Friday, February 28, 2014

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good: A Survey of the Ghostbusters in Comics in Honor of Harold Ramis

This past Monday, Hollywood lost one of its great comedic minds. Harold Ramis was an actor and director who appeared in, or was responsible for, many great comedies, including Groundhog Day, Meatballs, and Stripes. But for many like me, his greatest role would be in Ghostbusters, the 1984 classic about a group of scientists and their friends and allies fighting all manner of spook, spectre, and thing that goes bump in the night, where he plays Dr. Egon Spengler, my favorite of the Ghostbusters. It is one of my favorite movies of all time, one of those movies that every time you see it on you have to stop and watch,  and has spawned toys, video games, multiple animated series, and more than a few comics over the years. Today, instead of my standard recommended reading, we're going to look back on the history of The Ghostbusters in comics (apparently, there was a long running Marvel UK series, but the majority hasn't been reprinted here in the States, so I'll not be addressing that here).

Just on the outside chance you have never seen Ghostbusters and are unfamiliar with the characters and concept, the Ghostbusters started out as three professors and paranormal investigators who, after being thrown out of academia, start a business to trap and contain various ghosts. Peter Venkman is the mouth of the Ghostbusters, the public face, always with a smart comment, played by Bill Murray. Egon Spengler, played by Ramis, is a scientist and paranormal researcher, a big brain with not a lot of social graces. Ray Stantz, played by Dan Aykroyd, is also a scientist, responsible with Egon for making the Ghostbusters proton packs, PKE Meters, and various other ghost fighting tech, and is the heart of the team. Winston Zeddemore, played by Ernie Hudson, is the fourth man on the team; he is not a scientist, hired when the business picks up, but smart and full of common sense, something that Egon and Ray are often lacking, and Peter just doesn't care about. Along with Janine Melnitz, their trusty receptionist, and Slimer, a ghost they keep around for testing and who is a sort of mascot, they make up the Ghostbusters.

The Real Ghostbusters (NOW Comics)

The Real Ghostbusters was the animated series based on the film. Many a great voice actor appeared on the show, notably Lorenzo Music,best known as the voice of Garfield, as Peter Venkman, Frank Welker, best known as Megatron from Transformers and Fred from Scooby Doo, Arsenion Hall as Winston, and Maurice LaMarche, best known as The Brain from Pinky and the Brain and numerous characters on Futurama, as Egon. The show was very smart for its time, with some episodes written by the likes of J. Michael Straczynski, J.M. Dematteis, and Michael Reaves, and despite the animation not being as strong as modern cartoons, the stories hold up extremely well, incorporating all manner of world mythologies, as well as the Cthulu Mythos. With a successful cartoon, it was only a matter of time before the license was sold to comics. NOW Comics was a publisher in the late 80s and early 90s that focused mostly on licensed properties. The comic series did a good job of staying in the flavor of the animated series, with the same sort of tongue and cheek sense of humor and intelligent stories. Many of the comic stories were tied together by common antagonists; a personal favorite of mine was Nurtog, a freakin' ghost T-Rex. Let's be fair, aside from The Dresden Files, where else are you gonna find an undead T-Rex? NOW also published a three part mini-series adaptation of the film sequel, Ghostbusters II, done in the style of The Real Ghostbusters, which is a fun little oddity. With the exception of that adaptation and a couple annuals, this series was recently reprinted by IDW Publishing in two omnibus volumes.

Ghostbusters: Legion (88MPH Studios)

After a drought of many years with no real new Ghostbusters content, fledgling comics company 88MPH Studios picked up the license and presented a four issue mini-series called Legion. Set firmly in the continuity of the movies (although resetting the movies in early 2004 instead of the '84), Legion, set six months after the events of the movie, has the Ghostbusters dealing with a new outbreak of paranormal activity that they track back to Michael Draverhaven, a friend of Ray's who studied with Egon, Peter, and he in college, and who was caught in an accident that linked him to the spirit world and to a sort of hive ghost called Legion. It's a pretty intense story, very creepy, and has an emotional core of Ray dealing with what happened to his friend. 88 MPH was supposed to follow this mini-series up with an ongoing, but the company folded before it could. The series was collected in trade paperback, although that is long since out of print.

Ghost Busted (Tokyopop)

Ok, this is the one book discussed here that I haven't read, and simply discovered through research for this piece. It's a manga size/style book published by Tokyopop in 2008. It's an anthology of connected short stories, and it's something I'm going to have to track down for the completist in me, something none of my fellow comic book fans know nothing about, I'm sure...

The Other Side (IDW Publishing)

The same year Tokyopop released their one Ghostbusters related comic, IDW Publishing started releasing comics in what is by far the most successful run of Ghostbusters comics to date. The first mini-series published was The Other Side. The Ghostbusters run afoul of the ghosts of some of America's most famous gangsters, including Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel, who are running a pipeline to get spirits out of the afterlife, and wind up being displaced from their bodies and sent to the afterlife themselves. The Ghostbusters are on the run from beings on the other side who are after them because of them being, well, ghostbusters, but find a little help from some of America's greatest gangbusters; if you're a fan of gangster movies and true crime, you'll get a kick out of seeing so many legendary G-Men and Mafiosi tossed into one ghostly caper.

Displaced Aggression (IDW Publsihing)

Displaced Aggression is a story that, while using the classic Ghostbusters designs, hearkens back to some of the fun and over the top storytelling of The Real Ghostbusters. Written by Scott Lobdell, whose run on Uncanny X-Men you you might have read about here recently, the series splits the Ghostbusters up and sends them on an journey through time, with each one in a different era: Peter is in the Old West, Ray is in medieval times, Egon in the distant future, while Winston is in the present, fighting the good fight against Koza'Rai, the father of Gozer, the Sumerian god the Ghostbusters defeated in the first movie. This story is very much a comic book story, with big action scenes and crazy designs that you couldn't pull off on the budget of most movies.

The Miscellaneous IDW Ghostbusters

Before getting into the discussion of the main IDW ongoing Ghostbusters series, I just wanted to touch on some of the one shots and crossovers IDW has done for Ghostbusters. Aside from Halloween, Valentine's Day, Christmas, and Comic Con specials, the Ghostbusters have taken part in three of IDW's intercompany crossovers, throwing different franchises together. In Infestation, the Ghostbusters must fight an interdimensional zombie outbreak in a story that ties in to IDW's own Covert Vampiric Operations, or CVO, comics franchise. The Real Ghostbusters had to deal with Martian Ghosts in Mars Attacks The Real Ghostbusters. And just last month, the Ghostbusters met The Lone Gunmen of X-Files fame, finding there was something even the Lone Gunmen have a hard time believing, in X-Files: Conspiracy- Ghostbusters. None of these are essential reading (although Infestation does have some threads that play out in the ongoing I'm about to talk about), but part of the great fun  of comics are crossovers between characters you never thought would meet, and these definitely fall under that category, because lets be frank, whoever thought they'd see Frohike of the Lone Gunmen hit on Janine?

Ghostbusters Ongoing (IDW Publishing)

After two successful mini-series and some one shots, IDW decided to give the Ghostbusters their own ongoing. Two volumes in, the series is going incredibly strong. The series has been written by Erik Burnham and drawn, with only a couple of guest pencils, by Dan Schoening, along with other writers and artists doing back-up stories.

The series is set in continuity with the movies, set after the events of Ghostbusters II, with the Ghostbusters comfortably doing their ghostbusting with the unfortunate government oversite of their old nemesis, Walter Peck, now head of the Paranormal Contracts Oversight Commission, or PCOC for short. The use of Peck shows one of the huge strengths of Burnham's writing; he is clearly a huge fan of all versions of the Ghostbusters, and draws in characters and aspects from all of them. Along with the main cast and movie characters like Peck, Kylie Griffin of the spinoff Extreme Ghostbusters series shows up working in Ray's paranormal bookstore, The Rookie and Ilyssa Selwyn from the recent Ghostbusters video game both pop up, and Burnham takes characters from earlier comics, keeping Tiyah Clarke, a love interest introduced for Winston in the "Tainted Love" Valentine's Day one-shot, and deepens their characters. He has also created some new characters, including Ron Alexander, a sleazy scientist who is  Peter Venkman if he didn't have Ray and Egon to keep him on the straight and narrow and who has been forced to work with the Ghostbusters, and Melanie Ortiz, an FBI Agent who serves as the Bureau liaison with the Ghostbusters. Expanding the cast has allowed different aspects of the Ghostbusters to show that you wouldn't see when they're just interacting with each other, like Winston's romantic side with Tiyah or Ray's paternal streak when it comes to Kylie.

With Burnham having been working on the series now for nearly thirty issues, he has been able to really get a great feeling for the characters. Reading the stories, you can hear the dialogue in the voices of the actors who portrayed them on the big screen. The series is funny, having the same sense of humor as the films. It also maintains the stakes; while the comic can be fun and the characters get off plenty of zingers, the ghosts they encounter have an air of menace that could be lost if the writer decided to play the setting more for laughs.

Over the course of the two volumes of the Ghostbusters ongoing (the first one ran sixteen issues, the second is currently on issue thirteen), Burnham has set plenty of challenges before the Ghostbusters. The stories have included adventures that took them on a cross country good will trip to bust ghost in various cities, or dealing with the Ghost-Smashers, a team of second rate Ghostbuster knock offs with tech even more unpredictable than the Ghostbusters own. The first arc of the second series had the Ghostbusters trapped in another dimension; Janine had to fill in along with some of the supporting cast that had been built over the first series, allowing those characters time to shine. Egon had to travel into Janine's mind to save her from ghostly possession by one of her ancestors while the others were on a ghostly pirate ship. And the most recent arc took the team through the holiday season, as bogeyman activity in New York grew. The most recent issue, which was released just this past Wednesday, begins, "Mass Hysteria," an eight part story written to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Ghostbusters franchise, which will not only bring everything that Burnham has been plotting to a head, but reintroduce Dana Barrett and Louis Tully, two important characters from the films, into the comics.

Dan Schoening's style is perfectly suited to this comic. His characters are expressive, a bit quirky, and every page just exudes energy. His designs for the ghosts are genuinely creepy, with many truly terrifying scenes. Schoening is clearly also a fan of all eras of Ghostbusters, evinced by his design for Janine's new boyfriend, who resembles the animated Egon, down to his massive blond pompadour haircut. His art has just the right balance between comedy and horror to work on a property that treads that line so well.

IDW has been collecting the Ghostbusters comics in trade, so they should be easy to track down, with each mini-series in its own trade, as well as all of the holiday themed one shots, along with a new story, collected in a volume called Haunted Holidays; theer is also an omnibus edition collecting all those stories. The ongoings has been collected  in six trades, with a seventh on the way. However, all sixteen issues of the first volume are about to be released in a deluxe hardcover called "The Total Containment Edition."

And that's the comics history of Ghostbusters, one of the greatest pop culture franchises of all time. Harold Ramis was a great director, actor, and writer, whose work has touched legions. This final piece of art is from Ghostbusters artist Dan Schoening's DeviantArt page, and is one of the best tributes I've seen to Ramis. May he live the same day over and over again in the next life, and may it be the best day ever.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A New Kind of Family: Fantastic Four Runs/Issues Not Featuring All Four Members of the Fantastic Four

Today (assuming this is Wednesday) marks the start of a new volume of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, featuring James Robinson on writing duties and Leonard Kirk on art. It also marks about a week since the Internet melted down over a skinny guy being cast to play the Thing. Wait, that wasn’t the scuttlebutt, was it? Was it about the guy from That Awkward Moment playing the smartest man in the Marvel Universe? Ah, it’ll come to me.

Fantastic Four is praised regularly for the unique family dynamic of the book – husband and wife Reed and Sue, younger brother Johnny, children Franklin and Valeria, Ben the creepy rock monster uncle – but just like the Justice League, the Avengers or the X-Men, it’s still a team book, with new members rotating in every once in a while to switch up the dynamic and keep things fresh.
So if you think you had problems with Hollywood’s casting of the team, check out these other incarnations of the Four that were, shall we say, differently Fantastic.
Four minus one equals Any Inhumans Lying Around?: Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, Thing … and Crystal/Medusa (Fantastic Four #81-? and #132-159): The FF were probably the first superhero team to write maternity leave into their health plan. During Sue’s pregnancy and later after Franklin was born, she was replaced on the team by the two most prominent female Inhumans: Crystal, one of Johnny’s many, many, many girlfriends over the years, and Medusa, who, being queen of a race of people and all, you’d think would have more important things to do.
Four minus one equals SWEET CHRISTMAS!: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and … Luke Cage (Fantastic Four #168-170, 1976): When the Thing reverted to plain old Ben Grimm, Reed replaced him as the team powerhouse with the original Hero for Hire. Makes sense, considering in 1973, Cage famously confronted Dr. Doom regarding services rendered by demanding “Where’s my money, honey?”
Four minus one equals H.E.R.B.I.E.: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thing and ... H.E.R.B.I.E. (Fantastic Four cartoon, 1978): Chalk this one up to rights issues. At the time that NBC wanted an FF cartoon, Universal had optioned a Human Torch project. And because it wasn’t 30+ years later, when NBC and Universal are part of the same company, the cartoon had to go Torchless. Enter H.E.R.B.I.E., a Lee/Kirby creation that was not at all a flaming teenager. H.E.R.B.’s presence spawned the legend that Johnny was pulled from the show because execs thought kids, inspired by the Torch, would try to light themselves on fire. Decades later, H.E.R.B.I.E. would be one of the funnier characters on Marvel’s “Super Hero Squad Show” aimed at younger viewers.

Four minus two equals Date Night!: Human Torch, Thing … Crystal and Ms. Marvel/She-Thing (Starting in Fantastic Four #306, 1987): Every couple hundred issues or so, Reed and Sue leave the team to try to save their marriage. During this phase, they were replaced by Crystal and Sharon Ventura, a professional wrestler who eventually is transformed into a Thinglike creature. You can almost picture Johnny and Ben looking at their respective teammates/dates, looking at each other, and slow-nodding while that song from the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off plays.
Four minus four equals New Fantastic Four: Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk and Ghost Rider (Fantastic Four #347-349, 1990): Holy hot characters! When the original-recipe FF is kidnapped by a Skrull named De’Lila, a new Four forms to rescue them, made up of what were arguably Marvel’s most popular characters in 1990. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time when Ghost Rider sold comics) Together they took on the Skrulls and the Mole Man, all well-rendered by Art Adams, with story by Walt Simonson.
Four minus two equals the post-Civil War 4: Human Torch, Thing … Storm and Black Panther (Starting in Fantastic Four #543, 2007): The superhero Civil War did a number on Reed and Sue’s marriage (again, something that appears to happen every few years), so they took some time off and replaced themselves with Wakandan royalty. T’Challa, of course, is no slouch in the science department himself, and Storm is … a woman. So see, it all balances out!
Four minus one plus one equals The Future Foundation: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thing and … Spider-Man (Starting in FF#1, 2011): The Human Torch, who was killed-but-not-really in the Negative Zone, willed his spot on the team to Spider-Man, because the two were friends, and also because they’d essentially be replacing a younger, wise-cracking blond man with a younger, wise-cracking brunette. Hey, beats getting replaced by H.E.R.B.I.E.! Eventually, Johnny got better, and he and Peter became roommates for a time, allowing writer Jonathan Hickman a wealth of opportunity for Odd Couple jokes.
Four minus four equals FF: Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, “Miss Thing” (Starting in FF#1, 2013): While the Richardses went on a time-travel adventure somewhere near the start of the Marvel NOW! era, they appointed an additional four superheroes to mind the store in their place, including a science guy (Scott Lang’s Ant-Man), some muscle (She-Hulk), a mother lion (Medusa; again, don’t you have a race to rule?) and … a pop star who slept with Johnny Storm. This iteration of FF has the dubious distinction of being the book Matt Fraction left in a hurry so he could write Inhumans, but it also has fun art by Mike Allred.
Four minus three equals Ultimate FF: The Invisible Woman … Iron Man, Falcon and Machine Man (Starting in Ultimate FF#1, 2014): This one’s not even on the stands yet, so there’s little to say about it other than writer Josh Fialkov and artist Tom Grummet are using the latest refreshening of the Ultimate Universe to craft a version of the team never seen before. And good on them.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/19

Animal Man #28
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Rafael Albuquerque

We're near the end of Jeff Lemire's excellent run on Animal Man, and this issue is the big confrontation between Buddy Baker, his family, his allies, and Brother Blood and his allies and agents. A lot of the issue is combat, with Buddy facing down the last Totem of the Red, the beings who empower him, who has betrayed the others to create a new agent on Earth, Brother Blood, while his daughter Maxine is fighting Blood himself. But within all the grand comic book battles, drawn amazingly by Rafael Albuquerque, we get a lot of character. Maxine shows that she has the biggest heart, willing to sacrifice her power to save her friend, the Shepherd, and Buddy proves that his family and his love for them are his greatest strengths. Maxine's quest to resurrect her brother comes to its end, the only one it really can. Kids don't understand death, at least not in the way grown-ups do, and Buddy must have a hard conversation with her. Ellen Baker, Buddy's wife, isn't left out in the cold, and shows that she is as brave as her husband and daughter. The last page reminds readers of the deal Buddy made to save his family, and that things might be as happily ever after as it appears. Next month, the series will end, with an issue both written and drawn by Lemire, and it's going to be missed as the most mature series to come out of the New 52.

Daredevil #36
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee

And this volume of Daredevil comes to and end with a perfect coda to everything Mark Waid has been doing for thirty six issues. There are SPOILERS ahead, so beware. The end of last issue was a big one, a major moment, when Matt Murdock reveals in open court that he is Daredevil. After spending so long hiding and trying to put that particular cat back in the bag, this is a huge deal. The reasoning behind it is perfectly laid out, and it works brilliantly. The speech Matt gives in court about why he tried to hide his identity after the Daily Globe revealed his identity is a powerful speech, and it is a speech a Matt Murdock by any other writer since Frank Miller introduced Elektra couldn't make. This is a Matt Murdock who has finally, truly, grounded himself again and doesn't have the same raw, bordering on insane, edges that he has for thirty years. Waid has had Matt grow as a character. It's wonderful that Matt does what he does not just to protect his friends and himself, but because it's the right thing to do to protect the law. For all his manipulations, Matt is a lawyer who really believes in the system, and the perversion of the Sons of the Serpent, a hate group, planting members in the institutions of New York, is something that Matt can't take. The final fight in the courtroom between Matt and the Serpent foot soldiers is a literal representation of what Matt has been going through since the Serpents plot began, with him fighting them in every way he can. The final pages are both sad and heartwarming, as Matt must pay for the years of half truths and lies he has had, and plans to set off on a new life. It all flows perfectly from what Waid has been doing, and is one of the most satisfying endings I've read in a long time. Next month, a new volume of Daredevil begins from the same creative team, with a new city and a very different status quo for Matt Murdock, and I'll be a long for the ride. If you haven't tried out this book yet, it's going to be a great jumping on point, so don't wait any longer.

The X-Files: Conspiracy- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Story: Ed Brisson
Art: Michael Walsh

Every year or so, IDW Publishing does a crossover between its various licensed properties; in the past they were the two Infestation crossovers. They're not bad, they're not great, but they're sure fun. This year, instead of using characters that were created within comics as the connective tissue, the connecting characters are The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files. After receiving a fax from the future, The Lone Gunmen are travelling, attempting to gather the components they need to develop a cure for a plague that will wipe out millions. The plague and everything is a mcguffin to just get The Lone Gunmen to meet the Ghostbusters, Transformers, the Crow, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This issue is the TMNT issue, and is by the creative team of Ed Brisson and Michael Walsh, who did one of the most underrated Image mini-series of the past couple years, the time travel noir Comeback (seriously, track it down. If you saw and liked the movie Looper, this is right up your alley). I'm not reading the current TMNT series, but I didn't feel the least bit lost in this issue; everything I need to know about the current Turtles status quo is easily explained. It's really a Leonardo story, where the Turtles leader is getting stir crazy while the Turtles hide from their nemeses, The Foot Clan. The Lone Gunmen and the Turtles run afoul of an old X-Files nemesis from one of my favorite episodes of all time, "Bad Blood," written by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. I won't spoil what that particular creature is if you haven't seen it or don't remember it, but it's one of the funniest X-Files episodes and an equally amusing use here. It's well worth checking out the issue, even if you aren't reading the crossover or either of the current comics if you remember that episode. Aside from that, we get a good Leonardo story, some forward momentum on the crossover, and some great art by Walsh, who drew the initial arc of The X-Files: Season 10 and who is fast becoming a favorite artist of mine. Conspiracy nuts and ninja turtles: what more could you ask for?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Recommended Reading for 2/21: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London

I'm about to speak a blasphemy as a Batman fan, but the world's greatest detective is Sherlock Holmes (Batman is a close second). He's been portrayed by more actors than pretty much any fictional character, has more pastiches written about him in more formats than anyone else, and is still feverishly discussed by legions of fans. I've read the complete canon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Holmes stories more than once, and have read a lot of pastiches, so picking up this collection of a European Holmes comics, Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London published by Dark Horse Comics, was a no brainer.

Sherlock Holmes is one of literature's ultimate rationalist heroes; he lives in a world of the mind where everything is answered through deduction and forensics. Modern writers have often paired him with the supernatural. Some of the most famous Holmes comic stories have him fighting Dracula, Mr. Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, and even zombies. But if you put Holmes in a world where his skills don't matter, where magic is the rule, he loses his relevance; he isn't Batman, who has all those cool gadgets and can work with magic or a magician, and accepts that there are things in the world that can't be dealt with rationally. However, a judicious use of the supernatural, in a setting where Holmes can use his knowledge, insight, and not inconsiderable physical skill to fight them, makes for a truly intense tale.

The story opens during the period where Holmes is thought to be dead after his fateful encounter with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. While in Paris with his brother, Mycroft, Holmes is attacked by things that can only be vampires. After dispatching them, Holmes does his research and waits for them to make their next move. Holmes is surprised to see a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Irene Adler, one of his greatest nemeses and the one person to ever outsmart him, but knowing that it can't be her, he knows that a trap is waiting. After demonstrating a brilliant way to avoid being turned by the vampires, Holmes finds out their leader in London seeks his aid, and so he sets off with Joyce Middles, the vampire who is Adler's double, to meet this leader.

These early scenes with Holmes are juxtaposed with a vampire slaughtering his way through London's upper crust. His intentions aren't made clear until Holmes confronts Selymes, the leader of the vampire nation. It seems Owen Chanes, one of his vampire subjects, has gone rogue and is killing people distantly related to, or close acquaintances of, Queen Victoria, in an attempt to draw the Queen's ire on Selymes, and it's working. Holmes is tasked with finding and disposing of Chanes before the queen sends her forces after the vampires, and if he is unsuccessful, not only will Holmes die, but so will Watson and Watson's wife, Mary. So Holmes makes a deal with the devil to protect his friend, and the game is afoot.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse, with Holmes being at times cat, and at times mouse. He hunts Chanes, while trying to figure out his motives for these very public killings. The story nicely mixes all the aspects of Holmes. He must be in disguise to hide the fact that he still lives from both his friends and the remainder of Moriarty's men; he spends his time researching and doing chemical experiments, meeting with informants, and laying traps for Chanes. Joyce Middles follows him as his vampire contact, and works as Holmes's sounding board. All the while, Chanes continues to kill, and the Queen's patience grows ever thinner, as does that of Selymes, who is by no means a patient employer. By the end of the story, tragedy has struck, Holmes learns the truth, and a great conflagration occurs to claim the evil. And, true to Holmes in the original books, Holmes in the end chooses to do what is right, since justice and the fostering of the "humane side of the criminal," is more important than simply acting out of what would be legal or what would be expedient.

Writer Sylvain Cordurie has a wonderful feel for Holmes as a character. His voice is usually dry, rational, and analytical; observing everything around him. Cordurie gives him flashes of emotion, especially when Watson and Mary are in peril. The story is actually narrated as a journal Holmes is writing to leave for Watson in case of his death during the adventure, and while Conan Doyle did write a couple of stories from Holmes's point of view, Watson remains the narrator of most because his voice is more relatable, more human. Still, the fact that Holmes is slightly out of his depth in dealing with these supernatural creatures allows him to be read as such an insufferable know-it-all and pushes the mystery forward.

Since the book is a product of European creators, the art has a very different feel than most of the comics you'd find on the racks. Laci's art is thoroughly detailed, with gorgeous Victorian backgrounds and perfect period costumes. His faces are expressive, especially when it comes to fear and the darker emotions. He is clearly an artist with a horror background, as writer Cordurie said he decided to use a traditional vampire model, with all the spectacular powers and the ability to change into a bat monster to play to Laci's strength as an artist. His Holmes is drawn from the classic stories, resembling the original illustrations, and is a treat for the Holmes aficionado.

Sherlock Holmes is one of literature's greatest characters, and vampires are the monsters that have haunted the nightmares of people for generations. This mix of the two makes for an action packed story, good for both the long standing Holmes fan and the newcomer brought in by the current crop of film and TV Holmes. The choice to pick it up is, well, elementary.

Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London is a hardcover graphic novel published by Dark Horse comics, and is available at all good comic shops, bookstores, and on-line.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hey, Do You Remember That Time: Political Ambitions Edition

Happy almost-George Washington’s birthday (even though Presidents Day was two days ago and under the Julian calendar his birthday was Feb. 11)!

In honor of our first president – who recently came back from the dead to lead an army of his fellow zombie presidents against humanity – here’s a short sampling of classic characters who have run for or were appointed to American political office.

PRESIDENT LEX LUTHOR: A new millennium brought a new president to the D.C. universe in the form of Superman’s most hated enemy, Lex Luthor. Luthor became president mostly so he could mess with Superman and Batman, having masterminded the earthquake that turned Gotham City into No Man’s Land, framed Batman for murder, brought about the destruction of Clark Kent’s hometown, divided the Justice League and attempted to blame Supes for a kryptonite meteor headed toward Earth.

PRESIDENT CAPTAIN AMERICA: In the early 1980s, Roger Stern and John Byrne (Hey, that rhymes!) wrote a story in which Steve Rogers considered running for president but ultimately turned it down as he considered his superheroics to be apolitical. Roughly 30 years later, in 2012, Cap was elected in the 1610 “Ultimate” universe, accepting the job in the pages of Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates in a story by Sam Humphries and Luke Ross. He has since been killed by good old 616 Galactus.

PRESIDENT GARY “THE SMILER” CALLAHAN: Spider Jerusalem, the bowel-disruptor wielding, cranky journalist star of Warren Ellis’ brilliant Transmetropolitan, starts out antagonizing a president he’d unaffectionately nicknamed The Beast. Enter the devil he doesn’t know. The Smiler becomes Spider’s main nemesis for the run of the series after admitting flat-out that he became president to oppress and punish people and going so far as to have his political director and his own wife and children killed to earn sympathy in the polls. Also, he kinda looks like Paul Ryan.

PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL GRAYDON CREED: Creed first appeared as one of the Upstarts, a 90s cabal of mutants (and one mutant-hating human) who got points @midnight-style for assassinating 80s targets like the Hellfire Club, the New Mutants and the Hellions. Starting in ’95, the X-writers put him on a path toward the White House, backed by head Prime Sentinel Bastion. Proving that almost all the good X-ideas were Chris Claremont’s, however, the writers get their Days of Future Past on and have Mystique kill her own son. (P.S.: The DOFP reality was supposed to be last year. And yet here we are: no sentinel overlords, no mutant hounds, no hoverboards.)

NEW YORK CITY MAYOR MITCHELL HUNDRED: In Ex-Machina, the superhero known as The Great Machine was elected mayor of New York City after he saved one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Some of the best stories in the Brian K. Vaughn series weren't the ones where Hundred uses his powers to talk to machines in green font, but when he deals with everyday issues such as private school vouchers, gay marriage and the death penalty. He makes you wish he was your mayor, you know until the end (no spoilers).

NEW YORK CITY MAYOR J. JONAH JAMESON: After years of lambasting Spider-Man in his rag, The Daily Bugle, JJJ received an opportunity to kick his single-focus Spider-bashing into overdrive as mayor of the greatest city on Earth. That said, the odds were stacked against him, what with Spider-Man being an Avenger and all, and other city officials resigning because of his over-dedication of city funds to hunting the wall-crawler. And in the biggest sign that his decades-long quest is a fool’s errand, he ends up giving him a key to the city.

DEFENSE SECRETARY DELL RUSK: Long before he became DC’s Green Lantern guy (then Aquaman guy, now Superman guy, maybe next Plastic Man guy?), Geoff Johns had a stint writing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Part of his run involved a mysterious plague that turned people into crimson corpses. The plague was ultimately linked to Defense Secretary Rusk, who turned out to be the Red Skull in disguise (spoiler, schmoiler, he’s right there on the trade cover). The late, great Disney XD cartoon “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” adapted the storyline in the brilliantly condensed manner it adopted most Avengers storylines, managing to work in the Falcon, the Winter Soldier and the Red Hulk for good measure.

DEFENSE SECRETARY TONY STARK: If a man who literally wraps himself in the flag can be elected president, surely one of the nation’s top weapons manufacturers can run defense. Tony took the job to keep an eye on how his products were being used by the U.S. military but ended up being ridden out on a rail during Brian Michael Bendis’ Disassembled storyline when the power-overloaded Scarlet Witch made the recovering alcoholic Stark appear drunk and belligerent during a press conference. Residents of the Marvel Universe must have short memories, though, as just a few years later he became director of SHIELD after Civil War. SHIELD continued its commitment to questionable leadership after Secret Invasion, when Stark was ousted in favor of a man who chases Spider-Man around in purple pajamas.

SEN. ROBERT KELLY: You know the old saying: If at first you don’t assassinate, try, try again. Kelly’s death was first foretold as part of Chris Claremont’s Days of Future Past storyline in 1980. In that storyline, Kitty Pryde, possessed by a future version of herself, saves the senator from taking an arrow through the neck from Destiny. Kelly next almost died in 1989 at the hands of the Sentinel Master Mold but was saved by his wife, former Hellfire Club waitress Sharon, who did die. In 1997, Cyclops saved the senator from Bastion’s Prime Sentinels during Operation Zero Tolerance. Not long after, Pyro, who was dying of the Legacy Virus, attempted to redeem himself by preventing the senator from being killed by Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But after all those attempts on his life by pissed-off mutants and robots, who should kill him but some pissed-off flatscan named Alan Lewis. FUN FACT: In the 1990s X-Men cartoon, Kelly is elected president, replacing a woman who used a treadmill in the Oval Office.

HONORARY MENTION: KANG/KODOS: Yeah, I know I’m  getting off-medium, but who doesn’t love “Citizen Kang,” the 1996 Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror vignette in which Kang and Kodos run for president as Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, dooming the human race to slavery regardless of the outcome? “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos!”

Dan Grote is the author of Of Robots, God and Government and My Evil Twin and I. He and Matt have been friends since every 25th issue came with a foil-embossed cover, a hologram trading card and free pogs.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/12

Batman #28
Story: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Dustin Nguyen

From Zero Year to Six Months Later, this issue is a peak into the future of Gotham, a city that is actually more bleak than the Gotham that we're used to seeing. It's time again with a check in on Harper Row, Scott Snyder's everyone/new supporting cast member to the Bat books, who tends to pop up during interlude issues between major arcs. Harper is wandering the streets of New Gotham, as it seems to be called, and winds up in the one remaining nightspot. Whatever has happened in Gotham seems to have made it a police state, but since it's Gotham, it's a police state corrupt to its core. While we are definitely in medea res here, but I don't feel totally lost. Writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV do a great job of making this feel like a story where we could just continue from and have the backstory filled in. I want to avoid spoiling too much, but since every major comic news site has pretty well spoiled every surprise in the issue (and there were quite a few), I will say that I like Harper's new identity as Bluebird, and I'm curious to see exactly what her relationship is with Batman. I also tend to prefer Batman and Catwoman as allies, the idea of Selina taking over Gotham's rackets is a fascinating one, and Dustin Nguyen's sleek, slinky, American Hustle Selina Kyle is cool not just because it's great, but to show just how versatile an artist he is in comparison to his current work on Li'l Gotham. And that last page reveal! I don't know exactly what this plague that is in Gotham is, and I suppose I'm not supposed to, and I don't know what Spoiler has to do with it, but I'm happy to see her back. Batman: Eternal starts in April, and if you're unsure of whether you're interested in the new weekly, this issue serves as a great peak into that world.

Batman: Li'l Gotham #11
Story & Art: Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs

Speaking of Dustin Nguyen and Li'l Gotham, the penultimate issue of the most fun Batman comic in years came out this week as well. Making it around to the second year of holidays (each short story is themed around a holiday, and are digital first, so the printed editions don't line up with the holidays within, and since we started with Halloween, this issue brings us back to October), we're not getting the major holidays. The first of the shorts is for All Saint's Day, where Batman has to bring Damian for a supervised visit with his mother and grandfather. By story's end, we get Azrael (Jean Paul Valley, but dressed in Michael Lane's costume), reference to both Neal Adams "hairy chested love God" Batman and Jim Lee's New 52 costume designs, zombie members of the Order of St. Dumas, and Damian riding Man-Bat while fighting them off. The second story, featuring The Clock King and the end of Day Light Savings Time (ok, not really a holiday, but Calendar Man would be good with it too, and that's all that counts to me), has various alternate versions of Batman trying to restart time after Clock King created adevice that has frozen Gotham You get a classic blue-and-grey clad Batman, Zebra Batman, Vampire Batman, FruitBatman, Armored Kingdom Come Batman, and even crotchety old Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond. It's the kind of craziness that works so well with Batman, better than with pretty much any other superhero; I don't know why, but all those alpha male/type A Batmen tend to have a great crazy rapport, and it's fun to see Clock King freak out and the goofy FruitBatman save the day. The first trade of Li'l Gotham hits this week, and if you're the slightest bit a Batman fan, or have a kid who is, you should really snag this book.

Ms. Marvel #1
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona

This books technically came out two weeks ago. But amazing sales and great word of mouth made me snag a copy. And I'm really glad I did. This first issue is not in the least bit a super hero comic, with only a hint of the craziness that makes for a superhero story, but is instead more of a teenage drama. Kamala Khan is the kind of teenager we don't get a lot of in comics; she's special in the way we all are, different and interesting, but not "super." She comes from an Islamic household, and her faith is an important part of her character, but not something that defines her. She's sweet, smart, and while I haven't been a teenager for more time than I'd like to admit, the feeling of not fitting in that she is going through is something that most of us can really empathize with. She has a very clear voice, as do all the characters in the title. Her parents and brother only appear for a couple pages, and I already like them, and I already like her friends Bruno and Nakia. And the school alpha girl/mean girl isn't the typical nasty Cordelia Chase clone, but is a condescending little brat who is the perfect example of how some people think their culture is superior to everyone else's. It's also charming to see that Kamala is an Avengers fangirl; I can't wait to see her interact with the Avengers. On top of a really strong first issue script for G. Willow Wilson, the art from Adrian Alphona is top notch. Best know for his work on Runaways, it's great to see Alphona working with a teen hero again. Marvel really pushed this book out into the mainstream, and I often find those attempts hollow, but in this case I'm glad they did. We got a lot of walk in business from people who were either not regular comic fans, or not regulars at out store anyway, and for them to be interested in a comic is great, and since it's a comic of strong quality, I hope it means they'll be back. So, long story short, and pardon the paraphrase Stan, but Make Mine Ms. Marvel!

She-Hulk #1
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido

Now, this was a book I was in for from the beginning. I'm not a huge She-Hulk fan, but the combination of art by Javier Pulido and the fact that this series seemed to be hearkening back to Dan Slott's wonderful couple years on the title that was a combination of law and superheroics had me very excited, and the book delivered. Charles Soule has been all over the place lately, and I've been enjoying his run on Swamp Thing a great deal, and this book is equally well written but has a completely different flavor. Jen Walters, the Sensational She-Hulk, starts out the issue working for a law firm and feeling like everything is going her way. But by the end of the first full scene, she's out of work, and things aren't looking so rosy. But an encounter at a bar has her representing the wife of a C-List villain against Tony Stark's company for stealing his tech, and we see that the law in the Marvel Universe isn't any more straightforward than it is in this world. While Jen doesn't have the same anger issues as her cousin, she still can be bit temperamental when provoked. When getting in to see Tony Stark to just talk doesn't work, she winds up meeting with Stark's chief counsel (a guy who simply calls himself Legal, and who I hope show up again). Jen tries to work within the system, but the little guy versus the multi-billion dollar corporation doesn't go well. So she smashes her way in to see Stark. Hey, can't hurt to be a Hulk. We see every aspect of Jen's personality in this one issue; she's smart, she's tough, she believes in the law, but she will crack some heads if she needs to. By the end of the first issue, everything is wrapped up and a new status quo is set. Yes, you heard me right: the first issue is a done-in-one story. When was the last time that happened in a book from one of the big two? That's two-for-two from Marvel on solid first issues with female characters. Maybe I need to try Black Widow too.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Recommended Reading for 2/14: Batgirl featuring Stephanie Brown

When Stephanie Brown was introduced in Detective Comics by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle, it seemed like she was a one arc, one note character, albeit a good one. The daughter of F-List Batman villain The Cluemaster (a poor man's Riddler best known for being a member of Giffen & DeMatteis's Injustice League/Justice League Antarctica from the BWAH-HA-HA! years), Steph donned the costume of The Spoiler to shut down her absentee father's criminal enterprises. But after a couple stories where Steph went up against her dad, she started doing the vigilante thing for the action of it, and to hang around with Tm Drake, then Robin, as the two of them developed a relationship. Steph and Tim eventually broke up, she briefly was Robin, and one of the least of the Bat family events, "War Games," seemed to have thoroughly fridged Steph (if you don't know that expression, it has to do with female characters being killed for no other reason then to affect male characters, in this case Batman). But eventually, when Dixon returned to writing Robin after some years away, he brought Steph back as Spoiler. And after the "death" of Bruce Wayne, when the Bat titles went through the "Batman Reborn" branding, a new Batgirl title was launched, written by Bryan Q. Miller, with Steph as the titular heroine, and it became a major cult hit, and one of the best books on the market during its time on the stands.

One of the best aspects of Steph, one of the things that has made her such a beloved character as Batgirl, is that she was very much an everywoman. She wasn't a millionaire driven by vengeance like Batman, a boy genius like Tim Drake, or a living weapon like previous Batgirl Cassandra Cain. Steph was going to college, was trying to make new friends, maybe even meet a new boyfriend. And even more important to her character, Steph has moved beyond her issues with her dad, and was trying to be Batgirl because it was the right thing to do, and because she wanted to be a beacon of hope in Gotham. She wasn't a scary, single minded agent of vengeance like Batman, but was someone who was a hero because she thought the city needed it.

At the time it was released, this was also the book that was the place to go for Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, know at the time as Oracle. DC was in between volumes of Birds of Prey, the title Barbara was often featured in, and so Barbara was in Batgirl. The relationship between Steph and Barbara didn't start out too well, with Barbara not too thrilled with Steph taking up the mantle, but by the end of the first arc they were working together. That evolving relationship was one of the pleasures of the title, and even when Birds of Prey came back, Barbara was still a presence in the book. Barabara served not only as Steph's tech person and intelligence helper, but as her mentor, as the two had more in common than either had with Batman or much of his family, as they were both similarly motivated to do good.

Miller added another character to Stephanie's supporting cast, another female character who had been somewhat trampled by recent writers. Wendy Harris had been introduced into Teen Titans to be one of their tech people, along with her brother Marvin. Yes, that's Wendy and Marvin from Super Friends. But since whimsy was something found rarely at DC Comics at the time, pretty soon Marvin was eaten by a monstrous version of Wonder Dog and Wendy was badly injured. Wendy wound up in a wheelchair, and was full of anger at her fate. Barbara, who was also in a wheelchair after the Joker shot her, took Wendy under her wing and introduced her to Steph to become her own personal Oracle and partner. Taking on the name Proxy, Wendy began working with Steph. Their friendship grew, and was just hitting its stride towards the end of the run. Miller did a good job of drawing parallels not just between Barabara and Wendy, but Steph as well, as Steph's father was Oracle's arch nemesis, The Calculator. Miller built this great little cast of female heroes working together; it was a worthy successor and companion to Birds of Prey.

A particular favorite story from the series of mine was issues 6 and 7, where Steph has her first meeting with Damian Wayne, the current Robin. Damian is so abrasive and so full of himself, that he doesn't see the point in working with Stephanie, who he views as untrained and beneath his notice. But over the course of the issue, Steph earns the respect of both Damian and Dick Grayson, currently filling in as Batman. And this leads nicely into issue 17, which is another Damian and Steph story. In that story, Steph and Damian have to team up to save the children of Gotham's rich families from being abducted. Damian goes undercover, and has to interact with kids his own age. While the story is still Steph's, the issue does a tremendous job with Damian's voice, and having Steph, and outsider, see Damian in this environment makes it clear how the way Damian was raised, by his mother Talia in the League of Assassins to be the heir to Ra's al Ghul, has really affected him; Damian doesn't know how to be a kid. It's one of the best Damian stories ever written, and rereading it makes me miss the little brat all the more.

Issue 17 was a great example of one of the really excellent things Miller did throughout the series; while there was an overarcing plot, and many multi issue stories, they were broken up by some really fun one offs. Issue 13 was a one off where Batgirl teams up with Nick Gage, or St. Nick as his fellow GCPD officers call him, to fight Clayface. A handsome cop who was Batgirl's love interest, Gage ran into Steph a couple times out of costume to amusing results. Issue 14 has Steph and Supergirl fighting a legion of Draculas. And issue 18 was a Valentine's Day story featuring Klarion the Witch Boy. Miller brought in these guest stars in charming stories that never lost sight of Steph's unique voice, narrating the stories and making you fall for her as one of the most real protagonists in comics since Peter Parker first pulled on red longjohns.

The final arc of the series was one of the most bitter sweet reading experiences I have had in comics. The book had completely hit its stride. Miller had introduced the Order of the Scythe, a group of young super villains who made good additions to Steph's rogues gallery, built plots involving Wendy, and finally brought Steph face to face with her father for the first time in years. The final issue uses the Black Mercy, the plant that pushes you into a dream world, to show what I believe were Miller's long term plans for the book, giving Steph a long and wonder filled career as Batgirl. But Steph is able to cast off the Mercy, defeat her father, and have a final heart to heart with Oracle. Steph is happy, and that is filled with hope for the future...

The three main artists that Miller worked with throughout the series were very different and impressive. Lee Garbett began the series. His art is very much traditional super hero art, with great fluidity and excellent characterization. Dustin Nguyen was next. I've spoken about him before, and between his work on Detective Comics, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Li'l Gotham, and this book, he is one of the best Bat artists of the past decade; his style is unique to him, and jumps off the page, there's so much action and joy in it. Pere Perez wrapped the series. His style was closer to Garbett's, very super hero, very light. When his Steph smiled, you couldn't help but smile along.

Batgirl #24 was the last appearance of Stephanie Brown before the New 52 happened and she disappeared. She appeared in the special that wrapped up Grant Morrison's first run of Batman Incorporated, but other than a couple near misses in Li'l Gotham, Young Justice, and Smallville Season 11, Steph has been one of the casualties of the reboot. That looks like it's going to change, with the upcoming Batman: Eternal weekly series, which was previewed in this past week's issue of Batman (more on that in this Monday's reviews). There are runs of super hero books that break the trends of their time and become something special. The vocal Stephanie Brown fans have clearly indicated this fun, character driven series did exactly that. I hope that her return will be half as fun as what this series gave readers, and that she has a new lease on life in the Bat titles of today.

The entire twenty four issue run of Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl series are available in three trades: Batgirl Rising, The Flood, and The Lesson. They are currently not in print, but shouldn't be that hard to track down.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I've Got the Runs: Scott Lobdell's Uncanny X-Men #286-350

When people write about legendary X-Men storytellers, they usually start with Chris “Pappy” Claremont, who took one of Lee and Kirby’s lesser efforts, stripped out what he had no use for and told 16 years of generally brilliant long-form, interweaving arcs.

Then they talk about Grant Morrison, who brought a dark, leather-jacket wearing, indie sensibility to New X-Men, gave Charles Xavier an evil twin, killed Jean Grey (A-gain) and made us care about a guy who looked like a sickly chicken.

But there’s a third guy, in between those two, one who fell into fortune as Marvel saw a mass exodus of talent in the early 1990s and ended up guiding its then-top franchise through most of the decade. And making Colossus miserable.

The story of how Scott Lobdell took over Uncanny is the stuff of legend. In short: He happened to be walking past editor Bob Harras just as Harras needed somebody to finish some X-scripts in 1992. Scripting turned to full-on writing duties at the tail-end of a revolving-door period in which Claremont, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio and John Byrne all left the X-books.

What follows is six years of crossovers: 1992’s “X-Cutioner’s Song” (Stryfe attacks Xavier, cripples Apocalypse, kidnaps Cyclops and Jean Grey and claims they’re his parents), 1993’s “Fatal Attractions” (Magneto founds Avalon, convinces Colossus to join the Acolytes during his sister’s funeral), 1994’s “Phalanx Covenant” (introduces Generation X), 1995’s “Age of Apocalypse” (creates an alternate reality ruled by En Sabah Nur), 1996’s “Onslaught” (shunts the Avengers and Fantastic Four into a pocket universe) and 1997’s “Operation: Zero Tolerance” (human-sentinel hybrids imprison mutants).

For his grand finale, Uncanny X-Men #350, in which he passed the torch to Steven Seagle, he wrapped a long-developing story tying Gambit to the massacre of the Morlocks.

In between, he created what was intended to be the next wave of mutant heroes in Generation X, a team of largely brand-new characters with the exception of co-headmasters Banshee and Emma Frost and teammate Jubilee. Where are those kids now? Well, Jubilee’s a vampire teen mom, M recently migrated from Peter David’s X-Factor to Brian Wood’s X-(Wo)Men, Synch and Skin are both dead, Chamber was revealed to be a descendant of Apocalypse, Penance was revealed to be two mutants in a coat and Husk went on to have a creepy romance with first-generation X-Man Angel during Uncanny’s gas-leak year.

Crossovers and forgotten characters aside, Lobdell, like Claremont, was a master of the breather issue, those great standalones in which the X-Men would stop whatever it is they were doing to play softball or have Kitty fight demons on Christmas. And it is with that in mind that we present the 10 best issues from Lobdell’s initial run (he came back in the early 2000s to put Colossus out of his misery and cure the Legacy Virus).

297: The post-X-Cutioner’s Song issue. Jubilee bonds with Professor X by taking him rollerblading, as he had temporarily regained the use of his legs, an event that has happened more frequently through the years to the point where it’s no longer special, but at this point it still had some punch, especially during the scene in which, as Xavier’s lower half weakens once again, Jubilee guides him back to his chair. 

303: Illyana Rasputin dies of the Legacy Virus. It’s real sad.

308: The X-Men play football instead of softball. Jean proposes to Scott, and I’m reminded of every joke Chris Sims ever wrote about Cyclops.

309: Xavier does some hardcore flashbackin’, during which we see a young, pre-Acolytes Amelia Voght nurse Charles back to health after he had been crippled. They apparently dated right up until Charles started collecting X-Men like Pokemon, because she thought his “Gotta catch ’em all” attitude would draw unwanted attention to them.

315: Colossus, who defected to the Acolytes after a rough couple months in which his brother turned out to be both alive and a madman and his sister died, plays defense counsel during a kangaroo-court trial of the Neophyte on charges of aiding the enemy. Voght plays prosecutor. Judge Exodus, in charge on account of Magneto's current vegetable status, is swayed just enough by Colossus' complete lack of legal training that he lets the Neophyte off with mere banishment from Avalon.

318: The post-Phalanx Covenant, pre-Generation X issue, in which we learn Skin is as much of a sad, wrinkled sack as he looks, and Xavier ships the team's spunky, youthful heart down to the freshman squad. Also, Beast rocks out to the Stones.

325: Lobdell shows us how much he loves Claremont by having the X-Men play softball AND recreating the old "Storm fights the leader of the Morlocks in the sewers" gag. Also, Colossus returns to the mansion for an issue before heading over to Excalibur to beat up Pete Wisdom.

336: OK, so no one’s trying to defend "Onslaught," but as a recovering Teenage Cyclops Fan, there's a panel in this issue, after Onslaught has taunted the heroes with the imprisoned Charles Xavier inside him, where all you see is half of Scott's face, fangs bared, and a quiet "Take him." At this point, he's not just leading the X-Men into battle, he's commanding members of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Joe Madureira might as well have drawn a panel showing Scott’s testicles grow two sizes like the Grinch’s heart on Christmas Day.

340: Iceman started growing around this time, beyond the traditional "Let me show you your true potential" stories that got written every few months. At this point, he and Cannonball had been working undercover inside Graydon Creed's presidential campaign. Bobby got found out, and in retribution, the Friends of Humanity beat the crap out of his dad, who himself was an FOH-level mutant-hater. This leads to a great Bobby-Bastion confrontation later on in Operation: Zero Tolerance.

341: By this point, Cannonball had been an X-Man for about two years, and Lobdell had done a whole bunch o' nothing with him. The X-Men didn't need a Cyclops Jr., so he ended up playing a hayseed rookie as if he weren't leader pro tem of X-Force when Cable was out of town. In this issue, however, he finally gets to shine by wailing on Gladiator.

Dan Grote is the author of OfRobots, God and Government and My Evil Twin and I. He and Matt have been friends since Bane broke the Bat.