World’s Funnest (April 2016)

 worldsfunnestMr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite are arguably DC’s greatest creations. As respective foils to Superman and Batman they’re perfect critiques of the characters: Mxy the childish trickster-god to a godlike man, and Bat-Mite a child playing god with the man he worships…who is still a child inside, at least emotionally. They’re both insanely powerful and also stand-ins for any precocious young comics readers, trying to imagine the most impossible situations to challenge these men who can do virtually anything. Bat-Mite’s version of the routine underscores the irony with an ill-fitting fan costume – he’s the original comicon cosplayer. World’s Funnest collects Evan Dorkin’s one-shot of the same name from 2000 along with the imps’ first Golden Age appearances and several other quality stories, and it’s a nearly perfect greatest-hits showcase for these uniquely irreverent characters.

The titular story alone is worth the price of admission. With a stunning list of guest artists doing either parodies of their own style (Frank Miller re-creating The Dark Knight Returns) or perfect imitations of classic styles from DC history (David Mazzucchelli doing Jack Kirby’s New Gods), Evan Dorkin sends Mxyzptlk on an apocalyptic death hunt for Bat-Mite across the DC Universe, offhandedly obliterating continuities and timelines with all the slapstick ferocity of Milk and Cheese filtered through an Eltingville Club level of inside-joke comics geekery. Arguably the only flaw is how some of his best jokes rely on the reader’s familiarity with obscure DC references like Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew, but Dorkin goofs on so many other, better known targets like Superfriends and Kingdom Come that there’s something for everyone Like Eltingville Club, this is Dorkin spinning his fanboy self-hatred into comedy gold, subversively under the official DC banner – Batman and Superman are literally murdered within the first few pages, and then murdered several more times before the story is finished, as the Brian Bolland cover promises. It’s a breathtakingly hysterical, once-in-a-corporate-lifetime event that seems even more audacious sixteen years later.

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Note the early alternate spelling

This is followed up by the first appearances, with Siegel and Shuster’s “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” from 1944 and “Batman Meets Bat-Mite” from 1959, written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. These stories have been reprinted a lot over the years but are obviously essential to an official Bat-Mite and Mxy compendium. Joe Shuster’s original design for Mxy is the most adorable he ever looked, as if a 1920s newspaper comic strip character came to visit Superman’s (slightly) more realistically-rendered world. Bat-Mite skirts the uncanny valley a little closer, resembling a midget in a Batman costume rather than a child – which is technically correct, since as he points out, he’s not an elf but comes from a dimension where all men are his size. This explanation is preceded by one of the greatest panels in comic book history:

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HI!

Their debuts are followed by another oft-reprinted but essential landmark: Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s first crossover story together from a 1960 issue of World’s Finest with art by Batman luminary Dick Sprang, by which point Mxyzptlk was redesigned to be an uglier imp, something more akin to Coiley the Spring Sprite. The story by Jerry Coleman is an inconsequential spectacle, but established the dynamic between the two pests for every subsequent meetup: Bat-Mite as the annoying goody-two-shoes to the more malevolent Mxy. Sightings of either character were pretty scarce afterwards, as the collection’s next story is plucked from nearly 20 years later – an odd six page back-up story from a 1979 Detective Comics entitled Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure! In what’s basically just an excuse for some DC staff to put themselves in a comic, Bat-Mite poofs into the offices of, yes, DC Comics and cajoles the vintage 1979 nerds (not a one without glasses, several with sideburns) to put him in Detective Comics. Which is the comic you just read. Get it? While the joke fails to have a punchline, at least the art by Michael Golden features a disgustingly cute version of Bat-Mite. And to give credit writer Rob Rozakis, while his story fails to be funny it may be the first to realize the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking possibilities of Bat-Mite as a fifth dimensional imp, and by corollary Mr. Mxyzptlk.

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Michael Golden’s Bat-Mite is just too adorbs

DC wasn’t yet ready to full dive into post-modernism, however, as Bat-Mite’s sole appearance in the 80s was a one-page cameo in a 1983 anniversary issue of The Brave and the Bold. Just as in his prior outing, he demands recognition from the corporate overlords (this time breaking the fourth wall outright by addressing the reader) only to be erased by a giant pencil a la Duck Amuck. The art is by Stephen DeStefano, although it’s such early work in his career that his personal style isn’t yet recognizable – unlike the page he contributed 16 years later to Dorkin’s World’s Funnest. While not quite a hidden gem, the inclusion of this forgotten rarity is definitely the kind of bonus indicating the volume’s organizers relished their task. The next two stories are Mxyzptlk tales from the late 80s era of Superman, first with writer/artist John Byrne’s re-introduction of the character and then a later appearance by writers Roger Stern and Tom Peyer, with art by Paris Cullins. Byrne’s story is as exemplary of high quality mainstream superhero comics as anything else he was doing during the 80s, while Stern & Peyer pit a fun novelty matchup of Mxy against Lex Luthor for a change. Cullins, whose art I wasn’t previously familiar with, has a style similar to John Byrne’s only more unhinged – he gets some wild expressions into his human characters, while Mxyzptlk often looks like a demonic gremlin. In other words, cool stuff.

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The gloriously gross 80s: Paris Cullins’ Mxyzptlk

The second best comic in the collection after Dorkin’s is Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s post-Crisis reintroduction of Bat-Mite from 1992, Legend of the Dark Mite, which I cajoled Andrew into reading and reviewing here. Surprisingly, generously also included is Grant & O’Neill’s perennially unpopular follow-up from 1995, Mitefall (it’s great, but shops are still trying to get it out of their discount bins to this day) which continues the adventures of Bob Overdog and Bat-Mite in order to take the piss out of Knightfall storyline. Between this and Dorkin’s story, Bat-Mite really achieves his full potential as an avatar for writers seeking to mock DC from within. Sandwiched between these tales is a more sedate 1999 World’s Finest meeting of Bat-Mite and Mxy, which actually isn’t out of order thanks to an opening caption declaring it to take place “five years earlier” so the continuity commissars can’t complain. The Imp-Possible Dream has a humdrum plot but a surprisingly wry and snarky script by Karl Kesel – only Mxy could really get away with a Batman/Robin gay joke, right? Artist Peter Doherty’s versions of the imps kind of resemble Sylvester P. Smythe of Cracked magazine, while his human figures and faces are unfortunately stiff by comparison. Overall, it’s okay. Really, the book’s sole offensive inclusion is the concluding two-parter from 2008, Lil’ Leaguers, from the series Superman/Batman. In what Mxyzptlk admits to be a sales-generating gimmick (the most crass use of fourth wall breaking), superdeformed chibi versions of the DCU invade Batman and Superman’s world to run around being cuter, more marketable versions of them. Bat-Mite shows up for two pages at the conclusion to explain his collusion in the prank. It’s not a Mxy story, it’s not a Bat-Mite story and there’s a creepy lolicon vibe when lil’ Catwoman jumps on regular-size Batman. While not a bad comic – Rafael Albuquerque’s art is certainly appealing – it feels like unnecessary filler.

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Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s Legend of the Dark Mite: comics in the 90s assumed you’d read the classics

Born of the era in comics when superheroes excelled at flights of fancy, Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s history is almost as long as Superman and Batman’s. In 1986, the year of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when superheroes were being put to bed, Alan Moore’s revelation of a malignant Mxy as Superman’s ultimate nemesis in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow spoke slyly to the genre’s sea change; that powerful forces once joyful and innocent were degenerating into something sinister. Bat-Mite has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, with media such as the animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold employing him as a post-modern mouthpiece for multiple generations of Bat-fans, with the inspired casting of Paul Reubens. As superheroes are ultimately creatures of the comics medium no matter how many movies and cartoons are shoveled out for the illiterate masses, Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk are creatures representing the medium’s unlimited possibilities for pure anarchic imagination. The talents who contributed to this book are many of the greatest in the industry. World’s Funnest  both the Evan Dorkin story and now the expanded collection bearing the same name, is an absolute must-have.

CREDITS

World’s Funnest; writers, Evan Dorkin, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Bob Rozakis, Stephen DeStefano, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Tom Peyer, Alan Grant, Karl Kesel, Michael Green, Mike Johnson; artists, Mike Allred, Frank Cho, Stephen DeStefano, Dave Gibbons, Jaime Hernandez, Stuart Immonen, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Sheldon Moldoff, Glen Murakami, Alex Ross, Scott Shaw, Jay Stephens, Ty Templeton, Jim Woodring, Joe Shuster, Dick Sprang, Michael Golden, John Byrne, Paris Cullins, Kevin O’Neill, Peter Doherty, Rafael Albuquerque; collection editor, Robin Wildman; publisher, DC Comics.

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Judge Dredd’s Crime File 1 (August 1985)

Judge Dredd's Crime File #1

Judge Dredd’s Crime File has three stories in this first issue, all written by John Wagner. They all have good art–John Byrne, Ron Smith, Colin Wilson–they all have slightly different art. Wilson’s future landscape is more stylish than Byrne’s, for example. Ron Smith is the most rounded for what Wagner’s trying to do with the differing stories.

The most significant thing about these stories in relation to Judge Dredd is the lack of Dredd. The second story, with the Smith art, has the most Dredd–it’s about these alien plants people are growing but the plants turn into little alien monsters. Dredd is investigating. But in the first story, the one with the Byrne art, Wagner goes way more into the game of the future than Dredd’s quelling of a footballer-like riot.

The third story–Wilson’s–has some guy going crazy and shooting up civilians. It’s about urban plight in the future. It’s not Dredd’s story (even though the guy ends up gunning for Dredd in a very cheap action movie revenge manner).

For the unfamiliar Dredd reader, Crime File might seem an odd collection of stories but it’s actually some of Wagner’s best work.

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artists, John Byrne, Ron Smith and Colin Wilson; colorist, John M. Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

The Sensational She-Hulk 1 (May 1989)

The Sensational She-Hulk #1

John Byrne finds a nice approach for Sensational She-Hulk–it’s a gag. He doesn’t just go for humor, he finds the right balance between humor for the characters and the reader. It’s entertaining, which is the point, but very expertly executed in how he delivers that entertainment.

He never lets She-Hulk be a joke or her comics history–in fact, some of Byrne’s handling of crowd (this issue mostly takes place at a circus) reminds of Silver Age Marvel. But there’s also the Byrne art. He gives himself a cast of peculiar characters to illustrate and does well with them. The final reveal takes it a little far, but the whole circus setting is fantastic.

It’s not a deep comic and there’s not much character development, but it’s a lot of fun and the art’s good. Byrne’s attitudes–both to his narrative and to his protagonist–are strong.

B 

CREDITS

Second Chance; writer and penciller, John Byrne; inker, Bob Wiacek; colorist, Glynis Oliver; letterer, John Workman; editor, Bobbi Chase; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Batman 400 (October 1986)

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I hate this comic. I hate how DC used it, I hate how Moench writes it, even if it was an editorial decision.

There are nods to Moench’s run, but only so far as he gets to give each of his characters a page to sort of say goodbye. There’s no closure on any of the story lines, not a single one.

There’s also a lot of crappy art. It’s an anniversary issue with a lot of big names drawing either poorly or against their style. Rick Leonardi and Arthur Adams are some of the worst offenders, but not even Brian Bolland does particularly well. Ken Steacy is the only decent one.

Moench’s writing for a different audience than usual, the casual Batman reader, not the regular. Apparently he thinks the casual readers like endless exposition and incredible stupidity. It’s a distressing, long read; a terrible capstone to Moench’s run.

D- 

CREDITS

Resurrection Night!; writer, Doug Moench; pencillers, John Byrne, Steve Lightle, George Perez, Paris Cullins, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, Tom Sutton, Steve Leialoha, Joe Kubert, Ken Steacy, Rick Leonardi and Brian Bolland; inkers, Byrne, Bruce Patterson, Perez, Larry Mahlstedt, Sienkiewicz, Terry Austin, Ricardo Villagran, Leialoha, Kubert, Steacy, Karl Kesel and Bolland; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterers, John Costanza and Andy Kubert; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Doomsday + 1 3 (November 1975)

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Joe Gill sure doesn’t have many ideas. Worse, the lack of them cuts into what Byrne gets to draw. For example, this issue has visuals out of the first issue–the space stuff–and the second issue–the robots. Gill gives it a different context (these robots are intergalactic peacekeepers investigating the destruction of Earth) but Byrne doesn’t really do anything new.

He still has some great panel compositions and has some wonderful layouts. Thanks to Gill’s writing inadequacies, Doomsday doesn’t have enough to offer without engaging artwork. There are maybe three character moments in the whole issue and all of them are dumb. Intentionally or not, Ken is completely unlikable–he nukes the aliens as a first resort–and Gill basically just has the women around for a love triangle (or quartet).

Doomsday should be a no-brainer to pull off, especially with Byrne, but Gill totally fumbles it.

CREDITS

The Peace Keepers; writers, John Byrne and Joe Gill; artist and letterer, Byrne; editor, George Wildman; publisher, Charlton Comics.

Doomsday + 1 2 (September 1975)

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So Barbie is falling in love with the thawed cave man. I doubt Gill will be able to sell it, though it does give his characters something interesting. There’s nothing otherwise. The Ken guy gets kidnapped by an evil Soviet cyborg and it’s all painfully boring.

Gill only continues the ravaged world exploration thing for a couple pages. Mostly he’s just got armies of robots attacking the survivors and then they hop a fighter jet to Mother Russia. There, they have another lengthy fight scene. There’s some talking, but it’s Ken and the cyborg. Very boring.

Byrne does have some wonderful composition this issue, however. Even though his details on people aren’t particularly special–he rushes on the people–the rest of his art makes up for it. Doomsday + 1 almost has a good setting; instead of developing it, Gill fills it with action.

Byrne’s art deserves much better storytelling.

CREDITS

A Faceless Foe; writer, Joe Gill; artist and letterer, John Byrne; editor, George Wildman; publisher, Charlton Comics.

Doomsday + 1 1 (July 1975)

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It’s the end of the world as we know it… and John Byrne’s drawing it. I’m not sure what the series’s title, Doomsday + 1, has to do with the content. The premise is simple–three astronauts return to Earth after a nuclear war. Writer Joe Gill doesn’t know much about nuclear warheads, because the radiation’s dissipating real fast. Not so fast the astronauts just get to come back, but fast enough Gill can move the story along.

There are two Ken and Barbie astronauts and then the Japanese woman. She’s in love with Ken; she doesn’t know why, probably because of his Aryan superiority. It doesn’t matter much–Gill abandons all the subplots pretty quick to get into the action. The ice cap got hit and prehistoric beasts are thawing out.

It’s a nice enough mix of apocalyptic and lost world stuff. Byrne’s got some beautifully composed panels in here.

CREDITS

They Live Again; writer, Joe Gill; artist and letterer, John Byrne; editor, George Wildman; publisher, Charlton Comics.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 2 (February 1983)

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Denny O’Neil takes over scripting from Byrne, who sticks around to pencil, and adds xenophobia and misogyny. Not to mention Indy talking for the first half of the issue in expository paragraphs.

Ever wanted to see Indiana Jones gleefully kill members of a bronze age tribe? Here’s your comic. Or to see him buddy up with Nazi sailors? Again, this comic’s the one for you.

O’Neil seems entirely ignorant of archeology, so ignorant it’s as though he didn’t even see Raiders of the Lost Ark, which isn’t exactly real archeology but it’s better than what O’Neil writes about here.

He also seems disinterested in the time period. His writing read like a resentful employee’s contractual obligation.

Bryne’s panel compositions are interesting. He goes for cinematic. It doesn’t always work, but at least he’s trying.

Also interesting is Indy’s face. Everyone else has Byrne face; not Indy. Maybe Austin drew it.

CREDITS

22-Karat Doom!; writer, Denny O’Neil; pencillers, John Byrne and Terry Austin; inker, Austin; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Janice Chiang; editor, Louise Jones; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 1 (January 1983)

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There are a lot of unexpected things in this first issue of The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. For example, writer and penciller John Byrne doesn’t work at making Indiana Jones likable. He’s a bit of a jerk, really, and definitely irresponsible.

I also wasn’t expecting Indy to be mooning over the absent Marion; Byrne uses the lines for character, not to call back to Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s deft. Not deft is repeating the kidnapping sequence from that film. It’s not predicable either. One would think they would come up with something original.

The villain’s original (and cringeworthy). He’s a big fat black guy named Black. Maybe Byrne was trying to be funny.

The comic does work though. Byrne and Terry Austin’s art is fine, better than most licensed stuff, and the story moves.

Byrne also comes up with an excellent, serial-inspired cliffhanger.

It’s okay enough.

CREDITS

Writer, John Byrne; pencillers, Byrne and Terry Austin; inker, Austin; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Joe Rosen; editor, Louise Jones; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Rocketeer Adventures 2 4 (June 2012)

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John Byrne easily does the best story in this issue. Really. And he can even draw Peevy. He lays out his story well, though the details on the characters aren’t any great shakes. The Rocketeer’s funny looking, while Cliff looks like Snidely Whiplash. Still, Byrne’s clearly enthusiastic about the characters and the setting. The other creators this issue clearly aren’t.

Well, maybe the Simonsons are enthusiastic but are incapable of conveying it. Louise Simonson’s plot isn’t terrible, but her dialogue is unbearable. From the first word balloon, it’s clear the story’s going to be a chore. And Walt Simonson’s art doesn’t help. He’s lazy with everything but Betty, including the action. It stinks.

David Mandel recasts the Rocketeer as Adam Strange for a sci-fi comedy, only Mandel’s not funny. And J. Bone’s style flops on alien worlds.

It’s another lame Adventures, thankfully the last one. IDW fumbled this series.

CREDITS

War Hero; writer, Louise Simonson; penciller, Walt Simonson; inker, Bob Wiacek; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, John Workman. Warlord of Blargon; writer, David Mandel; artist and colorist, J. Bone; letterer, Shawn Lee. Fair Game; writer and artist, John Byrne; colorist, Bone; letterer, Neil Uyetake. Editor, Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Untold Legend of the Batman 1 (July 1980)

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The Untold Legend of the Batman might have good art… but it’s hard to tell. Each page is packed with panels–except one pin-up page, which is pretty good–and it’s hard to get a handle of John Byrne’s pencils (with Jim Aparo inking).

Some of the pages are pretty good though, but it’s certainly not a comic to read for the art. Sadly, it’s also not a comic to read for the writing.

Untold Legend is a streamlined retelling of Batman’s original, adding in all the Earth-One origin developments. It’s excellent as a curiosity (I’d forgotten teenage Bruce Wayne was Robin to some police detective) but Len Wein’s writing is atrocious.

Most of the comic is Bruce retelling his history to Alfred. One would assume Alfred would know some of these events, if not all.

The issue’s painful at times, a shopping list of contrived origin events.

Captain America 255 (March 1981)

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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 a kid (I think Marvel reprinted it a lot). If this retelling is the best one they had, they were in a sorry state. There’s not a single good moment in the entire comic book.

Every time Stern’s writing seems its worst, he drops it down another notch.

CREDITS

The Living Legend; writer, Roger Stern; penciller, John Byrne; inkers, Byrne and Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Joe Rosen; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America 254 (February 1981)

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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 survived his first, noisy heart attack (before succumbing to his second, silent one). But the real draw is Byrne’s artwork. Besides Cap’s weak big blues, the art this issue is outstanding. Byrne does a British village, horror, contained action. His composition is comics masterwork. Great looking stuff.

C+ 

CREDITS

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot; writers, John Byrne and Roger Stern; penciller, Byrne; inker, Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America 253 (January 1981)

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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 it, using (or creating) iconic poses for Cap. Then Steve and Bernie have their first date. Stern accelerates the courtship awkwardly and kills a lot of the charm. Good will towards the characters helps the sequence pass.

It’s still impressive as an example of excellent superhero comic art.

CREDITS

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot; writers, John Byrne and Roger Stern; penciller, Byrne; inker, Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America 252 (December 1980)

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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 what’s basically an all-action issue. Again, Byrne saves it.

At the end, there’s a little recap of Cap’s origin and his friends and so on. His apartment gets a page too. They just did an origin recap last issue, so the repeat’s pointless, but competently done.

CREDITS

Cold Fire!; writer, Roger Stern; penciller, John Byrne; inker, Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America 251 (November 1980)

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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 bickering about teaming up. Cap has his open, then pulls an all-nighter drawing for his day job. Bernie shows up (but not for long enough).

It seems like all Stern needs to do is write through his wordy exposition; once it’s out of his system, he’s fine.

CREDITS

The Mercenary and the Madman; writer, Roger Stern; penciller, John Byrne; inker, Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America 250 (October 1980)

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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 domestic terrorist) soured me to the issue prematurely.

Rubinstein’s art—Byrne’s credited with breakdowns—definitely has its moments. Unfortunately, the art’s the best while Steve Rogers is helping Bernie Rosenthal move into her apartment. That scene’s a good one anyway though.

It’s a fine issue, brief but effective.

CREDITS

Cap For President!; writer, Roger Stern; pencillers, John Byrne and Joe Rubinstein; inker, Rubinstein; colorist, George Roussos; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America 249 (September 1980)

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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 another robot waiting to attack him.

The final resolution, coming after two flashbacks revealing Machinesmith’s tortured past (Daredevil beat him up amongst other things), has a very sci-fi feel to it. Stern inexplicably closes this sequence with some awkwardly patriotic thought balloons.

But the art’s great.

CREDITS

Death, Where Is Thy Sting?; writers, John Byrne and Roger Stern; penciller, Byrne; inker, Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America 248 (August 1980)

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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 hilarious.

But Byrne is what makes the fight scene work. They’re destroying building after building and Byrne makes it all seem real, down to the gigantic Dragon Man who can hold Steve in one hand.

Though, really, Captain America having money problems seems wrong too….

CREDITS

Dragon Man!; writers, John Byrne and Roger Stern; penciller, Byrne; inker, Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America 247 (July 1980)

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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 sending Strucker to Israel for war crimes, a nice mix of reality into it.

But most of Roger Stern’s script is too expository and obvious. The issue only has a pulse when Fury’s around. When it’s just Cap, it’s all too tepid.

Bryne partially makes up for it.

CREDITS

By the Dawn’s Early Light!; writers, John Byrne and Roger Stern; penciller, Byrne; inker, Joe Rubinstein; colorist, George Roussos; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 4 (June 1994)

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Rasputin still doesn’t get identified by name—but based on all the expository dialogue, it’s surprising Hellboy couldn’t figure it out. I guess he never took any history classes.

The series winds down with some more big action sequences, one involving Abe and Liz Sherman. Well, not exactly Liz Sherman. Mignola and Byrne had very little use for her (Hellboy talks about her in the narration more than she talks in dialogue). It makes her feel like a fifth wheel, only around because the comic book readers must have a pretty face.

Also interesting is how passive Hellboy and Abe are in the grand conclusion—Hellboy gets a little moment alone with Rasputin with foreshadowing—but the big part is resolved somewhat without them.

Still, it’s decent.

The Monkeyman backup features Adams screwing up tenses in his first person narration. There’s little else to say about it, except weak art.

CREDITS

Writers and letterers, Mike Mignola and John Byrne; artist, Mignola; colorist, Mark Chiarello. Who Are Monkeyman and O’Brien?, Chapter Three; writer and artist, Art Adams; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, L. Lois Buhalis. Editor, Barbara Kesel; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 3 (May 1994)

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Adams (sorry, starting with him again, I know) must intentionally draw bad faces. Everything else is so detailed… faces not. So it’s a choice. A bad one, but a choice.

Mignola and Byrne get a lot of content into this issue. I don’t think Rasputin ever even gets named, just his history introduced—the majority of the issue, besides an opening fight scene, is expository dialogue.

The best thing in the issue is a two page scene with Abe seeing these frog monsters take their human mother down into the bog. It’s the only time Byrne and Mignola take the time to do anything neat. The rest of the issue is all necessary just to get the story told.

It’s far beyond the regular supervillain revealing his evil plan scene. Byrne and Mignola turn it into an issue. I kept wondering where the cliffhanger would be.

Questionably—but impressively—dense.

CREDITS

Writers and letterers, Mike Mignola and John Byrne; artist, Mignola; colorist, Mark Chiarello. Who Are Monkeyman and O’Brien?, Chapter Three; writer and artist, Art Adams; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, L. Lois Buhalis. Editor, Barbara Kesel; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 2 (April 1994)

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You know, if Adams stuck to the way he draws in medium long shots… he’d make a good comic strip artist. Sorry to talk about the Monkeyman backup, but I thought I should open with a nice comment about Adams. It’s probably never going to happen again.

The Hellboy part of the issue is very strong. There’s the problem with the narration again, like Byrne can’t find a voice for Hellboy—also when they switch over to Abe Sapian’s narration and the narration boxes are the same format.

And there’s some weak art from Mignola, but weak even in the Mignola sense. The issue is very thoughtfully designed, then he abandons it for the last few pages. It forces the comic out on a low note.

Or would, if the plotting weren’t so interesting. It’s a Lovecraft homage and it’s compelling and interesting. Bad ending aside, it’s starting to work.

CREDITS

Writers and letterers, Mike Mignola and John Byrne; artist, Mignola; colorist, Mark Chiarello. Who Are Monkeyman and O’Brien?, Chapter Two; writer and artist, Art Adams; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, L. Lois Buhalis. Editor, Barbara Kesel; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 1 (March 1994)

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All right, so Mignola and Byrne conceive Hellboy as sort of a hard boiled detective. Not in the content so much, but in the first person narration Byrne writes for him. It also doesn’t really match the way Hellboy talks in dialogue either.

But the big problem is the way the story’s split. It opens with a mostly text (though illustrated) telling of Hellboy’s origin. Then it switches to a regular narrative (where presumably main characters is instead killed off before he can resonate). The modern day stuff is all action too—except the end reveal—and the issue wouldn’t feel like it had any weight if it weren’t for that prologue.

The art’s okay—the worst thing is Mignola’s Hellboy, who seems inconsistent-.

Inexplicably, there’s a Monkeyman & O’Brien backup. Adams’s art is lame and the writing is awful. It does have a couple King Kong references, but so what.

CREDITS

Writers and letterers, Mike Mignola and John Byrne; artist, Mignola; colorist, Mark Chiarello. Who Are Monkeyman and O’Brien?, Chapter One; writer and artist, Art Adams; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, L. Lois Buhalis. Editor, Barbara Kesel; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Dark Horse Presents 57 (December 1991)

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Not much to recommend Next Men this time. Byrne handles his violent action sequence well, but he’s also selling a U.S. senator killing a federal agent. Who knows, maybe it’s all a Tea Party thing. Regardless, no longer interested in the series.

The Creep is, again, excellent. I can’t believe Arcudi’s writing it. And Eaglesham’s artwork is great. He’s doing this unfinished finished look, hard to explain.

Geary does one page. It’s fine. His longer work’s better.

Alien Fire is this excellent sixties piece about a Vietnam vet. It’s very quiet, lovely writing from Smith. Vincent’s artwork is good, with some caveats.

Campbell’s Alec story–about traveling the globe for a couple comic conventions–is astounding. It’s the best thing in Dark Horse Presents to date. He puts autobiography into this narrative device (numbered stills) but also scrapbook-like design work.

Sin City is awful. I hope Marv dies soon.

CREDITS

The Next Men, Nativity; story, art and lettering by John Byrne. The Creep; story by John Arcudi; art by Dale Eaglesham; lettering by Pat Brosseau. Grampa Speaks; story, art and lettering by Rick Geary. Alien Fire, Pass in Thunder, Part One; story by Anthony Smith; art and lettering by Eric Vincent. Alec, Around the World in Eighty Frames; story, art and lettering by Eddie Campbell. Sin City, Episode Eight; story, art and lettering by Frank Miller. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 56 (November 1991)

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This oversized issue opens and closes with an Aliens two-parter. Loose art from Guinan and Akins doesn’t help Arcudi’s script. It’s absolutely incomprehensible if you don’t read the Aliens series.

Byrne finally produces a Next Men I’m not interested in. It’s two government guys revealing all. The art’s really, really mediocre. It’s like even Byrne doesn’t have any interest in this part of the story, which really makes one wonder why he’s bothering tell it.

Duffy and Geary both have nice stories. Duffy (with Chacon art) has an amusing fantasy story, Fancies about a tavern fight, while Geary does the history of Eldgytha. She was British royalty who had a lot of husbands. It’s fantastically concise and engaging work from Geary.

Sin City is crap, but not as mean-spirited as Earth Boys.

Arcudi and Eaglesham’s The Creep is good. It’s maybe the best thing I’ve read from Arcudi.

CREDITS

Aliens, The Alien; story by John Arcudi; pencils by Tony Akins; layouts and inks by Paul Guinan; lettering by Willie Schubert. The Next Men, Prelude; story, art and lettering by John Byrne. Fancies; story by Jo Duffy; art by Joven Chacon; lettering by Gaspar Saladino. The True Chronicle of Eldgytha; story, art and lettering by Rick Geary. Sin City, Episode Seven; story, art and lettering by Frank Miller. The Creep; story by John Arcudi; art by Dale Eaglesham; lettering by Pat Brosseau. Earth Boys, The Trouble with Kiib’Bllz; story by Cliff Biggers and Brett Brooks; art by Dave Johnson; lettering by Pat Brosseau. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 55 (October 1991)

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Sin City is really bad this time. The amount of white space suggests Miller didn’t spend a lot of time drawing it. It also doesn’t seem like he spent much time writing it. Even with his terrible narration, this installment is a new low. Though I guess some of it does sound a lot like the Spirit movie narration, which doesn’t seem appropriate.

Johnson’s art is a little better on this installment of Earth Boys. He clearly worked at it more. But the story itself is still terribly written (by Biggers and Brooks).

Byrne continues his Next Men with a decent entry. It’s better than I expect from Byrne, but not as good as the first part. Especially not since he starts using a new character here with no introduction.

And Arcudi’s back to the crap with Homicide, Morrow or no Morrow. Decent last page reveal, but absolutely terrible dialogue.

CREDITS

Sin City, Episode Six; story, art and lettering by Frank Miller. Earth Boys, The Big Schlep; story by Cliff Biggers and Brett Brooks; art by Dave Johnson; lettering by Pat Brosseau. The Next Men, Interlude II; story, art and lettering by John Byrne. Homicide, The Long Rode to Truth; story by John Arcudi; art by Gray Morrow; lettering by Pat Brosseau. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 54 (September 1991)

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The big surprise this issue is Byrne’s Next Men. It’s actually pretty solid (though I think it features all four Byrne faces). The art’s great–nice flow of action–and the story’s intriguing. I think it’s the strongest narrative structure I’ve ever read from Byrne (though it might just be because it’s a prologue).

Geary’s got a few Transgression Hotline strips. They’re solid, amusing and unremarkable. Geary’s a professional though and they’re well-produced.

The Homicide closer from Morrow and Arcudi is fabulous. Morrow transforms the strip from Arcudi’s regular bore to something out of a film noir. During this installment, Arcudi even manages to insert something subtle, which I didn’t realize he was capable of doing.

Finally, Sin City. Miller uses almost this entire installment to promote violence, torture and cruelty. Wait, can you torture without cruelty? Anyway, he throws in some terrible dialogue and narration as a bonus.

CREDITS

Homicide, The Creep, Part Two; story by John Arcudi; art and lettering by Gray Morrow. The Next Men, Interlude; story, art and lettering by John Byrne. Transgression Hotline; story, art and lettering by Rick Geary. Sin City, Episode Five; story, art and lettering by Frank Miller. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Spider-Man: Chapter One 12 (October 1999)

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It’s so bad. It’s so bad I’m not even going to go on a super-rant about it because I think Byrne had to know it was terrible and it doesn’t seem sportsmanlike to kick him after such an absurdly bad comic book.

It retells the Sandman story from Amazing, but sets it later in Spidey’s career (I think Marvel intended a sequel, thank goodness they never did one). It also resolves Betty Brant and Peter’s dating–but they weren’t dating in Chapter One (and retcons out her brother)–though, honestly, I can’t imagine why Peter would like Betty. She’s like an anorexic version of Byrne’s Lois Lane from Man of Steel.

Oh, on a nice note, Sandman’s illustrated in that rough fashion like Ditko drew him. It’s respectful.

I don’t think any of Chapter One is intentionally disrespectful. I think it’s just a hideous idea, ineptly handled by Byrne.

CREDITS

The End of Spider-Man!; writer, penciller and letterer, John Byrne; inker, Al Milgrom; colorist, Joe Rosas; editors, Matt Hicks and Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Spider-Man: Chapter One 11 (September 1999)

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Oh, wow. This issue is actually the worst. The dialogue is so unbearably bad, it doesn’t even matter Milgrom’s inks are a little better than last time.

Spider-Man gets in a fight with Giant-Man and the Wasp–who Byrne portrays as being entirely narcissistic and without any heroic qualities whatsoever, but still forces the reader to spend time with them–and then they all team up to foul some armored car heist.

In the mean time, in actual importance (to the series’s arc), everyone’s turning against Spider-Man… Betty because of Liz Allen (though who cares if Betty is turning against him… Byrne’s characterization of her is terrible, though his Liz Allen characterization isn’t good either), the city (over the Green Goblin fight), and even Peter Parker, because Spider-Man can’t make Aunt May better.

Byrne’s Peter Parker is the biggest whiner since Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

CREDITS

The Big Man and the Little Lady; writer, penciller and letterer, John Byrne; inker, Al Milgrom; colorist, Joe Rosas; editors, Matt Hicks and Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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