Category: Comics

“Jim Lee’s C-23 1-8 (Complete Series)” by Jeff Mariotte and Alexander Lozano

Jim Lee's c-23

Jim Lee’s C-23 #1-8

Created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi

Written by Jeff Mariotte

Art by Alexander Lozano

Published in 1998

I had high hopes for this series because it came from an imprint that I loved (WildC.A.T.s, Backlash, Stormwatch, The Authority, Gen13 are all nostalgia filled trips down memory lane for me) and covers by Ryan Benjamin that fit right in with those other books.  What I didn’t know when starting the series though was that this series was created as a tie in for a card game.  I’m usually not big on media tie in series, as they seem to restrict the creative freedom of the writers or don’t have any real stakes taking place.

Once I got into the inside of the book I was immediately disappointed by the artwork.  Character anatomy is pretty much not in the realm of reality, but not even in the fun comic book way of 90’s image comics.  Torsos are a cross between the typical steroid visions of that era, but also have an affected by toxic waste vibe where they flow into necks, legs or breasts in weird ways.  It’s particularly apparent on the female characters (of which there are only two that have any speaking parts, both are wanting to have sex with the protagonist) who look way less humanoid than I’m sure was intended by the story.

Speaking of the story… there’s not much there.  The entire plot of eight issues can be summed up as an elevator pitch or back of a book summary for basically any heroes journey.  Two rival races are at war, and the only person who can win the war is the man born to both of them.  His father was killed by the leader of the evil race, and now he’s the secret heir to the kingdom for the good guys.  I was going to stretch it out another sentence but that pretty much sums up all eight issues.

The setting is a mix between Avatar and Cyberforce, with the good guys being the organic Navi-like race and the bad guys being the cybernetically enhanced humans.  So little happens in this series that it’s inexplicable that one of the only things that happens in the story (a prison break) takes place in between issues.  In addition to the cardboard hero (Corbin), there’s a bad guy (Hemlocke), Scarab (a jealous brother), and the two females (one from each race) who want to have sex with Corbin (whose names I have already forgot).

I’m trying to think of a redeeming quality about this series, but the bad art, cliche story and forgettable characters are leaving me drawing a blank.

1-star

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“The Lone Ranger: Vindicated” from Dynamite Comics Review

Lone Ranger Vindicated

The Lone Ranger: Vindicated from Dynamite Comics

Writer:  Justin Gray

Artist:  Rey Villegas

Published:  2015

Vindicated is listed as a standalone Lone Ranger adventure, or at least it lacks the number on the side of the trade paperback to indicate where it should fall in the reading order.  I’ve read about all of the Dynamite line of this series, and I’d just recommend reading it after Vol. 8: The Long Road Home, which I believe is where it came out chronologically.

 The story of Vindicated is that a small town bank has been robbed, and then the insurance money sent to the town is also robbed, and it’s possible that some of the higher ups in the town are all in on it.  As far as originality, it’s fairly run of the mill and I have a feeling I’ll forget about it before I get around to reading the next Lone Ranger trade.  The most memorable aspect of this volume is the attractive woman that takes an interest in our title character.  The rest of the plot being go generic, the only place this book develops the characters in a meaningful way is showing how juvenile John is in his interactions with women.  Even Tonto has to point out to him both when a woman is interested in him, and when he should beware of one.

 Beyond those few scenes (which while funny, also have the negative result of making the hero seem less convincing as a credible threat to evil… maybe James Bond’s polyamory is on to something), the only parts of this book that really stood out were the fantastic art by Rey Villegas.  Dynamite has always done a great job with the art on this book, and several pages reminded me of the great Cassaday covers from earlier in this series.  There are some great pages in issue four involving a shooting display any a dramatic entry through a window that were as exciting visually as anything I’ve read this year. Unfortunately in the service of only a so-so story, it’s an overall forgettable installment.

3-star

“Quasar” #46-60 by Mark Gruenwald and Ron Marz

Quasar 60

Quasar #46-60 by Marvel Comics

Writers – Mark Gruenwald, Ron Marz

Artists – Andy Smith, Grant Miehm, John Heebrink

Published 1993-1994

**Note, this review is for Quasar issues #46-60**

The final 15 issues of Quasar felt like an encapsulation of the things that made this an entertaining as well as frustrating series. Once again, Quasar gets pulled into a crossover that, reading this series on its own, leaves the reader with little understanding of the story line and even less invested in the outcome. Along with Andy Smith and Grant Miehm, John Heebink comes on board as artist for several issues and provided competent though certainly not flashy work. As the series wrapped up, each of the recurring characters got to complete their character arc: Makkori learned that being fast isn’t everything in life, Kismet found a purpose besides reproducing with Quasar, and Kayla…. well, let’s talk about Kayla.

I mentioned in my earlier reviews that the most enjoyable part of this series for me was Quasar’s development of a relationship with Kayla. Her character took a superhero twist at the end of the last batch of issues, which I didn’t particularly care for, but it ended up being the core conflict throughout these last 15. By my count, there was only one issue throughout this series of 60 comics that featured Quasar and Kayla on a full issue adventure together, and probably only 2 dates shown that the characters go out on. That’s pretty slim to hang the weight of a superhero story conflict on, and I think Gruenwald missed an opportunity to make the readers more invested in the characters and the relationship by never letting it appear on the page. (I say Gruenwald as he wrote 59 of the sixty issues, this last group of issues also features a standalone story by Ron Marz that was quite fun but is completely out of place with when it is taking place in the larger story arc.)

Still the payoff to the Quasar/Kayla arc ended up being one of the best issues in the entire series. Overall, I’d say because of the buildup to it, issue #58 was my favorite issue of the series, but because it required reading a lot of so-so comics to get there, the first three issues (#1-3) would be better reads as stand alone stories. As a Marvel Cosmic character, I’d agree that Quasar belongs in a lower tier than characters like Silver Surfer, Adam Warlock or Nova in terms of quality of stories and iconic appearances. His replacement with a female version in the Abnett and Lanning cosmic era was a good idea that has also not been capitalized on. Quasar may be destined to be a character that never becomes recognizable outside of fans of 1990’s comics, but I can’t exactly argue that it’s undeserved.

3-star

“Quasar” #31-45 by Mark Gruenwald from Marvel Comics Review

Quasar 43

This is a review for Quasar issues number #31-45. This series has not been collected in trade beyond the first few issues.

Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Artists – Greg Capullo, Rurik Tyler, Steve Lightle, Andy Smith and Grant Miehm

The 1990’s get a lot of blame for the death of the comic industry. The speculator bubble is a big part of it, although for somebody who grew up reading the comics of that era it’s not anything I hold against the industry. Some of my favorite comics were the #1 issues from Marvel, Image and other companies that sold millions of issues to people that never had any intention of reading them. Another criticism is the over the top art and lack of good storytelling. Again, as a reader from that era, I thought the crazy art of guys like Liefeld or Dale Keown was a fun stylistic choice that made a few books stand out more on their own. The other major criticism of books from that time is that the issues took place in endless crossovers with other titles (and this is sill a criticism of Marvel and DC comics today).

This run of 15 issues of Quasar certainly had me lamenting the endless crossovers of the era. Issue 31 crosses over with the New Universe, issues 32 through 35 were parts 3,10,17 and Aftermath of the Galactic Storm crossover. At that point, we get two stand alone issues of Quasar before it ties into the Infinity War for three more issues. Once we’re clear of all those crossovers, the next few issues are dealing with a bad guy let loose in those issues by Thanos (the original Marvel Boy). Marvel Boy has the distinction of being one of the lamest designed and childish behaving characters I’ve ever read. Issue #43, picture above, features Marvel Boy and Quasar fighting in what is also in the running for the ugliest Marvel Comics cover I’ve ever seen.

What were the high points of this run of issues? A funeral for Eon hosted by a cult of interstellar beings whose purpose it is to mourn those that fall stood out to me as interesting and the type of cosmic originality I like best from Marvel. Kayla (Quasar’s secretary) continues to also be the standout character of the series, but possibly only because her story moves at a page or 2 per issue so we are always left wanting more resolution for her.

The art seemed to take a dive in this run of comics, and I’m sorry to point to Andy Smith as the culprit. If you can recognize Kayla before and after her haircut as the same character, you’re cheating. I’m on the fence regarding the change of Quasar from cosmic band wielding Green Lantern clone to generic strong superhero with Starbrand abilities. Neither is particularly original, but as I mentioned in my last review (on Goodreads under issue #25) Gruenwald was just beginning to create some rules for Quasar’s powers that gave him more depth and those have been thrown out the window. Only fifteen issues left in this series, hopefully it improves as so far it’s been a bit of a let down.

2-star

“Quasar” #15-30 by Mark Gruenwald from Marvel Comics Review

Qausar 26

Quasar #15-30

Writer:  Mark Gruenwald

Artist:  Mike Manley, Greg Capullo, Joel Zuleta, Pat Broderick

Released : 1990 to 1992

Note: This Review is for Quasar Issues #15-30, read as individual issues.

I’m continuing to go back and read (or reread) some classic series that I’ve got in issue format. This series always looked interesting to me as I’m a big fan of the cosmic Marvel Universe. I wasn’t blown away by the first set of issues I read, while the next batch has some improvements and a few new drawbacks as well.

Up first, the positives: After three reworkings, Quasar finally has a decent costume. It’s apparent that the Marvel guys realize the the original costumes were no good and the new one was a big improvement, as the cover to issue #26 even states “in his all new final costume!” While the art has been inconsistent in this series, a well designed costume goes a long way to making all the art appear more dynamic. Another improvement is that Quasar is no longer essentially a New York hero, as his adventures in this set deal with characters like Thanos, Maelstrom, and the Watchers. Quasar’s power set is also becoming more defined, requiring more discussion of absorbing and redirecting energies, which (although it can read a bit slow at times) distinguishes his abilities as more than a Green Lantern knock off.

Unfortunately, it’s a one step forward, one step back situation. The longest storyline in this set of issues is the seven part Cosmos in Collision storyline, which features a sudden and jarring change in styles to a much darker art and story. **Spoiler alert** Quasar gets his hands cut off and is tortured to death at one point, which is quite a jump from a guy who basically wasn’t even punched in the first 17 issues. The storyline crossing over with the Infinity Gauntlet event is much better, with some logical outgrowth (that’s a solid pun, if you know the issues I’m discussing) featuring Eon’s expansion from the Baxter building.

The worst part of this series thus far, though it nearly replicates a misogynistic Mad Men kind of way, is the treatment of female characters in Quasar. The supporting cast features three recurring female characters in this set of issues, Kayla (Quasar’s secretary), Moondragon and Her. Moondragon is obsessed with making Quasar fall in love with her, and uses her abilities to control others to make it happen. Her becomes obsessed with mating with Quasar to create a genetically perfect offspring. Both characters feature formfitting skin tight attire 90% of the time, with Moondragon sporting one of the least practical/most revealing superhero outfits in the Marvel Universe. Kayla is the obvious reader/Quasar favorite, but through 30 issues her development has stalled at her having a crush on Quasar, and him liking her as well, but never interacting for more than two pages in an issue. Basically every woman loves Quasar in a sexual manner.

The next batch of issues will be under Quasar #43, as that’s the highest numbered issue currently on Goodreads.

3-star

“Quasar #1-14” by Mark Gruenwald from Marvel Comics

Quasar 1 to 14

Quasar #1 to #14

Writer:  Mark Gruenwald

Artist:  Paul Ryan and Mike Manley

Published:  1989 to 1990

Rather than reading Quasar Classic (pictured above), I’ve actually read the 9 issues of the main series collected in here as well as the next 5 issues of the regular series (so Quasar #1-14). There’s a Quasar #25 on Goodreads that I’ll mark on that website to review the next batch of comics, but I’ll just lay things out more clearly on this website.

Let’s start with the good. The first three issues of this series are fantastic. Issue #1 is a standard superhero origin story but it’s also charming in its retro tropes and SHIELD vs AIM storyline. Issue #2 was my favorite in this first batch of stories, as it takes a time jump of six years and features some deep space travel and discovery for our protagonist. Issue #3 three shifted things again by bringing Wendell Vaughn back to Earth where he tries to set up a business and rent office space in the Baxter Building.

Unfortunately, that’s where the book really stalls as the next several issues (#4 through #9) feature a very routine “alien of the week” storyline. Wendell is tasked by Eon with being ready to face a great alien menace, and so each issue he goes to find one of these aliens and confront him. Usually there is a quick battle or misunderstanding, and that’s about it. Wendell also shows up at his office for about 2 pages each issue to show up late, bemoan that there’s no business or that he has so much to do, but then he leaves again instantly to go investigate something.

Maybe it’s the thirty year old in me, but I really enjoy the supporting cast of coworkers Gruenwald surrounds Vaughn with more than the alien adventures that never really challenge Quasar. There’s also a hint of romance with Vaughn’s secretary, but as of yet it hasn’t gone anywhere. The other interesting relationship in Vaughn’s life is with his dad, who is more interested in chatting with Eon (the space entity) than with his son, although at this point in the series Gruenwald seems to be showing how it is more Wendell’s fault than his dad’s. I’d expect this storyline to have some major ramifications shortly.

The worst parts of this series can be found in those issues I lumped together (#4 through #9) as they really stay formulaic with little change in geography or concept. For a cosmic hero, Quasar is strictly Earthbound for this period and the book doesn’t spend enough time doing anything to advance plot to keep it interesting. (Issue #9 does have some more fun with AIM however, and a newer, evil female MODOK analog.) Even Vaughn’s power set hurts the comics as Quasar comes off like a Green Lantern rip off during every fight scene, with very little discovery about what he can do after issue #2. Issue #10 fixes some of that with a (finally!) cosmic adventure with a couple of Kree supporting characters but it’s back to the same problems for Quasar #11 and #12.

Where I’ve left off Quasar is engaged in another cosmic story with the Ex-Squadron Supreme, but because it deals with a different dimension I don’t have high hopes for it having much going on in terms of high stakes. I much more interested with what’s going on with Wendell’s dad and his coworkers, though if this group of comics is any indication it will be another 15 or so issues before either storyline pays off.

3-star

“Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House” by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker

Invincible 23

Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House

Writer:  Robert Kirkman

Artist: Cory Walker

Published:  2017

Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House is a solid installment in the continuing adventures of Mark Grayson and company, however it unfortunately suffers by comparison as it follows up one of the best installments in the series, Reboot? **Spoilers follow for events that have happened leading up to this volume** The cliffhanger ending of Reboot? had Mark returning to his wife and daughter after what seemed a few weeks for him but was five years for the rest of the universe. Full House picks up with Mark finding out what his family did without him, the state of the war against Thragg and how Robot’s reign as ruler of the Earth is going.

The bulk of the page count is spent with Eve, as Mark must accept and understand the situation she was in on an alien world, not knowing if he would ever return for so long. Mark and Eve always have one of the more rational relationships in comics, and the big revelations here provide some drama but also never really threaten the status quo of Invincible’s two most important heroes. Perhaps more important to the rest of the comic universe are Nolan’s (Omni-Man) acceptance of Robot back on earth, and Oliver’s direct line of communication with Thragg. The fact that the two other Viltrumite Graysons are both in some degree of cahoots with Mark’s greatest enemies foreshadows a conflict that will draw Mark (and Eve, and Terra) back into the fight against their wishes to take time as a family and detach.

Some other fun tidbits from this volume: Allen the Alien shows off his healing capabilities which rival or surpass those of the Viltrumites; Brit, The Immortal and a few other early Invincible characters make (brief) appearances; and an abandoned storyline of Mark’s violent sexual encounter with a female Viltrumite resurfaces with some fun implications for the future. (One of the fun things about reviewing comics is the sheer craziness involved in doing plot recaps.)

While Reboot? nailed every note and provided fantastic twists and character development for Mark, Full House suffers by returning to the status quo despite an opportunity to shake things up by jumping five years ahead. Even the most shocking moments in this volume were negligible on their impact for the overarching series by the conclusion of the sixth issue (Allen’s storyline, Eve’s revelation, Oliver’s communication). The huge cast of characters Kirkman has developed for this series is great for long term storytelling but if it suffers a drawback it’s that certain characters seem to exist only to be killed and that was the feeling I had (instead of grief) at the loss of one recurring character at the conclusion of this volume. With the announcement that this series is ending, I’m predicting this to become more of a rapid fire occurrence in the world of Invincible as Thragg rarely makes an appearance without killing somebody. Hopefully Kirkman will avoid using the Deus Ex Atom Eve superpowers again though as it is in danger of taking away from the usually high stakes in the series.

Typically the easiest fault to point at Invincible is that it’s not new reader friendly, and I’ll concede that’s an issue for this series. However as the title heads to its conclusion I appreciate that it does reward long term readers with plenty of plots that will only make sense to those that have read it all. The entire series is in print from Image Comics as TPB’s, so there’s no excuse for not just starting at Volume 1 for those looking to try it out (seriously, why would you begin something at Vol. 23?). While I prefer the volumes that are entirely Ryan Ottley’s art, Cory Walker’s art in this volume is still very good and does not draw attention to the change in art styles except for on three or four pages scattered throughout (not bad at 6 issues of 22 pages each). Full House was not one of my favorite chapters in the Invincible universe but it did nothing to take away from what is shaping up to be one of the best complete comic series I’ve ever read. Let’s just hope Kirkman can stick the landing.

3-star