Classic Comic Fridays: X-Men #95

It has been about four months since I’ve last done a Classic Comic feature. For the new folks here, Classic Comic Friday’s feature a comic from my personal collection which I look back upon and review. Then, if we’re lucky, I can compare it to newer comics similar to it so we can see how things have changed.

This past August, I was fortunate enough to find a decent-quality copy of X-Men #95: The death of Thunderbird. He was arguably the first X-Men to be killed (because people debate Changeling), and set-off a idea of the “unknown” with these X-Men comics. Another notable mention is that X-Men #95 features Chris Claremont’s second story with the X-Men.

So here we go:

X-Men 95

X-Men #95 (October, 1975)
Chris Claremont (writer), Len Wein (plotter), Dave Cockrum (pencils, cover), Sam Grainger (inker), Petra Goldberg (colours), Karen Mantlo (letterer) Cockrum, Gil Kane & Dan Crespi (cover). $0.25

If you were unfamiliar with the X-Men prior to this issue, Claremont and Wein set up this story so you can fully grasp each character within the first few pages. You find out who is the strongest, which heroes can fly, who the X-Men’s field leader is, plus who has the smartest mouth and who has the biggest ego to them. All within the first few pages. Within those pages, would you believe we also get a recap to who all the villain is – Count Nefaria – AND his masterplan! They certainly do not make stories like they used to.

So now that everyone and everything is established at the beginning, the rest of the story is a playground of fun ideas to entice the reader to keep reading. Nightcrawler teleports in the enemy base to let the X-Men in, followed by a battle between the the villains evil creations: The Ani-Men and X-Men. Just when the X-Men have seemingly won, Count Nefaria escapes in a jet plane. Fortunately, X-Man Thunderbird follows suite and jumps on the plane. As Nefaria tries to escape, Thunderbird uses his brute force and beats the plane down to stop Nefaria at the price of Thunderbird’s own life.

As shocking as it comes to a comic reader that a hero had just died, it was done so artistically well, thanks to the legendary Dave Cockrum. Well-known for his clean pencils and well-plotted out panels, Cockrum owns this book. When the X-Men are on a mountain, their hair is blowing. When problems appear, the faces clearly represent what the characters are saying or feeling. The action sequences are never jumbled and without dialogue, we can tell what is happening in the story. It is very rare to see comics these days like that. But like I said, Cockrum owns it.

Thunderbird's Death

In fact, the whole artistic team really controls this story. While the exposition sets up the characters, the true feeling of this story comes from the art. With a very James Bond-like tone, it’s as if the reader can feel themselves in the trees on a mountain or smell the machinery inside the hidden base. Both Grainger and Goldberg accentuate Cockrum’s pencils with a tremendous dramatic effect. Nothing is overdone on the inks and the fluidity of colour is spot-on. Vibrant sheens across each page really gives this book a light-hearted tone – setting the reader up for the unexpected.

The most exciting part of this book is definitely the unexpected death of Thunderbird. The build up, while readers have seen it in hundreds of comics throughout the years up to this point in 1975 – the death was sudden and done tastefully. The X-Men do not take the death lightly. However, because of the character development and the “team” feel the book gives, readers are forced to read on to the next issue to see how the team deals with the death.

That’s right. There’s no twist ending to make readers want to jump back to the book like a season finale of a TV show. Claremont and Wein compel readers to come back because throughout the book readers are forced to care for the characters. And that’s a more powerful reason to continue reading a book than any cliffhanger could bring.

Grade: 8/10

Looking back on this book, it’s amazing to also consider that Thunderbird is one of the few Marvel characters whom have stayed dead. Aside from some flashbacks or the more-recent Chaos War – Thunderbird, John Proudstar – has stayed dead. It’s interesting to see why that has been the case. Three issues in, of course he would not have a lot of reader fanbase – but it still remains.

To top it all off, there was no cliffhanger of a villain suddenly appearing on the last page. Nor was there a jaw-dropping moment for readers to say, “Wow! I need to go back and read this book!” The readership is solely gained because of how the writers make us feel for these characters. Name three comics nowadays that end that way. It’s pretty hard to come up with a list.

And don’t forget to check out UncannyDerek on Facebook and Twitter!

So until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

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Classic Comic Fridays: Daredevil #181

Happy two-month anniversary to my blog! It’s been fun so far. I’ve had over 1,100 views – all showing me that people actually want to read about comics. Who knew?

As for today, every Friday, I will yank out an old comic from my personal collection and review the crap out of it. So why not do something epic?

This week, I am going to review one of the greatest Marvel stories, Daredevil #181, from April of 1982. Also, I will be bringing up the Marvel’s current Shadowland story arc. If you do not want to read spoilers, stop reading here.

Daredevil181

The story was done by legendary writer and artist Frank Miller – guilty of making Daredevil ridiculously popular, while also teaming up with Chris Claremont to create the awfully popular Wolverine limited series. One day I’ll review that here, too.

Colours, inks and some finishing art was done by Klaus Janson, arguably a great artist with little credit given to him – especially noted with his run on Daredevil here.

This double-sized issue of Daredevil features a showdown by two of Marvel’s greats – Elektra and Bullseye, with the subtitle, “One wins. One dies.” Needless to say, this story would easily draw any reader in even if it was to just look at the conclusion.

In case you haven’t heard, Elektra is the one who dies (sorry, folks). But that’s not nearly the part of the story that gets me excited. It is entirely on the build-up.

The story begins with Bullseye in jail – Daredevil having him put there. He’s suffering from headaches, requiring the guards to give him pills to stop the pain. While in jail, he pushes himself to workout and plot his revenge, and while in a courtyard, he runs into Frank Castle, the Punisher who also is in jail, and says that the Kingpin has replaced Bullseye for another assassin. Soon after, Bullseye is put on television for an interview about his murders. While having another headache, the guard gives him another pill which Bullseye promptly spits in the guards eye, allowing Bullseye to jump free, hold hostages, and eventually escape through a helicopter. Brilliant.

While off to find the hired assassin, he runs into some thugs, telling him that the assassin Elektra is hired to kill Daredevil’s lawyer partner, Foggy Nelson. Recognizing that Dardevil could possibly be Matt Murdock, he follows Elektra as she hunts for Foggy.

Elektra runs into Foggy, and shortly after, Foggy recognizes Elektra as Matt Murdock’s old girlfriend. Sensing Bullseye nearby however, she allows him to escape and waits for Bullseye to show himself.

DeathofElektra

The two begin a monumental battle with cuts and bruises on both sides. Miller’s beautiful artwork shows both combatants nearly at an equal match – each using the environment to pull of fighting moves. The colours of red and blue splash on the page with the two fighting to their death. Trapping Elektra in a corner, Bullseye pulls an ace of spades and whips it at Elektra’s neck. She fumbles, loses her sai, and is prompted by Bullseye to be stabbed in the chest. Crawling back to Murdock’s house, Elektra dies on his footsteps.

Back at the Kingpin’s, Bullseye tells the Kingpin that he has found out Matt Murdock’s secret identity. After some convincing, Bullseye is sent off to murder Murdock.

Planning the second assassination, Daredevil places a dummy Matt in the house, forcing Bullseye to be fooled about Murdock’s real identity. Daredevil appears behind Bullseye, and the two battle it out for the exciting showdown. Falling off a building, Daredevil catches Bullseye and listens to him plead for his life. Daredevil thinks otherwise and refuses to let Bullseye kill again – dropping him to his death.

Murdock goes to Elektra’s grave site to mourn, while the final page shows Bullseye in the hospital with broken bones – plotting his revenge.

When I first picked up this book, I had no idea what would actually happen. I mean, I knew that Elektra would die, but I never would have figured Daredevil for a murderer at the time. It was out of character for Daredevil – but that is what’s best about the comic. It is not a traditional story for Daredevil.

Miller’s change of attitude for Daredevil opened up doors for the character which were never explored before. The rage and revenge Daredevil had towards Bullseye overshadowed his own morals and beliefs. It truly changed the character all together.

The dark tones with sinister themes and little dialogue with the characters really pushed the story to become an iconic issue for both Daredevil and Marvel. I have to say both story and art are not separated as two individual items for they are one in the same with Miller’s work.

Oops

For me, this also is one of my first comics I’ve read where the villain was the primary character. Most of the focus was on Bullseye and part of me always wanted to see more of his sadistic self run rampant. Fortunately, I did get that much later on, thanks to the Dark Avengers. But none of that would have started had Miller not written such a brilliant story.

Grade: 10/10

Of course, the idea of Daredevil being a true hero remained the same. That is, until the Dark Reign. Norman Osborn tried to have Bullseye finally kill Daredevil once and for all, but it ended with Bullseye leveling a apartment, killing hundreds of innocent people. Snapping from allowing Bullseye to get away with so many deaths for so many years, Murdock became tied up with The Hand and in Shadowland #1, his dark side appeared. As you can see, Bullseye had what was coming to him.

Keep on Space Truckin’!

Classic Comic Fridays are Back!

Utter madness, I know!

What I’ve decided for my Classic Comic Friday from my collection is no-other-than Spider-Woman #1 from April of 1978!

Spider-Woman #1 was written/edited by Marv Wolfman who would have just stepped down as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, allowing Jim Shooter to take over. Wolfman would only write up to issue #8, allowing other writers like Marc Gruenwald and Chris Claremont to take over the series. Spider-Woman was also penciled by a Marvel great, Carmine Infantino, who has drawn comics from Captain America, to Ghost Rider, to Star Wars, Nova, and Iron Man. He would draw up to Spider-Woman #19, setting up the next issues for later artists.

SpiderWoman1

From what I know, Spider-Woman was not really a popular character as of yet either. She made a few appearances in other comics, but never held her own until she was given her own monthly title. I am not entirely sure about where her popularity grew from, but it definitely was an interesting time for female heroes, as Ms. Marvel #1 appeared a little more than a year before Spider-Woman. The Dark Phoenix Saga was about to begin in the Uncanny X-Men storyline, while Kitty Pryde was also about making her debut in the series. Also, one of Spider-Man’s most interesting female “heroines,” the Black Cat would also appear a year later. Clearly this was a big push for women in Marvel.

So where does Spider-Woman stand?

If anything, from knowing what I do now about Jessica Drew, reading back on the origin of Spider-Woman and seeing Drew with her original blonde hair, it is a bit of a refresher to dabble back in the past. Nowadays, she’s just known for being ex-Hydra, ex-SHIELD, now Avengers, etc. Little is brought up – if ever – about her solo work.

Admittedly, there isn’t much to pull from. The story itself opens up with Spider-Woman with a full mask covering her hair. She is robbing a grocery store when a man, Jerry Hunt prevents her from stealing. As she tries to escape, he pulls of her mask (amateur mistake on her behalf) and sees her face. He recognizes her from somewhere, but leaves it at that. Jessica escapes home and stays in for the night, reflecting on almost getting caught.

Going to sleep, she has a nightmare, so-to-speak, about gaining her powers on Wundagore Mountain – sparing the mumbo-jumbo – she goes into suspended animation and comes out as Spider-Woman. Why did I do that? You didn’t miss much.

She awakes from sleep the next day and decides to go out job hunting. There, Jerry Hunt sees her again and tries to stop her. Quickly, she changes into Spider-Woman and escapes.

At the end of the book (we’re there already?!), Drew decides to make a new mask and dye her hair black to give her a bit more of a disguise. While out, she would encounter Mr. Hunt yet again (must be a small city) who is under attack by some crooks with lasers. She knocks them all out, but Jerry is wounded. She takes Jerry to the hospital and puts some of her blood in him to promote faster healing. Spider-Woman then leaves Jerry in the hospital to wonder who she was.

End story.

Marv Wolfman is credited for creating up some of Marvel’s finest characters such as Blade, Terrax, and the Black Cat. However, the dud with the introduction to Spider-Woman really left me at a loss for words.

Great dialogue was the only forward momentum this story carried with it. Realistic dialogue between Spider-Woman and Hunt, and even in the dream world with Jessica’s father, Johnathan Drew and the High Evolutionary (named Herbert Wyndam in the comic) felt real. But the execution for how dialogue in the story progressed was not as exciting. There was too little interest in Jessica’s development as a character because it was shrouded by her origin story.

SpiderWoman12006

What I will recognize is the nice art from Carmine Infantino and inks by Tony DeZuniga. True body movements mixed in with delicate shading flooded the pages with depth and realism. A particular page after the failed grocery store robbery, Drew walks home through a park and into her apartment. Great care was taken with the various characters she walks past in the story with brilliant shading placed where it needed to be in a daylight scene. Art held what the plot could not – a story.

I mentioned earlier that this was a time where women in Marvel really made a push for popularity. Although I am familiar with everyone else I mentioned but Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman, I feel as if Spider-Woman was thrown under a bus for the women of Marvel. Although she may be a bigger character now, her storyline fell flat in this first issue. Had it been 1978, I would not have picked up the second issue. Also, I wouldn’t have because it somehow involved Merlin the Wizard. Yup.

But great art by Infantino and a gorgeous cover page done by Joe Sinnott definitely makes the comic score higher than it should have.

Grade: 6/10

I’m also sure some of you are asking yourself, “What about Spider-Woman Origin from 2006?”

Well, that story is pretty inconsistent with the one I just reviewed. To make Bendis’ Secret Invasion work, he had to create a new Spider-Woman origin. I am not 100% sold on the story, but apparently Marvel is just forgetting Spider-Woman #1 from 1978 even existed. Then again, if you just read my review, we all probably should.

Keep on Space Truckin’!

Classic Comic Fridays: Uncanny X-Men #134

Every Friday, I will review a classic comic from my personal collection.

For my classic comic feature this week, I’ve decided on a personal-favourite of mine, Uncanny X-Men #134 from June of 1980. It was written by the man who arguably made the X-Men who they are today, Chris Claremont. It was also co-written by artist John Byrne, the legend who drew the X-Men for their re-conception in the 70’s and 80’s. Needless to say, this was the X-Men’s A-Team. This is also the issue which gives readers the first appearance to Dark Phoenix!

UXM134

What’s fantastic about this issue – or at least, what stands out for me – are two things. First is the excitement from panel-to-panel with the ensuing battle between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club. And second is the building up of Dark Phoenix.

The story actually trails issues before this one, where Jean Grey has been getting random dreams and flashes of being a queen with a man named Jason Wyngarde. After so many issues, Grey is fully tricked into being a queen and is brought to the Hellfire Club, where, along with Sebastian Shaw, Donald Pierce, Jason Wyngarde, and Harry Leland, she becomes the Black Queen.

The X-Men in a few issues prior, go to save Jean, but are all captured. Luckily, Wolverine had eluded capture earlier and breaks in to save the day – only to be stopped by Jean under Wyngarde’s control. All seems lost, but Jean removes a helmet Cyclops was forced to wear to withhold his powers, and he blasts the X-Men free. It seems as if Jean was able to beat Wyngarde’s control. . .

With the X-Men free, they begin battle against the Hellfire Club with awesome panels drawn by Byrne. Colossus takes on Pierce and rips off one of his robot arms, while Leland takes on Wolverine and loses, of course.

Cyclops and Shaw battle it out. Although Shaw could absorb Cyclops’ blasts, Summers plays it smart and blows out the floor beneath Shaw, forcing him to fall.

Storm and Nightcrawler take on Shaw from the lower level, where Storm tries freezing the Black King. Shaw grabs Nightcrawler and throws him at Storm preventing a full-freeze. Defeated, Shaw escapes with Pierce and Leland into a secret passage within the club.

As the story winds down, we see that Wyngarde was not who he was – but instead Mastermind, generating queen illusion to Jean, as well as making the fake image of Jason Wyngarde. Mastermind tries to figure out how he lost, and the readers discover that it was not Jean Grey at all. In fact, Mastermind was playing mind-games with the Phoenix force itself!
MastermindDestroyed

Angry for being tricked for so long by Mastermind, Phoenix decides to destroy him for what he has done. In result, the fake-Jean opened his mind into all the feelings and sensations the Phoenix felt around the universe. Unable to handle such immense power in his mind, Mastermind fell into a coma.

Escaping the club, the X-Men regroup to the Blackbird and begin to leave. Cyclops tries to figure out what was wrong with Jean as she also seemed to be short with him on their way to the jet. After a few moments of gathering themselves, the X-Men turn around to see Jean floating in a red costume proclaiming, “No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever, I am Phoenix!”

And then the Blackbird blew up.

What a way to end a story, eh?

Claremont’s build up to such a dramatic story could not have been any better. No one, whether in the X-Men or the Hellfire Club could have known this was coming. Not even the readers knew, or were hinted at, that Jean Grey was not who she was. It came as a complete shock to all players for the comic.

Afterward, the Dark Phoenix Saga begins for a few issues, followed by the inevitable death of Jean Grey in issue #137, entitled “Phoenix Must Die!” I’m sure you’ve all seen the awesome cover. It’s also my profile picture on WordPress here.

One thing to definitely discuss is Bryne’s brilliant art throughout the comic. Panel-to-panel, the X-Men have to battle the Hellfire Club, and we have to see how each individual’s power affects the story. Wolverine versus Leland’s power to increase gravity to the people around him ended in failure as Wolverine jumped on Leland. Given his only was to generate weight, they both crashed through the floor, Leland obviously defeated.

Pierce’s battle with Colossus shows how Pierce just relies on brute strength rather than technique. The snapping of Pierce’s arm by Colossus’s technique brings one of those, “hell yes” moments to the page. Byrne’s great for that.

As for how X-men comics go, this was definitely one of the strongest X-Men comics I’ve ever read. X-Men, I’d argue, is my forté, so when I say this, I do mean it. Overall, this story – filled with plenty of surprises and great action – make obvious to why Claremont and Byrne’s run on the X-Men was so successful.

Grade: 9/10

Keep on Space Truckin’.