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The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #3

[I’d ‘revisited’ this series as a whole back in August/September 2012 for a group blog that doesn’t exist anymore. And due to a personal issue with Boom Studios’ comics I refuse to buy their new Magic series. So, instead of buying THOSE new comics, and to have my content covering this series fully on my own blog (so as to not disappear when an external blog shuts down), I’m revisiting–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]


The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering

The Shadow Mage #1  |  The Shadow Mage #2  |  The Shadow Mage #3  |  The Shadow Mage #4


magicthegathering_theshadowmage_003War Child

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Penciller: Val Mayerik
Inker: Rick Bryant
Printed Color: Mark Csaszar
Letterer: Bethanne Niedz
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: September 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

After an unplanned three-month hiatus (hey, just like real comics!), I’m back to cover the THIRD issue of this mini-series. And rather than having covered the entire mini while the new Boom series was still on #1…I’m now "in line" with their series, covering the third issue of this classic Armada series while Boom‘s is around #3 or #4..

Perhaps it’s because I’ve had this issue sitting around for a few weeks waiting for me to write up this post, but the cover feels fairly "iconic" to me at this point…though I believe I’d mentioned in my post about #2 that I didn’t even remember the cover and figured it was forgettable. We see Jared in a strange pose somewhat holding up Ezer–or catching him as he falls (but in that case, Jared’s arm should be under his mentor at the man’s back, not around his chest!). Jared looks rather wild and desperate…which is appropriate if he’s facing an enemy more menacing than the Juggernaut carting up behind him!

Getting into the issue itself…we begin with an attack on Arathoxia. Juggernauts break down the city’s gates, before we shift to the Lady Verdenth speaking at Ravidel as the citizenry react to the attack…including Yorgo and his gang, who take up arms to defend "his" city. We shift to the watchtower of Tobias Kavrel, Lord of Stonehaven’s eastern plains, where the lord and his minions come under attack from a Demonic Horde…though they wish to leave the lowly paupers to their fate, Ravidel’s forces aren’t discriminating. Ravidel bids his minions have fun (think Shredder sending Tokka and Rahzar out in TMNT II)…and the scene shifts again. We find Yorgo and crew dealing with Drudge Skeletons before Jared arrives and aids them with a Disintegrate spell. (Amazing in a way that I remember/recognize these). Back in the Sultan’s palace, we learn that he wishes to have the "shadow mage" found, which will give Ravidel what he seeks. Chaos and death continue throughout the city. In House Carthalion, the man who almost caught Jared in the previous issue is found dying. He mistakes Jared for Liana; and while Yorgo and his crew cannot locate "the old woman" Jared bids them find, the man confesses to having part in the murder of the Lady Carthalion (Gwendolyn)…and "releases" Liana. From what, it isn’t immediately apparent. Jared, Yorgo, and crew continue to (try to) help others flee the carnage, while the Lady Verdenth unleashes powerful magic at Ravidel. As that battle (or "duel") continues, Liana retrieves Jared and Ezer, and Ravidel emerges victorious against Verdenth. As Jared prepares to challenge Ravidel himself, Liana intervenes…it’s not yet time. And Jared vows that he will have vengeance against Ravidel.

I’m a bit mixed on the art this time through. On the one hand, it’s not bad in itself, and some of the spells are certainly recognizable if one’s familiar with pre-Weatherlight Magic: the Gathering card art. Other than that it’s mostly "generic fantasy-ish" art…not horrible, but not wonderful. I appreciate the recognizability of characters and spells…but if I didn’t recall the cards and art from way back when, it’d be that much more generic overall. The "planar barge"–that is, the corpse of the Elder Dragon Chromium/Rhuell–is impressive and fairly striking throughout. That Ravidel addresses the corpse as if alive–and it blasts stuff with bolts from its mouth–is interesting, considering it IS, at this point, a corpse, though not obviously a zombie creature or such!

Story-wise, this is also fairly generic in its own way…and yet, we have some progression of stuff. We learn that it was the Lady Verdenth who used her Green magic to save baby Jared while he and Ezer slept in the woods before getting to ‘Thoxia. We also see more "political intrigue" and bickering with the various Houses of the city. And we see Jared’s helplessness and fury at Ravidel amidst allies helping guide him.

As "next issues" go, this one is ok, though not what I’d call "great" or anything. I’m willing to hold it in higher esteem primarily for nostalgia, as this came out in a similar time to the HarperPrism novels, and the whole of Magic: The Gathering lore was still in flux without the directed timeline it enjoys today in 2021. This continues to be a story built around card references…rather than being the story of the cards, or the story on which cards seem based themselves. Re-reading this and poring through to write this post, I re-realize how dense this is…and if my summary above seems to have gaps, I’m trying not to re-write the issue itself as I’d almost need to, with how much is crammed in. Between taking time to "cross-reference" and pick out character names and locations as well as looking at the art based on cards and the sheer density, there’s a lot more time to spend in the issue itself than most modern comics that weigh it at twice or more this issue’s $2.50 cover price…so there’s present-day "value" there, if one already owns and simply reads the issue, or acquires it for the price or less of a modern comic.

To be 3 issues in on this series with a mere single issue remaining…even by pre-2000s standards, it would seem hard to see how this could wrap up with a satisfying ending. While I don’t recall the ending…I do recall that this series was followed up by a 5-issue mini-series…which leaves me assuming that this series did not actually wrap things up in a satisfying way.

Finally…this issue originally came with a sheet of tiny punch-out creature tokens. At one point back in 1995, I had a small container that I kept them in, and actually used them playing some games of Magic. It’s possible I still have that around somewhere, though actually finding them anytime soon/specifically likely would not happen. I’m pretty sure I’d snagged a couple copies of this issue from a bargain bin in the last several years specifically for the tokens, as a novelty-bonus. (Same as I sometimes snag other ’90s comics from bargain bins solely for the polybagged-in bonus item/ephemera).

I’m eager to get to the next issue…as well as to get to more "canon lore"–or at least mid-’90s versions of such–in the Ice Age and other Magic: The Gathering issues.

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_003_blogtrailer

The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #2

[I’d ‘revisited’ this series as a whole back in August/September 2012 for a group blog that doesn’t exist anymore. And due to a personal issue with Boom Studios’ comics I refuse to buy their new Magic series. So, instead of buying THOSE new comics, and to have my content covering this series fully on my own blog (so as to not disappear when an external blog shuts down), I’m revisiting–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_002Desolate Angel

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Pencils: Val Mayerik
Ink: James Pascoe
Painted Color: Mark Csaszar
Letters: Adam Niedzwiecki
Editor-In-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: August 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

Well, one thing to notice straight away is that you really need to pay clooooose attention to years to know what sort of time has passed! The first issue opened on "Autumn of 1265, by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad." That issue referenced time in relation to that–a week later, a month later, seven years later. This issue opens in "late Summer, 1280 by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad." So it’s been nearly 15 years since the events that opened the first issue…and doing the math, we’re opening some 7-8 years after the previous issue ended! So quiiiiite a gap, there.

The young Jared Carthalion is now 14ish, having spent the last 3/4ths of a decade training to take on Ravidel. However, while Ravidel knows where and how to find Jared, knows that Jared’s got access to magic, and even declared that their final duel had begun…he apparently decided to kick back and leave Jared alone for awhile, rather than finishing his would-be opponent while he could.

So we get some verbal exposition–as Jared is pained using his magic, Ezer has had him attempt to train physically so he can put up SOME sort of fight, if not magically. A giant spider is summoned to them and attacks–Ezer immediately recognizes it as "a minion of Ravidel" because of course. This is the last straw, and NOW Jared determines to fight back, and summons a Hurloon Minotaur. In the midst of the giant spider attack, the Minotaur and Jared discuss what’s happening, share introductions (the minotaur’s name is Sings Two Ways, and he and his people were granted a boon by the elder Carthalion that they cannot repay, and thus Sings Two Ways gladly fights in defense of Jared and Ezer). Jared sees the spider apparently winning and steps in and the two slay the creature.

The spider defeated, Sings Two Ways laments he must leave…he’s been poisoned and will die unless Jared returns him to his people. Their home destroyed, Jared and Ezer are now homeless in the rain in the streets of Arathoxia. Jared spots a beautiful young woman and laments his raggedness by comparison. Before long, he and Ezer are in a hospice, the older man dying, and Jared determined to seek out some way to save him. Leaving the hospice, he’s set upon by Yorgo and his gang, and Jared summons some goblins, but is then horrified when they nearly kill the boys and laments, wondering if butchering others is what his power can do. We get a page of Arathoxian politics re: Ravidel, and then find Jared speaking with the Vizier’s wife in House Carthalion, where he has ventured for help. She references "the battle of Aster Fall" (which contextualizes the previous issue a bit) and shows him a Black Lotus, but they’re interrupted by the vizier’s return so she gives him an Alabaster Potion and sends him off. Jared steals the Black Lotus, recognizing its power, but while he tries to figure out how to use it, is greeted by that beautiful young woman–who invites Jared to Beggartown that evening.

After giving some of the potion to Ezer, Jared meets her there, where we find a whole community of thieves/beggars, including Yorgo’s group…and they’re none to happy that Liana has brought Jared into their space. But Jared offers some of the remaining potion to one of the boys hurt by the goblins earlier, though it earns him no thanks. The city’s guards descend on the group from nowhere, and Liana stops Jared from using his magic as that would bring the wrong sort of attention. As the crowd flees…Jared and Liana are suddenly confronted by none other than Ravidel himself! Jared lashes out immediately, but the more experienced planeswalker casts a spell and defeats Jared. Liana steps in–apparently she and Ravidel have some history–and drives the planeswalker off after revealing she has multiple moxes and referencing "The Treaty of the Shard." Ravidel claims a proper duel now would run counter to his plans, so leaves. Hours later, Jared and Liana pose for the page, as we see she’s second-guessed what she was going to tell Jared, as the boy realizes he’ll have to go it alone.

Well…that’s a loooong summary, and I’m sure I really glossed over some key details! There’s enough going on here to fill 3-4 issues in terms of modern comics’ pacing and such. This is a really dense story…and one that relies on the reader to have picked up on and remembered a number of subtle details! The reader also gets to fill in a lot of blanks, between the 7-year-gap between issues to imagining the details of Sings Two Ways’ relationship to Jared’s father, to the nature of House Carthalion. There’s also the curiosity of Ravidel allowing so much time to pass without expending much effort to personally confront Jared until he’s begun finding apparently-powerful allies, such as Liana! While I have some meta-textual knowledge of "The Shard," I’ll leave that to discuss more as it comes up in other Armada Magic issues, since I’m going issue-by-issue through one series at a time here.

The story continues to hold more potential than what it executes…it’s not bad, but feels too dense, too "compressed" for me after 20 years of "decompressed" storytelling in comics, and more years removed from the depths of Magic: the Gathering knowledge. Back in 1996, I was fresh into the game and fairly steeped in knowledge of the various cards and bits of lore. Taking stuff month by month, where the game had only even existed for a little under two years, it was a whole different thing back then than now, some 25 years later reading this from a muuuuch different vantage point!

The art is good, and I feel like I liked it better in this issue than the previous, though it’s the same art team! Perhaps because–while dense story-wise–this issue didn’t have to cover 7+ years, so there was more of a sense of consistency…and I’m beginning to get a better sense of characters, now that things have settled a bit, and been able to build a bit on what’s come before, which I suppose allows me to appreciate the art more, not being as overwhelmed with "everything."

This definitely looks like a fantasy comic, and continues to remind me a bit of Barry Windsor-Smith‘s art for some reason.

I was also interested to note ads in the issue…particularly for the Chronicles set. This was the set, after all, that released in August or so 1995, offering white-border "unlimited" editions of previously-limited black-border cards from the Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark expansion sets…and which led to Wizards of the Coast establishing their "Restricted List" that persists to this day.

We have the addition of Liana–apparently a planeswalker herself–to the story, and it seems obvious something bigger is afoot. There’s the general knowledge displayed by House Carthalion of the battle of Aster Fall; their possession of a Black Lotus; and Liana having history with Ravidel. At the second issue here, that suggests "the world" of Magic is about to get a whole lot bigger than Jared’s little corner of things.

As mentioned in covering the previous issue…this story is one built around the cards…rather than the cards being built around the story. The issue–as with the first (though I didn’t get into it)–has a bit of "backmatter" with words from the editor to the reader, as well as a mini-column "Seer Analysis" by Shawn F. Carnes where Carnes looks at the issue from the point of view of Magic: The Gathering the game, pointing out details such as a Hurloon Minotaur being a 2/3 creature, while a Giant Spider is 2/4, and so while the two creatures would indeed damage each other, neither would one-shot-kill the other.

Also like the first issue, this issue’s cover announces the inclusion of a genuine Magic: The Gathering card. UNlike the previous issue, though…this one has the card in a clear plastic insert/wrapper stapled into the issue itself, rather than being loose in a polybag. This certainly allows a better situation wherein one can READ the issue itself and choose whether or not to remove the card! It may be a crapshoot if you find this issue "in the wild" on whether it includes the card or not, but it’s more likely, perhaps, than if you find #1 in the wild. [Edit to add: the card this issue comes with is a 4th Edition Blue Elemental Blast]

I also have a certain amount of personal sentimentality to this issue, as I recall a visit to my grandmother and having this comic with me, as I associate this cover with that visit; it also puts me in mind of an aunt, who had tried to show interest in my comics for my sake. I know I had consciously recalled bits of the first issue, as well as this issue from its cover (and it’s great that the cover shows something from the issue itself–a Hurloon Minotaur vs. Giant Spider!). I don’t have the same conscious recollection of the covers, even, of the 3rd and 4th issue of this series, nor even the story or how things turn out…even consciously recalling having re-read this series a few years ago!

Two issues down, and we’re halfway through this entire mini-series…

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_002_blogtrailer

The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #1

[I’d ‘revisited’ this series as a whole back in August/September 2012 for a group blog that doesn’t exist anymore. And due to a personal issue with Boom Studios‘ comics I refuse to buy the new MAGIC #1. So, instead of buying new comics, and to have the content fully on my own blog to not disappear, I’m going to re-revisit–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_001The Aster Fall

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Pencils: Val Mayerik
Ink: James Pascoe
Painted Color: Mark Csaszar
Letters: Bethanne Niedz
Editor-In-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: July 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

To the best of my understanding, this is THE first Magic: The Gathering comic. Though its story may not chronologically be the first, it was the first-published, kicking off the Armada imprint from Acclaim, and introducing the (comics) world to MTG in the spring of 1995. The game itself had premiered in October 1993, some 18 months earlier…and with its setting as a “multiverse,” it was certainly a ripe thing to bring to comics!

The issue opens on an active battlefield. We meet Lord Carthalion, Ezer, and a Lieutenant as they witness a falling star–a bad omen. A magic-powered ship bursts onto the scene, carrying Battlemage Ravidel…the enemy of this Lord Carthalion. The two engage into a “duel” and exchange spells to weaken and harm the other…culminating in Carthalion sacrificing himself to buy time for Ezer to flee with baby Jared…last heir to the Carthalion name. In the aftermath of the battle, Ezer has been artificially aged to a wasted old man, though the baby is relatively unaffected. As Ezer laments their situation–drinking himself into a stupor–we see the baby apparently work some protective magic to save his own life against the intrusion of a (dire?) wolf. Later, city guards at Arathoxia do not believe that this frail old man is in any way who he claims to be, nor the child with him…functionally banishing them from what should have been a life of relative luxury (despite their losses) to that of lowly street-rats, scrounging for food and living off the scraps of the city.

7 years pass, and the young Jared Carthalion is an able thief, stealing food for himself and father-figure Ezer to survive (barely) on. He is bullied by others his age and in no way “included,” existing all but alone. Even after the years that have passed, Ezer tries to keep alive the flame of who Jared really is, where he’s come from, though the boy can’t even envision anything ever getting better…which enrages the old man, who strikes the boy. Meanwhile, using a scrying device, Ravidel spies on the boy and his guardian, and opts to arbitrarily send a summoned minion to kill the boy. When the berzerker bursts in on the pair, Ezer works some magic…as does Jared! The boy has “tapped!” This excites Ezer–the boy WILL be able to avenge his house! However, Ravidel revels in this as well, declaring that their FINAL duel begins.

The last time I read this series, I blew through all four issues pretty quickly, glossing over details and simply taking it in as a totally generic fantasy story with too-fast pacing, lack of characterization, and largely being Magic in little more than name-only. This time through, sticking to this single issue and looking back over stuff and taking it in as a singular thing, I enjoyed it a bit more.

Story-wise, this IS a fairly generic thing. There’s hardly room in ~21 pages to worldbuild when the entire issue encompasses a massive battle, travel, and spans more than seven years.

We’re introduced to Lord Carthalion–the patriarch/leader of the Carthalions. He seems to have some magical ability…but is a mere mortal, compared to the power of a PLANESWALKER in Ravidel. We never get a rason for this battle, for Ravidel’s assault. He’s a two-dimensional villain for the sake of being a villain, apparently. An opponent because their MUST BE “an opponent.” We also get no real sense of what a “planeswalker” is, or WHY a “planeswalker” is and so on. Meta-textually, the reader probbbbbbably knows what one is–the allure of a Magic: The Gathering comic is almost certainly to expand on the cards and game one already knows.

Now in 2021, I’m looking back on this comic from 25 years later, as a person 25 years older, and with 25 years and a number of additional comics as well as dozens of novels and quite a few short stories, and “newer resources” such as Wikipedia and a Magic: The Gathering -specific fan-wiki, and podcast resources/interviews with creators, and generally a heckuva larger understanding than 14/15-year-old Walt had. And I can “appreciate” this issue as the first bit of a much larger thing, rather than something to be taken in total isolation.

The art doesn’t overly impress me–though it’s not bad, really. It’s absolutely better than anything I could produce, but none of these characters are REALLY all that singularly-recognizable and are far from “iconic” visages. The overall visuals certainly evoke a certain mid-90s feel…perhaps due to thinking of the artist recently as I read this issue, I see hints of Barry Windsor-Smith, and overall early Valiant here…though it’s obviously other creators.

While the visuals try to evoke very specific cards and their in-game use; and a column in the back of the issue elaborates on very specific Magic: The Gathering cards represented in the action–I’m far enough removed from early MTG and these cards and any such knowledge I was steeped in as a kid reading this, so it reduces the cards’ representations to generic fantasy-ish magic effects and some random-ish action that meant little to me in the reading.

The cover gives us Lord Carthalion in full strength wielding a sword in one hand, casting a fireball (presumably) from the other; while we also get a representation of the baby facing a looming wolf in a wooded space. This is relevant to the issue–Carthalion’s duel, and Jared’s fate…so it’s not just some arbitrary, random, unfocused magic-user. This is a singular cover; to this day, I am only aware of–get this: ONE SINGLE COVER for this issue. My copy has “Direct Sales” in the barcode…hence this came from the “direct market” or “comic shops.” There may be “newsstand sales” for the issue–copies that sold through newsstands or non-comic shop locations (Bookstores like Waldenbooks or B. Dalton, or found at a grocery store or such). But the difference would be the barcode itself…NOT a different cover image!

The issue originally came polybagged with a 4th edition Fireball card–an actual, playable card from Magic: The Gathering . This was from right as Revised Edition was fading away and 4th Edition was ramping up…I don’t recall for certain but I believe this FIreball may have been the first 4th edition (or 4th edition-STYLE) card I owned for the game. Unlike many such comics at the time, despite the polybag, there’s a banner across the top of the cover itself proclaiming the inclusion of the “free” card. So minus the bag and card itself…the banner remains.

The card was not a unique card “exclusive” to the comic or anything; it wasn’t some limited edition or variant or whatnot. It was just…a card. For the game. Playable. A little piece of the game included with a comic based on the game. What a far cry from more recent Magic comics with alternate-art cards shrink-wrapped with an issue and prompting an extra-sized cover price for the inclusion of a sheet of cardboard, the card itself, and shrink-wrapping in addition to the other regular costs of producing a comic (referencing the IDW-published Magic comics from 2012 or so).

This first issue of The Shadow Mage kicks off a story set in the “world” of Magic…but it’s a case of the story referencing the cards, rather than the cards referencing a story. I’d put it as well that this is from when the entirety of Magic: The Gathering was a more vague “idea” than concrete story, and what would eventually develop was still BEING developed.

There’s not really much of anything to this issue to make it a destination-read or something to seek out…unless one specifically wants to go back to the beginning of Magic’s appearance in comics. Or snag the first appearance of Jared Carthalion, Battlemage Ravidel, the first Elder Dragon represented in a comic (Chromium Rhuell’s corpse being part of the planar barge), and so on.

That said…it’s actually not a bad read–and I certainly enjoyed it much more than I did Gerrard’s Quest #1 that I read last year!

After an apparently-failed launch of “modern” Magic comics a couple years ago by IDW, Boom Studios got the license and has just launched a new series, titled simply Magic (dropping the “: The Gathering” part) and I haven’t a clue where they’re gonna take the story. After a brief 2-book return to the world of printed novels, Wizards of the Coast went right back to digital-only to tell the story of card sets, so this new Boom series is a different return to print…and some “hype” I’ve seen suggests they’re hoping for a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers level resurgence of the property in comics. However…it’s that comparison that seems to have sparked hype on THIS original series with some crazy activity on The Shadow Mage #1 in graded condition and such with speculators apparently flocking to it in hopes that something from that issue pops up and becomes The Next Big Thing in modern Magic comics.

Me?

I’m gonna sit back and enjoy re-reading original 1990s’ Magic: The Gathering comics, and appreciate the lack of overhype, lack of variants, and (relative) lack of pure, greedy speculation.

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_001_blogtrailer

The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #18

90s_revisited

superman_the_man_of_steel_0018Doomsday! part one

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Assistant: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Bogdanove & Janke
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1992
Cover Price: $1.25
Triangle #: 1992/45

It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty five years since this issue was new! This cover remains one of the most iconic I can think of, certainly extremely recognizable at a glance for me. It’s the cover that started things off for The Death of Superman saga, and has remained locked in memory for me ever since.

Unfortunately, though we get some scenes of Doomsday tearing up the landscape–first as he digs/punches his way up/out of the prison he was contained in and then starting to make his way wherever it is he’s going (including squishing a random bird that landed upon his outstretched hand)–we have zero interaction between the creature and Superman himself…until the very end of the issue, no one even seems to know there’s anything important starting at all. As such, it hardly seems like this ought to be the opening chapter…this could have been a prologue issue instead of the first chapter, even part of a multi-issue prologue/prelude thing (along with the Justice League America issue), leaving Superman #74 as the actual opening chapter. But then, that’s the way I’ve been "conditioned" on modern comics to think, where "everything" is an event or an event prologue or there’s an event leading into another event that’s the prologue to the Really Big Event.

Instead, this issue is basically "just" another issue of Superman: The Man of Steel. The issue opens with Doomsday emerging from his confinement, then switches to the current moment in the ongoing continuity of the Superman titles. Interspersed with the creature’s emergence, we have an orphan boy–Keith–trying to find his mom, as Lois Lane investigates a tip about a danger threatening Metropolis. Underworlders (rogue clones/creatures/monsters) allied with Warworld refugees (from the then-recent Panic in the Sky story) are preparing to invade Metropolis and take over. First they "steal" the city’s electricity, then use a giant borer to tunnel to the surface with plans to have their war machines emerge from there. Keith sees Lois get captured and overhears her captors’ reference to holding no prisoners, and realizes he won’t find his mom this way. He manages to get Superman’s attention by spraypainting a huge "S" in a parking lot and leads Superman to the captured lady reporter. A scuffle ensues between Superman and the Underworlders with predictable results (Superman wins). Doomsday having moved from squishing birds and breaking trees moves to traffic interference, which finally gets him noticed by someone (Oberon, a Justice League ally), which leaves us to continue into Justice League America #69.

While I just lamented the lack of Superman/Doomsday interaction, part of that is that I never liked the Underworlders stuff, so that makes for a rather boring and "out there" story for me. On a technical level, though, this works quite well in that everything about Doomsday comes outta nowhere, as he should be just some other creature (perhaps akin to an Underworlder) and this is supposed to be just another day for Superman/Clark, Lois, and everyone else. Nothing as significant as Superman’s death is remotely a part of anyone’s plans.

Though the Superman books all continued a story essentially as a single weekly comic (with four creative teams each handling a week a month), I’ve come to see a bit more distinction in stuff with the different titles…and one of those is the Underworlders being a "thing" for this title, Superman: The Man of Steel.

I don’t care nearly as much for them, as said, which makes this (offhand) my least-favorite of the issues involved in this story. That’s not to say it’s a bad issue, but it doesn’t interest me beyond the snippets of Doomsday.

The art also isn’t my favorite, but it definitely hits some positive nostalgia for me as far as the appearance of all the characters. There’s a visual style that’s quite distinct to this title and this period, making it highly recognizable to me, and I wouldn’t trade it out, given said nostalgia.

As an issue from this time and part of this story, of course the issue is a keeper…and it’s totally etched into my personal history with comics and Superman, creating a bias that keeps me from being entirely impartial in terms of any review.

That said, in looking back across 25 years…I definitely would not recommend this issue as a stand-alone read. Taken only by itself in a vacuum, this is a boring issue, with the most interesting thing being the emergence of Doomsday itself. Of course, this is well worth getting if you want the entire "branded" story/set of Doomsday/The Death of Superman, and of course ought to be read if you’re reading the story in collected edition format.

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman the Man of Steel #44

superman_the_man_of_steel_0044To Know… Know… Know Him!

Story: Louise Simonson
Layout Art: Jon Bogdanove
Ink Art: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Asst. Editor: Chris Duffy
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Jon Bogdanove, Dennis Janke
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.50

This is one of the more "iconic" Superman covers for me from the ’90s: it was the issue immediately preceding the 100th issue of Superman and the start of the whole Death of Clark Kent storyline. I distinctly remember this cover from first getting it–we were visiting my grandparents, and my aunt took me to a comic shop in the area, where I got this. It also helps the cover to be memorable given that it’s essentially (but not quite! It’s still its own thing!) a reproduction of a panel within the issue.

Clark’s on the phone with his book editor when he hears a ticking in the background from the other end; so he rushes in as Superman, managing to save the man from being blown to bits. Meanwhile, Keith (a young boy being adopted by Perry White and his wife) is hanging out with some older kids after school. When the store manager accuses them of shoplifting, the other boys race off, leaving Keith to take the fall. After being extricated from the situation by Perry (who assures Keith that he and his wife are still adopting him), Clark once again learns of a bomb by hearing it over a phone, and saves Perry and Keith (and everyone on the bridge they’re stuck on) but Perry’s car is destroyed. Later, Keith takes courage from the incident and stands up to his so-called friends, and winds up making some new ones…while Jimmy decides to stick with Clark like glue until they figure out who’s been threatening him and trying to bomb his editors. Clark distracts him briefly as they get off an elevator, only to find a Superman dummy pinned to his apartment door by a giant knife…and he realizes then who’s behind stuff.

This is an issue from back in the heart of the "Triangle Numbering" era of the Superman titles…though each creative team had their own through-threads they focused on, their own stories to tell, ultimately the titles were one ongoing weekly series, with each week’s issue moving the overall Superman story forward. As such, with weekly doses of THE Superman story, there was plenty of room for the cultivation and development of a large supporting cast and plenty of "subplots" to be dug into and unfold over the course of things, such that a single issue could often seem all over the place, when taken out of context. This one manages to avoid the worst of that, though a single paragraph summary doesn’t do the thing justice. There’s the overall story, but the details of the various characters’ interactions makes it more complex…much like an episode of a large ensemble cast tv show where certain characters really get around, while others are checked in on but don’t necessarily have much screen time.

This issue ought to–by 2017 standards–be billed as a "prologue" to the upcoming major story; or heck, in contemporary terms there’d be a whole pre-Event event (particularly if this was Marvel). Here, it’s just the next chapter of the continuing saga, that just happens to be right before the larger titled story kicks off.

I definitely dig the story, though I find reading this over 20 years after the fact, I’m less enamored with Keith’s story, being so much further away in age now than I was then (as well as feeling like there’s a bit of "preachiness" going on here that would have much different connotation were it published in 2017).

Visually, it’s not hard to follow what’s going on, to recognize Superman or Clark, Lois, Keith, Perry, or others. However, it’s hardly my favorite art, ESPECIALLY stacked up against the likes of Dan Jurgens, who IS one of my absolute favorite artists (particularly when it comes to Superman!). Bogdanove‘s style grew on me, and holds a definite place in my memory and liking of the Superman books…but might not be the most appealing to someone unfamiliar with it or this era of Superman.

As a whole, though–story and art–this is certainly a strong issue, giving the reader action, plot development, and moving everyone around the final bit to head into The Death of Clark Kent. I appreciated it as an isolated one-off that I picked up specifically for remembering the cover so clearly.

That said…you’d likely be better served tracking down the collected edition of The Death of Clark Kent if possible, or picking this up as part of a larger group of the issues than to get this one issue by itself.

superman_the_man_of_steel_0044_slice

The ’80s Revisited: DC Retroactive – The ’80s – Superman #1

dc_retroactive_1980s_superman_0001New Day, Final Destiny

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Sergio Cariello
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Colorist: Andrew Elder
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Cover: Dan Jurgens
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: October 2011
Cover Price: $4.99

I remember when these DC Retroactive specials hit, back in 2011–as a sort of bridge between the pre-Flashpoint wrapup of titles and dawn of the New 52. I got the Superman 1990s one, but don’t recall if I had actually picked up this 1980s one at the time–though I can’t imagine that I would not have, given the cover! Still, this particular copy coming from a 25-cent bin recently, and including a reprint of a 1980s story along with a new story OF the 1980s pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman places it well within my personal definition of a 1980s Revisited issue!

As said, the cover stood out to me most, showing an anguished Superman surrounded by imagery from the ’90s and forward…particularly Superboy Prime and an OMAC from Infinite Crisis; an Amazon from Amazons Attack, Bane breaking Batman from Knightfall, and a prominent Hal Jordan as Parallax from Emerald Twilight, Zero Hour, etc. In fact, this cover would make for an excellent art print and/or poster. The imagery is nice, and the Superman logo is nice and big, the "classic" yellow letters with red 3D coming off..the "classic" DC Bullet logo I grew up with, etc. While part of my motivation grabbing it from the quarter bin was that it was originally a $4.99 issue and here I was snagging it for a mere 25 cents…the cover had grabbed my attention and was worth 25 cents to me to get just to have handy, regardless of owning a copy "somewhere" in my too-vast accumulation.

The issue opens on an exhausted Superman who’s just trying to get some sleep…but if there’s no rest for the wicked, then he’s apparently been very naughty (to paraphrase the character’s thoughts). Superman quickly finds himself in the midst of a major crisis as an alien creature called The Dread destroys the Daily Planet building, killing thousands. When he tries to at least rescue one girl, time freezes…and he encounters the entity known as Destiny (one of the Endless) who pauses time, and confronts Superman with a choice: Superman can give in to The Dread’s option of aiding their conquering of worlds, or he can live to see horrible things happen to the people and its heroes. Destiny shows Superman glimpses of what’s to come: Amazons Attack Washington, killing thousands. A huge brute called Bane breaks Batman’s back. An earthquake levels Gotham City, and the Arkham Asylum inmates take over what remains of the city. Firestorm and Blue Beetle are killed. With encouragement/sanction of the Justice League, Zatanna mindwipes villains. Sue Dibny–the WIFE of one of the JLA–is killed. Wonder Woman kills Maxwell Lord outright. Hal Jordan dismantles the Green Lantern Corps and becomes Parallax. Barry Allen (Flash) is killed during a Crisis. Superman himself is killed by a Doomsday creature. Even his beloved cousin Kara is killed. Many other heroes and villains are killed, and eventually resurrected during a Blackest Night to kill countless others. All Superman has to do to prevent these things is to become the assassin/"herald" of The Dread and let all of Earthly humanity to be made into mindless slaves to The Dread. Yet, Superman refuses to give in, refuses to accept these as the only two options…he holds onto hope in the face of it all. The destruction of the Planet building, everything Superman’s seen right here is shown to be visions granted from Destiny…who himself isn’t actually the Destiny Superman had met before. He knows only that this is someone different…but as readers, we learn that this is a disguised Lyla–Harbinger–"testing" Superman, and finding him to be truly the hero they need to recruit if any of the multiverse is to be saved from the Anti-Monitor.

Story-wise, on the surface, this is a rather cheesy, pandering, gratuitous thing. As a DC Retroactive issue, this is designed to play on nostalgia, from the cover-inward. For me it gets that on numerous levels–from the ’80s writer in Wolfman to the’80s version of Superman, to the visions of major events from the ’90s and 2000s that were all "current events" for me as a reader as they came about.

But beyond RECOGNIZING that, in a clinical sorta way…I honestly HIGHLY enjoyed this story! It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d want in something like this…give me the older version of the character, with a story that in no way detracts from prior continuity, show that even "old" continuity is part of "new continuity"–one big flow–as well as letting me as a reader see events that I know were indeed coming, that Superman and his world would face and endure. This is both a revisitation of the ’80s and a revisitation of the ’90s. Much as Superman is shown, though, a number of things are left out of being explicitly shown on-page (such as the death of Jason Todd) though the narrative allows for this in acknowledging that so many other events are glimpsed in Superman’s mind.

While I recognize Wolfman‘s contribution to comics history, I cannot honestly say that I specifically recognize his writing…I have not read enough of his work specifically to do so. That said, this was a story I really enjoyed, that captured the "tone" of the 1980s Superman that I do know, from what I have read from immediately prior and shortly after the Crisis itself, before Byrne‘s reboot. That the character is recognizable as such is a strong point to me…as well as the way the glimpses of the actual future of the DC Universe is worked in.

Visually, it’d be easy to mistake this for what it is–a much more contemporary take on Superman. Unfortunately, the issue doesn’t LOOK like ’80s Superman…it looks like early 2010s Superman, a more generic Superman as depicted by whoever the current artist is. However, for this story, the art still works well and in and of itself is quite solid, conveying the action, this artist’s takes on the key turning points that Superman is shown, and the characters involved.

I also quite appreciated the editorial note that Superman had previously met Destiny in Superman #352…I actually made a note for myself with the intention of tracking that issue down in the near future, curious about that original story. I had not even connected that with the knowledge that this issue also contained a reprint story from the ’80s after the new "lead" story.

superman_vol1_0352Superman (vol. 1) #352: Day of Destiny!

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer: Shelly Leferman
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Editor: Julius Schwartz

It was a very welcome treat to find that the reprinted 1980s story included in this issue was the aforementioned Superman #352! Rather than having to remember to look for the issue and maybe find it easily, maybe not, I was able to simply turn a page and dive right into the story!

This story was also written by Wolfman, with accompanying art by classic Superman artist Curt Swan…whose visuals I definitely recognize and made for a real treat of a thing. Given that it IS from then, it looked and read as an ’80s piece, with the familiarity I’d expect, and also enhanced what I had read in the lead, contextualizing things a bit and giving a post-read feel of merely reading two issues out of order…bringing back memories of reading Grandpa’s old comics. Like I had been grabbed by the cover and read an issue, and then being referred to a previous issue, found it and got to read it.

Despite my praise that definitely comes from the nostalgia of it all…this story’s looking/feeling like its time period isn’t all good…strip away the nostalgia and it felt a bit boring and ham-fisted and a bit borderline preachy.

Superman encounters Destiny, who is determined to PREVENT Superman from helping people, despite Superman’s every instinct being to leap into action and help people as he always does. Superman is forced to stand by helplessly as he sees people that he WOULD save ultimately save themselves. And thus Destiny’s lesson is imparted to the Man of Steel that the world and its people cannot be solely reliant on one person–him–for everything; that they are actually capable of taking care of themselves (Superman and the people are made to realize this).

I couldn’t help but think of the years-earlier story Must There Be a Superman? from Superman #247 (in which the Guardians of the Universe put Superman on trial for interfering with Humanity and impart to him the same lesson, essentially, that Destiny does here). The two are 106-some issues apart (nearly a decade) so it’s not like they were back to back…but as someone who has read SOME stuff from throughout Superman’s history it jumps out at me where it may not to others.

Though I recognize Swan‘s art and like it in the nostalgic sense…there’s a certain "generic" nature to the art that I personally tend to compare to (in particular) Dan Jurgens‘ art, particularly from around The Death of Superman as well as other Superman art from the late 1980s/early 1990s, a good 9+ years removed from this, as this was from Superman 247.


The cover price is rather steep for a 26-page "main" story and 16-page REPRINT. Still, that’s 42 pages of content for $4.99, from a time where many books were $2.99 to $3.99 for only 20 pages. Additionally, the reprint is specifically germane to the main story, which would certainly be a $2.99 value, and it’s pretty unlikely I’d be able to acquire the single issue as its own unit for under $2, so the extra price is still a definite savings and added convenience to have the issue’s story right here.

All in all, this is actually a solid value and enjoyable issue for a $4.99 special, whether at that price over 5 years ago or by present-day 2017 standards. As something that might be come across in a bargain bin, this is certainly worth 25 cents, and would be a strong buy for $1, and I dare say I’d be relatively willing (for the nostalgia factor at least) to pay full cover price on this (or rather, some of the other DC Retroactive specials).

Highly recommended for the lead story if you’re a fan of Wolfman or the era; and certainly worthwhile for a glimpse back to that period combining the lead with the reprinted story (and pre-Gaiman appearance of Destiny). The cover is a definite treat as well!

dcretroactivesuperman1980s

The ’90s Revisited: Zero Hour

I recently (finally) finished covering the entirety of the Zero Hour: Crisis in Time event…DC‘s 1994 event/crossover. While my posts spanned July, August, and September 2016, I’m endeavoring to have several points in this blog to gather them together and keep them accessible. This is one such post. Below is a "grid" of the covers, linking to the Page indexing this. Below the grid are text links to the individual posts (same as indexed).


zero_hour_grid_all


Showcase ’94 #8 | Showcase ’94 #9 | Zero Hour: Crisis in Time #4 | Batman #511 | Flash #94 | Green Lantern #55 | Legionnaires #18 | Outsiders #11 | Superboy #8 | Superman: The Man of Steel #37 | Valor #23 | Zero Hour: Crisis in Time #3 | Batman: Shadow of the Bat #31 | Hawkman #13 | Justice League America #92 | L.E.G.I.O.N. ’94 #70 | Steel #8 | Superman #93 | Zero Hour: Crisis in Time #2 | Adventures of Superman #516 | Detective Comics #678 | Justice League Task Force #16 | Team Titans #24 | Zero Hour: Crisis in Time #1 | Green Arrow #90 | Guy Gardner: Warrior #24 | Darkstars #24 | Damage #6 | Legion of Super-Heroes #61 | Robin #10 | Justice League International #68 | Catwoman #14 | Action Comics #703 | Anima #7 | Showcase ’94 #10 | Booster Gold #0 | Zero Hour: Crisis in Time #0

The ’90s Revisited: Quasar #59

quasar059Brothers in Arms

Writer: Ron Marz
Penciler: Andy Smith
Inker: Ralph Cabrera
Letterer: Diana Albers
Colorist: Paul Becton
Editor: Mike Rockwitz
Group Editor: Ralph Macchio
EIC: Tom DeFalco
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1994
Cover Price: $1.25

This issue grabbed my attention for the Thanos reference on the cover. By the coloring of Thanos’ head/face in the background, I would not have recognized the character from any other random Marvel Cosmic character while simply flipping through issues in a 25c-bin, so seeing Thanos’ name is what caught me. Contextualize it further with rather ticked-off looking Starfox and Quasar, and there was little that would convince me to NOT buy the issue.

I’ve recently been building up my Thanos/Warlock/Infinity ______ library, which also contributed to this grabbing my attention. Despite the cover, this issue was really not what I expected…whatever it was that I WAS expecting.

We open with Quasar telling someone he’d be there soon…and then find the very IMPRESSED Quasar marveling at Titan. He’s there to meet up with Starfox–Eros–for a bit. After greetings and brief showing off, Eros asks Quasar to join him for an errand, that turns out to be an annual tradition. Despite whatever bitter blood between the two, Eros and his brother Thanos put aside their differences for one day a year to spend time as brothers. While Thanos extends their truce to include Quasar, our hero is none too happy to be in the presence of one of the biggest threats to the universe he’s ever known. As the brothers exchange gifts, a squad of alien authorities show up…Thanos’ gift was stolen, and they’ve arrived to take it back (dealing death as penalty for the theft). The trio fights back, and the authorities are eventually sent off, nudged a bit by Eros’ powers of suggestion. As Eros and Quasar leave, we see Thanos…still in posession of the stolen item.

Quasar looks a bit “off” to me somehow…which is particularly noticeable to me as I’m not OVERLY familiar with the character. I just know that he doesn’t look quite right to my eye throughout this issue. On the other hand, Starfox doesn’t look that bad. And Thanos looks pretty good to me. Everyone is recognizeable so there’s no harm there, and I never had to pause to figure out what was going on or wonder at confusion at something shown in a panel. 

Story-wise, this is rather throw-away and generic, with no real change to any of the characters, their status quo, no tie to some bigger event or story…and yet I really, truly quite enjoyed this.

As stated above, I’m not overly familiar with Quasar, but I know of the character and while I have no idea as of this typing where the character is at present in 2015, he’s perfectly standard in the Marvel Universe I recall from the 1990s.

This issue is functionally a standard-sized issue one-shot. There’s no note saying this is continued from anywhere else, and the final panel of the final page clearly states END (though we can wonder exactly what Thanos is up to in the grander scheme of things). And particularly for only costing me 25 cents…I’m very happy with this being a one-shot. I’ve got characters I’m familiar with, as well as one I’m particularly interested in at present (Thanos), no catch-up or follow-up to do based on this issue, and it was an enjoyable read that didn’t leave me scratching my head.

I’m aware of having read a fair bit of Ron Marz‘s work–on Green Lantern as well as (I believe) Silver Surfer, and other stuff through the years. I certainly prefer Jim Starlin‘s Thanos to most…but Marz‘s take on the character seems very Starlin-esque to me and does nothing to make me question this appearance of the character. I’m not consciously familiar offhand with the art team…but this is from the mid-90s and I associate the period with a huge body of creatives that never stood out to me at the time, and apparently never made a name for themselves or stuck around for me to be familiar with contemporary work.

This is from mid 1994, putting this after the three Infinity Events (Gauntlet/War/Crusade) yet ahead of the Onslaught, Heroes Reborn, and Heroes Return stuff. While if I thought hard enough i could probably find (an) example(s) otherwise, I largely have a several-year blind spot with Thanos that this falls into. 

If–like me–you just want to read a “random” Thanos appearance (and I don’t know that this is reprinted or collected anywhere) this is certainly a fun one-off. All the better if you’re a fan of Quasar and/or Starfox. Though I wouldn’t see this as anything much more than a bargain-bin book (worth little more than 25-50 cents) I definitely recommend this as something worth the time it takes to read, just for the fun of it.

The ’90s Revisited: Silver Surfer #45

90srevisited

silversurfer045Thanos vs. Mephisto

Writer: Jim Starlin
Penciler: Ron Lim
Inker: Tom Christopher
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak
Colorist: Tom Vincent
Cover: Ron Lim, Tom Christopher
Editor: Craig Anderson
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: January 1991
Cover Price: $1.00

This is an issue of Silver Surfer. That’s the series, the title, that’s the logo on the cover. But…the cover belongs to Thanos and Mephisto…there’s no attempt whatsoever to have the title character–the Surfer himself–worked into the cover image. There’s a square box that has no pretension of some callout or "burst" hyping something: it states simply The Boys are Back! and we see a stoic, confident Thanos "posed" for the image with a sorta creepy, up-to-no-good Mephisto putting an arm around him. This image alone evokes plenty of thoughts and depth…surface stuff and far deeper, should one wish to hyperanalyze.

The cover belongs to these two…as does the interior. The Surfer has fallen (in the previous issue, I’d assume…it’s been well over a decade since I last would have read this run) and he and the Destroyer (Drax) lay lifeless at Thanos’ feet–their souls having been sucked into the Soul Gem. Other than the opening full-page shot and barely a reference in a subsequent panel and then a small panel at the very end of the issue reminding us of their existence–we don’t see Surfer or the Destroyer in the rest of the issue. And while this is a Silver Surfer issue…that does not bother me in the slightest, particularly having bought this for a quarter, because of the cover…and TRULY getting exactly what I wanted, what I expected out of the issue: Thanos and Mephisto. That’s what the cover promised, and that’s what was delivered.

Thanos has assembled his Infinity Gauntlet, having completed his quest to gather the Infinity Stones. The two beings who sought to stop him–the Silver Surfer and Drax, the Destroyer–have been defeated. Mephisto takes this opportunity to step him, pledging himself to Thanos, master of all. Along with doing so, he goads Thanos on, suggesting the greatness he can yet attain, if he reaches out with his infinite power to touch every living/sentient mind in the Universe. Thanos does so, and Mephisto’s ulterior motive is revealed: to steal the Gauntlet for himself. Of course, it turns out that Thanos was prepared for this, and puts Mephisto in his place, wherein the two come to an agreement about How Things Will Be…and we again see the lifeless forms of Surfer and Drax as Thanos considers the notion of there remaining any who could possibly be a threat to his plans.

This issue falls right in the midst of all the lead-up to The Infinity Gauntlet (1991), though unfortunately it does not seem to be part of the Silver Surfer: The Rebirth of Thanos collected volume. (I’m actually not sure if this has been collected anywhere at the moment?) And the cover–basic though it is (a simple greenish turquoise background with the two characters and then the usual cover dress)–just hit the right nostalgia button for me.

Starlin‘s writing here is spot-on for me; I so associate him with this material–this run on Silver Surfer, all his stuff on Thanos heading into and then during the core Infinity Gauntlet and so on–that this is essentially a "perfect" comic. This is Thanos as I appreciate the character, like the character, and simply reading this issue leaves me anxious to re-read this whole run of the title. As Thanos’ creator, Starlin gets a "pass" from me: what he says goes, and if he’s writing Thanos, then to me…that IS Thanos.

Lim‘s art is absolutely fantastic and iconic in itself to me…as depicted in this issue, this simply IS Thanos. The costume, the shadowed eyes, the star-flare in the eyes, whatever details I notice just works for me and seems perfect.

I already "know" this period of the comics; I know stuff before, after, and am certain I’ve read this before, so reading this is a true revisiting for me; like taking a cherished, favorite book and spending a few minutes re-reading a short selection. That’s probably why despite this chunk of story being right in the middle of the lead-up to Infinity Gauntlet, I so thoroughly enjoyed it as a single issue.

This issue is well worth grabbing, particularly as a bargain-bin issue…and especially if it’s truly not reprinted anywhere as yet. It’s a great middle piece between what you’ll find in Silver Surfer: The Rebirth of Thanos tpb and the Infinity Gauntlet.

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