Category Archives: Retroviews

Retroview: The Life of Captain Marvel

These random comic book baggies are strange. Sometimes I can go through all ten and I get nothing worthy of comment, just a big pile of meh. Other times, one issue is so chock full of great, mockable items I almost can't believe it. A case in point is "The Life of Captain Marvel", a 1985 reprinting of Jim Starlin's 1968 "Captain Marvel" run:
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Retroview: Great C-C-C-Caesar's S-S-Stutter!

There were three "Silver Age Classics" in last week's Random Comic Stack, and reading back through the old issues was a real treat. Besides all the stuff I already knew, I was surprised to discover that everyone in the Fifties and Sixties stuttered. Everyone. It was always from an excess of emotion, and not even Superman was immune to it. Frankly, I blame Watergate, "Three's Company", and hippies (in that order) for desensitizing us to the point that no one gets stuttering-inducing fits of emotion in comics any more, which is a real shame when you get right down to it. You have to go to soap operas nowadays to get that level of real feeling, but I have high hopes that Frank Miller will soon have the Caped Crusader go all retro and say "I'm the G-G-Goddam B-B-Batman!"

Anyway, to prove the point, here are a few of the panels from just one of the super stuttering stories in the "Action Comics 252" reprint. This all takes place in the span of a mere eleven pages, people, and I am not even including all of the examples -- there's more. LOTS more. Know f-f-fear.


(The actual onomontoPOWia is supposed to just be RR, but of course the avalanche stutters.)


I think that last one is my favorite. Either Clark's an idiot and thinks the natural assumption when someone resists your grip is "That guy must be Superman!", or Metallo is literally crushing everyone's hand to pulp.

Besides the overwrought emotions, what really jumps out at me upon reading this issue is what a douche Superman is. Really. He flies in to find Metallo dead because he used fake Kryptonite -- conveniently provided by Clark himself -- to power his metal heart. And Superman's only thought is "He brought it on himself" before proceeding to make two tasteless puns about the deceased. This sort of thing has been well documented elsewhere, so I won't go on, but really, the Golden Age Superman was kind of a jerk.

The other main feature of these early books is just how implausible and slipshod the plotting is. Nothing really makes much sense if you think about it for more than two seconds, and there's always some weird coincidence that diverts Superman just in time for the criminal to escape. I also love the cavalier way everyone treats uranium, the other power source for Metallo. It sits around in cans on shelves, the Professor who builds the artificial body just happens to have some laying around the lab, etc. etc. I am surprised no one glows in Metropolis.

Make that "I-I'm s-surprised that n-no one g-g-glows in Metroplis." I wouldn't want to not fit in, after all.

Retroview: Black Dragon

In 1985, Marvel (through their mature-audience "Epic Comics" line) published a six-issue limited series written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Bolton titled "The Black Dragon". A "historic fantasy" set in medieval Europe, it was an unusual offering in a super-hero-crowded market. Claremont himself, of course, was best known as the genius behind the enormously successful "Uncanny X-Men", and has likely been responsible for more comics sold than any other individual in history.

On his web site, Claremont says that he is "especially proud" of his creator-owned "The Black Dragon", so when I encountered several issues of it in the Great Random Comics Pile, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at why that might be.

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The difference between corporate and creative

This week's pile o' randomness was an interesting batch of butt-kicking, living-island-of-Japan, Robot Fighting madness. It started out with this rather disturbing Barry Windsor-Smith cover illustration of X-O Manowar #5, and I challenge you to tell me just what that ... um ... "doo-hickey" is on his left pectoral:


All I'm saying is, I sure hope it doesn't end up sliding further down as the suit finishes forming, ifyouknowhatimean.

Anyway, this batch of random comics was full of contrasting styles and imperatives which I'll go into after the jump.

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Retroview: Liefeld's New Mutants 94

I'm sneaking this last entry in under the aegis of "Rob Liefeld Week" because a) it technically didn't start until last Tuesday and b) due to an office remodel I didn't post anything on Friday or Saturday. So suck it, Trebeck!

In this installment of "Retroview" I take on "The New Mutants" number 94, truly a Rob Liefeld masterpiece and a classic of the late 80's / early 90's super-hero comics industry:


If you want to learn why Wolverine and Sunspot look like they're in the middle of an awesome handicapped-stall-handlebar-gripping face-crunching abdomen-flexing Power Dump, follow me after the jump ... if you dare!

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Retroview: Ninjak

Certain iron-clad maxims ruled the naming of comic book characters in the Nineties, and one of the most important (after "Base it on a variant of 'Blood', 'Death', or 'Strike'") was "Include 'Ninja' somewhere in there." Showing the economy of effort that made them almost a success, Valiant decided to just slap an extra letter on the end and thus gave birth to "Ninjak':


I've always assumed his name was supposed to be read all in one, as if his name were "Jack" but had "Ninja" appended to it, like a shortening of "Ninja Jack". But now I am forced to wonder if perhaps there was a whole line of these guys a la James Bond and the Double-O series. Like this fellow is eleventh in a series of Ninjas, just after Ninjaj and Ninjai, but before the inevitable rise of Ninjal. Regardless, I think Valiant was really onto something with this naming deal, and I eagerly await the appearance of female sidekick "Ninjill".

But I digress.

Ninjak used to work for The Weaponeers, a global organization that developed and sold high-tech weapons, before they were eliminated by the terrorist group WEBNET (motto: "All your capital letters are belong to us!"). Eventually he'd go on to confront them and their nefarious plot to distribute "Black Water", which in some way I can't be bothered to look up is different from Jed Clampett's "Black Gold", also known as "Texas Tea". I think maybe Ellie Mae worked for them, but this particular issue involves "The Djinn", an assassin using one of the Weaponeer prototype weapons to kill a diplomat at an airport. Knowing how fond of cameras politicians are, the weapon's the unlikely union of a gun and a car muffler -- you take the guy's picture, pull the trigger, and the "smart bullet" goes out and kills the dude, no muss, no fuss:


Since you don't have to be in line of sight, you can be anywhere within 700 meters, we're told, and still get your man. Through the magic of Google Calculator, I was able to determine that 700 meters is almost half a mile. As a result, the dread Djinn fires his weapon not from nearby Short Term Parking, but from ... a bathroom. Apparently smart bullets can open doors, they're very polite that way.

If you can get past that particular bit of lunacy, you won't have a problem believing that Ninjak spots the disguised Djinn and follows him onto a plane, which still has taken off on time despite an assassination in the terminal. Sure, they delay my flight for an hour because it's raining in Kuala Lampur, but off a UN diplomat down the hall and everything's hunky-dory.

Inevitably there's a fight onboard the plane, which begins with the Ninja assassin ritual of urinating on nearby objects, leg lifted:


Inevitably the smart gun gets involved, taking a lovely snapshot of Ninjak's cowled face and thus targeting our hero. One might wonder why he doesn't just loosen the cowl, or change it out for his shirt or something, but maybe the bullet's really smart and that wouldn't have worked. In any event, while it may be smart it's slower than Christmas:


In fact it's so slow and so maneuverable that it manages to turn around -- twice! -- in the narrow confines of an airplane aisle. Now that's some agile bulleteering, my friends!

Apparently, though, like so many youths in the Nineties the smart bullet is addicted to video games, because Ninjak is able to trick it by waving a Gameboy under its metal nose and tossing the device out the door. No, really. I'm not surprised the Weaponeers were brought down if their best tech can be defeated by Super Mario Kart.

Luckily everything's brought to a satisfactorily bloody conclusion, with a plane full of dead bodies in the sky and a decapitated Djinn used as a flotation device for our "hero". My only beef with this issue, besides the completely nonsensical parts between the covers and the wanton bloodshed and the name of the character and the inane physics of the smart gun, is that the cover shows Ninjak with a sword while in the comic he's without his weapons, presumably because even in the go-go Nineties you couldn't pack a blade in your carry-on luggage. Of course no one had a problem with him boarding with metal armor and a kevlar vest, or with Djinn packing in a parachute, smart gun, and high explosives, but then, you can't expect airport security to catch everything.

(All images and story from "Ninjak", Vol. 1, No. 7, ©1994 Voyager Communications, Inc. Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Mark Moretti, writers; Andrew Currie, penciller; Andy Lanning and Jennifer Marrus, inkers; John Cebollero, colorist.)

Retroview: Haywire

Ten years ago there was no such thing as blogging, and thus the comics from that era were largely free from the kind of scathing mockery that's so vital a part of our daily lives today. You can find plenty of people online reviewing comic books being published right now, but who will serve the needs of those neglected issues from years gone by?

Me, that's who!

Each week I'll take at least a few of the books in the Random Ten and write them up just like the big kids do for comics being published today. For now I'm calling this feature "Retroviews" (retrospective reviews, dontchaknow), and our first victim item on the chopping block review stand from the past is the 1998 DC comic "Haywire".

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