Marvel Masterworks Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD Volume One

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD Vol. 1. Marvel put out a lot of material in the 1960’s. We all know the classics, but there are comics that aren’t as good. And then there are the stinkers. I try to be positive, but if you look through past reviews you can see what I’m talking about.

The Lee/Kirby run of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD is a classic. The stories are twelve pages long, but aren’t one-shots. Instead we have a meta story that goes on for over a year. Contrast this with a title like Iron Man, which produced a number of one-shot stories featuring a series of dopey villains (Mister Doll, Jack Frost, etc.).

Jack Kirby’s influence is plain to see. Stan Lee wrote a lot of stories, and the quality is variable. A lot depends on his co-creators. Daredevil wasn’t great until Wally Wood. Sometimes it’s a character. The Avengers didn’t find their groove until Captain America joined.

Sometimes you have synergy, where a creator and a character mesh. Nick Fury is a man of action, the type of character Jack Kirby loved. Captain America, The Sub-Mariner, Nick Fury. Fury has no powers, but he’s got plenty of good ole’ fashioned grit. He’s also the head of the most powerful spy organization in history, and has their resources at his disposal, so there’s that. Lately, characters like Nick Fury have become problematic, but not back in the 60’s.

Fury spends the first story arc fighting Hydra, a secret organization bent on world domination. Every issue you feel the actual stakes, mostly nuclear annihilation. There are lots of cool, exotic-looking weapons; Kirby gets to play with his toys. SHIELD and Hydra are evenly matched in terms of smarts, organizational know-how, and tactics – two sides of the same coin. Sometimes Hydra gets the upper hand, but they never win.

Series influences would be The Man from UNCLE and the 007 movies. I’m a bit embarrassed I didn’t know this series existed. In my defense, my prime comic reading years were the 1980’s. Anyhow, great stuff.

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 2

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Vol. 2. This volume continues Jack Kirby (artist/plotter) and Stan Lee’s (plotter/writer) run of The Fantastic Four. Standout villains Doctor Doom and The Sub-Mariner return, coupled with appearances by newcomers such as The Super Skrull, The Impossible Man, and The Red Ghost and his Super Apes. There’s also the first of many fights between The Thing and The Incredible Hulk. The Thing comes out on top (with a little help), but I believe it’s the last fight he ever wins with The Hulk.

The characters continue to develop in interesting ways, with the creative team sanding the rough edges off The Thing and making him more like a big ole’ lovable lug. Ben Grimm can still be a nasty customer, no doubt about it, but getting a girlfriend has mellowed him out. Reed Richards’ judgment is as bad as ever. In one issue, he and the FF time travel to ancient Egypt to find a cure for Alicia Master’s (the Thing’s girlfriend) blindness, only to be imprisoned by Rama-Tut, the Pharaoh from the Future (actually Kang the Conquerer). For a guy with such a high I.Q., Reed has serious impulse control issues.  

Johnny Storm is still Johnny Storm, brainless teenager, and Sue Storm still can’t decide whether she loves Reed Richards or The Sub-Mariner. This is a head-scratcher, because whenever Sue and Namor meet The Sub-Mariner is either a) trying to destroy the Fantastic Four; b) trying to conquer humankind; c) using her as a hostage object to accomplish goals a) and b). To me, this seems stupid, but I’m no Sue Storm.

Anyway, this is the good stuff. Highly recommended.

Swamp Thing Bronze Age Volume 3

This is a review of Swamp Thing Bronze Age Volume 3. Yes, there is a Swamp Thing Vol. 2, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Give me a break, huh? I started with Volume 3 because I read many of these comics as a kid. They are B.A.M. – Before Alan Moore, the writer who remade Swamp Thing in his godlike image. I wanted to see how good these comics were, because my recollections were mixed. So far I’ve read fifteen issues. What’s the verdict?

This version of Swamp Thing has no trouble finding its legs and comes roaring out of the gate. This is a horror comic, with a certain look and written in a certain style. I’d say these comics are for older readers than the Swamp Thing issues from the early 70’s, but I think it’s more that the country aged – and not in a good way. People may not know it, but the late 70’s, early 80’s were a pretty nihilistic time period. You had to be there.

The plot: Swamp Thing rescues a little blonde girl from her father, who is about to shoot her. The girl might look like Carol Anne from Poltergeist, but it turns out she’s more Rhoda Penmark from the Bad Seed. FYI, this graphic novel also has a cameo by a Rondo Hatton lookalike. But the Swampster has other problems. The Sunderland Corporation is after him, because reasons, and he’s slowly dying. 

This leads to another Swamp Thing road trip, ala the original series. There’s the vampire colony in Illinois started by nihilistic teenagers. The cruise ship shanghaied by a mutant tentacle monster, which turns out to be a mutated herpes virus instead of a Lovecraftian monster. The island populated by disaffected Vietnam vets with reality-bending powers.

Soon the Swamp Thing’s young friend begins to manifest psychic abilities. Turns out she’s the herald of the Antichrist. This is the point when this series jumps the shark, and I got lost in a sea of plot points. The densely plotted issues are interesting, because I wouldn’t call plot one of the writers’ strong points (this is not meant as an insult), but whatever.

There are parts of this graphic novel that are in poor taste, but effective horror often is in bad taste. Case in point: there is a story based on the Atlanta child murders, which occurred between 1979 and 1981. In the story the killer is possessed by a demon,  which delivers a bizarre monologue on why it prefers to kill non-white children.

The truth is far worse, because the monster is a human being. The worst monsters are always human beings. The graphic novel dances around this truth, but it does grapples with more grown-up issues and is way more realistic than the earlier issues of horror comics I’ve read, most of which feature classic monsters divorced from present-day reality. This graphic novel is firmly rooted in the early Reagan years in America.

Recommended for fans of Swamp Thing and horror comics.

Moon Knight Epic Collection Vol. 1: Bad Moon Rising

This is a review of Moon Knight Epic Collection Vol. 1: Bad Moon Rising. When I was a youngster back in the early 1980’s, comics sold for cheap. I bought most of Marvel and DC’s output, but never purchased a single issue of Moon Knight. Looking back on it, I don’t know why. Maybe I didn’t like the art? Or did I think Moon Knight was just a low rent Batman?

Who knows? I made my acquaintance with Moon Knight two weeks ago when I started reading this hefty graphic novel. Moon Knight is Marc Spector, mercenary. He’s also Stephen Grant, millionaire. And then there’s Jake Lockley, cab driver. The idea of a superhero keeping multiple identities in his back pocket is intriguing, but it turns out that Moon Knight is a) mentally ill; b) touched by the Khonshu, the Egyptian moon god; c) a frustrated actor; d) all of the above.

Apparently Moon Knight lives in a reality where a person can have three fully formed personalities. Since this is a comic from the early 80’s and the split personality trope recurs even today, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but YMMV. The comic’s treatment of gay people (mostly confined to a single issue at the start of the run) isn’t very good, but I also came away with the impression that Moon Knight might be gay himself.

Most of the art in this graphic novel is by Bill Sienkiewicz. Mr. Sienkiewicz’s pencils are not always to my tastes; it depends on who his inker is. For the record, I like his art here. The colors of a number of the issues seemed washed out, but not a big deal.

The stories have lots of action. Moon Knight fights a werewolf, makes a cameo in the Defenders, and then it’s all solo stories, baby! We have a villain with steel teeth (Moonraker homage), a psycho wearing a Halloween mask, a homage to the Maltese Falcon, etc. Many of the tales in these pages resemble adventure comics more than superhero comics.

A special shout-out to Moon Knight’s lover, Marlene. In the course of this graphic novel she’s suspended upside-down over an alligator pit, shot on two separate occasions, stabbed by a psycho, called a slut, been in a car crash, tied up, almost raped, strangled, and pistol whipped. I might be missing one or two instances, but you get the idea.

Anyway, this graphic novel has a few rough passages but I mostly liked it.