Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men! Part 15!

The Metal Men are mostly pretty silly, and this issue's no different. I will say, though, I sort of miss the continuing story -- remember that? Been a while since one issue fed directly into the other. 

Being shrunk is basically something every superhero goes through. Wait, would you consider these guys superheroes? They mostly just finish stuff bad guys start, they don't look for people to help. Whatever, the point is, I'm surprised it took this long for this plot to occur... although technically that adventure on the giant planet covered it before.

I read ahead: no, Nameless won't be named in this issue, or for that matter any issue. The matter of her name isn't even alluded to in this one. Was she really a draw back in the day? Shudder to think. So the issue opens with Toy Story-style walking, talking action figures Doc invented for sick kids, because let's face it this guy has way too much free time.

Stealthy ads for other DC comics, nice! Incidentally, on the topic of Captain Storm and Johnny Cloud, few people realize that the Losers were all solo stars (or in the case of Gunner and Sarge, an existing team) before they teamed up.

And not to sound crass or anything, but I really don't think brain-injured children will be comforted by living toys with tiny working machine guns. Man, look at that line-up, though -- one superhero, five war characters. I sort of like superheroes just fine, but it really goes to show how different the whole comic landscape was back then.

Oh, and Doc has a new girlfriend, a model named Cleo. I don't know what these women see in him; he's no Mr. Personality, and between six 'kids' and his work he's got a ton of baggage.

Like all the girls before her, Cleo leaves in a huff shortly after Platinum does, angry at Doc for caring about his robot at all. Doc's not too broken up about losing his girl, or about Platinum having another one of her 'episodes', but then again this is like the tenth time those things have happened to him.

Platinum runs off in the flying saucer, and the other Metal Men catch up to her via Iron-thrown Tin boomerang (including Iron, just roll with it). Apparently she just wanted to blow off some steam by driving. To space. They get a distress signal from a nearby planet, but the flying saucer is hit by a weird beam that shrinks them.

Where this beam came from and why are never really bothered with, probably because it was figured nobody would care. And I guess I don't, really, so whatever. Gold turns into a stack of coins so the Metal Men can still operate the consoles, and Nameless is pretty turned on by it.

Is this another "women, am I right fellas?" kind of thing? Also, Gold's imagination seems pretty lacking these days, he's used that same coin form a bunch of times lately. We get it, gold is valuable. Remember the time you turned into a deck of cards, though? You're better than this, man.

I seem to remember a totally different kind of robot termites from a few issues back, but whatever. I wonder what kind of bourbon is in those barrels. Anyway, a decent fight breaks out, which is naturally handled in one panel as opposed to a whole issue like it would today.

This is a pretty sound victory for the Metal Men, despite Gold's silly tooth form and joke. The angered Termites, however, are already howling for revenge, and scurry away to gather reinforcements for a large-scale Earth invasion.

After a wacky comic relief interlude with the wooden barrel robots, the Metal Men give chase and head back to Earth, still at fun-size. They try to find something in Doc's lab that can make them grow back, but accidentally hit the button for Space Ghost's Stasis Beam. And yes, it was Platinum who messed up, because, you know, women.

The Metal Men are confused with regular toys and shipped to a charity bazaar, where a blind kid picks them up. Nobody else wanted them because unlike the other toys, the frozen Metal Men can't move or talk, but this kid's just a big fan. What is it with poor blind boys and the Metal Men? That night, he hears about the Termites collapsing a bridge, and is brought to tears by how helpless he feels. In a classic fairy tale moment, the tears fall on the tiny frozen Metal Men, who are soon up and moving and back to regular size. Uh, it was something in the saline. It's funny how this comic was supposed to be educational but turned out to be really nonsensical.

They hurry to where the Termites were last seen, but at normal size the little guys move too fast for them. The only solution: blow themselves up, stupid! This is accomplished by Gold forming a coil around the others until Mercury goes kerblooey.

You know, either these guys aren't the best at pattern recognition, or they're like the Venture Brothers and don't remember their many previous deaths. 

I'm a little concerned with the fact that the normal heroic sacrifice has mutated into attention-seeking group suicides more-or-less every issue. Doc investigates the explosion later out of simple scientific curiosity, and revives our metal heroes with the traces he recovers from the scene. Then the whole group heads back to that blind kid's house to thank him (and give him some real Metal Men toys). I hope they went to check in on Billy afterwards, reminded of him by this similar unnamed kid.

Friday, October 18, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 15 (issue #30)

Jumping forward a bit (and retiring that qualifier since there's only five issues left and the only sequential ones I plan to look at are #33 and #34), we get an oddly modern-style cover (or modern for 1999, at least). This issue stars the Verdict, AKA the Knight Watchman's answer to the Outsiders. If you don't know a lot about the Outsiders, Siskoid will hook you up, but long story short -- they kind of sucked.

The interesting thing about the Verdict is that they were created by Mike W. Barr -- creator of the Outsiders themselves! I don't  think it's super amazing (it was pretty stupid after all, and to be honest so is this issue), but it adds a couple layers to the proceeding story.

This all starts with the Knight Watchman staking out the meeting of some secret society, only for it to be crashed by Psi-Mage, the woman you probably noticed the hardest on the cover up there. Let me just say -- I don't for one second claim to understand what Psi-Mage's powers really are, she seems capable of basically anything. She can even see through that blindfold, I guess, as it's not mentioned to hinder her at all.

She steals that book, but the Knight Watchman bursts in and starts fighting her, even though they're clearly both enemies of the same secret society of wizards or whatever. I never really thought about it, but jeez, superheroes can be so immature; cops don't get into fights over collars like this, for instance.

Also in the group are Hot Wire, some electrical ghost who inhabits the body of a wanted murderer (below) and an edged weapons expert called Kuttar. Similar to how the A-Team gets BA on planes, they have to drug and handcuff the murderess when Hot Wire wants to come out and play. Credit where it's due, that's a somewhat interesting concept.

They get their own action scene where they steal computer codes from some secret criminal cabal. In utter defiance of the rule of threes, there isn't a third secret group to steal from -- the book and the codes were all they needed. The two of them meet back up with Psi-Mage at a motel, where they're interrupted by the Knight Watchman, who is interested in hearing what the hell their freaking deal is.

These are the Verdict -- Psi-Mage, Kuttar, Hot Wire, and Quintessence, your fakey Looker, Katana, Halo (or maybe Black Lightning, or both), and Metamorpho. Of the bunch, Kuttar is the most similar to her inspiration, being an Indian woman wielding and named after a katar (cool spelling, Mike Barr) rather than a Japanese woman with a katana.

Note that their story is more similar to Gen13 or the DNAgents, though, being as they are refugees from some secret project. I can't help but think this panel is a little melodramatic, though -- surely the Round Table of America is a bigger deal than these guys. Anyway, the Knight Watchman knows idiots when he sees them, and insists he come along with them on their quest to retrieve their 4th member, Quintessence.

Also unlike the Outsiders, the Verdict (especially leader Psi-Mage) is very much in the driver's seat throughout the rest of the issue, with the Knight Watchman just along for the ride. I'm not sure if this is more or less embarrassing than Batman's relationship with the Outsiders. Again, I don't know a whole lot about the Outsiders, but I never would have guessed Looker was Barr's clear favorite.

Anyway, they've traced Quintessence's location to a water purification plant, and discover him chained up in the bowels of the place. He doesn't seem to remember them and is soon mind-controlled into fighting them by their old captor Dr. Smight. The Big Q's powers are sort of like the elemental version of Ultra Boy's:

..and so on in that fashion, air, water, 'n all that 'n all that, only one at a time. The fifth power is a mystery. Oh, and yes, this makes him the Metamorpho equivalent, duh, though like a lot of these guys (except Kuttar I guess) he's a pretty loose counterpart. Somehow it turns out that Smight is actually in the next room, along with her evil sidekick Dr. Rajeev, Kuttar's father.

"Smight", that's cute. I do sort of like the evil old crippled scientist being a woman for once, that's pretty unusual. Kuttar's dad being evil is clearly a cheap way to tie her into the backstory, as there's nothing superhuman about her at all, though. Oh, and when Smight says that, yeah, his daughter has to go, he's like "oh, okay then." Gee, thanks, pops. 

Quintessence is ordered to attack, but Psi-Mage tries to override his brainwashing. She can't take over his mind, but she can activate one part of it, making him use his fifth power: basically just exploding. The Verdict and the Knight Watchman escape the blast, but Smight and Rajeev don't appear to be so lucky. They regroup at their motel and say their goodbyes to the Knight Watchman, who for some reason still cares about their asinine lives.

 Next is a Psi-Mage solo story. It basically reads like an extremely self-gratifying dream Psi-Mage might have -- people praise her beauty left and right. The art and story are also shamelessly exploitative, though blame should be shared among Barr and artist John Watkins-Chow. In any case, we start off by getting into her head a little for the story's sole dramatic moment

...which is itself pretty silly anyway. And then she walks into a health spa, turning heads and stopping traffic on the way. This is a for really-real line that gets said of her: "If I had madame's figure all I'd wear is a wet t-shirt and a thong." I don't know about sexist, but this material is pretty repulsive. Like, you ever seen Queen's Blade? I'm about as embarrassed as when I tried to watch that. Anyway, clients keep their valuables locked up in a room while they get treated, and naturally a heist goes down while Psi-Mage is there.

Based on the tone of the story thus far, I was pretty surprised that Barr gave her a way to magically put her clothes on. And nice job handwaving why her costume from the first story wasn't the one on the cover, by the way. In any case, 'putting clothes on' doesn't stop the "Psi Mage is so hot you guys" train at all. She even stops to admire herself, like a wrestler with a narcissist gimmick.

I really can't overstate how hard this comic tries to be sensual. And I guess it more or less succeeds, in the sense that it's making me very uncomfortable. Jeez, I'm a huge fan of Danger Girl, why is this getting to me? Probably because it's more like Codename: Knockout. If you found Psi-Mage at all likeable before, you probably hate her as much as I do now. She does, however, use her powers creatively, tricking the thieves into thinking she has the Philosopher's Stone and can turn stuff into other stuff when she's really just messing with t

 With them taken care of, the woman at the front desk pulls a gun on Psi-Mage, demanding she hand over the stone and her cape. What comes next actually happens for real, not via illusion.

Psi-Mage seriously thinks "that's what she gets for calling me 'blondie'!" God, I liked Wesley Crusher more than this freak. Still, so ends the drama. Psi-Mage can't stick around for the cops to show up and thus can't get her regular clothes, so she (sigh) struts out of the spa wearing her costume, with the cape wrapped around her in such a way that it sort of looks like a dress. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Creature Commandos! Part 14 (WWT #119)

This is basically a disguised issue of the Metal Men -- a full-length CC story with all the craziness Bob Kanigher could pack into it.

The cover sort of mis-represents the story, and also what lions look like. Anyway, it starts out simply enough -- after some time in London the CCs are sent on a mission to retrieve allied spy Alesso from an Italian village, for fear that his secrets will fall into enemy hands.

If you ever played Fallout: New Vegas, this scene probably reminds you of arriving in Nipton and seeing the streets lined with people crucified by Caesar's Legion. Anyway, they rescue Alesso, who turns out to be an old woman, with only slight difficulty (namely, Velcro experiences a little Bat Form Dysfunction, but eventually he gets it up! Like, up in the air.)

Some other crap, including Lucky destroying a secret cache of rockets, happens. The real meat of the story, and the part that makes this the most ridiculous thing I've yet seen in all my comic-reading years, happens when Agent Alesso takes the CCs to her basement. 

A time machine. This is a little over halfway into the story, I thought we were about to end and head into GI Robot, but no -- it's spy rescue and time travel today. This is the most sudden, most drastic mid-story genre shift I've ever seen, or heard of, I don't even know how to feel about that. The CCs, minus Shrieve of course, head to the year 2944, hoping the scientists of the future will be able to undo their deformities. Sure, if you've got insurance. 

New Earth! Home to the Fightin' Giant Aryans, who basically live in a Jetsons-style future utopia (except still actually on Earth, I guess). What the giants were doing out here, I can't tell you, since the landscape is arid wasteland as far as the eye can see. Until they take the CCs into their hovercraft and show them to their city, at least.

These turn out to be artifacts from before a nuclear war in the 2240s, all brought to one place as a reminder of mankind's mistakes. If you're wondering where these giant guys live, by the way, it's a giant city under a huge glass dome, like some kind of funhouse mirror version of Kandor. Anyway, as if I needed to tell you, the inhabitants of New Earth are really creepy. It's like Brobdingnagian Stepford Wives, only it's Stepford Everyones.

You know, right around this point I realized this is a pretty freaking weird war tale. Way to deliver on a premise, WWT. Anyway, don't worry, they're just going to watch a movie detailing the origin of this new society -- the twins Claude and Claudia proposed it centuries ago, and it was passed into law. Oh, and why is everyone giant? Uhhhh...

Can you guess who they picked as the clone daddy/mommy? Because duh it was those two. Anyway, the master race guys knock out the CCs and throw them into, uh, a lion pit. See, the CCs are different and thus must die. Still, it was nice of their hosts to treat them to a movie before killing them. A fable breaks out when Lucky befriends one of the lions by taking a thorn from its paw.

I'm glad Rhodes is here to comment on everything, because imagine Velcro saying this stuff. Lucky naturally shows up for one of his classic feats of strength, tearing a future-dude sized gate off its hinges and tossing it at his captors.

The CCs escape the colosseum and the dome quickly, and free the lions on their way out. Lucky really made a big impression on that lion, who is obviously his #1 bro for lyfe now.

I don't know why but I find the waving lion the silliest thing in the story. He's Lucky's soul brother, man, it's a bond I can't comprehend. The CCs pile back into the time machine and return to where they came from. They're actually happy to see Shrieve when they get back, though naturally the feeling isn't mutual.

WWT was canceled after #122, meaning there are only three stories left after this. God, how could they ever top this one?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men! Part 14!

Right off the bat I have to say this is an amazing cover by any standard you could possibly imagine. And after reading ahead, this might be my favorite issue so far.

The issue opens with the Metal Men checking out their fan mail, specifically all the responses they got for a name for Tin's tin girlfriend. Mercury doesn't see the point in this and suggests the name 'Nameless', which would eventually stick, but my favorite proposed name comes from Frances Vorberg of Grant's Pass, Or. -- "Tinkle". Lead likes that one, too. Tin just calls her 'Beautiful', but she says she's not uncomfortable with 'Nameless'. Anyway, Doc gets a letter specifically addressed to him, and it turns out  to be a death threat.

A weird acronym and a smoking letter? Yeah, and you know what that means? Because, not to spoil it or anything, but writer Bob Kanigher really used the self-destructing message as an means of murder -- or attempted murder, in this case, as Platinum shoves Doc behind Lead and smothers the blast with her body. Doc, as usual when this happens to her, is super regretful of the way he treated her, and for once he's pretty nice to her for the  rest of the issue.

Doc and the Metal Men vow to bring B.O.L.T.S. to justice, and name themselves the Metal Men from N.U.T.S. for this purpose. Yeah, do you see what this is about? It's a Man from U.N.C.L.E. thing, although in the loosest sense possible -- acronyms and evil plans are about as far as this gets. Later, Doc attends a robotics expo, when a demonstration goes wrong and the robots go haywire.

The crazed robots crab Doc and take him somewhere. As tends to be the case for fictional robots, no matter how primitive or what task they were designed for, these guys are super strong and bulletproof, so police can't stop them. Soon Doc is face to face with the source of all his troubles -- B.O.L.T.S.!

Doc thinks this guy is the head of B.O.L.T.S., but nobody else from his organization ever really shows up and he's mostly referred to as 'B.O.L.T.S." for the rest of the issue. He alludes to his creation 'behind the Iron Curtain' and his goal of destroying democracy, though. Not to nitpick, comrades, but it seems to me that, despite all the extra space for computing power, this is just about the most conspicuous spy in the history of ever.

Oh, and he's also kind of an anti-human, uh, racist or whatever, touting himself and all robots as superior to any human. Thus, he also plans to take over the rest of the world once he's finished with the West. In any case, the Metal Men show up in the flying saucer just as things start to look really hairy for Doc. Iron knocks the big guy down with a Metal Men bola and tries to fight off the robot minions.

They keep coming at him until he flattens them to the ground with huge press arms. This rescue attempt is cut short when B.O.L.T.S. emits a smokescreen from what I guess is his mouth in order to cover his escape.

Obviously, this isn't the last they've seen of him. In fact, Doc meets up with him again in about three pages -- he was on a date but got ditched, and was ambushed by B.O.L.T.S. on the way home. I say 'ambushed', but obviously I mean "B.O.L.T.S. was standing in the middle of the road; Doc could see him a mile away but just kept driving right towards him anyway." Still, this is a perfect opportunity for intense spy action, in which the Metal Men have no place!

You know, I wasn't having a great time today, but now I totally am. Thanks so much, Bob Kanigher, you crazy man. Sadly, rocket fire proves ineffective, and Doc is taken captive. He calls the Metal Men via another spy-type guy gadget built into his car, and they rush ineffectually to his aid. Everybody lies helpless on a car crusher when 'Nameless' shows up, having lagged behind, and B.O.L.T.S. is immediately, uh, smitten with her. What-ever.

Gotta go with 'Beautiful' over there, anybody who's into her is off his rocker. Or stabilizer, whatever. And yes, that includes Tin, he's a real weirdo when it comes to his ladyfriend. Of course, this is just an excuse for her to be significant to the issue even though she isn't even on the cover. He chases he endlessly until he does something uncharacteristically stupid. Well, maybe he was always stupid, his plans never seemed that clever. Still, I wouldn't have pegged him the type to die like Frank Grimes.

And so Nameless/Beautiful/Seventh Wheel saves the day by accident, and everyone congratulates her as if she meant to do it. Jeez, Kanigher, stop trying to get this new character over with the audience, huh? What's wrong with just making a robot girl out of a new metal, for starters? Anyway, after everyone's all better and back at the lab, Tin starts calling his galpal 'Beautiful', but she accepts the name 'Nameless' from everybody else. Goddamn I hate this stupid character and her horrifying relationship with Tin.

Monday, October 7, 2013

It Came from the Dollar Bin! The Tick: Heroes of the City #1!

Yes, the to-date final installment of that series I started months ago where I take a look at the #1 issues of comics I picked up at a used book store! Lemme tell you, my life sounds amazing when you say it out loud.

The Tick is sort of special to me because I watched the TV cartoon as a kid, and it's something that really holds up today. And according to the creators of the Venture Brothers, who are pals with Tick creator Ben Edlund, the two shows/comics are set in the same universe! I was also pretty into the sadly short-lived live-action sh-ow, really clever writing on that one.

If you're not familiar with the Tick (and I admit I'm not that versed in his actual comic appearances), he's an escaped mental patient who is super strong and nigh-invulnerable. His sidekick Arthur is a doughy nervous wreck in a flying moth suit. They fight silly villains like Chairface Chippendale and Pineapple Pokopo, and team up with silly heroes like Rubberduck and the Caped Cod. 

In this issue, a falling out between Arthur and the Tick has the Tick working as a sidekick-for-hire to get in Arthur's head. At the same time, Arthur wishes he felt like a hero as he goes to hang out with his girlfriend at her fast food job.

On the way, he encounters the absolute classic "cat up a tree", and as you can see this doesn't go well. It does get down, though -- it jumps, landing on Arthur's soft belly, after knocking him down. When he gets to the fast food place he's not feeling so great, but he saves a man from choking.

And in case you're wondering, yes, this sparked an incredibly cheesy "Oh, Arthur, you're my hero!" from his GF. These stories are kind of cheesy, but to be fair they aren't penned by Ben Edlund, but rather Clay Griffith (the Tick's part) and Marc Silvia (this Arthur story and a surprise at the end)

At what I'm guessing is about the same time, the Tick is working his sidekick job under a hero called El Flamingo, who polices, uh, the pool at a local country club. You know, this is the fourth hero or villain I've seen named after the pink freakin' flamingo, though obviously this one's a comedy character so at least he has an excuse.

As you can imagine, El Flamingo is a glorified lifeguard, except I'm not even sure he can swim. He thinks it's a pretty sweet gig, since he's never even heard of poolside crime. This means he basically gets paid to chill around by the pool and chat up ladies -- especially now that he has a sidekick to handle his workload.

However, due to his tempting fate, the Country Club is soon crashed by Cabana Boy, a supervillain who specializes in poolside crime. Faced with an actual threat, El Flamingo turns out to be a coward and a weakling.

This, naturally, is where the Tick comes in. After falling into the pool a few times, he breaks a diving board off and knocks Cabana Boy into next week. El Flamingo is quick to act like he did something.

El Flamingo throws the Tick under the bus vis a vis that broken diving board, and says it's coming out of his pay. The Tick quits, disgusted at the idea of a hero who works for money. I would sort of get where he's coming from if he actually had a regular job on the side, but then again he's also both crazy and stupid. We get a 'to be continued' card before the next story, which stars the cheerleader superhero Myndi! She stops a bunch of crooks with athletic kicks and flips.

Then she nabs a mugger, and finally stops a speeding getaway car with caltrops launched from her pompoms. Or, uh, she says it's "pompons", but get real, sister. Anyway, they turn out to be bulletproof (wow!) and even house guns! 

Don't worry, though, they only fire paintball pellets, which hurt but are basically as non-lethal as anything shot from a gun can get. See, heroes don't kill, that's a rule, but guns are obviously the hippest trip.

All in all a decent enough read, though it's not as clever or quite as bizarre as most of the Tick stuff I've seen. I should probably hunt down more Tick material in general, it's classic indie stuff.