Monday, July 29, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 9 (Issue #12)

Skipping more issues BECAUSE I CAN. Also, I kind of wanted to get to this, the start of a Savage Dragon crossover, right away. I'm no massive fan of Dragon, I've read little of his comic, but I watched the cartoon as a kid, I enjoy what I've read of it, and I think I understand Dragon's character more or less.

Similar to the Knights of Justice origin issue, this one comes with a pre-packaged gimmick, and as such it's a really goddamn amazing comic. Basically, Dragon warps back and forth between various eras, and his encounters in those eras are based on the comics that were around at the time. Each story has its own art style, too.

The story gets underway with a secret meeting of the Society of Evil Minds, the equivalent of the Monster Society of Evil. Its members include Hy Q. Binana, Cortex, the Wicked Worm (who survived his bisection in BB #1 and is now, uh, two worms), and two new guys: Baron Brain and Dr. Nirvana, Mighty Man's archenemy. The art here is really emphasizing the Sivana angle for not just Binana and Nirvana, but also Cortex

So this is taking place on Earth A, with Binana still able to travel between the worlds at his leisure. Although I guess this takes place before the Criss-Cross Crisis storyline. Of course, I have to wonder why he would bother at all if their plan couldn't affect Thunder Girl. Anyway, the Wicked Worms ask if this is about some stock market scam, and while cursing himself for missing that obvious idea, Binana says he's after more than money -- he wants to take the strongest, nastiest creatures from the future and use them to crush their heroic foils. And for starters, Officer Dragon looks like just the type. Looks like, of course.

To that end, Knight Watchman baddie Grandfather Clock has devised, uh, something like a time machine, sort of. See, this is why they need a big monster for the mission; the only thing Grandfather Clock could find that could produce the energy to break the time barrier was a uranium bomb, albeit one that can explode again and again. With the remote control, the Society of Evil Minds can send him to any time they like. 

As it turns out, Dragon is fighting Mighty Man because MM is possessed by the Wicked Worm (who is actually thousands of worms at  this point), and the Wicked Worm deliberately lured Dragon to a certain location to get him to jump on the time bomb.

Yeesh, is Dragon hairy. You know he's not a reptile? Erik Larsen told me on twitter so you know it's true. anyway, 1963 Mighty Man shows up to blow the SoEM's good time, and Dragon drops a bomb on them when they order him to do their dirty work: Mighty Man is a good friend of his, he's a police officer, and they're all under arrest. These guys are so racist, just because he's green he's the bad guy. He also explains why he was fighting Mighty Man in the future, because of course that came up.

In a panic, Binana splits for Earth B, while Grandfather Clock hits the remote to send Dragon back to his own time. The remote is broken in the explosion, meaning his time jumps are random from here on. Oh, man, this is the best Quantum Leap/Savage Dragon crossover since that fanfic I wrote.

Dragon arrives, seemingly, just a few years later, where the time bomb explosion chips away part of the "Coolidge Dam", a possible disaster that is naturally responded to by the Round Table of America.

Some items of note: Hummingbird, Mr. Martian, and Mike Merlin all put in their first appearances in this story. Hummingbird is sort of Hawkman and kind of the Atom; Mike Merlin is Snapper Carr with a bit of Zatanna (and after a magic sex change, full Zatanna as Ms. Merlin); and Mr. Martian is, duh, the Martian Manhunter. Anyway, the RTA fixes the dam up like new, and I discover that I hate Mike Merlin. Seriously, Snapper Carr is awesome, this guy is insufferable, even with amazing magic powers.

Dragon is saved by the Atomic Sub, and attacks Mr. Martian as soon as he comes to. The RTA has Mr. Martian's back, but Dragon mentions a Martian invasion in 1996, which I guess is a reference to the movie Mars Attacks! and the comics Image published that tied into it. It turns out htis is '65, so shortly before the Atomic Sub's death, by the way. Dragon tells his story, and the Knight Watchman picks up on Grandfather Clock's involvement immediately, but the bomb goes off seconds later.

Dragon lands in a Golden Age Dr. Weird story, where his explosion causes a house fire. Weird saves the people trapped inside, and goes to fight Dragon, but ends up hearing the guy out.

Dragon explains his predicament, and Weird can mystically tell he's being for real. Luckily, time travel is something he's familiar with; he was a scientist from the future who came back to the past and was killed, and whose spirit can't move on because he hasn't been born yet and thus shouldn't exist. Weird tries to set the time bomb to send Dragon to talk to his mentor, but when it blows, he ends up a little too far in the future.

Dragon pops in just as tryouts start, but Pantheon founders Jupiter Boy, Gravity Girl, and Clone Boy think he's one of the hopefuls and don't realize he needs help. Clone Boy's initially kind of interested in the explosive powers of this "Bomb Boy", but they don't allow people without inborn powers, and he's way too old anyway. 

Next it's 1962, at Midway City's football stadium, where the Midway Monsters are playing the Empire City Titans for the championship. Among the spectators: Reid and Jerry Randall, the Knight Watchman and Kid Galahad. A game winning field goal is shot out of the air by Grandfather Clock, who runs off with the championship trophy and prize money.

The Knight Watchman and Kid Galahad foil him, blah blah, and Dragon bursts into the picture. He yells at Grandfather Clock, who has no idea who he is or what he's talking about since this is before the Society of Evil Minds meeting. The 'misunderstanding' worsens until it's boom-boom time once more.

Yeah, it's the future. Er, the old future, at least; sometime in the 80s. An Ultiman robot brings Dragon to meet an aged, retired, powerless Chris Kelly. The robots do all the work these days, dispatched by Chris from his Command Center to deal with crises. Oh, and he's married and has a kid, and his wife is totally not Lori Lake. Is that why he moved out of the Secret Citadel, because his family couldn't live in a volcano? I just hope he still has his trophies. Anyway, Dragon asks if he can help him out, but Chris says he already has; Dragon made a jump to the 70s and there was some business with Venus that ended with the RTA getting him back to his own time. And, you know, kaboom, he's gone.

Now he's in a Brave and the Bold story. Or, uh, "Free and the Brave"; obviously the 70s, but not quite when the RTA has figured out how to help him. And this story is obviously to be continued in a later issue, as we're running out of pages pretty quick. You know, I once had a conversation on deviantArt with artist Shawn van Briesen about his work on this story, and in particular the Aparo aping.

The Knight Watchman and Dr. Weird are going to break into Grandfather Clock's place to find a remote for the time bomb. When they get there they find nothing... except for two Grandfather Clocks! He's since perfected the time bomb travel thing, you see, and even has the remotes. Both are immobilized by shock and considering how old and fat they are, probably also having heart attacks.

Weird uses one of the remotes to send the traveling Clock back whenever he came from, and tries to do the same to Dragon, who realizes this can't be the end because he hasn't met Venus yet. Throughout this whole story, Dragon's been a real cut-up, commenting sardonically about everything that happens as if he's resigned to the fate of Sam Beckett-but-not-really. This one ends with a classic: "THE END? Only time will tell!"

Sunday, July 28, 2013

It Came from the Dollar Bin! Ninja High School #1!

You probably don't know this (because I haven't mentioned it much at all), but I'm into anime and manga as well as western comics and cartoons. Not quite as much, mind you, but it's an interest of mine.

Consequentially, I think "animesque" art styles in comics are pretty neat; I've been a fan of Adam Warren for a long time, and I love the artists of UDON and their comics.

There was a huge explosion of interest in manga and anime in the late 90s and early 00s, but there was a niche fandom for that kind of thing even back in the mid-late 80s, believe it or not; you may know about Adam Warren's Dirty Pair comics, but he actually did the first of those back in 1988!

If the name "Ben Dunn" rings a bell and you don't know him from this, you may remember him as the brain behind the short-lived Marvel Mangaverse (which, coincidentally, also involved both Adam Warren and UDON), and the artist on its main title.

As far as anime-style goes, the art here is pretty authentic for the time period we're talking about, though it is... iffy in spots. Still, THIS happens on page 3:

Ignoring how huge that guy's head has to be, that's pretty dope right there. So that's Itchy Koo, which has g ot to be some crazy nickname. She's the heir to some crazy ninja clan, and is to be sent away as a punishment for losing a battle. If you're wondering where, well, duh, to the USA, stupid. The small town of Quagmire, no doubt in whichever state Springfield of The Simpsons fame is in.

Anyway, in Quagmire she's to marry hapless nerd Jeremy Feeple, and moreover she has to get him to propose. I'm not going to lie to you and say I get it, but this is some challenge to teach her humility and prove her suitability to lead the clan. 

Elsewhere, Itchy Koo's secret admirer (and head of the Rival Ninja Clan, or RNC, Inc.) Rivalsan Lendo receives this news from a ninja spy in a tree costume. Lendo is based on Mendo from Urusei Yatsura, the rich, handsome romantic rival of the series lead, shiftless skirt-chaser Ataru. Also, around this time I realized I forget how to tell the difference between something ironic, something satirical, and something stupid.

And he mobilizes guys to kill Jeremy, because duh what else is there to do? Anyway, at Quagmire High, we're briefly introduced to another wacky cast member: loony bird mad scientist Prof. Steamhead. The scene then abruptly cuts to outer space (seems to me we could have seen more at Quagmire High, but oh well), where, uh, some alien skunk people are approaching Earth in a battleship.

Princess Asrial of the Salusian Empire is to marry some Earth dude as part of their plan to absorb Earth into their empire. Again, I'm not going to pretend that this makes a lot of sense to me. I don't know why I'm having so much trouble with this plot, since as I mentioned, I watch anime. Anyway, surprise surprise, it's Jeremy Feeple as well. The crew starts laughing uproariously at the loser their princess is to wed, and this is how she shuts them up:

So we've got a real Betty-and-Veronica thing on our hands, except they're both deadly and powerful. Anyway, Asrial undergoes a transformation procedure to look human, though she keeps her skunk ears even in this form. Also, she comes out naked and we totally see boobs, which I wasn't expecting -- though bare breasts weren't unusual in anime from the 70s to the late 80s. Anyway, she's sent to Earth in a cramped shuttle and the battleship warps back home.

Finally we see Jeremy in person during a gym class soccer game. Also present is his classmate, the titanic muscle man Arnie.

Yeah, that's timely, isn't it? To think it was so long ago that Schwarzenegger and Rambo were both cutting edge references. Jeremy is called into Principal Weasel's office (subtle), and is introduced to Itchy Koo, who feeds him a story about their fathers knowing each other and insists he be the one to give her the guided tour. Along the way, they run into Jeremy's obligatory, unnecessary gaggle of friends who have no relevance to the plot.

Hearing an explosion, the group goes outside and sees Asrial, whose ship just landed. Apparently it was supposed to evaporate into nothing on landing, but it just won't. Seeing Jeremy and hearing his name, she proposes to him immediately, and the conflict between her and Itchy Koo begins. Also, there's a decent gag where Arnie bursts through a window with some huge guns because he heard an explosion.

Anyway, Prof. Steamhead shows up to suggest a competition between the two would-be brides. Meanwhile, Jeremy's brother Ricky is at home chilling with their mom, and also she and Ricky are ninjas. It turns out Ricky was arranged to marry Itchy-Koo long before Jeremy came into the picture, but he's sworn not to tell Jeremy about it. Oh, and Itchy Koo is to live with the Feeples.

Elsewhere, Lendo has relocated to Quagmire and has his sights on Jeremy. Prof. Steamhead has found Asrial a place to stay, and reveals that he knows her alien origins and wants something her race possesses DUN DUN DUUUUN.

All in all, for a manga-style comic from 1988, it was way better than I'd expected. I might try to pick up collections later, maybe.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Creature Commandos! Part 8 (WWT #110)

It's finally here; with this issue, the CC team is complete! Er, I guess I've spoiled this one more than enough already, but suffice it to say, in this issue Dr. Myrna Rhodes joins the team. And, again, I've been pretty straight with you up to this point, she has living snakes instead of hair.

As a sidenote, WWT #107 also had a cover story about women with snake hair. In that case, they were the Furies of Greek myth (uh, conflated with Medusa and her sisters I guess), but it still seems like an odd concept to run twice in four months.

For the first time in a while, this is the first story of the issue, which means Death is here to show us around. He shows us the CCs' dossiers, which sum up their origins and such. I think we learn a little new information for once, namely when and where our heroes were born, but it's mostly stuff we already know.

Anyway, as you may remember from last issue, the Creature Commandos' mission was to blow a dam, using the ensuing flood to take out German armor divisions. The explosives went off early and the CCs were caught in the flood

New artist Dan Spiegle draws Shrieve like he's kind of old, but according to that dossier I mentioned he should only be 33 right now. Oh, and Velcro has red eyes now, just go with it. Everyone survives the flood, but Shrieve was badly battered and lies unconscious or maybe sleeping. Lucky carries Shrieve as they head to a battlefield hospital, and I think it's pretty interesting that they'd even bother since they all hate him.

Oh, and they steal a German half-track to expedite the journey. And Lucky busts up an artillery gun on the way.

Yeah, this is Bob Kanigher, and it's pretty damn flowery. Velcro, Lucky, and even Griffith are haunted by the scene, according to said flowery narration. They get to the hospital, and turn a now-awake Shrieve over to plastic surgeon Dr. Myrna Rhodes, who vows to fix his face up good as new. Shrieve, being Shrieve, has two lines before he's wheeled into surgery, and uses both of them to insult the "freaks". A month later, when he takes his bandages off, he indeed looks just as he did before the flood. Rhodes is very kind to the CCs throughout their meeting, probably because she's seen her share of men uglied up by the war.

They ask Rhodes to operate on them, make them at least look human again, but she tells them their conditions are irreversible. They angrily charge off, knocking down everything in their way, as Rhodes tries to calm them down. This culminates in, well, Rhodes' origin.

Soon the hospital is evacuated, but Rhodes doesn't come out. Lucky decides to repay her kindness by saving her, rushing into a cloud that Griffith describes as "like breathing flame" and coming back out with an unconscious Rhodes in his arms. A week later (why are they still there?), Rhodes, with her head wrapped up like a mummy, asks the CCs, Shrieve included, to meet her outside at midnight. She reveals that she's been barred from practicing medicine and wants to join them.

So a German night bomber lands, full of commandos there to snatch up a renowned Allied general. The CCs and Rhodes see the whole thing, and Rhodes saunters over to do something about it, in the process showing her Creature Commando credentials.

Yeah, snake hair. Unlike the other Commandos, Rhodes isn't super strong or agile, but those snakes are venomous and seem to attack whomever she wills them to. This might seem like a power with fairly limited range, but these are the Creature Commandos; besides Shrieve they don't even carry guns and just wreck stuff with their bare hands. So the CCs rush to her aid, taking care of the bomber's crew and keeping the plane from escaping.

In the aftermath, Rhodes states the obvious, saying the chemical bath she took mutated her like crazy, and asks if she's good to join the team. Everybody agrees that they could use her -- even Lucky gives an emphatic thumbs up.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men! Part 8!

Sorry, I know it's been nearly two weeks since I last updated my signature Big Bang-Metal Men-Creature Commandos series. But, since neither of my readers have been bothering me about it it can't be that big a deal.

You know, I thought the living evil rollercoaster from last issue was a bit of a stretch, and even the Gas Gang was pretty hokey, but this bad guy is made of rubber rollers from a newspaper press. Every time I think I've seen everything, the Metal Men show up and prove me wrong.

...And, of course, everyone gets rolled into coins, like a penny at a theme park. Oh, is that the connection to the previous issue? Oh, and please tell me we aren't calling Iron "Ron" now. I hope that's just a typo. Anyway, as you'll remember, last issue ended with the Metal Men blinded and the blind kid Billy forced to lead them to safety. Luckily, he always counts his steps, and gets them back to the rocket with little incident by retracing them. Once they get inside, however...

Wait, "teenage"? Seriously? I would've guessed Billy was 11 or 12. Also, I really don't see how any of the Metal Men would be able to tell what's happening outside just by listening. Anyway, if they're to survive this, Billy has to launch the rocket with the Metal Men's instruction. He manages that, but they end up bringing the three nearest evil rides with them... until they melt away to nothing when the rocket escapes the atmosphere.

There's a great moment here where the Metal Men are praising Billy. Note Lead's line.

A robot like you, Lead? I think there are paramecia as smart as you. Anyway, Mercury isn't happy (as usual), because nobody knows where they're even going -- as long as everybody's blind, there's no way they'll get back to Earth. As if on cue, the rocket spins out of control for a reason nobody's quite sure of.

Meanwhile, Doc is still hard at work in his lab, trying to devise a way to cure Billy's blindness. He actually doesn't know Billy and the Metal Men are in space, as he hasn't left the lab since bringing Billy there.

Anyway, the rocket hurtles towards another strange planet. Incidentally, no real explanation for why it went crazy like that; Billy thinks there might be some cosmic storm, Gold theorized the gyroscope got busted, and Mercury blames Billy's blind piloting. Anyway, it's the planet of the Robot Juggernauts, the giant guys made of rubber rollers.

I don't know why, but I take these guys much less seriously than the giant tin amazons, or even the evil theme park rides. Billy manages an emergency landing (having learned how to land the rocket last issue), and everyone's A-OK on the ground... except for Mercury, who was splattered all over the place while the Metal Men were bumping into each other. He can't pull himself together and needs everyone else to put his errant globules and parts into place. You know, this is kind of a weird comic.

They end up taking Mercury (in buckets) outside, so as to have more room to put him back together. Luckily, the Metal Men's blindness starts to wear off around then -- just in time to see the Robot Juggernauts making their way to them. They try to lead the robots away, but apparently they didn't even see them, as they go right for the rocket and take it away, and the Metal Men naturally have to go after it. They leave Billy behind for his own safety just as it starts to rain.

OR DO THEY? The bizarre chemicals in this alien planet's rain just cure the Hell out of Billy's blindness, a development that causes Platinum to come back, grab him, and take him along. Hey, isn't that how this got started in the first place, Platinum noticing and caring about Billy? Anyway, a robot lion, not unlike the robot birds from the Tin Amazon planet, leaps out and attacks.

So is this like Transformers, where Earth is the exception to the rule and most planets with life have mechanical lifeforms? Anyway, Lead and Iron turn into a huge press and flatten it without much trouble.
Soon they see their rocket on the horizon, but a huge robot juggernaut blocks the way. At this point, a more-irritable-than-usual Mercury puts himself back together in a lopsided, incomplete fashion, as he's sick of being treated like an invalid. 

The juggernaut magnetizes itself, which attracts the Metal Men (yes, all of them) to it. Platinum thinks quickly and throws Billy to Tin, who was furthest away from the robot. While the other Metal Men are caught in the juggernaut's rollers, Tin turns into a hoop and rolls Billy to safety... until Billy insists they go back for the others.

It turns out these giant robot juggernauts are cannibals, and they were going to eat the rocket after putting it in a smelting pool. But now the Metal Men are up first. And naturally this entails rolling them flat.

As Billy and Tin return, the other guys are dropped into the smelter. They're melting pretty good until Gold suggests they take the opportunity to form an alloy with each other. And this takes the form of a giant robot.

If you've read Kingdom Come, you might remember a giant named Alloy was present when the Parasite killed Captain Atom, and that Alloy was the combined form of the Metal Men. I had no goddamn idea that was based on an actual thing in a Metal Men comic (although obviously this one doesn't include Tin). Man, this is 1964, which I think makes the Metal Men the original combining robot team. Yeah, eat it Voltron, Devastator, and Daiapolon. 

In their Alloy form, the Metal Men make quick work of the cannibal juggernauts and head back home in their rocket. Humorously, everyone but Tin is still combined into the alloy form; I guess it'll take a trip to the Metal Recovery Room to sort that out. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It came from the Dollar Bin! Sectaurs #1!

Remember the 80s? I don't, I was born at the very end of that whole decade, but I'm very familiar with a very specific subset of the era's pop culture: the comics and cartoons. A lot of 80s cartoons saw syndication in the 90s, and Cartoon Network was airing Silverhawks and GI Joe as late as 2002, and, uh, I watched that stuff.

The point is, pretty much all the successful cartoons of the 80s had one thing in common: a toyline. In the earliest and most notable cases (He-Man, GI Joe, Transformers), the toys came first, with the show being created to promote them. But as the decade dragged on, there were a lot of attempts to duplicate the success of those shows, and a lot of toylines came pre-packaged with a TV miniseries and a Marvel comic, including Visionaries, Starriors, and Animax. Oh, and Sectaurs.


Sectaurs is interesting for two reasons: One, the good guy and the bad guys are all humanoid bug people. The bugs would be villains in just about any other context -- in Beast Wars, for instance, most Predacons are bugs. Of course, in most cases the Sectaurs' resemblence to insects begins and ends at their antennae and eyes. Two, the toys' gimmick was that the figures came with mounts or attack animals, seen above. Some of them were essentially hand puppets that you perched the figures atop.

The character designs for the good guys follow the "but not too inhuman" rule, with the heroic Price Dargon sporting a full head of hair, for instance. Oh, and the comic is written by Bill Mantlo, famed for Rom: Spaceknight and Micronauts, which perhaps not coincidentally were also toy tie-ins. I don't know much about those comics, but this is one of the most dense, overwritten single issues this side of Top Ten -- I've hardly ever seen this many characters, concepts, or subplots introduced all at once. And unlike Top Ten, none of it's especially new or interesting; if anything it's one cliche to the next in rapid succession.

The setting is the planet Symbion, which is essentially your average fantasy setting with bug people. The Dark Domain, with its capital Symbax, is a forthrightly evil nation built on the backs of legions of helpless slaves

The Shining Realm, in case subtlety isn't your thing, is naturally the good world power. But, as the slaves say, the dark empress Devora wishes to conquer it. She has her armies invade the border kingdoms between the Dark Domain and the Shining Realm, under false pretenses of discovering heretics there.

At the edge of the Shining Realm, the warrior Pinsor, riding his steed Battle Beetle, arrives at his brother Draymor's farm. Pinsor is the mustachioed, three-fingered guy on the cover, and by my wager the elder statesman, Man-at-Arms type among the heroes.

At dinner, Draymor asks his brother to use his friendship with Prince Dargon to ensure that the border farmlands are protected from invasion. Pinsor balks at the suggestion, saying this is a time of peace, when Devora's forces attack.

That was supposed to be funny, right? Or was this during the period where "AIIIEEEEE!" was used without irony? I can't even tell if the soldier's being sarcastic. Oh, and these guys are General Spidrax and Commander Waspax. Note the buzzing bug mount that matches Waspax's color scheme. They also provide exposition: on Symbion, heretics, also known as Keepers, are people who practice "arcane arts of the ancients" -- I guess there's magic in this setting. Anyway, Pinsor and Draymor join the fight and inspire the peasant farmers, but Draymor is knocked off his bug mount by the hideous brute Skulk, Empress Devora's stepson and the ugly guy on the far right of the cover.

Oh, and more exposition: everybody who rides these bugs, or insectaurs (hence the name, I guess), is "telebonded" with them, symbiotically linked. Thus, they share each other's pain. And... surely there are benefits to this, because "feeling your horse's pain", by itself, would be a really crappy superpower.

Pinsor's brother is wounded and cannot fight, and the battle is hopeless at this point anyway. Pinsor goes to tell Dargon's uncle Regent Galken of the Dark Domain's treachery.  The villagers are enslaved for "harboring heretics" as Spidrax gloats about a job well done. Meanwhile, our hero Prince Dargon and his best pal Zak are on a hunting expedition.

Yeah, "Bitaur", which I think is a triple pun. You get used to lame puns when you look at the 80s; He-Man was probably the biggest offender. Incidentally, Bitaur's one of the small insectaurs that can't be ridden. Dargon's speech is not unlike that of Marvel's old Shakespearean Asgardians, I should mention, and I bet that kind of dialogue is fun as hell to write.

Dargon defies death, grabbing the venipede as it goes under and returning to the surface with the venom he needed minutes later. He joins Zak and their pal Gnatseye as they go to the Crimson Claw, the hottest pub in the Shining Realm's capital of Prosperon (because, you know, subtlety). There, in the midst of their celebrating, Dargon's old mentor Mantys comes to browbeat him about his royal duties; Dargon's father has been missing for some time, and he is unwilling to ascend to the throne unless he knows him to be dead.

At the same time, Skulk tracks down a for real suspected Keeper, followed covertly by Spidrax and Waspax. The trail leads to a "Hyve", some place where the "Ancients" lived, which  mostly looks like part of a spaceship. Yeah, magic and super science are both heretical. Because at this point, why not? Fantasy? Let's get some sci-fi in there. Maybe add a gritty crime drama a little later. Oh, and Skulk touches something and ruins everything.

Outside, a red fog rolls out, killing the soldiers Spidrax left behind. It develops into a crazy loco storm, which both floods Prosperon and tears it to pieces, and sends wildlife running for hundreds of miles. Dargon also talks about the great cataclysm, and suspects that the storm may not be natural. Mantys, however, knows this to be the case -- he has knowledge of the Ancients' science, and would be labeled a heretic if anyone knew.

Regent Galken calls a conference to which the kings of the Shining Realm's city-states attend. It's revealed that Devora has spun Skulk's actions to her advantage, and used the death of Spidrax's troops as an excuse to start a full-fledged war against the Keepers. Moreover, the storm's devastation of Prosperon has the Shining Realm's rulers convinced that they should ally with the Dark Domain against the Keepers. Man, political intrigue, huh? Subplot #32A is introduced when Zak's fiancee Belana, who secretly likes Dargon a lot more than Zak, shows up. Oh, and Mantys tries to warn against allying with the Dark Domain.

This all strikes me as a little ambitious for a tie-in comic to a line of action figures, but then again, Mantlo is clearly the expert on that. So Mantys takes Dargon to his father's quarters and has a talk with him about the ancients and the Great Cataclysm, outing himself as a Keeper. He says that if the Shining Realm is to survive, Dargon needs to get find the remaining Hyves before the Dark Domain can -- and that if he does, he can use their technology for good. That's when Pinsor bursts in to tell of the attack on his brother's farm.

At the same time, Devora assigns Spidrax, Waspax, and Pinsor to the task of finding the other Hyves as well, except, you know, for evil. Also, it turns out her castle is called Grimhold, because, again, subtlety. Spidrax thinks to himself about the power any one Hyve contains, and how he can use it to usurp Devora's place as ruler, because it's not enough for the heroes to fight the bad guys, they have to fight each other.

WHEW. Is it me or was that long? For a 24 page comic, that is. Crap, I talk about how much happens in a given issue of the Metal Men, but at least that's a little longer than your typical monthly. And here's the thing: I have so little reason to care about any of these characters. The setting and concept are so muddled and complicated that it takes all issue to introduce them, and the characters have so little room to show their... characters. Man, I always talk about how easy it must be to look at bad comics at be funny, and while I wouldn't call this horrible, I take that back.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 8 (Issue #8)

I'm skipping issue #7 for two reasons. One: The headliner is a Mighty Man story in the vein of a 70s Marvel Captain Marvel story, and no offense but it didnt' interest me for a second. Two: #8 is an absolute blast. Whereas most Big Bang stories and characters are straight pastiches, aping the style of old DC material without making any comment on its quality, this one is pure satire, mocking the various "ages" and trends of the superhero genre very openly.

The cover is a really cool wraparound number that sort of communicates the idea of the issue right off the bat.

Our hero is Mr. US, who as you might imagine is based on Captain America quite heavily. This makes him one of only a scant handful of Big Bang heroes to be based on a Marvel Character -- the only other I can really think of is the Badge, who is only half Captain America. There's a little more to it than that, but you'll see later.

The comic is presented to us as an excerpt from a book, "Mr. US: 50 Forgotten Years", with a forward written by "Prof. Emil Garbanzo". It's only appropriate that a pastiche of a blond ubermensch should have a spoof of Miracleman's Emil Gargunza writing about him. Anyway, the idea is that we're going to see snippets of Mr. US stories from across his 50+ year character history - from the 40s to the 90s. And let me tell you, it's pretty hysterical stuff.

I'm going to try to post stuff other than the big action scenes for once, too.

The original Mr. US was Caspar Milquetoast, a 4-F weakling with flat feet. He was approached by scientists working on "Project Nazi-Stopper", and was turned into a cyborg. His enhancements include  mechanical arms, a mechanical leg (right), a radio built into his head, and stainless steel arches in his feet. However, one of the scientists, Henry, is secretly a Nazi spy named Heinrich. Caspar notices something suspicious about Henry and decides to follow him -- wearing the costume Project Nazi-Stopper designed for him, of course. He busts up Heinrich's spy ring, and takes a stray dog as his sidekick Dogtag. This seems fairly standard and unironic, except for the part where Mr. US makes up Dogtag's name on the spot.

Oh, and the casual racism; both before and after becoming Mr. US, Caspar makes a couple of comments about "Nips". He also hates "Ratzis", but that's a fairly popular sentiment.

After superhero comics lost popularity, Mr. US wasn't seen again until 1963. This time he's 18-year old Dave Donovan, more a parody of Peter Parker than Steve Rogers. He has relationship troubles and nobody really likes him. In the hospital to get his tonsils removed, a mix-up with his chart has him instead enhanced as the subject of the top-secret Project Patriot.

The scientists who enhanced Dave stop him as he leaves the hospital and explain the mix up to him. They're Doctors von Bismark and Tokai, a German and a Japanese (although both or either of them might be that and -American) -- people Caspar Milquetoast wouldn't have been caught dead talking to.

However, their assistant Evan is secretly a Soviet spy named Ivan. Sadly, he doesn't look much like Heinrich. While Tokai and von Bismark talk to Dave about his employment possibilities with the government, Ivan steals Dave's clothes, hoping to find a wallet so he can know what address to kidnap him from later. Dave sees the whole thing, and gives chase wearing the costume seen above. He busts up the Soviet spy ring, before realizing he's late for the school dance, where it turns out his crush Polly ended up going with that asshole Bart.

The mid-late 60s went with the camp ridiculousness often associated with the Silver Age (as the introduction to this segment puts it, they tried to "duplicate popular TV shows that thought they were duplicating comics"). Anyway, Mr. US and his sidekick US, Jr. are held captive on a space station by some talking gorilla with four arms and medals on his chest.

Yeah, B.A.D.G.U.Y.S. Mr. US and US, Jr. are members of G.O.O.D.G.U.Y.S., naturally, the Government Organization for Organized Defense of the United (Yeeha!) States. And lookit that Bob Haney, early Teen Titans slang. Like, you're steppin' on my pride, Clyde! This Mr. US, name unknown, has an origin like Dave's (and most of the same enhancements, except the transistor is replaced with "infrared" eyes and ears), except he deliberately caused the mixup that turned him into Mr. US. No spy involved this time, and this Mr. US mostly fights colorful costumed bad guys like the Money Manipulator and Harry Horrid.

Anyway, blah blah, he defeats the evil gorilla guy, but he and Jr. need to get off the space station in 20 minutes before "the missiles" are launched... and that's the end. Halfway done!

This next one is my favorite, because it's based on something very dear to me: Mark Gruenwald's Captain America.

This is specifically based on the storyline where Steve Rogers quit the position of Captain America and adopted the identity of Nomad, the Man without a Country, and trekked across the land to get in touch with 'the real America'. The US Government and military were the bad guys for once, so Captain America couldn't be the establishment anymore.

This Mr. US is Brett Kowaski, a college student and draft dodger who was beaten by police at a "no nukes" protest and callously scooped up by the army as the test for Project Perfect Patriot. Brett, with little exaggeration, doesn't really like America, and is disgusted when he wakes up and is shown the Mr. US costume.

Told he'd be killed if he refused, Brett acted as the army's strongarm, fighting the establishment's definition of "bad guys" -- real threats like aliens and supervillains, and harmless dissidents like he used to be. Eventually, he got sick of it and quit, deciding he'd be happier running from the military than serving it. Brett's changed his mind about America by now, and like Cap-as-Nomad, he wants to find it, to understand it -- and one day, represent it earnestly. It's implied he even still has the costume, but isn't wearing it at the moment.

Okay, second-to-last is, I think, the most uproariously hysterical thing I've seen in a while. It's the 80s, but the late 80s -- and what says late 80s comics like Watchmen? Yeah, that's the spoof here; dig the 9 panel format.

I think I may like this too much to explain what's so funny about it. I doubt anyone else even seen this as particularly biting satire, but I think it's brilliant. This Mr. US seems to be a re-envisioned version of the original -- he's Casper Milquetoast, a long-retired superhero with a horribly dreary life, some pretty serious depression, and a marriage that's barely keeping him sane. He's got narration text boxes with screwed up edges, like Rorschach. Unlike every version of the character before him, he's nearly totally cybernetic, but with Terminator-like skin on top. Or so it seems...

I don't mean anything against Watchmen, because I love it to death, but this is a great parody of it and its imitators -- it's a too-serious comic that doesn't understand how ridiculous it is. It's exactly what Morrison talked about in Animal Man: trying to dignify a costumed lunatic. Of course, Morrison's equally guilty of that in Animal Man -- which is why this segment is also in part a parody of the early Vertigo line, with its gritty, emotional revamps of established DC heroes like Swamp Thing and Shade the Changing Man. You may not remember the less successful revamps of characters like Brother Power, because they were exactly like this.

Finally, what else, 90's Mr. US.

This one's easy to tell you about; Mr. US shakes down some goon about the location of mobster Freddy Lorenzo, whom he then kills. When asked about his origin, Mr. US replies that he has no idea what he is or where he came from. Narration says he doesn't even care -- he's a butt kicker, he kicks butt, simple as that.

Mr. US never appeared again in any Big Bang story; I think he might be fictional within the context of the Big Bang universe, meaning that Carl Kelly could wind down from a long day as Ultiman and read a Mr. US comic.

It Came from the Dollar Bin! (Prologue)

I recently hit a used book store to see what they had in the way of comics. Turns out they had a huge, like, horizontal shelf for single issues, with 4 or 5 longbox-length individual shelves. And I'm not sure what this says about my taste, but I found everything I like there, in that bin, costing a dollar bagged and 50 cents loose.

This isn't something I'd done since I was a kid, understand; most of my comics are bought as they come out, or in trades if they're older. I swear, my back is killing me after bending over those boxes for as long as I did.

Oh, and speaking of trades, the selection was pretty poor. Before I moved on to the bin, I checked the trades on the shelves -- the only thing I was vaguely interested in reading, much less owning, was, no joke, Trouble by Mark Millar and Terry Dodson.

Anyway, the dollar bin. It was a veritable treasure trove of amazing material; I went home with only 9 issues, but I'm VERY happy with my purchases.

Sectaurs #1 (For my 80s mania; they also had Robotix #1, but I had to draw the line somewhere)
H-E-R-O Double Feature (collecting the first two issues)
DNAgents #1
Tom Strong #4 (AKA the one with the Art Adams art)
Ninja High School #1
Youngblood #1 (for historical context, primarily)
The Tick: Heroes of the City #1
Gen13 vol. 1 #12 and #25

There was a whole collection of Gen13 v1 in there, all bagged and boarded, though the issues were jumbled about quite a bit, as customers pull stuff out then shove it wherever all the time. There were also issues missing, which I imagine was due to other customers buying them previously. Other complete collections included Catwoman, Stormwatch, and X-Force. Also DV8, but that was incomplete as hell, as if someone bought up the whole run before I got there and only extra issues were left. I actually saw some comics that I picked up in a used book store when I was a kid, like Generation X #4 (the Christmas issue with Orphan Maker).

Oh, and I found some New 52 stuff. Yeah, already in the dollar bin (though, admittedly, it was GI Combat and Deathstroke)

In the spirit of all this crap I found, I'm going to do a one-off post about each #1 in there. Just the #1s; I don't want to jump into story arcs all half-cocked.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Creature Commandos! Part 7 (Weird War Tales #109)

This is the first of a two-parter, and after WWT #100's issue-length adventure, the longest CC story to date.

Yeah, they're doing the Dr. Strangelove thing. And when you see it in context you may notice it's even more blatant than it looks.

The token origin recap takes the form of a full page of Death introducing the CCs. The only notable thing about that is Velcro, who is wearing a popped collar with a mostly-unbuttoned shirt, which makes him look like Disco Dracula. 

I don't see any credits for who does the art for the Death segments (which is different from the actual stories in a given WWT issue, at least to my eye), and no offense, but he's not that great -- even his Death looks goofy.

Speaking of Velcro, he's the focus as the story starts off. The CCs are in liberated France, relaxing at a cafe (bizarrely openly). Velcro drinks from a huge jug of wine, which he bitterly smashes against the table, enraged at how unsatisfying it is. Not that it's crappy wine necessarily, but it's just... not blood, which is the only thing Velcro can really ingest these days. He angrily attacks a waitress, nearly biting her before Lucky pulls him off.

Lucky, the sensitive soul that he is, plucks a flower from a nearby table and gives it to the girl in apology. Despite Shrieve's comments about "giving her nightmares", she rewards Lucky with a kiss on the cheek. Aww. I find this a pretty interesting scene; it's not often that Velcro lashes out like that.

Velcro gets his fill of chicken blood at a butcher shop, and they head to a mission briefing. As it happens, Griffith's transformations still seem to be pretty random, and he claims to have no control over when they occur; this means that human Griffith is getting on the plane. German armor is demolishing Allied infantry and tanks, and with the dense fog neither artillery or fighters can come to the rescue. The CCs are to jump out of a bomber after it drops its payload, and destroy a dam in order to drown the panzers.

However, it's not that simple, as the last of the bombs gets stuck in the bomb bay doors. Shrieve tells Lucky to fix it, and he obliges by tackling it loose. He keeps hold of the thing as it descends. I think this is another manifestation of Lucky's death wish.

It's not long before the other CCs bail, as German night fighters zero in on the bomber and the pilot tells them to jump. The bomber is destroyed seconds later, and Velcro's chute is ruined by an enemy fighter. This isn't such a big deal for Velcro, who just turns into a bat and hunts down the pilot who put him in this situation.

When the pilot slides back his canopy to check for Allied chutes, batty Velcro swoops into the cockpit and bites his neck, causing him to panic and crash. I guess it goes without saying that Velcro's bat form is like Superbat, stronger and faster than any normal bat. Velcro naturally leaves before the plane wrecks, and soon rendezvouses with Griffith and Shrieve in a dense forest.. Griffith turns wolfman before Velcro's eyes, and for once we get some insight into what's really in Griffith's head -- Griffith is in wolf mode, but expresses disdain for his monstrous form and wishes to be a normal human again, permanently. I guess humanizing Griffith had to happen some time or other.

Shrieve greets the two Creature Commandos, saying that Lucky must not have made it. Not long after he says this, Lucky shows; it turns out he let go of the bomb and deployed his chute at more or less the exact last second. I just noticed this; last issue he got basic vocal chords, but now he's back to being totally mute; naturally, this means he can't explain how he survived to anybody. He also recovered the explosives they need to destroy the dam, which were dropped by parachute before they jumped.

Later, after finding their target (the Knolde Dam), they begin setting up the explosives. They're spotted by an enemy patrol fairly quickly, but that's what the CCs are here for, right? There's a really badass part where Lucky pounds in a tank with its own torn-off treads, but check out him busting up this half-track.

Griffith, Velcro, and even Shrieve join the fight after they finish rigging the explosives, but said ordnance goes off early and they're, you know, hoist by their own petard, caught in the ensuing flash flood. This was intended to mess up whole tank divisions, you can imagine how rough it is on four commandos.

The captions make no  bones about how desperate their situation is, and... that's it, tune in next time. I'm just going to go ahead and hazard a guess that next time everybody's okay and they meet a hot woman with snake hair.