Friday, April 20, 2018

CONAN AND THE JEWELS OF GWAHLUR

Script and Art: P. Craig Russell
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski | Letters: Galan Showman
Based on the story “The Jewels of Gwahlur” by Conan creator Robert E. Howard.

As noted when I "digitally unboxed" it a few months back, I picked up 2005's CONAN AND THE JEWELS OF GWAHLUR in a Dark Horse Conan sale simply because the cover jumped out at me and the story sounded interesting. Plus, despite his long and distinguished career in comics, I'm pretty sure I had never read any sequential work by P. Craig Russell, and I wanted to rectify that. I've seen pinups by him and I've seen him ink other pencilers here and there, but when it comes to pure, unvarnished Russell as plotter, scripter, penciler, and inker, this story marks my first exposure.

(I mean, yeah, technically he's adapting an original work by Robert E. Howard, but you know what I mean.)

The story finds Conan, working as he often does in the capacity of a mercenary, as a general in the kingdom of Keshan. But his true purpose in the backwater nation is to steal its legendary treasure, a cache of jewels called the Teeth of Gwahlur. However Conan finds himself up against a rival in this quest, the sinister Thutmekri. When Thutmekri tells Keshan's king that peace with neighboring Zimbabwei could be achieved with some of the Teeth provided as a show of good faith, Conan realizes the villain's true plan, to get the king to reveal the location of the sacred jewels, and then steal them.

Conan takes advantage of Thutmekri's plot when the king sends his priests to the isolated and long-deserted city-temple of Alkmeenon, where they are to commune with its oracle, Yelaya, and, if necessary, bring back the Teeth of Gwahlur. Now knowing where the Teeth are hidden, Conan sets out ahead of the priests and reaches Alkmeenon before them.

Monday, April 16, 2018

ACTION COMICS #587 & ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #429

“CITYSCAPE!”
Written & Penciled by: John Byrne | Embellished by: Dick Giordano
Colored by: Tom Ziuko | Lettered by: John Costanza
Edited by: Andrew Helfer & Michael Carlin

The Plot: In Gotham City, renowned occult expert Jason Blood and his entourage visit a curio shop. Jason’s friend Glenda opens a miniature glass city, and it immediately begins transforming everyone in the vicinity, and soon everyone in Gotham, into glass buildings. Blood changes into his alter ego, the demon Etrigan, and avoids the effect. Superman, passing by, has a brief scuffle with Etrigan before the demon explains the situation, then sends the Man of Steel back in time to stop the effect before it can start. Superman teams up with the Jason Blood of the Dark Ages, and together they stop the sorceress Morgaine Le Fay from enchanting the mini city in the first place. Superman returns to the present day to find that all is well.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Superman is familiar with Etrigan from past encounters, though he learns here for the first time that the demon is actually Jason Blood.

My Thoughts: Following from its installment of the LEGENDS/Darkseid storyline, ACTION COMICS returns to its established format as a throw-away team-up vehicle. Now, that doesn’t mean the story is bad; Superman’s team-up with Etrigan is fun, and Byrne’s fondness for time travel gets a quick demonstration here, but ultimately this is an entirely skippable affair.

We’ll note again that Byrne’s recent penchant for the gratuitous slaughter of bystanders is in full force, as Superman himself kills, or at least grievously injures, a few innocents when he smashes Etrigan against the crystal towers in Gotham. One of them even starts bleeding! Of course it’s all corrected via time travel, but even so, it’s a little much to see Superman himself causing such carnage — even if indirectly.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

THE UNBOXING - APRIL 2018

Mighty Marvel has two books for us this month, a matching pair titled X-MEN BLUE vol. 0: REUNION and X-MEN GOLD vol. 0: HOMECOMING. Why they chose to title these as if they were entries in the ongoing X-MEN BLUE and X-MEN GOLD series, which have nothing to do with this material, is anyone's guess -- though I would assume it's just some sort of cross-promotion; i.e. more casual fans might grab these if they seem like they're supposed to go with the other books in those series. To me, though it feels more like false advertising.

But in any case, these two collections, when combined with 2015's THE HUNT FOR PROFESSOR X volume*, encompass the full and complete Steve Seagle/Joe Kelly run on UNCANNY X-MEN and X-MEN from the mid-late-nineties. It was the era that fell between Scott Lobdell's and Alan Davis's runs, and is kind of notorious these days for some serious editorial interference -- but nonetheless, in my quest to own the complete 1990s X-Men, I'm happy to have all three of these volumes in my collection.


(Plug alert: for a pretty comprehensive list of various X-Men collected editions, check out my X-MEN COLLECTIONS page! Crazy as it sounds, by the end of this year, the entirety of nineties X-material will be available in hardcover and/or trade paperback, with the exception of just a handful of issues in the immediate aftermath of the "Onslaught" event. And with all these volumes coming up fast and furious, I may need to get back to my semi-regularly scheduled photo-reviews of X-Men books...)

In the realm of the Digital Unboxing, it's been a busy month for Marvel. Comixology/Amazon have been running some pretty big sales, offering newly released collections at a mere 99¢ a pop -- plus there have been, in recent weeks, two sales offering hundreds of Marvel collections at that same bargain price! So in the past month, I picked up the following in digital format: THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN AMERICA, EXCALIBUR EPIC COLLECTION: THE CROSS-TIME CAPER, MARVEL HORROR: THE MAGAZINE COLLECTION, MARVEL SUPER HEROES: CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS, MARVEL TEAM-UP BY CHRIS CLAREMONT & JOHN BYRNE, MASTER OF KUNG FU EPIC COLLECTION: WEAPON OF THE SOUL, NAMOR VISIONARIES: JOHN BYRNE vol. 1 and vol. 2, NEW MUTANTS EPIC COLLECTION: CURSE OF THE VALKYRIES, SPIDER-MAN: THE GRAPHIC NOVELS, THANOS: THE INFINITY SIBLINGS, VAMPIRE TALES vol. 1, vol. 2, and vol. 3, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION vol. 2, WOLVERINE & NICK FURY: SCORPIO, X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN, X-MEN: LEGIONQUEST, X-MEN BLUE vol. 0: REUNION, and X-MEN GOLD vol. 0: HOMECOMING. (Those last two sound familiar for some reason...)


I would've grabbed more, but I already own many of the other 99¢ offerings I want from previous sales! Still, to drive home the point: that's twenty books for less than $20.00!

But sadly, it seems like this run may have ended. From what I've read, irate retailers bullied Marvel into contacting Amazon/Comixology about the sales, and a week or so after, the 99¢ offerings vanished from Comixology's site -- so it seems probable the same will happen on Amazon eventually. Mind you, I don't think anyone ever expected this to last; it was obviously some sort of experiment on Amazon's part, but it's still a shame the plug was pulled so quickly due to a retailer hissy fit. I was grabbing lots of stuff I wouldn't ordinarily have touched through these sales, as well as backup "digital copies" of many books I already own.

Oh, well... at the very least, we can hold out hope that the big, more-or-less quarterly price drops will continue on Amazon, where digital collections, while not discounted as drastically as to 99¢, go down to something like three or four dollars a pop.


It's been three years since THE HUNT FOR PROFESSOR X collection came out?! I checked to verify while typing up this post, seriously thinking it must have been just last year, or winter 2016 at the latest. You can't imagine how my jaw dropped when I saw the release date. How time flies!

Friday, April 13, 2018

THE BLACK BEETLE IN: KARA BÖCEK

A Mystery Tale by Francesco Francavilla
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot

When I looked at Francesco Francavilla’s first “Black Beetle” adventure, NO WAY OUT, near the end of the year, I admitted that perhaps I was missing something. The story had received rave reviews from both the comics press and comics professionals, but I found it kind of an unnecessarily confusing and somehow simultaneously simplistic mystery. The artwork was gorgeous, but the story didn’t grab me, much as I wanted it to.

I now wonder if part of the problem was in the story’s length. NO WAY OUT was an adventure told in five full-length issues, and I didn’t really warm up to it. KARA BÖCEK, on the other hand, was serialized in DARK HORSE PRESENTS as a series of five six-page installments, for a total run-time of (carry the one...) thirty pages! Basically a single comic’s worth of material. And I find this story to be far more exciting, fast-paced, and all around appealing than NO WAY OUT.

(I should note again, as I did at the time, that NO WAY OUT featured a prologue chapter, unrelated to the main story, which featured the Black Beetle fighting Nazis at the Colt City museum, and that I found that prologue way more engaging than the subsequent storyline, so I really think I’m on to something with this idea that the Black Beetle works best in shorter, tighter-paced adventures.)

Monday, April 9, 2018

SUPERMAN #5 & #6

“THE MUMMY STRIKES” | “THE LAST FIVE HUNDRED”
Writer/Penciler: John Byrne | Inker: Karl Kesel
Colorist: Tom Ziuko | Letterer: John Costanza | Editors: Andrew Helfer & Michael Carlin

The Plot: (Issue 5) Clark Kent arrives at the Daily Planet to learn that Perry White has lost contact with Lois Lane in South America. Clark leaves, changes into Superman, and flies to the archaeological site where Lois is on assignment. There, he learns that the research team has uncovered evidence of a civilization which predated mankind. As they explore the subterranean site, a giant mummy comes to life and attacks. Clark separates himself from the group and fights back, eventually shutting the mummy down, then feigns injury as Lois and the archeologists find him.

(Issue 6) Clark awakens to find that Lois and all the archeologists have been possessed by representatives of an ancient race which lived on Earth prior to humanity. These beings now plan to resume their rule of the planet, and the “mummy” is actually robot built to house their five hundred minds. Clark changes to Superman and the robot attacks. He fights against it and the ancient minds possessing Lois and the others return to the robot to aid its battle.

Superman eventually realizes the covetous creatures will fight over his body if he feigns defeat, and when they do so, the robot explodes. In the aftermath, Superman flies Lois home, assuring her that he already returned Clark to Metropolis.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

SPRINGTIME GRAB BAG

It's that time of year again, where I look at a few random items from the "to read" pile in what has become known (at least to me) as the Springtime Grab Bag!

All of the upcoming reviews will be digital books purchased in various Comixology sales. First, we'll look a couple pulp-influenced offerings from Dark Horse: THE BLACK BEETLE IN: KARA BOCEK by Francisco Francavilla, and CONAN AND THE JEWELS OF GWAHLUR by P. Craig Russell.

After that, we'll jump over to Image for a mini-series I've wanted to check out for quite some time, but just never got around to, MADAME MIRAGE by Paul Dini and Kenneth Rocafort. And then we'll wrap things up with a visit to IDW for a look at their BATMAN/TMNT ADVENTURES mini-series, a crossover between the definitive animated incarnation of Batman and one of the many animated incarnations of the Turtles.

With the Black Beetle, Conan, and Batman and the Turtles, I have some idea of what to expect, but I really don't know what Madame Mirage has to offer, so this should be an interesting few weeks. I hope you'll stick around to see how it all unfolds!

Friday, April 6, 2018

X-MEN '92 #8 - #10

"THE TWELVE" | "A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH" | "EARTH X"
Writers: Chad Bowers & Chris Sims | Art: Alti Frimansyah w/Cory Hamscher (#10 assist)
Color Art: Matt Milla | Lettering: VC's Travis Lanham | Cover Art: David Nakayama
Production: Carlos Lao | Editors: Heather Antos & Jordan D. White
Editor-in-Chief: Axel Alonso | Chief Creative Officer: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Dan Buckley | Executive Producer: Alan Fine

The final chunk of X-MEN '92 begins with our heroes and the Ex-Brood fighting off the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, who have arrived to exterminate the Brood. Rogue gets a spotlight here, going to-to-toe with Gladiator while the rest of her friends battle the remaining members of the Imperial Guard -- and the entire fight proves to be a diversion allowing Gambit, Beast, and Death's Head to hijack the Guard's ship. The X-Men escape back toward Earth, where this short-lived series' sub-plots quickly come to a head.

First, we learn that the Gamesmaster is actually Mystique in disguise, and the entire Upstarts competition has been the brainchild of Apocalypse as a way to steel the X-Men against an impending threat. Apocalypse reveals himself to the Upstarts and recruits them to his cause, and at the same time is joined by Cassandra Nova and the mysterious Joseph. Meanwhile, President Kelly arrives at the site of Lila Cheney's concert in Westchester to confront Professor X and X-Factor, revealing that he doesn't trust the X-Men to protect Earth and that he's made a deal with Apocalypse.

Apocalypse and his team show up, we get some jokes at the expense of nineties whipping boy Adam-X, then the X-Men arrive on Earth with the Ex-Brood. Apocalypse reveals a heretofore unknown benevolence to Xavier, explaining that he wants to save the world from a mutant Celestial named Xodus, who has recently awakened. But before he can explain his plan, he's gunned down by Cable as X-Force shows up.