Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Vol. 1

This is a review of Swamp Thing: Bronze Age Vol. 1. I have a confession to make. This is the very first graphic novel I read, back in 2022. Right now I’m eight issues into the first Moon Knight Epic Anthology, with no end in sight, so it’s a good thing I never wrote a review!

Swamp Thing is a comic with an interesting history. Alan Moore remade the character in the 1980’s, but it had a storied history before then. Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson created Swamp Thing back in the early 70’s, which makes sense, because that was the age of the superhero/horror mashup. Think Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, Creature Commandos, etc., etc., etc.

My feelings about this graphic novel did a 180 as I read it. Swamp Thing’s origin story – let’s put it nicely, here – has as many holes as Swiss Cheese. The plot: Alec and Linda Holland are working on their wondrous Bio-Restorative Formula. Apparently the only place they can do their experiments is in the middle of the Louisiana swamps, despite the fact that unsavory characters have an unsavory interest in their formula.

You’d think the government – which is very interested in the formula, also – could build them a lab, but apparently not. Instead, they send Matt Cable, the most incompetent security guard on earth, to watchdog them. All the bad guys have to do is watch the lab and wait until Cable leaves to patrol the area, which is what they do.

They blow up Alec’s lab. Unfortunately, Alec is in the lab when it’s blown up. He falls into the swamp waters, which combine with his Bio-Restorative Formula to somehow rejuvenate him – into a MOSS ENCRUSTED MOCKERY OF A MAN. After the thugs kill Swamp Thing’s wife, using the SAME EXACT METHOD, Swamp Thing takes his vengeance. Cable blames Swamp Thing instead of his own incompetence, and we have a series.

So yeah, the writing of the first issue isn’t exactly stellar. But the series finds its legs in the very next issue with the arrival of Swamp Thing’s greatest enemy, Arcane and his Un-Men. Other monsters follow – werewolves, stitched-together monsters, Lovecraftian creatures, zombies, mechanical men. There’s also a trip to Gotham City, where we get to see Swamp Thing punch out Batman in a single panel. This was 1970’s Batman, not the invincible crimefighting demigod we’ve all come to know and love.

The writing doesn’t get a lot better. Random shit happens. In a few instances, I got the impression the writer had his tongue firmly planted in cheek. There’s an issue later in the run that can kindly be called politically incorrect. The thing that sets this graphic novel apart and makes it special is Bernie Wrightson’s art, which is truly awesome.

Worth it for horror lovers, Swamp Thing groupies, and freaky art enthusiasts.

Sandman Deluxe Edition Book Two

This is a review of Sandman Deluxe Edition Book Two. I read the first volume back in January. I think they might have changed the order of a few of the issues here and there, but am unsure. It’s been a long time since I read the original run.

The A-storyline begins with a meeting between Dream and his family, Dream, Death, Destiny, Desire, Despair, Delirium (known as The Endless). Desire goads Dream about the lover he banished to Hell for defying him. Dream, apparently unaware that he acted badly, notifies Lucifer that he’s coming to Hell to get his ex-lover back.

Lucifer responds by…retiring. Yes, you heard that right. Lucifer resigns as the Lord of Hell, kicks everyone out, locks Hell up, and gives Dream the key. Morpheus is now the proud owner of his own Hell, which turns out to be prime real estate. Pretty soon gods and entities from other pantheons are lining up to try to persuade the Dream Lord to give them Hell.

There are also a number of single-issue stories, featuring cats once owning the universe, an imprisoned Muse, Element Girl, a very special performance of The Tempest, Augustus Caesar, and Johanna Constantine vs. the French Inquisition. Top caliber!

Highly recommended.

Marvel Masterworks Ms. Marvel Volume One

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks Ms. Marvel Volume One. Ms. Marvel is a Kree warrior with super strength who can fly and has a seventh sense, which does the same thing as Spider-Man’s spider sense AND gives her visions of the future. Ms. Marvel is also Carol Danvers, a human woman. They have two bodies (I think) but occupy the same space. I am unsure where one goes when the other is present. Maybe Limbo? I don’t know! Author’s note: this is all explained in Issue #13.

Carol Danvers works for the Daily Bugle as the editor of “Woman” Magazine. I might not have a seventh sense like Ms. Marvel, but I don’t think she’s long for the Daily Bugle. By the by, the most unrealistic thing about this graphic novel is the fact that Carol is a writer and can afford a penthouse apartment in New York City. Carol has migraines, which trigger her transformation into Ms. Marvel. At first neither is aware of the other, but that soon changes, and the question becomes ‘what’s going on?’

The what’s-going-on plot is firmly B-story, because this title has plenty of action! Ms. Marvel fights The Scorpion, Grotesk, DeathBird, AIM, and M.O.D.O.K. Lots of POWS, BLAMS, and THWOCKS. That’s fine, but what makes this graphic novel interesting is Ms. Marvel’s character, which is in flux. Credit for that goes to writer Chris Claremont (of X-Men) fame, who takes on the writing reins starting with the third issue. The art, handled by Jim Mooney, Carmine Infantino, and Sal Buscema, is excellent.

Ultimately, Ms. Marvel is written by male creators for a male audience. How do I know this? Well, in one issue, Carol Danvers fights a super-villain in a red bikini. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Spider-Man fight crime in a Speedo, but maybe I’m wrong. Writer Gerry Conway said in the Introduction, ‘we meant well,’ and I’ll take his word for it!

Batman Golden Age Volume One

This is a review of Batman Golden Age Volume One. I’m not going to explain Batman. Just watch one of the fifty or so Batman movies, many of which repeat his origin story ad infinitum. This graphic novel runs over thirty issues, which is much longer than I expected. True, the stories are only twelve or so pages apiece, but that’s a lot of Batman.

I will be honest and say that I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. However, aspects of this graphic novel have, in the words of a Goodreads reviewer, aged about as well as milk. Some of these stories are racist/contain racist stereotypes, so know that going in.

Batman is Bruce Wayne, sluggard millionaire. At night he dresses up like a bat and fights crime. It never does any good, because by the end of this graphic novel New York City is as crime-ridden as it’s ever been. The cast is bare-bones. Bruce has a fiancée, whom he never sees unless she’s being threatened by werewolves. Bruce’s sidekick is Dick Grayson, aka Robin, and their dialogue is cringeworthy. Commissioner Gordon is around, but he wants to arrest Batman!

The rogue’s gallery fares better. We see a lot of The Joker, who’s pretty scary. The pages of this graphic novel contain many cackling mad scientists and homicidal maniacs, but what sets the Joker apart is callousness coupled with randomness. The term ‘serial killer’ hadn’t been invented in 1940, but The Joker is a picture-perfect portrait of one. There’s also a thief called The Cat, aka Cat Woman, who bewitches Batman with her feminine wiles. Also present is Dr. Hugo Strange, a Batman villain we don’t see much of nowadays.

The stories move fast, with lots of action, and are totally unrealistic. There’s a fair number of whodunits, most of which are obvious, but still fun. One of the stories is a King Kong tribute, another is a Dracula riff. Bob Kane and Bill Finger produced a lot of material together!

Marvel Masterworks The Inhumans Vol. One

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks Inhumans Volume One, a graphic novel featuring great art by Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, and Gene Colan. FYI, The Inhumans are a group of human beings genetically modified by the alien Kree. When mankind was still in diapers, the Inhumans lived in great cities.

Let’s get this straight. The Inhumans aren’t mutants. Inhumans are genetically modified by the fabled Terrigen mists. They aren’t mutants. I don’t believe the Inhumans are even on earth, anymore, but am not sure. When the Inhumans TV series was cancelled, the Marvel powers-that-be went back to not caring about them. In the Marvel cinematic universe – the only universe that matters – the most famous Inhuman of all, Kamala Khan, is a mutant.

 The Inhumans made their first appearance in the Fantastic Four, and made cameos in that series on and off for years. None of the Fantastic Four issues are reprinted here, not even the first appearance. Instead we have a bunch of back-up stories which makes it hard to get any sense of the characters.

Jack Kirby did a few of these stories. They’re okay. His Inhumans make grand proclamations, explain their powers, and sing hosannas to their leader, the Wondrous Black Bolt. Mr. Bolt cannot speak, because to do so would destroy a city. He’s got Nuclear Mouth, that Black Bolt.

After Kirby’s departure, The Inhumans jump the shark. Here’s a short summary: Black Bolt flies into the world of humans (San Francisco) to learn more about them. Since the Inhumans have lived in wondrous cities since men huddled in caves, you’d think they’d have television, or be able to reverse engineer a television. But no.

Black Bolt leaves his brother Maximus the Mad locked in an enormous iron coffin. The other Inhumans, suspicious that Bolt has killed Maximus the Mad, open the coffin. The Mad One breaks out wielding psychic powers and gives Black Bolt total amnesia. This happens right after Black Bolt changes clothes with a thug he knocked out in an alleyway in San Francisco.

Stay with me, here. Black Bolt is picked up by a man who has lost his hand to cancer and wants Bolt to destroy San Francisco, because reasons. Then Magneto kidnaps Black Bolt, because reasons. This isn’t the noble, silver fox Magneto we’ve all come to love; this is the psychotic, sneering Magneto who sinks nuclear submarines and looks like he enjoys eating boogers.

There’s more, involving the Avengers, but I won’t go into it. Suffice it to say that at no point during these issues – which I painstakingly read for YOUR benefit – do the Inhumans show any agency at all. The art is wonderful, but the story just isn’t very good. The last couple of issues are from Not Brand Ecch, Marvel’s humor magazine. Unfortunately, the writer can’t write humor.

Bottom line: I spent $1.99 for this graphic novel, so it’s all good, but don’t spend more than that unless you are an Inhumans fanatic.

Grimjack Omnibus Volume One

This is a review of Grimjack Omnibus Vol. 1. Grimjack is the street name of John Gaunt, a mercenary who lives in Cynosure, a city which is also an interdimensional nexus. Gaunt and Cynosure were meant for each other, in that they are both totally screwed up.

Cynosure is a weird place, where the laws of nature change when you cross the street. Gods become mortal, and mortals gods, depending on what neighborhood you’re in. The area Gaunt lives in is dingy, gritty and dangerous, like Times Square in the 1980’s.

Grimack hangs out at a bar called Munden’s with Bob the Watch Lizard, a semi-sentient reptile that spends most of its time drunk. We also meet other members of Grimjack’s supporting cast – Roscoe, a cop who is Gaunt’s former partner; BlackJacMac, a fellow merc who is Gaunt’s best friend; Jericho Noleski, a biker cop who hangs out in the boonies; and Spook, so named because she’s a ghost who wandered into Cynosure and become corporeal.

Grimjack is almost fifty. He’s lost a step, which is bad news for a merc/gun-for-hire/head-breaker. If this volume is any indicator, Gaunt spends most of his time getting knocked down, beaten up, shot, stabbed, and bludgeoned. He’s a tough guy, so he always gets back up, but the writing on the wall becomes clearer as the issues progress. The final issue of this volume features a younger, meaner merc beating the crap out of Gaunt. He manages to rebound and even restore his rep, but at this point it’s only a matter of time.            

Grimjack was co-created by John Ostrander and Timothy Truman. Truman’s art is wonderful, and John Ostrander, who reimagined The Suicide Squad in the 1980’s, is in the running for my favorite writer of all-time.

A must-read, especially if your tastes are anything like mine.

Marvel Masterworks The Defenders Vol. One

This a review of Marvel Masterworks The Defenders Vol. 1. This graphic novel looks to be an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle with some of Marvel’s offbeat (i.e., less popular) characters. The Defender’s first appearance features The Sub-Mariner, The Silver Surfer, and The Hulk. The Surfer is gone by the second storyline, mainly because Stan Lee didn’t want anyone not named Stan Lee writing the character. He’s replaced by Doctor Strange.

The first stories, written by Roy Thomas, are okay. Very workmanlike. The same plot is recycled – a demon/elder god/whatever tries to sacrifice a Defender – several times. The series finds its legs with the addition of writer Steven Englehart, who pens stories about wizards with rat friends, talkative Doomsday Machines, etc.

Mr. Englehart adds fan favorite The Valkyrie to the team, and she stays until the bitter end (when I started reading The Defenders over a decade later, she was still a member). As an added bonus, Sal Buscema does a few issues of the art. Mr. Buscema draws my favorite version of the Hulk – big, green, and dumb with purple pants.

Fun read.

Batmanga Vol. 1

This is a review of Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1. Did you know there used to be a Batman manga? I know because of Chip Kidd’s Bat-Manga, which chronicles a number of Batman’s Japanese adventures. This is not a review of Bat-Manga, as Mr. Kidd did not write or draw any of the stories featured in his book. The creator of the Batmanga stories is Jiro Kuwata.

Now that we’re clear on that, how’s the first volume? Pretty good! Batman – along with youthful sidekick Robin, the Batmobile, and his trusty batarang – keeps Gotham City safe from villains. Speaking of those villains…Mr. Kuwata makes the bold choice to add new figures to Batman’s rogue gallery, including Lord Death Man, Professor Gorilla, and The Human Ball!

This was the 60’s, when Batman comics were still goofy and you had a live-action TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. So if you are looking for hardboiled action, uh, I don’t know what to tell you. A fun, offbeat read that I liked.

Marvel Masterworks Iron Man Vol. 1

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man Volume One. Tony Stark is a millionaire industrialist who designs weapons for the U.S. military. Some of his ideas might seem stupid to me (roller skates that allow troops to travel at 60 m.p.h.), but I’m not a genius like him.

Tony is touring Vietnam (1963, during the Vietnam War) when he’s hit by a landmine. The shrapnel penetrates his chest and injures his heart. He only has days to live, but that’s not a problem to a doer like Tony! He and another scientist design a suit of armor that also acts as a pacemaker under the not-so-watchful eye of the warlord who takes them prisoner. The less said about the warlord, the better. Suffice it to say he’s an offensive racial stereotype. Anyway, the chest plate acts as a pacemaker and the armor enables Tony to escape from the warlord. Thus, Iron Man is born!

I am unsure if anyone who made these comics is still alive…so let’s start with the positives. The twelve-page format works well (the page number is expanded in later issues). The stories are big, loud, dumb, and pretty entertaining. In one episode, Iron Man fights alongside Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile!  Iron Man’s villain gallery is goofy, mostly in a good way – Jack Frost, the Crimson Dynamo, The Melter. The standout is Mr. Doll, who shapes a lump of clay into effigies of his enemies, which he then squeezes. Mr. Doll was originally called Mr. Pain, but the Comics Code Authority wouldn’t stand for that!

The stories aren’t as well-written as other Marvel stories of that time period. Character development is minimal, and the stories are bare-bones basic. Things perk up when we meet two supporting cast members, Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. Happy is a never-been prizefighter who acts as Tony’s chauffer. Pepper is Tony’s secretary. Happy and Pepper’s banter is entertaining in that they seem quite sincere in loathing each other. We never meet Tony’s parents, and as far as I can tell he has no friends, so he’s not living a very balanced life!

The beginning of this series is overtly political. Many of Tony’s enemies are communists, aka commies, aka Reds (the writers’ words, not mine). Stan Lee expresses regret for this in the introduction to this volume, which is interesting. I think he’s saying he regrets spreading propaganda, which World War II comics were.

Anyway, this volume was worth the ninety-nine cents I paid for it. It’s not perfect, but you can’t hit a home run every time!

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?


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.