What I thought of Hook Jaw #4

As of last issue the body count for this series has been not just low, but relatively bloodless. Not so here as Hook Jaw is turning into a very different sort of comic. It could have taken the blood and guts approach (and when there is gore and violence it is pretty extreme) but choose instead to take a more political, even measured (as much as is possible in a comic mainly about a giant man-eating Great White shark) approach. This issue sees the focus switch to the Somali pirates who have captured our group of protagonists which for at least one of them means a very messy end at the teeth of Hook Jaw herself.

There’s also a clunking great MacGuffin that everyone is looking for which if found can either save the world or destroy it, in the wrong hands of course. It is a tad clunky but it is purely there to drive the plot ahead. The real meat here is in the twisting turns of a plot that’s ramping up the stakes so that the world itself is at risk. Not bad for a series about a shark.

As always Si Spurrier turns in a good script that’s smarter on a second read, and Connor Boyle’s restrained style means it isn’t just a gorefest or tedious talking heads. As a series this is one of the best things Titan have published though the cruel amongst us say that isn’t a high benchmark which would be unfair as Hook Jaw is a fine comic.

What I thought of Captain America Annual #8

Written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by Mike Zeck and John Beatty, this was the one-off annual of a title which then sold poorly at the time hence why this annual guest starred Wolverine who was then as massive as he is now.The fact the comics opens with Wolverine gives away the sales tactic here.

Wolverine in the 80’s was still a man of mystery. Everything that made the character so fresh and interesting hadn’t yet been flushed down the bog and a guest appearance would add serious numbers to sales.

In fact any casual reader at the time would have picked this up wondering where the hell Captain America is in his own comic but after half a dozen or so pages we finally get the titular hero turning up.

There’s a giant robot and dodgy dealings going on but really this is about when Cap will actually fight Wolverine, something Gruenwald teases out for as long as possible but thanks to CB radio Cap gets informed of events.

Eventually Cap and Wolverine meet, have a misunderstanding and a fight because this is superhero comics.

We also get a tease of the sound effect that launched 1000 memes however the fight carries on before the pair eventually realise they’ve got a common foe to fight.

After a while the robot escapes, Cap and Wolvie find out what’s going on and the robot comes back tougher than ever for the pair to fight.

Of course the goodies win after a touch of moral greyness. In fact this is a rollicking good bit of fun and an example of great 1980’s superhero comics so you’ve got some good fights, a good guest hero, Captain America being Cap, and a big robot that gets smashed up. Gruenwald does this well and as for Zeck and Beatty their art is fantastic stuff. Overall this is a wonderful snippet of a time when Marvel managed to make their comics fun, accessible and also good!

What I thought of The Amazing Spider-Man #200

Anniversary or ‘event issues’ are ten-a-penny nowadays. Blink and you’ll miss a dozen of the bastards. Back in 1980 they were actually a big thing, and the 200th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was a big deal even if it had (and with all due respect) less than a stellar creative team of Marv Wolfman writing and Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney on artistic chores.

We start with some good old fashioned Spidey angst as he’s lost his powers after a battle with Mysterio. Aunt May is facing death and the burglar that started all this way back in Amazing Fantasy #15 is back for his own revenge.

This is a pretty formulaic anniversary issue for Spidey as in addition to the angst, there’s a recap of his origin, and a reminder of how it all started which leads to Spidey/Peter Parker getting angry as he finds his purpose again.

Only problem is he’s powerless.

Of course Spidey doesn’t die, otherwise one of Marvel’s prize assets would be gone. We do however get a scene that shows Peter Parker has learned from his mistake that led to his Uncle Ben being murdered.

After a fight with Uncle Ben’s killer Peter is captured, tied up and we get some medium level threat.

After much fannying about, a powerless Spidey confronts the burglar and loses.

Eventually we get to the big climax where it’s revealed Aunt May isn’t dead, Spidey has his powers back and we get a climatic, not to mention cathartic, fight.

Which leads to Spidey telling us he’s learned a what is now, familiar lesson.

This was the Marvel of editor Jim Shooter so it’s basic stuff, even for what it is it’s actually well done. Wolfman turns in a decent script that looks back and sets up Spider-Man for the rest of the 80’s while Pollard’s pencils are good though they suffer from Mooney’s drab, bland inks. This though may well not be an especially memorable anniversary issue but as a good solid bit of Marvel superheroics it’s readable stuff, and most of all accessible. Anyone could have picked this up and got the story just by reading this issue without having read 17 years worth of comics as is the case so often today.

What I thought of Marvel Two-in-One #3

1970’s Marvel comics are a source of joy and derision. Sometimes both. One of those titles I’ve grown fonder of over the years is Marvel Two In One, one of those titles Marvel, and DC, published where a ‘big name character’ (Spider-Man, Batman, Superman) would team up with another hero in normally, a one-off adventure. Marvel Two In One featured the Fantastic Four’s Thing, a bit of an oddity as although the Fantastic Four sold well in the early 70’s, the idea of sticking The Thing as the ongoing character in a team-up book today seems daft.

These titles also allowed new writers to play around; in this case Steve Gerber was allowed to play with Marvel’s characters and in this issue he throws in Mr. Fantastic as well as Daredevil and the Black Widow.

These comics tended to follow a certain formula. Something would happen to bring our heroes together, they’d argue/fight and then team up to fight the main villain and the story would be wrapped up in 20-24 pages. In this case Daredevil wants his billy club back.

At this point Marvel was building its universe up to the point where any comic would reference any number of other Marvel titles.

This however is a Steve Gerber comic. This means after the soap opera superheroics we get a large chunk of political content which looks amazing even today.

Then it gets insane when Adolf Hitler pops up and he’s hip to the 70’s.

At this point The Thing and Daredevil have a sort-of-fight for the sake of a fight.

After some banter, The Thing and Daredevil team up, fight the bad guys and end up saving the Black Widow who is being controlled by the aforementioned bad guys.

There’s no end here, just a promise of continuing the plot in that month’s issue of Daredevil which seems a cheat but remember these comics were cheap. Kids had a load of disposable income and could buy all the titles they could which is at least what I used to do.

Marvel Two In One is a relic of a bygone age of fun, disposable comics, albeit one with some frankly bizarre political commentary from a writer who at this point was finding his voice as well as his feet in an industry where comics were disposable. Some good, solid Sal Buscema art makes the issue a joy of nostalgia though nothing here is overwhelmingly outstanding, just solid superhero comics that’s fun which is all that matters here.

 

What I thought of The Dregs #2

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The first issue of this rather surprisingly good comic from Black Mask dealt with gentrification and the wealthy literally turning using the homeless into meat. Sure there’s a mystery wrapped round this core plot but the message creators Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler and Eric Zawadzki are putting forth.

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We pick this issue up with our protagonist Arnold, being prepped for dinner, but without giving too much away he escapes (after all, the series would be quickly over) and we have the story propel itself onward as we’re reminded we’re being told this story through the eyes of a homeless man.

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It gets a bit Singing Detective which is fine; drawing from Dennis Potter is something the likes of Alan Moore has done in the past.

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After the gorier first issue this one takes us deeper into the mystery, but for us as readers we know why the homeless people are vanishing, just we don’t know exactly who as yet is responsible for this.

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The Dregs really is a pleasant surprise. A good script trying to say something more than superheroics or fantasy, and some fine art clearly influenced by European styles.

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This is great stuff and does things with the medium few other monthly comics do. If you’ve not tried this then I urge you to give it a look.

What I thought of Hook Jaw #3

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Last issue saw the plot thicken, and this one sees it becoming a gloopy soup as those familiar with Si Spurrier’s Crossed +100 run will spot the similarities. Both are weaving massive mysteries. Both have a quirky, satirical edge and both built up to short, sharp incidents of horror which is where we are in Hook Jaw #3 from Titan Comics as Spurrier racks up the tension, as well as the scale of the story, towards something far bigger than what one would have expected from the first issue, or indeed, the history of the character who up til now has been mainly to eat people in as many bloody ways a psychotic Great White shark can.

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This issue sees our core cast of environmentalist scientists, Somali pirates and CIA operatives joined by Greenpeace (not actually called Greenpeace here) activists and the media and more and more bodies keep getting lined up for a potential bloodbath. In this issue though there’s only one big death at the teeth of Hook Jaw, and it’s a pretty chilling one too, but we’ve been spared the gorefests of the Action strips so far as Spurrier slowly builds up his cast as well as why are there strange bones on an island off the coast of Somalia and who exactly has been feeding Hook Jaw with animals?

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This isn’t as fast paced as the original Action strips. After all they had to cram as much as possible into four or five pages to keep plucky British kids coming back next week for their diet of severed heads and mutilation. The monthly format is a slower burn, but this is still a surprisingly good, somewhat political, book about a pissed off giant shark.

What I thought of Invincible #133

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Robert Kirkman’s Invincible is a comic I’ve dabbled with over the years and this issue isn’t just ridiculously cheap in order to celebrate Image Comics 25th anniversary, but it starts a new story arc which effectively acts as a sort-of jumping on point just for when Image promise that at the end of this 12-issue run then Invincible is over.

This issue starts almost wordlessly with a funeral. Kirkman likes to have long stretches of his work that are without any word balloons so the reader has to follow the narrative through the panels instead.It can be a massively effective technique and Kirkman does it well so when the silence breaks it’s normally to add an impact.

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We get an idea of what has been lost, and the conflicts (because superhero comics are all about conflicts) arising from them.

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Kirkman makes sure the reader is brought up to speed in exposition worthy of Stan Lee.

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And we get an idea of all the relationships of the main characters in the comic.

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There’s a mission to be carried out. A wedding and vows are made to enact revenge and we get the big story that’s going to crack on over the next 11 issues til the series ends. This isn’t anything hugely original (there’s been a touch of Steve Rude and Steven Grant’s Nexus throughout Invincible) but this is well told superheroics with a science fiction setting. It’s a good read, but as a jumping on point it’s a bit bittersweet with so few issues left to go, but then again it will make people go off and buy the trade paperbacks.