Quick Take: Superior Spider-Man (2019)

I read the first issue of the New Superior Spider-Man when it first came out and I wasn’t inspired to invest in the series. Not even Terrax was enough to inspire me to purchase issue 2. But while my car was being serviced, I noticed that the first issue was available on Marvel Unlimited. I decided to give it a second read. It did not get better. The set up is obvious, Dr. Octopus’ mind now resides in a cloned body of Peter Parker, with all of the powers that implies. He’s teaching at Horizon University in San Francisco and trying to be a better hero than Peter. The whole thing has a perfunctory “been there, done that” kind of a feel. It’s the same themes as volume 1 without having Peter’s story to bolster my interest.

The art isn’t superior either; it’s competent, but all the characters look like posed manikins. I’ve seen people talking about how they really like this series and it isn’t terrible. Maybe I’ll return to it in a couple of years, once the entire run is on Marvel Unlimited, but then again, maybe not. I can’t see investing in this series for the individual issues.

Also, do you remember a time when comic book companies tried not to overexpose their characters? In the 1940s Superman, Batman and Flash couldn’t be in the JSA because each had his own book. Similar policies persisted for a long time. But now Peter has two books, Miles, Gwen and Otto have books and there’s something called “Symbiote Spider-Man.” If Marvel isn’t careful, we’ll all have brand fatigue before long.

Bottom Line:

Who the Hell are the Eternals Anyway?

The Eternals (1976) #1

Eternals Vol 1 1

I’ve been reading comics since 1973, but I really have no idea who the Eternals are. I know they were created by Kirby and I remember Sersi being an Avenger for a while. And I know there’s that one guy who wears the Superman color scheme, whose name I feel like I should know. That’s about it, although I just learned that Eternals #2 is the first appearance of the Celestials, which intrigues me. I’m going to take the plunge and learn about these guys in advance of their movie. To that end, here’s a review of their first issue.

You may wonder how, being a Marvel guy, I missed the Eternals. Blame economics. My limited reading budget in 6th grade was progressively being focused on novels and I quit comics cold turkey (not to worry, I came back) when the cover price went up to 30¢. That gave me two months to notice the Eternals, but I never actually did.

Spoilers follow if one can spoil something published 43 years ago.

928 best Jack Kirby images on Pinterest | Comic art, Comic ...

When I was in college, I tried to read Harlan Ellison’s “For I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” three times. The first page is both excellent and electrifying. Offbeat and dark, it leaves you dying to know what happens next. I never found out. Each time I lost interest around the third page and I never successfully finished the story. Eternals #1 is a lot like that.

The first four pages are spectacular. The splash page is dominated by a “Kirby machine,” with small characters in the corner teasing some sort of great discovery. This expands to an amazing and intricate two-page spread. The Kirby machine of the first page is the head of the Incas’ “Space God.” The discovery is a huge statue of the Space God in his vehicle with myriad attendants along side and there’s so much interesting detail that you could pour over this page for quite some time. Page 4, another full page shows more of the Gods’ (now plural) equipment.

But then it gets kind of tedious. One of the characters is named Ike Harris and it dawns on me that the guy with the fashion sense of Superman might be called Ikaris. He is. Inwardly, I sigh; my least favorite thing about Kirby-as-writer is his names and these are going to be as cheesy as usual. Ikaris reveals himself to be an Eternal and he is searching for a Cosmic Beacon. He wants to summon the Gods so that they will return to Earth.

We’re also introduced to the Deviants. Monstrous creature’s with names like “Dog,” “Kro” and “Tode.” They’re as determined to prevent the Gods’ return as Ikaris is to bring it about.

Along the way we learn more about the Space Gods. They are aliens who came to Earth ages ago and genetically manipulated the ape creatures they found here. This lead to the creation of three species. The Humans, the Deviants who are genetically unstable with no fixed form and the godlike Eternals who are few in number, powerful and immortal.

Interesting, but still ultimately tedious. One reason, I realized, is that in panel after panel, the captions do nothing but describe what’s clearly happening in the artwork. I had thought that Kirby’s writing had improved a great deal by this point, but this undermines that. If anyone should understand “show, don’t tell,” it’s an Artist/writer.

Like a lot of Kirby’s writing, there’s lots of good ideas but I find the execution kind of flat. I remind myself that this is an introductory issue and those can be dull; the characters have to be introduced, the situations have to be laid and out and the universe needs to be built. That calls for a lot of exposition and that can leave very little room for story.

Unlike a lot of Kirby’s writing, it feels derivative. There is very little that feels new. The premise is essentially the same as 2001: A Space Odyssey which Kirby had just adapted a few months before. This comic falls between the 2001 Treasury Edition and 2001 the ongoing series which, at least so far, I find a lot more interesting. The rest of the story feels a lot like the Inhumans with some of Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods mixed in.

The cliffhanger at the end of the issue is that the Space Gods have arrived and we’re told they’re called the Celestials. I’m still intrigued. More to come.

Bottom Line:

Quick Take: Dark Phoenix

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When I want to comment on something, but I don’t have a hell of a lot to say, I’m going to label it a “Quick Take.”

So, I just saw the Dark Phoenix movie.  I had to.  The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the high points of superhero comics.  It’s also one of the things that I was really excited about when I was getting back into comics.  Without the Dark Phoenix saga, we might have an entire other room for something other than comics.

This movie definitely benefited from low expectation. I’d literally heard nothing good about  this film.  And by-and-large, what I’d heard was fair.  But sitting in the theater, it was okay; better than I was expecting.  I didn’t hate it, and on balance, I’m not unhappy I saw it.

But, make no mistake; this is not a good movie.  There’s a death that felt gratuitous and there are plot elements that feel either tacked on or poorly thought out.  The biggest tumblr_m8qincGKz21qfxwtoo4_1280problem for me was that the original Dark Phoenix was all about internal conflict.  It’s a long build up to Jean being corrupted by the power and changing from Phoenix to Dark Phoenix.  Ultimately, Jean is the hero of the story because she sacrifices herself to keep her friends safe.  The movie shares a lot of these elements, but unfolds in what seems to be about 72 hours.  These elements are all eliminated or trivialized.  If you’re looking for this dimension of the story, you’d do better to reread the original.

My favorite thing about the movie is that it was nice to see the old-school Marvel logo with the flipping comic images rather than the movie clip version that they now use in Marvel Studios Films.

Bottom Line:  closed star half staropen staropen staropen star

Man and Machine Man

First Published April 2018

It seemed natural to follow up on Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey by reading his run of issues in Machine Man, #1-9. Indeed, the last three issues of 2001 are closer to being a prolog for this series than they are a coda for thatimg_8535.jpg one.

The first issue is a bit jarring. There’s a near complete reset of supporting characters despite coming only seven months after 2001 #10. Visually, the first nine issues are pure Kirby goodness that escape the excessive cheesiness that diminish some of his other writing efforts. In these issues, it seems that the book isn’t intended to exist within the Marvel Universe. That makes sense as it continued from a licensed series which compared the character to the “Marvel Superheroes” in a way that doesn’t seem natural within that universe. The writing is kind of klunky in places. There’s a lot of what Star Trek fans would call “technobabble” as Machine Man demonstrates some new ability or other and Colonel Kragg (a character precisely in the General Ross motif) reminds us that he lost an eye battling the other robots in the X series virtually every single time that he appears. Not a great collection of books, less interesting than the 2001 series it sprang from but still, an enjoyable read.

The series seems to end here, promising a follow-up in Incredible Hulk. But the cancellation became a hiatus and the series was resurrected after a few months. More on that later. Probably.

Edit:
Jim Kosmicki inspired me to look at the timing of this. It turns out this is the very moment Jack left Marvel for the last time to work in animation. His last work for Marvel was Machine Man #9 and Devil Dinosaur #9, both cover-dated December 1978. Devil Dinosaur ended permanently. I don’t know if the Machine Man revival was planned or if he proved popular enough in the Hulk issues to justify restarting the book.

Not Kubrick or Clarke, but Kirby’s Space Odyssey

First published 20 April 2018

Finally finished this run on Saturday and read ‘em today. The first 7 issues are a lot of fun and… trippy.  The first few issues follow the pattern established in the movie.  The monolith encounters a creature in the far past; it then encounters a character in a near-future setting and that character is evolved into a star child.  The star child then moves on to other adventures.  The themes continue, but the narrative loosens as the series progresses.

It’s impresimg_3531sive to me that Kirby was able to draw on the concepts of the Movie and the novel in non-trivial, substantive ways. I’m not generally a fan of Kirby as a writer. The Inhumans run in Amazing Adventures is a great example; it’s hard to overstate how much better those got after Thomas and Adams took over. But Kirby had clearly grown a lot as a writer over the intervening 6-7 years. These were spot on and much better than I’d expected.

Machine Man is introduced in issue 8 and the 2001 stuff fades into the background as the book shifts to a standard superhero narrative. Still good though. Overall, a fun read.

Carefully Reconstructed Nostalgia; All in Color for Forty Dimes

A Review of Fantastic Four #1 Facsimile Edition(2018),
by J. F. Kolacinski ©2018

I was excited yesterday to pick up a copy of the new facsimile edition of the original Fantastic Four #1. It was honestly amazing to hold this comic in my hands, to read and enjoy without having to worry about all the concerns that come with handling a 57-year old collectible.

IMG_3908It would be redundant to summarize the story here, but a couple of things are apparent as you read the book.

I’m far from the first to point this out, but the early influences of Marvel were far closer to the monster comic genre than to the distinguished competition’s superhero stories. This traces back to Marvel Comics #1; those initial appearances of the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner are starkly different from your run of the mill superhero story and this influence permeates FF #1 from Ben’s first appearance to Johnny’s destruction of the race car and to the design and feel of the Mole Man’s creatures.

Once you’re used to reading modern comics, revisiting this comic makes it easy to see how the industry has changed over the years.  When Marvel returned to this story to reimagine it for Ultimate Fantastic Four in 2004, it took 6 issues to cover the same ground as FF #1.  Six issues that were, to me, inherently less satisfying. There’s a lot to the argument that the industry no longer writes comics; it writes trades which get split into individual issues.  I think that’s part of the reason Individual comics are not as enjoyable as they once were.

As for the physical comic, there were a lot of nice features.

The cover is a sturdy piece of card stock.  I wish modern Marvels would get closer to that on a regular basis.

The cover art has been restored to the original, or at least more painstakingly reproduced.

Here’s a scan of the original cover:

IMG_3916

For years reproductions of the cover to FF #1 seemed to be variations of the cover to the Golden Record reprint from 1966.  This omitted the figure closest to the police officer and had a redrawn figure on the far right.  The signage is also absent from the buildings.  Here’s the new cover side-by-side with the Golden record reprint.

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That this is the source seems clear if we look at the cover reproduced on the first printing of the FF Marvel Masterworks.  This image is also recolored and omits the police officer.

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In addition to restoration of the cover, the original interior coloring has been restored or reproduced. Here’s a pair of original pages.

IMG_3917And here are the corresponding pages from the Marvel Masterworks reprint.

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This coloring is consistent with my recollection of reprints and retellings from the 70s and 80s.  The coloring from the facsimile edition matches the original closely.  It’s interesting to notice that even the ads are colored consistently with the original.

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IMG_3918It’s a much nicer effect.  The older reprints had more of a paint-by-numbers feel while the original coloring seems more careful and more nuanced.  It’s also an integral part of the artwork, underscoring certain dramatic moments.  Returning the original flight suits to the dark blue and white color scheme also gives some historical context to the so called “negative uniforms” that John Byrne introduced in issue 256.  This is all very well done, but it’s worth noting that the corrected cover and coloring dates at least as far back as the version of FF #1 that appeared on Marvel.com in 2009.

Despite the clear effort that was expended making this a genuine facsimile of FF #1 there are some distinct differences, both intentional and unavoidable.

The intentional:IMG_3920

  • The cover price is $3.99, carefully done to match the style of the original.
  • The cover date reads “Aug” rather than “Nov.”
  • A modern “Marvel” logo and UPC code appear on the lower right-hand side of the cover.
  • A collection of original essays follows the reproduction of the original back cover.This is nice addition; it gives the book some original content and is appropriate to the occasion,  namely the return of Marvel’s first family to the Marvel Universe proper.
  • A painted version of Kirby’s original artwork is used as the back cover.

IMG_3907The unavoidable:

  • It’s a modern book printed on modern presses; it is consequently slimmer than the original.
  • The paper is distinctly different from the original pulp paper. It isn’t glossy but it’s whiter than pulp paper was traditionally and this gives a different feel to the book.
  • The printing is also modern. This helps on the cover, I think.  The shading isn’t as dark as on the original which gives a nicer effect.  In the interior, the small dots of color that indicated color combinations on vintage books are undetectable.  On the original the colors are more muted and warmer.  On the new edition, the effect of the original coloring with the whiter paper and the brighter colors is ever-so-slightly harsh.

Still, it’s clear that the folks at Marvel put a good deal of effort into making this an experience that’s as close as it could be to reading an original Fantastic Four #1 from 1961.  For me that effort paid off.  If you’re interested in such a thing, I recommend that you pick up a copy.

Sources:

  • CoverBrowser.com
  • git corp.The Complete Fantastic Four (2005)
  • Fantastic Four #1 Facsimile Edition (2018)
  • Marvel Masterworks Volume 2 (11/1987)
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four issues 1-6 (2004)
  • Brown, M., “Unstable Fashion Sense Part 1: The History of the Fantastic Four’s Costumes in the Comics,” comicbook.com, (1/2015)