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Flashback: Review of Silver Surfer 36 (April 1990) October 7, 2008

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When I saw that this was the randomly chosen issue for this week, I laughed. This is one of the rare instances where I actually have read the issue, and while it is certainly far from the ordinary, this is what makes it memorable. It has a seemingly normal opening; the Surfer is being watched by a mysterious figure as he travels to Earth to meet with the Avengers. While there, he discusses with Captain America the story of the being called Thanos. We learn of his past goals of ultimate destruction, and how near he came to attaining it. Surfer explains that Thanos has returned once more, and is plotting again, and Captain America advises him to go to Titan to discover more information.

While starting on a somber tone, the issue quickly “lightens up” as Norrin, en route to Titan, discovers his mysterious watcher: the Impossible Man. This issue was my first introduction to the Impossible Man (I’ve since read his first appearance in FF), but I found impossible not to like this zany character. Much of the issue is simply him trying to get Norrin to appreciate a sense of humor. And while his attempts seem futile, Impossible Man finally gets Norrin to at the very least see the value of humor, even if he doesn’t actually use it. (Or does he? The last two lines made me laugh the most.)

Of course, it helps that Ron Lim’s art really fits the tone of the book. He is able to both capture the nobility of the Surfer, and the crazy antics of Impossible Man. Somehow, he manages to allow the overall look to be both serious and cartoony. While this issue was undoubtedly a filler at its time of publication, it managed to be something rare: a filler that was thoroughly entertaining in its own right. I definitely recommend reading this if you ever get the chance.

Next week: Avengers 324

-LOTRKing

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Flashback: Review of Uncanny X-Men 128 (December 1979) September 29, 2008

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As an ending of a storyarc, this wasn’t a bad issue to jump on at. Coming during Chris Claremont’s legendary run, this story pits the X-Men against the incredibly powerful Proteus. Proteus, a mutant and son of Moira MacTaggert, is an energetic being with the ability to warp reality and the necessity to regularly change “host bodies,” leaving the former host dead in the process. In this issue, he has captured his mother, and his current host is that of his father, and he has been chased by the X-Men to Edinburgh.

The beginning deals mostly with the X-Men fighting him, while he literally makes the city come alive and attack them. This causes the X-Men a dilemma, as they try to protect themselves, the civilians, and rescue Moira. John Byrne does a terrific job illustrating the many strange scenarios that Proteus causes, which makes up for much of the fight banter, most of which is a little dated or just plain cheesy.

The best part (both in terms of story and art) comes at the climax. The X-Men have driven Proteus to the outskirts of the city, and they finally attack him head on. After a being brutally attacked Cyclops, Havok, and Phoenix (which leaves all three weakened), he retreats to a castle where Colossus takes him on alone. As the exertion has caused the death of his host, Proteus is left in his true energy form, which has a weakness for metal. (I don’t quite get this part, the story didn’t explain it too well. I’m not sure if his weakness was better explained in an earlier issue, or if this was just bad storytelling.) Anyway, Peter is somehow able to scatter his molecules in his organic metal state.

So, aside from a slightly confusing ending, this wasn’t too bad. I certainly wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to find this story, but if you do find it, and you’ve got some time on your hands, you’ll get a good deal of entertainment.

Next week: Silver Surfer 36 (Volume 3)

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Silver Surfer 6 (Volume 1, June 1969) September 22, 2008

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Ever since reading an adaptation of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells in elementary school, I’ve been a fan of apocalyptic future tales. There’ve been a lot of great ones, and a lot of, well, not-so-great ones, but this issue most definitely ranks with the former, and serves as some of the best Silver Age material that Stan Lee has to offer.

The story begins with Norrin, once again, lamenting his exile on Earth and missing Shalla-Bal (they do seem to enjoy using this a lot). He has an epiphany and realizes that if he travels far enough into the future, he may find a time when Galactus’ barrier no longer exists. When he does so, he finds a devastating sight: Earth is completely barren. Saddened at the loss of his adopted home, he returns to his true home only to discover that Zenn-La has experienced a similar fate.

Eventually he learns that nearly all life in the universe has been obliterated by a being known as the Overlord. As the two meet, we get another philosophical tale from Stan Lee as he examines the importance of life. Eventually, the Silver Surfer is able to escape the Overlord and change time, but not before once again appreciating all the universe has to offer. I’m trying not to give too much of the story away, but suffice to say, this should definitely go on your list of old comics to look up.

Next week: Uncanny X-Men 128

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Fantastic Four 285 (December 1985) September 15, 2008

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If this issue serves as any evidence, it is not hard to see why John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four is considered legendary. In this standalone issue, “Hero,” the Human Torch gets a stark contrast to Peter Parker’s “The Boy Who Collected Spider-Man” tale. The beginning of the story focuses on a boy named Tommy who idolizes the Human Torch. At school this boy is bullied, and his parents seem to have little time for him at home. The only thing that he seems to live is to follow the adventures of Johnny Storm. When a neighbor leaves out a tank of experimental fuel and asks Tommy to put it away, he cautions him not to spill any because it could turn him into “a real Human Torch.”

A few weeks later, Johnny is approached by a doctor who says that a dying boy would love to meet him in his final moments. As Johnny meets him, we learn that this boy is Tommy, and is suffering from third degree burns because he wanted to be “just like his hero.” As Johnny tries to cope with a death that he believed he caused, he is visited by the Beyonder (this is a Secret Wars II tie-in after all), who shows him that all Tommy ever lived for was the Torch, and that the rest of his life was only sad and pathetic. According to the Beyonder, he did not die because of Johnny, he lived because of Johnny.

I do not know if I really agree with this statement. Is it better that he had a shorter life full of suffering, or would it have been right for him to continue on with a chance to improve his life? I cannot truly say if I enjoyed this issue, but I must say, it does introduce some interesting philosophical questions. If you’re looking for a single story, not concerning traditional superheroics, but something that’ll leave you thinking for quite a while afterwards, this is certainly one to look into.

Next week: Silver Surfer 6 (Volume 1)

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Fantastic Four 157 (April 1975) September 8, 2008

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Either I’m easy to please, or I’ve been really lucky the past couple weeks because this issue is yet another great read that was randomly picked. I mean, the cover should say it all: the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, AND Dr. Doom? How could this issue NOT be good? The story is the finale of a three-parter (I haven’t read the first two parts, so I’m not too familiar with the entire story) as Doom has captured the FF (which includes Medusa as a current replacement for Sue) and is transferring a portion of the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic into his own Doomsman android.

First off, Rich Buckler needs to be awarded kudos for his very Kirby-esque pencil job. He also definitely gets tons of cool points for his last four pages being seemingly framed by fire (which makes sense when the master villain is revealed.) Of course, good art is always to be paired with a great story, and Roy Thomas delivers. Much of it is typical FF drama as the team tries to work their way through a series of dangers and traps that Doom has planted for them.

But the heart of the story comes with the seeming reunion of Norrin Radd and Shalla-Bal. Shalla-Bal seems to have lost her memory of the Surfer, until the two embrace, only to find tragedy. The reason she has lost her memory is because she never had it: she is only an Earth look alike, tricked into serving Doom to help capture the Surfer. As the Surfer is able to break free and help the FF defeat the Doomsman android and Doom himself, the Surfer leaves, sorrowing, and wondering if he shall ever see his Shalla-Bal again.

Here, Thomas pulls back the curtain and reveals that all of this was carefully constructed by Mephisto to further torture the Surfer. And the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) part? There was no look-alike. The girl is indeed Shalla-Bal who has been implanted with false memories from Mephisto. Norrin will continue to attempt to escape Earth to find his true love, while she will be living here, unknown, while he does this.

As I said, I didn’t actually read the first two parts, but I probably will. If this issue was any indication, this arc is a great piece from the early “Bronze Era” of Marvel Comics. It may be old, but if you ever get a chance to read these issues, I once again have a high recommendation. (I’m almost hoping next week’s pick will be a bad or mediocre one, so I don’t have to keep telling you guys to look up all these great old back issues! 😉 )

Next week: Fantastic Four 285 (A Secret Wars II tie-in!)

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Amazing Spider-Man 284 (January 1987) September 2, 2008

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Picture this: a six-part Spider-Man saga, involving a Green-Goblin inspired villain, whose identity remains a mystery, a group of villains led by a mastermind, a close friend of Peter acting mysteriously, two rivals vying for one of the most powerful positions in NYC, throw in some troubles that Peter is having with a new publisher at the Bugle and add in the fact that Peter is currently not married to Mary Jane, and what do you get? Well, it’s certainly not the current “New Ways to Die” storyline, if that’s what you’re thinking. No, this describes 1987’s lesser known (unfortunately) “Gang War.”

In this instance, the goblin villain is the original Hobgoblin, his identity was just as much a mystery as the original Green Goblin’s was, and as much as the current Menace’s is. (One of these days, they’ve gotta create a new Goblin and tell us who he or she is right off the bat.) The funny thing is, all three of the major contenders for this role (included who it actually turned out to be) appear in this issue, all acting suspiciously (namely, Ned Leeds, Flash Thompson, and Roderick Kingsley – and if you don’t know who it turned out to be, you better do some research, because it is actually a fairly complicated story.)

As for the power fight, it is not a mayoral election, rather a war between gang-lords to fill the recently vacated seat of the Kingpin. While Hammerhead and Silvermane make a play for it, the two biggest contenders are the Arranger (who was left in charge by the Kingpin at his departure) and the Rose (whose identity remained a secret at this time, but when revealed, not only fit the story perfectly, but showed that he had as much a claim to the Kingpin’s “throne” as the Arranger did).

The entire saga relayed the power struggles of the various groups, the resulting violence in NYC, and the reactions of Spider-Man and other heroes to this power-grab. I don’t know if this was ever released in TPB (I doubt it), but despite not being legendary, it was an extremely great read. ASM 284 is the first part, and it runs through 289. If you ever get the chance to read these issues, I highly recommend it. I my eyes, this is one of the best “unremembered” Spider-Sagas.

Next week: Fantastic Four 157

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Fantastic Four 234 (September 1981) August 25, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in many instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

This is by far the best issue I have yet reviewed for Flashback. I’d like to say it is likely because it is a Fantastic Four issue, but very little of the story actually has to do with the FF. Instead, we are introduced to “The Man with the Power,” as the cover references him. Skip Collins is middle-aged man, living a very average life, in a typical mid-size town. What he doesn’t realize is that he has the power to change things just by willing them so. As we are introduced to the many “un-unique” facets of his life, we learn much about the character in a few short pages.

When his boss breaks Skip’s ordinary routine by sending him to NYC for a business meeting, he does some touring and eventually sees Reed and Sue in a crowd. As he trails them hoping for an autograph, he sees them rescue a girl from a condemned building, before all of NYC is hit with a major earthquake. In the face of this massive destruction, we see the reactions of all the characters (namely, the Four and Skip, who never actually meet).

As Reed comes to realize that the quake was global, and caused by something in outer space, he takes the Four off-Earth to investigate. Meanwhile, Skip, distraught over what has occurred, states “it never should have happened!” At this remark, the world-wide destruction rights itself, and all memory of the incident is lost. (Except for the FF, who are not on Earth and not affected.) As Skip slips back into his ordinary life, the FF discover the true source of the attack: Ego, the Living Planet! This brief outline may make the plot seem slightly cheesy, but a read through will show anything but. There is a reason that John Byrne’s run on FF was legendary, and this issue definitely serves as evidence.

I recently purchased the anthology Who Can Save Us Now? (as suggested on a blog I read), and being over half way through the book, I confess myself rather disappointed. Most of the stories are either just plain weird, or focus too much on matters I would rather have left out. This one issue and the story of Skip Collins are better than every story in that book I have read put together. If you ever come across this issue, I’d highly encourage reading it (along with 235, the cliffhanger is too good to leave part two untouched, not to mention 235 was an extremely enjoyable issue, even without the continuing story of Skip).

Next week: Amazing Spider-Man 284

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Uncanny X-Men 217 (May 1987) August 18, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in most instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

Ah, the 80s: decade of horrendous hairdos, but also the decade of many legendary comic book writers such as Chris Claremont. Of course, legendary writers cannot be perfect all the time (check out Brubaker’s current take on X-Men for proof), and this issue is Claremont when he is “less-than-perfect.” Perhaps I would have enjoyed the story more if I had a better understanding of X-Men continuity at this point, but unfortunately I don’t.

As the issue opens, Psylocke is on the run from fellow mutants Dazzler, Longshot, and Rogue (is it just me, or does she look like she is wearing a skunk on her head?) At first, I had no idea what was going on; eventually, Claremont clues us in on the fact that they are simply engaging in a practice fight. When Banshee comes in to break it all up, he essentially tells them they all suck, and we are treated to a long sequence of Dazzler brooding and whining. (Yeah, that was lots of fun.)

Eventually, she randomly runs into the Juggernaut in Scotland, and he happens to be a fan of her work. (That must have been odd.) Juggernaut just wants to continue going wherever he was off to, but Dazzler is certain that he is up to no good. Juggernaut doesn’t want to harm her, and just wants to leave, but she continuously attacks him until she has used all of her energy and falls to the ground unconscious. Of course, Juggernaut thinks she is dead, but it was obviously just a cliffhanger, she’s probably revived next issue (though I’m too lazy to check.)

Add in the fact that the only thing that wasn’t bland about Jackson Guice’s art was the hair of various characters, and you have an extremely forgettable issue. I see absolutely no reason to go looking for this, unless there was some crucial piece of X-Men continuity that I missed (y’never know, maybe I sneezed and skipped an important panel). Hopefully we’ll get something much more interesting next week, and speaking of…

Next week: new format: issues reviewed are now chosen completely randomly! [sarcasm]I know, isn’t that new the most enthralling thing you’ve ever heard?[/sarcasm] And the issue is… Fantastic Four 234!

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Avengers 471 (September 2002) August 11, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in most instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

Since starting Flashback, I’ve been looking forward to the time when my random number generator would pick an issue from this decade. Not only did it pick out a rather entertaining one, Avengers 471 (aka Volume 3 #56) just happens to be a one-shot and the end of an almost five year run. This was Kurt Busiek’s final issue and he uses it to tell a flashback story with an amusing situation. Auditors from the Maria Stark Foundation (which funds the Avengers) have come to examine a particular Avengers mission to see if the expenditures of the foundation do indeed qualify for tax exemptions, as they say they do. What follows is a piece by piece story as several of the members tell the tale of their mission and the part they played.

In the flashback, the Avengers had to travel to St. Louis to combat the recently recreated “Elements of Doom.” While the issue made it seem as though these were not new characters, it was certainly the first time that I had heard of them. The idea behind them is that a scientist had discovered a way to bring each of the elements to life and do the bidding of their creator. A bit of eye-brow-raising science, to be sure, but then again, quirky science has always been a staple of comics.

While this was surely meant to be a funny look at what “normal people” like accountants have to deal with in the wake of super hero’s actions, it also surprisingly played a strong case for why the S.H.R.A. (or something like it) would simplify these matters (at least, if you read between the lines). If the Avengers were simply run by the government, these sorts of things wouldn’t be necessary since the Avengers would be government funded. True, the government would still perform audits to ensure that no money was spent needlessly, but at least the team would never have to worry about losing their funding, because the country will always need superhero teams.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable Avenger stand-alone issue. It may not have done anything ground breaking, but it provided for a great read. If you ever come across this in a back issue bin, don’t hesitate to pick it up.

Next week: Uncanny X-Men 217

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Amazing Spider-Man 222 (November 1981) August 4, 2008

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I’m going to try to not make today’s review short, but it’ll be hard, seeing as how there is not much to say about Amazing Spider-Man 222. It feels a lot like (and probably was) just a filler issue. It opens with Spider-Man stopping a mink fur heist by a normal band of burglars. From here it moves to introducing Speed Demon (his first appearance under that name, but before he was called “The Whizzer.” Yeah, the name change was a very good thing.) He is just another “Flash” rip-off, only this time a villain. (Seriously, how many supertypes that can only run really fast can there be? That has got to be one of the most generic superpowers.)

Anyway, Speed Demon burgles a camera store and Spider-Man, whose heightened reflexes are still too slow, is unable to stop him. Later, when he tries to rob Bloomingdales, Spider-Man is more prepared and after an extended fight scene, is able to capture him. Add in a scene or two at the Daily Bugle with JJJ, and this was really a very generic story all around.

I would have neutral feelings about this issue if not for one thing: the humor. I realize that pun-filled quips whilst fighting are simply part of Spider-Man’s persona, and when done right, they can provide for a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable issue. This was certainly not the case here. While I am a sucker for pun jokes, the puns here were all bad. They even went so far as to use the overly-clichéd “Have a nice trip, see you in the fall.” *Groan* I think my nephew can come up with better puns than what were used here. Amazing Spider-Man 222 is completely unremarkable and unimportant, and there is absolutely no reason to seek it out.

Next week: Avengers 471

-LOTRKing