Welcome back to Longbox Junk! It's the place to find all the comic book reviews you never asked for!
My apologies for a bit of delay during some nice, brisk holiday business, but that's what happens when you manage a hotel. I should have plenty of time for some good Longbox Junkin' during the next few slow winter months ahead.
So, back to Longbox Junk business as usual. . .which for now at least is working my way through a stack of non-DC/Marvel single issue stories I came into as part of a pretty massive purchase of about 600 comics from a closing comic shop. I call them Longbox Junk Off-Brand One Shots!
My comic lovin' daughter has been pulling the comics I've been reviewing lately. She made me squirm a bit last time out by giving me a bunch of -tastic comics I couldn't take to work without risking an awkward HR appointment, and couldn't read in front of my wife without earning a bit of silent mockery regarding my questionable reading habits. . .but there were actually a couple of pretty good ones in there despite my daughter's best efforts.
Let's see what she's given me this time. Off Brand One Shots. . .Let's do it!
ANTARCTIC PRESS (1997)
MASTER OF DRAGONS PART ONE
SCRIPT: Joe Weltjens
PENCILS: Joe Weltjens
COVER: Joe Weltjens
Hooray! I can read this one at work! I like the portrait style on this cover. The main character looks a little generic. . .I'm expecting a discount Dollar Store version of Hulk, Wolverine, or a combo of the two inside. That said, he's well drawn and nicely contrasted in the frame against the black background. The title seems to be about twice as big as it needs to be, but overall this is a pretty good cover.
When Thomas Diesel decides to unexpectedly visit an old friend, he discovers that his mentor (and her father) has been killed. Worse, the killer is the same man who killed Diesel's own father in the past.
Diesel is prevented from rushing into a foolhardy act of vengeance by being asked to join a group of others that have the same power as he does. . .the ability to manifest super-powered avatars known as "stands". . .and fight together to take down the killer.
Unfortunately for the fledgling team, Mr. Botha (the killer) has anticipated their move and has sent an assassin to destroy them. After a brutal battle where several of the team are taken down, Diesel confronts the attacker on his own and manages to defeat him.
It is at that moment that a mysterious warrior called Chibot appears and tells Diesel that he has passed some sort of test. . .
The end. To be continued.
It seems that a lot of these Off-Brand One Shots are unfinished projects. So it is with Diesel. This obviously was supposed to be the first issue of a larger story. It starts in the middle, hits the ground running with explanations assumed to be coming later, and ends on a "to be continued" cliffhanger.
Unfortunately, the "start in the middle of the story" nature of this issue makes it practically unreadable except for the most basic understanding of what's going on. If this were part of an ongoing or limited series, one would expect information to be forthcoming in coming issues. Instead, this bare-bones introduction is all there is. . .and based on what there is of it, I'm not sure I'd be interested in reading more even if there was more to read.
Putting aside that this is basically a story fragment, it's just not written very well. It almost looks like a translation from another language, like if this was an imported Manga. There's nothing in the indicia to show that it's been previously published or translated, so I'm thinking the stilted, somewhat confusing way the characters speak is just how it was written instead of the fault of a translator.
On the art side of things, it's okay. Not good, not bad. Just riding right down the center line of telling the story without trying too hard to impress. It's in Antarctic's signature "American Manga" art style that I usually like a lot, but this isn't really the best example of that style.
Overall, this is a pretty poorly-written story fragment that is practically unreadable because it starts in the middle of the tale and ends on a cliffhanger with little information on what the is going on to be found in between. What there is of it doesn't really make me wonder what happened next.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
I'll give this one 2 out of 5 obvious Hirohiko Araki "inspirations"
Not a great start. Moving along!
ROBOCOP: KILLING MACHINE
AVATAR PRESS (2004)
SCRIPT: Steven Grant
PENCILS: Anderson Ricardo
COVER: Juan Jose Ryp
I love RoboCop, but this cover is pretty bad. It's hyper-detailed to the point of it being so busy and cluttered that those details are lost in the mess. It's like the artist didn't know when to stop. Hopefully, the story inside is better.
When a bored rich kid's hacking attacks on Detroit's traffic grid are constantly thwarted by RoboCop, he attempts to hack into the robotic police officer's original OCP programming.
Instead of finding a way to control RoboCop, the hacker discovers and activates an experimental combat robot that was never put into production. As the "Urban Pacifier" wreaks havoc across Detroit, Robocop confronts the killing machine and, even though he is physically outmatched, defeats it through human ingenuity.
Due to the sudden destruction of the killing machine and his inability to disconnect from controlling it, the unfortunate hacker finds himself mentally imprisoned and unable to escape the internet as his body falls into a coma.
Like I said above, I love RoboCop and was happy to see a comic with a character I actually know. Unfortunately, this isn't a great RoboCop comic. It's extremely short. . .coming in at a slim 10 pages long, with the rest of the comic taken up by ads for upcoming Avatar comics and their MANY variant covers. It's basically a short fight scene with a sort of interesting twist ending that is over and done with before you know it. I literally read this comic in about 5 minutes.
There's also a lot of gratuitous "adult" language in here that just seems thrown in for. . .reasons? This whole thing just seems like it should be a single scene in an actual RoboCop comic, or maybe a short story in an anthology. It's just way too short and ultimately forgettable.
This is literally the only page of this story without an "F-Bomb" on it.
As far as the art goes, it's pretty good. It has bold lines, is brightly colored, and tells what little story there is well. It doesn't strive for excellence in any way. It does the job and that's all it does. It's pretty much as forgettable as the story is.
Overall, what we have here is an extremely short and forgettable story backed up with some artwork that doesn't try to go beyond the level of "pretty good". Thanks to HALF of this issue being ads for variant covers, this comic feels more like a preview than an actual story. If I had paid the $2.99 price on the cover, I'd feel about two buck's worth of ripped off. Disappointing.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
I give this one 2 out of 5 Convention Special Gold Foil Wraparound Limited Variant Covers.
So far, this isn't going well at all. NEXT!
YOUNGBLOOD SUPER SPECIAL
MAXIMUM PRESS (1997)
SCRIPT: Eric Stephenson
PENCILS: Chris Sprouse
COVER: Chris Sprouse
Hmmmmm. . .I can't really decide if I like this cover or not. On the one hand, it's pretty well drawn, I like the bold lines and dark inks. It's colorful, and I like the arrangement of the characters looking like they are being sucked into (or maybe blown out of?) the center of the cover in a pretty dynamic way.
On the other hand, the characters themselves are just SO 90's. There's cybernetic limbs, pouches, straps, and big shoulder pads all over the place. They just look like a bunch of generic off-brand X-Men (actually Wikipedia tells me Teen Titans were the Youngblood inspiration).
When a routine training mission goes wrong and their transport plane crashes in an isolated forest, members of Team Youngblood, including four young new recruits, are all challenged with making life or death choices after they are separated from each other.
In the end, it is revealed that they were being tested by an immortal alien race in order to judge one of the recruits who is actually one of them in a regressed human form. He is judged a failure and sent elsewhere for further testing, but the beings invite another of the young recruits that has impressed them to join them.
The alien beings erase the memory of the tests and the two missing recruits from the minds of the Youngblood team and life goes on as if nothing ever happened.
I came into this comic knowing absolutely nothing about Team Youngblood or any of the characters involved with it. The story did a pretty good job of introducing the characters without a lot of obvious exposition, which was a big plus in my book. It seems that a lot of the Off-Brand comics just sort of assume that you're already a fan and throw you right in. This one is actually pretty new reader friendly and spends a little time getting to know the characters you're reading about.
The story itself isn't anything new. The "twist" of none of it actually happening and the heroes being tested is fairly easy to see early on. That said, for a bunch of characters I knew nothing about, this was a pretty good read. I'm not saying it's the BEST comic story I've ever read, but I'd be interested in reading some more Youngblood if I came across it.
As far as the art goes, it's pretty typical 90's superhero art. There's straps, pouches, and shoulder pads all over the place. That said, it's not the worst 90's art I've seen. It's pretty clean and uncluttered, and there are a few very nice moments to be found here and there. The colors are a bit garish in places, but not so much to be distracting. There's actually a bit of effort to be good here.
Overall, what we have here is a surprisingly new reader-friendly superhero story backed up with some decent 90's style art that makes a better than average attempt to impress. It's not a GREAT story, but it's good enough to make me interested in maybe checking out some more Youngblood comics. Not too bad.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
I'll give this one 3 out of 5 giant shoulder pads.
SHALL THE SEA GIVE UP HER SECRETS?
SCRIPT: R.A. Jones
PENCILS: Matt Reynolds
COVER: Thomas Derenick
Not a bad cover here. Not great, mind you. . .but I think I'd give this one a turn up on the "Wall O' Covers" at work. The main character looks like a knockoff Hawkman, but I'm liking the colorful and old-school style of this cover. It has an interesting late Bronze Age feel to it. The menacing villain has a kind of Egyptian look to him, which makes me expect an Off-Brand Hawkman story inside even more, but this isn't a bad cover at all. I like it.
High-flying hero Airman receives a distress call from old friend and fellow superhero Thresher telling him that he has been captured. As Airman rushes to the location he was given, we learn that Thresher is being tortured by a villain known as The Conqueror, who is trying to gain information on something called "The Secret of The Doors".
Airman arrives at the isolated island prison and breaks Thresher free so that he is able to enter the ocean and rejuvenate his powers. After Thresher has recovered, the pair of heroes decide that rather than escape, they will attack!
Thresher and Airman attack The Conqueror's base, taking the villain and his minions by surprise. During the brutal battle, the Conqueror makes his escape with Airman in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, he has enough of a head start that Airman is unable to keep up and the villain gets away.
Returning to the prison, Airman tells Thresher the bad news and then invites the aquatic hero to join the group of heroes Airman has recently become part of known as The Protectors. Thresher agrees to meet them, but doesn't give a definite answer. Elsewhere, we see that the Conqueror was actually working for another villain called "The Great Question", who has some sort of ultimate plan involving The Protectors.
This was a pretty good read overall, but there's some definite problems. When I read a one-shot, I expect a story told in a single issue. One and done. You don't get that here. Okay. . .you DO get a self-contained story about one hero breaking another out of prison, so there's that.
Unfortunately, this comic seems to be filling some sort of continuity hole in Malibu's (then existing) superhero "universe" (how Thresher joined up with The Protectors), and in doing so, references events taking place elsewhere, leaves plot threads hanging for resolution in another series, and ends on a "To be continued" note directing readers elsewhere for the actual ending of the story.
Because of these connecting threads to other comics, THIS comic is not new-reader friendly at all. It's assumed you know these characters and situations from elsewhere coming into it. This is less of a stand-alone story and more of an episode taking place in the background of an ongoing series.
But like I said above, it's still a pretty good read. The story is simple and action-packed, moving across the page for a nice quick read. Straight superheroics with nothing deep or complicated to it. There's JUST enough exposition to keep from having to hit Wikipedia to understand what's going on and who the characters are, which is more than some of these off-brand one shots give you.
The art here is actually the best part of this comic. It's not the greatest art I've ever seen, but I like it quite a bit. The lines are thick and dark, the characters have a sort of chunky feel to them and everything is nicely detailed. The colors are great. It has an obvious Barry Windsor-Smith Rune-era inspiration to the style, which in my book is a good thing. Some of the faces are a bit too exaggerated, given the otherwise pretty realistic look, but other than that, this is a good looking comic.
Overall, I'm disappointed in this being a "one shot" that is actually a background scene in another ongoing series, but it's a still a pretty good read backed up by some decent discount Barry Windsor-Smith style art.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
I'll give Airman 3 out of 5 editorial box notes referencing previous issues of another series.
AND FINALLY. . .
LIGHTNING COMICS (1997)
SCRIPT: John Cleary
PENCILS: John Cleary
COVER: John Cleary
A lot of these Off-Brand comics I've been handed have a heavy Rob Liefeld influence. This one takes a swerve into the lane of the OTHER 90's mega-influential artist. . .Todd McFarlane. I've sort of been wondering when I was going to see some McFarlane-style covers. When you have a pile of 90's comics, it's only a matter of time.
The Spawn is strong with this one, especially in the Violator looking creature at the bottom. I like the colors here, everything is nicely-detailed, and the logo is great! Yeah, you have to look twice to make sure it's not a Spawn comic, but it's not too bad, for what it is. I'm actually surprised that a 90's comic cover featuring a female hero doesn't have a giant set of in my face, so extra points for that.
Eons ago, the demon scribe called Scrum is tasked with creating The Necrinomicon, a book that will imbue a human host with the powers of and transform them into an evil champion of Satan called The DeathAngel.
Moving forward in time to 18th Century England, we witness the forces of led by the Archangel Raphael defeating a fallen Angel-turned DeathAngel named Susanna. After the battle, the Necromonicon is lost in time. . .
. . .until 1997, when divers exploring the wreck of a pirate ship accidentally discover the evil book. It destroys the Captain and crew of the ship and then steers the vessel toward New York City, where it senses a human host worthy of its power. . .
As F.B.I. Agent Rachael Killian and the the NYPD investigate the mysterious ghost ship that ended up in New York with a crew of dead men, the Necronomicon is found and taken by Killian for testing at F.B.I. headquarters. As Rachael translates the writing in the book, she reads an intriguing passage out loud. . .AND YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!
Powerful forces rip through the unsuspecting F.B.I. agent's body as she is transformed into the half-naked warrior of , The DeathAngel! The transformation does not go unnoticed in either Heaven OR . The Demon Scrum heads to Earth to welcome 's newest warrior. The Archangel Raphael heads to Earth to stop her.
Reveling in her new power, the transformed DeathAngel kills a man as he attempts to rape a woman. The Demon Scrum berates her for the good deed, telling her that the rapist was an ally of and that she shouldn't have intervened. Rachael tells the Demon that she's not interested in serving and the two engage in battle.
Raphael shows up during the battle and ends it, mocking Scrum and telling him to deliver the message to Satan that the book chose the wrong host, Rachael has the light of the Lord within her. After the Demon leaves, swearing vengeance, Rachael agrees to join Raphael's Warriors of Light and use her new powers in the service of .
No. Not good. Pretty bad. The McFarlane inspiration on the cover heads inside and we get basically a sort of female Spawn. A character with the power of that chooses to fight evil with the Demon Scrum basically outright imitating Spawn's Violator. There's also some beats swiped from Witchblade thrown in for good measure, because if you're gonna grab someone else's ideas, why stop at one?
To make matters worse, this comic is poorly-written. The dialogue is extremely wordy, repeats itself often and honestly reads like it was written by a D&D Dungeon Master testing out the unedited first draft of his novel disguised as an adventure scenario on his unsuspecting game group.
Then there's the art. My . . .the art. Take a look at the page I scanned above. Do I really need to say anything other than 22 pages of that gave me a headache? I literally wanted not to read this comic because of that over-cluttered art. But I ain't a quitter, son! I read the whole thing!
If you can stand to look closely, the individual parts of the art are actually pretty good in a "I wanna be Todd McFarlane!" way. . .but there's just so MUCH in each panel that it becomes something awful. Say what you will about McFarlane's art, but at least he understands the concept of negative space.
Overall, what we have here is a female ripoff of Spawn with amateurish dialogue and extremely cluttered pages of eye-bleeding art. I had to take a Tylenol and relax after reading this. Reading this comic was like some sort of mental punishment for a crime I didn't even know I committed.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
I give this one 1 out of 5 throbbing forehead veins.
I have to admit that I'm glad I'm done with this batch of Off-Brand One Shots. This handful really sort of confirmed what I was expecting when I started this strange journey through comics and characters I'd never heard of. Two out of Five of them are "pretty good", with two more being "pretty bad" and one being "I don't even want to read this" awful. Even then, the "Pretty good" ones feature derivative characters and predictable stories.
Overall, I think I've finally had enough of this for now. Even though I still have enough off-brand one shots for what WAS planned for two more entries, these five comics have made me lose my appetite. I'll probably return to the rest of the comics I was planning on reviewing at some point, but for now I think it's time for something else.
Up Next. . .
Let's get back into some Longbox Junk Reader Requests!
Normally, I'd pick one from the pickin' hat (a set of monogrammed Mickey ears from Disney World), but Comic Book Realm member Tenzil put forth a Christmas wish that I somehow might find it in my heart to review his fine selection at some point. And who am I to deny someones Christmas Wish?
SO. . .
Merry Late Christmas, Tenzil!
Next up is the Longbox Junk take on issues #1 -#6 of Valiant's "Harbinger" series.
They're in my daughter's collection and I've never read them. Please, . . .let them be good.
Be there or be square!