Something Hammer This Way Comes!

Now, for something completely different!

I've always had a fascination with horror films. Even when I was a little kid, and Lou Ferrigno could scare the hell out of me wearing green body paint, I still would peek my head above the covers and steal a peek. When I found out about a little film called Fright Night my cousin was going to see, I knew one day I would watch it. When I grew a little older, my parents got cable TV, and I saw Jim Hendricks as Commander USA, on the USA Network as he presented his "Groovie Movies." And thence, though I knew it not then, was instilled in me a love of that terrific subgenre called...Hammer Horror!

This poster hung on the wall in my dorm. No lie!
Fast forward a few years to college, and after having named Fright Night one of my favorite movies of all time, plus watching an incredible amount of horror films and TV series, I finally happened upon these films anew, and an obsession was born. I vaguely remembered the "Groovie Movies" I watched, like Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, Vampire Circus, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, and the rare classic Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. I don't remember the exact time it happened--I remember starting to collect the films on VHS, but have since converted and expanded the collection to DVD and now Blu-Ray--but collecting the films got me through a difficult time with my health and emotional well-being. (Sounds trite, I know, but there are reasons I don't get into the details.)

During my junior and senior years, I voraciously watched Hammer film after Hammer film, even as I took a few film classes. I'd discuss some of the films with my professors outside class, although I never really had the chance to put my Hammer expertise to use in any class papers or projects. I remembered bits and pieces of various films, seldom the whole, but my knowledge grew and grew. I was amazed that my professors acknowledged the films, noteworthy for being the first major horror films from any studio released in full color. Also, I'm told they were among the first vampire films to do more than hint at the fangs piercing victims' throats. The films were scary in parts for what horrific bits they left to the imagination, which seems quaint by today's gory standards.

From the nine films in the Dracula cycle (six of which starred Christopher Lee, and five of which starred Peter Cushing), to the seven in the Frankenstein cycle, to the Mummy tetralogy, to the Karnstein trilogy, these are fine, if not award-worthy, films. The stars turned in terrific performances, from the well-recognized greats like Cushing and Lee, to lesser-known stars like Clifford Evans and Andrew Keir, to bit players like Michael Ripper, to the lusty Hammer women like Barbara Shelley, the Collinson sisters, Ingrid Pitt, and my personal favorite, Madeline Smith (whose visage adorns the cover of Marcus Hearn's book, Hammer Glamour). I can really say it's been a treat having watched all these films, and I have even more I haven't been able to watch (but am slowly getting to, bit by bit).

I do want to devote future entries of this blog to specific movies from Hammer, but for now I'd like to cut this bit short and turn the floor over to you, my followers! I know I mainly attract the comics crowd, but I do want to start to expand my demographic a little. Are you familiar with Hammer Horror? If so, feel free to share your stories! What are your favorite films by The Studio That Dripped Blood, and why? Which features would you like to see me devote some blog entries to? Which actors or actresses deserve my attention? Is Hammer the second coming of horror films after the Universal features of the '20s through the '40s? It's all up for grabs--I'm just throwing it out there for you to pick up!

And hey, in case you haven't heard: Hammer Films is back with the recent DVD/Blu-Ray release of 2010's horror smash, Let Me In. Take a look!



Please, Keep Him Angry. He Won't Die If He's Angry. (Incredible Hulks #623, Reviewed)

Another day, and another round of Hulkish excitement comes in the form of Greg Pak & Dale Eaglesham's first team effort on Incredible Hulks. Let's dive right in, shall we?

The Incredible Hulks #623
"Planet Savage," Chapter One

Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Dale Eaglesham & Drew Hennessy
Colorist: Dean White
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Production: Irene Lee
Assistant Editor: John Denning
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics

It's pretty stunning to open a Hulk book and see Ol' Greenskin, flat on his back, barely conscious, barely breathing, apparently not healing, but that's what you get when you open Incredible Hulks #623. He's survived--just barely--a battle with Zeus, with his family having saved him from a Promethean fate. With Hulk as the only mortal who's even close to Zeus' power level, and the Hulk not adequately invested in the battle, writer Greg Pak presents an intriguing puzzle: to enable the Hulk to heal properly, he must stay angry. That whole "madder the Hulk gets, the stronger he gets" part evidently extends to his durability and healing power as well. So what, you may ask, can keep the Hulk sufficiently angry to recover from his injuries? It's a communique from a certain friend in the Savage Land, where now dwells the remainder of the alien refugees who traveled with the Hulk from Sakaar after the destruction of Crown City--and one foe who started out as a fellow Warbound companion.

Greg Pak gives another strong outing on this issue of Incredible Hulks, with the main allure story-wise being a revisitation to the characters and world he introduced way back in "Planet Hulk," albeit relocated to Earth. From page one, I really enjoyed seeing the reunited Warbound, last seen as a whole in the miniseries of the same name in the aftermath of World War Hulk. To have them alongside Bruce Banner's Earthly family of Hulks is icing on the cake. In particular, I love Kate Waynesboro, a Bill Mantlo creation recently returned from comic book purgatory. Unless I miss my guess this issue marks the first time she's met Betty Ross (granted, Betty's in the form of Red She-Hulk, but still!). I'm hopeful to see more panel time for this duo, as their dynamic has the potential to be very entertaining. Pak has a grand time returning to his creations this month, with the Hulk recruiting them for a reunion with those left behind in the wake of World War Hulk. Leaving his family with Kate to heal, he tells them he's going with the Warbound this time out because "This is their fight. And they're warriors. Deep down inside...you're just puny humans." Nice little sentiment, don'tcha think? Of course, as many of you saw last issue, amid the Sakaarian refugees is Miek, Warbound companion turned perversion of everything the Hulk stood for on that world. We'll see next month just what he means to do with the Hulk, but from the end of this issue, it doesn't look good.

Speaking of looking good, I've got to hand it to artist Dale Eaglesham: He really knows his way around Marvel's myriad realms and peoples, drawing this issue with flourish I've not seen since Paul Pelletier's work on the "World War Hulks" arc in issues #609-611. Having made even Reed Richards look beefy in Jonathan Hickman's brilliant Fantastic Four run, he's able to cut loose with the Hulk, and he does so incredibly well. So well, in fact, that after one issue I can say what a shame it is that he's only drawing this three-issue arc, afterward departing to draw an eight-issue Alpha Flight series this summer. (If it's any consolation, the story will be by Greg Pak and his Herc co-writer Fred Van Lente.) The Hulk and his teams have seldom been so well-rendered, and the jungle vistas of the Savage Land have seldom looked so lush and authentic. Aided and abetted by inker Drew Hennessy and colorist Dean White (whose pages occasionally look murky), Eaglesham really brings his "A" game.

The bottom line: If you enjoyed the original "Planet Hulk" storyline and longed for Pak to revisit the characters and situations centered around that arc, then you'll have a Hulking good time with "Planet Savage." If this first third of the saga is any indication, we're in for a hell of a ride. With many familiar elements of that now-classic story, as well as the long-awaited return of a key villain, there will never be a better opportunity for the Hulk to stand up and smash. After all, it doesn't matter how many times a certain Green Goliath falls down, It matters how many times he gets up.



A Tale of Three Hulks--Or Is That Four? (Reviewing Hulk #30)

Howdy ho, Tweeps, peeps, and just plain geeks (and I say that endearingly)! This episode's delayed a bit since it was supposed to come over the weekend. Ordinarily I strive to put up reviews before the Saturday following a book's release, but with so much happening, can you blame me? To be fair, you guys got an interview with writer Greg Pak, a review of the first issue of his Silver Surfer book, another entry in my "Storm Warning" series on Firestorm, and an aside about Franken-Castle. Before you ask: Yes, I'm hoping to scale back the comic talk soon and discuss some movies, TV, and other things like I've been promising. We'll see what happens in the next few weeks, eh? Meanwhile drop me a line (my e-mail address is on the main site page!) and tell me what YOU want to see! Now, are we ready to make like Bobby "Boris" Pickett and his Crypt Kickers...?

Hulk #30 
"Marvel Two-In-One
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artists: Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines
Colorist: Morry Hollowell
Letterers: Ed Dukeshire
Production: Irene Lee
Assistant Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What more intriguing way of uniting the previous Hulk creative team with the current one than matching today's writer with yesterday's artist? Gabriel Hardman may be an excellent artist, with his work in the last five issues looking even more terrific than in Atlas, but you have to say that for the first two-plus years of this title's existence, the boisterous, stylistic artwork of Ed McGuinness kept fans coming back month in and out. Certainly he didn't draw every issue of the first twenty-four, but it was clear the project belonged to Ed. It's no secret that he's been a Hulk fan for many years, and wanted a prolonged run on the book. All good things must end, and so after the finale of "World War Hulks," during which the Red Hulk's identity stood revealed, Ed and his frequent co-conspirator, Jeph Loeb, left the book. Evidently Ed found a hole in his schedule and an itch he wanted to scratch, because he's back, for one month only, and with him he brings loads of silliness right out of DC's Silver Age.

Maybe that last bit is an understatement of writer Jeff Parker's involvement in this story, but I can't help stating this book is full of the kinds of big ideas and imagery that are hallmarks of McGuinness' best work, from Superman/Batman and of course previous issues of Hulk. This one's got it all, from Woodgod, voted "most likely to reappear in Greg Pak's Hulk run because he's one of Bill Mantlo's creations," to the perennial silly favorite among Marvel aliens, the Impossible Man, to various pre-code Marvel monsters including Xemnu the Titan, the original Hulk from Journey Into Mystery #62 as well as a monster that echoes one of Superman's most backwards foes. (And if that last bit doesn't clue you in to who Parker and McGuinness are riffing, then all my jokes are lost on you.) All of the above doesn't even come close to the audacious addition of the cover's core conceit: The Compound Hulk! (Who says this isn't the age of ambitious alliteration?)

I know it's well within Parker's talents to tell outrageous and fun stories, but McGuinness's involvement amps it up to the next level. The story is framed, simply enough, as a contest as schemed by longtime Hulk and She-Hulk foe Xemnu. It's an excuse, pure and simple, to bring all kinds of monsters and DC homages into the book and get McGuinness to draw big, bombastic action sequences, but it's still fun as anything and strings together all kinds of things the artist never got to draw during his earlier tenure. Does it bother me that our green Hulk, who guest-stars this month (and why shouldn't he do that anytime he wants?), is unable to defeat the horde of humongous hellions by himself, leading to he and the Red Hulk cavorting as a Compound Hulk? Or that the character they're combined to battle is a white-skinned, green-pantsed, erudite echo of our own red-and-green goliaths? It's all in service to the spectacle, and spectacles don't get much bigger than when drawn by--well, you know!

What strikes me as the big continuity nerd that I am is the league of monsters Xemnu's assembled. On that terrific double-splash in the middle of the issue, there's Zzutak (from Strange Tales #88), Taboo (from Strange Tales #75 & 77), the Blip (from Tales To Astonish #15), the Creature from Krogarr (from Tales To Astonish #25), Fin Fang Foom (from Strange Tales #89) and others I couldn't even identify. (If anyone knows the two of whom I speak, shout 'em out and be duly No-Prized!)

Hulk #30 is an unabashed love letter to the tales that astonished me when I was growing up--not as a child of the 50s with its many monstrous icons, nor the 60s with the dawn of the Marvel Age and the many weird goings-on at DC that gave birth to Bizarro and the Composite Superman, nor the 70s with the further development of all that was Marvel into a new generation. I'm a child of the 80s but with a healthy appreciation of all that makes Marvel great, raised on Marvel Super-Heroes reprints of the Hulk's early adventures and Marvel Tales reprints of Spidey. For all that comics have advanced over the years, it's nice to see a story return to the big action and goofiness of yesteryear. Hulk fans, monster fans, fans of weird stuff--buy this book!



Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force - The Review

This Wednesday, February 23, marks the release of a graphic novel collection I've been awaiting for some time: Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force. Over the last few months, you've seen me nip away at the stories collected in this tome, from my thoughts on the story of Hiro-Kala, Son of Hulk, as it progressed through Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk - The Conquest of Jarella's World #1-4, on to an interview with the writer of this duo of limited series, Scott Reed. This time out, I'm opting to review the whole package: the good, the bad, and the sub-microscopic. And away we go...

The Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force GN
Collecting Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk - The Conquest of Jarella's World #1-4
& The Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force #1-3

Writer: Scott Reed
Artists: Miguel Munera, Terry Pallot & Greg Adams
Colorists: Veronica Gandini & Jorge Maese
Letterers: Fishbrain & Dave Sharpe
Production: Irene Y. Lee
Assistant Editors: Jordan D. White & John Denning
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics

You can look at Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force, consisting of the two mini-arcs, "The Conquest of Jarella's World" and the "Enigma Force" series proper, two ways. First, there is the obvious intention begun in the first miniseries, picking up right where the previous Son of Hulk series left off (now available in the graphic novel collection Son of Hulk: Dark Son Rising) and paving the way for the arc now collected in the hardcover collection Incredible Hulks: Dark Son. Foremost in this collection, however, is the story of the resurgent group of subatomic swashbucklers, the Enigma Force, so named after the power which flows through their leader, Arcturus Rann. It's an apt name considering Marvel truly can't refer to the team by their original title: the Micronauts, a licensed Japanese toy property cum Marvel comic that spanned some eighty-five issues between 1978 and 1986 (over two regular series, two annuals, and a four-issue crossover series with the X-Men).

Many years and many incarnations later (anyone remember the Microns?), the team seems to have found their ideal new title, rooted in their illustrious past. The original core triad of Rann, Princess Marionette, and Bug (the latter now of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy series) are now joined by Carl, a Death's Head android imbued with some spark of personality; Jentorra, a K'aitian mystic and cousin to the Hulk's deceased love, Jarella; and an orphaned member of the race that laid waste to K'ai, the Psyklop. It's a shame we who remember the Micronauts' original incarnation can't have Acroyear, Biotron or any of the other characters who joined their illustrious ranks throughout the early 1980s, but we should be lucky we get glimpses of these characters at all!

The first story, "The Conquest of Jarella's World," begins in media res, with Arcturus Rann, Mari, and Carl--the crew of the HMS Endeavor III--seeking out the legendary Enigma Force Nullifier. Of course, this being chiefly a book set in the Hulk's corner of the Marvel Universe, it's not long before they're on a mission to save the denizens of planet K'ai from the alien hordes of the Psyklop (last seen as a singular, humanoid enemy in The Incredible Hulk #203, waaaay back in 1976). Somewhere along the way, Rann discovers the location of the Nullifier, and comes in conflict with the Hulk's second son, Hiro-Kala, who has been transported through the Fault to the Microverse, the subatomic realm all these characters call home.

In the second story in this collection, set shortly after the conclusion of the first story, Rann and his compatriots track Hiro-Kala and his armies back through the Fault to the Marvel Universe proper during the timeframe the "Dark Son" storyline takes place. They continue their cat-and-mouse game from afar, with Bug, Jentorra, and the Psyklop having their roles to play. Along the way, the action continues on K'ai with the return of one character fans of the 1970s Jarella stories will definitely recognize, an added bonus for those fans but something that will leave everyone else scratching their heads.

Unfortunately, overall the series suffers in that the protagonists can never fulfill Rann's mission. They can't depose Hiro-Kala and return K'ai to the Microverse, because that's what the Hulks are charged with doing in the main event. The narrative never truly overlaps with any plot points of the larger story over in the Hulk's book but goes on its own parallel path. These choices limit Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force to being a character piece about Rann's past connections with K'ai, the building of the new team, and their part in the post-"Dark Son" status quo of the planet.

(As an aside, Marvel was originally home to a multitude of sub-atomic dimensions, but thanks to writer Peter David in issues 4-7 of his 2000 Captain Marvel series, all those realms including the ones in which K'ai and the Micronauts resided, merged into one. There's an untold story out there involving the X-Men, Thanos, and Baron Karza where all of these events unfolded. Best as I can figure it with a No-Prize-worthy explanation, this event must have also somehow rearranged the histories of the Microverse realms to allow for Rann to have been involved in K'ai's past, as revealed in the Enigma Force portion of this collection.)

Scott Reed does the best he can granted that the Enigma Force can't truly figure into the main "Dark Son" story's conclusion, filling the tale with character moments. From the first story on through the second, this is really Arcturus Rann's journey, and it's the most in-depth characterization he's had in years. These seven issues together really read like a "pilot" episode of an ongoing Enigma Force series, setting up the complex relationships between all of these characters as well as potential situations for new "episodes." The key mystery that I enjoy--and which I asked Reed about at New York Comic Con last year--involves the evolution of the Psyklop from that one being who seemed native to the main Marvel Universe (having been introduced in Avengers #88) to a race of floating, alien creatures as they were at the beginning of the first issue in this collection. If we're to see more of the Enigma Force, that secret story is waiting to be told.

Whereas Reed's story shows direction and purpose, artist Miguel Munera literally evolves the further we go. In the beginning, I was struck by the various homages to the work of Rich Buckler and Sal Buscema, with various statues on K'ai clearly echoing their work, but much of the early figure work seemed static. It could be the work of various inkers, but Munera's layouts and detail grow stronger as these series progress, with Greg Adams as his best inker in the second half of the collection. It's never overly flashy artwork but he does tell the story ably and his dynamism grows. I'll look for Munera's skill to continue to develop as time goes on.

One note for completists: the Hiro-Kala story by Scott Reed and Miguel Munera that bridges "The Conquest of Jarella's World" and "Dark Son," from The Incredible Hulk #609-611, is not included here. The story did not feature the Enigma Force, which probably accounts for its exclusion. However, the three-part mini-arc is available in the Incredible Hulk Vol. 3: World War Hulks collection, now available in hardcover and available March 30 in softcover.

The Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force is an intriguing mix of concepts from the old days of The Incredible Hulk and the classic Micronauts series married with the ongoing story of the Hulk's new "Dark Son." In spite of the story's limitations as described above, there's a sense of fun that never leaves. For new comics with an old-school twist, you could do a lot worse than pick up this graphic novel collection. After all, it would sure be fun to finally read still more new adventures of Arcturus Rann and his crew. The Micronauts live again--who cares what they're called now--and it's about time.

The Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force is on sale February 23. The collection is priced at $19.99. Call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK or visit http://www.comicshoplocator.com to find a shop near you!



Storm Warning 4: Back at the Beginning (At Last!)

Here we are again! After a nearly two-week hiatus from posting about DC's resident Nuclear Man (that nasty fourth Superman movie notwithstanding), I'm journeying back to the mid-1990s. That may not be when the books in question came out, but it's when I finally rummaged through the back-issue bins at a few different stores--mostly the late, largely unlamented Mr. Jake's Funny Books in Rochester, PA, and another store whose name I don't recall, right on McKnight Road in front of Ross Park Mall. Strangely there's also a connection to where I currently live, since my father went on a trip to Arizona and bought me the majority of Firestorm's first series as well as the backup stories in The Flash at a shop I still frequent today, All About Books & Comics. Ah, but that's pretense, and the time for such is passed. Now, it's time to talk about the work of Firestorm's co-creator, Marvel and DC vet turned Hollywood guy, Gerry Conway!

Firestorm the Nuclear Man vol. 1 #1, March 1978. Cover by Allen Milgrom.

In some ways it feels bizarre to talk about Gerry Conway as the second Firestorm writer I read, but it's true. I may have a tremendous affection for John Ostrander's tenure, and I enjoyed the constant forward momentum in learning about the true nature of Firestorm. However, there's something to be said for a status quo, and Conway created the foundations without which Ostrander wouldn't have been able to do such richly textured work. And with that in mind, may I say hot damn, these early Firestorm stories are fun!

Firestorm's early stories are so self-contained that outside of a handful of issues of The Flash featuring Professor Zoom (a tale for another blog entirely) they're the earliest DC Comics I care to own. Conway and his artist, longtime Marvel madman Allen Milgrom, do a terrific job with ol' Flamehead's origin in the first issue, setting up the origins of the first few villains he'd fight in Multiplex (#2) and Killer Frost (#3). The dynamic of the first five stories is interesting because while Ronnie Raymond remembers Firestorm, Professor Stein only knows of his involvement as one half of Firestorm while merged. When they fission, Stein suffers from amnesia. Ronnie is so self-absorbed about all the good they're doing as Firestorm that he neglects telling him, and so the Professor's life gets flushed ever deeper down the toilet.

The introduction of the longest-tenured Firestorm villain, Killer Frost. Cover by Allen Milgrom.

The series starts off on decent enough footing, being pretty much a "Spider-Man" riff for DC. (In fact, more than once Firestorm has been called a Marvel character who makes his home at DC. Being a Marvel geek first and foremost, that could well explain my attraction to him.) Conway gave the characters quite the inversion, with Ronnie Raymond being a high school jock where Peter Parker was a bookworm. The Flash Thompson to his Peter was Cliff Carmichael, an intellectual who learned to fight from being beaten down--again, an inversion of the Spider-Man paradigm. Rounding out the supporting cast were Ronnie's girlfriend, Doreen Day; his father, Ed; and his principal, Wallace Hapgood. It's interesting that, with the exception of the Hyena, Firestorm's friends all come from Ronnie's life while his enemies come from Professor Stein's.

It's a shame after such interesting beginnings, then, that the "DC Explosion" (referring to an influx of talent and new titles in the mid-1970s) so quickly became the "DC Implosion" during which many, many titles were canceled in a short period due to economic downturn and rising paper costs. Firestorm the Nuclear Man was canceled abruptly at issue #5, after the introduction of the Hyena (#4) and the return of Multiplex (#5). A sixth issue was already nearly complete by the time the cancellation news came down, featuring the introduction of another new villain, Typhoon, and can be read right here online. The sixth issue's cover just turned up recently, and according to an interview with Gerry Conway, the never-written seventh issue's villain, "The Reptile Man," actually got recycled and became the Batman villain, Killer Croc. (There's a DC trivia bit for you!)
Firestorm lends the Flash a hand. From The Flash #293, cover by George Perez.

The series wasn't quickly forgotten, and soon Firestorm appeared alongside Superman in DC Comics Presents #17 (the company's answer to Marvel Team-Up). A few months later, Superman sponsored the Nuclear Man for membership in the Justice League of America with #179 of that series. Both these appearances, of course, were written by Firestorm co-creator Gerry Conway. Firestorm continued as a member of the Justice League (but I confess I only own #179). A few months later still, he made his grand reappearance in a regular feature all his own--that is, as the second feature in The Flash between issues 289 and 304. The series began by solving the worst crisis in the series' early run, having Ronnie reveal the secret of Firestorm to Professor Stein, which smartly also brought any readers who hadn't read the first series up to date. The stories continued in eight-page increments, illustrated by the likes of George Perez, Jim Starlin, Denys Cowan, and Pat Broderick. Aside from Stein learning his secret identity, the books are worthwhile only for the reworked first appearance of Typhoon (in #294-296) and the second Hyena story (#301-304), which established her identity as Ronnie's girlfriend's sister, Summer Day.

Firestorm graduates to his second series. Cover by Pat Broderick & Dick Giordano.

More noteworthy than these plot points was Firestorm's increased popularity, which enabled Conway and artist Broderick to re-launch a regular series, this time titled The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Man, with its first issue cover-dated June of 1982. This is the series that really made me enjoy Pat Broderick's art. His style was very dynamic and provided just the right amount of detail. Gerry Conway was really having fun with the stories, too, introducing one player in the first issue who'd come to mean a lot to Firestorm to this day: Lorraine Reilly, daughter of Senator Walter Reilly. Upon meeting Firestorm, she develops quite the crush on him, which is made more interesting by the fact that she's in college while Ronnie is in high school--not to mention Ronnie already has a girlfriend in Doreen.

I'd really love to go in-depth on Conway's tenure on the book, but with several entries left to go, I'm afraid I'll have to give everyone the highlight reel. Here are a few storylines and ideas that are high points of The Fury of Firestorm up through the time John Ostrander took over:

  • Fury of Firestorm #7: The first appearance of the super-villainess Plastique, who for a brief time was Mrs. Captain Atom, is chiefly noteworthy for the way Firestorm gets out of the predicament on the cover. I'll say this: never have Firestorm's atomic restructuring powers been put to better use! File this one under "seen to be believed."
  • Fury of Firestorm #10-13: After the first few issues of the series, Conway and Broderick really kicked in high gear with this four-part storyline. The Hyena never enjoyed such exposure before or since. The idea of were-hyenas is pretty out there, even for Firestorm, but this storyline made it work so well, it's not surprising nobody stepped up and put the Hyena in the spotlight since. Summer Day's back in town, along with the doctor who "cured" her of the curse of the Hyena, Dr. Jivan Shi...but then, why is the Hyena prowling around? The arc hits all the major bases and even has Firestorm suffering from the curse at one point, which must be seen to be believed. The cliffhanger from #12 into #13 is ridiculous fun. This multi-part storyline is a true underappreciated gem.
  • Fury of Firestorm #14-18 & Annual #1: Did someone say "underappreciated"? Whereas the last arc was just a good Firestorm story, this storyline is, simply put, the most important Firestorm story since the origin, with ripples that echo down to Stuart Moore's Firestorm tales from the 2004 series. There's so much payoff from longstanding plot nuggets, like the full story of the Shine family and how it relates to the Raymond family; the introduction of Henry Hewitt and his recruitment of Multiplex in a scheme to take down Firestorm; and most importantly, the development of Lorraine Reilly through her metamorphosis into Firehawk. Sadly, artist Pat Broderick took his leave of the series midway through this arc, but classic artist George Tuska would fill in ably before the debut of new series artist Rafael Kayanan. With inker Rodin Rodriguez staying on board for the duration, the transition went smoothly.
  • Fury of Firestorm #20-21, 33-36: I group these two storylines together because they have similaries, in their co-star status for Firehawk, and the villain shared in both is Killer Frost. It's true, the first Killer Frost perishes in the first storyline and a new one replaces her in the second, but these are overall two very powerful arcs. Add in the superhero soap caused by the Firestorm/Firehawk relationship, and it's all terrific. The only weak link in the run here is in the latter issues, with Rafael Kayanan's pencils totally lost behind Alan Kupperberg's strong inking style. (Thankfully Ian Akin & Brian Garvey came aboard shortly thereafter, making Kayanan's art look strong as ever.)
  • Fury of Firestorm #40: Graduation day arrives for Ronnie Raymond, and with it a longstanding subplot comes to a head. Does the merger really stop when Ronnie and the Professor fission? If so, then how did a C+ student like Ronnie ace all his final exams? A fun little story with an ingenious solution that gets the nuclear hero closer to that move to Pittsburgh.
  • Fury of Firestorm #45-47 & Blue Devil #23: Multiplex returns with a team of Firestorm's greatest nemeses. It's a good thing Blue Devil's on the case too! A good little story with artwork by George Tuska and new regular artist Joe Brozowski.
  • Fury of Firestorm #50: In the last tale illustrated by the amazing Rafael Kayanan, a number of long-running sub-plots come to a head, including the reasons behind the resolution of a lawsuit against ol' Flamehead by Felicity Smoak, the woman who becomes Mrs. Ed Raymond in this issue. (Yes, it's pretty close to being just what you think.) Behind the Denys Cowan cover with the ugly, plain new series logo lurks another solid story that addresses Ronnie's father's past and his intriguing connection with the World War II hero, Captain X. Plus, something happens with Cliff Carmichael that really puts him in his place.
Issue #53 of The Fury of Firestorm was Conway's last, with the development of the key plot point that would inform John Ostrander's tenure: Martin Stein's brain tumor. Nobody really knows where Conway was going with that particular idea, but it's certain that he never intended all of the very radical changes Ostrander introduced. It really felt like he told most if not all the Firestorm stories he intended to tell, and I'm not really sure what other ideas he could have brought to the table if he'd stayed on board. I would've been anxious to see any return by Firehawk in the series, in light of her heavy involvement throughout the #20s-30s. Everything I've written in the first three sections of this feature follow here, with the return of Firehawk, the introduction of the Post-Crisis Parasite, the new incarnation of Firestorm, and the ongoing mystery of Killer Frost. Finally, we're ready to go forward, out of back-issue land.

Next: An in-depth examination of Firestorm's appearances between the end of his second regular series and the beginning of his third. Yes, friends, that means Extreme Justice, The Power Company, and something about a Green Lantern robot. Stay tuned!



Evolution in Silver: An Interview with Greg Pak!

Today, I have a special treat for all my readers! Over at Jameson Lee's  Daily P.O.P. website is my newest interview, with Silver Surfer writer GREG PAK! This one's been in development for a while, but it's well worth it. Not only will you see an in-depth look at Pak's love for the silver-skinned alien, but you'll also thrill to ALL-NEW EXCLUSIVE ART from the second issue by Harvey Tolibao!

Click on the picture above and go to the Daily P.O.P. now!



Down to Earth: Silver Surfer #1 - A Review

Big news! Very soon, you'll be thrilling to my brand-new interview with writer Greg Pak, who is busy up to his eyeballs in work, but not so much he couldn't chat it up with me about one of his many new projects. In the meantime, here's the review that's been, well, a few hours in the making, at least.

Silver Surfer #1

Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Stephen Segovia & Victor Olazaba
Colorist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Production: Mayela Gutierrez
Assistant Editor: John Denning
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The Silver Surfer is one of Marvel Comics' most beloved heroes, rife with philosophical possibilities. After spending the first two decades of his creation marooned on Earth behind a barrier erected by his master, the planet-devouring Galactus, his adventures have spanned the cosmos entire. He's been a part of many crossover events, from Jim Starlin, George Perez and Ron Lim's Infinity Gauntlet (and its sequels, The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade) to the Annihilation and Thanos Imperative series of more recent vintage. Most recently, he and his master helped save the whole universe from the Chaos King in Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente and Khoi Pham's epic Chaos War. In the aftermath, with Galactus depleted more than ever, the Surfer leaves him to heal in our Sun, and once more finds himself drawn toward the planet to which he'd previously been exiled. What surprises will await him there?

Having heard what an enormous Silver Surfer fan writer Greg Pak was, I'd been aching to see him land this gig for some time. It's telling that when Pak first started writing that other, emerald-green hero he so adores, the first big-name guest-star he brought in was the Surfer (in Incredible Hulk #95, and later again in Skaar, Son of Hulk #7-10). In addition, as the former owner of a huge Silver Surfer collection myself, well, I may be a bit more critical than most. I love the character and nothing would make me happier than to see him headline a new, regular series. But first, he must survive a trial--in more ways than one.

I'm quite pleased to say that upon first glance, Pak seems well-suited to telling tales of the alien Surfer. That's really what he is, too: an alien, an outsider, looking at humanity from another viewpoint, able to exist among them but never being one of them. Thanks to Galactus (and special kudos to Pak for bringing this point back to the surface), the Surfer is disconnected from the crippling emotions associated with leading his master to world after world upon which he would feed. He's also disconnected from humanity in that he does not possess our frailty, and in fact is possessed of incalculable power--power to rise above it all. Wisely, Pak involves the Surfer in a conflict between a young couple and a group of soldiers. The scene works to show the Surfer's benevolent personality even as Pak sets up the thrust of the entire arc with the arrival of a certain supervillain possessed of both amazing intellect and power. (And I don't have to tell you who it is if you've looked at the cover!) The Surfer and the villain have only met once before--back in the first Silver Surfer Annual--so it's going to be fascinating indeed how the two get on in future issues of this story. But if this issue's cliffhanger ending is any judge, I'd wager "not well."

Relative newcomer Stephen Segovia handles the art chores for this issue, and sadly I can't lavish nearly the number of compliments on his work. Although the few action scenes are frenetic with detail, the story falls apart in the quieter moments. Segovia's faces and figure work don't look nearly natural enough. The High Evolutionary's arrival late in the story is especially problematic, with the perspective and relative sizes of the other characters making him look absolutely gigantic. Most troublesome of all was the final page, which should look dramatic with its cliffhanger, but thanks to some strange anatomy it doesn't quite sell the mood Pak was likely hoping for. I do hope the artwork improves in future issues, and with the arrival of Harvey Tolibao to divide up the labor beginning next month, I believe it will.

So, what do we have in the latest first issue of the Silver Surfer? An intriguing start that rings true to the Surfer's world, brought to life with flourish by a creator who clearly loves the character. The art may not be perfect, but the story more than sells the book by itself. If you're a fan of cosmic-level superheroics, you could do a whole lot worse than checking out Greg Pak and Stephen Segovia's new adventure featuring the Sentinel of the Spaceways!

Silver Surfer #1 is now on sale at comic shops everywhere for the low, low price of $2.99 USD. To find a store near you, call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK or visit http://www.comicshoplocator.com.


Breaking Rule #1 of Punisher Fans (Or, You Don't Talk About Franken-Castle)

I am not a Punisher fan.

At least, not in the traditional sense.

I don't expect the above statement to be a surprise to many of you, but I'll explain nonetheless. I enjoy my comic protagonists with a touch of the supernatural about them or their adventures, and with precious little exception, the Punisher has neither. To me, he's a guy with a huge arsenal, giving payback to criminals for killing his family, times a million. Oh, sure, I read a decent enough sampling of his stories to secure my opinion, from the Gerry Conway/Ross Andru Amazing Spider-Man stories that introduced him (as reprinted in Marvel Tales), to the Steven Grant/Mike Zeck limited series (reprinted in the short-lived B&W Marvel magazine), to the Mike Baron/Klaus Janson/Whilce Portacio regular series when I was a li'l comics fan. Of course, I've picked up "Welcome Back, Frank" and I've seen all three films. I even read the John Ostrander/Tom Lyle series from the mid-1990s. But really, the only times when I have truly enjoyed the character were when, well, he wasn't quite himself.

You Punisher fans out in the audience are rolling your eyes, right? You know what it means, and it doesn't start and end with Franken-Castle. It means I liked seeing Frank Castle shot full of too much melanin in the ridiculous "I Am Punisher (Black)" storyline (with apologies to Chris Sims and his blog for borrowing that title). It means when Marvel Knights started off with the Punisher committing suicide and being brought back to Earth as an angel with a gun, I was right there with bells on. (Please, Marvel trade department, if you're reading: it isn't too late to solicit a Premiere hardcover collecting both limited series featuring this pre-Ennis status quo!)

And I oh so loved the newest iteration of the Punisher in Franken-Castle, a fact for which I shall eternally curse the names of writer Rick Remender and his merry band of henchmen, er, artists, Tony Moore, Dan Brereton, Roland Boschi and Jefte Palo. (Okay, so I also have to give Dark Wolverine's Dan Way, Marjorie Liu, Stephen Segovia and Paco Diaz their due.)

When I first heard that the Punisher would be killed and brought back as a Frankenstein analogue, I had a good, hard belly laugh. Then I heard about how the Hood was bringing back all kinds of old bad guys to face Frank, and how Frank's wife and kids were brought back to life--right before he commanded one of those old bad guys, Firebrand, to "[t]orch 'em." It sounded so over-the-top, yet there were supernatural elements in play I couldn't resist. I pre-ordered all the "Dark Reign: The List" one-shots before this, but the Remender/Romita Jr. story sealed the deal in all its gory glory. There was just no way I wasn't ordering both the Dark Reign and Dead End collections, and then diving headlong into the monstrosity that was...well, you know.

The story is totally over-the-top in all the ways that count, and is truly all the better for it. You just know the shots of Daken hacking off Frank's body parts and kicking them over the side of a building would never have made it into a code-approved Marvel comic--heck, I'm not sure those images would have made it into any Marvel comic until recently. Yet here they are, and the story only gets more audacious from there. Frank gets stitched up by one of my favorite Marvel monsters, Morbius the Living Vampire (looking eerily emaciated, the truest weak spot in the book's otherwise terrific art design). He becomes as monstrous in appearance as others believe he is inside, learning as he begrudgingly becomes a protector for this legion of monsters under New York City that just because they may look like monsters, that doesn't mean they act like monsters. In particular, there's a touching moment in issue #12 between Frank and a little Moloid. (You can find an animated version of the sequence online, here.) What can I say, I'm a sucker for sentimentality.

Punisher Shorts from Kai Wang on Vimeo.

Along the journey, Rick Remender shows the breadth of his knowledge of monstrous things in the Marvel Universe, giving guest-shots not only to Morbius, but also Jack Russell, the Werewolf By Night; N'Kantu, the Living Mummy (from Supernatural Thrillers); the Manphibian (from the Legion of Monsters magazine); the Man-Thing; Vlad Dracula; and even some of the creatures from Monster Isle, including the Mole Man's creature off the cover to Fantastic Four #1. The monsters stand united against Captain Robert Hellsgaard, a 19th-Century man whose family had been turned by a werewolf. Hellsgaard had to kill his own family, but no one believed his reasons, so he went rogue, allying himself with the immortal monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone until Dracula threw Hellsgaard into a portal to Limbo the hunter had created, ironically to send monsters there. Many decades later, Hellsgaard escaped and renewed his quest to rid the world of monsters by any means necessary. The hunter is in many ways an analogue to Frank himself and his attitude toward criminals. Thankfully, Frank doesn't see his current situation as black-and-white as Hellsgaard, and defeats him and his group of Japanese monster-killers, saving the Legion of Monsters nearly at the cost of his own life (again).

I don't want to spoil every surprise, so I'll just say that after the Hellsgaard story arc that runs in issues #11-16, Frank finds himself saved by the very same artifact Hellsgaard himself was after, the Bloodstone. The series returns to its crime roots, at the same time giving hints toward the future (or rather, the current Punisher arc, In the Blood). Of course, the storyline couldn't be complete without a rematch between Frank 2.0 and Daken, this time in a four-issue brawl that is well worth the price of admission. (Even if I think Daken really should have paid for what he did to Frank with his life, well, this is serial fiction, so he must live on. Boo.) The whole shebang concludes in a locale that is as remote as it is apt, in a one-off storyline with perhaps the best art of the entire arc. Dan Brereton of The Nocturnals fame does some incredibly rare Marvel work here, and together with his brief work on the origin of Hellsgaard in #14, it's just a revelation seeing him work. (Another note to Marvel: Brereton. Hulk. Now. Thanks.) The storyline ends doing something miraculous for the Frank Castle character, quite literally revitalizing him for a new generation. Those who wonder how a guy whose early life and origin is pretty firmly rooted in the Vietnam War can be as spry as Frank and can challenge the mobsters and super-villains he does, well, question henceforth answered.

So, those who like the Punisher? If you're a fan of the gritty realism that has become the character's trademark, you probably hate this storyline as much as, if not more than, Chris Golden and Tom Sniegoski's Angel Punisher arcs. If you like Frank Castle's core personality and are interested in how he adapts to an admittedly macabre situation, then this book might pique your interest. If you're like me and enjoy monsters of all sorts, and love when beloved characters are thrown in a blender and given a good, albeit temporary shake-up, you'll probably find Franken-Castle too good to pass up.

Punisher: Franken-Castle is now available in oversize hardcover from Marvel Comics. The softcover edition will be available April 27th, but why wait? Treat yourself. It's only five bucks more.

And for what it's worth, seeing that shiny new status quo at the end of this story makes me want to buy Punisher: In the Blood when the collected edition finally hits. Damn you, Remender. Damn you to...someplace warm and cozy,



Cracking the Internet in Half, Inside Out, Upside Down & Sideways: Incredible Hulks #622, Reviewed

Have I been blogging entirely too much? It's crazy that I actually have to shuffle things around and prioritize what I want to talk about. I love talking comics, although certainly other non-comics things are on their way. (What, you think I put that new image at the top of the blog for my health?) The Hulk, however, remains my bread and butter, so now, without further ado, my review of an issue which has ignited the fires in many a Hulk fan's breast (and yes, the fact "fan" is really short for "fanatic" is something I'm especially aware of granted the responses I've seen).

The Incredible Hulks #622
"God Smash," Conclusion

Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Paul Pelletier, Danny Miki & Crimelab Studios
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Production: Irene Lee
Assistant Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Well, here it is! The moment you've all been waiting for! In order to make perceived wrongs right, the Hulk takes the fight to the newly-reborn Greek Pantheon of gods. And because the Hulk is The Strongest One There Is, he won't be denied, and during a truly epic battle he pummels the Skyfather himself, Zeus, finally making him accede to his wishes. Zeus decides to see things the Hulk's way, returning Rick to human form and curing Betty of the insanity that afflicts her as Red She-Hulk. The only catch is he's cursed to be the Hulk forever. Bruce Banner exists no more.

I totally had you up to that heartbreaking idea of a cliffhanger, didn't I? Then again, if the story really did go anything like the above summary, Hulk fans wouldn't be in the middle of a Hulk-sized hissy fit, and Thor fans wouldn't be gloating like crazy while proclaiming their guy has better showings against higher gods. And yet, to this reader, the way the story went is pretty much the only way it could.

Writer Greg Pak took a lot of flak from much of the Marvel fanbase during World War Hulk, where many saw the Hulk and his Warbound companions' victories over various heroes as the result of "jobbing," which is to say Hulk & co. are made to look good at the expense of more skilled (which is to say, more popular) characters. Interviews, including those taken by this very blogger, indicate Pak certainly has a high opinion of the Hulk. He's loved the character for years and certainly knows his way around his history, with repeated references to Jarella and other oft-ignored bits of Hulkish trivia.

Pitting the Hulk against the Skyfather Zeus in this story, then, tests Pak's mettle as a true storyteller, as well as puts him between the proverbial rock and a hard place--at least, among fans who care about who's strongest and who can beat the excrement out of whom. If the Hulk beats Zeus, then, holy crap, the Hulk really must be the strongest one there is, and every other superhero out there can suck it. On the other hand, if the Hulk is beaten by Zeus, then there is just no justice in the world, and every Hulk fan assembled should scream bloody murder and call for the immediate replacement of Pak as Hulk writer, because that's not the way we roll.

Yeah, that was sarcasm. Could you tell?

The Hulk and Banner foolishly expect that Zeus would just grant them a boon, but Zeus has never been the most levelheaded of gods. He remembers their previous encounter (and say, is this book one of the only ones to use starred references to other issues anymore?) and decides to show the Hulk a lesson he won't soon forget. The battle that follows is brutal and bloody with a predestined end reminiscent of Peter David's Hulk: The End. Although engaging Zeus in battle, make no mistake: this Hulk would die if it meant happier times for his family. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work in such simplistic terms.

The story this outing works better than in the previous chapter in spite of the preordained outcome. Although many will argue the point, the Hulk just isn't in the same league as Zeus and shouldn't be treated as such. The Hulk's simplistic desires clash with Zeus' equally simplistic view of humanity, and both parties really come away as losers when the dust clears. Pak's script makes these developments clear, and to me at least, it's a relief that the winner wasn't the guy whose name is on the front of the book.

As strong as the ideas behind the story are sound, it's the art that is a small letdown this issue, and once again, just like in "Dark Son," I'm afraid I can only blame the stepped-up twice-a-month schedule of the book. Although Paul Pelletier's pencils are always a joy to see, and Danny Miki usually delivers some great inkwork, this issue's artwork seemed rushed in both line and color. Thankfully, the pages that needed the strongest visual "punch"--those showcasing the Hulk's battle with Zeus--are spot-on, but most of the rest, particularly the pages featuring the Hulk's family and their coming to his rescue, are lackluster. I hope to see a stronger effort next time we see Pelletier and Miki on board, whenever that may be. Perhaps shorter stints by the artists in question, or more lead time between arcs, would improve the finished product.

So, the psychological journey of the Hulk with his awesome responsibilities to his family continues. While not delivering a home run, Greg Pak and Paul Pelletier, et al, nonetheless provide another solid story arc with "God Smash." The Hulk must take the thornier path to salvation for his family after finding that he couldn't just punch and hit those more powerful than he into submission. I admit, I'm quite anxious to see what the humbled Hulk's next move will be, especially considering what metaphorical chickens are coming home to roost in this issue's epilogue that paves the way for the next arc, "Planet Savage."

A note in closing: I really must thank Marvel Comics this month, as for the first time since Christmas 2008, there's a Hulk book on the stands for $2.99USD. The backup stories may be gone, but I for one won't miss them. We're eight pages lighter, and the dollar back in our collective pockets is greatly appreciated. I hear Jeff Parker's Hulk series is next starting with issue #30.1 in March. I hope this confidence is reflected in forthcoming sales figures. (But, hey, how about a little advertising, Marvel? DC has their "Holding the Line" promotion. Put something big on the cover. Something!)

In two weeks: Welcome, Dale Eaglesham.


Xavier With Hair. Wacky Yellow Jumpsuits. Mutants. (X-Men: First Class Trailer!)

'Nuff said?


The Ever-Changing Lyra, Daughter of Hulk! (Among Other Things, a SHE-HULKS Review)

Hulk & Thundra in the shadow of their daughter, from All-New Savage She-Hulk. Art by Alex Garner.
I daresay the Hulk-related portion of the Marvel Universe has exploded over the last few years. We've had She-Hulk get her own book again, then it got canceled. Then in the wake of World War Hulk came an arguable spinoff, Incredible Hercules, followed quickly by the introduction of Red Hulk, then the return of the Incredible Hulk, and some other series here and there centered around events like "Fall of the Hulks" and "World War Hulks."

Unfortunately, with the market being what it is ("unhealthy" is a bit of an understatement--sort of like all of print media) the line is due for contraction. The first casualty in these matters appears to be Lyra, the Hulk's daughter from a future timeline. Since her introduction in Hulk: Raging Thunder, where the Hulk first met Thundra and she scraped his cheek for DNA, she's been featured prominently in no less than three limited series of no more than four issues apiece. She's had some jarring status quo changes, and now it appears, barring a real outpouring of fan support, she'll be relegated to Greg Pak's Incredible Hulks series (not that it's a bad place, necessarily), if not altogether forgotten. But is it a real shame to see Lyra's star falling, or is it more a mercy killing? Before fandom en masse attacks me for that last comment, let's examine her brief history:

Hulk: Raging Thunder - Hulk, as we know, is Marvel's original man-monster, "the strongest one there is." This fact attracts Thundra, a warrior-woman from a future matriarchal society. In her era, men and women live separately and war with each other. The men are sterile from radiation exposure, and both sexes only survive through human parthenogenesis. Thundra travels to our present with the intent of conceiving an heir. Only one born of superior stock, she rationalizes, can have a hope of succeeding her when she grows too old to ably serve the United Sisterhood Republic. This means a fundamental change from the last several generations, in that her daughter will have both a mother and a father.

In the back of the All-New Savage She-Hulk #1, writer Jeff Parker mentions that it was his original intention to have the Hulk and Thundra actually sleep together to create Lyra, but that this idea got "downgraded to scraping cells from [the Hulk's] cheek." Page twenty, without the dialogue in later panels, can even be interpreted with the former explanation. True, the change could have come because editors thought Thundra wouldn't "sully herself" by direct contact (even though, in main continuity, Thundra had been involved with Arkon, if indeed this was not a divergent Thundra). It's more likely the decision had something to do with Jeph Loeb's Ultimate Hulk Annual, in which the Ultimate universe's Hulk slept with the Squadron Supreme's Zarda.

The first appearance of the then-unnamed Lyra, from Hulk: Raging Thunder #1.
Regardless of the decisions behind the as-yet unnamed daughter of Hulk's creation, it's revealed at the end of the story that she was the narrator of the entire story, with her "present" being established as twenty years after Thundra's return from meeting the Hulk. She is a conqueror, taking back the male-inhabited lands of this divergent future while her mother serves elsewhere. In her mind, males won't stop fighting until they all die off, a fact she doesn't fret over. She thinks once all men are gone and their atrocities forgotten by generations of women, that "maybe those women will decide that the Y chromosome can return to the world." She seems dignified and mature as well as battle-hardened.

"Daughter of Hulk" (from Hulk Family) - This brief vignette by Paul Tobin and Benton Jew showcases the again-unnamed Lyra in battle alongside her friend Nella, and explores the world of the men of the 23rd Century via Lyra's infiltration of one of their parthenogenesis facilities. The story also reinforces the dynamic that Lyra is different from her sisters in that she is the only one with a father. Just as she can be seen then as the inverse of a messianic figure, she can also then be seen as a devil of sorts, corrupted by the male species by virtue of her lineage. This story paves the way for what follows...

All-New Savage She-Hulk - After two stories, it's finally in the third story that writer Fred Van Lente gives our heroine a name. In the back pages of the first issue, Van Lente attributes the name to the protagonist in the 1971 story "The Femizons" from Savage Tales #1 by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. He dramatically shifts the narrative of the Daughter of Hulk for the first time (but not the last) by having her follow her mother's path, time-traveling to "our" present during Marvel's "Dark Reign" umbrella event, wherein Norman Osborn rose to power and oversaw many security initatives like H.A.M.M.E.R. and A.R.M.O.R. The latter agency, the Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response Agency, tracks Lyra's arrival on Earth-616 from Earth-9008. She abducts A.R.M.O.R. agent Alex Erde to use as a field guide on her mission to look for the time period's greatest hero, but soon encounters resistance in Jennifer Walters, the first She-Hulk, as well as Norman Osborn's officially sanctioned team, the Dark Avengers.

Van Lente makes some interesting alterations to Lyra beyond giving her a name, and the art, primarily by Peter Vale and Robert Atkins, provides the best vision of Lyra to date. She is charged with a mission by the Gynosure, ruler of Milago, to bring back technology that will allow them to again use the Cradle, the device that enables the parthenogenic processes that enable them to birth more women. To this end she is armed with Boudicca, an artificial intelligence she wears on her wrist like a watch. (Boudicca's commentary very often steals the show. It's a shame she's not still around...but I'm getting ahead of myself.) He also gives Lyra a weakness in, ironically enough, her anger, as the angrier Lyra becomes, the weaker she gets. Conversely, he also gives her "gamma vision," where she goes into a Zen-like trance and harnesses the gamma energy around her to perform superhuman feats.

Too much tongue? Lyra kisses Osborn, from All-New Savage She-Hulk #3.
In the final issue of the series, we finally discover the reason Lyra is tasked with meeting the era's greatest hero, who's stated to be Osborn himself: she is to collect his seed for the Gynosure, presumably to father another generation of women in the future. Interestingly, Lyra seems ready to collect the old-fashioned way, as A.R.M.O.R. notes that she's ovulating! Of course, she rejects those impulses, and rightly so, in the end teaming with Jennifer Walters to battle the Dark Avengers before teleporting away to A.R.M.O.R., where she becomes one of their field agents. Along the way, she discovers Boudicca has fulfilled their mission and left the processor the Gynosure needed in a location where it could be reached in the future. Hence, she is free to remain in the present. (Marvel now no longer seems to adhere to the principles of time travel set by Mark Gruenwald in the 1970s, else everything Lyra did since arriving would merely cause another divergence.)

A few more Van Lente-penned adventures of Lyra appear in back-up stories in Greg Pak's Incredible Hulk series from #600 through 605. In them, Lyra encounters the fruits of her meeting with Osborn, as he used her information about the future to set up the Origins Corporation, chaired by the Hulk's foe General Ryker and specializing in commoditizing superhuman powers. While trying to find the missing Jennifer Walters, she and Alex Erde are attacked by women with the powers of Zzzax, the Abomination, and the Glob. (This marks the fourth such woman imbued with the Abomination's powers--but that's a tale for another article!) Erde's unrequited love is cut short as Axon (the Zzzax analogue) causes the crash that leads to his death. Lyra swears revenge and kills two of the three women, while after her failure, Ryker gives the kill order for the third. She appears to be coming into her own as a She-Hulk, but that's before she's brought into the...
Lyra, from Fall of the Hulks: Savage She-Hulks #1 by Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic.
Fall of the Hulks: Savage She-Hulks - The next writer to handle Lyra is Jeph Loeb, in both Fall of the Hulks: Gamma (with artist John Romita Jr.) and Hulk #19 (with Ed McGuinness). As framed later in the three-issue tie-in to the main event by Lyra's co-creator Jeff Parker and Salva Espin, Lyra allies herself with the Intelligencia in order to attempt a rescue of Jennifer Walters, who has been their captive for several weeks. She mixes it up a few times with the Red She-Hulk, and even meets her mother, Thundra, who still hasn't returned to the future to allow the scientists to artificially inseminate her (or however their process worked). She becomes the fourth member of the Frightful Four, and while naked (!) defeats the Human Torch in battle, taking one of his 1970s-era red outfits to wear.
The Human Torch gets a fiery green eyeful. From Hulk #19, art by Ed McGuinness & Mark Farmer.

Lyra loses her companion Boudicca, destroying it (her?) to prove her loyalty to the Intelligencia, but its central processing unit is restarted remotely by Bruce Banner, who for the first time makes contact with his daughter (after learning about her in Fall of the Hulks: Red Hulk #1-2, also by Parker). During the siege of the Intelligencia's Hellcarrier, she makes a three-panel cameo in Incredible Hulk #608, meeting her half-brother Skaar (to whom she refers as "little brother") before Banner blasts her up "at least four levels" to rescue Jennifer. Jen accosts her over her opinion that Thundra "ran away" from her and hid in the 21st Century, confronting her with the truth that she nearly jeopardized her chances of being born. She also tells Lyra that, once the battles are finished, she will show her "what a normal life is supposed to be...and how wonderful it is," the earliest allusion to the upcoming She-Hulks series. After uniting with the Red She-Hulk, the three of them fight the legions of AIMarines-turned-Hulks as well as the Hulked-out heroes. Lyra records a message on the barely-functioning Boudicca and leaves it for Thundra to find in the future, telling her mother she is the greatest woman she has known.

The four-issue She-Hulks limited series, with covers by Ed McGuinness.
 She-Hulks - And that brings us to the post-"World War Hulks" portion of this entry, where writer Harrison Wilcox and artist Ryan Stegman (late of the ill-received Red She-Hulk back-ups from Incredible Hulk) contribute the most jarring changes to the young Lyra. That's the right describer, too: "young," as under Wilcox's pen, she becomes a teenager, molded to the role of a companion and "little sister" to Jennifer Walters, the original She-Hulk. Perhaps the shift is due to a stigma that's existed since Lyra's introduction; namely, the idea that she was introduced to eventually replace the original She-Hulk. It's a preposterous idea, certainly, as Jennifer has such deep roots in the Marvel Universe, as a solo hero as well as member of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, as well as being a peripheral Hulk cast member. Perhaps Marvel believed the safe middleground was to team the two titanesses together and establish them as a generation apart.

I'm going to loosely state, although I have no independent confirmation, that Lyra's supposed to be roughly sixteen years old during this series. The de-aging of Lyra to high school age creates some interesting problems in her treatment under previous writers, certainly--chief among them that whole "search for the greatest hero of the 21st Century so we can procure his seed, and oh, wait, I'm totally ovulating" storyline, which in revision nearly reaches a "Gwen Stacy in 'Sins Past'" level of yuck. That goes double for Johnny Storm, who burned Lyra's clothes off and then made juvenile comments while she was in the buff. These are the two most irritating examples, although there's certainly also the Stockholm Syndrome-esque developments between Alex Erde and Lyra in Incredible Hulk #601, all of which add up to the conclusion that Lyra wasn't originally intended to be, for want of a better term, Teen She-Hulk.

Mourning that perfect prom dress? Art by Ryan Stegman & Michael Babinski.

Lyra has been stripped of much of the accoutrement she had since her first appearance, as well as much of the rest of what defined her in those earlier stories, right up to Fall of the Hulks: Savage She-Hulks. Her military bearing, which should be obvious as having grown up around Thundra and her soldiers, is almost wholly absent, as is her complex attitude toward the opposite sex from being raised in a society where men and women are literally at war. Furthermore, thanks to S.P.I.N. Tech (Super-Power Inhibiting Nanobots), Lyra no longer grows weaker when she gets angry, and she now has a smaller, pink-skinned form invented just for this narrative. The onslaught of changes made to Lyra in such a short time really makes it apparent that the powers-that-be don't really know what to do with her character. Here, it's like Wilcox took that aforementioned idea of "Teen She-Hulk," partnered her up with Jen Walters, and then sparsely fit bits of Lyra's prior history in the narrative where they could fit. The Lyra of She-Hulks bears little, if any, resemblance to all of her earlier appearances.

The dynamic of She-Hulks again really reads like, well, exactly what you'd think a series about a Teen She-Hulk would. Lyra is largely the center of the narrative, as we follow her time in school, her being coached by Jen, and the talks between Bruce Banner and Jen about her. Jen acts as an aunt of sorts to young Lyra, having her attend high school at Bruce Banner's urgings. (See? That pink-skinned form comes in handy!) The two of them live in a sweet Manhattan apartment, and Bruce has charged them with capturing the remaining free members of the Intelligencia, solving some very important loose ends from the "World War Hulks" story. In fact, Bruce Banner and the Hulk have a substantial supporting role in the series, headquartered at Gamma Base and using funds from the Olympus Group to finance the women's missions. The base also houses a detention facility where the villains are held once the She-Hulks capture them.

The book's lighter tone aids in Lyra's likability, and she certainly needed some lightening up in the wake of, let's face it, some rather dark showings in her first dozen appearances. (Often the Boudicca unit served as comic relief in the earlier series, as counterpoint to Lyra's "straight woman.") You might be thinking, "Having been transported to this new time period where she isn't surrounded by all the war and gender politics, why wouldn't Lyra lighten up?" It's a fair point, and one I'm sure the creators had in mind when developing this series. The original point of creating a second She-Hulk seemed to be making her different from the original, who had become something of a punchline in the Marvel Universe, with no one able to remove her from John Byrne's intimidating shadow. It becomes obvious why Lyra began as a warrior-woman. Apparently that paradigm didn't quite mesh, because now Lyra has lightened up and become absorbed into the first She-Hulk's world--humor, girl talk, boys and all. Again, quite literally, she's Teen She-Hulk, "Jen's li'l sis."

You're not the only one, Lyra. Art by Stegman & Babinski.

And I hate it. And I love it.

I didn't mean to suggest that the Wilcox/Stegman series isn't any good. It's actually an intensely pleasurable read if taken out of context of Lyra's earlier appearances. Yes, I know I spent six paragraphs disparaging the changes made to Lyra in this four-issue limited series, but it works and I can't explain why. She-Hulks is just a fun ride. Harrison Wilcox writes a fun interplay between Jennifer and Lyra, and his Bruce Banner and Hulk are on point. In addition, he's nailed the voices for all the villains. True, the final issue features an abrupt, forced message about tolerance and fearing that which people don't understand that seems more at home in an X-Men book than a Hulk one. Overall, Wilcox hits more than he misses.

Furthermore, if one creator had a real "breakout moment" in this series, it must be Ryan Stegman. The man needs a high-profile gig, as his work here with inker Michael Babinski is just tremendous. He's grown by Hulk-sized leaps and bounds since working on the aforementioned Red She-Hulk backup stories. I mean, take a look at this:

Yes, I want to buy this page and frame it. Alas, a blogger's salary...! Stegman & Babinski FTW!

This was only page two of the first issue, and the piece shows that Stegman just gets it. His pages are clear and action-packed. If he wasn't having fun drawing all four issues, he certainly fooled me. The fun factor comes through on nearly every page. Wilcox's script is filled with "big" moments and every time he's asked, Stegman delivers, whether it's the Hulk catching the She-Hulks' Gamma Jet, or the She-Hulks fleeing an avalanche, or fighting the Wizard in an awesome double-page spread filled with bikini-clad women. His facial expressions are a delight, as well. In short, Stegman's fun, energetic, and expressive style fits the She-Hulks to a T, and I'd really love to see him on another project--whether it be more She-Hulks or something else--in the not-too-distant future.

What are the chances of seeing a second volume of She-Hulks? I can see Marvel's cautiousness in this volatile market, in wondering if this series would truly find an audience. Initially solicited as an ongoing series, evidently orders weren't as high as Marvel had hoped, and news broke on Diamond's weekly shipping list that the book had been changed to four issues. (It wasn't until the last issue was solicited in Marvel Previews that the company publicly acknowledged the series was scaled back.) It didn't help that the first issue was priced at $3.99 (although subsequent issues were all $2.99). The backdoor cancellation announcement probably doomed the series in retailers' eyes, although luckily for fans, only the last issue showed any hint that the book was in fact a limited series. (Why luckily? Fans who don't read solicitations likely thought the series was ongoing, and somewhere in my messed-up mind, I like to think fans wanted to settle in for a long haul.) Sadly, the book received anemic pre-orders, with only 18,616 copies of the first issue distributed according to Diamond. Subsequent sales figures confirm that the series only fell from there, with a 21% drop in December, and another 12% in January, where orders were at an abysmal 12,926 copies. We can only hope that the book sells out at the retailer level, and the inevitable trade paperback collection is heavily ordered, otherwise we may never see another Hulk-based series that's this fun. Or, more likely, we'll see yet another revision of Lyra, and probably Jen Walters as well...again, not as fun.

After my initial resistance to the core concept of She-Hulks, I have to say I greatly enjoyed the finished product and hope more adventures of Lyra and Jen are on the horizon. It's a case of so-so ideas with incredible execution. However, it's going to take more than Jen's magic cure-all, a cup of hot cocoa, to get this duo to see another day...

Hot cocoa can cure a lot, but can it get us She-Hulks volume 2? More Stegman & Babinski.

'Nuff said,


From the Marvel Vault: Dr. Strange!

Original art from Doctor Strange: From the Marvel Vault #1 by Neil Vokes & Jay Geldhof.
Today's treat is something I honestly thought would never see the light of day in an actual Marvel comic! When I got my shipment of last week's comics from Discount Comic Book Service, I'd all but forgotten that Marvel was finally releasing the Roger Stern/Neil Vokes/Jay Geldhof collaboration on Doctor Strange, once meant to be published in the abruptly-canceled Marvel Universe series. This piece has a special place in my heart, as it was the very first original art page I'd ever bought (never mind that it was, to that point, never published in an actual book). It must have been a good ten years ago that I bought this page from Mr. Vokes at the Pittsburgh Comicon in Monroeville, PA. What a delicious surprise, many years later, to find this page finally printed in a comic!

The story by Roger Stern (with plot assist by Joe Edkin) is a real hoot, telling all about how Doc first found the spooky old house that would become his Sanctum Sanctorum at 177A Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. (In reality, the address was that of an apartment shared in the 1960s by Marvel alums Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich.) No self-respecting Doc fan should be without it. Pick it up today!

Cover by Mario Alberti.



Apropos of nothing, some changes around here!

Howdy gang!

If you're visiting this site today, February 8th, or anytime thereafter, you're going to notice some changes around here--and what you see up on top of the page is just the beginning! At the risk of injury from patting myself on the back, the above graphic comes courtesy of yours truly. I thought it was time for a nice, dynamic logo instead of straight text. I think it says what this site is about rather ably, how about you? And yes, before you ask: the books, CDs, DVDs, comics--they're all mine. Every last one. I'm thinking of holding some kind of contest to give something really nifty to anybody who can identify every item in my new logo picture. Well, start those guesses rolling in, if you like. Meanwhile, hey, there's popular culture to be discussed! Onward!