Quarter Bin Treasure Chest… or Why I hate Hank Pym

Back on Free Comic Book Day I picked up quite a few cheap books, and I’ve slowly been going through them hoping for something to write about. Well brother, I’ve found just such a book in The West Coast Avengers #33. The front cover features Wonder Man beating up a bunch of communist apes (The Beasts of Berlin). With the promise of an “Ape Attack!” on the front cover, this book was a no-brainer for me. Hold on Hondo, this isn’t your typical boy-meets-ape-centric-comic-book story.

Apes in their natural habitat: close combat with a man sporting a mullet.

No dear friends, what promises to be an enjoyable romp through the world of fisticuffs and anthropomorphic primates is actually an exploration of why Hank Pym is an unforgivable ass. I’m reticent to give the story away although it illustrates at multiple points why my hatred of Hank Pym as a character is not unreasoning. The following points should be sufficient:

1. Hank Pym hijacks the initiation of new member Moon Knight with an announcement that really should have been prefaced with the Farnsworthian “Good news everyone!”

2. The phrases “eastern bloc security network”, “why now?”, and “out of the blue” should combine in even the most rank amature’s mind as t-r-a-p. Not so for our intrepid experienced adventurer (in fairness, none of the WCA seem to pick up on this).

3. Hank Pym is the embodiment of the girlfriend-in-fridge trope.

4. “I have to power to grow anything I touch.” ’nuff said.

5. Abandoning you team mates mid-apefight is not the way a hero acts.

Hank Pym aside, there is one redeeming aspect to this issue. Al Milgrom and Mike Machlan do an amazing job of aping the Marvel House Style of the early silver age. Granted these are flashbacks centered on Pym, but they look great.

At the end of the day, the lesson is don’t judge a bargain book by it’s cover… especially if that book probably features Hank Pym.

Quarter Bin Treasure Chest

One of my favorite things about cons is back-issue diving.  And one of my favorite things about that is discovering insane old Silver Age books.  I thought I’d share a few I found at Denver Comic Con.  None of these were a quarter, but they were all under $2.

I’ve never read a Blackhawk comic before, but that’s just Silver Age madness!

The superhero boom is obviously upon us!

I thought this was the same character from our, but I was mistaken.

A note from the editor right on the cover? Always a good sign.

I don’t have to explain why this is awesome, right? It’s Superman and he Guardians!

It gets even crazier when Hitler shows up! Oh damn, I ruined it.

Giant robot? Check. Creepy old-school sci-fi name? Double-check.

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Secret identity hijinx!

Quarter Bin Treasure Chest

There are so many Wolverine mini-series these days — in addition to his main titles and spinoffs — that I tend to just miss them as fluff out of hand.  I’ve read my fair share of unnecessary Logan stories already, so the character alone isn’t enough to sell me on any of his titles at this point.  A couple weeks ago I stumbled across one of these minis in the discount bin but one credit on the cover caught my eye: Jason Aaron. The book was Wolverine: Manifest Destiny and — not to ruin the end of the review — it was amazing.

Jason Aaron is something of a comic book  mash-up artist, taking what he loves from other media and incorporating it into his comics.  Ghost Rider was heavily influenced by the Satansploitation grindhouse flicks, Scalped draws from The Departed, and Manifest Destiny is Wolverine meets The Last Dragon.  Set just after he regains his memories and the X-Men move to San Francisco, we find Logan remembering an old wrong and returning to Chinatown to correct the problem he caused after killing the local warlord and not stepping up to fill in the power vacuum.

“Wolverine in Chinatown” probably would have been enough of an elevator pitch to make the book good, but Aaron really sells it.  He throws in new gangs, any one of which you’d want to read a mini-series about, new villains (ever want to see Wolverine get punched in the soul?), and a villain whose motivation and connection to Logan make perfect sense.

I wouldn’t do this book justice if I didn’t heap some praise on artist Stephen Segovia as well.  It’s rare that I’m surprised by an artist I’m reading for the first time, because I prefer to think I’ve already heard of any penciller in comics already putting out great work.  However, Segovia knocked me out with his Leneil Yu-inspired draftsmanship and Simone Bianchi-style panel layouts.   Especially with panel design, overly-creative attempts can easily become disruptive, but here they contribute to the style of the artwork while still making the flow of reading easy.

To some extent we’ve everything in this mini before: an ex-girlfriend, a mysterious past, a new direction for our hero.  But if you take out all of the  bad stories we’ve read with those elements, with Manifest Destiny it’s like reading it all for the first time.

My only real quibble with this book comes on the very last page.  There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just Aaron setting the stage for more stories in Chinatown.  My concern is I’m afraid we won’t get to see what happens next.  With a Wolverine title this good, it would be a shame for this stand-out to stay buried with the other minis in your comic shop’s discount bins.

Oh, and just because I’m me:
Cover Price – $11.96
My Price – $6.35

Game Tape/ Quarter Bin Treasure Chest

There isn’t anything new worth discussing this week, so I’ll tell you about the back issues I picked up during this light week.

We’ll begin with what is my new favorite Superman cover. #221 is inspired. Even among the many transformations Superman went through in the Silver Age, this one stands out. No, it’s not a gorilla, lion, baby, egghead, or insect. This Superman is fat: corpulent. Ponder the image below. I’ll wait and rejoin you if you make it to the other side of awesome.

This is actually the second feature in the book. The first story is forgettable fare about Supes rescuing some people from an island. Regardless, you can’t feel ripped off.

The two-ton Superman story is wholly worth the $.15 cover price. The long and short of it is that Superman is suffering from an allergic reaction to an alien liqueur called Scarlet Nectar. Apparently someone lost his epi-pen. So the plot revolves around a morbidly obese Superman trying to lose weight quickly because he’s got to be a certain weight to open a safe…there’s really no good way to explain it further. Trust me. It’s Silver Age, just go with it, man. On top of this imperative, he’s got to juggle life as a tubby Clark Kent (holographic projectors cover this). Now hold on, Hondo. Doesn’t Superman have robot duplicates for just such emergencies. In one panel, he explains what he can’t use his trusty robot pals: sunspots knock them out of commission. That’s right. Sunspots. Ridiculous as it is, this story’s a hoot and a holler. As an added bonus, there’s a full page portrait of the entire Superman Family. It’s accompanied by an explanation of each character. Did you know Comet is actually an enchanted Centaur? ‘Strue!
The rest of this week’s books came from the bargain bins.

To start, I picked up the first 11 issues of Rex Mundi. It’s not so bad. It’s just a little tired. Like zombies, pirates, and vampires not shooting themselves out of cannons on the moon, the “secrets” of the Catholic Church have become over exposed. And these issues are several years old. So why’d I pick it up? I’ve heard good things, and it was cheap. Don’t get me wrong; this is a well crafted story. I’d much rather see this as a movie over the 2 hour research paper that was “The Da Vinci Code.”

I also grabbed the first three issues of Bluewater’s Leprechaun. Jesse and I are (mildly) obsessed with these movies. The fourth installment is arguably the greatest non sequitur ever committed to film. These books are not of the same glorious quality. After the Stephanie Meyer biocomic, maybe I should have known better.

The last set of books I picked up from the bargain boxes is Amanda Conner and Warren Ellis’s Two-Step. I like Ellis from the early part of the last decade, and I like Amanda Conner. It seemed this would be a great treasure. This is a little three issue gem from 2004, and it was published by Cliffhanger. I don’t really know how to react to this book. If I told you the three issues were about the theft and destruction of a giant mechanical and musical penis, you’d call me a liar. Yet, that’s all there is to it. There’s not much character. There isn’t much conflict. There is the usual Ellis crazy tech distopia… and a giant techno penis that plays Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkeries.”

Having hauled this treasure chest home, the book I left behind: Bluewater’s Pistol Fist. Maybe next time. My hope is that this book will be so bad it’s unbelievably good.


Quarter Bin Treasure Chest

Because there have been so many light NCBD’s recently, I’ve had a chance to catch up on some back issues and story arcs I’ve missed out on the first time around.  There are a lot of winners out there that can be picked up on the cheap right now.

  • Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter – Chris Sims at The ISB talked this one up quite a bit, but it didn’t quite live up to the description for me (“spacehorse with the power of Thor runs off to kill Galactus”).  He’s really good at finding the high concept behind a book — and it IS a good one — but I felt the execution was missing something.  Bill, who lost his planet to Galactus, has decided that he’s going to blow up any planet Galactus is looking for in order to starve him to death.  Of course, those actions make him unworthy of his hammer Stormbringer.  Maybe space adventures just aren’t my thing, (Hercules: Prince of Power apparently excepted), and it was worth the $.75, it just wasn’t all I hoped for.  Still, huge props to Marvel for including a reprint of the original Beta Ray Bill story by Walt Simonson in the back of each issue.  That’s definitely worth the extra $1 for each issue.
  • Secret Six (mini) – I’ve been hearing incredible things about the new Secret Six ongoing, so I jumped at the mini that came right before it.  It’s a solid story of former (?) villains who band together and seemingly care about each other…Except for, you know, they all hate each other.  It’s compelling stuff with complicated relationships.  It’s not the madcap insanity I keep hearing about the ongoing, but still an enjoyable read until I can pick up the current series.
  • Incredible Hercules: Love and War – Containing the infamous issue 122  I spoke of a couple weeks back, The Incredible Hercules has just been getting better and better.  There’s so much going on it’s almost too hard to paraphrase.  There’s a corporate takeover in the Greek pantheon, a faceoff with Namor, and a whole crapload of Amazons!  And punching.  Lots and lots of punching.  Pak and Van Lente’s story is fast-paced, action-packed, and amazingly funny.  Clayton Henry’s art seems to combine the facial expressions of Kevin Maguire with the linework of Frank Cho and brother, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Our writers have gone insane with the sound effects, too, and I say this in the most impressed way I possibly can.  I have never seen sound effects used like they are here.  More comics should be this fun.
  • Modern Masters – I’ve recently picked up several of TwoMorrows’ excellent Modern Masters series, notably Art Adams, Kevin Maguire, John Byrne, and JL Garcia Lopez.  If you have any interest in how one of your favorite artists work, this is the series for you.  I find the questions to be too leading sometimes, and the subjects aren’t always as forthcoming as they could be, but these are great, great reads and feature some stellar artwork.  I was especially touched by Fabian Nicieza’s ode to his friend Maguire in the introduction to that volume.  John Byrne was a surprisingly good read, too, especially when he credits Claremont with writing the only comic page he ever drew that made him cry, and explaining his online persona.  He does say a lot of things that come off harshly from the safety of his own forum, but he explains it from his side in this interview.  (I should also mention that Matt and I met him once at the greatly-missed Big Easy ComiCon and he couldn’t have been nicer.  He showed me how to draw the Superman shield right every time (it’s two fish!) and patiently answered what in hindsight was a fairly obnoxious question.)  The Garcia-Lopez volume seemed to stop rather abruptly, but I really enjoyed hearing these artists talk about their influences, methods, and collaborators.

All-in-all, some exceptionally strong books from the discount bin and a couple trips to the library.

Lousy with Booty: The Game Tape/Quarter Bin Treasure Chest Crossover

Wednesday has come and gone. The heroes have fought their battles and villains have hinted at things to come. Now it’s time to review the game tape…

With Jesse roaming freely over my stomping grounds this week, we decided to co-review books again. The problem? No books shipped.*

The solution: hit the quarter bins.** Each of us selected three books from the bounty read it and swapped.

Pour yourself a glass of your favorite beverage, strap yourself in, and get ready for adventure!

First up is a book I was excited about solely because of the cover. Turns out this is not sound exclusive basis for buying a comic book. Seems something like that would be encoded in conventional wisdom somehow. It’s not a bad book for fifty cents. It’s just a lot more talky than I had hoped. Why corrupt a perfect idea with something like a forced story. Werewolves on the Moon: versus Vampires should be these two arch-enemies fighting/ clawing/ and biting each other for 25 pages. I guess that’s too much to expect.

Definitely.  There are some good lines in here, especially the one about being bitten by a retarded werewolf, but you’re right, it’s not enough to sustain this book.  It should be fun non-stop madness, but instead it’s just overthought.

PUNISHER WAR ZONE #1 – I’ve never been a huge Punisher fan, but I thought the work Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon did on the return on Frank Castle in “Welcome Back, Frank” was top-notch, giving real depth to a sociopath who was otherwise just considered a “k3w1 d00d with guns”.  I had wanted to check out his “Return of Ma Gnucci” storyline, but with so many Punisher books out these days I couldn’t keep them all straight, and War Zone slipped through the cracks.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter how much I had missed because Ennis didn’t weigh himself down with continuity, he just starts a solid (and messed up) story.  Even with botched assassinations and a horrible chimp incident, he never forgets the heart of the story is in the characters.  Of course, he also doesn’t forget the little things, like making sure to name one of his “Schitti”.  And Steve Dillon’s art?  Well, he’s one of those guys you either love him or hate.  I love him.

I picked up this arc when it first came out. I had just read Ennis and Dillon’s “Welcome back, Frank” story, and fell in love with it. I can’t add much more to this that you haven’t already covered. I can say that by the end of the story things have gotten weirder and more violent than even the story it’s spinning off from.

I’ve since read issues 2 and 3, and the army of genetically engineered (maybe?) Ma Gnuccis sounds just about right.  Can’t wait to dig up the rest of the story.

Ghost and The Shadow – I don’t know much about Ghost as a character, but I didn’t need to coming into this. Doug Moench actually does a good job of summing up who both of these characters are without proper/heavy introduction flashbacks. You get a good idea of both Ghost and The Shadow based on the natural dialogue and action within the story. It’s light one-off material and generic team up business, but it isn’t burdensome and it’s a pleasant quick read.

I concur.  I wouldn’t necessarily go back to it, but it’s not bad.  I can’t tell if either of the characters were presented accurately, but they worked for me.  My only quibble is that everything (especially the lettering) was a little on the tiny side for my aging eyes.

FX #1 – The backstory is the most interesting thing about this book.  John Byrne had a standing offer to do full art for anyone willing to pay a $1000 page rate.  Wayne Osborne took him up on the offer, wrote the story, and IDW picked it up and turned it into a mini-series.  It’s every fan’s dream, but unfortunately it’s not that great.

Osborne tells a decent but not overly-interesting story.  Byrne delivers solidly Byrne-esque art, though I still wish that he (like The Rob) would get someone else to ink his work.  The linework isn’t varied enough, and the finished art — even with inks — is still too sketchy for my liking. I credit Osborne for his effort (I might steal his idea myself some time), but don’t really dig the results.

The sketchy lines don’t bother me as much as the faces. Like St. Kirby, Byrne has only a handful of faces in his toolkit. Men look like Superman or Reed Richards with different wigs. Women look like Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde, or Storm, again with varying wigs.

Like you said, the story’s pretty light fare. It’s not awful, but it’s not worth it’s own ongoing monthly. Think of a poor man’s early Invincible crossed with Green Lantern and you’ve the idea. On the up side, I think I’ve found the page of Byrne art I need in my collection. It’s the one where they introduce the silverback gorilla.

I loved that they included a giant gorilla, but hated that it looked like your gorilla suit rather than a real animal.  That may just be my preference, though.

Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1 – We both picked this one up; in fact we both got the first two issues. On the whole I can only say this: Busiek must have been sitting around re-reading Marvels, was disturbed by how glowing and “aww, shucks” it was, and decided to inject some grumpier malcontent ideas into Phil Sheldon’s character. It’s a truer story here in that everyone is more human and grounded in the pettiness of the real world. However, it’s too late to go back and revise the sense of awe and marvel in the original story. I’m calling this one the Marvels of Universe 617.

The tone is definitely different, but I was okay with that.  After the death of Gwen Stacy everything changed for Phil, and the Marvel U got darker, too.  And Phil hasn’t even seen the early 90’s yet! Marvels: EotC was the first casualty of my “no $4 comics” rule.  I’d been looking forward to it for years but The Rule meant I couldn’t pick it up.  I was depressed about it, but I feel vindicated now that I’ve been able to pick up the first two issues for $.50 each.

I felt was totally worth the wait.  Busiek is at home with the “ground level reporting of superheroes” trope, and Jay Anacleto pencils with an incredible amount of detail that makes him a worthy successor to Alex Ross.  As with the initial mini-series, this is more about Phil Sheldon’s life set against the backdrop of the Marvel Universe.  I thought Sheldon’s anger at Peter Parker was very nicely balanced with his admiration for Spider-Man.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI-13 #5 – After seeing previews of the Vampire State arc I knew I had to pick up that story, but I haven’t gone any further back until now.  By issue #5, the final team is being assembled to defend Britain by monsters.  This is a top-notch modern superheroing story by Paul Cornell with excellent art by Pat Oliffe and Paul Neary.  Now that I know the rest of the run is so good I’ll definitely be filling in the rest of the gaps of my run on this book.

Even after hearing about Doom and Dracula’s plans on the Moon, I wasn’t convinced enough to get this title. My first reaction to hearing the name Captain Britain is, “So what? He flies, he hits things, and he whines.” Even Alans Moore and Davis couldn’t make me care about this guy. However, finding the books in the fifty cent bins has opened my eyes. This is not a Captain Britain book. This is a book about a British team in the vein of the original concept for X-Factor. You’ve got a public team with a covert mission. The title should be changed to MI-13 with Captain Britain. It’s smart, fast, easy to jump into, and entertaining all around. This and the issues I picked up in the Vampire State arc wholly made up for the other lacking vampire story I bought.

Totally, man.  If I had known that’s what was keeping you from it I would have elaborated more.  I never know where to draw the line between teasing the story and ruining the whole thing.

There’s also a book I bought that I thought I’d force Jesse to read, but finishing Angel Love #1 made me realize that I would be in violation of certain articles of the Geneva Convention. All I’ll say is that I wish I had been this age in the mid-80’s when DC would publish anything that came down the pike with a strong anti-drug message. The tag line across the top says, “You’ve never seen a comic like this!!” Cracking it open and reading it through, I understand why this statement isn’t so much a statement of innovation as it is a warning to the potential reader. Bad as it was, and little in my collection is worse, I have an unnatural urge to find out how the story ends. #1 ends with a bit of a cliffhanger revelation.

On my side, I picked up Marville #1 to mess with Matt.  After I read it and found out firsthand how horrible it is, I realized I couldn’t really do that to him.  Truly an awful, awful comic.  I can see it being funny only if a) you enjoy mocking DC’s corporate owners for no reason other than that they have them, or b) if you’re Bill Jemas.  Even publishers need editors, Marvel.

That’s it for the last batch of books of 2009.  2009 went out weakly, at least for my pull list, but it was a good year for comics and for the blog.  Happy New Year, everyone.

* None of the three books out shipped to my LCS.

** In this case they were actually fifty cent bins, but the concept and attraction remain the same: cheap books = a chance to experiment and branch out.