Sandman Deluxe Edition Book Three

This is a review of Sandman Deluxe Edition Book Three. You can read my reviews of the first and second volumes here and here. This is the midpoint of the Sandman series; it’s all downhill from here. The first storyline, A Game of You, deconstructs the chosen one storyline in fantasy stories. Barbie, a minor character in A Doll’s House, is a princess who visits The Land in her dreams. She is a visitor and not a resident, which turns out to be important.

In her waking hours, Barbie lives in an apartment complex in New York City that must be rent controlled. I say this because Barbie has no visible means of support except alimony checks from her ex. The shit hits the fan when Barbie’s loyal retainer from the Land – an enormous talking dog named Martin Tenbones – is shot down in the streets by the police while attempting to retrieve her, a not-so-subtle foreshadowing of the carnage to follow.

The Land is being threatened by a cuckoo, a diabolical bird that lays its egg in other bird’s nests. When the baby cuckoo hatches, it shoves the other hatchlings out of the nest where they die of starvation while the mother bird ignores them and feeds the intruder. Dream isn’t in this one much. He shows up at the end, to put a bow on things.

Brief Lives, the second storyline, involves Dream and his sister Delirium’s search for their estranged brother, Destruction. This is the longest storyline so far, or at least it feels like it. Their search takes them to a goddess working at a strip club; to the dreams of the cat goddess Bast; to Dream’s estranged son, Orpheus. This is the storyline that marks the beginning of the end, as Destruction is apply named.

I don’t quite understand Dream’s motivations in this one, as he seems aware of the potential consequences of his actions. Their path to Destruction is littered with the bodies of Destruction’s friends and lovers, which causes Dream to temporarily abandon his quest, but he resumes it and finds what he’s looking for, and I don’t know why.

Highly recommended.

Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor Volume One

I have been reading comics since 1978, and I’m here to tell you that there’s a lot of bad comics out there. By bad, I mean racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, full of clichés, nonsensical, and violent. Don’t get me wrong. There are also good comics, but Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor Volume One does not number among them.

Here’s the good: Jack Kirby drew some of these issues. That sums up the good. I rate Thor above the first volume of Iron Man, but that’s not a high fence to hurdle. Thor’s creators were still figuring him out as a character, which means his powers fluctuate according to the needs of the plot. In one issue Thor destroys half the earth, and in the next he’s laid low by a mobster. Thor’s personality is also in flux, in that he doesn’t have one. Sixty years later and he still doesn’t!                                                                                         

These stories reminded me of the first volume of Iron Man, a never-ending series of twelve page one-shots. The most memorable villain in this volume is Thor’s evil step-brother Loki, who gets chained up as much as Wonder Woman. Other villains include The Cobra, Mr. Hyde, a lone Lava Man, and The Radioactive Man. Most of the plots revolve around 1. Thor losing his mighty hammer and transforming back into Donald Blake, usually in the middle of a fight; 2. Thor mooning over Jane Foster.

Thor’s alter ego, Dr. Don Blake, can’t express his love to his nurse Jane Foster because he’s lame and there’s no way she could love a cripple. That’s what he tells himself, anyway. When Blake musters up the courage to tell her he’s secretly Thor, his father the mighty Odin cock-blocks him.

Two things stand out in this graphic novel. The first is an extended fantasy sequence wherein Jane Foster imagines domestic bliss as Mrs. Thor, wherein she polishes his hammer, irons his cloak, and gives him a nice, short haircut so he doesn’t look like one of those beatniks. I hope the creators were laughing their asses off when they created that sequence, because I sure was.

I can sum up the second standout in two words: chromosomatic gland. Loki hits Thor’s chromosomatic gland, which reverses Thor’s brain and leads to him raising his hand against the mighty Odin and then destroying the earth with his crazed half-brother. The issue ends with Odin hitting Thor’s chromosomatic gland and re-reversing his brain, which leads to our beloved hero regaining his nobility. Of course, the earth is still destroyed, but Odin undoes all the damage and erases everyone’s memories of the event. I’m unsure if he raises all the people his sons killed from the dead, but am assuming the creators would say nobody died.

This issue might be the worst comic I’ve ever read, and (as mentioned) I’ve read a lot of comics. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where they got the idea of retconning Spider-Man’s marriage.

For Thor junkies only.

World’s Finest Silver Age Volume One

This is a review of World’s Finest Silver Age Volume One, featuring the adventures of Superman, Batman, and Robin. Special shout-out to Lois Lane, who appears in most of these issues. These comics were produced in the fifties. They’re not good but if you’re a Batman/Superman fan I’m sure you’ll like them.

Or maybe you won’t. The plots are relentlessly weird – in one issue Batman, Superman, and Robin travel back in time and become the Three Musketeers, complete with tricorn hats and ruffled shirts! In another Batman and Robin gain Superman’s powers, while The Man of Steel must contend with being a mere mortal! In yet another story, Batman and Superman switch secret identities in order to fool Lois Lane, who has gone from hating Clark Kent to thinking he’s Superman!

Reading these comics is like having a midlife crisis – stay with me, here. Say you decide to take your vacation at a nudist camp. Your kids are horrified, the neighbors are bemused, but you need to show everyone you still got it. Except when you go, it sucks. Everyone is flabby, middle-aged, and out-of-shape (just like you!), mosquitos are everywhere, you burn yourself sunbathing on the beach, get poison ivy playing nude volleyball, and end up with food poisoning.

When you go back home, you’d just as soon forget the whole thing, but there’s that one person who took photos and videos of everything and posted them on Instagram & Facebook and now he keeps on cc:ing you and won’t go away. That’s what reading these issues is like.

Batman & Robin and Superman were created in the late 30’s. By the 1950’s, they’d reached middle-age and their creators were regularly jumping the shark, pick your reason. Which is to say: these comics aren’t good, which isn’t the same thing as saying I didn’t like them. Because I did like them, even though they were bad and when I finish this graphic novel I won’t remember any of them.


Golden Age Superman Volume One

This is a review of Superman The Golden Age Volume One. I have a confession to make – I thought these comics would be awful. They aren’t. I enjoyed this graphic novel, warts and all, and liked seeing how Superman has changed over the years.

Superman is Clark Kent, milksop reporter. In reality, he’s a space alien rocketed to earth after his home planet explodes. Superman’s power set has evolved from his origins, where he jumps – just like The Incredible Hulk, minus the torn purple pants – instead of flying. He’s also super strong and invulnerable, although not quite as invulnerable as today.

What about Superman’s cast? At the moment, it’s just Lois Lane. Lois wears red a lot, which I’m guessing is a conscious choice on the part of the creators. She’s not very nice to Clark Kent (Superman’s alter ego). In Lois’ defense, Clark hits on her – well, all the time. My theory is that Lois stopped being cordial after rebuffing the first hundred attempts. No human resources departments back then, looks like.

The creators tend to use Lois as a hostage/rescue object, although nobody alive can beat Wonder Woman in that department. In one episode, Lois is thrown out a window and rescued by Superman. Apparently she’s in love with the big fella, because who wouldn’t love a space alien that can leap like an enormous grasshopper?

The basic template of a Superman story goes like this. Superman sees a bully kicking sand in someone’s face; Superman kicks the crap out of the bully. Sometimes the stories can get overly complex or weird, as when Superman kidnaps a college football player by jabbing him with a hypodermic needle and then poses as said youth, in order to teach the coach of the opposing team a lesson.

These stories are glorified power fantasies, which is fine, but they blend. They also overlook basic realities of human nature. In one issue, Superman kidnaps the generals of two opposing forces and tells them to fight. When they realize they’re not mad at each other, the generals end the war. Yeeeeeah.

There’s not a whole lot of suspense in these comics. The writers hadn’t invented kryptonite yet, so in the first year of stories Superman is invincible. It takes the introduction of the Ultra Humanite, whose claim to fame is managing to briefly knock Superman out a few times, to add an element of danger to the series.

I will leave you with this. There’s a fine line between fighting a bully and being a bully yourself. Superman might be the strongest man in the planet, but that doesn’t make him tough. He didn’t have to work for it.

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.

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!