lila Cheney shows up and teleports whatever random X-Men she can find off to space to save Professor X.


X-Factor #70 (1991): The beginning of a beautiful friendship between Peter David and Marvel’s second-tier mutants. After the Muir Island Saga, which brought together the X-Men, X-Factor and a bunch of strays, Professor X ponders what to do with them all. (Beast’s response: “Eh, bag ’em.”) Notable for a scene in which Wolverine eats a cigar stub.


Uncanny X-Men #297 (1992): The best of Scott Lobdell’s breather issues. In the wake of the X-Cutioner’s Song, Professor X, who ever-so-briefly can walk again after being nearly assassinated by Stryfe, goes roller-blading with Jubilee. When Xavier’s legs finally give out, the reader’s heart breaks as much as Jubilee’s in that moment. Also: Beast and Archangel rebuild their old teenage haunt.

Uncanny X-Men #318 (1994): The X-Men ship Jubilee off to the Massachusetts Academy with a bunch of other mutants they picked up during the Phalanx Covenant so Lobdell could launch Generation X, aka the Newer Mutants. And Beast drives around new recruit Skin, who proves to be as much of a sad sack on the inside as he is on the outside.


Excalibur #91 (1995): The U.K. X-team heads to the mainland for a pub night following Warren Ellis’ Dream Nails storyline, in which Kitty Pryde and Pete Wisdom uncover government cover-ups and an alien race that killed its own god. Pete and Kitty admit they’re schtupping to the rest of the team, Brian Braddock and Nightcrawler politely but firmly threaten Wisdom, and then Colossus shows up after months in space and beats the crap out of him the next issue.


Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 11/19


Batman '66: The Lost Episode #1
Story: Harlan Ellison
Adaptation: Len Wein
Art: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

I've been enjoying a lot of the Batman '66 comics, both the regular series and the Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet mini-series, but this particular one-shot was something I've been looking forward to a great deal since it was announced. It has a lot going for it. First, it's an actual unaired concept from the original series that was greenlit but never aired. Secondly, that concept was by Harlan Ellison, one of the greatest living legends of science fiction writing. Thirdly, it features Two-Face, my second favorite Batman villain (and yes, I realize the irony in that), who never actually made it onto the show. It's a really solid story, fitting perfectly with the tone of the classic show. Two-Face's obsession with the number two and his use of the two-headed coin are stressed, which makes him fit in with the gimmick heavy villains of the classic show (you'd think if Gotham would stop having twins princesses with twin jewel encrusted crowns arrive at 2 a.m. at Dock #2, they'd save themselves a lot of trouble). His origin is retold, and it is pretty much right out of the comic, so there is more pathos than with most of the other villains, with the possible exception of King Tut, who had that whole mild-mannered professor alter ego. And Batman winds up defeating Two-Face using his brain, not his fists, which is a touch I like. I also wonder if the treatment for this episode is ever referenced as inspiration for two other memorable Two-Face stories: Two-Face has his base on a sailing ship here, and the legendary Modern Age return of Two-Face by O'Neil and Adams features a set piece on an old ship, and Two-Face's coin landing on edge is a major plot point in the Batman: The Animated Series episode, "Second Chance." The issue is also chock full of backmatter. There's a full copy of the story with no colors or words, so you can enjoy the art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez; this guy is a legend for a reason, and the art in this issue shows he hasn't slowed down in the least. There are also some preliminary sketches by Garcia-Lopez, showing the evolution of Two-Face's look. And finally, there's the original treatment, reproduced directly from Ellison's notes. If you're a fan of the classic Batman TV show, even if you haven't tried any of the other recent tie-in comics, this is an issue well worth checking out.



Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10 #9
Story: Christos Gage
Art: Rebekah Isaacs

I hate Andrew Wells. If I could wish one character created by Joss Whedon out into the cornfield, it would be Andrew, the smarmy little git who started out as a villain in season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and was "redeemed" and helped out the good guys by the end of season seven. He's an over the top geek caricature who I never felt earned his repentance. Faith, who clearly came from a bad background and who was manipulated by a centuries old evil who played on her issues, she had to go to jail for killing someone. Andrew, who became a super villain (his words) because his friends thought it would be cool and because he was bullied in high school (hands up if anyone who reads this wouldn't fall under the same criteria), and stabbed his one friend because there was a promise of power in it, he gets to shed a couple tears and all is forgiven? I hate the little weasel. So major kudos to Christos Gage for doing something no one else ever has, not even the mighty Joss himself: he got me to care about Andrew. This issue, where Willow faces down an Andrew dead set on resurrecting Tara, Willow's girlfriend killed by Andrew's friend Warren, gives us a view into what makes Andrew tick. And he's confronted with what he does wrong, not just what he did in the TV show, but in the comics too; the fact that Andrew acts for whatever Andrew thinks is best, without really considering others, and that Andrew comes to this realization, finally shows some growth in the character. I like that Gage let Willow be the one who talks him down, because if anyone would know about making a big mistake with magic, it would be Willow. Meanwhile, Buffy and Spike are fighting a tentacle faced soul eating demon, and while there's a lot of coll action here, what we get in the way of character is more important, as we see exactly what Spike thinks of himself and his past, and how he has come to value his soul in a way I'm not sure Angel ever has. Now, the issue's end makes me a little leery of saying exactly how much Andrew has learned from this experience, but still, for a brief glimmering second, I actually didn't want to strangle Andrew. And that took a lot of work, so congratulations.



Friday, November 21, 2014

Recommended Reading for 11/21: The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow



I think it's pretty safe to say that most people who grew up in the 70s and 80s have a love of The Muppets and many of the other creations of visionary Jim Henson. And no creator in comics has worked with the worlds of Henson more than Roger Langridge, whose Muppet Show Comic Book was one of my first recommended readings. So, if there was one creator who would adapt a lost Henson Thanksgiving special, it would have to be Langridge, and so it was that Archaia Entertainment, publishers of various other Henson adaptations, and their parent company, BOOM Studios!, who initially published Langridge's Muppets comics and his series, Snarked!, got Langridge to adapt The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow.

Originally written by Henson and his collaborator Jerry Juhl in 1968, Musical Monsters has a feeling similar to the Henson holiday specials of the 80s such as Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas; you won't see Kermit or the other familiar Muppets, but you'll absolutely know it's a Henson story. The themes that it explores are friendship and family, both themes that are central to Muppet stories.

The plot of Musical Monsters has that simple charm of all the best Henson stories. Timmy Henderson lives with his big sister, Ann, and his aunt, Clytemnestra, on land outside of the town of Turkey Hollow, where the turkeys vastly outnumber the people. They're a little different, a little quirky, and their neighbor, Mr. Sump, wants their land. Timmy is learning to play the guitar, and when he goes out to practice in the woods, he finds the Musical Monsters, creatures from space, who make harmony with his playing and helps him find his rhythm. He befriends the Monsters, they play music and have fun, and soon they they befriend Timmy's whole family. But Mr. Sump finds out about the Monsters, and soon Timmy must help save his new friends.

The characters in this story are simple characters that can be summed up easily. Timmy is a good kid, Ann is his sweet big sister, Aunt Cly is the quirky hippy lady, Mr. Sump is a big jerk, and the local sheriff, Grover Cowley, is a nice guy with a crush of Cly. And for a story like this, that works perfectly. It's a holiday story about Musical Monsters, and so a simple plot with simple characters works perfectly. They all have dimension and motivation, Henson and Juhl were too good as writers to make their characters two dimensional, but the story doesn't require haunted backstories and long monologues. It's just a holiday story, one about making friends no matter their shape or size.

The Monsters themselves don't speak, but each interact through making a specific sound. Anyone familiar with The Muppet Show can picture this kind of Muppet creation, as they would often appear as one off skit creatures. It's here that the graphic novel format really helps the Musical Monsters. Muppets can be wonderfully expressive, but as simple puppets, they only have so much range of facial and physical expression. Langridge is able to give the Monsters so much personality, even though they don't speak, just by look and body language. They're all well designed, with Langridge expanding on the initial designs by Henson to make them full creatures, since most Muppets don't show all their appendages after all. There are test images of the original Muppets, along with Henson's daughters, and you can absolutely see that, while Langridge expanded the Monsters, he stayed very true to Henson's original intentions.


Now, one of the problems with telling a story that has so much music in it, as most Muppet stories do, in this kind of format is that, well, you can't hear the music. In his afterword, Langridge himself admits that music and comics go together like, "chalk and peanut butter," but he knew he needed to do something, since music is central to the plot of the story. Through the wonders of the creativity of Langridge and colorist Ian Herring, music is symbolized through color. Notes of different colors dot the pages as Ann sings her song, and as the Musical Monsters harmonize with Timmy whole pages are covered in whirls of gorgeous hews, all bright, warm colors that seem to send joy from the page. I found myself making little tunes to each of the sings and pitches and tones to the Monsters sounds.

Oh, one very cool thing to look out for when you check out the book: at one point in the story, the Musical Monsters sneak into Timmy's bedroom and he wakes up to see them standing at the foot of the bed. The internal back cover and the last page are a two page spread that show the shot from the other angle, and it shows the Muppeteers performing the parts, including Henson, and Juhl holding some script pages. It's one of those charming pages and ideas that makes Langridge such a brilliant creator and something that brought a big smile to my face.

So, that's The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow. I was talking to a customer this week at Dewey's, and they asked if this would be good to read to a kid, and that got me to think this would be a perfect book to share with your kids. I can see making up tunes, making funny sounds, and doing every silly thing to make a kid smile throughout the story. And those smiles are the greatest tribute that a man like Jim Henson could have asked for.

Even though there will be at least a couple posts next week, I just wanted to thank everyone reading this for taking the time to read my little blog. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend.

The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow is available at better comic shops, as well as bookstores.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Animated Discussions: X-Men '92



After announcing a fresh slate of Secret Wars at New York Comic Con last month, Marvel issued 16 teasers promising to revisit alternate-reality events such as the "Age of Apocalypse" and" Age of Ultron Vs. Plants Vs. Zombies Vs. Sever." A video posted by Marvel revealed the "Summer 2015" teasers to be part of the Secret Wars' Battleworld, but none of those individual puzzle pieces excited nerds in their 30s as much as the one titled "X-Men ’92."  

For you young'uns out there, first of all, get off my lawn, and second, now that you're back on the sidewalk, the X-Men's first animated series ran from 1992 to 1997 on Saturday mornings on Fox, back when Saturday mornings meant something. Perhaps you've read Chris Sims' hysterical episode recaps over at Comics Alliance.



The '90s series was actually Marvel's second attempt at an X-Men cartoon, after 1989's one-off "Pryde of the X-Men," which inspired a multiplayer arcade game with awful English dubbing ("X-Men, welcome to die!"). It was later followed by X-Men: Evolution, which put the team in high school, and Wolverine & the X-Men, which finds Logan reassembling the team after some stuff goes down. The latter ’toon is perhaps notable for how much it portrays Cyclops as a melancholy prick.

The ’90s X-Men cartoon also paved the way for a wave of other Marvel animated works, including an equally enjoyable Spider-Man cartoon and a Silver Surfer show on Fox, syndicated Fantastic Four and Iron Man cartoons, and a Hulk show on UPN.

Here's some of the other ways the ’90s X-Men cartoon broke ground:

First streamlined X-team in years: The animated X-squad was fixed for five years - Xavier, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Gambit and Jubilee. Other classic X-Men - Iceman, Archangel, Colossus, etc. - would guest star on occasion. In the comics at the time, the X-Men had become so unwieldy they were broken up into two teams and two books, though the walls between them eroded over time. And even before then, Chris Claremont's later Uncanny X-Men stories weren't about a mutant team but about whichever characters he felt like writing at the time, bouncing from Wolverine and Jubilee in one issue to Banshee and Forge in the next. Honestly, the cartoon presented the most digestible, recognizable X-team since before the Mutant Massacre. The first X-Men movie, in 2000, took its cues from the cartoon, sticking to a core team of Xavier, Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, Storm and Rogue (in the Kitty/Jubilee role).


Have you heard of this Apocalypse fellow?: Though he was created in 1986, prior to 1992, Apocalypse had never fought the X-Men. He was the main villain in X-Factor, originally a book about the five founding X-Men reuniting after spending the ’70s and early ’80s dead, turning blue and furry, or in crappy teams like the Champions. His first appearance in X-Men proper was during the X-Cutioner's Song crossover in late ’92. Not soon after, he made his cartoon debut, turning Warren Worthington III into Archangel all over again. Apocalypse menaced the animated X-Men multiple times over the course of the show, culminating in a four-parter in which he sought to kidnap the world's psis.



A (mostly) faithful adaptation of the Phoenix Saga: The show’s most ambitious undertaking had to be the third season’s retelling of Claremont and Dave Cockrum/John Byrne’s Phoenix Saga, the story that put all three creators on the map. The show makes every effort to hit all the notes of the original arc in a mere seven episodes (three for regular Phoenix, four for Dark Roast), introducing characters from the Shi’ar to Dazzler to the Hellfire Club along the way. There’s just one catch: It seems no one was allowed to actually die on the show, so Jean’s life is saved at the end by way of the other X-Men sharing their life force with her, or something.



The Jubilee you’re looking for: If you know Jubilation Lee (whose parents probably read the same book of baby names as those of my cousin, Schadenfreude Schmidt) primarily as the X-Men’s girl wonder, it’s because of the cartoon. In the comics, the Claremont-created character started as a mall rat who followed the X-Men to their Australian base, then hid in the vents for a while. She didn’t make her presence known until Wolverine was left to die by the Reavers, at which point she became his second Robin, following Wolvie on his global quest to track down the rest of the X-Men after most of them went through the Siege Perilous. Once the team was reunited in 1991, Jubes was backburnered, then shipped off to another school/team/book in 1994. Over the ensuing years, her book was canceled, she was crucified on the lawn of the X-mansion, de-powered, then turned into a vampire. She was last seen in Brian Wood’s X-Men, taking care of a baby she found. But in the cartoon, she never stops being a gum-chomping mall rat who loves the smell of commerce in the morning.

It predicted Duane Swierczynski’s Cable run: Swierczynski’s 2008 Cable series saw Nathan Christopher Dayspring Askani’Son Summers-Pryor playing Roadrunner-and-Coyote with fellow X-time traveler Lucas Fewer Names Bishop over the fate of Hope Summers, who would doom one of their futures while saving another. The X-Men cartoon used a similar plot waaaaay back in December 1993, bringing both men to the present to stop a plague from killing mutants (for Bishop) and Cable’s son from not being born (for Cable). This two-parter also had Apocalypse and Graydon Creed, two villains whose powers appeared to be making pretentious speeches at the tops of their lungs, which 13-year-old me thought was amazeballs.




More ’90s per capita than any other X-cartoon: You know how ’90s the X-Men cartoon was? It had the Nasty Boys. Not the Marauders, Mr. Sinister’s other, decidedly more awesome, murderous band of henchmen. The Nasty Boys. It also used Graydon Creed - Sabertooth and Mystique’s son and the decade’s top mutant-hater - as a major villain starting in Season 2. See also Fabian Cortez, Omega Red, Gambit’s ex-wife, and the Phalanx, arguably the Marvel Universe’s least-favorite alien race. These may all sound like points against it, but to X-fans of a Certain Age, it’s nostalgic heaven.

Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 11/12


Batman #36
Story: Scott Snyder/ James Tynion IV
Art: Greg Capullo/ Graham Nolan

At this point, a run of three plus years is a huge run in comics. And Scott Snyder's run on Batman has now continued for over three years, and continues to be a book I love to read every month. And when an issue features The Joker, who is my favorite villain in all of comics, beginning to roll out a mad plan against Batman, my favorite hero in all of comics, it is an issue that is something to look at closely. Snyder's Joker is the Joker of the 21st century, not the criminal mastermind of his early career, but the madman/ anarchist who is completely unpredictable. More than unpredictable, this Joker doesn't do what he does for money. Even more than Grant Morrison's Joker, Snyder's Joker is defined by his relationship to Batman. And while in Snyder's last Joker story, "Death of the Family," Joker went after Batman's nearest and dearest, this time he starts out going after the Justice League. Last issue saw Batman fight most of the League, but the beginning of this issue is Batman versus a Joker Venom controlled Superman. We've seen Batman and Superman fight plenty of times; Dark Knight Returns, "Hush," Superman: The Animated Series, and the oft-forgotten but pretty cool Superman Annual that tied into "Armageddon 2001" to name a few. Snyder's fight is a perfectly good one, with lots of cool gadgets that help Batman prevail, but it's nothing new. It is a showcase for some amazing fight choreography and art from Greg Capullo, though, so that is more than worth the price of admission. It's after the fight that the issue takes off for me. First, seeing Bruce interact with Alfred, an Alfred still weakened from the events of Batman: Eternal and who was abused by Joker severely last time he was in Gotham. Alfred and Bruce's relationship has been the touchstone of mush of what Snyder has done in the book, and to see Alfred flat out tell Bruce to go out there and take out the Joker shows how high the stakes are. The appearance by Julia, Alfred's daughter, continues to deepen her character, a character who has grown on me as Eternal has played out. But it's the scene in the wreckage of Arkham Asylum, destroyed recently, that makes the issue hit its high notes. This will be spoilery, but if you have been to any of the comics news sites in the last week, it's probably been spoiled. The reveal of the Joker's alter ego, the long game Snyder has been playing for over a year, is wonderful. I didn't see it coming, at all, but it makes me want to reread Batman Annual #2 and see exactly what Eric Border was saying and doing. Snyder's Joker is creepy (again aided ably by Capullo, whose Joker with a face might be even creepier than his Joker without one), obsessive, and smart, all things that make a great Joker, and as we see the next stage of his plan begin, as we see that Joker's twisted love has turned to hate, it's clear that Batman has an uphill battle ahead of him. And it makes for a great story when Batman is at a disadvantage, because it highlights many of his best traits, mostly his brain that allows him to work his way out of these problems, something I'm looking forward to seeing. The back-up continues with a group of Arkham inmates dragging Dr. Mahreen Zaheer around Gotham, telling them stories of the Joker, who has clearly manipulated them all. With the revelation of Eric Border's true identity, there's a new layer as to why the inmates chose to stalk Zaheer, and it makes me wonder more and more what Joker's endgame is in having them stalk the friend Border made in Arkham. The artistic hits also keep coming, with Graham Nolan, who penciled so many of the my favorite 90s Batman stories, doing the art on this back up. Two issues in, and "Endgame" might prove to be the highlight of Snyder's stellar run. I'm looking forward to see what paths the Joker is leading Batman down.



Django/Zorro #1
Story: Quentin Tarantino & Matt Wagner
Art: Esteve Polls

There are many things in pop culture I love. Some of them include Westerns, Quentin Tarantino, and the comics of Matt Wagner (more on that later). So Django Unchained was a movie I looked forward to and loved, and the announcement that Tarantino would be working with Matt Wagner on an official sequel in comics got me excited. My familiarity with Zorro isn't as much as it should be with him being an inspiration for Batman, but I've seen the classic Mark of Zorro and some modern TV and movie versions, so I have a basic grounding. The good news is, if you know nothing about Zorro or Django, you won't feel in the least bit lost here. The story starts with an elderly Don Diego (the secret identity of Zorro) travelling by carriage and picking up Django, whose horse had died. This turns out to be Django using Don Diego as bait for a bounty, and the two wind up discussing justice and their lives, and Django feels a kinship with Diego, who reminds him of his mentor from the film, Dr. King Schultz. When they arrive in town, Don Diego proves that even in his twilight years he is still tough by taking out a group of ruffians. And as the issue ends we find out the foe the two heroes will face... The Archduke of Arizona? Ok, well Emperor Norton was in San Francisco, so Arizona can have an archduke. This is a really strong first issue, with good introductions to both of our protagonists, some solid action, and dialogue that could have come right out of a Tarantino movie; Wagner clearly gets the rhythms that fans expect out of Tarantino. The violence is probably not as graphic as you'd get on the big screen, but it's there, and there are no punches pulled. If you enjoyed Django Unchained this come feels firmly placed in the same world, so if you need a Tarantino fix before The Hateful Eight hits big screens, get to your local comic shop and check out Django/Zorro.



Grendel Vs. The Shadow #3
Story & Art: Matt Wagner

Hey, it's Matt Wagner again! The conclusion of the confrontation between Grendel and The Shadow  brings all the elements that Wagner has been building to a head. The character beats of the story deal very much with the series' title characters and the women in their life. Margo Lane, who has been struggling with her relationship with The Shadow and his distance from her, makes the choice to leave him early in the issue, but in the end The Shadow reaches out to her, something that he is not prone to do. It's a good counterpoint to Hunter Rose, who reaches out as well, breaking the vow he made to his lost love, Jocasta, by falling for mobster's daughter Sofia Valenti. In another world, I could completely see Sofia taking up the mantle of Grendel, as she is cold, calculating, and prone to betrayal. Hunter, in the end, views his dalliance with her as nothing more than him giving into nostalgia for the feelings he once had for Jocasta, not admitting he might have loved her, while The Shadow does his best to say those very words to Margo so he does not lose her. It's interesting, when so many female characters exist solely in relation to the male leads of a series, to see a story where we deal with how the male leads are reflected in their female counterparts, not entirely lampshading or inverting the trope, but showing how both Margo and Sofia would, could, and do exist without their men. Wagner, who always draws beautiful, almost balletic, fight sequences, pushes that skill to a new level, in a three way battle between Grendel, The Shadow, and a room full of mobsters. It's brutal and inspired. The series ends with vows. The Shadow wonders if Hunter was indeed a time traveler, but reaffirms his mission, because he still must do his best to make a better world. Hunter reaffirms his status as a man apart, saying he will share his affection only with his ward, Stacy, because she would never betray her. Those of us who know the full story of Hunter Rose know that is far from the truth, and what initially made me sort of chuckle in that same way I did when Obi-Wan Kenobi told Anakin Skywalker, "You'll be the death of me," upon further consideration gave a little chill, because it says that Hunter didn't learn anything from his time in the past, and what might have been the universe giving him a chance to save himself is instead just another adventure to him. With the series over, I'm left to wonder if this is Wagner's final word on Hunter Rose. He has said he has at least a Grendel Prime story in mind, but as with any creator owned project, this might be the last story of the first Grendel. If it is, it's a fitting sendoff, with Hunter having gone toe-to-toe with the character who inspired so many masked adventurers.



She-Hulk #10
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido

The penultimate arc of She-Hulk wraps with a courtroom battle between She-Hulk and Daredevil in the wrongful death suit against Steve Rogers, the original Captain America. There's a lot to love about this issue. The characterization of Steve Rogers as someone who wants  be vindicated legally because the idea of Captain America is important to him is a highlight. The absolute joy of Hellcat for using her stealth suit is a great bit. Javier Pulido's usually stunning art is at its best, with the flashbacks to the 40s having a gorgeous feel to them. But the highlight for me was that the story, which started out as a conflict in the courtroom, ended as that. Sure, we got a supervillain manipulating things from the background (and if you know your Cap villains, it makes perfect sense when the reveal happens). but the true climax of the story are two pages that are nothing but a white background with full figures of each of the lawyers giving their closing statement. Charles Soule, a lawyer himself, writes eloquently for both sides. Even as a reader knowing that Cap is innocent, the statement given by Daredevil against him gave me pause. And the argument from She-Hulk was equally well thought out. With this story complete, we have two issues of the series left to wrap up the mystery of The Blue File, and the end of the issue seems to indicate a brawl with She-Hulks arch-enemy is coming, which is going to be a change from the past few issues that were much more intellectual. But I wouldn't be surprised if Soule found some way to defy expectations on that front too. He's made She-Hulk into my favorite Marvel monthly, after all, and that wasn't something I saw coming.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Special Review: Dan on All-New Captain America #1


All-New Captain America #1
Story: Rick Remender
Pencils: Stuart Immonen
Inks: Wade von Grawbadger
Colors: Marte Garcia & Eduardo Navarro


We are officially neck-deep in the Avengers NOW! era, with Wednesday seeing the releases of All-New Captain America #1, Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #1, Superior Iron Man #1 and Thor #2. Of the four, this was the one I was most excited about; no offense to Lady Thor and Jerkface Iron Man.

As a quick referesher, Sam Wilson, the former Falcon, is now Captain America, after Steve Rogers had the Super Soldier Serum sucked out of him. His partner is the new Nomad, aka Ian Rogers, Steve Rogers’ adopted son from Dimension Z.

The series opens with Wilson on a mission to foil a Hydra doomsday plot, standard Cap fare, obviously. But the cookie-cutter mission is exactly what allows us to see the characters interact in the new order. Sam takes point, Ian works undercover and Steve gives orders from a boat in the middle of a lake, where he is supposed to be fishing and enjoying retirement.

If you loved the banter between Steve and Sam in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, you’ll be pleased. The commlink discussion between the two about “frills” alone is worth the price of admission. Sam and Ian’s relationship, meanwhile, is decidedly more headbutt-y. The two snipe over when it’s time to kill, who’s better with the shield, etc., which is to be expected of new partners raised in two different dimensions, one of whom just happened to sleep with the other’s sister.

Though All-New Cap is decidedly less bleak than Uncanny X-Force or Uncanny Avengers, it wouldn’t be a Rick Remender book unless every major villain were trying to destroy our hero at the same time. Keep that in mind as you reach the last page.

Before that, however, there is Batroc. Couple issues here: America’s favorite leaping Frenchman appears to have traded in his classic purple-and-yellow duds for garb that makes him look like Brown Arrow. Also, his role in Hydra’s doomsday scheme seems to run counter to the classic Roger Stern/John Byrne run, when he turned on Mr. Hyde upon realizing Hyde saw fit to kill thousands of New Yorkers. Also also, he calls Sam a diabetic burger-eater, which I’m pretty sure is racist.

The FalCap costume is a bit of a mishmash, admittedly, combining elements of the classic Cap costume (the red-and-white torso stripes), the classic Falcon costume (the wings and gloves), the Commander Rogers costume (the white star on the chest), the darker blues that generally connote substitute Caps such as Bucky or U.S. Agent, and goggles that add more red to the costume but also give Sam bug eyes. Also, if someone can tell me why the new Nomad costume looks like the Constrictor’s duds, I’ll give you a no-prize.

Nevertheless, Stuart Immomen’s art combines with inks by Wade von Grawbadger (best name ever!) and colors by Marte Gracia and Eduardo Navarro to give the book just the right amount of lightness to balance Remender’s ever-gathering darkness, for a series I intend to keep reading.


P.S.: Deadpool fans, keep your eyes peeled for a supporting character from Fabian Nicieza’s Cable & Deadpool.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Guide to Recognizing Your Caps



Wednesday marks the debut of All-New Captain America #1, which sees Sam Wilson, formerly The Falcon, wield the shield as the new Cap, with original-recipe Cap Steve Rogers’ son, Ian, tagging along as sidekick Nomad. Rick Remender (Uncanny X-Force, Uncanny Avengers) continues writing what he started in the last volume of Captain America, while Stuart Immomen (Nextwave: Agents of HATE) picks up the art. FalCap also gets top billing in the new Captain America and the Mighty Avengers, also bowing Wednesday and written by Al Ewing with art by Luke Ross.

This isn’t the first time Rogers has stepped aside and let someone else wear his clothes. In fact, he does it every few years, for reasons varying from dissatisfaction with the government to death to, in this most recent case, his age finally catching up with him.

Below is a lineup of all the men who have filled Steve Rogers’ stars and stripes since he first got doused with Super Soldier Serum and Vita-Rays in 1941.



Sam “The Falcon” Wilson (2014-present): The Falcon was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan and first appeared in 1969’s Captain America #117, not that long into the run of Cap’s first Marvel Age solo title (which started at 100, having taken over an anthology series). The character became so important to Cap that the book was renamed Captain America and The Falcon from issues 134 to 222, a period that featured top-shelf Jack Kirby art. Sam’s new costume is a hybrid of the Falcon and Cap duds, keeping the red, white and blue but adding wings and goggles.



James Buchanan “Bucky” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Barnes (2008-11): Cap’s original sidekick was thought dead for years, but it turns out he was just on ice until Ed Brubaker could think of something cool to do with him. Rogers uses the Cosmic Cube to snap Bucky out of his brainwashed state, turning him from Russian assassin to Nick Fury’s errand boy with a word. After Rogers is killed (well, displaced in time) at the end of Civil War, he gets his own Captain America costume, complete with deep-V black leather pants and a gun. Bucky keeps the costume until the whole world realizes, “Wait, this guy was a Russian assassin for 60 years, and also Steve Rogers is alive.” Barnes has since returned to his Winter Soldier duds and recently played a major part in the Original Sin crossover. 



CapWolf (1992): This one was Steve Rogers. I just like reminding people there was a time when Captain America was a werewolf. For a whole seven-issue Mark Gruenwald storyline that included fellow lycanthropic characters Wolverine, Wolfsbane, Feral, Werewolf by Night and John Jameson.



John “USAgent” Walker (1987-88): Speaking of Gruenwald, he created his own replacement Cap, Walker, in 1986. Walker started out as the Super Patriot, a flag-waving opposite number to Rogers, then was put in Cap’s place by the government, then, after Rogers returned to his old job, took up the USAgent persona and ended up on the West Coast Avengers and later Force Works. During his time as Cap, he even had his own Bucky, a character named Lemar Hoskins who took the codename Battlestar and has since faded into obscurity. After Civil War, Walker made the next logical move for a patriotic superhero and went to Canada, which at the time was short on do-gooders due to Brian Michael Bendis killing off Alpha Flight in New Avengers. For more on the Gruenwald/Walker era, read this book report.



Isaiah Bradley (1942-43; created in 2003): In the retcon miniseries Truth by Mark Morales and Kyle Baker, Project: Rebirth is revealed to have essentially turned into the Tuskegee experiments after turning sickly Steve Rogers into studly Chris Evans. Its lone survivor is Bradley, who for his trouble is captured by the Germans, imprisoned by the Americans and left severely brain-damaged and largely forgotten except by other African-American superheroes. Bradley, however, spawned a line of star-spangled fighters: His son went by the name Josiah X, and his grandson, Elijah, became the Young Avengers’ Patriot.




William “The Crazy One” Burnside (1953-1964; created 1972): One of Marvel’s first and best retcons was deciding Captain America was frozen in ice and Bucky killed after one last battle with Baron Zemo in the closing days of World War II. Essentially, the story became that Captain America was at the bottom of the ocean from 1945 to Avengers #4 in 1964. Soooooo who were the Captain America and Bucky running around in Young Men comics in the 1950s? IMPOSTORS! CHARLATANS! Meet William Burnside, a psycho hopped on Super Solider Serum who had himself surgically altered to look like Steve Rogers, and his sidekick, Jack Monroe, the man who went on to be called Nomad. Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema created the character to explain away/further convolute the plotholes created by Stan Lee, who wrote Cap’s discovery in the ice but also wrote his 1950s adventures. Burnside went on to become a white supremacist called the Grand Director and was resurrected for Brubaker’s run, culminating in a fight between the faux ’50s Cap and the faux early 21st century Cap in which Bucky, dressed in his old Bucky costume, shoots Burnside, dressed in an old Steve Rogers costume, off the Hoover Dam.



The other ones (1945-49, written into the costume in 1977): While Burnside was used to explain Cap’s appearance in comics from 1953 to 1964, two other fake Caps – William Naslund, aka Spirit of ’76, and Jeff Mace, aka Patriot – were ascribed to Cap’s appearances from 1945 to 1949. Those men were parachuted into the uniform in What If #4, which, despite being an alternate-reality title, is considered canon. Both are dead, according to Brubaker in 2005’s Captain America #4.


Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.