"Green and red. Very Christmassy." (Hulk #45-46; Incredible Hulk #3 Reviews.)

"Christmassy"? Well, the colors are. The books themselves...read the following, then make your judgments. This time, I'll be covering a few Hulk books, and then next time we'll stray off the beaten path and look at some books you don't usually see around here. Everyone ready?

INCREDIBLE HULK #3 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Jason Aaron, "Marc Silvestri" & Sunny Gho

First things first: If you're looking for clues to how man was separated from monster, you'll find the first inklings outside of scribe Jason Aaron's preview tale in Fear Itself #7 here. You'll find Aaron touching on Bruce Banner's past with his abusive father, and you'll find a mad scientist can turn a whole lot more than a couple of wild boars into gamma mutates. What you won't find here is any sign that Bruce Banner is anything but a bottom-scraping sonuvabitch. And that, as in the previous issue, is where Aaron really loses this reader. Establishing that the Hulk sees Banner as evil for keeping him locked away inside himself is one thing; showing that Banner's going way, way off the deep end and actually committing--let's not fool ourselves--evil deeds is something altogether different.

This issue, artist Marc Silvestri, fresh off a stay in the hospital for an injured ankle, returns to full penciler duties just in time for his grand exit...or does he? Certainly this issue no other artist's work can easily be seen, unlike last issue with Billy Tan and Whilce Portacio all too visible. However, that doesn't mean there weren't other artists making sure Silvestri made his tight deadline. Silvestri himself receives credit for "line art," but his studio, Top Cow, receives a "special thanks" credit (hence my using Silvestri's name in quotes above). It's quite obvious the difference in credits is a direct response to last issue's "monster mash" of eleven credited artists. While the package holds together better than last month, and in places the art is incredibly dynamic, it's definitely best for all concerned that a new and hopefully more reliable artist takes over next issue.

As mentioned before, Banner takes his turn at being "Dr. Moreau" further this month, sending his "Boar Brothers" 26 and 27 to the Hulk's recent hideout. A battle ensues, Hulk smashes, and then Amanda Von Doom and her super-secret organization are oh so happy because the battle has made Hulk do exactly what they wanted him to do last month. "Asunder" has felt by-the-numbers in its depiction of both the Hulk and Von Doom. Hulk is at peace, someone comes around to smash it all away, and the Hulk decides to go do some more smashing to smash those who smashed his chance at non-smashiness. The only new thing Aaron and Silvestri offer--and really, "new" isn't the word--is that the Hulk's smashing this time seems to set off seismic waves of force in the surrounding areas. At the very least, the ending of this story makes it clear Aaron is cutting to the heart of the conflict, setting man against monster on a very real playing field. That counts for something, I suppose.

I said earlier that this issue does contain a few hints about how the Hulk and Banner came to be separate beings this time. The answer--at least, as I see it--casts some serious doubt on whether that's really Banner we're seeing, with the mania and the unkempt hair and the brain tumor the size of a walnut. It casts equal doubt on whether that's really the Hulk. Aside from the "newborn" allusion, why would both Banner and the Hulk be shaved bald upon their separation? What's more, who would have the technology to separate man from monster--and why would Banner use a lab that seems to be set up in much the same way as the one in which he underwent his supernatural divorce?

There's still not enough to recommend this storyline or this new series after this third part of "Asunder." I've outgrown my revulsion at the second chapter, but still, I really think Aaron might be doing irreparable harm to the character of Bruce Banner. (No easy feat for one who has already been established as killing his own father and suffering from lifelong psychological trauma.) Maybe former Hulk writer Greg Pak bears some of the burden, as this storyline seems to explore some of his dialogue in which Banner postulated the Hulk was created to save the world from his own incredible intellect. Although I believe Pak later expressed through Banner that his idea was only clever tomfoolery, the fact we're now dealing with such a storyline now indicates some people just don't know how to take jokes.

Quick Rating: Skip It.


HULK #45 & 46 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Jeff Parker, Patch Zircher & Rachelle Rosenberg

On the other hand, Jeff Parker has, with the help of artists Gabriel Hardman and Patch Zircher, made Hulk into one of the best books Marvel publishes. If you're reading this, Jeff? I totally hate you for it. Use your talents for the Up Side of the Schwartz and give us a go on Robert Bruce Banner soon, yes? (You're invited, too, Patch. Rachelle? Anytime!)

This month's pair of issues successfully resolve the five-part "Hulk of Arabia" arc, in which "Thunderbolt" Ross, joined by Machine Man, finally gets to the bottom of Dagan Shah's insidious plans to carve out a niche for himself and his followers in the middle of the desert. Unsurprisingly, the storyline pretty much ends as it was choreographed by Steve Rogers and his merry band of Secret Avengers some issues ago, but Parker and Zircher manage to still pull off some surprises, including Shah's very cosmic origin story.

Most interesting are two key details. Parker uses Machine Man's presence to subtly examine Ross' own complex relationship with another artificial lifeform, his Gamma Base liaison Annie. The subtext is there in every question Ross asks, and I can't wait until her next appearance so we can see how ol "Thunderbolt" applies what he's learned. Parker's also made some salient points about Ross' status as a Hulk in this tale, and he has used Shah as his mouthpiece through which to do so. Specifically, Ross does rely on the public perception of who and what a Hulk is. Jeph Loeb used this point without stating it, such as when the Red Hulk only roared as he smashed through the SHIELD Helicarrier so as not to betray his true, strategic aims to Iron Man. Parker has made the point that Ross' hulking form hides his keen strategic mind--a mind which very likely has been sharpened by the mixture of gamma and cosmic rays involved in his mutation. It's this important distinction that separates Ross from Banner. Say what you like about Banner's Hulk: "Strategy" is not a word that involves itself easily.

The more I see Patch Zircher's artwork on this book, the more I feel he's right at home drawing monsters smashing things. He's asked to stretch his artistic muscles particularly in #45, with Dagan Shah's unusual origin, and he acquits himself very well. Rachelle Rosenberg matches his pace, using one palette for the more reality-based scenes and another for the otherworldly realms Red Hulk and Machine Man visit as they discover the rest of the story. It goes without saying that I really want to see this team work together again, and soon.

"Hulk of Arabia" spices up Parker's series with an international flavor, laying the groundwork for future encounters with Shah and others in the area. It also marks time by providing yet another encounter between the Red Hulk and General Fortean, and keeps Ross checked in with the other heroes in the Marvel Universe. It's fascinating that while the original Hulk gets more insular, this new Hulk gains vast exposure among the biggest super-heroes. While I still lament the fact there's a Hulk book out there that doesn't feature Robert Bruce Banner, I can't argue that this isn't one fine book month in and out.

But yeah, Parker, Up Side, Schwartz, green Hulk, yesterday.

Quick Verdict: Read It.



Hulk: Season One - The Day the Hulk Turned Green?

If my fellow Hulk fans have been looking at recent comics news this weekend, you might've seen a reason to be extra giddy for next year to arrive. Marvel Comics is releasing a series of original hardcover graphic novels under the imprint of "Season One," featuring origin stories for its many iconic heroes. Several months ago, the company announced the first four titles, including tales of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil and the X-Men. This time around, they've got three more origin stories, including Ant-Man, Doctor Strange (by Greg Pak), and...wait for it...

Hulk: Season One, by writer Fred Van Lente, artist Tom Fowler, and color artist Jordie Bellaire.

Of course, ol' Fred's no stranger to this blog or to the Hulk, having written some gamma-rific tales in books like Hulk Family: Gamma Genes, Hulk: Broken Worlds, All-New Savage She-Hulk (and accompanying backup tales in Incredible Hulk), and the upcoming Hulk Smash Avengers limited series, among others. He also co-wrote Incredible Hercules with Greg Pak when the Lion of Olympus took over Greenskin's book after World War Hulk. All that hanging around the Gregarious One must've left him with a bad case of the gamma flu, because he's about to unleash over 100 pages of purple-pantsed action in the mighty Marvel manner!

And even though their own exposure to Hulkish things hasn't been quite on-par with Mr. Van Lente, let that not diminish the heroic efforts of Tom Fowler, who's been making Spidey spinoff Venom his home these last few months, nor Jordie Bellaire, who's working right now with Hulk alum Gabriel Hardman on Boom! Studios' Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes miniseries! And yes, friends, the two of them have already made beautiful Hulksome goodness together in this sketch of the sensational She-Hulk! (Click below to check out the post on Jordie's site!)

You can bet as the release date approaches (it's currently scheduled for August '12) I'll be rounding up more details and maybe even getting the creators to say a few words about this titanic tome! In the meantime, I did want to add some early observations based on everything that's out there so far (mostly a CBR exclusive interview with Van Lente & Fowler).

In the interview, Fowler specifically notes that he and Van Lente are working with a different incarnation of the Hulk than in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's previous high-profile origin rework, Hulk: Gray: "[W]e're dealing with the gray Hulk who wasn't just talking in three word sentences and saying, 'Smash' and 'Puny' a lot. This was kind of that a-hole Hulk that would often tell people to go to hell." Sounds a lot like the Hulk of Incredible Hulk #1 by Stan and Jack, doesn't it? Point!

Van Lente also notes that he's reshuffling a bit of the supporting cast to bring the series more up to date with the times. Particularly, Betty is now "an active member of the military, which sort of reflects how now the U.S. Military more actively recruits women and how they have a more active role in the military now than they did in the '60s." Additionally, Betty won't be the only woman in Bruce Banner's life, as the story "reintroduces a character that I created who has been directly associated with Bruce Banner in a romantic way by other writers. I'm now officially retconning her into Hulk continuity, and she plays a major role in the story. Basically, I thought Betty needed a romantic rival for Bruce's affections and that's this character." Sounds like Monica Rappaccini, AIM Scientist Supreme and mother to the new Scorpion, will be front and center.

But what about the bad guys? There's no word yet on whether the Gargoyle will play a role in this revised origin tale, but I'd be surprised if he weren't there in some fashion, Cold War or no. However, Van Lente's assertion we'll see "a very well known evil Marvel organization" speaks well to AIM's involvement since Monica will be around. The writer's also promised "a brand new Hulk villain called Biocide, who's pretty awful and horrible, and therefore awesome."

My last tease? Well, you've seen the cover to the book, and Julian Totino Tedesco's illustration clearly shows a green-skinned monster. On the other hand, Tom Fowler's mentioned that he's drawing a gray-skinned behemoth. Might we finally see the moment Hulk fans have waited five decades for? We know that sometime between Incredible Hulk #1 and 2, the Hulk turned from gray to green. Aside from a way-too-brief scene in Uncanny Origins #5, we've never seen how that color change occurred. Something tells me that if Fred Van Lente's involved, he won't give us a mere throwaway scene and that the shift from gray to green will be a pivotal moment in the narrative.

Alas, the answers are many months away. I'll follow up at some point next year, but for now, feel free to visit the above links, as well as those to Tom Fowler's blog, where he's sculpted some Hulk and General Ross heads for reference for this original graphic novel!



11th-Hour Pak Attack: Astonishing X-Men & Red Skull: Incarnate

Greetings, gents. Due to illness--and developments with my "real job"--and yeah, there's that book I've begun writing--I haven't been around to post any reviews! It's about time I got back to it, here, and that means reviewing not one, but two new books by one of Marvel's best & brightest.

As everyone knows, although I'm a "Hulk guy" at heart, that's never stopped me from picking up countless other Marvel books, plus DC books, Image, and some other indie press publications. Send me something (at delusionalhonesty [at] gmail [dot] com) and I'll do my level best to review it in a timely manner. That brings us to a series I haven't picked up in quite some time, since just after the departure of Buffy and Angel writer Joss Whedon.

Yes, kids, it's Astonishing X-Men #44.

Caveat lector: I have been well-read on those mutant folk. At one time, I had an X-collection the envy of most X-fans. Full run of Uncanny X-Men if you include the first four Essential volumes? Check. Full runs of X-Men, New Mutants, X-Force, Cable, Wolverine, and a gajillion other series, regular and limited? Check. About the only series I didn't own that was X-related was Deadpool. But, aside from Peter David's X-Factor, they lost me when the X-folk relocated to San Francisco. And I even drifted away from X-Factor some time ago. For me, X-Men was a light that burned bright, borne from looking at far too many long boxes of quarter books, and then extinguished itself rather quickly.

As part of "Regenesis," the latest rebranding of the X-Men titles, writer Greg Pak and artist Mike McKone have come aboard Astonishing X-Men to tell a three-part tale. The creative shuffle is the latest in a long line for the book, which since Whedon's departure has been a showcase for Marvel's most popular talent--or at the very least, writers itching to tell an X-tale they can't fit anywhere else on the schedule.

And what of "Exalted," the storyline that begins here in this issue? It's...well, an intriguing puzzle, so far.

Scott Summers, the mutant called Cyclops, has been recovering from injuries incurred recently. He remains at Utopia, the San Francisco Bay area base of the X-Men, while the half of the team headed by Wolverine left to reopen the old Westchester school. Physically, he's fit; however, mentally is another story, as he demonstrates by using his optic blasts to decimate the facility's locker room. And then, Storm shows up--looking exactly as she did in the Claremont/Windsor-Smith era of the eighties, white mohawk and all. A glorious battle ensues, unique for its depiction of Cyclops' abilities...and then, as they go together toward parts unknown, that's when the weird gets weirder.

It's interesting that Pak and artist McKone go for the nostalgia value of a mohawked Storm as an entry point into this storyline, and then up the ante with the provocative cover image. Fans who weren't around in the eighties may be intrigued, and I hope they are, because Storm's change in appearance is only the gateway into the storyline set to unfold. The script charges full-steam ahead, never really stopping to let you breathe, a feeling only exacerbated by McKone's clean storytelling and topped off with Rachelle Rosenberg's exciting palette of colors.

I'm increasingly intrigued by the world into which Cyclops & co. are dropped in Astonishing X-Men #44. It's true, some fans may feel a bit flummoxed, especially those who haven't followed the merry mutants' adventures in some time. Still, I've always liked the stoic Scott Summers, and to follow him through an unusual adventure in the spirit of Judd Winick's Exiles is something of a treat. While by no means perfect--the ending is no doubt disorienting--"Exalted" is off to a good start. Read It.

As for the other book on this week's delayed-review list, Red Skull: Incarnate #5, it wraps up the origin of Johann Schmidt, the Rote Schädel (that's "Red Skull" to the non-German-speakers) with the same frightening flourish as writer Greg Pak concluded the origin of the villain who could be seen as the Skull's opposite in Magneto: Testament a few years prior.

Pak, this time joined by artist Mirko Colak, brings the tale of Schmidt full circle with--ironically enough--a plot to kill Hitler when he comes to discipline Ernst Röhm at a Munich hotel. Schmidt, his friend Dieter in tow, constructs a simple plan and goes through the motions, chillingly, to get that which he feels he deserves. The plot is an exercise in cold calculation, a hallmark of the later Red Skull. What's most incredible about this final adventure is how it's all based in stark reality--as has the entire series been--with no masks, no costumes, only human beings carrying out their own cultivated evil designs.

The minimalist script, together with the low-key, yet no less powerful artwork by Colak and colorist Matthew Wilson, really brings a powerful close to the Skull's first adventure. If you haven't picked up this book in the single issues--if this review gets you on board only too late--then do yourself a big favor and pre-order the graphic novel collection of this series. If you've been following all along or you just want a taste of the Skull's evil unfettered by Captain America, then I have two words about Red Skull: Incarnate #5: Buy It.

Next: More Hulkish reviews.



Tears of Blood: DeMatteis, Mishkin & Cohn Remember "I...Vampire!"

Do you dare enter...The House of Mystery?

That's what every cover of the famed DC Comics horror anthology begged you to answer. Behind covers by luminaries like Neal Adams, Joe Kubert and Michael Wm. Kaluta, the caretaker of the House, a bespectacled, wild-haired man named Cain, entreated fans to spooky stories. Following in the tradition of previous features like "Dial H for Hero" and "Martian Manhunter," neophyte DC scripter J.M. DeMatteis and veteran artist Tom Sutton brought a new regular series-within-a-series to Cain's House under editor Len Wein, a series that now lives again in DC's "New 52": "I...Vampire!"

Now that Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andrea Sorrentino and Jenny Frison have produced three issues of the new I, Vampire (which I hope all of you are reading!), it's time to take a trip back to 1981 with three of the creative minds behind the series' original incarnation: original series co-creator J.M. DeMatteis (also of Spider-Man, Moonshadow and Brooklyn Dreams fame, among countless others) and series finale co-writers Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn (also known for the much-beloved Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld and Blue Devil). You'll also see some comments from me on the overall direction of the series, which appeared in The House of Mystery #290-291, 293, 295, 297, 299 and 302-319.

Mike Kaluta's stunning covers are still enticing today.
Around the creation of "I...Vampire" superhero books were the most popular genre in American comics (and remain so today). According to DeMatteis, "When I broke into comics in the late 70's, the 'mystery books,' as they called the horror anthologies, were like the vaudeville of comics. A place for new writers to learn their craft, try, fail, grow, without a lot of attention on them. I sold my first script to [DC editor] Paul Levitz, then started working with Jack Harris and Len Wein. Len became more than an editor, he became my mentor, the first person in the business who made me feel as if I had something unique to offer."

DeMatteis set out to prove his craft when Wein assumed control of the horror titles. "Len wanted to inject some ongoing series into Weird War Tales and House of Mystery and asked me for ideas. I'd already had "Creature Commandos" rattling around in my brain and we set that up for Weird War [introduced in issue #93 with artist Pat Broderick], then Len tossed out a title to me—'I...Vampire'—and told me to go home and come up with a concept. That's just what I did, Len loved it, and we were off and running."

When it came to artistic talent, Wein cast his eye toward veteran horror illustrator Tom Sutton, whose previous claims to fame included being Vampirella's first artist in 1969 and drawing various horror series for Warren, Marvel and DC throughout the seventies. DeMatteis remembers: "I'm pretty sure Tom was Len's choice; but I was a huge fan of [his] work.  He'd illustrated some stories I'd done for the DC science-fiction anthologies and his style was unique, moody, idiosyncratic, emotional.  I loved everything he did with 'I...Vampire.'" Indeed, Sutton would remain on the series long after DeMatteis' departure, either as sole artist or inker over talents Paris Cullins and Adrian Gonzales, even drawing the series' finale.

Joe Kubert established the proper horrific mood with the first issue's cover.
The first "I...Vampire" story appeared in The House of Mystery #290 (March 1981), a few months after the debut of "Creature Commandos" and a month after DeMatteis' Marvel debut (Defenders #92). All the familiar elements of the series are in place at once: Andrew Bennett was the reluctant vampire who made his lover Mary into a less-reluctant creature of the night. To aid him in his quest to stop her Andrew recruited Dmitri Mishkin and Deborah Dancer, two humans terrorized by vampires.

DeMatteis' inspiration for the series' characters? "It's been a very long time, but my sense is that I started writing and the characters just came together. I know I was drawn to the idea of a vampire who wasn't corrupted by the curse, that it worked as a wonderful metaphor for the struggles we have in our lives, the darkness in our souls that we wrestle with, and the desire to live good and decent lives despite that darkness."

The vampire-as-heroic-protagonist idea was certainly less prevalent in the age of "I...Vampire" than today, where characters like Angel (of Joss Whedon's Buffy and his own eponymous series), Stefan Salvatore (of The Vampire Diaries) and Edward Cullen (of the Twilight novels and films) have caught the public's imagination. Like those latter-day vampire tales, "I...Vampire" also had a provocative, if twisted, love story at its center. "Of course the heart and soul of the story was the Andrew-Mary relationship," says DeMatteis. "Here was this woman Bennett loved, adored, worshipped—and the one time he allowed his vampiric hunger to overtake him, he transformed her into something twisted and evil. And he'd lived with that guilt and shame for hundreds of years. In the end, it wasn't enough for him to redeem himself, he had to redeem Mary, as well. In fact, Bennett was far less concerned with his own salvation than with Mary's. He wanted to oppose her and her forces—but, in the end, he opposed her in order to save her."

Andrew Bennett weeps tears of blood for his beloved Mary. Kaluta art.
Of special note to fans of DeMatteis' work is the character of Dmitri Mishkin, Bennett's male companion throughout the years: "I...recall loving the character...especially once I wrote his back story, explaining how he'd been with Bennett since he was a little boy.  It made the character both more heroic and more tragic.  (Mishkin was also Russian, so I was able to express my love of Russian literature, specifically my literary hero Dostoyevksy, through the character.)" DeMatteis made his love for the character manifest in issue #295, which explained Mishkin's origins and revealed that his mother had become a vampire when he was a child, a plot point that would be developed much later.

As for the final protagonist, the lovely redheaded Deborah Dancer: "[She], I think, was an attempt to inject someone younger and more contemporary into the mix," says DeMatteis. Bennett and Deborah definitely shared romantic feelings but dared not openly express them—due, no doubt, to his fear of making her another monster like Mary in a moment of passion and weakness—again, a point worth mining at another time.

Andrew Bennett only made one appearance outside HoM, and this was it. Jim Aparo art.
Bennett had his work cut out for him as a lone vampire allied with two humans against Mary, Queen of Blood and her legion of followers, the Cult of the Blood Red Moon. Whereas Bennett, Deborah and Mishkin were three, the cult consisted of many, often hiding in plain sight among the throngs of humans, ready to pounce, to overwhelm the triad who appeared to be all that stood in the way of their bloody conquest of the Earth. Unlike the latter-day incarnation of the series, the early "I...Vampire" had no elements that directly linked it with the greater DC Universe; in fact, Bennett's only contact with a "superhero," the ever-popular Batman, occurred in another title, the team-up series The Brave and the Bold (#195, February 1983), months before both series' end.

Unfortunately for fans of the series, like Don Corleone, Marvel Comics gave DeMatteis an offer he couldn't refuse in late 1981. "[They] offered me an exclusive contract, so that was the end of my involvement with DC for five or six years." To fill the noticeable void, new editor Karen Berger, who later went on to develop the company's eighties and nineties output into the juggernaut Vertigo line, tapped writer Bruce Jones, who spent much of the seventies on Warren Publishing's Creepy and Eerie magazines.

Jones picked up the series with issue #299 and immediately set Bennett apart from his friends Mishkin and Deborah following an adventure where he nearly killed them both. The series became like a vampire version of The Fugitive, with Bennett wandering from town to town, encountering Mary's minions and dispatching them. The unfortunate centerpiece of Jones' tenure was a multi-part storyline wherein Mary convinced Bennett to use a pair of ancient rings to transport them through time following the development of a vaccine against cancer which made toxic the blood of those who took it. It's difficult to see how Bennett would find Mary's aims anything but transparent (to travel back in time and kill the ancestors of the cancer cure's developer), but he does, and his naïveté nearly proved the series' downfall. What was once a series with incredible pathos instead became a ridiculous exercise in time-travel involving a visit with Deborah Dancer when she was a child and a cat-and-mouse game played between human and vampire pairs of Bennett and Mary during the period before both were transformed.

Bruce Jones' storyline became mired down in too many fantasy elements. Kaluta cover.
Leaving before the conclusion of the time-travel storyline, Jones was replaced in issue #310 by another pair of writers new to DC. Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn came aboard and immediately underplayed the series' more fantastical elements, returning to DeMatteis' tragic take. According to Mishkin: "We’d been doing a bunch of work for Karen Berger in House of Mystery and for some of the other anthology titles...I assume we came to mind because we were right there on hand. I think that our being in the same generation of younger writers probably influenced her decision as well."

The series was less something Mishkin & Cohn sought out, and more a chance to prove they could work on a regular monthly book. "We were novices, and the opportunity to work in a series format, which is the meat of monthly comics, was something we jumped at. And there's a definite appeal to doing genre work, where you have lots of conventions that you're expected to follow, but readers are always hoping you'll defy convention in a way that surprises and delights them while still providing the satisfaction of conforming to them. That balancing act of working within the constraints of a genre while at the same time challenging them was something we ended up doing pretty well in Blue Devil. With 'I...Vampire,' we were learning the ropes."

Mishkin was attracted to the possibilities offered by the horror genre. "I'm generally attracted to stories that delve into the unreal and impossible, like any other genre geek. The idea of the vampire's sensuality and magnetic personality (of which Dracula is the ur-text), and how that works to break down our conventional notions of morality, is one I've always found fascinating." To that end, he and Cohn returned to the core conflict between Bennett and Mary as well as returning Deborah and Mishkin to central roles in the narrative. Once again raising the cancer vaccine plotline (whose resolution had been interrupted in Jones' time-travel arc), they established that the cure was a facade, and that the lab responsible was headed by a vampire who wanted to eliminate his kin from the world by seeding human blood with the poison. Mary's people found a cure for the toxin at the lab, shared it with Bennett, and the plague was ended.

By this time, the series' sales figures had slumped beyond redemption, and DC's other horror and science fiction series had faded away. The House of Mystery wasn't long for the world. "With that book coming to end, we were told to wrap up the Andrew Bennett saga, and to do it with no loose ends and with a finality that would leave no chance of bringing the character back (a dictate that seems awfully naïve in retrospect)."

The series' finale ramped up with the return of Mishkin's mother Dunya, who per the wishes of her mistress, Mary, insinuated herself with Rev. Edgar Warnock of the American Crusade, actually a vampire working to carry the Blood Red Moon's power to the highest position in the land. Warnock was defeated but Dunya kidnapped Mishkin and turned him into a vampire and they fled to Russia. Bennett and Deborah, in pursuit, found out through vampires who'd infiltrated the KGB that Soviet scientists had developed a substance to eliminate vampires' need to avoid sunlight and their lust for blood—a key point toward the series' end.

Mishkin's death, depicted by Kaluta.
In the series' 317th issue, Dmitri Mishkin met his end, sacrificing himself so he alone could kill his own mother and thereby save his friends. Dan Mishkin, the series' co-writer (but not, strictly speaking, Dmitri's namesake), found the character's death particularly memorable for the behind-the-scenes events. "It was always a little funny writing a character (not invented by me) who shared my first initial and last name, and when we came to his death, I was amused by the thought of seeing a beautiful Mike Kaluta cover that featured a headstone with the legend "Rest in Peace D. Mishkin." But when I suggested it to Karen Berger, she declined out of a superstitious concern for my well-being. Which was really quite sweet, looking back, though I would have loved to have been able to buy the original art from Mike."

After Mishkin's death, two issues remained, during which Bennett decided to gamble with his un-life and imbibe the substance the Russians developed. While he seemed fine at first, able to tolerate the Sun's rays and survive without the need for blood, he soon discovered its unfortunate side-effects. Having become a vampire several centuries earlier, he found that the return of his humanity also brought rigor mortis, making him a prisoner in his own body. Upon their final confrontation with the Blood Red Moon, Deborah took the formula before encountering Mary, and when the Queen of Blood bit her, she instead became a new breed of vampire with all the immunities the substance provided. So empowered, she brought Mary into the Sun and killed her before saying a final farewell to Bennett, who scattered into ashes as Deborah wept tears of blood for him, the man she loved. It was an unusual finale to the series, empowering Bennett's human love and having her be the one to end the conflict in the fallen protagonist's stead.

The writers called the finale their favorite moment on the series. "Though it’s sad to leave behind characters that you’ve become invested in (also to leave behind a regular paycheck), there's a way in which wrapping up a series was as gratifying as the original opportunity to shepherd one. So much of monthly comics involves keeping the pot boiling that it's easy to get in a rut that's as unpleasant for the creators as it is for the readers. With the chance to do a big finish, we probably turned out our best work on the series—although, given the previous comments about being novices and learning the ropes, and the overall quality that that produced, calling something our best work in this context might not be saying much."

Bennett finally met his end with issue #319. Art by Kaluta.
Although "I...Vampire" ended with issue #319 in 1983 and The House of Mystery soon followed with #321, fate, it seemed, was not yet done with Andrew Bennett. When DeMatteis united with artist Shawn McManus on a Doctor Fate series in 1988, the last-page surprise in the first issue was Bennett's shocking return! The six-issue arc dealt with his inexplicable resurrection and his attempts at redeeming himself for his tortured past. "I really liked Bennett, and his inner struggle for redemption fit right into the themes I was exploring in my first arc in the ongoing Doctor Fate series I did with Shawn McManus," offers DeMatteis. "It was a treat to return to the character and his world—I especially enjoyed the Zen monk vampires he was allied with—after something like eight years.  I was also a much better writer by then, so I was able to make up for some of the clunkier scripting in my original run."

Bennett's arc ended on a bittersweet note, although certainly DeMatteis left the door open to a more permanent return. "I actually pitched DC on an 'I...Vampire' revival at least once, possibly a couple of times (my memory's fuzzy on the details), but they turned me down," he says. Sadly, DC relegated him to a memory for the next two decades, only allowing him a brief string of appearances in Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's idiosyncratic "Dr. Thirteen" series in the anthology Tales of the Unexpected in 2006-7.

Dr. Fate encountered Andrew Bennett early in his 1988 series. McManus art.
Fans of DeMatteis' original work on the series, which has stood the test of time to inspire the new incarnation, may be surprised to learn the writer did not originally consider himself a major fan of vampire fiction. "I remember reading Bram Stoker's Dracula in college and being surprised by how good it was, but the genre never drew me in any profound way.  Once I started writing for the DC horror anthologies, I had to dip into vampire lore because that was a huge part of what those books did.  The more I explored, the more I enjoyed the genre.  As with Bennett, I saw the vampire as a wonderful symbol of the darkness inside all of us.  The vampire's struggle is the universal human struggle.  'To bite...or not to bite.'  When I went over to Marvel, I explored the vampire mythos, in a very different way, in my Greenberg, the Vampire graphic novel (and the Bizarre Adventures story that preceded it)—which I remain very fond of, and proud of, to this day." DeMatteis has also worked alongside artist Kent Williams on the Epic Comics miniseries Blood: A Tale, a more unusual take on vampirism.

Asked for his opinion of his original "I...Vampire" tales, the author admits, "To be honest, I haven't gone back and looked at those stories in a long time.  I'm sure I will once the collected edition comes out early next year.  I'm sure there's a lot I would have done differently, simply because, as noted, I'm a better writer, a better storyteller, now.  That said, 'I...Vampire' was my first original creation in comics and I poured my heart and soul into it.  It was, at the time, the absolute best I could do.  So, in the end, I think I should leave my younger self alone, respect him and let his work stand on its own."

Jenny Frison illustrates the new "I, Vampire" covers.
Understandably, with his wishes to bring back Andrew Bennett a few times in the intervening years, DeMatteis is proud to see his creation return in DC's "New 52" this fall. "I loved writing and creating that world and those characters and...based on the first issue of the new series, Josh Fialkov is doing a bang-up job reimagining Andrew Bennett's world.  I just hope Mishkin shows up somewhere along the way!"

So do we, Mr. DeMatteis. So do we.

"I...Vampire" will be available in a DC Comics collected edition with a projected on-sale date of February 8, 2012. Consult your local retailer for ordering information, or order it from Amazon.com, Discount Comic Book Service or any shop you trust.

Please visit writer emeritus J.M. DeMatteis on his blog, Creation Point, at jmdematteis.com! And Dan Mishkin is at danmishkin.com!


New Blood: Morbius and the Vampire Genre (2) (Connecting Marvel to...Twilight?)

Welcome back! This segment is the second in a two-part article spotlighting Marvel's very own resident Living Vampire, Dr. Michael Morbius! A Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, Morbius suffered from a rare blood disease whose cure instead transformed him into a creature of the night with an insane thirst for blood.

In the previous segment, I reviewed Morbius' appearances from his 1971 introduction in The Amazing Spider-Man through his two solo series as protagonist, and finally his cure in early 1980, again in one of Spider-Man's series. But of course, as they say, you can't keep a good vampire down!

The prodigal vampire returns. Cover by Jackson Guice.
In Roy Thomas and Jackson Guice's Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #10-18, Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, was aging in the absence of real vampires to feed her unnatural appetite. (This story occurred during the brief period where vampires were eliminated from the Marvel Universe, in the wake of the "Montesi Formula" storyline in Doctor Strange #59-62, Jun.-Dec. 1983.) She abducted Morbius and restored him to discover if his blood could act as substitute, only to find it could not. The Living Vampire escaped and briefly took up residence with Strange and his allies, who couldn't prevent the negation of the original spell.

After Todd McFarlane brought him back in a pair of issues of Spider-Man, Marvel took another look at their horror characters. With the new Ghost Rider title gaining success, the administration sought to build an imprint around the character and supernatural concepts. Hence, the "Midnight Sons" were born, and Morbius became a charter member of the loose grouping that also included Ghost Rider teaming with original Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze as Spirits of Vengeance; Tomb of Dracula alums Blade, Frank Drake and Hannibal King as Nightstalkers; and a group of supernatural investigators tracking down evil pages from the cursed book, the Darkhold.

The Midnight Sons rise, and with them was Morbius. Cover by Ron Wagner.
In the new series by writer Len Kaminski and artist Ron Wagner, Morbius ingested demon blood and found he could now transform between human and vampire selves. After encountering Ghost Rider and allies and suffering the loss of his former love Martine, he vowed he would now only drink the blood of the guilty. He spawned another vampire in assassin Vic Slaughter, and encountered villains like Dr. Paine and Nightmare.

Eventually, the series went off the rails, with Kaminski replaced by Gregory Wright due to disagreements with artist Wagner (who left shortly after). From the end of the first year, Morbius was involved in crossover after crossover--including "Siege of Darkness" across the entire "Midnight Sons" line--that robbed the series of any momentum. Not-ready-for-prime-time artists like Isaac Cordova and Nick Napolitano mired the series down as Wright kept telling stories of the demon blood and characters derived from it.

The series was mired in too many crossovers for its second year.

During the last half-year of the series, Marvel passed Morbius to writer Lisa Trusiani, a writer whose main claim to fame to that point had been the company's licensed Barbie comic. Drawn by Craig Gilmore, an unknown, rough-around-the-edges artist, the series just kept sinking. The stories degenerated into an unintelligible mess, with Martine coming back from the dead...or was that really her? Gilmore left a few issues before the series mercifully faded away with issue #32.

Shortly following the conclusion of Morbius' solo series, the character debuted on the small screen during the second season of the 1994 Spider-Man animated series on Fox. Voiced by character actor Nick Jameson, Morbius was recast as a college student like Peter Parker, who experimented with vampire bats and found himself transformed into a vampire-like creature. Since the censors didn't allow vampires to feast on necks, this vampire's fangs were useless; rather, this Morbius fed on "plasma" using suckers on his hands. He appeared in seasons two and four, during which he interacted with Spider-Man, Blade, and the Vampire Queen Mirium, who intended to use the Neogenic Recombinator technology that created Morbius to create a race of vampires.

Without a series of his own, Morbius reverted to type. Cover by Romita Jr.

In the absence of a regular title, suddenly Morbius reverted to his previous characterization as Spider-Man villain with Peter Parker: Spider-Man #77-80 under writer Howard Mackie and artists Claudio Castellini and John Romita Jr. He popped up in Don McGregor and Brian Hagan's Blade limited series, canceled just three issues into its run of six.

Once again Marvel employed Morbius' sometime ability to transform other characters into vampires. In Peter Parker: Spider-Man #7-8, he bit the vampire hunter Blade. The unique enzymes in his saliva reacted with the hunter's already-unique physiology, transforming him into a "Daywalker" and in so doing aligning the character more closely with his recent movie depiction. At the time, early buzz surrounding the Blade movie sequel had Morbius as its primary villain, but that idea was nixed in later versions of the script, and Morbius remains unseen in live-action.

After a few years' absence, Morbius returned in Marc Guggenheim and Howard Chaykin's Blade series (#7, Mar. 2007), having signed the Superhuman Registration Act during Marvel's Civil War and allied himself with S.H.I.E.L.D. to try to apprehend the hunter. Later, he appeared as part of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s A.R.M.O.R. unit during Fred Van Lente and Kev Walker's Marvel Zombies 3 and 4 series, first captured by his other-dimensional, zombie-infected analogue, and later as head of a new group of Midnight Sons that included Daimon Hellstrom, Topaz and Werewolf By Night. After that, he and the Werewolf retreated under New York City, where they and the Man-Thing found a "disassembled" Punisher and rebuilt him as Franken-Castle (Punisher #11, Jan, 2010).

Morbius soon became a hero of sorts, again. Cover by Greg Land.

When last seen, Morbius took a blood sample from Spider-Man to work on a cure for the Werewolf in Amazing Spider-Man #622 (Apr. 2010) before perplexingly allying himself with Dr. Octopus against Spidey (Amazing Spider-Man #642, Nov. 2010). He's currently appearing again, in Dennis Hopeless and Juan Doe's Legion of Monsters limited series, starring as the apparent leader of a team that includes the Werewolf, the Living Mummy, the Manphibian and Elsa Bloodstone--virtually the same team as co-starred alongside Franken-Castle in Punisher. And fans reading The Amazing Spider-Man may have seen a familiar face during "Spider-Island"...!

Over the years, the character of Morbius may have struggled. Certain writers wisely emphasized the fact that Morbius was a scientifically-created vampire, while others have treated him like just another vampire character. Sometimes he's been able to spawn other vampires like himself, while at other times we're told that's patently impossible.

Still, the other traditional tropes of vampirism in fiction have remained with him. Like many other vampire protagonists (and antagonists, for that matter), he reviles what he is and wishes he didn't have to ingest human blood to survive. His addiction to blood compares favorably to any traditional human addiction to alcohol, or drugs, or sex. The difference with Morbius is that due to the nature of his condition, we're told without that blood as sustenance he will die.

Morbius with the new Legion of Monsters. Art by Juan Doe.

A major asset to Morbius' ongoing characterization is the fact he is a biochemist, and as such, he is well equipped to identify the various symptoms of his condition and effect potential cures. He creates formulas to temporarily make himself appear human. He tries to manufacture artificial blood. He looks after his fellow monsters' medical needs. Often, he considers the curses of other monsters like himself in scientific terms. Sometimes that outlook is an asset; sometimes, not so much.

What is most important about Morbius is that he is really the first popular vampire protagonist in literature. His power set and appearance follow that of the traditional vampire, unlike Dell's "New Dracula." And virtually every other do-gooder vampire out there who angsted about his condition--from Andrew Bennett of I...Vampire!, to Nick Knight of Forever Knight, to Angel of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to Edward Cullen of Twilight fame and many more--can ultimately trace that lineage back to Marvel's leading Living Vampire.

The premier vampire anti-hero? Art by Dave Cockrum.

And just think: we might not have had a Morbius had Stan Lee agreed to Roy Thomas' idea for Spidey to fight Dracula way back in 1971...

Yeah, take that, Vampirella.


  • Marvel Zombies 3
  • Marvel Zombies 4
  • Punisher: Franken-Castle
  • Rise of the Midnight Sons (Out-of-Print)
  • Spider-Man: The Gauntlet, Vol. 3 - Vulture & Morbius
  • Spider-Man: The Next Chapter Vol. 2 (Coming Soon)


New Blood: Morbius and the Vampire Genre (1)

A quick note about the article you're about to read: It was originally prepared for inclusion at Comic Book Revolution's site during the month of October. Unfortunately, due to some scheduling issues, it didn't surface there. Fortunately for you, dear reader, it's now available to read on this very site! Part two of this two-part retrospective will be available very, very soon, followed by an entry on "I...Vampire!", DC's 1980s supernatural series, with special contributions by original series talent! In the meantime, enjoy this trip down memory lane...

In today's age of vampire protagonists, it's difficult to imagine a time when vampires were always the "bad guys." It's even harder to wrap one's head around the idea that comic books were forerunners of the trend. And just consider that, for the longest time, vampires and the living dead were forbidden by the Comics Code Authority!

Impossible? No!

This October, we're all about things that go bump in the night, and that means bringing up unusual facts like these. So of course, we've gotta discuss...Dell Comics' Dracula!

Take a few deep breaths and stop laughing.

While this article may be about a certain living vampire, I must first note this three-issue wonder. While vampires were forbidden throughout the sixties, apparently heroes that experiment with bat blood, gain certain vampiric abilities, and go out in public dressed in a bat costume are just hunky-dory. He didn't have fangs. He didn't suck blood. He was just...a little batty. Three issues, and best forgotten.

A few years later, when the Comics Code Authority relaxed their restrictions on depictions of the living dead, Marvel Comics rushed in to capitalize. According to Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 11, writer Roy Thomas originally wanted Spider-Man to face the "#1 bloodsucker of all time," Dracula. However, editor-in-chief Stan Lee voiced opposition, preferring Roy and artist Gil Kane to offer up an original, villainous character.

Now this is more like it. The Amazing Spider-Man #101. Cover by Gil Kane.

Enter Dr. Michael Morbius, a Nobel Prize-winning Greek biochemist with an incurable blood disorder. With his friend Nikos and lover Martine, he tried to produce a cure using extracts derived from vampire bats. That cure may have rid him of the disease, but left his skin chalk-white, his bones hollow, his fangs sharp, and his body thirsty for fresh blood! Hence the good doctor became Morbius, the Living Vampire!

With an origin tale that evoked the classic scenes aboard the Demeter in Stoker's Dracula, Thomas and Kane brought Morbius into the Marvel Universe in The Amazing Spider-Man #101-102 (Oct.-Nov. 1971), in the middle of a storyline where the web-slinger had briefly grown four extra arms. It was almost easy to pity the scientist-cum-vampire. In trying to cure his own illness, he made his situation much worse.

In a cursory way, his nature compared him favorably to another of my favorite characters, Dr. Robert Bruce Banner and his alter-ego, the Hulk. Both men were scientists whose work led to drastically unforeseen consequences. Both men's alter-egos could be construed as evil. Both men really, truly wanted a cure but couldn't get it.

Morbius's 2nd appearance: Marvel Team-Up #3. Cover by Gil Kane.

At first, Morbius stuck around as Spider-Man's antagonist throughout the aforementioned story and a few issues of Marvel Team-Up (#3-4, Jul.-Sept. 1972) wherein he sought a cure with assist from a colleague he kidnapped. The story introduced, briefly, the idea that Morbius could create others like himself--something, like Morbius' reaction to daylight, writers could never keep straight.

However, Marvel soon saw an opportunity to develop the character further when they created a series of black-and-white magazines. Vampire Tales debuted in August 1973, and featured the first in a multi-part story with the Living Vampire as protagonist. The stories by Don McGregor emphasized Gothic horror, teaming Morbius with Amanda Saint, a young woman pursued by the Demon-Fire death cult. Art by Pablo Marcos, Rich Buckler, Tom Sutton and Mike Vosburg was wonderfully atmospheric, with ink washes and other techniques that gave the tales a gravitas unseen in the color comics. The creators took Morbius' plight very seriously, prominently displaying that, without that meddling Spider-Man, Morbius really could hold his own. Following the Demon-Fire cult arc by McGregor, Doug Moench and Sonny Trinidad came aboard for the final duo of tales before the series folded with its eleventh issue in 1975.

Morbius moonlights in the B&W mag Vampire Tales. Cover by Luis Dominguez.

Speaking of color comics, the powers-that-be at Marvel must have been impressed with the sales figures of the early black-and-white magazines, for it wasn't long before Morbius headlined one of Marvel's many anthology comics. With Man-Thing gone to his own series the previous month, Fear #20 arrived in February 1974 with a new star. Whereas the magazine told true horror tales, the comic told tales with a more scientific bent, including the saga of the Caretakers, a race of long-lived aliens who believed humanity to be on the verge of extinction due to impending nuclear war. To that end, they undertook Project: Second Genesis to create a new race of humanity. Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber and Doug Moench all wrote the story at different turns, and the inconsistency doomed the series. Similarly, the series had a new artist nearly every issue. Not even a young P. Craig Russell could stick around.

Moench and artist Frank Robbins stayed together a few issues, during which monster hunter Simon Stroud migrated from the Man-Wolf's stories in Creatures on the Loose to fight the vampire. Perhaps due to the absence of the freshly-canceled Vampire Tales, Moench picked up that series' horror flavor in a tale featuring demonic entities and more "living vampires." Unfortunately, the book again fell victim to inconsistency with then-untested writer Bill Mantlo and more guest artists, and issue 31 would be its last--also in 1975, a few months after the magazine's finale.

Whereas Vampire Tales was about the horror, Fear emphasized sci-fi.

Without a solo book to call his own, the vampire who'd broken out in two books returned to villain status following guest appearances as part of the Legion of Monsters (Marvel Premiere #28) and alongside the Thing (Marvel Two-in-One #15). He again plagued Spider-Man, first alongside the Man-Wolf (Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1) and later by himself in the newly-minted Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (#7-8, with a reprint of Marvel Team-Up #3 in issue #6). A few years later, without any further appearances, Morbius returned in issue #38, where former Fear writer Mantlo promptly cured him in an incident involving Spider-Man's radioactive blood and a bolt of lightning.

Morbius would appear irregularly over the next few years. In David Kraft and Mike Vosburg's Savage She-Hulk series (#12-14, Jan.-Mar. 1981), he appeared in court to defend himself against crimes committed while he was a vampire. At the same time, he battled a psychological addiction to blood cultivated during that period. As part of a team consisting of Bruce Banner and Walter Langkowski, he consulted with Reed Richards when his wife Sue suffered complications during her second pregnancy (Fantastic Four #266-268, May-Jul. 1984). And in West Coast Avengers #5-6 (Feb.-Mar. 1986) he encountered the team while trying to cure Jack Russell, the Werewolf By Night, and referred the team to the race of Cat People to assist in solving a problem with Tigra, one of their members.

Morbius: Cured at last! Cover by Allen Milgrom.

But a character like Morbius couldn't stay "normal" for long. In the second segment, coming soon, I'll turn my attention to the Living Vampire's 1989 return, his time in the "Midnight Sons," and the time he nearly became a star on the Silver Screen!

Join us, won't you?


  • Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vols. 1-2
  • Essential Savage She-Hulk Vol. 1
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 11
  • Marvel Masterworks: Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1
  • Vampire Tales, Vols. 1-3


Future Reviews: Comic Book Comics, Incredible Hulk & Marvel Point One

Last time, I reviewed a bunch of comics that had already been released for many weeks. This time, I'll review one of last week's Marvel comics, plus not one but two books you'll find in this week's releases at your local comic shop. Thanks go out to the inimitable Fred Van Lente for providing Comic Book Comics for review, and to Comixology for messing up and letting fandom assembled see Incredible Hulk a whole week early.

Now, in order of release...

MARVEL POINT ONE - Marvel Comics, $5.99
By Ed Brubaker, Jeph Loeb, David Lapham, Chris Yost, Fred Van Lente, Matt Fraction, Brian Michael Bendis, Javier Pulido, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Roberto De La Torre, Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski, Salvador Larroca, Terry & Rachel Dodson, Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary

This special one-shot was conceived to give a preview of all kinds of titles and events that Marvel will be bringing to its line in 2012. It's named "Point One" to capitalize on their program of the same name, whereby they produce special new-reader-friendly issues of their series at a lower price point. This edition, while reader-friendly, is at a decidedly unfriendly price point. I hear, however, that due to Marvel shipping double the initial number of copies ordered by retailers, this book can be bought on the cheap at most shops.

Let's take this puppy down in order, shall we?


A Weekend of Reviews: The Past (Angel & Faith #3, Hulk #43-44 & More)

Hi Folks!

This weekend, I'm doing something a little special. Today, I'm posting some short reviews of some books from previous weeks that I've just plain missed reviewing. I wanted to make sure you knew about some of these books--good, bad, and ugly.

This time out, we've got special entries from Boom! and Dark Horse Comics, Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #1 and Angel & Faith #3, as well as traditional Marvel fare like Hulk #43-44 and Fear Itself #7.1: Captain America. Rounding out this entry are Image's Savage Dragon #175 and DC's I, Vampire #2 and Swamp Thing #3.

As always, these books are rated, from great to awful,using my four-stage rating system: Buy It, Read It, Skip It, Burn It.

ANGEL & FAITH #3 - Dark Horse Comics, $2.99
By Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs & Joss Whedon

Did everyone know I'm a Whedon fan? No? I guess I'll have to ramp up the articles like this one, then.

Angel & Faith both have ample things in their lives to make up for, and this series, through its three issues, has ably demonstrated this fact. With Giles dead at Angel's hand (in the climactic finale of Buffy Season 8) and magic a thing of the past (see previous!), magical items are at a premium. They don't come more magical than the precious blood of the Mohra demon, famous in Angel lore for temporarily turning him human in the season one episode "I Will Remember You." Someone's selling the cure-all at premium prices, and it's up to the titular duo to take them down.

I lied: I missed the second issue, but thanks to the largely done-in-one nature of Gage's scripts, I wasn't lost at all. Rebekah Isaacs is a name unfamiliar to me, but I'll be tracking down her work from this point forward. And if it's one thing Gage (also famous for Marvel's sensational Avengers Academy) excels at, it's tight characterization in the Whedon mold. Who knew that, so many years after the characters' introductions in Buffy, they'd still be as engaging as ever? A solid story hook, solid art, and some snappy scripting don't lie--definitely Buy It!

BETRAYAL OF THE PLANET OF THE APES #1 - Boom! Studios, $3.99
By Corinna Sara Bechko, Gabriel Hardman & Jordie Bellaire

On the other hand--I hear the gasps from the crowd already starting--I've never truly been a fan of the Planet of the Apes film cycle. Oh, sure, I've seen the 1968 original with the screenplay by Rod Serling, and I've seen Marky Mark--excuse me, Mark Wahlberg--in the Tim Burton remake. Given that I tremendously enjoyed this summer's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and also that I've been shouting and crying to give Gabriel Hardman's Hulk art the attention it deserved all of the last year, I had to pick this book up.

Based on the earlier film series, Betrayal picks up 20 years before the first film, telling the tale of General Aleron, a military man turned defense lawyer. His client is Dr. Cato, accused of the heretic crime of teaching a human to talk. He is able to convince Dr. Zaius (from the original films) and the council that Cato is not guilty, but that's only the beginning of the tale that turns more insidious with each turn.

Bechko and Hardman, a husband-and-wife creative team, don't just craft a solid story that wholly embraces the Apes universe I'm just learning about. They create an enticing yarn with suspenseful elements, and some of the best art I've seen from Hardman. It's clear they both dearly love the material. Similarly, colorist Jordie Bellaire matches Hardman every step of the way.

I may not have watched the second through fifth films in the Apes cycle, but you can bet I'll be remedying that oversight this weekend. If you can find it, Buy It.

FEAR ITSELF: CAPTAIN AMERICA #7.1 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice & Bettie Breitweiser

Did anyone not see this one coming?

Yes, that's a bit of hyperbole, but it's no less than this pointed epilogue to Fear Itself deserves. After Bucky's ignoble death in the middle of the summer event, you had to think to yourself, That's a waste. They brought him back, they had him wear the Captain America outfit, for this? The character's been a runaway success since returning early in Brubaker's Cap run, so why eliminate that potential revenue stream? I mean, erm, why kill a big ol' cash korova? Hell, I can't stop telling the obvious truth. (By the way, 'korova' is the phonetic spelling of the Russian word for "cow." Got it?)

For Captain America fans, this story should be all you've wished for, as it's by the same team as that series. There are two stories going at once here: the story of Bucky's funeral, and the story behind the story that everyone who wasn't deluding themselves knew was coming. It's a serviceable storyline aided by excellent artwork by Guice and lavish colors by Breitweiser. It sets up Winter Soldier #1. It exposes the middle of Fear Itself (and some of the ending) as a sham. It goes to show you that nobody really dies at Marvel anymore so long as the company imagines they can turn a profit.

God, I'm jaded! It's by-the-numbers with awesome art. But beware: You'll be paying four whole dollars for 20 pages of story. If that's your bag, well, I can't stop you. My recommendation: Read It.

HULK #43-44 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Jeff Parker, Patrick Zircher & Rachelle Rosenberg

It's been a while since last I reviewed Jeff Parker's perennially excellent Hulk. This time, I'll remedy that with two issues for the price of one! And I'll try to keep it brief so I won't be boring.

I've really been torn lately with Hulk. On the one hand, it's got an excellent, inspiring throughline of stories, with the many persistent threats of issues past, including some really novel villains. The book honestly reads like the best of Marvel's Silver Age Incredible Hulk stories from the seventies. On the other hand, the character is utterly derivative of the original, green-skinned Hulk, who's just had his own series relaunched yet again. I should be crying from the mountaintops for Marvel to cancel this book and restore Bruce Banner as the one and only man-monster. It's downright criminal that this series continues its numbering while Banner and (green) Hulk get a new first issue, right?

Ross goes against the wishes of the U.S. government in this storyline, "Hulk of Arabia," leaping into a politically-charged locale with the intent of avenging one of his old military buddies. Of course, because he crosses Steve Rogers, the Super-Soldier takes a few of his Secret Avengers pals with him to defuse the situation.Along the way, this Hulk picks up some characters who've been seen in Hulk tales past: Machine Man (who teamed with the original Hulk during Roger Stern's tenure) and Arabian Knight (whose first iteration was introduced by Bill Mantlo, also in the prior series).

The story is perfectly illustrated by Patch Zircher, an artist I've wanted to see on a Hulk book for many years. The art's terrific. The colors by Rachelle Rosenberg look great. And good grief, can Jeff Parker write pretty.

Like I said, I really want one and only one Hulk book, about a green and not red goliath. But not just yet. Buy It, won't you?

I, VAMPIRE #2 - DC Comics, $2.99
By Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andrea Sorrentino & Marcelo Maiolo

Shouldn't a series come out swinging or the fences with its best shot? Thanks for holding back, Fialkov!

But seriously, folks: The second issue of I, Vampire is even better than the first. That's not to say it's perfect--there are still some aspects creeping in that I don't like and which could prove to be the book's undoing--but overall, this whole creative team should step up and take a bow. They're batting 1.000.

The name of the series is I, Vampire, and with that title comes an intriguing idea: Each issue will have a different narrator, a different spotlighted vampire, than the previous. This time out, it's Mary Seward's turn. Mary, the self-titled Queen of Blood, whom Andrew turned into a vampire so they could spend eternity together, only to find out she really enjoyed the lifestyle.

Mary's narration is engaging, every bit as much as her former lover Andrew's in the previous story. It serves as a counterpoint to the previous, and a scary reminder of what's to come in future episodes. She has sass, she has swagger, she's utterly, terrifyingly gleeful about the state of the world and the part she feels destined to play. Overall, it's a thrilling character piece that picks up the narrative where issue one left off.

I did say there's a potential weakness to the book, didn't I? Unfortunately, that would be the work of artist Andrea Sorrentino. While I love the composition of each panel, the panels themselves are the source of my disdain. With precious few exceptions, every page is filled with the same "widescreen" series of panels from top to bottom, just like a movie storyboard. Having virtually every page filled with the same pattern of four or five panels per page can be truly monotonous, regardless of the artistic talent involved. Worse, it tells me the artist would almost rather be storyboarding movies. I know, I know, Kirby and the greats used to use the six-panel grid all the time, and they're still energetic as anything, right? Still, it would be nice to see a little more variety in the panel layout.

Ah, I've voiced my displeasure enough. This is one of the New 52's "must-buy" titles. Fialkov just gets it, and Maiolo accentuates Sorrentino's art just right. Buy It!

SAVAGE DRAGON #175 - Image Comics, $3.99
By Erik Larsen, Gary Carlson, Frank Fosco & Bill Sienkiewicz

I cannot believe that next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of Savage Dragon's introduction in Image Comics. Who'd have foreseen Erik Larsen's creation lasting so long? No offense to Erik, certainly, as he's the man of a million ideas, and I'm sure he could keep writing and drawing this book until he's old and gray. To be the sole Image founder to have truly stuck with his creation after all these years, that takes some determination. And having met the man, it's clear he's just as enthusiastic now as he likely was when he started this journey.

This book has seen its share of ups and downs, but it's always been, at the very least, entertaining. I remember the days of the over-the-top sexual innuendoes and the ever-evolving Vicious Circle gang. I remember when "This Savage World" was brand-new, feeling like a way for Erik to free himself from a continuity that seemed to box his hero in. And what a terrific play on a reboot it ended up being. I remember the big anniversary issues, I remember the Dragon/Urass ticket, and I remember Dragon meeting Obama (and being lucky enough to receive that first printing variant in my weekly comics shipment without having to pay over cover price). So, yes, I have every issue of Savage Dragon, from both series; every Freak Force; and just about every other Dragon-related miniseries there was. I'm a Fin-Addict.

During the last few issues following Dragon's "death" in #168, I'd grown comfortable with the book being passed on to Malcolm Dragon, our hero's son. Seeing how Erik mostly paces the series in real time, it felt natural that the torch would go to him sooner or later. Imagine my surprise when I saw the cover to this issue, and read the interiors. He's surprised us once again! Where he originally gave us Dragon's origin as a one-off story, he has wisely used it to fuel the last twenty-odd issues of stories, and has now given us an altogether new status quo. Dragon in a Buck Rogers-esque role? Something that must be seen to be believed.

This series never ceases to entertain, and that's what keeps bringing me back. From a great first story, to back-ups featuring the new Dart and Vanguard, it's got something for everyone. The big two don't make comics like this anymore. Thank God for Erik Larsen. If you love old school comics, Buy It. If you don't--there's no hope for you.

SWAMP THING #3 - DC Comics, $2.99
By Scott Snyder, Victor Ibanez & Yanick Paquette

Oh, Swamp Thing. I had such high hopes for you.

As a rule, I'm really enjoying DC's "Dark" subdivision of titles. Oh, sure, I've dropped a couple, and most of the greater line has gone bye-bye. But I've enjoyed Swamp Thing so far because it's been unconventional. It's been interesting through Brightest Day since DC played with the idea that this isn't Alan Moore's Swampy, that this is, for the first time ever, Alec Holland as Swamp Thing, "the way it was always meant to be."

However, at three issues of nearly constant setup, something's got to give.

Oh, sure, it's a well-told bit of setup, but still, the leisurely pace of this "new" origin of the Swamp Thing is clearly structured to appear in a graphic novel collection, and readers who pick up these single issues, well...does this method of storytelling really speak to you? It doesn't speak to me. I like my twenty pages jam-packed with story. I don't like the false advertising bit of having the hero look as he should on the cover but still be the human Holland throughout the issue.

I do like that we're meeting the old cast of characters from the original Swamp Thing, like Abby Arcane. The new character introduced in this tale, "William," is intriguing, and his story does take a dark turn. I'm curious to see how the tapestry is woven between the "Green" of this title, the "Red" of Animal Man, and the mysterious "Black" that's cropped up here and there. It's just, with all due respect to Mr. Snyder and his talented artist Yanick Paquette, I keep wishing they'd get to the point already. It doesn't feel like we've gotten a single complete story in this series yet.

Between the slow pacing of this story and the absence of favorite artist Paquette from well over half this issue's pages, I can't find it in my heart to recommend this book. Skip It until the action picks up.

Agree? Disagree? Sound off!

Tomorrow: This week's reviews, and next week's! Marvel: Point One! Incredible Hulk! And Comic Book Comics!

Be here! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!



Kaine, Take 2: The Spectacular Psychoses of Spider-Man

This year at New York Comic Con, Marvel Comics announced a new series featuring the Scarlet Spider. The hero's name is synonymous with an era that many Spider-Man fans would rather forget: The Clone Saga! That's right, it was a wild and wooly era when the clone of Spider-Man, birthed in a lab under direction of the villainous Jackal, returned after learning Aunt May was dying. Taking the name Ben Reilly, after his uncle's first name and his aunt's maiden name, he spent five long years on the road, learning about himself and divorcing himself from the name "Peter Parker," but he couldn't resist the pull of family.

All the gory details are available in the tenth and eleventh episodes of The Spectacular Spider-Cast, now or soon available for download on iTunes and on the podcast website. In addition, Marvel is currently rereleasing the entire Clone Saga in graphic novel format, with eight volumes currently produced, and at least two more on the way. Search Amazon.com for "The Complete Clone Saga Epic" and "The Complete Ben Reilly Epic."

We won't know for sure who the new Scarlet Spider is until the release of this week's Marvel Point One, which contains several stories including a preview for this new series. With that in mind, let the rampant speculation on his identity begin. If you don't want to know, go no further!

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Clone Saga was the introduction of an assassin called Kaine. His body hideously disfigured, he hid behind a black mask with streaks of webbing, as well as a tattered pink cloak. When he learned Reilly was in New York, he dropped everything to pursue him. He also found himself plagued by visions of Mary Jane, Peter's wife, dead and abandoned on the street. Who could this man be, and how could he have such close ties to Spider-Man and his clone?

Eventually, Kaine stood revealed as the Jackal's first, failed clone of Spider-Man. Abandoned by his creator, he had mutated to be bigger and stronger than the original Spider-Man. His adhesive abilities changed, allowing him to leave a web-shaped brand on the side of his victims' faces, and his spider-sense became uncanny psychic visions. Having no claim to Peter's life, scarred from a degeneration factor inherent in almost all Warren's clones, he left to live the life of a mercenary.

He and Reilly had crossed paths many times since then, including in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Reilly met girlfriend Janine Godbe and Kaine framed him for the murder of police detective Louise Kennedy. That debacle would form the basis for Spider-Man: The Lost Years, as well as for the arrest of Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man #400 and his subsequent trial.

When tests "confirmed" that Ben Reilly was "the one, true Spider-Man," it became clear Kaine had always harbored this belief. He wanted his "perfect" brother to succeed in the role of Spider-Man, and having Reilly, whom he saw as the "original" Peter Parker, return was the worst thing that could happen. Hence, Kaine had dogged Reilly ever since he first left New York, and attacked him soon after his return there. He hadn't counted on the wrong man being arrested, but so great was his hatred for Reilly that he nearly jeopardized Peter's secret in the courtroom before admitting culpability for the murder.

The rest of Kaine's life during the Clone Saga was a blur. He tried to stop the Jackal's mad schemes during "Maximum Clonage" but the clone called Spidercide stabbed him through the chest. He lay dormant in a clone casket until rescued by representatives of the Great Game, a war between superbeings sponsored by wealthy individuals. He soon grew tired of having been recruited into the game, and disappeared, only to surface later in one final series of battles with Reilly, who had by that time become Spider-Man.

Shortly before Reilly's death, Kaine tipped off Janine to his whereabouts. Reilly believed Janine dead as result of Kaine's previous machinations, and was blindsided by her return. They both were ambushed by Kaine, who sought their deaths but relented after seeing their love for each other. He and Janine then both surrendered to authorities.

Ben Reilly died in battle with the original Green Goblin, degenerating into dust which marked him as the true clone. Kaine escaped from prison soon afterward, and reappeared during the "Who Was Ben Reilly?" storyline, stalking Raptor, a colleague of Reilly's who mutated himself into a human/dinosaur hybrid and blamed the change on Reilly. After a fierce battle between Spider-Man, Raptor and himself, Kaine killed Raptor and fled. Eventually, the Kravinoff family captured Kaine during their scheme to return their patriarch, Kraven the Hunter, to life. Kaine masqueraded as Peter, and the family sacrificed him to revivify Kraven. Believed dead, Kaine was buried, only to rise from the grave as a new Tarantula, whom the Jackal mutated into a huge spider-like creature and drafted into his ranks right before the "Spider Island" storyline.

Now, as result of "Spider-Island," Kaine has been cured of all previous afflictions including, it seems, his clone degeneration factor. For some reason, he's not six feet four inches and built like a brick outhouse anymore. For the first time since the day he emerged from one of the Jackal's clone caskets, he looks like Peter Parker. A long-haired Peter, but Peter nonetheless.

And because New York isn't big enough for two Spider-Men, Kaine is taking his show on the road beginning in the "Spider Island" epilogue, The Amazing Spider-Man #673, on sale now. And you can bet that he'll be the guy behind the mask in Christopher Yost and Ryan Stegman's brand-new Scarlet Spider series.

The Scarlet Spider will be doing his share of wandering, which keeps in line with the original Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly. Kaine will obviously be out for a share of redemption for all the dastardly things he's done in the past, both to the late Ben and to many others. I sincerely hope Chris Yost remembers the character's rich history and complex psychology, and that Ryan Stegman ably illustrates this "twisted" Spider-Man.

How twisted could it get? I'm thrilled you asked!

We start with an intellectually intriguing angle: Kaine is taking on the costumed identity of the man who, for five long years, he really, really wanted to kill. I don't think that point should be lost on the creators. Does that screw him up? That's a good question. Thank God there's an easy answer, if they want to go that way.

Yes, it's true that Kaine hated Ben Reilly. But it's also true that thanks to the Jackal's machinations, he falsely believed Reilly was the real Spider-Man when in fact he was another clone like him. How does that revelation strike him? Especially when you consider that Kaine can't ever make up for his actions because Ben is dead? Does taking on the Scarlet Spider identity become a form of penance, a way of paying back Ben since he can't tell him "I'm sorry" in person?

Let's also not forget that Kaine, unlike Peter and Ben, has been a very, very bad man since the Jackal kicked him out. He's been an assassin. He's killed people. He's clearly shown underworld ties. He's made decisions that Peter Parker just plain wouldn't. He's not Peter, and he's not Ben; he's the anti-Spidey. Look at what he's done to Doctor Octopus, to the Grim Hunter, to Louise Kennedy, to Raptor. These actions shouldn't be forgotten. It isn't about "wallopin' websnappers"; this Spider-Man is mean. Let's see how he got that way, and his attempts to deal with how different he's become from Peter Parker, the man with whom he shares all his memories up to the moment of cloning.

And yes, we have that "redemption" angle on the table. After the events of "Spider Island," he's cured of being the Tarantula, and it would also appear he's cured from the clone degeneration that's caused him such intense pain over the years since his creation. What effect will that nugget of an idea have on him? Surely he won't turn all "sunshine and rainbows." He can't, else it would defeat the purpose of even having another Spider-Man out there wandering the country.

Kaine probably still has underworld connections in some parts of the U.S., but come to think of it, they wouldn't recognize him anymore. He's not scarred anymore, nor is he wearing the garish pink-and-black costume we first saw him in. In fact, looking like he is--just like Peter, only long-haired and scruffy--he's a dead ringer for "road warrior" Ben Reilly. And we know how much baggage he carried over the years. So, who will he be: Kaine "Parker," or Ben Reilly?

When all else fails, the Scarlet Spider creators should ask themselves one important question whilst travailing their own path: "W.W.J.M.D.D.?" ("What Would J. Marc DeMatteis Do?") After all, the man who gave us the most psychologically complex Clone Saga stories must have been doing something right, if we're still talking about Kaine all these years later...

Kaine, by Ryan Stegman, artist of Scarlet Spider! From NYCC '11.


(Recommended Reading: Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Vols. 1-3; Spider-Man: Return of the Black Cat; Spider-Man: Grim Hunt; Spectacular Spider-Man #231; Sensational Spider-Man #2; Amazing Spider-Man #409, 666-673; Spider-Man #66; Spider-Man: Redemption #1-4; Spider-Island: The Deadly Foes of Spider-Man #1.)