Captain America 255 (March 1981)

Wow, what a truly awful comic book. Bryne inks himself here (I guess Joe Rubinstein) was busy and the results are unfortunate. The action lacks any punch and the bland faces have started, years earlier than I thought they would. It doesn’t help his rendition of the first Cap costume is silly. As for the writing, Stern outdoes himself as far as expository. FDR narrates the beginning of the story (because FDR used to read reports aloud to subordinates) then Stern has the subordinate narrate some more of the issue. It’s an iconic origin retelling. I remember it from when I was…

Captain America 254 (February 1981)

What a bunch of trouble to launch a new Union Jack. I guess Stern gets to kill the original Union Jack (and Baron Blood) but the whole thing is just a setup for Marvel UK. Whatever. I’m being really harsh and I shouldn’t be. The issue’s not bad—except Cap running around in his outfit, shield in hand, all the time. It just doesn’t work. They should have rethought it. Otherwise, Stern does a fine job mixing horror and superhero and Blood’s death scene is absolutely fantastic. There’s a strange logic misstep at the end too, with it being unclear how Union Jack…

Captain America 253 (January 1981)

When Stern isn’t writing too much exposition, he really does a good job. I always forget during those exposition heavy issues. Cap heads off to the UK to help out the aged former Captain Britain with a vampire problem. Byrne gets to draw the English countryside. The selling point of the issue is really Byrne’s art. The plotting’s fine and the dialogue’s decent, but the art’s just phenomenal. Except maybe the last page, where Cap’s eyes are too wide. Other than the UK stuff, there’s only a couple scenes. The first is Cap foiling a robbery. Byrne really goes all out for…

Captain America 252 (December 1980)

Oh, is Stern’s exposition bad. I mean, it’s real bad. What I can’t figure out is why he bothers with it. It seems the only reason for the endlessly wordy narration is he has to fill space… but he doesn’t. This narration goes in boxes at the tops of panels. Byrne’s art is more than enough to hold the reader’s attention. The best part of this issue is when Cap and Batroc team up against Mister Hyde. Byrne’s action is fantastic, but the team up also makes sense. Unfortunately, the issue reads like a proto-“decompressed” narrative. Stern takes forever to get through…

Captain America 251 (November 1980)

Besides Stern inexplicably wasting four or five pages recapping Cap’s origin, it’s a good issue. The origin recap made me wonder if Byrne wanted to get to redo the iconic panels, but they’re really small. Byrne does a great job this issue, especially once the fight scene gets started at the end between Cap and Batroc and Mister Hyde. The bad guys have teamed up to blackmail the city. The fight takes place on a ship. It just works out great. Most of the issue is probably dedicated to the bad guys, actually. There’s a prison break sequence and then there’s them…

Captain America 250 (October 1980)

After some hiccups, Stern finally gets the whole “Captain America for President” idea working. The problem scenes are the establishing ones. It’s Cap talking to the third party guys who want him to run on their ticket. The issue gets good once it’s Steve Rogers trying to figure out if he should run or not. That opening is so bad, in fact, I thought the whole issue would be a disaster, but Cap’s speech explaining why he will not run is some iconic writing from Stern on the character. Maybe the awful expository narration for the opening action scene (Cap versus a…

Captain America 249 (September 1980)

The Dragon Man cliffhanger really does not resolve well. All Stern can think of to get it over with promptly is for Cap to throw his glove in Dragon Man’s eye. Then Dragon Man heads off to confront Machinesmith and Cap tags along. This sequence, from the cliffhanger resolution to Machinesmith’s hide-out, is visually fantastic. Stern doesn’t even cloud it over with narration or exposition, we just get to see the Byrne and Rubinstein art. Unfortunately, the Machinesmith stuff is far less satisfying. Three quarters of the issue is Cap fighting a robot (or a piece of a robot) only to discover…

Captain America 248 (August 1980)

Steve Rogers as mild-mannered commercial artist is a little off at first, but once he settles in with his friends—and a girl, I sort of remember him dating Bernie Rosenthal when I was a kid—it gets a lot more comfortable. Stern starts with more about him being wowed by the era, but it quickly dissipates and the issue’s a lot stronger than the previous one had suggested it could be. Dragon Man shows up and a big rooftop fight scene ensues. Machinesmith is still an annoying villain, but he eventually goes away. I mean, Dragon Man tries to eat Steve’s shield. It’s…

Captain America 247 (July 1980)

Byrne does a great job with everything this issue except Cap. He draws him a little like a big dope. There’s just something bland and dully affable about him. And he’s always in costume, so clearly Byrne is doing a good job of drawing him that way since he never gets to fully illustrate an expression. The issue is about Cap recovering his memory, which might also lead to the dull part. He thinks he’s got false memories and he discovers the truth in a few pages, leaving him ready to fight Baron Strucker. There’s a really cool bit about Nick Fury…

Doctor Strange: From The Marvel Vault 1 (April 2011)

There’s nothing really wrong with this issue, it’s just off. The combination of Roger Stern’s pleasant, deferential style and Neil Vokes’s animated-style artwork makes it all…. It’s like they’re trying to sell Doctor Strange for kids. But for kids who can’t even handle mildly scary stuff. This issue is maybe the least scary haunted house story I’ve ever read. It reveals Strange didn’t take up residence in his awesome pad without some problems. Ghosts, goblins, things along those lines. Stern’s dialogue is all right—he relies a little too much on the funny names of spells—but his strength is in the plotting. It’s…

West Coast Avengers 4 (December 1984)

Hall hasn’t made much of an impression during West Coast Avengers but during the climatic battle scene here, he does a great job. He’s got Breeding and Berardi inking him (and this issue has no art hiccups like the previous three) but it’s really about his panel composition. Plus, he’s able to bring real drama to Stern’s scripting of the action sequence. Otherwise, the issue lacks any distinction. It’s a mediocre superhero book. The Vision shows up again to congratulate the team (he doesn’t call them “Angels” though) and Rhodey reveals himself to be Iron Man II. Stern handles that revelation well.…

West Coast Avengers 3 (November 1984)

There’s something weird about Graviton. It’s almost like he’s overcompensating. This issue focuses mostly on Tigra and Wonder Man (Rhodey gets cast aside). First it’s about their insecurities, then it’s them teaming up with the Shroud to go after the bad guy (who’s secretly working with Graviton). The splash page has some weak proportions from Hall and Breeding but it clears up fast. Except for Iron Man only showing his teeth through the mouth slot, I imagine in five more issues, the art would start getting good. Too bad there’s only one more issue. Stern, being a professional superhero writer, is able…

West Coast Avengers 2 (October 1984)

Is it possible for Wonder Man to be any more annoying? He spends every moment either bragging about himself or whining. And Stern loves expositional dialogue, so it’s a lot to get through. My favorite line in the book is from him, though–“Who would be crazy enough to rob a bank in broad daylight?” Either Stern (who’s written a lot of comics and they must have had bank robberies) is out of it or he’s very subtly trying to point out Wonder Man is a complete idiot. Unfortunately, I think it’s the former. The book opens with the team training, which leads…

West Coast Avengers 1 (September 1984)

Wow, Stern writes some tone-deaf dialogue. Not all of it, but some… there are some lines in here, it’s like he got out the thesaurus. Though I suppose naturalism wasn’t his goal. He goes overboard with the thought balloons too. What he does do—which is actually quite neat—is set the issue up a little like an episode of “The Love Boat” and the superheroes are the guest stars. We get a nice introduction to everyone and a little backstory and it all feels very… eighties. But in an okay way. And the Vision’s guest spot is a little like “Charlie’s Angels.” The…

The Amazing Spider-Man 252 (May 1984)

Tom DeFalco really likes expository dialogue and thought balloons, not to mention narration. Peter Parker cannot shut up he’s talking to himself so much, then there’s the Black Cat thinking about recent events to catch the reader up. Strangely, the issue opens on this amusing exchange between Jonah and Robbie about the best way to use art on the cover of the Bugle. The opening and close is pretty strong–DeFalco paces the issue really well and reading it is an investment of time (oh, the eighties… one got to read one’s Marvel comic for longer than five minutes… I’d forgotten). Spidey and…

The Avengers 266 (April 1986)

So, in this Secret Wars II epilogue, the Molecule Man finally gets a happy ending. And since Shooter isn’t writing it, Volcana’s just a dim bulb, instead of being the target of endless misogyny. There’s also an (early?) example of She-Hulk tramping around, picking up Hercules in the conclusion of the issue. But the Silver Surfer frames the whole thing and I wondering if Stern realized how perfect it was to use him, an alien observing the possible end of the planet. Regardless, it’s a nice move. This issue might be better than every other Secret Wars II crossover issue–or close, anyway.…

The Avengers 265 (March 1986)

Wait, hillbillies don’t know who the Avengers are? The things I learn reading Secret Wars II crossovers…. This issue features–finally–the scene where the Beyonder reveals his body is just a modified copy of Steve Rogers’s body. Well worth reading thirty issues for that non-moment in comic history. Otherwise, Stern seems to be doing his best not to emphasize the silliness of the crossover, which isn’t the same thing as the comic book good. Instead, there’s bickering between Hercules and Namor. It goes on for pages, actually, maybe the entire first half of the comic book. Then the Avengers attack the Beyonder and…

Marvels: Eye of the Camera 6 (April 2010)

Okay, so Busiek doesn’t pull it off, not saving the whole series, not even saving the whole issue, but when he has the chance to be a right cheap bastard and have the mutant girl be a hallucination of a dying cancer patient… he doesn’t do it. He doesn’t do the M. Night Shyamalan ending. He does the work instead. The ending doesn’t work–we never find out the title of the new book the protagonist was working on and there’s this whole emphasis on his concern for mutant rights–which started an issue ago, certainly not through the whole series–but most of the…

Marvels: Eye of the Camera 5 (June 2009)

If Marvels II is really all about the protagonist dying, shouldn’t they have made the issues match the Kübler-Ross model–the five stages of grief–you know, from that “Simpsons” episode with the blowfish. Just an idea. I’m not sure when this issue takes place. Sometime in the late 1980s at least. The protagonist has been dying for six months or something, so this history of the Marvel Universe is rather abbreviated. It’s idiotic, really. I mean, if the point of Marvels was to age things real time, based on publication date, look at this nonsense. Whatever. This issue ends with a thread from…

Marvels: Eye of the Camera 4 (April 2009)

Ok, so Secret Wars took place in the seventies? I mean, based on the style of the protagonist’s new boss, at least. She’s wearing clothes straight out of “Mary Tyler Moore.” It’s fine, of course, if it does take place in the seventies in Marvels, but maybe mention it, guys. Maybe mention the year. Maybe tie in some events. Or at least get things right when it comes to costumes, if you aren’t going to mention years. As I understand it, Alex Ross brought Marvels to Marvel and Busiek came onboard it. So letting Busiek run Marvels II seems a little odd.…

Marvels: Eye of the Camera 3 (March 2009)

Does Busiek have a point this time? This entire series seems pointless. It’s Anacleto, finally, drawing superheroes–not a lot of them, but some of them–and they look good and the comic looks good overall, but Busiek isn’t doing anything here. There’s nothing… pressing about this comic book. It’s completely by the numbers. It’s so unspectacular, I don’t even remember what happened this issue. It ends with Spider-Man not trying to save the Hitman. It apparently takes place in the seventies, since the Punisher has just shown up, but there’s no seventies texture to it. Apparently, setting Marvels in a point in history…

The Avengers 261 (November 1985)

This Secret Wars II tie-in is a regurgitation of all the other Secret Wars II tie-ins–well, maybe not all of them, but a lot of them. It’s the Beyonder trying to understand the human experience, this time playing with the Avengers. It’s as lame as his costume on that front. And his costume is really lame. About half the issue is dedicated to the tie-in, with the other half concentrating on the Avengers themselves (was Captain Marvel the ostensible lead of the book at this time? She’s the only one who gets to go home and be off duty for a couple…

The Avengers 260 (October 1985)

I know people love The Avengers, but I never really got into them. I think I read West Coast as a kid, but I don’t know. Probably. I probably did. Anyway, this issue reminds me more of Star Wars (one of the second two prequels mostly) than it seems like what an Avengers comic should be. It’s all very interstellar and, well, boring. The Wasp comes off badly, which I found interesting. I always thought she was supposed to be cool, but here there’s definitely something nasty about her. But none of the Avengers are really the main characters in the issue.…