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Longbox Junk - Black Canary

177 views • 12 days ago • (1) Comment

Sorry about the delay on this one.  I actually had it done last week, but I accidentally deleted the draft and had to completely re-write it!

ANYWAY. . .

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic reviews you never asked for!

- read more

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find comic reviews you never asked for and never knew you wanted!  I'm going to try and keep the introduction short so that we can jump right into the second half of this Reader Request for Valiant's Harbinger. . .

THE STORY SO FAR:

High School student Peter Stanchek discovers he has powerful psychic abilities.  He goes to the mysterious Harbinger Foundation for help and is taken under the wing of Toyo Harada, the director of the Foundation and a powerful psychic as well.

Later, Peter begins to realize that the Foundation's training is sending him in the wrong direction and decides to leave.  Harada retaliates by killing Pete's best friend and later trying to assassinate Pete as well.  When the assassination goes wrong and Pete miraculously survives, Harada decides to capture and study him. . .forcing Pete and his girlfriend Kris to go on the run.

Pete decides to go on the offensive and try to take down Harbinger by gathering a team of superhumans of his own.  Pete and Kris eventually recruit Faith (with the power of flight), Flamingo (fire powers), and Torque (superhuman strength) to their cause. . .but are still outmatched by Harada and his superhuman Harbinger students.

During a raid on a secret Harbinger training base, Pete and his team of Renegades come across encrypted information that they enlist a new member of the team (Ax, with the power to speak to and understand electronic devices) to decipher.

The information leads them to an extraterrestrial craft, which takes them to a hidden base on the dark side of the moon, where the team is quickly captured.  A betrayal by Ax accidentally gives the team the opportunity to escape, but they are severely outnumbered and as they fall one by one during the fight to escape, Flamingo is left to fight the aliens, their leader, and Ax on her own. . .

Which brings us to the second half of this review.

Harbinger Part 2: Issues 4 - 7.  Let's do it!

HARBINGER

Valiant (1992)

ISSUE FOUR
Where the Love-Light Gleams. . .


 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing straight in from where issue #3 left off, our heroes are trapped on an alien space station on the dark side of the moon.  They've managed to escape captivity, but as they make their break for freedom, they are taken down one by one by the aliens, the cyborg human called Rexo, and the traitorous Ax.  Only Flamingo remains standing.
 
She subdues Ax by burning his crotch, then melts the station floor beneath Rexo and his alien minions, causing them to fall and giving Flamingo the chance to free the rest of the team and make their way to the alien ship that brought them.  They force Ax to reverse the alien ship's autopilot and return to Earth, where they dump the traitor in the middle of nowhere before flying to their hideout.
 
After they hide the alien ship under water, they are confused as to why it's so cold in the summertime.  While watching the news, they realize to their horror that it is December and they've been gone for five months!  The aliens must have had the team in some sort of suspended animation before Ax accidentally freed them.
 
The news that a large chunk of their life has gone missing, as well as their almost-deadly experience on the alien base splits the team and they all depart on their separate ways. . .
 
In the meantime, determined to have his revenge, Ax uses his powers to gain more information from the encrypted computer disks left behind by his former teammates.  He discovers files on several superhumans that were rejected by Harbinger for their psychopathic tendencies.  Armed with this information, Ax sets out to form his own superhuman team.
 
We follow Flamingo as she tries and fails to make amends with her mother, who is lost in religion and has disowned her "sinner" daughter. Then we see Faith at home with her loving parents as she finds it hard to return to a normal life after her adventures.  
 
Torque returns to the garage he worked at and finds it abandoned, the man who raised him as a son has passed away during Torque's absence, leaving him without a family.  Kris returns home, but is unable to face her family.  She decides to go to Pete's house and tell his mother he's still alive, but finds a van with Harbinger agents watching.
 
Kris returns to the hideout to reconcile with Pete after leaving him on bad terms.  Faith and Flamingo also return to the team's hideout. . .Flamingo can't reconnect with her mother and doesn't have anywhere else to go, and Faith wants to return to the exciting life of a superhero.  While the four reunite, Torque is attacked by Ax and his team of psychotic superhumans.  
 
Pete and the rest of the team decide to try and get Torque back on board with them, and they arrive to find his home in flames and Torque fighting three superhumans on his own.  Jumping into battle, Pete and the Renegades manage to save Torque after barely winning a brutal fight.  Torque rejoins the team and we end the issue with them celebrating Christmas together at their hideout. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
This issue was half and half for me.  It starts right where the last one left off with the -Awful aliens and Rexo on the hidden moon base. That's the bad half.  Thankfully, there's not much time spent there and things get better as the focus shifts away from punching aliens and back on character moments, with the rest of the issue becoming a "The team breaks up, then gets back together" story.  That's the good half.
 
So far, this series has been at its best in the character moments taking place between the action scenes.  This issue has several particularly strong moments to balance out the weak conclusion to the "alien escape" story.  Flamingo desperately trying to make amends to her mother for all the rotten things she did in the past while her mother just sits there silently and ignoring her stands out as a pretty great scene.  Torque returning home and realizing he has nothing and nobody is another one. Faith getting a Batman doll from her parents and realizing she can't return to a normal life also is a good moment.
 
Overall, except for the ending of the horrible "alien base" story taking up the front half of the comic, this was one of my favorite issues so far.  It follows a pretty well-worn path of breaking and then re-forming a team, but there's some really good character moments for almost every member of the team (Pete just sort of hangs out at the hideout waiting for everyone to come back) that makes them finally coming back together as a sorta-happy (for now) dysfunctional family a pretty good read.
 
NEXT!

ISSUE FIVE

All For One. . .

 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter & Janet Jackson
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
The reunited team decides to head to New Orleans for some vacation time.  We follow Flamingo and Kris as they bond at an art gallery, and Torque and Faith as they enjoy a day at the zoo.  While everyone else is having fun, Pete's real reason for wanting to go to New Orleans is revealed as he mentally follows Toyo Harada's trail.
 
A disaster in Dallas, Texas reveals Harada's presence to Pete.  An explosion that levels a skyscraper that we learn has been caused by one of Harada's most powerful students losing control of his powers.  As Harada struggles to mentally contain his student and prevent worse damage at a hidden Harbinger lab, we see the hero known as Doctor Solar discovering information leading to Harbinger in the wreckage of the explosion.  At the same time, Peter and the Renegades are flying to Dallas to confront Harada.
 
Peter and his team discover the hidden Harbinger base and fight their way toward Harada, who is desperately trying to keep his superhuman student, "Puff", under control.  As the Renegades get closer to Harada, he decides that Puff must be terminated, but his sister "Thumper" won't let it happen, delaying Harada long enough that Peter and his team are able to finally confront the Harbinger leader.
 
While Peter and Harada engage in mental battle, the rest of the team takes on the Harbinger forces in a brutal fight, where Faith is horrified when she accidentally kills a man.  Harada manages to break free from Peter's powers and escapes in the confusion of the battle.  Thumper warns the Renegades about Puff's loss of control and Peter turns to the task of trying to contain him now that Harada is gone.
 
Doctor Solar arrives on the scene and is mistaken for one of Harbinger's superhumans until Faith recognizes him from her comic books.  Solar is quickly informed of the situation, and by combining their powers, Pete and Solar manage to get Puff under control.  Unfortunately, Harada returns, backed up by a fresh squad of Harbinger gunmen and several superhumans, ready to continue the fight.
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And it's CROSSOVER TIME!  I knew it was only a matter of time before other characters from Valiant's superhero "universe" showed up.  I've never really been a fan of crossovers, because they tend to take away from the story at hand and often have a definite stench of just existing to advertise other comics.
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
Doctor Solar's appearance here isn't too bad. . .at least not compared to Issues 8 & 9 (that I'm not reviewing) which are full-on crossover $%#@ with just about every character in the Valiant stable for some sort of multi-series "Event" called Unity that makes no sense unless you buy EIGHTEEN comics across NINE Valiant titles, including Harbinger (the 8th and 16th part of the story).  
 
BUT I DIGRESS!
 
I'm not familiar with Valiant's version of Doctor Solar.  I know him from older Gold Key comics and then only with a passing familiarity.  A quick check of Wikipedia tells me that the Valiant and Gold Key versions of the character are two whole different things, but that Gold Key comics actually exist in the Valiant "universe", which is why Faith recognizes him as a comic book character.   Okay, then.
 
Of course, Valiant just assumes that the reader of Harbinger is ALSO a reader of Doctor Solar, because why wouldn't they be? So he just sort of pops into the story like. . .of course Doctor Solar is here.  Why wouldn't he be?
 
ANYWAY. . .
 
Doctor Solar just sort of shows up out of nowhere as the MacGuffin needed to get a dangerous superhuman Harbinger student's powers back under control.  It's a pretty weak excuse for a crossover, in my extremely humble opinion.  As a matter of fact, this whole issue is pretty weak.  There are a couple of decent character moments early on, but then the whole story just becomes this contrived situation so that Valiant can force in an appearance from a character from another series.  
 
And not for nuthin' but "Puff" is about the most stupid name possible for a highly-destructive and barely-controllable superhuman capable of destroying an entire city.  Come on, Jim Shooter.  You can do better.  I KNOW you can do better.
 
MOVING ALONG!
 

ISSUE SIX

One For All

 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing directly from issue #5, Pete and his Renegades are confronted by Toyo Harada and a squad of Harbinger gunmen and superhumans.  Doctor Solar intervenes and forces both sides to stand down.  After accompanying the Renegades away from the Harbinger base to a safe place, Doctor Solar warns Pete that he's dangerous and Solar will be keeping an eye on him, and then warns Pete not to enter into conflict with Harada. Then he departs.
 
Against Solar's warning, Pete immediately decides to attack Harada by surprise. The Renegades return to the Harbinger base, which is seemingly deserted.  Of course, it's a trap.  Harada knew that they would be back.  The Renegades are confronted by a large squad of Harbinger gunmen and superhumans, led by Harada, who immediately mentally attacks Pete.
 
As Pete and his team are overwhelmed by Harbinger forces, the superhuman brother and sister Puff and Thumper decide to pay Pete back for saving Puff's life (in last issue) and jump into the fight on Pete's side, taking down Harada long enough for them to help the Renegades escape the Harbinger trap.
 
Later, in hiding, the team regroups and tries to decide what to do next.  Puff and Thumper are still loyal to Harada and Harbinger, but agree not to reveal their location.  Faith and Torque strengthen their bond of friendship, and we get a strong hint that Kris is pregnant.
 
Despite their agreement not to reveal the whereabouts of Pete and his team, Harada uses his mental powers to learn their location from Puff and Thumper and sets yet ANOTHER trap for the Renegades. . .this time made up entirely of superhuman agents.
 
During what becomes a particularly brutal battle, Torque is stabbed in the back and badly wounded.  The ambulance that is called to rush him to the hospital is yet another Harbinger ruse, and an agent posing as a paramedic injects Torque with poison.  Pete intercepts the fake ambulance and desperately tries to save Torque by going into his mind. . .but he is too late and Pete's Renegade team faces their first casualty as Torque dies.
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
The death of comic characters is pretty commonplace now, and is usually taken with a grain of salt. The more popular the character, the less likely the "death" is going to be permanent.  Torque's death in this issue took me by surprise, but what's even more surprising about it is that a quick Wiki check told me that this death was actually permanent (except for Torque being in Harbinger Vol. 2, which was less of a revival and more of a complete reboot of the character).  So proper credit due to Jim Shooter here for actually having the stones to kill off a popular character and keep it that way!
 
Obviously, the death of Torque is the big deal in this issue, but the rest of the comic has some pretty good moments as well.  Once again, this series is at its best outside of the obligatory fight scenes. . .which are okay, but almost feel like interruptions to the story.  
 
We get a look at the ruthless side of Harada as he commands his gunmen to start shooting Pete as soon as Harada has him down and not to stop until he tells them to.  We get a bit of light philosophical discussion between the Renegades and Puff/Thumper over what's more important. . .Loyalty or Freedom.  Torque's death is made sadder by having us see him letting down his "Tough Guy" wall and becoming friends with Faith after brutally taunting her about being overweight in earlier issues.  We see that Pete is actually sort of a lousy leader after getting his friends caught in an obvious trap that Doctor Solar tried to warn him about.
 
Overall, this was one of the better issues of this series.  It had some good character moments and is topped off with a surprising death due to Pete's epic leadership failure.  I'm really interested in seeing what happens next.
 
AND FINALLY. . .
 
 

ISSUE SEVEN

Flowers For the Living

 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing directly from issue #6, Pete and the remaining members of his team of Renegades try to deal with Torque's violent death as they hide out in a nearby motel while Harbinger cleans the battle site of any trace of a fight.  Kris is especially upset and emotional over Torque possibly not having a proper burial at the hands of Harbinger, so Pete and the team decide to steal his body from the morgue and tend to the funeral themselves.
 
Pete uses his mental powers on a funeral home director to make him ignore the unusual circumstances of a group of teens showing up in the middle of the night with a dead body and Torque is given a proper funeral and burial.  Flamingo is the only one who knows that Kris is pregnant with Torque's child, and she makes a private promise at Torque's grave to protect her.
 
While going through Torque's belongings, the team discovers that he still has a bunch of cash left over from the raid on the secret Harbinger training base (from issue #2).  And together, the team decides to spend it on something he would have wanted them to. . .a brand new Mustang.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And so we end this review of the first story arc of Harbinger on a somber note.  As you can tell from the fairly short synopsis above, not much really happens in this issue, but what DOES happen is all pretty good. . .if a bit depressing.  
 
Being an issue without any action scenes and dealing with the sudden death of a character, this epilogue to the first story arc digs deep into what makes this comic good. . .the character moments that take place between superhero fights.  It's all a bit gloomy and you KNOW there's trouble down the road coming when Flamingo reveals (to the reader) at Torque's gravesite that she knows that Kris' baby is his.  But it's gloomy and depressing in sort of a good way.  Shooter does a great job filling this issue with darkness and emotion that doesn't feel fake or forced.
 
Overall, this quiet and emotional issue is a fine epilogue for the first story arc of Harbinger.  Shooter has taken us from one young man discovering he has powers, to the formation of a team, to the breaking and re-formation of the team, to the team coming together as a dysfunctional family, and finally here to the repercussions of Pete's actions.  It's a decent end for a decent story. . .and from reading ahead, they probably should have just ended it here.  Things take a steep downward turn beginning with the next issue.  But as far as THIS issue is concerned, it's a good ending.
 

CONCLUSION

 
I came into Harbinger with no knowledge except the fact that it exists.  I'm not a fan of Valiant comics and I'm not a fan of team books in general. . .so there was plenty going against Harbinger before I even opened the first page.  Like I said in my introduction to part one. . .as far as I was concerned, these were junk comics to be given to my daughter to plump up her collection with reader books that could take some abuse.
 
BUT. . .
 
When I actually READ these comics, I found them to be a pretty enjoyable read (for the most part). 
 
They follow a pretty well-worn path in general, but Jim Shooter gives things JUST enough of a twist to keep things interesting.  It's basically an X-Men story with the script slightly flipped so that the "Professor X" character played by Toyo Harada is actually the villain and his "School for gifted children", the Harbinger Foundation, produces psychopathic superhumans fanatically loyal to Harada.
 
Pete Stanchek and his "Renegades" are a dysfunctional mess of a team, with a lousy leader that is directly responsible for the death of one of their own and a team dynamic based on jealousy and physical attraction, which was probably the most interesting thing about this series.  
 
Unfortunately, that strange team dynamic fell into the background following issue #4, in favor of crossovers and large-scale superhuman battles with only a few moments between action to showcase anything else.  The story was still pretty good, but the best parts were left behind in favor of a new focus on Pete's poor leadership.
 
Overall, I have to say that Harbinger is a pretty good series.  It's not great.  I've definitely read better.  But it's not nearly as bad as I assumed it would be.  It's not really Longbox Junk as I define it, due to the surprisingly high collector "value" of the first few issues, but I'd certainly recommend picking up the collected edition, if you should spot it for a good price.  
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
This review only covers the first 8 issues of this series.  I've read ahead a bit and can pretty confidently say that this is where Valiant should have ended the story.  The next two issues are unreadable crossover $%#& and going past that, the series never really recovers its footing.  So fair warning.  This is as good as Harbinger gets.  It's all downhill from here.
 
Up Next. . .
 
So much Longbox Junk!  I don't even know what's next!
 
I'm thinking of maybe heading back into some Marvel or DC stuff.
I've been in the off-brand section of my collection for a while now. . .
 
In any case, be there or be square!

- read more

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find comic reviews that nobody USUALLY asks for. That's right. . .it's another Reader Request Edition!

This time out, I switched things up a little.  Instead of randomly drawing a request from the pickin' hat, I decided to grant a (very late) Christmas wish to one of the fine folk of Comic Book Realm and give his suggestion for Valiant's Harbinger a read and review.

Here's the thing about Harbinger. . .and most of Valiant's 90's comics in general:  I don't really like them.  I admit that I've never really given them the chance they deserve, but even just flipping through the ones I've gained here and there I've never really seen anything to grab and keep my interest.

BUT. . .

I'm going to give Harbinger a fair chance here.  It's what Longbox Junk is all about!

A little background before we get into it.

These comics are actually from my daughter's collection, and they've been there for years.  Usually when I come across any Valiant comics in auction lots or comic bundles of some sort, I'll give them to my daughter by default, so she actually has quite a few of them.

So imagine my surprise when I did a little of my usual pre-post research and discovered that these comics are actually NOT quite the Longbox Junk I thought they were, with the first issue in good shape valued at a cool $125 (according to Comic Book Realm) and high-graded slabbed copies (According to CGC) coming in at around A THOUSAND BUCKS!

Who knew?

I just tossed these comics (and many others) to my daughter when she was a kid in order to plump her starter collection with reader comics that could take a little abuse.  Just looking at them, I would have never thought that ANY of these comics would be that "valuable".

As far as my daughter is concerned, though. . .their true "value" lies in having got them from her dad when she was a kid.  She's not interested in selling them for any price, thank you very much.

ANYWAY. . .

I'm not reviewing the whole 41 issue series of Harbinger because my daughter doesn't have the whole series.  After issue #10 there's a lot of gaps.  So what I'm going to do here is review the first story arc, which covers issues #1 - #7  and the most "valuable" issues of Harbinger.  I'm also going to break it up into two parts make things a bit more readable.

Merry (late) Christmas, Tenzil!
Harbinger #1 - #7. . .let's do it!

HARBINGER 

VALIANT (1992)

ISSUE ONE

Children of the Eighth Day

 
WAIT! HOLD UP!  
Well isn't this series just FULL of surprises. . .
 
After a very confusing read of the first issue, I discovered that there's a #0 issue where the Harbinger story ACTUALLY begins.  My daughter doesn't have the #0 issue, but the #1 she has DOES have the coupon you need to send away for it, which means that (K-CHING!) she's got the most "valuable" version of the comic (not that she cares much about that).
 
A bit of research shows me that this Harbinger #0 is actually pretty rare (even though it was included with collected editions later) because in order to get it, you needed to send in the coupon included in issues #1 - #6.

I find myself a bit confused over this.
 
In order to get the BEGINNING of the story, you have to spend SIX MONTHS collecting coupons from the series, meaning you will have already reached the END of the first story arc before you can send in for the comic that STARTS the story.  To make matters worse, the coupon in my daughter's #1 has 3 panels of a story ON the coupon.  Research shows me THAT short story told over the 6 coupons is the origin of the main Harbinger antagonist, Toyo Harada.
 
SO. . .what we have here is the beginning of a story that readers could only get 6 months after the series had been running, with the origin of a major character told in tiny pieces on the coupons you had to send in to get the missing part of the story.
 
Probably the worst part about this confusing little dance that Valiant set up is that Issue #1 of the series takes place soon after the end of #0, making it practically unreadable without context.

In 2020, I'm fortunate enough to be able to cheat and read #0 online, but this must have been a strange experience for readers in 1992 because #1 starts RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STORY during a fight scene with absolutely NO explanation as to what is going on or who these people are!  
 
Just how the these comics became so valuable after such an awkward beginning is a complete mystery to me.  But there it is.  A comic  that begins in the middle of an action scene without any context or introduction is worth a thousand bucks slabbed. Go figure.
 
ANYWAY. . .
 
Like I said, I cheated and read #0 online just so I could figure out what the was going on.  So let's start this thing over from the beginning and throw an extra issue into this review, shall we?  We shall!
 

ISSUE #0

The Beginning

 
SCRIPT: David Lapham
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
After high school student Peter Stanchek begins to manifest strange mental abilities, including mind reading, levitation, and telekinesis, he answers a mysterious newspaper ad placed by "The Harbinger Foundation" that claims to be looking for people like him.
 
After meeting a representative of Harbinger, Peter's powers seem to increase.  He uses them to mentally control his mother, and to make one of the most desirable girls in school, Kris Hathaway, want to go out with him against her will.
 
Peter is taken to the Harbinger Foundation complex in Pittsburgh and we are introduced to Toyo Harada, the head of Harbinger, as he secretly watches Peter being interviewed.  We learn that Peter is unusual in that his powers manifested on their own instead of being fully triggered by Harada's own ability to do so, and that Peter manifests multiple powers instead of the usual single power Harada is able to unlock in others.  Harada takes Peter personally under his wing, becoming a sort of father figure and mentor.
 
The story skips ahead two months later.  Peter's best friend, Joe, confronts him.  He's concerned about the nasty changes in Peter's personality since becoming involved with Harbinger.  He also suspects that Peter is forcing Kris to be his girlfriend against her will.  
 
During that day's training at Harbinger, Peter is distracted.  He knows that his best friend is right and Harbinger has changed him for the worse.  Peter decides to leave Harbinger for a while in order to clear his head.  This doesn't sit well with Harada, who has been personally training Peter.  He quickly identifies Joe as the problem.
 
Later that night, Peter removes his mind control from his girlfriend, Kris, and tries to explain.  She is disgusted by what she's been forced to do under his influence and makes him leave.  Peter goes to Joe's house in order to apologize to his best friend.  He finds Joe dead. . .covered in blood.  He's been murdered.
 
Turning to the only place he thinks he can, Peter returns to Harbinger. . .but he (rightly) suspects that they were behind the murder of his friend.  As his mental state worsens, Harada sadly comes to the conclusion that Peter must die as well.  A despondent Peter calls Kris to make amends and discovers that despite his mind control, she did develop feelings for him.  They agree to meet.
 
As Kris drives to Pittsburgh to meet Peter, Harada's assistant takes advantage of Peter's trust to get close enough to shoot him in the head.  The assassination doesn't go as planned.  In a massive explosion that destroys the Harbinger building, 32 people are killed and 200 are injured as Peter's mysterious powers somehow subconsciously save him.    Harada is intrigued by Peter's survival and decides that instead of killing him, Peter needs to be captured and studied.
 
The story ends with Peter and Kris fleeing Pittsburgh together.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
First off. . .despite the very "collectible" nature of this comic, it has one of the most -Awful covers I've seen in a while. But that's neither here nor there, as far as the story goes. . .
 
The story here is actually pretty good.  It introduces the two main characters very nicely and with a minimum of exposition.  It's well-written for the most part and flows well from start to finish, nicely setting up the rest of the series (which was already through with the first story arc by the time anyone could get their hands on this. . .but enough about THAT).
 
At the heart of things, it's basically a sort of discount X-Men origin story.  However, there's just enough differences to make me want to see what happens next.  I like that they flipped the X-Men script and made the most powerful Psychic in the world (Harada, playing the role of Professor X) a villain finding and recruiting potential superhumans for training (The Harbinger Foundation playing the part of Xavier's School for Gifted Students).  This reversal on the standard formula is an interesting one.
 
I also liked that as Peter's powers increased, he uses them in a way that (come on and admit it) many of us would if we suddenly had mind control powers as a teenager. . .he snags the hottest girl in school and makes her do, well. . .whatever he wanted her to do.  There's no nobility here.  There's no heroism. He uses his powers to get what he wants. It's a pretty honest and realistic look at how powers would probably actually be used by a teenager.
 
Overall, I liked this issue.  It's a great introduction to the series.  It follows a pretty well-worn path, but flips the script JUST enough to make me want more.  Too bad readers in 1992 had to jump through hoops to get it.
 
MOVING ALONG!
 

ISSUE ONE

Children of the Eighth Day

 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: Jim Shooter & David Lapham
 
So HERE'S where the Harbinger story actually started for readers in 1992.  
Let's do it!
 
THE STORY:
 
Our story continues directly after Issue #0, with Pete Stanchek and Kris Hathaway on the run from the Harbinger Foundation after a failed assassination attempt on Pete leads to the death of more than 30 people.  Harbinger is in hot pursuit of the couple, with Toyo Harada determined to capture and study Pete.  
 
After a battle with three of Pete's former friends and fellow superhuman Harbinger "students", Pete and Kris manage to elude their pursuers and go into hiding, where Pete decides to fight against Harbinger by intercepting mailed responses to the Foundation's newspaper ads seeking new recruits.
 
After robbing a post office and finding a likely contact, Pete and Kris make their way to the home of Faith Herbert.  Pete reveals his powers to her and, in doing so, unlocks Faith's own powers of flight.  She quickly agrees to join Pete and Kris on their mission, but there's immediate jealous tension between the two women.
 
A few days later, during a raid on a Harbinger building to intercept more ad responses, Pete encounters Charlene Dupre (AKA Flamingo), a recent Harbinger recruit with the ability to manifest flames from her body.  After witnessing Pete using his telekinetic abilities to wreck the Harbinger office, Pete fully unlocks Charlene's powers and she quickly joins the growing group of Renegade superhumans.
 
Charlene's arrival at their hideout immediately causes more tension, with Kris coming to the conclusion that Pete is less saving people from Harbinger and more building a mind-controlled harem.  She is determined that the next recruit for their group will be male or she's leaving Pete. . .and so they decide to investigate a John Torkelson in Georgia.
 
Torkelson is a massively strong man, but not superhuman.  Pete immediately becomes jealous as all three of the women are obviously strongly attracted to him.  They invite "Torque" to join their group despite his lack of powers and against Pete's wishes.  
 
Later, while Pete is away from their hideout, the women are all trying to attract Torque's attention, leading to a fight between Kris and Flamingo that Pete arrives in time to break up. Pete uses his powers to look deeper into Torque's mind and unlocks his hidden superhuman strength.  Reluctantly, Pete admits that Torque has a place in his group of Renegades.
 
While the group discusses Torque's place with them, Harbinger attacks their hideout!  A brutal battle between Pete's group of Renegades and Harbinger's gunmen, backed up by several superhumans, takes place.  The Renegades fight together as a team and barely manage to defeat the Harbinger hit squad, but Kris is injured during the battle. . .
 
To be continued.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
It's basically a "Gettin' the team together" story that concentrates mostly on introducing the members of the "Renegades" and showing them fighting together for the first time.  As I mentioned before, it begins abruptly and with no context. . .lacking the essential Issue #0.  The picture below is literally the first introduction the reader has to these characters:
 
 
It's an extremely odd way for a comic series to start.  It still amazes me that this issue is so valuable to collectors, given the almost unreadable nature of the story at the beginning.  And if you think you're going to get some exposition later. . .you're wrong.  There's VERY little background given.  The story jumps right into a fight scene and then Pete and Kris start gathering recruits for their group without any real explanation as to who the they are or why they are doing what they are doing.  It hits the ground running in the middle of the story and doesn't look back.
 
My first read through this issue before discovering there was a #0 was confusing to say the least.
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
I've already gone over the strange beginning of this series WAY too much.  Let's look at the issue on its own merits.  Like I said, it's basically a "Let's get a team together" story that is mostly introductions to new characters and setting up conflict for future issues.  It covers a lot of ground, so even though it's well-written, it does feel a bit rushed.  Even so, I still liked this a lot.
 
What I like most is the underlying sexual tension that keeps this from being a straight X-Men clone and gives it a bit of a darker edge.  I like how Kris calls out Pete for only recruiting women to his group, and then turns hypocrite when she (and the other two women in the group as well) falls for Torque, who immediately takes over Pete's place as Alpha Male.  It's an interesting setup for an extremely dysfunctional team where every decision is made based on jealousy and physical attraction.
 
Overall, moving past the problem of starting a story in the middle, this is a pretty interesting take on what would otherwise be a standard superhero team comic. By giving everything a dark undertone of tension and jealousy, it flips the script just enough that I'm interested to see where this is going.
 
NEXT!
 

ISSUE TWO

The Root of All Evil

 
 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing directly from Issue #1, Pete and his team of Renegades rush an injured Kris to a nearby hospital.  Pete desperately uses his powers to pull the bullets out of Kris, but he lacks the medical skill to save her.  He reluctantly allows an actual doctor to operate.
 
Realizing that Harbinger is hot on their trail, the Renegades flee the hospital with Kris as soon as she is stable.  They are attacked by Harbinger snipers outside and the doctor who saved Kris gives them his car in order to escape.  After they elude their pursuers, Doctor Heyward gives them directions to his secluded summer house, where he allows them to stay until Kris recovers from her injuries.  Pete and the Renegades are glad to have found a new ally and hideout.
 
In the meantime. . .Faith flies to their former hideout in order to retrieve their belongings.  She finds the area completely cleaned of any sign of the battle that took place shortly before.  As she investigates, she is attacked by two Harbinger agents waiting for anyone to return.  Pete arrives just in time to save her, and mentally interrogates one of the gunmen.
 
Following a vague lead in the mind of the Harbinger agent, Pete and Faith discover a warehouse full of Harbinger uniforms.  They steal enough to outfit the team.  Also at the warehouse, they discover information pointing toward another secret Harbinger training facility.  
 
As Pete tries to rally the Renegades for an attack, Torque asserts his new dominance and tries to take over command of the team (and the team's women) from Pete.  Kris makes it clear that Pete is still the official  leader of the Renegades. . .for now.
 
The Renegades quickly travel to New York City and assault the Harbinger facility, meeting little resistance until they discover a secret elevator that leads them straight into an ambush!  The team is attacked by dozens of Harbinger gunmen, led by Toyo Harada and backed up by several superhumans.  
 
The rest of the team are quickly subdued by Harada's mental powers, and he informs Pete that he is too dangerous to be allowed to live.  Pete desperately fights back, managing to revive his friends and helping them to defeat the Harbinger forces until only Harada is left.   The Harbinger leader retreats, and as as Pete and the Renegades try to pursue him, they discover his office and break open the hidden safe.
 
The story ends with Pete and the Renegades flying back to their new hideout in possession of a huge pile of cash money and celebrating their first victory as an actual team.
 
To be continued.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Moving past the "Gettin' the team together" stage and into the "Comin' together as a team" phase of the story, the second issue is well-written, fast-paced, and carries a nice sense of tension and jealousy. . .especially in the scene where Torque tries to take over the team from Pete by openly asserting his dominance over the women.  It's an interesting take on the usual "superteam" dynamic. . .at least for a comic from the early 90's.  This kind of deconstruction of "traditional" superhero tropes is pretty common in comics today.
 
But underneath the interesting angle on superteam dynamics there is a glaring continuity problem rooted in. . .*sigh*. . .that strange Issue #0. It's established in #0 that Toyo Harada was a father figure and mentor to Pete, whose betrayal was so brutal that Pete is now gathering a team of his own to gain revenge.  In THIS issue, Harada introduces himself to Pete for apparently the first time. . .
 
What's the REAL introduction?
Issue 0
 
OR. . .
Issue 2?
 
It's just a strange little moment that sort of breaks things if you actually read issue #0 as the beginning of the story instead of #1.  It makes me wonder when exactly #0 was written. . .before the main series or after it was already going?  There are a few other disconnects that I've noticed in these first two issues. . .namely Kris' steadfast devotion to Pete (despite her physical attraction to Torque) and extreme jealousy toward other women on the team when in issue #0 she was disgusted by the things she had to do for him under mind control and they were barely speaking to each other at the end of that issue.  
 
Strange continuity disconnects aside, this was a pretty good issue.  Jim Shooter does a nice job of keeping an edge of physical attraction and jealousy in almost every interaction between these characters, which make the conversations between fight scenes just interesting enough for me to want to keep reading.  I can see where this sort of writing can drive right off the cliff into superhero soap opera territory, but for now Shooter is keeping a pretty steady hand on the wheel.
 
NEXT!
 

ISSUE THREE

One Small Step. . .

 
 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
Continuing shortly after issue #2, Kris has recovered from her injuries and the team plans their next move.  They fly to Seattle to enlist the aid of a computer hacker called "Ax" in order to see what's on some heavily-encrypted computer disks they stole from Harada's office during their recent assault on a secret Harbinger training base.
 
Ax is unsuccessful until Pete reaches into his mind and unlocks his hidden power (the ability to speak to and understand electronic devices), leading Pete to wonder if EVERYONE has a hidden ability that he can unlock.  They discover that the discs contain lists of suspected and confirmed "Extraterrestrial Landing Sites".  The team votes Ax in as the newest member of the Renegades and decide to investigate the closest site on the list.
 
Deep in the forest of Olympic National Park, the team discovers what seems to be some sort of beacon.  As they try to decide what to do next, they are attacked by strange beings driving a heavily-armed vehicle.  After defeating the creatures by turning their own weapons against them, Ax discovers a control box, which he uses to open a hidden holding area containing a large alien ship!
 
Inside the ship, Ax's new abilities compel him to launch the ship on a pre-determined course off of Earth and toward the moon, to the horror of the rest of the team.  The ship automatically lands at a hidden alien base on the dark side of the moon.  As the team exits the ship to investigate the base and find a way back home, they fall victim to gas that knocks them all unconscious.
 
Shortly after, Faith is woken by Ax, who has been recruited by the aliens to use his powers to help them build a ship that will enable them to return to their home galaxy.  They have been stranded since their original ship was somehow destroyed.  Ax informs Faith that part of his agreeing to work with the aliens is that they have given him Faith to use as he pleases.
 
Faith quickly wakes Pete, who uses his psychic powers to disable Ax as they rouse the rest of the team.  They leave Ax behind as they try to find the ship they came in so they can escape the deadly alien base.  They are quickly cornered by a large group of aliens and their human ally, Rexo. . .who is a former quadriplegic that was given a powerful robotic body by the aliens for. . .reasons?
 
The battle doesn't go well for our heroes and they are quickly overwhelmed by the superior numbers and weaponry of Rexo and the aliens, leaving only Flamingo, cowering and terrified.   Ax rejoins his new alien allies and Rexo gives Flamingo to him.  He orders the rest of the team executed.  Flamingo finally summons the courage to attack, burning Ax and then facing Rexo and the aliens alone!
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
*Sigh* I KNEW it couldn't last.  
 
Only three issues in (four, if you count #0) and this series hits the first dud.  There's still some interesting things going on between the characters in the first part of the book. . .Torque trying to be a bit more discrete in his takeover of the team (and the team's women) from Pete by concentrating on Pete's main defender among the women, Kris. . .Flamingo noticing this and admitting to Pete that she's nothing but a "Hosebag" to any guy who wants her as she makes a move of her own to seduce the leader of the team. . .other small moments between characters through the issue maintaining the interesting level of sexual tension and jealousy that underlies their every action.
 
But then there's the aliens. 
 
The story is just so contrived and forced. It honestly feels like the lowest amount of effort  was put into it, like they were starting to get behind a bit and just threw this out there.  It's just. . .it's bad.  After a pretty good start in the first two issues, all of a sudden we get an extremely weak alien story like this?  There's no imagination here.  There's absolutely nothing interesting about the aliens or their laughable robo-warrior, Rexo.  They even LOOK stupid!
 
I haven't really talked about the art in this series yet, as the story has been pretty interesting up to this point.  The art is actually very nice.  It seems to have a light Neal Adams influence, with expressive faces and a good amount of detail.  It's nicely-colored and there are some interesting panel layouts.  It's not GREAT comic art, but it's good comic art that I don't have much to complain about. 
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
The aliens and especially Rexo are just. . .stupid-looking.  I don't know what happened here, but the art after the first half of this comic takes the same steep downhill slide that the story does.  It's pretty disappointing, to say the least.
 
Overall, there are still some good parts taking place outside of the main thrust of the story during the lead-up in the first half of the issue, but once you're past the midway mark and the alien story is in full swing, it's garbage.  It looks like maybe this issue wasn't going to hit the stands on schedule, so the creative team just rushed something out.  There's an obviously clear divide between good at the front and bad at the back.
 

CONCLUSION

 
As I said in my introduction, I've never really given any Valiant superhero comics a fair chance until now.  I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find Harbinger to be a pretty good read.
 
It has a well-written story that flips the standard teen superhero team comic script (of the time) by having every single action by the main characters influenced in some way by physical attraction and/or jealousy, leading to a constant underlying theme of dysfunction and tension.  I can easily see this sort of writing going off a melodramatic cliff at any time, but for now it's an interesting team dynamic.
 
That said. . .
 
It's not perfect.  Not even close.  This series has problems that keep it from being as good as it COULD be.  The major problem and the Pink-Covered elephant in the room is that the first issue starts in the middle of the story, hits the ground running, and never looks back long enough to explain what's going on.  The actual beginning of the story wasn't available until the first arc was done with.  
 
But THEN, the #0 issue directly contradicts events and story beats in the main series, leading to several "Wait. . .what?" moments that made me wonder exactly when the beginning of this story was actually written.
 
Worse, a mere three issues into the series and there's unfortunate signs of decline in terms of both story and art with an unimaginative alien brawl that I hope isn't a portent of things to come because I still have four more issues of Harbinger to review before I'm done.  
 
Overall, despite some pretty big flaws, I like Harbinger so far.  Hopefully the extremely weak third issue is just a bump in the road because I can see a lot of promise for good stories that DON'T involve punching aliens.
 
Up Next. . .
 
MORE Harbinger!  
I wrap things up for this Reader Request Edition with issues #4 - #7
 
Be there or be square!

- read more

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!

DIESEL

ANTARCTIC PRESS (1997)

 
MASTER OF DRAGONS PART ONE
SCRIPT: Joe Weltjens
PENCILS: Joe Weltjens
COVER: Joe Weltjens
 
THE COVER:
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.
 
THE STORY:
 
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.
 
THE REVIEW:
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)

 
KILLING MACHINE
SCRIPT: Steven Grant
PENCILS: Anderson Ricardo
COVER: Juan Jose Ryp
 
THE COVER:
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.
 
THE STORY:
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.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
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)

 
GOOD ENOUGH
SCRIPT:  Eric Stephenson
PENCILS: Chris Sprouse
COVER: Chris Sprouse
 
THE COVER:
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).
 
THE STORY:
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.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
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.
 
NEXT!
 

AIRMAN

MALIBU (1993)

 
SHALL THE SEA GIVE UP HER SECRETS?
SCRIPT: R.A. Jones
PENCILS: Matt Reynolds
COVER: Thomas Derenick
 
THE COVER:
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.
 
THE STORY:
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.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
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. . .
 

DEATHANGEL

LIGHTNING COMICS (1997)

 
SCRIPT: John Cleary
PENCILS: John Cleary
COVER: John Cleary
 
THE COVER:
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.
 
THE STORY:
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 .
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
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.
 

CONCLUSION

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!

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Happy New Year from Longbox Junk!

280 views • 7 weeks ago • (0) Comments

Welcome back to Longbox Junk!  Home of comic reviews you never knew you wanted!

It's been a bit busy at work because of some unusually brisk holiday business, but that's coming to an end and there will be plenty of Longbox Junkin' to be had during the slow winter months ahead. 

I'm not QUITE done with the next Off-Brand One Shots entry (maybe another day or two and it will be up), so I'm going to take this opportunity to welcome the readers of Longbox Junk into 2020!

 
I truly do appreciate the readers of this blog.  There are a LOT of comic review blogs and sites out there.  The fact that you choose to spend a bit of your precious time here reading my nonsense is just an amazing thing to me, so once again my heartfelt thanks!
 
Here's my New Year wish. . .
 
DISCLAIMER: This is aimed mostly at U.S. readers.  The sentiment is still the same for any International readers, just mentally adjust the words to match your country's own specific craziness.
 
Look. . .this country is divided.  There's political division even within my own family.  I'm sure many of you are feeling the same sense of frustration and division I often do, no matter WHAT side of the political line you may find yourself on (and I'm not taking sides here or getting specific, so you can keep on reading).
 
The bad part about it is that as the year goes on, it's just gonna get worse.  You know it and I know it.  As we move toward next November, things are going to get extremely tense.  There's no way any of it is going to end to everyone's satisfaction.  There's going to be a lot of anger and frustration no matter what happens.  
 
It is my sincere wish for everyone reading this that you please don't let politics take over your life.  That you can step back and just relax a bit from time to time.  Don't let what's happening in Washington affect you or your family in a bad way.  Try to find ways to agree to disagree.
 
Here's a humble suggestion:
 
Any time the political mess starts getting to you, jump in your car and head to a comic shop.  Walk right on past all the shiny new comics on the shelf and get yourself over to some back issue boxes. . .the cheaper the better. . .stuff in old yellow bags down there on the bottom shelf that hardly anybody ever looks through is the best. The bottom shelf is ALWAYS the best. Get on down there.  Sit on the floor.  Start digging.  
 
I GUARANTEE that for at least a little while your mind will be eased as you dig through that pile of Longbox Junk. You won't have a single thought of politics while you look for the ONE nugget of gold you KNOW is buried in that box.  And when you find it. . .Awwwww, YEAH!  
 
And then start digging for the next one. . .
 
May you find happiness and prosperity in 2020!

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Merry Christmas from Longbox Junk!

296 views • 61 days ago • (0) Comments

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find comic book reviews you never asked for!

'Tis the season for comic review sites to be getting into some Christmas cheer! 

 
Unfortunately, last year I discovered I have a severe lack of Holiday-Themed comics for some strange and unknown reason I can't figure out.  And when I say a severe lack, what I mean is that out of THOUSANDS of comics between me and my daughter, we have a grand total of FOUR Christmas comics. . .of which I've already reviewed two.

SO. . .

Instead of doing reviews of Christmas comics I don't have, I'll take this opportunity to thank the readers of Longbox Junk.  I appreciate each and every one of you who choose to come into this merry mess of reviews that nobody ever asked for on a regular basis.  And for those of you who have somehow accidentally found your way into this little corner of the internet, thank you for coming as well!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and many more to come!

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Welcome back to Longbox Junk, where I review comics that nobody asked me to!

The comics I've been reading lately, I don't think ANYBODY has ever been asked to review.  From what I can see, I'm writing the first (and probably the last) reviews of most of them. . .but truthfully, that's the fun part!

What we have here are what I've been calling "Off-Brand One Shots".  They're single issue stories pulled from a recent massive purchase of roughly 600 NON-DC/Marvel comics bought on the cheap from a closing comic shop.

I've put a little twist in things by letting my comic lovin' daughter pick the one shots I've been taking a look at, and so far she's done a pretty good job at mixing things up.  Everything from straight superhero stories, to horror, manga, comedy, and everything in between.

Let's see what she's given me this time!

ONIBA: SWORDS OF THE DEMON 

ASPEN COMICS (2015)

 
"NO, MASTER"
SCRIPT: Vince Hernandez & Paolo Pantalena
PENCILS: Paolo Pantalena
COVER: Paolo Pantalena
 
THE COVER:
Now THAT'S a pretty impressive cover! The colors are amazing, the main character and the dragon are very nicely detailed, and everything really pops up against the plain background.  It's a little bit -tastic, but it's not done in an exploitative way (like the other covers below), so I think I can get away with putting this one up on the "Wall O'Covers" at work (I have to think twice about ANY cover with a female I put up there).  I really like everything about this cover!  Let's hope the story is as good.
 
THE STORY:
In feudal Japan, Daimyo Nobunga Oda is a powerful and ruthless ruler. Expert swordswoman and assassin Yukiko is his most feared and trusted warrior.  After helping decimate a rival clan, Yukiko begins to have doubts about her powerful Master when she secretly witnesses him sacrifice two of his own warriors while praying to something unseen.
 
After confiding what she's seen to a fellow warrior and friend, Akechi, he also confides that these dark doings are partly what is behind a planned coup he will be leading.  Yukiko declines to join Akechi in his rebellion, but also keeps what she knows secret from her Master.
 
Shortly afterward, the attack Akechi warned Yukiko about comes, and after a brutal battle, Akechi confronts the fleeing Nobunga, but the fight between the two goes badly for the rebel leader.  Yukiko secretly strikes the killing blow, stabbing her own Master in the back during his moment of triumph, leaving Akechi victorious. . .but the betrayal of her Master is too much for Yukiko to bear.  
 
Beacause of her shameful secret, Yukiko leaves the clan to wander the land as masterless warrior. . .a Ronin.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
I really liked this comic a lot!  It has a well-written story full of action and intrigue that hints at a darker supernatural center that I want to know more about.  Likewise, the main character is interesting and I want to know where her journey takes her.  Unfortunately, this looks like a project that never got past this single introductory issue, which is a shame because there's a lot of great story potential here.  
 
Admittedly, this is a story that's been told before. . .Many times before.  That said "Wandering Warrior carrying a dark secret" is a classic story framework for a good reason.  It's a narrative hook a writer can hang almost any kind of tale they want on. The journey of a disgraced warrior through a supernatural-tainted version of Japan is a comic series I want to read.
 
 
On the art side of things, the excellence of the cover is carried through to the inside pages.  I love the uninked, sort of watercolor style the artist uses. The colors are great.  The elaborate character designs are fantastic. This comic is simply a feast for the eyes!  EVERY page is worth lingering over. 
 
Overall, this comic is pure Longbox Junk gold!  It has an interesting story I want more of (and sadly will never get), backed up by some incredible art.  It's a shame that this is the only issue of this series that was ever put out, because I'd be on the bargain bin hunt for the rest if there were more.
 
THE FINAL VERDICT:
I'll give this one FIVE out of FIVE Yojimbo homages.
 
A GREAT start! Let's see what's next. . .
 

WITCH HUNTER #1

MALIBU (1996)

 
BLOOD HUNT
SCRIPT: Laurie Sutton
PENCILS: Joyce Chin
COVER: Renee Paniccia
 
COLORS: Roberta Conroy, Camelia , Sharleen Gaertner, Lucy Koeoeian, Edie Moses, Rebecca Maiden, Renee Paniccia, Kim Pettijohn, Alicia Rodriguez, Sheri Rohrbacher, Jacquie Roman, Serina Sahakian, Carolyn Shaver, Jennifer Schellinger, Kelli Young.
 
I just thought I'd point out that there's FIFTEEN color artists credited for this ONE issue! That's gotta be some sort of record. . .
 
THE COVER:
Oh, boy.  Nope.  This one ain't going up on the office wall.  It's WAY too -tastic, and not in a somewhat excusably artistic way (Like Oniba, above), but in a straight-up exploitative 90's "LOOK AT THE !" Sort of way.  Setting aside the , it's a decent cover, but not great. . .like a lot of 90's covers, it definitely has the stench of Rob Liefeld's influence on it in the stretched-out proportions, impossible hair, and cybernetic arm. 
 
THE STORY:
Maria Delorentti (AKA Witch Hunter), an agent of the mysterious supernatural watchdog agency known as The Seventh Sign, follows a trail of clues across the city as she searches for a missing Seventh Sign agent.  
 
Eventually, she learns the location of the agent, but must work quickly to rescue him.  He is due to be sacrificed at the height of the moon, mere minutes away!  Leaping into action, Witch Hunter disrupts the ceremony in progress and finds herself fighting a cult of female vampires.  
 
Knowing that her blood is poison to vampires, Witch Hunter allows them to drink.  To block out the pain, she reflects back on her life before she joined Seventh Sign. . .
 
Massachusetts, 1936.  On her 21st birthday, Maria is attacked by evil spirits that open a portal to another world and attempt to pull her in.  An agent of Seventh Sign who had been watching the house breaks his instructions to observe and report in order to save her. . .but not before her youngest sister is pulled into the portal, her mother dies from the horror, and her other sister falls comatose.  
 
Upon hearing the news of the devastation her family has suffered, Maria swears vengeance and immediately accepts the offer to join The Seventh Sign as an agent against evil forces.
 
Returning back to the present, the minions of the Vampire Queen lay dead around Witch Hunter, poisoned by her blood.  She confronts their leader, who knew not to drink from her, and they join in battle.  After a brutal fight in the skies above the city, Witch Hunter manages to behead the Vampire Queen with her holy sword.  With the cult defeated, Witch Hunter returns with the kidnapped agent to headquarters.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
What we have here is a pretty lackluster story.  It has a main character I just couldn't get interested in, with vaguely-defined powers that seem to match whatever the story needs her to have.  The story is weak and forgettable, and is obviously just a hook to hang a comic filled with pictures of half naked women on.  I always tell my daughter to never judge a comic book by its cover. . .but in this case, the cover tells you exactly what you're going to get.
 
 
 
Unfortunately, for a comic where the story is in service to the art, the art isn't even that great.  It's okay, but lacks a sense of motion needed for a story that's basically a long fight scene with a flashback thrown in the middle.  Characters look like they're posing more than moving.  It's pretty obvious that posed pictures of scantily-clad women is the focus of the artist. . .and indeed, the focus of the comic in general.
 
Overall, what we have here is a comic book laser focused on the lowest common denominators for young men. . . and violence.  The sad part is that they don't even get THAT completely right.  This comic is an utterly forgettable relic of the 90's "Bad Girl" trend.  There was never a #2 and it's not hard to see why.
 
THE FINAL VERDICT:
I'll give this one 2 out of 5 Liefeld-Inspired Cybernetic Arms.
 
One good. . .one bad.  NEXT!
 

ULTRAVIXEN

HOUND COMICS (2013)

SCORPIO RISING! . . .OR WAS THAT FALLING?

SCRIPT: Marcelo Bravo
PENCILS: Jed Dougherty
COVER: Jed Dougherty

THE COVER:

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Welcome back to Longbox Junk, where I write reviews of comics that nobody ever asked for!

Recently, the whole "nobody ever asked for" part has been more true than ever as I've been exploring a stack of one shot comics included in a purchase of 2 longboxes full of nothing but random NON-DC/Marvel comics.  I've gotta say. . .digging into those longboxes has definitely been a new experience in obscurity for me.  There's a LOT of stuff I never knew existed just in those two boxes of comics!

ANYWAY. . .

I've been letting my comic lovin' daughter pick the comics I review for these "Off-Brand One Shots" editions of Longbox Junk.  So far, she's done a pretty good job of mixing things up and giving me a nice variety of genres from horror to comedy and everything in between.  Let's see what she gave me this time, shall we?

THE ROCK

CHAOS! COMICS (2001)

 
THE PEOPLE'S COMIC BOOK!
SCRIPT: Steven Grant
PENCILS: Fabiano Neves
COVER: Photo
 
THE COVER:
It's a photo cover.  What can I say?  If you're a fan of Dwayne Johnson in his pro-wrestling "The Rock" persona, then this is probably an awesome picture worthy of being part of some sort of shrine.  To me. . .it's just a picture of a younger Dwayne Johnson giving me "The People's Eyebrow".

Moving along. . .
 
THE STORY:
The Rock is a simple man.  A man of the people.  A man who just wants a little peace between the times he lays the smack down in the wrestling ring.  When The Rock accidentally finds himself caught between two competing illegal underground fight promoters. . .one of which has a fighter pretending to be The Rock, it's time to teach some candy their roles!

The Rock invades the underground fight club and shows every Jabronie that dares to step up to him what it means to look upon the glory of the most electrifying presence in sports entertainment.  After defeating all comers. . .as was ordained the moment The Rock entered the building. . .he makes the crooked promoters smell what The Rock is cooking by forcing them to end their pathetic excuse for a tournament unless they want a piece of the people's elbow.

The End.

 
THE REVIEW:
I have to admit that I'm not a pro wrestling fan.  That said, I had a roommate in the late 90's that was rabid about it, so I'm familiar with it through a bit of osmosis from his constantly watching it.  There's also been a few wrestlers who have broken away from the ring and into the general public consciousness, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is probably the most successful of those, so I know him more than most wrestlers. . .and even then I'm not a big fan.  I'll watch his movies, but I don't go out of my way to see one just because he's in it.

What I'm trying to say is that I came into this comic not as a fan of The Rock, but as a comic fan who got handed a Rock comic by his daughter to review on its own merits.  I could care less about The Rock in general.

THAT SAID. . .

I liked this comic a LOT! Quite a bit more than I thought I would when I got it handed to me and I was like, "Really?"  It's the dialogue that makes this book great.  It's hilarious and over the top all the way through, from page one to page last.  Rock talking about himself in the third person and just blowing past everybody like a force of nature laser-focused on doing whatever the he wants to do is just FUN.  This comic is just entertaining fun from start to finish!  A very pleasant surprise.

 
On the art side of things, this is a pretty well drawn comic.  Not the greatest art I've ever seen, but it's good and at least it captures the likeness of the main character, which is a lot more than can be said for most licensed property comics featuring actual people (I'm looking at YOU Deep Space Nine a couple of reviews below).  There's also a great sense of motion during the action scenes.  The art here is pretty much perfectly matched with the story.
 
Overall, I was really surprised by how much I liked this comic.  It's fast, it's funny, it's over the top and just plain entertaining.  It's not thoughtful or deep in any way, but sometimes you just want a good simple FUN story.  This comic delivers just that.
 
THE VERDICT:
I give The Rock 4 out of 5 candy taught their roles.

A good start this time out. . .NEXT!
 

LADY ACTION SPECIAL

MOONSTONE (2009)

 
SCRIPT: Tony Lee
PENCILS: Jake Minor
COVER: Paul Gulacy
 
THE COVER:
I like a cover that tells a story and this cover tells me that there's a Lady and there's gonna be some Action!  I have no idea who Lady Action is, but without even opening this comic I can tell that her kind of action involves guns, fast cars, and possibly some sort of kinky uniform-oriented shenanigans when it's all said and done.  I like this cover a lot.  It's not the greatest comic cover I've ever seen (her face and gun hand both look a little strange), but it's nicely done and lets you know what you're in for with one image.
 
THE STORY:
Nicola Sinclair (AKA Lady Action), an agent of the British A.C.T.I.O.N. Directorate, infiltrates the mansion of crime lord "El Caso" during an exclusive party.  With the assistance of an American A.C.T.I.O.N. agent named Adam, she successfully hacks into El Caso's private computer files and discovers that he has information that only A.C.T.I.O.N. should have.
 
Nicola's fears of a traitor are proven correct when El Caso and a group of his armed bodyguards arrive to take the British agent prisoner and Adam shows up with them and admits that he's working with El Caso.  As the criminals discuss how to execute her, Nicola causes an explosion and flees the mansion with El Caso's men in hot pursuit.
 
Lady Action grabs a motorcycle and leads El Caso's men on a running gun battle chase through the surrounding woods.  Nicola encounters Adam and tries to regain the flash drive with El Caso's files on it, but the American Double Agent shoots and kills Nicola as El Caso hovers overhead in a helicopter.
 
EPILOGUE: Two weeks later Nicola and Adam meet in a Texas diner.  The information theft was a distraction and her death was faked so that Adam could infiltrate deeper into El Caso's organization.  
 
Adam gives Nicola the information the British Branch was REALLY looking for, gained by El Caso's trust in Adam.  Shortly after Nicola leaves with the files, Adam is shot in the head by one of El Caso's assassins and El Caso is informed that Lady Action is alive and has the stolen information.
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
Not bad.  Not bad at all!  This is a fast-paced, well-written "infiltrate and escape" spy story with a (somewhat predictable, to be honest) double twist.  It makes me want to know what happens next.  That said, even though it's a good story, it's not perfect.
 
This is firmly connected to the continuity of the Moonstone Captain Action series, so there are quite a few references to characters and events that have taken place "off stage".  There is an assumption that if you're reading Lady Action, then you already know vital Captain Action-related information. . .like what the A.C.T.I.O.N. is in the first place! (I had to wiki up and discover that it's sort of like the Mission Impossible Force, but their main enemy are aliens who have infiltrated the world's governments) In other words, there is NO background information here.  This story hits the ground running and stays that way to the end.
 
On the art side, I like this style a lot.  It has heavy lines, chunky forms, and is just slightly exaggerated with nice bold colors and a great sense of movement.  It's a perfect fit for a fast-moving story like this.  Like a lot of these "Off Brand One Shots" there's a lot more effort and detail put into the female figure than anything else.  This isn't QUITE as -tastic as some of them, but you can definitely tell what the artist's favorite thing to draw was.
 
Overall, I liked this comic a lot.  It has a fun, fast-paced spy story backed up with some good art.  There's no background material, so there's references that don't register well with a new reader like myself, and it has a "to be continued" ending, but that didn't stop me from enjoying this little story.
 
THE VERDICT:
I give Lady Action 4 out of 5 menacing gunmen.
 
Two good ones in a row! Let's see if we can keep this going.  NEXT!
 

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE -

LIGHTSTORM

MALIBU (1994)

 
LIGHTSTORM
SCRIPT: Mark Altman
PENCILS: Rob Davis
COVER: Rob Davis
 
THE COVER:
 
*Sigh* This again?  Why do you keep doing this to me, Star Trek?
 
I'm a HUGE Star Trek fan, but Star Trek comics (especially those from the 80's and 90's) have pretty much consistently disappointed me with their art.  It seems like the built-in audience and sales for Star Trek comics leads to a "Minimum Effort" standard.  This cover is no exception.  It's okay. . .but it doesn't look like the artist put any more work into it than he absolutely had to.  And when I see the interiors were done by the same guy, it doesn't give me much confidence.  Here's hoping that at least the story is good.
 
THE STORY:
After the newly-established Federation colony Gakora in the Gamma Quadrant comes under attack by an unknown enemy, the Klingon cruiser A'v Wi, under the command of Captain Krol, answers the distress call, but finds the colony destroyed and only one human survivor.  Krol decides to take the comatose survivor to the closest Federation base, Deep Space Nine.
 
Captain Krol is determined to find and destroy the attackers, while Katha, the Imperial Adjunct aboard the A'v Wi, insists on a more diplomatic first contact with the mysterious aliens.  Deep Space Nine Commander Sisko agrees and asks to join the Klingons, along with his science officer, Dax.
 
Shortly after entering the Gakora system, the Klingon cruiser is attacked, but the attacking ships are technologically inferior and pose little threat.  After opening communication, the alien commander seems to recognize the Klingons as allies and thinks that the humans he sees are prisoners.  He offers to guide the confused Klingon Captain to their base.
 
After arriving at the alien homeworld and meeting their ruler, Malek, Sisko and Dax are imprisoned and scheduled for execution.  Adjunct Katha and Captain Kol demand an explanation and are told that humans are the enemy of the Myvock people because they violated the ancient holy ground of the planet Gakora.  Katha and Kol become more confused as Malek tells them that he was informed by other Klingons that the alliance between the Federation and Klingon Empire had collapsed.
 
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
 
On Deep Space Nine, the human survivor of the Gakora colony regains consciousness and informs Dr. Bashir that after the attack, when the aliens were slaughtering the survivors, they were accompanied by two female Klingons who Bashir realizes match the description of Lursa and B'etor. . .dangerous Klingon sisters who have constantly attempted to erode the Federation/ Klingon alliance.  Doctor Bashir and Chief O'Brien volunteer to travel to Gakora and try to warn Sisko and Dax.
 
On the Myvock homeworld, Captain Kol and Katha are introduced to Hernai. . .the Myvock military commander who led the attack on Gakora.  Hernai is determined that the execution of Sisko and Dax be carried out as quickly as possible.  Kol and Katha arrange a secret meeting with the humans to tell them that they will not allow them to be executed.  Katha reveals that she's actually a Klingon intelligence agent trying to track down the Klingon sisters Lursa and B'etor and prevent them from selling explosives to Bajoran terrorists.
 
On Gakora, Bashir and O'Brien are almost immediately captured by Lursa and B'etor while back on the Myvock homeworld, Sisko, Dax, Kol, and Katha confront Malek and inform him that he's being used by Klingon terrorists.  Commander Hernai interrupts and they are all taken prisoner and scheduled for immediate execution, along with Bashir and Dax. . .which reveals that Hernai is working with Lursa and B'etor.  
 
The Klingon cruiser transports the prisoners out of danger, and they quickly head for Gakora.  Following a battle in mines beneath Gakora, Lursa and B'etor make their escape.  Hernai reveals to Malek that he allowed the sisters to mine beneath their holy ground in exchange for technology to improve their weapons. Malek removes him from military command.  Katha goes in pursuit of Lursa and B'etor while Sisko and Malek make peace between the Myvock and Humans.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Well now. . .that's a lot of story!  And it's pretty well condensed too.  I left out a couple of sub-plots (Doctor Bashir and the Klingon First Officer Koleth's friendship, for one example.  The simmering conflict between Captain Kol and Katha for command of the Klingon ship is another) and there's STILL eight paragraphs.  So yeah. . .this double-sized comic is definitely on the dialogue-heavy side.
 
The good news is that the story is very well done.  The writer (who is a pretty prolific author and screenwriter. . .including a two-volume 50 year history of Star Trek) very accurately captures the voices and personalities of the Deep Space Nine characters in such a way that this comic reads like it could EASILY be the script for a Deep Space Nine episode set in the first season of the show.  You can almost feel where the commercial breaks are supposed to go!  This is great read for Deep Space Nine fans like myself.
 
Unfortunately. . .there's the art.
 
 
Once again, a Star Trek comic fumbles the ball with the art.  It's clunky and uninspired from cover to last page.  The artist mostly fails to capture the likeness of the T.V. characters and backgrounds are minimal to non-existent.  There's just a feeling that not much effort was put into this. . .which is a shame, considering the really good writing.  With a little more effort on the art, this COULD have been a great comic. 
 
Overall, this comic is the definition of conflicted.  On one hand, you have a good story that absolutely captures the essence and voices of established Deep Space Nine characters and reads like a "Lost Episode" of the first season of the series.  On the other hand, you have clunky, uninspired art that demonstrates a "minimum effort" standard that is just one notch away from being outright bad. 
 
THE VERDICT:
I'll give this one a half and half score of 3 out of 5 bowls of Gagh (served live, of course)
 
AND FINALLY. . .
 

ENTER THE ZOMBIE

ANTARCTIC PRESS (2010)

 
ZOMBIES OF SHAOLIN
SCRIPT: Fred Perry & Robby Bevard
PENCILS: Ben Dunn
COVER: Brian Denham
 
THE COVER: 
I wish I'd had this comic when I was pulling covers for my Halloween comic display on my office "Wall O' Covers".  It's chaotic and crazy in a good way.  I like the colors a lot, especially the plain green background that really sets everything against it quite nicely.  The gigantic nasty smile on the featured Kung Fu zombie is creepy and hilarious at the same time!  It's not the greatest comic cover I've ever seen, but I like it!
 
THE STORY:
A talented but impatient young American Shaolin trainee is denied the chance to take the initiation test.  His master explains that decades of training lie in front of the young man before he can take the test. After learning the location of a hidden forbidden chamber on the Temple grounds, the student becomes convinced it holds the secrets of martial arts mastery he needs to take the initiation test.
 
Disobeying the command of his Master to not disturb the chamber, the student opens the sealed door and accidentally unleashes 36 evil, undead spirits that quickly begin to possess the rest of the students in the Temple. . .turning them into Kung Fu Zombies!
 
A friendly guardian spirit also released from the chamber informs the student that only HE can return the evil spirits to the chamber, because he was the one who released them.  The student gathers his courage and sets off to prove that he's worthy!
 
After fighting his way through the possessed students to come to his teacher's aid, the student is surprised to find that his Master had used him to open the chamber's seal and betray the Shaolin Temple to the evil spirits.  The battle between them is short and the student is easily defeated, but the Guardian Spirit infuses the student with the power of the SENTAI SHAOLIN TIGER!  
 
Transforming into a heroic, armored figure, the empowered student defeats his former Master and the rest of the evil spirits before changing back into a powerless young man.  The Guardian Spirit tells him that he is now the Guardian of the Secret Chamber.
 
Years later, the student has become the teacher.  A young, impatient student of his discovers the location of the Secret Chamber. . .
 
The End?
 
THE REVIEW:
Not bad.  Not bad at all!  This is an extremely fast-reading and stripped-down story that moves quickly from Point A to Point B to Point C without anything to slow it down.  This is a lean story that is over before you know it.  I literally finished this comic in five minutes.
 
But even though this is an extremely simple and action-heavy story, I liked it.  It's quick and entertaining.  It's not a great story.  It might not even be good, when you think about it.  It's like comic book junk food.  You know it's not really great, but before you know it, you're done with the whole thing and you sort of want some more.
 
 
Ben Dunn is actually an artist I like a lot.  I'm always happy to see his name on a comic.  I appreciate his (and Antarctic) bringing the Manga style to an American audience.  It's not my favorite style, but I like it in small doses now and then.  This is a pretty straightforward, no-frills example of that American Manga style.  It helps the fast-paced story move quickly across the page, and it's very nicely done.  
 
Overall, this is pretty much what I call a "junk food comic".  Sure, there's better comics out there, but sometimes you just want a little bit of fun entertainment that might not be what other people would call great, but screw those people.  Not everything has to be great.  This is just a fast-paced, fun little story.  Nothing more, nothing less.
 
THE VERDICT:
I'll give this one 4 out of 5 poorly-dubbed episodes of One Piece.
 

CONCLUSION

 
Well now. . .THAT was an unexpected surprise.  This handful of "Off-Brand One Shots" my daughter gave me was actually pretty darn good!  Except for the extremely weak art on Deep Space Nine (But that's par for the course on almost ANY 80's or 90's Star Trek comic, to be fair) there's not much bad to say about any of these.  That doesn't happen very often.  
 
Up Next. . .
 
Plenty more Off-Brand One Shots in the pile. 
Let's see what my daughter hands me next!
 
Be there or be square.

- read more

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic reviews that nobody ever asked for!

This time out, I'm going to take a look at another handful of one shot issues that were included with my recent purchase of a massive pile (about 600 issues) of non-DC/Marvel comics.  I've let my daughter pick the ones to review, and I have to say that I was a little disappointed with what she gave me last time.

I'm crossing my fingers for better luck with this batch. . .so enough introduction, let's get right into it!

NITROGEN

Arcade Comics (2005)

 
SCRIPT: Rob Liefeld & Brandon Thomas
PENCILS: Jon Malin
COVER: Jon Malin
 
THE COVER:
Hmmm. . .okay.  Not bad.  Not great, but it's pretty good in that signature "in your face" 90's-Tastic way.  Rob Liefeld is the writer on this one and not the artist, but I can definitely see his influence here in all the straps, spikes, giant guns and all around shiny metal look of things. . .as well as in the general composition and posing of the characters.  This cover simply screams "THE 90'S!!" at me. 
 
Wait.  What?  This comic isn't from the 90's, it's from 2005? Ohhhhhh. . .okay then.  My mistake. Ha-Ha! You got me!  Heh. . .heh.  *sigh*  Let's take a look inside.
 
THE STORY:

The Nitros, a team of young superpowered heroes, have rebelled against the morals of the past generation of heroes that taught them to use their powers for the good of humanity.  Instead they have embraced the path of power and follow the commands of hero-turned villain Zang.

Under Zang's ruthless leadership, the younger generation uses their intimate knowledge of the older heroes to easily defeat them. . .but in their overconfidence, they don't understand that there were things that the older generation never taught them or told them about because they were too dangerous.

One of the few remaining heroes of the past uses this knowledge and desperately opens a hole in the time-space continuum through which a horde of strange beings come through to confront the young rebels.

The End. . .to be continued?
 
THE REVIEW:

As I read this comic, I was struck by the similarities between it and "Jupiter's Legacy", by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely. . .which came out 8 years after this in 2013.  The resemblance is mostly in the subject of a younger generation of heroes turning against their mentors, and Jupiter's Legacy is a superior look at the subject, but I still found it pretty interesting to see a Rob Liefeld-written version of Jupiter's Legacy that came out a decade earlier.

THAT SAID. . .

Rob Liefeld isn't exactly known for his great writing, and he's certainly no Mark Millar.  The writing on this isn't great. It's not awful, but it's not great. It's just sort of "pretty good".  Reading this will take you right back to the 90's like it's a paper time machine.  People shout about their powers to each other in the middle of fights, for example.

I have to admit that the plot itself was pretty interesting if you can look past all the shouting, but even though it ends on a "To Be Continued" note, this is it.  It seems to be the first issue of an unfinished project.  Sort of a shame because there's actually some potential to be good here.


 
As far as the art goes. . .it's even more of a trip back to the 90's "We want to be like Marvel!" Image team books than the writing.  Rob Liefeld isn't given any art credit here, but he probably should have been for inspiration alone!
 
Like the cover, Liefeld's influence is all over the place in the exaggerated proportions, overly-elaborate costumes, spiky hair, and constantly-exposed teeth of the characters. The pages are so cluttered with action that it's sometimes hard to keep track of what's going on.  The art is actually well done for what it is.  Simply put it's 90's-Tastic in every good AND bad way that it can be. 
 
Overall, I actually enjoyed this one.  It's not the best-written comic ever, but it does have a decent premise, some nice 90's-style art, and the potential to be a good story.  Unfortunately, this is all there is of it, so there's really no way to see where it went.
 
THE VERDICT:

I'll give this one 3 out of 5 costumes with useless straps and gigantic shoulder pads.

NEXT!
 

MASTER DARQUE

Valiant (1998)

 
SCRIPT: Christina Z.
PENCILS: Leonardo Manco
COVER: Leonardo Manco
 
THE COVER:
I'm a big fan of Leonardo Manco's art, and seeing his name on the cover of this makes me very happy. . .BUT. . .this cover isn't his best work.  It's dark and muddled and the main character's face just looks strange.  There's a lot of wasted space in the frame and logo area. This isn't the kind of cover that makes me want to buy a comic book. I hope whatever's inside is better. Let's check it out!
 
THE STORY:
When a desperate young man seeks aid from the mysterious Alexandre Darque to save his dying mother, he is taken on a nightmarish and dangerous journey to the darkest edges of the Valiant Universe to retrieve three artifacts.

Unfortunately, even though his mother is saved, he learns that he was just a in Darque's twisted games.  The artifacts he risked his sanity for weren't to save his mother at all, but to give Darque a glimpse into the future end of the world and what part Alexandre Darque will play in it.

The End. . .to be continued.
 
THE REVIEW:
Like Nitrogen above, I was actually reminded of another story while reading this hefty double-sized issue.  This time it was DC's 1990 Books of Magic mini-series, where fledgling magician Timothy Hunter is led through the occult side of the DC Universe by characters like John Constantine and Phantom Stranger, with cameos of various other DC mystic characters along the way.

The mysterious, mystical, self-serving title character resembles John Constantine in a very obvious way (even in appearance).  The resemblance is barely copyright-dodging enough that this could have EASILY been a Hellblazer comic as Darque leads an unsuspecting young man through mystical realms and meets characters like Shadowman, The Eternal Warrior, and Turok.

Setting aside the very obvious. . .I'll kindly call them "influences". . . this isn't a bad story at all.  Like Books of Magic, it serves as a good introduction to the dark corners of Valiant's recently (at the time) rebooted universe through the eyes of a relatable non-powered character.  The ending makes it clear that there is a lot more to the tale (there was a follow-up 4 issue series called Darque Passages), but despite that, this is a complete and pretty enjoyable story in itself.

 
When talking about the cover above, I mentioned that I'm a fan of Leonardo Manco's art, but that the cover was disappointing.  The good news is that the interior art here is simply amazing!  Manco's signature darkly-inked and supremely-detailed style is definitely the star of THIS show, and (in my extremely humble opinion) is reason enough alone to pick this comic up!  Just look at the awesome full-pager above and know that Manco was the PERFECT artist for a story like this.
 
Overall, even though the story is highly derivative of Books of Magic and the main character is a discount version of John Constantine, I liked this issue for the guided tour through the dark side of the Valiant Universe.  Throw in some fantastic artwork that fits the mystical and sometimes horrific story perfectly and this one's a winner!

THE VERDICT:

I'll give this one 4 out of 5 copyright-dodging differences.

NEXT!
 

SHOTGUN MARY:

SON OF THE BEAST

Antarctic Press (1997)

 
 
SCRIPT: Miki (Miljenko) Horvatic
PENCILS: Esad Ribic
COVER: Esad Ribic
 
THE COVER:
Yep. . .there it is, front and center, folks. The Boo-Tay! 
 
I actually like this cover quite a bit for the way the main character is contrasted against a plain background.  I've always liked covers that use this method.  Shotgun Mary is nicely-painted and detailed as well. I also like the unusual pose of her looking over her shoulder.  I'd let this one take a turn on my rotating "Wall O' Covers" on my office wall at work, but I don't feel like having to go to an awkward HR appointment to talk about it.
 
BONUS: Good News! I seem to have come into an extremely-limited "Gold Seal" Variant of this comic, of which I am now the proud owner of 1 of only 100 copies out there!  The bad news is that nobody cares and it's still not worth a (less than 10 bucks). *sigh*  Moving along. . .
 
THE STORY:
 
Renegade former Warrior Nun "Shotgun" Mary Delacroix follows a trail of victims with their hearts torn out into the desolate desert after learning that the sacrificial murders are meant to attract her attention.  After purposely walking into a demon's trap, Mary is offered a chance to join the forces of .  She declines with a combination of faith and firepower, defeating the demon and moving on to the next target in her lonely mission. . .
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
I'm familiar with Shotgun Mary from Antarctic's "Warrior Nun" comics, and I generally like the character.  She's a bit derivative of Marvel's Punisher, but with a Catholic religious angle that sets her against demons instead of criminals.  
 
This one shot puts Mary in full violent "Religious Punisher" mode in a fast-reading, action-heavy story that moves from point A to B to C very quickly and without any background material at all. . .so this one is NOT for new readers, but for existing fans.  If you don't already know what Shotgun Mary is about, this ain't the place to start.  
 
That said, despite the extremely thin story, I liked this quite a bit.  It's fast. . .it's simple. . .it's not deep or complicated.  It's Shotgun Mary purposely walking into a trap in order to kill a demon.  That's it.  Sometimes you just want a simple story and this one shot serves up just that.
 
 
On the art side of things, I was pleasantly surprised to find this to be a fully-painted comic.  I'm a bit more used to Manga-Style artwork in Antarctic comics. . .especially their earlier offerings from the 90's.  The art here is nicely-detailed and richly-colored.  It's not the BEST painted art I've ever seen, but it looks great and definitely takes the issue up a notch in quality.
 
Overall, this is a fast-paced and simple page-turner with some unusual (for Antarctic) painted art.  As an existing fan of the main character, I liked it quite a bit.  If you're not familiar with Shotgun Mary, this isn't a great introduction.
 
THE VERDICT:
 
I'll give this one 4 out of 5 scorched Rosary Beads.
 
AND FINALLY. . .
 

LITA FORD

Rock-It Comix (1993)

 
THE QUEEN OF HEAVY METAL
SCRIPT: Lita Ford, Laurel Fishman & Roland Mann
PENCILS: Jim Balent
COVER: Jim Balent
 
THE COVER:
Allrighty, then! It's a nicely painted depiction of 80's rocker Lita Ford proudly showing off the OTHER two reasons she's famous beyond her ONE hit song! Okay, two songs. . .if you count her sappy duet with Ozzy Osbourne where he's singing like he's reluctantly paying up on a lost bet.
 
I have to admit that this IS a pretty metal cover.  Too bad Lita Ford ain't metal. Still, I'm liking  all the skulls and the general throwback album cover look of it. Wait. . .is that a WIENER DOG bottom left? What the ?
 
BONUS: 
Good news! My copy of this comic is signed by writer Roland Mann. 
Bad News! A signed copy of this comic STILL isn't worth !
 
THE STORY:
Shortly before a concert at Madison Square Garden, rocker Lita Ford breaks her guitar but is given a new one by a mysterious stranger who claims the guitar has unusual powers.  In the meantime, Libby Snore. . .head of the P.M.R.C. and wife of Congressman Al Snore. . .is plotting to destroy the sinful Lita Ford at the very same concert.
 
As Lita and her band take the stage, Libby Snore uses black magic to open a gate to , releasing demons that possess her Young Republican followers. . .who attack the band and their fans.  As the demons attack, Lita's guitar transforms her into a heavy metal super-hero!
 
Using her new powers, Lita is able to defeat the Young Republican Demons and confront Libby Snore, forcing her to close the gate to .  Lita transforms back to her regular self and Libby Snore promptly has her arrested for starting a riot.  Lita's manager bails her out of jail and we are assured that the story hasn't ended yet.
 
The End. . .to be continued?
 
THE REVIEW:
Oh Lawd.  What the did I just read? 
 
I don't even know where to begin with just how bad this is, but here goes. 
 
At the heart of it, this is less of a story and more of a protest rant against the PMRC, which (for anyone under the age of 45 reading this) was an organization started in 1985 by Elizabeth (Libby) Gore that is responsible for those "Parental Advisory" labels that still adorn album covers today and the main censorship supervillain for heavy metal and rap music at the time.  
 
The PMRC is practically forgotten today, except in some songs from the era protesting it and relics like this comic.  But at the time, it was a pretty big deal complete with congressional hearings and all the associated hoopla censorship generally garners when it rears its ugly head in the US of A.
 
In other words, this is a comic that is stuck so firmly in a specific political moment in time that it's practically unreadable today.  It doesn't help that even if it wasn't a heavy-handed censorship protest thinly disguised as a comic book, it's very poorly written.  The "plot" is forced to fit the message instead of writing the story around the message in a more natural way.
 
Things happen for no reason except to address specific points of PMRC censorship, so the whole thing just feels forced and preachy. . .which is just strange for something that's supposedly AGAINST an organization that's forced and preachy!  
 
To make matters worse, unless you're someone who even REMEMBERS the PMRC, what little narrative drive this comic does have will be completely meaningless because all that's left of the PMRC are those little parental advisory stickers.
 
 
As far as the art goes. . .it's okay.  It tells the story, but beyond a hard focus on Lita Ford's mostly-naked body, there's nothing remarkable about it.  It's not the worst art I've ever seen, but it certainly doesn't try too hard either.  
 
Overall, this comic book is a sort of embarrassing relic of the time.  It features a one hit wonder fighting against a censorship organization that nobody cares about today and leans pretty heavily on being full of pictures of a scantily-clad woman drawn in an extremely average way.  Just read Red Sonja instead. . .at least you usually get a decent story that doesn't preach at you along with your sexy pictures. 
 
Beyond the story, there's a pretty extensive interview with Lita Ford that's actually pretty interesting, as well as a discography. . .who knew she had enough songs to fill not one, but TWO "greatest hits" albums?  So if you're a Lita Ford fan, you might get some extra mileage out of this.  But if you just grab this from the bargain bin because of the -tastic cover and expect a good story or great art, you're gonna be pretty disappointed.
 
THE VERDICT:
 
I give this one 1 out of 5 spiky leather bras.
 

CONCLUSION

 
Hoo-Boy.  My daughter gave me a mixed bag with this batch!  
 
I'd say the theme this time was reading one thing and being reminded of another.  From Nitrogen being a 90's-Tastic Liefeld version of Jupiter's Legacy, to Master Darque being THIS close to being a Valiant version of Books of Magic starring a bargain bin John Constantine, to Shotgun Mary basically being a Religious Female version of The Punisher that kills demons instead of criminals.  
 
Of the four, I'd say my favorite was Master Darque.  Yeah. . .it's really close to being a straight up copy of Books of Magic, but that Leonardo Manco art though!  The worst was Lita Ford.  It's amazing just HOW bad that comic is.  But that one bad apple aside, the other three were actually decent reads.
 
Up Next. . .
 
only knows what my daughter will give me next.  
MORE off-brand one shots!
 
Be there or be square.

- read more

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic reviews you never asked for!

I believe I've mentioned in a couple of posts that I've recently come into two longboxes STUFFED with non-DC/ Marvel comics. . .mostly from the 90's.

I bought the boxes from a closing comic shop (another one bites the dust, R.I.P.) for a measly FORTY BUCKS because the shop owner knew that nobody else but me was going to touch them.  Indeed. . .his closing sale had been going on for a week and he hadn't sold but a few comics from those boxes.

SO. . .

Here I sit with about SIX HUNDRED random comics from mostly-defunct comic publishers like Valiant, Malibu, Innovation, Eclipse, NOW, Impact, Continuity, Topps, CrossGen Chaos, and others I've never even heard of.  Along with a healthy sprinkle of older comics from companies that are still chugging along like Dark Horse, Image, and Antarctic.

What to do with all of that fine Longbox Junk? Unfortunately, there isn't much that's complete, as far as runs or mini's. . .so despite the bounty of bargain box books at hand, they don't really fit my concept for Longbox Junk, where I generally try to get into full runs and complete stories.

BUT. . .

Among all the incomplete runs and story fragments, there is a big, beautiful stack of ONE SHOTS!

If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you know the love I have for the one shot!  It's probably my favorite form of comic art.  The creative team has ONE and ONLY ONE issue to tell a complete story.  There's no room for error. . .no "well, maybe next issue will be better", like there is in a series.  I absolutely love seeing if a creative team can step up to the challenge of the one shot.

So let's get into some of these non-DC/Marvel one shots, shall we?  We shall!

RED SONJA

A DEATH IN SCARLET

Cross Plains Comics (1999)

 
A DEATH IN SCARLET
SCRIPT: Roy Thomas & Steve Lightle
PENCILS: Steve Lightle
COVER: Steve Lightle

THE COVER: 
Very nicely done! Lots of detail, great colors.  I like the way the main subject sits against the stark black background.  Sonja's face is a little strange, and there's no way I can hang this one on my office wall without an awkward appointment with HR (but that's Red Sonja covers in general, not just this one), but I like this one a lot!

THE STORY: 
A young Sonja learns the trade of thievery from a woman named T'Shika in the city of Khorsun.  When a theft goes wrong and the two find themselves pursued by the private army of a rich trader, Sonja stumbles into knowledge that the trader had something to do with the death of her family.

Sonja turns from hunted into hunter as she and T'Shika infiltrate his palace and find an ally in the form of an enslaved shape-shifting priestess called Sabra.  Unfortunately, in the battle to get close to the trader and gain information, Sonja accidentally kills him and is forced to leave without getting any closer to those who killed her family.

The End?

THE REVIEW:
  Although listed as a one-shot on comic reference sites, this comic looks a lot more like what was supposed to be the first issue of an ongoing series.  It stands alone as a pretty good story, but there are a lot of obviously-dangling plot threads, including an ending that's more of a "to be continued".  That said, the legendary Roy Thomas does a great job returning to one of his signature characters.

BONUS: There's a nice little essay in the back by Thomas on how he created Red Sonja for Marvel.

 
 
The art is very nicely detailed, but the colors are often a little garish.  Not often enough to bring things down too much, though.  There's also a LOT of cheesecake going on.  Like the cover (same as the interior artist), there's a pretty hard focus on Sonja in sexy poses throughout the whole comic.  So even though the story is pretty good, this isn't really a comic you're going to want to read at work.

THE VERDICT: 
I give this comic 4 out of 5 barely-covered .

NEXT!
 

BOMBAST

TOPPS (1993)

 
BOMBAST LIVES!
SCRIPT: Roy Thomas & Gary Friedrich
PENCILS: Ayers & John Severin
COVER: Jack Kirby

THE COVER: 
A great, colorful, old school character cover by the legendary Jack Kirby. . .complete with the signature Kirby Krackle! To be honest, the character himself looks a bit generic.  That said, this is the kind of cover that makes you want to see what's inside.  I REALLY like the bombastic text advertising the all-star classic creative lineup and the hilarious (to me, anyway) "1 of 1 COLLECT 'EM ALL!" tag.

THE STORY: 
A strange earthquake rocks the city of Chicago, opening a deep chasm that a young street punk named Darren falls into.  He finds himself in a mysterious cave with glowing rocks and a strangely-dressed man in a crystal pod.  As he investigates, he accidentally opens the pod and frees the man, who speaks in a strange language. . .but we readers know that he's a "ninth man" named Bombast with a mission to save the world of the "tenth men" and he's been in the pod for 15,000 years!

The confused Bombast leaves the chasm with Darren and begins to explore the unfamiliar world of technology he's found himself in.  When Darren is attacked by drug dealers he owes money to, Bombast saves him by using superhuman powers that allow him to turn almost anything into a deadly thrown weapon.  The battle brings Bombast to the attention of Chicago's resident super-cop, The Savage Dragon!

Bombast realizes he can't defeat Savage Dragon and is forced to escape.  Soon after, he encounters a strange metal-clad being named Death Flash who speaks his language.  Death Flash reveals that he is also a ninth man, but he is there to destroy humanity.  After a short battle, Bombast returns to the chasm, hoping to find some information to guide him.  He encounters yet another ninth man called Glida.  As they battle, their fight is interrupted by ANOTHER ninth man named Captain Glory, who somehow knows both of their names.

The End. . .to be continued.

THE REVIEW:  
There's a LOT of old school talent on this book!  That said. . .the finished product sadly doesn't  match the promise held in those names.   It's a shame to see such a waste.  The story is actually pretty poorly-written. . .especially in the dialogue, and in particular the dialogue of the reader's entryway into the story, the young, black "junkie" who discovers Bombast.  To be perfectly honest, most of his dialogue is extremely cringeworthy and borderline racist.  It almost breaks the story, it's so bad.

Setting that aside, the character of Bombast himself is just as generic as I was afraid of based on his cover appearance.  His powers are vaguely defined (he can. . .throw stuff?), he looks pretty ridiculous, and his dialogue is slightly annoying.  To make matters worse, his foe "Death Flash" rolls around Chicago on roller skates.

I realize that the creative team were going for a sort of late Silver/ early Bronze Age throwback style, and to their credit, they succeeded. For a comic written in 1993, this looks and feels exactly like something from the early 70's!

Unfortunately they didn't succeed in a GOOD way.  Instead, this is the sort of cringeworthy stuff that people making fun of the Silver/Bronze Age point and laugh at.  Maybe it was done on purpose? I sort of hope so, because then it's kind of brilliant, in a way.  If not, then it's just a pretty poor effort.  Sadly, I have the feeling this wasn't SUPPOSED to be bad.

 
 
The art serves the purpose of telling the story, but doesn't try to reach any higher than that.  Like the writing, I was expecting a little more from names like Ayers and Severin.  This whole comic just sort of feels like the minimum effort was put into it.

BONUS DISAPPOINTMENT: My copy didn't even have the Super Deluxe KirbyChrome trading card.  A single tear slowly trickles down my cheek. 

THE VERDICT: 
I give this comic 2 out of 5 old white guys trying to figure out how young black people talk.

NEXT!
 

GRIMM FAIRY TALES

2017 ARMED FORCES EDITION

ZENESCOPE (2017)

 
BLOODLINE
SCRIPT: Joe Brusha & Dave Franchini
PENCILS: Ario Murti
COVER: Alfredo Reyes

THE COVER: 
As a former Marine, a red-blooded male, and a general "America, Yeah!" kind of guy, this cover immediately grabs me.  It's bold and very nicely done.  If I could hang this on my office wall without multiple HR complaints, I would.

BUT. . .

As an adult comic reader, it's a little embarrassing.  I would never have bought this if it hadn't come to me in a giant box of random comics.  My daughter was laughing when we were pulling one shots to the side in a separate pile (there's about 30 more) and she spotted this one.  She asked who buys these kinds of comics.  I didn't have a good answer.  That's why it's in this review.

THE STORY:
In the dead of night at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., a mysterious hooded woman tracks her prey through the dark halls of the museum, pausing to briefly reflect on her family's long and dedicated military service to the United States through history as she passes by various displays.

Finally, she confronts a giant bull-headed creature with glowing red eyes and leaps into action, revealing herself as Belle, Hunter of Beasts! And. . .nope. That's it.

To be continued.

THE REVIEW:
What little "story" there is in this comic takes up a total of three and a half pages, and is actually just a preview for a (then) upcoming series.  For what it is, it's well-written and nicely-illustrated, but it's hardly worth even calling a story.

So this is a pretty thick comic.  What's in the rest of the pages?

It's all single page pinups of scantily-clad women with barely-there "military" wear and guns.  So, yeah. . .except for the preview at the front, the rest of this comic is -tastic military soft .

 
Now, don't get me wrong.  The art is great on all of them, and I've got nothing against some fine-lookin' comic ladies. . .but it's just sort of embarrassing that comics like this exist.  It reminds me of the old "Swimsuit Specials" Marvel used to put out before they realized everyone was making fun of them for it.  And indeed, my daughter was laughing when she challenged me to review this.

Challenge accepted, punk! BOOM! Here's your review!

BUT I DIGRESS. . .

Talking about the cover above, I mentioned that my daughter and I were pondering who exactly buys these comics.  Who are they created for?  The only answer I really can think of is that there's a LOT of fantastic artistic talent being wasted appealing to the most basic interests of young men, and that (based on the other handful of comics from this publisher I now own) Zenescope as a company in general exists to profit from those basic interests.  Those basic interests being .

Seriously. . .there's some great talent in this "comic" going to waste on stuff like this.  Judged on the art alone, there's a lot to like.  Unfortunately, the direction that art is pointed is disappointing.

THE VERDICT:
I give this comic 4 out of 5 anonymous HR reports for the art.
1 out of 5 skipped ads for the "story".

I feel dirty now.  MOVING ALONG!
 

MARRIED. . .WITH CHILDREN

BUCK'S TALE

NOW COMICS (1994)

 
BUCK'S TALE
SCRIPT: Geoffrey White
PENCILS: Eddie Pittman
COVER: Tom Richmond

THE COVER:
Not good.  It looks like something a teenager would draw for high school art class.  The (accidental, I promise) running theme with this batch of one shots (except Bombast) seems to be focused on nicely-illustrated with the woman's face as an afterthought.  This cover is no exception. Everything but Kelly Bundy's is pretty poorly done.

 I'm familiar with the Married. . .With Children T.V. show, but until now have never read one of the comics.  This cover does NOT give me confidence that it's going to be any good. Let's do it!

THE STORY:
We follow the tragic tale of the Bundy's dog, Buck, beginning with his early days as the unwanted pup of a stray and a purebreed poodle living on the streets and searching for his father among the mongrels of the stray dog underground.

After finally finding his father and being rejected, Buck is saved by Bud and Kelly Bundy, who use him to gain sympathy as they scavenge for food.  After proving himself useful, Buck becomes a member of the dysfunctional Bundy family.

The End.

THE REVIEW:
I came into this without much confidence based on the minimum effort given to the cover.  I wasn't wrong.  This whole thing feels sort of pointless and random.  None of the jokes really hit until Buck is in the Bundy home and we get some of that classic "Peg vs. Al" back and forth that made the T.V. show a hit, but it's too little and too late.  The rest of it is just sort of "This happened and then this happened" with surprisingly little humor for what is supposed to be a comedy-based comic.

I digress a bit, but I see this often in licensed comics.  Some things just don't translate well from screen to page.  Comedy is definitely one of them.  It's a rare thing for a comic book to be able to capture the same spark of comedy as its source material.  This comic not only doesn't capture that spark (with the exception of a few gags toward the end), but doesn't even try that hard to do so.

The art is bright, cartoony, and very exaggerated.  For what it is, it's pretty good.  The art tells the story, but doesn't try to go any higher than that.  The artist doesn't really capture the essence of any of the T.V. characters very well beyond the world-weary Al Bundy, who is the only real bright spot in either writing or art in this comic. . .and his few scenes are at the very end of the story
 
Overall, this is just a very forgettable comic with surprisingly little comedy for being based on a classic T.V. sitcom.  Where Married. . .With Children the T.V. show subverted normal sitcom tropes to become something unusual, Married. . .With Children the comic book is pretty much by the numbers.
 
THE VERDICT:
I give this one 2 out of 5 hands down the pants.

CONCLUSION

 
This first handful of off-brand one shots was pretty disappointing.  For me, Red Sonja was the best of the bunch, with the rest showing either a lack of effort or too much effort in the wrong direction.  Let's hope for a bit of improvement in the next batch my daughter has picked for me to review.
 
Up Next. . .
 
Single issue offerings from Rock-It Comix, Arcade Comics, Antarctic Press, and Acclaim Comics coming in the next Off-Brand One Shots Edition of Longbox Junk. 
 
Be there or be square!

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