Sandman Deluxe Edition Book One

This is a review of The Sandman Deluxe Edition: Book One. I picked up the first two dozen issues of this title 30+ years ago, and then took a hiatus from reading comics. That was an interesting time in my life. But hey, who gives a shit, how’s the book?

WARNING: SPOILERS!

Pretty great, actually. Writing these fun reviews, I talk a lot about titles finding their legs. The Sandman comes flying out of the gate. The plot: Sandman, aka Morpheus, aka Dream, is captured in 1916 by a bunch of weirdo cultists who want to trap his sister Death. Dream is  imprisoned in a bubble for seventy years, and when he gets out his realm is a mess and he’s powerless.

The first story arc has Dream regain his objects of power, helmet, ruby, bag of sand. This involves John Constantine, a jaunt to Hell, and a duel with a demon. Dream meets a former lover in Hell – and it turns out he’s the one who sent her there. High quality stuff.

The Doctor Destiny (Dee) storyline is when things go off the rails. As a supervillain, Doctor Dee is nothing special. He uses Dream’s ruby to manifest nightmares. Here, Doctor Dee escapes from Arkham Asylum, picks up a woman at gunpoint, and has her drive him to the storage facility where his (Dream’s) ruby is stored. Dee and the woman talk on the way; they seem to bond. Thus, when he kills her it comes as a nasty surprise.

The next issue is even worse – or even better, depending on whether you’re a horror fan. The plot screeches to a halt as Doctor Dee torments and kills six people in a diner, a grindhouse of horror. The creative team rubs our faces in it, and then in the next issue the plot resumes and Dream gets his powers back. Consider this a warning…Sandman is a fantasy comic, but it is also horror – and many of these issues contain strong content that might be tough to read. I like horror, and I almost dropped Sandman from my pull list after the diner issue.

The second storyline involves Dream tracking down four stragglers from his realm, a serial killer convention, and a girl called Rose, who is something called a Dream Vortex. Rose is looking for her little brother, who is chained up in a basement by a pair of nasty customers. The focus of the story is more on Rose than Dream, a good choice. Honestly, Dream has no idea what makes mortals tick, which doesn’t make him the most relatable of characters. It also helps lead to his ultimate downfall, so nice foreshadowing there! The first storyline is tied to the DC Universe, the second becomes unmoored – not entirely, but this is when Dream and the DC Universe begin to part ways.

Anyway: you should read this.

Marvel Masterworks The Avengers Volume One

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Vol. 1. I won’t bother explaining the Avengers, because everyone on earth has seen the movies. Instead I’ll talk about how it takes four issues for this title to find its legs. The first three issues aren’t great, but perhaps the creative team was figuring things out on the fly. The first issue introduces the team – Giant Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor, and The Hulk – who band together to fight Loki, Thor’s evil step-brother. The Hulk quits next issue. I can’t recall the details, but it involves the Space Phantom impersonating various Avengers.

The Hulk sticks around for a few more issues, fighting alongside frenemy The Sub-Mariner and then aiding his former team against The Lava Men, and then he’s gone. The Hulk’s colors are green and purple, which are villainous (see: Kang the Conqueror) – make of that what you will. In this volume, he’s written as a carbon copy of the pissed-off Thing (see: first volume of The Fantastic Four).

The Hulk isn’t a good fit for The Avengers, but have no fear! Help is on the way when all-purpose villain Sub-Mariner unwittingly frees Captain America from a block of ice in the fourth issue. The title picks up when Cap joins the Avengers. Reading these issues, it’s obvious that Captain America was a favorite of the creative team. He’s a dynamic presence, and injects much-needed life into the title.

The newly formed Avengers fight The Masters of Evil, led by Captain America villain Baron Zemo, whose mask has been super-glued to his face. Thor villains The Enchantress & The Executioner check in next, along with Kang the Conqueror and Immortus, who are the same person. We also meet future member Wonder Man, who betrays and then saves the team.

Comparing this book to the first volume of the Justice League of America is an interesting exercise. The Avengers are less powerful than the JLA, but they act more like real people. They bicker all the time, and have personalities, and are thus a lot more interesting. Unlike other Marvel superteams of that era, The Avengers doesn’t have much in the way of a creative direction – the Fantastic Four are a family, the X-Men are outcasts – but it’s still a fun read.

Justice League of America The Silver Age: Vol. 1

This volume collects the first twelve appearances of the Justice League of America. I’ll start by saying that the title is wrong, as the League consists of two aliens from outer space (Superman & the Martian Manhunter), an Amazon (Wonder Woman), and the ruler of the undersea kingdom Atlantis (Aquaman). That’s right, half the team isn’t even American, but why quibble? The other members are! We’re talking The Flash, Batman, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow. There’s also honorary member Snapper Carr, a teenager who snaps his fingers and says things like Daddy-O because that’s how young people talked back then.

The Justice League of America fights alien conquerors, invaders from the future, mad scientists, and gangsters. Standout villains include Starro the Conquering Starfish, Amazo the Super Android, and Kanjar Ro, the would-be alien conqueror who channels Charles Atlas. Character development is minimal, but if you like your superhero comics with a heaping dose of pulpy science fiction you’ll enjoy this.

I myself don’t have a favorite issue, because the stories are all the same. Here’s the basic template: the League splits up to confront whatever new menace they are facing. Despite their superpowers they are captured, only to turn the tables on their captors. And then it’s on to the next adventure! I liked these stories – which are all one-shots – but they do blend together. I complained about the issues in the first volume of the X-Men all being the same, but this is even worse – or better, depending on your tastes.

Random observations: Superman and Batman barely appear in this volume. I think that’s because Superman and the Martian Manhunter have similar powers, and Batman has no powers at all. Batman doesn’t even have trick arrows like Green Arrow, who is way too clean-shaven. I like my Green Arrow with a bushy, fulsome beard! The Martian Manhunter looks like the Jolly Green Giant and uses his Martian super breath at least once an issue. They also give him new abilities (Martian eyebeams!), whenever the plot requires it. The less said about Snapper Carr, the better.

Bottom line: there are worst ways to kill a few hours.

Marvel Masterworks Daredevil: Volume One

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks Daredevil: Volume One. For those not in the know, Daredevil is a masked crimefighter who dresses up in a red devil costume and swings around town on a trick billy club, which he also uses to beat up muggers. Daredevil’s alter ego is Matt Murdock, attorney. His gimmick is enhanced senses – four of his senses are hypercharged and he has a ‘radar sense,’ like a bat. Daredevil got his powers when a barrel of toxic waste hit him in the face, blinding him but enhancing his other senses, thus continuing the Marvel tradition of radiation granting superpowers instead of cancer.

Unfortunately, the first two issues of Daredevil don’t come flying out of the gate. My biggest problem with the first issue is the tone. Reading Spider-Man’s origin story, it’s obvious that Uncle Ben’s death is one of the top three traumatic events in Peter Parker’s life – the other two being Gwen Stacy’s death and the death of his Aunt May, which led to Peter making a deal with the devil and retconning his marriage out of existence.

Or it might be Peter discovering that his arch-nemesis the Green Goblin had sex with the aforementioned Gwen Stacy when she was just a teenager, leading her to give birth to secret twins before the Green Goblin threw her off the Brooklyn Bridge. Years later, those babies grew up to become little Green Goblins who delighted in tormenting a 30-something Peter Parker (in 2023, Peter is now a decade or so younger). Or maybe it was the time Peter grew four more arms, or when he transformed into a lizard-man, or when he smacked his ex-wife in the face. All of which happened. Whatever. The point is, Uncle Ben’s death is shattering and forever changes the course of Peter’s life.

When Matt Murdock’s father is murdered in the first issue, he doesn’t react at all. His attitude is like, ‘welp, time to catch the gangsters who murdered my father.’ He actually kills the guy who murdered his dad, but does it in a sneaky way (heart attack), all the while musing how it’ll save the state the expense of a trial. Sounds like a guy I’d want as my lawyer!

The second issue wastes no time bringing in the guest stars, in this case The Thing of the Fantastic Four. The FF want Matt to do an inventory of the Baxter Building, even though he’s blind and can’t see anything. Coincidentally, Electro tries to rob the Baxter Building at the same time. Electro is a member of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery, another bad sign. It’s true that two heroes can share the same villain (read: The Kingpin), but it can also be a sign of desperation.

Long story short, Electro dumps Daredevil into a rocket and blasts him into space. Daredevil’s super senses enable him to reverse the rocket and land in Central Park. This is exciting when it’s happening, but falls apart when you think about it because Daredevil’s superpower isn’t piloting rocket ships. I also started to wonder why Electro didn’t just electrocute him or stick a knife in his ribs.

This graphic novel finds its legs in later issues, when we get appearances by other members of Daredevil’s rogue gallery, The Owl, The Purple Man, and Stilt-Man. Most of the villains are outright goofy, although The Purple Man is later retconned as a serial killer. There’s also a standout issue featuring the Sub-Mariner that’s the highlight of this volume. But my favorite villain is the Eel, whose superpower is lubing himself up so he slips out of people’s grasp.

Perhaps coincidentally, the addition of artist Wally Wood coincides with the jump in the quality of this graphic novel. Mr. Wood redesigns Matt’s costume, changing the canary yellow duds to the red devil outfit we’ve all come to love. He also gives us an in-depth diagram of Matt’s billy club/cane. I learned that Daredevil’s horns double as transmitters, which I didn’t know. You learn something new every day!

Matt Murdock’s personal life isn’t as interesting, featuring a puerile love triangle between Matt, his partner Foggy, and their secretary Karen Page. Matt and Karen are in love, but Matt doesn’t say anything because he can hear heartbeats and he knows Foggy is in love with Karen, and – in his words – that wouldn’t be right. Karen doesn’t say anything because she’s unsure if Matt loves her, which he doesn’t because they’ve never even dated. As far as I can see, the only person in the love triangle who acts like an actual adult is Foggy, who proposes to Karen. I mean, this is some teenager shit– which makes sense, because the book’s aimed at teenage boys.  

I can see Matt not wanting to crap where he eats, as the earthy old aphorism goes, but he’s the guiding light of the law firm. He doesn’t really need Foggy. I guess he doesn’t want to hurt his partner’s feelings? This is truly shocking, because modern Matt Murdock has been written as a horndog if not an outright misogynist. Here, he’s likable with an endearingly goofy rogue’s gallery. Bottom line: once this graphic novel finds its legs, its very good.

Flash: Savage Velocity

Ah, the 1980’s. MTV, Ronald Reagan, Rocky Balboa, The Terminator, Freddy Krueger, buddy cop movies, Pee Wee Herman, Jason Voorhees, Ollie North, contras. Sting, singing Russians. I could go on but I won’t, because boy oh boy the 80’s sucked but the decade did produce some great comics. Thus, when Comixology held their annual end of the year sale, I picked up a copy of this book. I read some – not all – of the issues back in the day, and wanted a complete collection. The writer, Mike Baron, produced a bunch of comics in the 80’s – Nexus, Badger, The Punisher – and of course The Flash.

First things first: this is a very different Flash. Barry Allen, temporarily dead, is replaced by his youthful sidekick Wally West. Wally has been depowered– he can’t break the sound barrier, has to eat two or three times the amount of a normal person, and passes out after he uses his super speed.

Wally himself is written like a 20-year old. An immensely privileged, stupid lucky 20-year old. He buys a lottery ticket and becomes a multi-millionaire. His mom moves in with him and he can’t bring himself to throw her out. His girlfriend is a decade older than him. She’s also married, and when her husband finds out he injects himself with a steroid that gives him super strength and speed and tries to kill Wally. As happens in superhero comics.

Other standout villains in this volume include Vandal Savage, a caveman who dresses like a French lord and designs a highly addictive drug that grants its users super speed. The Chunk is a human event singularity who must consume 47x his weight or implode. The people Chunk consumes are transported to an apocalyptic hellhole. Despite this, Chunk isn’t exactly Doctor Doom, and is written more as a misguided soul than a villain.

This is a nice run by Mike Baron, who only stuck around for 14 issues plus an annual. The issues move fast, pun intended, and there’s an endearing weirdness to the stories, most of which are inspired by the 1980’s – Max Headroom, drug epidemics, the Cold War, ‘roid rage.

Wally himself isn’t portrayed in a very heroic light, whether he’s having an affair with a married woman, puttering around his Long Island mansion, or going to parties hosted by Mafia Dons. He’s written as a materialistic man incapable of saying no to any woman. Unsurprisingly, most of his relationships are shallow and dysfunctional. This was all part of DC’s grand experiment of giving their heroes personalities. It didn’t go on long, but it sure was interesting while it lasted.

I recommend this graphic novel. The first comic book I ever bought was an issue of The Flash, back in 1978 when Barry Allen wore the scarlet tights. I’ve read a lot of Flash since then, and I am here to say that Wally is a more interesting character than Barry Allen ever was. The powers that be might have brought Barry back, but Wally will always be my Flash.

Daredevil: Ultimate Collection

Daredevil!

WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND

The official start of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil kicks off with the attempted assassination of the Kingpin, who is now blind. The palace coup is led by none other than Sammy Silke, a made guy from out-of-town. Silke’s dad and the Kingpin’s dad were friends, which is why Sammy is around. How an out-of-towner on the skids from his own crew ends up running a major crime syndicate (however briefly) is an interesting story. But is it a Daredevil story? Keep reading!

The Kingpin, like every girl Matt Murdock has ever slept with, knows that Murdock is Daredevil. Even though Daredevil is a crimefighter and the Kingpin is a crime lord, the two of them have come to an understanding. This is the sort of thing that happens in comic books all the time, but falls apart in the real world. What it amounts to is that the Kingpin leaves Daredevil alone, and Daredevil continues to beat the shit out the Kingpin’s men. This is a bad deal, if you are in the Kingpin’s crew. 

The Kingpin’s disgraced son spreads the word, and pretty soon everyone in the Kingpin’s crew knows that Murdock is Daredevil. But they aren’t allowed to touch him. They’re pretty salty about it, so when Sammy comes along sowing the seeds of discontent, he finds a willing audience. TBH, in the real world a blind mob boss would last about thirty seven seconds. 

Silke puts out a bounty on Matt Murdock, so we see assassination attempts from villains such as Nitro, Boomerang and Mr. Hyde, including a fight scene with an unnamed assassin that would normally take a single panel but goes on for pages. The fight is visually striking and looks great, but it’s also total page filler. There’s no way Daredevil is going to die at the hands of an anonymous killer.

Sammy leads the assassination attempt against the Kingpin, complete with knives. Despite not having read a book since the third grade, Silke quotes Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which leads to a plausibility hiccup. These are mobsters, trained killers, but they don’t make sure the Kingpin is dead. The easiest way to do that is to put a bullet through his head. They should have done that, because the Kingpin isn’t dead.

Vanessa Fisk, the Kingpin’s wife, exacts vengeance by killing everyone involved in the assassination attempt, including her son. Sammy escapes by the hair of his chinny chin chin and goes running to the FBI. The Feds tell him to take a hike, unless he gives them something. Sammy gives them Daredevil’s secret identity. This is squashed by the FBI higher-ups (it helps that Murdock has a SHIELD file), but one of the agents goes to the Daily Globe. The Globe runs the story, and Matt Murdock’s life goes to Hell.

The fallout from the expose is brutal. Foggy Nelson (Murdock’s law partner) wants him to hang up the tights. Foggy doesn’t pull any punches, pointing out that so many people know Murdock is Daredevil, it’s a wonder the secret didn’t come out sooner. He also plays the old ‘two of your exes were killed by your archenemy’ card, thus implying that Murdock is indirectly responsible for their deaths.

This argument isn’t exactly true, and it’s debunked by others, but it’s powerful nonetheless. What Foggy is saying is that Murdock’s lifestyle is dangerous, which is bound to lead to fallout and civilian casualties. Soon afterwards, Mr. Hyde attacks Murdock’s brownstone and almost kills Foggy.

Murdock hangs up the tights for a few issues. It is to the writer’s credit that he doesn’t even pretend that this will be permanent. Two of Murdock’s exes, Natasha Romanova and Elektra Natchios, pay a visit. Natasha and Elektra are the same character, in that they are both stone cold killers. Natasha used to be a Soviet spy. Now she’s an American spy.  She’s killed tons of people, all off-camera. This is an uncomfortable truth, like pointing out all the people the Hulk has killed (which the same writer did). Elektra is an assassin, and the ultimate crazy ex-girlfriend. 

They have different solutions to Murdock’s problem. Natasha wants Matt to play dress-up and beat up some muggers, and Elektra validates everything Foggy says. The issue fades away when Matt dons the tights again, except it doesn’t. Is Matt Murdock a noble hero who’s sacrificed everything for Hell’s Kitchen? Or is he a narcissist willing to risk the lives of his loved ones because he likes playing dress-up? Or is he both? To be continued…

The third storyline in this volume is the most powerful. Hector Ayala, aka The White Tiger, interrupts a robbery in progress and ends up accused of a police officer’s murder. Luke Cage, of Hero for Hire fame, wants Matt Murdock to represent Hector. Murdock tells Cage that if he takes the case, his pending lawsuit against the Globe will make the trial a media circus as well as a referendum on superheroes. Murdock ends up taking the case anyway, because reasons. Why does he do this, especially since everything he says to Luke Cage turns out to be true?

The trial begins. Luke Cage follows the trail of the junkies who killed the cop. We learn that the robbers left town, and then the plot thread is dropped. Why? Murdock has resources we can’t imagine, including access to the superhuman community. Instead of attempting to find the real perpetrators, Matt Murdock makes the case a referendum on superheroes, even though the prosecutor trying the case TELLS Murdock that making the case a referendum on superheroes will be playing right into his hands.

Hector is found guilty and commits suicide by cop. The story is insanely depressing, all the more so because we know that Hector is innocent. It also proves that Murdock is a narcissist. Why did he take the case to begin with, and then compound the error by making the trial all about him? Because – as he himself says – he has to do things his way. He just can’t help himself.

Overall, a great volume. 

Dracula

Dracula!

This is a review of Dracula, by Bram Stoker. First things first: by today’s standards, this is not a scary book. Dracula is an epistolary novel, which means it’s written in the form of letters, newspaper articles, and diary entries. Do you find reading letters frightening? I don’t know if the Victorians found this book to be scary. I think it more likely they found it shocking or even titillating. 

Nowadays Dracula is an indelible part of pop culture, bad movies and breakfast cereals and all. The original novel is valuable both as a historical and cultural document, giving us insight into the Victorian thought process. A friend of mine insists that Dracula illustrates how xenophobic the English were, terrified of foreigners stealing their women.  It’s an interesting argument, but Bram Stoker was Irish and not English, so I’m not sure I buy it.

Who cares about all that shit, how’s the book? Is it worth reading? Well…I don’t think Dracula is very good. I recently reread the novel, and it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, which a) doesn’t mean much, and b) doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book. I don’t finish most of the books I start, yet I’ve read Dracula four or five times. Take that for what it’s worth.

The plot: Jonathan Harker, realtor wannabe, travels to Transylvania to meet his boss’ newest client. Harker writes about train times and spicy paprika chicken in his diary. Thrilling stuff. The book perks up during Harker’s carriage ride to Castle Dracula, which involves sinister blue lights, wolves, and a mysterious coachmen. Upon reaching his destination, Harker is greeted by Dracula himself, who is getting ready to invade – er, I mean relocate to England. 

Technically, Dracula is a Voivode rather than a Count, but whatever. Harker soon has other things to worry about, like survival. Staying alive isn’t easy in Castle Dracula. Dracula enters and leaves by scaling the walls like a lizard. He has three ravenous wives, who want to drink his blood. Even worse, they’re voluptuous. And there’s always the hungry wolves, lurking outside.

One of the more interesting things about this book is the fact that Dracula doesn’t kill Harker. He leaves him alive in his castle while he travels to London. True, Dracula’s wives will finish Harker off, but there’s always the risk that he will get away and spill the beans. Which is what happens. Why not make sure? While never overtly stated, I believe it’s because Harker is Dracula’s guest, and killing him would violate the rules of hospitality. Dracula is a supernatural entity, and thus must abide by a number of rules. Leaving Harker alive means Dracula is following the letter of the law.

Dracula charters a boat to transport him and his fifty earth-filled coffins filled to England. He kills everyone on the ship, which sails into Whitby with the dead captain tied to the wheel. It is never revealed why the Count chose Whitby. Why not London or Liverpool? Anyway, Dracula wastes no time seducing Lucy Westenra. Lucy’s best friend, Mina, is Jonathan Harker’s fiancée. Coincidence? Part of the Count’s evil plan? Bad plotting?

Whatever the reason, soon poor Lucy is in her grave. This despite the efforts of her three suitors, Dr. Jack Seward, Lord Arthur Godalming, and Quincey Morris, who hails from the great country of Texas. Further reinforcements arrive when Dr. Seward consults his old tutor, Abraham Van Helsing, about Lucy’s bizarre anemia. Van Helsing doesn’t have a great command of the English language, and his solutions involve crosses and garlic flowers. Instead of confining Van Helsing in his sanitorium, Dr. Seward and company agree to a number of blood transfusions. Since people didn’t know about different blood types back then, it’s possible those transfusions helped kill Lucy.

Lucy rises from the grave, begins preying on children, and is dubbed the Bloofer Lady by the press. The sequences with her are the creepiest parts of the book. Somehow Van Helsing convinces the others to pound a stake through Lucy’s heart and then chop off her head. Meanwhile, a weakened Harker makes it back to England, only to lose it when he sees the Count strolling through London. One thing leads to the other, and the Harkers are united with Van Helsing & his crew.

Blah blah blah that’s a lot of plot, and I haven’t even mentioned Renfield the Fly Eating Lunatic. Is the book any good? Yes, and no. The plot is the weakest part of this novel. Dracula’s plan to conquer England is so bad that Stoker dedicates a half-chapter to Van Helsing talking about Dracula’s child-brain. Exhibit A: Dracula has spent several months in England and only made one vampire. Van Helsing and company find forty nine of his fifty earth-filled coffins in a single day. These are not the actions of a master tactician.

The book’s characters fare better. The standout humans are Van Helsing and Renfield the Fly Eating Lunatic, both of whom are crazy. And then we have Dracula. We never get to understand what makes him tick, which is part of what makes him interesting. His entrance to England, floating into harbor in a corpse ship, are the actions of a Voivode. His exit, wherein he scrambles for pocket change and spends weeks hiding in a boat, are the actions of a scared man. The apparent contradiction is never explained. Perhaps he’s acting according to an unstated set of rules that are never explained to us?

Parts of this book reek of a bizarre sickly sweet sentimentality, but much of Dracula was quite shocking to the Victorians. The novel brushes against sexual mores and taboos (A WOMAN’S BOUDOIR, INVADED!), and I think that’s what shocked people. In the end, Dracula dies and we have a happy ending, but sometimes it seems like we’ve brushed up against something we don’t quite understand, and I don’t know what it is, and maybe that’s why I keep coming back to this book.

Daredevil Ultimate Collection Vol. 1, Issues #16-19

Daredevil: Ultimate Collection Vol. 1

This is a review of the first four issues of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil, Issues #16-19. The plot: young Timmy has become disassociated from reality. He constantly relives a fight between Leap Frog and Daredevil, which makes ace (?!?) reporter Ben Urich’s nose itch. It is Urich, and not Daredevil, who is our narrator and p-o-v character for the next four issues.

Timmy’s father is Leap Frog, a supervillain who dresses like a frog and hops around. Is this dumb? You bet it’s dumb, which I’m sure is why the creative team uses him. Leap Frog is a bad daddy, to say the least. He and his wife physically abused Timmy. Now Leap Frog has disappeared. He was last seen tussling with Daredevil, and what went on between them that night seems to be what put Timmy in a comatose state.

That’s the plot, and it takes four issues to resolve. Let me start by saying that the art & writing in these issues is top-notch. I was engaged, and wanted to know what happened to Timmy. That said…look, comic books are never going to be mistaken for reality. Daredevil is a blind guy who dresses like the devil while soaring around Manhattan using a trick billy club, so we aren’t talking about reality here. We are talking about plausibility.

The plot hinges on Ben Urich finding Daredevil, who knows what happened that night. Ben Urich knows Matt Murdock is Daredevil. Murdock has told Urich about the accident that blinded him and why he became Daredevil. Urich knows a lot about Matt Murdock, but despite that, despite being a beat reporter with access to the resources of a major media company, he doesn’t have Murdock’s phone number and he doesn’t know where Murdock lives. This is implausible, to say the least, and the reason it’s so glaring is that it feels like an excuse to stretch the plot to four issues. And the plot did feel stretched.

We don’t get a lot of Daredevil in these issues, but that’s fine. If I recall correctly, I had more than enough of Daredevil by the time this run ended. Urich and his wife end up adopting young Timmy, even though Timmy’s mom is still alive (maybe she gave him up for adoption?). Timmy makes an appearance as a teenager in Daredevil: End of Days, where he’s totally messed up. Anyway, these four issues are good but too long. The character of Daredevil has a storied history, and this run certainly adds to the legend.

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men Volume 1

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men, Volume 1 is a mixed bag. Jack Kirby’s art is wonderful. The writing is okay, the caveat being that the same two storylines are repeated ad nauseum in the first ten issues. For those not in the know the X-Men are mutants, aka Homo Superior. Their genes give them miraculous powers, which is good. What’s not so good is that plain old humans, Homo Sapiens, hate and fear them. The X-Men are led by benevolent telepath Charles Xavier, who is dedicated to protecting humankind from existential threats and also evil mutants. It’s interesting that Xavier works to protect humanity rather than his own kind, a paradigm that changes later.

The evil mutants are led by Magneto, who in this volume is a Dr. Doom clone. Magneto believes that human beings are scum. He’s assembled a group of mutants, aka The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, to conquer humanity. Later, Magneto and Charles Xavier become two sides of the same coin, but here they are oil and water.

There are two storylines. In the first, Xavier discovers the existence of a new mutant. He sends his X-Men to recruit this new mutant, but the mutant always turns out to be evil. See: The Vanisher, The Blob, The Sub-Mariner, Unus the Untouchable. In the second, the X-Men fight Magneto and his band of evil mutants, as they try to a. conquer the earth; b. recruit mutants to their cause. Both Xavier and Magneto are terrible at recruiting mutants, Magneto because he’s a homicidal maniac, Xavier because he’s creepy. Would you want a teacher who could read your mind? At least with Magneto, you get to hang out in his cool lairs, asteroids and islands with big magnet skyscrapers.

Reading this volume gave me the impression that the creative team was in a state of perpetual deadline Hell. It’s not that the stories are bad, but reading the same two plots gets repetitive. One of the better issues is the introduction of Ka-Zar and the Savage Land, because it probably started life as a ten-second pitch session (Tarzan in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World!) that gained legs. 

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men is worth a read, because it’s Jack Kirby and also because it introduces a number of iconic characters in Marvel history, even if we don’t see a lot of these characters nowadays. These are the issues that laid the groundwork for some classic stories. 

X-Men: Volume One

X-Men: Volume One

X-Men: Volume 1 features the first six issues of the newest reboot of The X-Men. This volume acts as setup for upcoming storylines: the X-Men skirmish with Orchis, a band of human scientists who want to exterminate the mutant menace; the sentient mutant isle of Krakoa reunites with his better half; a quartet of octogenarian botanists hack Krakoa; and The Vault opens.

To say this book features an ensemble cast is an understatement, but the main character seems to be Cyclops. Cyclops lives on the moon with his partner Jean Grey; his brothers, Alex (Havok) and Gabriel (Vulcan); his two children, Nathan (Cable) and Rachel Summers (???); and Wolverine, who is either Jean Grey’s sidepiece or the third party in a polyamorous relationship. Cyclops seems to be the p-o-v character mainly because he’s a good guy who doesn’t consider himself to be a god and doesn’t hate humans.

Speaking of hating humans…Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Apocalypse attend the World Economic Forum, where Magneto tells the pesky human leaders exactly how the newly formed mutant nation intends to conquer the earth by economic means. I guess it beats sinking nuclear submarines. Still, this a bizarre scene, made more so by Xavier’s silence. Marvel has a long tradition of villains with heroic (or at least sympathetic qualities), but Magneto is in a class by himself. He’s a mass-murderer, but the mindset of the new X-Men seems to be ‘fight fire with fire.’

Oh, and apparently there was an assassination attempt on Xavier, but that’s not in this volume. I have no idea which volume it is in, which is annoying. At the moment, there are four or five X-titles, which is Marvel’s way of milking their fans for all they’re worth. None of which is the creative team’s fault, btw.

We learn what Mystique was doing when the X-Men stormed the Orchis Forge and destroyed the Master Mold. She planted a flower of Krakoa in the garden, which gives her the ability to travel to the Forge at will. There she discovers that Nimrod the Master Sentinel isn’t dead after all, but is being constructed by a female scientist.

Magneto and Xavier, who are using Mystique’s dead wife (Destiny) as leverage, want her to kill the scientist, yet another sign that the X-Men are fatally compromised. They also have no intention of resurrecting Destiny. If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, it looks like this iteration of the X-Men will fail on a truly grand scale.

One of the interesting things about X-Men: Volume 1 is how good people – or people who used to be good – make stupid mistakes. Definitely worth a read.