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!