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Monday, August 23, 2021

Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy


by Steve Englehart (Author, Contributor), Chris Claremont  (Author, Contributor), Doug Moench  (Author, Contributor),

Publisher : ‎ Marvel (July 9, 2014)

Softcover, 390 pages

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“I conceived something very large. My hero would go from being an unpleasant, introverted jerk to the most cosmic being in the universe, and I would tie it into my then-new interest in astrology. After his earthbound beginning, his mind would be opened step by step, with a fast-action story on Mercury, a love story on Venus, a war story on Mars, and so on out to the edge of the solar system, and then beyond. But—after his earthbound beginning, where I established him as an unpleasant, introverted jerk, I left Marvel, so no one ever saw what he was to become” Steven Engleheart, co-creator of Star Lord.

Many people won’t know the character Star Lord outside of the two Guardians of the Galaxy films, and I must admit to being one of them. He was a minor character for most of my time collecting comics from the Marvel Universe. From what I can tell from these early issues of the magazine Marvel Preview he really wasn’t meant to be. It was an attempt by the company to tap into the rapidly expanding science fiction market. As such none of the stories here reference any other part of the Marvel Universe and are pretty straight forward science fiction fare, with an extremely powerful protagonist who has a living ship and other advanced gadgets at his command. Most were written in the ‘70s  - except for the mini-series from 1997 at the end of the book - and the writing reflects that time period. After these appearances, the character disappeared until the 2004 Annihilation event where he finally becomes part of the 616 standard Marvel Universe.

Written by a young Chris Claremont, pre-X-Men days, what really stands out here is the amazing artwork. Perhaps the only thing which is memorable about the character is the amazing array of artists who worked on his title. John Bryne, Bernie Wrightson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Gene Colan, Carmine Infantino, along with a host of others. The authorial duties were taken over by Doug Moench for a few issues of Marvel Spotlight.  These are the best Star Lord stories in the book.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst

Secret Avengers: Complete Collection


by Ed Brubaker (Writer) Mike Deodato (Illustrator), Will Conrad (Illustrator), David Aja (Illustrator)

Publisher ‏: ‎ Marvel (June 12, 2018)

Softcover, 304 pages

Amazon Listing

This volume collects the initial twelve issues of the series, the entire Ed Brubaker run. The idea of a covert, deniable team of Avengers was pretty good, but in the end it plays out like a regular Avengers team dealing with cosmic threats. After the first issue the clandestine nature of the group is dropped.

It's a real grab bag of characters: Commander Steve Rogers when he hung up the shield for a while, Moon Night, Black Widow, Valkyrie, Beast, Nova, the irredeemable Ant Man, War Machine, and Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Many of these shuffle in and out of the stories as was needed per mission. The stories themselves are pretty good. However it all ends on a cliff hanger with a meta-plot that seemed rather boring. Another ultra-secret society with aims of world domination and a mysterious past among immortals. I've read it before.

In the traditional Brubaker Marvel style, he resurrects some ancient near-forgotten characters. He adds John Steel - the original Man of Steel - and John Aman, called here Prince of Orphans, he was originally named Aman the Amazing Man and The Green Mist. Neither character was originally a Marvel hero, or Timely as it was called then. Both are in the public domain and alternate version have popped up in the past, Project Superpowers and so forth. Strangely these two characters get more play than most of the others.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst

Boy Maximortal Vol 2


by Rick Veitch  (Author)

Publisher: ‎ Independently published (March 23, 2020)

Softcover, 102 pages

Amazon Listing

Picking right up where the previous volume ended - even the numbering continues the same starting with page 54 - the plot thickens and the weird desperate threads of the first Maximortal series begin to congeal. We see the purpose of the True Man comics which is to actually educate the now adolescent Maximortal on how to behave in modern society, as well as entertain millions of children. It is a winding, twisting road traveled by this comic and I’m looking forward to seeing where this series is going next. 

One problem I have though, it that it seems the author is gearing up the story to be some sort of “anatomy of a superhero” story and, quite frankly, it's been done before. The archetypal superhero has been analyzed down to its atomic structure. I don’t mind a weird story, never tried before- or tried before in a different way, but what more is there to say meta wise about the superhero. Hopefully I’m wrong and the whole previous paragraph was just a waste of time. 

As with the previous volume only about half of the book deals with the titular characters. The rest is filled up with old sketches of the author and a few more stories. A silent one called Rebus, a splash page retrospective on the life of Sharon Tate, a post-apocalyptic tale called “Sounds in the Silence” - it has a happy ending, a rarity for this genre- a prose Sherlock Holmes short story called “A Visitor in White” and a weird one-page short called “Kasha Varniskes”. This extra material is much better than the first volume, which seemed to be made up primarily of filler.   

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst


Boy Maximortal Vol 1


by Rick Veitch  (Author)

Publisher ‏: ‎ CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition (October 18, 2017)

Softcover, 100 pages

Amazon Listing

This is the continuation of a story I thought dead and incomplete. Thank goodness for the easy independent publishing market or this might never have seen the light of day. The original seven issue Maximortal was a very weird piece of literature. At first it offered the idea that if a baby, well beyond the age of reason, had the powers like Superman does, how could a human couple possibly raise him, teach him anything, or even discipline him without getting torn apart? 

The answer of course is that it couldn’t. The government intercedes and eventually the creature is destroyed. Yet it still remains somehow and is reinvigorating itself through the burgeoning comic book industry, reinventing itself as True Man - an obvious Superman analog - through which it seemingly will emerge. This tale is as much about the history of comics - specifically superhero comics - so those who aren’t familiar with it might be a little confused. Personally, I’ve often thought that Rick Veitch was a wildly underrated writer and author and I’m glad more of his material is being published. This book, along with a lot of Veitch’s materials, leaves you wanting more. 

One thing to mention though is that only the first 53 pages out of the hundred or so are part of the Maximortal story. The rest is filled up with sketches and an unrelated short four page story about heroes having sex. That’s not to say the book isn’t worth it, the price being fairly reasonable, but there is more than your normal amount of filler in this book. The story continues in Boy Maximortal 2

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst

The Mighty Crusaders: Origins of a Superteam

by Various (Author)

Publisher ‏: ‎ Archie Comics; First Printing edition (December 1, 2003)

Softcover, 96 pages

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"It was the 1960s. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko became overnight 'number one with a bullpen' success stories as the Marvel superhero style took the comic book world by storm. By January 1966, the ultra-camp Pop-Art exaggeration of Batman on TV exploded across America's culturally 'vast wasteland', imbuing art, design, and clothing styles with new Pop sensibilities - along with assorted 'Pows', 'Zaps' and 'Whams'. These were wild times! Super-heroes were in and everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. Charleton, Dell/Gold Key, Tower, ACG, Harvey and others leaped into the super-hero business, hoping to emulate not only DC's prosperity, but especially Marvel's torrid success in the changing marketplace. And then, it was Archie Comic Group's turn…" from the introduction

They're not superheroes, they're ultra-heroes. That's the difference Archie comics put on their superheroes. Written by Jerry Siegel of Superman fame, this series reincarnated several old school heroes - many created by the legendary team of Kirby and Simon - The Shield, the first patriotic themed superhero; The Black Hood, and The Comet, while teaming them up with Fly-Man and Fly-Girl. Fly-Man being another Kirby and Simon creation called The Fly, but his name was changed to be more like that of Spiderman. This book doesn't actually contain any reprints of The Mighty Crusaders comic except for the first issue, but mainly consists of issues 31 - 33 of Fly-Man. This is after all the origin of the team.

Don't expect too much from these issues. They were written in the 1960s aimed at the thirteen year old market and at a time when the 60s Batman show was at full hypes, meaning comics were all about camp then. This the writing is deliberately over-blown and purple, with much of the dialogue describing what was happening in the panel. Granted this wasn't much different than any other super comic, but it's laid on extra thick here. The comics are very much self-aware of their campiness. While the parallels to the Avengers are obvious, the real test of any super comic is the villains. And they are the campiest bunch you might ever see. We have The Spider, a very similar creation to a character that Siegal wrote in England Alias the Spider; Eterno the Tyrant, the former king of sunken Atlantis, disturbed from a five million year sleep; The Destructor, a weird science villain with a sonic weapon; The Hangman and The Wizard, two golden-age heroes turned villain; and The Brain Emperor a weak character from another planet with psychic powers And who I forgot about the second I turned the final page.

The Mighty Crusaders didn't last long, only about seven issues. Fly-Man didn't last much longer. A victim of market oversaturation and its own camp tone. While the Batman series was a success, it seems most comic collectors wanted their heroes to take themselves and their situations seriously. Camp is only fun short term.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Taskmaster: Unthinkable


by Fred Van Lente  (Author), Jefte Palo (Illustrator)

Publisher : ‎ Marvel (May 18, 2011)

Softcover, 112 pages

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The Taskmaster is a minor character from a forgettable Avengers storyline, who has made good in modern comics - as happens from time to time, think The Punisher. From the beginning he was a different type of supervillain, blessed/cursed with photographic reflexes, which allows him to mimic any fighting style he witnesses at the cost of his long and short-term memory. Instead of a criminal enterprise, the Taskmaster earned his daily bread by training henchmen for terrorist organizations and supervillains. The character has always popped up in strange places.

The story is that for reasons unknown a billion dollar bounty is put on the Taskmaster’s head. To discover who and why, he has to fight hordes of his former students and delves into his own forgotten past. I liked the story here a lot. Centering on the Taskmaster, a man who constantly forgets huge chunks of his past, cannot be easy, but the revelations in this mini-series are fairly big, interesting and make sense within the context of the Marvel Universe.

The problem I have with this story is not the excellent art, nor most of the developments, but the ridiculousness of the main villain, Redshirt the Uber Henchmen with his organization Minions International Liberation Front (MILF) who is attempting to destroy the Taskmaster. I don’t mind some over-the-top action in a superhero comic, but this injection of silliness is just off for what ends up a pretty tragic story for the Taskmaster. Not only is this villain pretty stupid, the author feels the need to explain this obvious joke to us, thinking that we must all be morons for reading his material.

     For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Foolkiller: Psycho Therapy


by Dalibor Talajic (Illustrator), Max Bemis (Writer)

Publisher ‏: ‎ Marvel (July 11, 2017)

Softcover, 112 pages

Amazon Listing

There have been four characters calling themselves the Foolkiller, this deals with the second one, who is now out of a mental institution, gotten a degree in psychoanalysis, and is attempting to cure psychopath supervillains on behalf of what he believes is SHIELD. When he can’t cure them of their foolishness, he kills them. This is the basic plot at the beginning and it stays good for a while, but either the author became bored or sales were down and the story became very meta quickly. It was ground-breaking when Grant Morrison did it back in the ‘80s with Animal Man. Now it’s old hat, especially when you toss Deadpool in there as this comic does. I suppose it was supposed to come across as witty, but instead it seems lazy, as if the writer couldn’t come up with a serious plot, or thought they were better than the material so they decided to half-ass it with ‘witty banter” and now-dated pop culture references. Either way, I’ve read the meta-commentary and its been done before.

I know this sounds stupidly fanboy, but it really bugged me that the Foolkiller presented here, Greg Salinger is brown haired rather than the blonde he has always been portrayed as - and this brown hair appears in all of his flashbacks, so it's a definite oversight. Maybe it’s stupid, but I have mad love for the Foolkiller limited series from the 1990s - which has never been collected for some weird reason - and it is easily one of the darkest and best comics Marvel has ever produced. So when the third Foolkiller shows up, not written by comic legend Steve Gerber, and a piss-poor job is done in writing this character, I have to tune it out.

As you may have guessed by now, I really didn’t enjoy this comic too much. The art by Dalibor Talajic was excellent however, stylish yet sticking to the Marvel esthetic. It was probably the only thing that kept me reading, as the story got worse and worse. The very end however wsa good and fit in with the character of the second Foolkiller, even if the third Foolkiller was really a different character than I had read before. I really wished he hadn’t been ruined like this.

     For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst