Uncanny X-Men #423

I have to say, the people who paid 25 cents for this comic were profoundly ripped off.

This review’s going to be a little different than other reviews and perhaps a little more difficult to pull off. See, it’s easy to make fun of #1 issues since they’re intended to indoctrinate the reader (be they old or new) into the new individual story arc that’s occurring within the book. But when you have a series that’s been going for 400+ issues, one would have to assume that there has been some sort of consistent quality that’s allowed it to last 35 years. Some could say that it’s just tradition, wanting to keep the book alive out of faith for the characters, but if that’s the case, they wouldn’t have started an entire new book for the Avengers after a 500+ issue run. I admit there’s an economic factor to that since #1 issues sell better than a book that’s on its 423rd issue. However, if you are picking up a book that has creative teams frequently leaving the book after a storyline or after a few story arcs, you want to make the stories consistently good so that new readers to the series won’t have any problem wanting to pick it up again.

Of course, the problem with this is that there are naturally going to be stinkers in a book and this one’s no different. Chuck Austen’s run on Uncanny X-Men caused a bit of controversy due to accusations of Mary Sue characters, retcons to established characters, poor characterization, and ridiculous plot points. I admit, I’m not familiar with a lot of Austen’s work, mostly because I don’t pick up much of his work, be it WorldWatch or Action Comics. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s unfair of me to think this comic sucks.

In preparation for setting up this site, I asked several message boards for recommendations for bad comics to review and Uncanny X-Men #424 was given as a candidate. I perused my local store’s back-issues for it, but sadly could not find it. However, since the story in question was a two-parter, I did manage to get my hands on #423. Eventually, I do plan on getting #424 because of what I’ve heard about it. I’m almost deadly-determined to do it for one specific reason that was cited for the contempt of it: disintegration communion wafers. Intrigued? So am I.

Before we begin, a minor rant – what is it with the propensity for some comics to include adjectives into their title? Amazing, Uncanny, Astonishing, Sensational, Irredeemable… shouldn’t just being a mainstream superhero or team be enough to justify its worth? Why do we need to feel that the book is special by having this description? Of course, this comic is special, just not in the way they wanted.

The cover makes no sense. It’s a token shot of Wolverine coming out at the camera all badass-like and all with broken chains behind him. However, while Wolverine is in the issue, at no point is he chained up (or is there even chains featured, for that matter). And a note on the artwork: his outfit is apparently so tight that we can see every sinew of muscle on his body, even in places I didn’t realize there were smaller muscles. Oh, and when did Wolvie pick up the anchored goatee? It just makes him look like a thinly-disguised villain and certainly not one of the most popular characters in comics. Also surprisingly, this comic is priced at 25 cents, possibly an indicator of how much faith Marvel editorial had in the issue. Joking aside, I’m not sure for what reason it was given a 25-cent price except as a possible promotion, but I’d think that Marvel would want to promote better material than this.

The first page is a recap of recent events and I have to say it’s refreshing to see that Marvel wants to let new readers be caught up on recent events, but they throw four paragraphs worth of material that could have been explained away in one sentence: teenagers have really complicated and crappy soap opera-like lives. Just to give a quick sum-up: Havok is out of a coma and in love with a nurse named Annie, but he accepted a marriage proposal from Polaris (which makes me happy to see a woman proposing to a man, but why the hell did he accept a marriage proposal from her if he didn’t love her?!), Nightcrawler recently stepped down as leader of the X-Men and encountered a “mysterious organization” known as the Church of Humanity, and a mutant named Chamber returned to the X-Men to find his girlfriend Husk now involved with Archangel. “But all these trying times at the Xavier mansion are only a small hint of the horrors to come…” Oh no, it’s a plague of carjackings!

We open the actual story with a montage of various scenes across the world, including a group of silhouetted soldiers along three crosses, a battle of Christian soldiers versus an unknown foe (which I can only presume to be part of the Crusades), a group of unidentified black people (some of whom seem rather overweight) wearing islander wear and holding books [??] while the background shows mountains and palm trees, a concentration camp, and an unidentified scene of a mass, open grave with several dead individuals within it while soldiers approach it, an unknown flag (featuring red and white stripes and some sort of grey shield on it) implanted next to the grave. And on their own, these could have been somber scenes (except for the odd scene of the islanders holding books. What the hell was that about?), but the narration captions ruin it all, right from the start:

“More people have died in the name of religion than have ever died of cancer. And we try to cure cancer.” Okay, how many stupid things can I count about just those lines? First of all, while it’s certainly true that religious fanaticism in one form or another is responsible for deaths spanning millennia, trying to compare it the amount of cancer deaths is just plain ridiculous. I’m not trying to underplay the seriousness of cancer, but the reason fewer people have died of cancer is partly because cancer is a disease that’s caused usually by factors outside of the control of individuals and because we have treatments for cancer, it’s more likely that people will live through it. There isn’t really a surgical procedure at the moment for ‘being blown into several million pieces by a suicide bomber’ or ‘getting stabbed in the face during the Crusades.’ Furthermore, trying to compare premeditated murder with a horrible disease and making it sound like religious fanaticism is worse than cancer is just horribly insensitive. “Gee, Billy, I’m sorry you have a tumor, but at least you weren’t made an example of by the whacko religious fanatics!”

On top of that, “And we try to cure cancer” is the height of terrible writing. Is the guy advocating that we try to cure religious extremism? Forgive my squirrelly ignorance, but again it’s trying to say that a disease and a murderous belief system are somehow on an even keel. But anyway, we haven’t even got to the actual story yet, so let’s continue: “What is it about our specific belief in God and his wishes that makes us so angry at the specific beliefs in another?” Um… It isn’t belief in God that does it; it’s believing that God doesn’t like other people’s beliefs that does it. Get your facts straight. Some of us believe in God and don’t have a problem with other people’s beliefs (unless those beliefs are the ones that say you should kill people for your beliefs, but I digress).

“What makes us take up arms against those who pray to the same God with different words — and make “Holy War” against them?” And again, he’s making a general assumption. I can assure you that the general beliefs of Christians tend to not match the general beliefs of Muslims nor do they match the general beliefs of Hindi, Buddhists, Shintoists, and etc. Saying that they’re “the same God with different words” is unbelievably offensive to those who hold their beliefs and ignorant of all the tenets and differences among the world’s religion. Anywho, we switch to a two-page spread featuring a group of X-Men at their school looking in shock as they see several members of their team quite literally crucified on their front lawn. The one closest to them has a sign on him that says, “Evolution is not the will of God.” I could also point out that it’s not his will to nail people up on crosses, but I’m sure I’ll understanding things with the ‘ironic’ quote from Deuteronomy that’s featured on the bottom talking about only the one true God and all.

Oh, and the crucifixions themselves? The artist screwed up big time. Each X-Man that’s nailed up has the spikes being driven through his palm and his feet and they’re hanging limply from the crosses. This is quite impossible. The weight of the body can’t be supported just from the palms – it’d rip the hands clean through. The only way this would work is if they had some sort of stool or something for their feet to stand on, otherwise the Romans would traditionally either tie the hands around the cross by the wrist or simply stab the nails through the wrists. Or maybe these X-Men have ‘super-weight-reduction’ as part of their mutations.

On the next page, the narrator (now revealed to be Nightcrawler) gives a breakdown of the members of the team. First is Jean Grey, who by now must have Frequent Flier Miles with as many times as she’s died. She announces that she’s not picking up any thoughts or heartbeats, declaring them all dead. Next is Logan, whom Nightcrawler says is, “Often called Wolverine because he’s short, tough, and has these hundred-inch claws that shoot out of each hand.” Just like a real Wolverine! Wolverine yells at the group to get them down as we’re introduced to Chamber and Husk. Chamber, according to Nightcrawler, is “A walking ad for how mutant gifts can ruin a good jawline.” I think I saw a public service announcement like that once.

As for Husk, he’d “explain her mutant power, but it disturbs me too much.” This from a guy who once appeared on a painted cover of a comic butt-naked in front of Wolverine without any intended comedy about the situation. For those wondering, Husk’s ability is to shed her skin into a different element, which really isn’t that disturbing compared to the guy with energy coming out of his mouth or the telepath with a cosmic bird for a soul. To make a long story short (too late), Cyclops concurs with Wolverine to get them down and Iceman objects, thinking the police will want to see it. In turn, Cyclops has what we call an ‘heroic spaz attack’ around here, once again yelling to take them down. By the by, the X-Men tend to go through a lot of uniforms and right now they’re wearing their worst – matching blue and yellow ensembles and Cyclops in particular has it worst with a huge-ass ‘X’ across his torso.

Cyclops tells Jean to contact the new nurse, Annie, and she complies, sending a telepathic call to her: “Annie? Annie, it’s me, Jean. I need — Annie, please stop screaming, it’s just telepathy, it’s not going to hurt — well, when you pull yourself together, can you join us in front of the school?” You know, if this is how they treat a regular human who’s rightfully panicking when she’s hearing a voice in her head communicating with her, I’ve got to say I understand why Homo sapiens are afraid of these guys.

Nightcrawler makes the comment that the police are going to be unhappy that they’re tampering with a crime scene and Wolverine just rolls his eyes at this and proclaims that, “When it comes to mutants — we are the police.” I certainly agree with Wolverine on this one, but it makes me scratch my head as to why Nightcrawler is so adamant about such a thing, since we know that the X-Men have more advanced technology available to them than local law enforcement. The others see that Jubilee has also been crucified and Wolverine runs to her. Iceman, in this stunning bit of revelation, says these words: “Right here, Logan. My God, it is her!” No kidding, Einstein – that yellow raincoat can be spotted a mile away. Wolverine and Iceman pull her down while Wolverine screams for help: “Where’s a healer?!” We need to travel into an Instance! “Where’s Xorn?! Where’s Worthington?! Where the hell is Worthington?!

All of a sudden, Nightcrawler has his own heroic spaz attack, looking up at the sky and screaming, “Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?Beep! This is God – your call is very important to us… “Or cry to you “violence!” And you will not save?” While some people have crises of faith like this, Nightcrawler just two seconds ago didn’t seem too put off that a bunch of his friends were nailed to a bunch of crosses, caring more about upsetting the possible police investigation.

Jean telekinetically carries two bodies back into the school as Nurse Annie asks who could do such a horrible thing to them. Iceman responds that it was by people who don’t like mutants, saying her name sanctimoniously to make her feel bad about her own prejudices. Nightcrawler’s narration pipes in with: “Annie the human. Annie the “enemy.”” Erm, maybe I haven’t read any X-Men books in a while, but I was under the impression that Professor Xavier thought that humans and mutants weren’t supposed to be enemies? Once again being a flip-flopper, Nightcrawler on the next page says in narration, “Don’t go there, Bobby” and then spouts off what I can only presume is a Bible quote since he says it with quotation marks in his narration captions.

In the next scene, Angel is lying in the middle of the medical bay with wires hooked up to him and all of the dead X-Men. With the time I’m sure it took them to set up this little display, I’m sure the bodies of all of them must have started to decay (at least the brain would due to lack of oxygen) so I don’t know what they’re hoping to accomplish with their little transfusion of Angel’s ‘healing blood.’ Wolverine, still screaming, asks how long it’s going to take. Angel tells him to calm down and reassures Husk that he’ll be fine. “You go worry about Jubilee and Angelo.” And, you know, the four or five other dead friends of yours, too, perhaps?

Cyclops pulls Nightcrawler aside, starting to give him instructions about assembling his squad when Nightcrawler interrupts, saying it’s not just his team anymore. Cyclops states that: “It is your team, Kurt. You wanted more responsibility and Xavier gave you the second squad. Whether you choose to follow up on the responsibility given to you is your business — but you are the team leader.” So, wait, he’s the team leader, but he doesn’t have to follow up on the responsibility of it if he doesn’t want to and yet you’re barking out orders to him? Is anyone following this logic? Nightcrawler states that he split his leadership responsibility with Angel (and in case you haven’t noticed, blue boy, Angel’s not exactly in a position to be giving orders at the moment). Cyclops interrupts him by saying that he “found it easier to be liked if you didn’t have to make the unpopular decisions. So you left those to Warren in order to continue being everyone’s happy-go-lucky best friend.”

He continues by giving a lecture on leadership: “Being a leader isn’t about being a friend, or being liked.” Well, I guess that explains why everyone thinks Cyclops is a stuck-up asshole – he is. “It’s about making the right decisions no matter how tough they are — or how unpopular they make you. So get your team to the conference room — and do it now.” Okay, I do actually agree with Cyclops on his description of leadership, but seriously, is now the best time to be giving lectures? Just take charge yourself, Cyclops – you’re still the overall field leader and you don’t want a conflict in the chain-of-command from Nightcrawler if he disagrees with you about something, do you? Jeez, he really is a dick.

Annie warns Angel that they’re getting close to a pint of Angel’s blood and he tells her to keep going. Husk tries to convince him to stop and Nightcrawler asks her to accompany him to meet with Cyclops and the others. Husk refuses, but Angel tells her to go with Nightcrawler, saying, “You’re really wasting your time here, anyway.” On its face, this may seem heartless, but seriously, it’s true – I mean, what’s Husk going to do to be helpful? Wilt away next to Angel while staring at him, perhaps? Husk and Nightcrawler react with shocked looks on their faces to this perfectly legitimate statement and walk off. Annie scolds Angel for his statement, defending Husk and saying that she suspects that she likes him a lot. Angel responds that he knows, but that she loves Chamber. Annie, reacting with a wonderful beside manner, responds, “What? The kid without a mouth? Please! There’s nothing to kiss!” Wow, such a sensitive nurse, isn’t she? “If you knew anything about women, handsome, you’d know there’s nothing more important than a man who can kiss.” Yes, because his personality has nothing to do with what a woman likes in a guy. Honestly, where did this woman get her nursing license, from the Gary Brodsky School for Women?

Switching scenes over to “The War Room,” we once again find Nightcrawler reciting Bible lines. I’m not including them here because these few lines of good writing weren’t written by the comic’s author. Cyclops wants to know who’s responsible for the attack and that he wants “hints, clues, rumors, psychic impressions, whatever you’ve got — and then we’re going to find these monsters!” Um… Cyclops? You see all that technology around you? How about you punch up some camera footage or something that might have shown who the people were who did it? Havok brings up the idea that with the crosses and religious symbols, it’s likely that it was the Church of Humanity that attacked them. Cyclops doesn’t know what he’s talking about and Nightcrawler explains that they’re “a bunch of clowns who think mutantkind is against God. Our team has faced them a few times in differing circumstances.”

Cyclops quickly asks several questions at once: “How many times? What’s their background? Where are they located and why weren’t we briefed on them?” Nightcrawler starts to answer and as soon as he brings up how he assumed Angel had briefed him, Cyclops goes nuts, yelling at him: “Dammit(sic), Kurt, are you brain-dead?! Did you or did you not ask Xavier for more responsibility at this school?!” Is this really the best time to be giving Nightcrawler a lecture about the finer points of command? Some of your teammates may have just died and it was due to a terrorist attack; worry about that kind of crap after you’ve captured the killers! But no, Cyclops rants about how it’s Nightcrawler’s responsibility to keep the other teams apprised of potential threats, “Especially if your team has failed to effectively deal with them.” Gee, Cyclops, you’re right. Say, how’s the Hellfire Club these days? Or Apocalypse? Or Mister Sinister? Or- well, you get the idea.

The others concur with my opinion of Cyclops being a dick, telling him he should calm down and we do get this humorous exchange of dialogue between Havok and Cyclops, mostly because Havok is so right:

“With all due respect, Alex, this doesn’t concern you.”
“With all due respect, Scottie — this is no time to be a tightwad.”

Meanwhile, back in the medical bay, Angel is getting light-headed from all the blood being drained from him (or maybe it’s just his confusion about why Wolverine’s still in the room when he told Husk she was wasting her time). Annie tells Angel that there’s no change in the conditions of the others and Wolverine confirms this, sadly ordering Annie to cut off the feed. Angel objects, trying to get them to hold off a little longer. “Warren, I can’t. Your healing thingie[!] isn’t replacing your blood as fast as I’m draining it.” ‘Healing thingie?!‘ Okay, seriously, this character could not have been a Mary Sue. There’s no way Chuck Austen would make his wife this stupid.

Wolverine once again tells Angel he needs to pull it and that they don’t need any more dead today. Jubilee suddenly asks who died in a weak voice, shocking the others. Wolverine goes down and grumbles to her that she had just died. Jubilee, in a bit of ‘humor,’ responds, “Dude. You ever hear the words “Mouth. Wash?”” Ever hear the words ‘Fashion. Disaster,’ Jubilee? But I kid Jubilee. I actually don’t hate her outfit that much, since it’s fairly original, it’s just that she needs a serious power upgrade other than simply shooting fireworks from her hands.

Back in the War Room (which is now tilted at odd angles for some reason), Cyclops wonders why the Church of Humanity, in its previous encounters, at first didn’t want to fight with the team but then began engaging them in combat. When asking what changed between the circumstances about Nightcrawler specifically (huh?!), Nightcrawler says that the “only major thing is that I renounced my priesthood…” Havok is shocked to discover that he was a Priest and Nightcrawler wonders why it’s so hard to believe. “Well, no offense, but look at you, pal. How would that work? Are you talking about being a priest to mutants?” Nice work paving the way for a peaceful future between mutants and humans, Havok. Real smooth. Iceman’s more surprised by the idea that he finally became a Priest and is confused about why the X-Men weren’t invited to the ceremony. Nightcrawler says they were invited and that they all attended. The group all stares at him in disbelief.

Back in the Infirmary, most of the others who had been dead are getting up, possibly indicating the shortest time for the Revolving Door of Death to turn (a single issue and 13 pages). However, all is not well, as Angelo is still dead. However, on the last panel of the page, you can see his eye partly open, which made me think at first that they were going to do a ‘humorous’ thing of him getting up then and laughing at the others, but alas, there is nothing but somberness. For some reason we have a single panel of Nightcrawler holding his head as Havok asks him what the Church could gain by making him think he was a Priest, with Nightcrawler answering that he doesn’t know. The scene switches to St. Michael’s Church in Brooklyn and from the looks of the page, the X-Men landed the Blackbird right in the middle of the flippin’ street. Word to the wise – just because your plane is a stealth plane doesn’t mean people can’t still walk into it, especially if it’s not cloaked or camouflaged in any way!

Nightcrawler explains that this is the place where he thought he was doing his priestly duties under a man named Father Whitney. It was also where he remembers his ordination ceremony took place. The others confirm that they don’t recall ever being here and Jean informs us that “there is some psychic residue of someone tampering with your mind, Kurt.” Oh, gee, THANKS, Jean, for telling us this rather useful bit of information NOW! Honestly, would it have been that difficult to clue Nightcrawler into the fact that it was likely his brain was getting screwed around with? Following the incident with you practically yelling at Annie about the telepathy, I can only assume that flaming bird in you must have laid an egg on your brain, jeez…

Nightcrawler states, “In a way, I’m almost relieved to hear you say that, Jean. I’d begun to question Father Whitney recently, in spite of his warmth and friendship toward me. It’s funny how kindness is often more truly just a pleasant act of selfishness, isn’t it?” Wow. Real deep, Kurt. Ladies and gentlemen, there you have the reason why so many superheroes were assholes during the Dark Age of comics: kindness = selfishness. Oh, and he also narrates another Bible quote, this time actually saying that it’s Proverbs 26:23. Why this one and not any of the previous ones? I refer thee to the book of Lewis, chapter 7, verse 3: poor writing and/or poor editing.

Cyclops, in a strategic maneuver worthy of Patton or Napoleon, tells Wolverine to cover their backside and for Polaris to go in from the back. Let’s see: guy who can regenerate from any injury and girl who can control metal (like, you know, the stuff that tends to be in a lot of churches) cool their heels while a group that isn’t exactly indestructible goes head-first into an unknown area with the potential of multiple engagements against forces that can tamper psychically with your brain. Remind me again why Cyclops is the leader? Oh yeah, he has to make those “unpopular, but necessary” moves that nobody else likes to do. Maybe they’re so unpopular because they’re downright stupid?

In any case, the group enters and finds the Church empty. Nightcrawler believes that he was indeed at the Church since he knew people saw him leave the mansion and that he never made a secret of the fact that he was training to be a Priest. Havok, once again demonstrating how Xavier’s lessons of tolerance and sensitivity are not wasted, says “But how, Kurt? I mean, come on. Look at you. You’re a devil in a house of God.” No, he’s a mutant in a house of God who somewhat resembles a demon. Sorry, you’re confusing him with Blue Devil. Wrong company, but an easy mistake to make.

After a smattering of irrelevant dialogue that reveals that Havok knows the book of Revelations (undoubtedly as foreshadowing for the second part of this book), Jean indicates that there’s blood on the floor. She even identifies it as mutant blood. And before I can make the joke about how in the heck she knew it was mutant blood, someone asks her that question. She indicates that she cal tell a lot of things about the place that they’re not going to like and instructs them all to stand back.

Jean suddenly has her Phoenix bird thing come out of her and wreck up the floorboards beneath them as Nightcrawler’s narration, for one last time, recites a Bible quote (sans explaining where the quote came from this time), with this one making even less sense than before as it references God making humanity in his own image and that they should fill the earth and subdue it. And the ‘shocking’ reveal at the end? We have the “and subdue it” end of the quote and then a double-page spread of a laboratory beneath the floorboards, where dozens of dead mutants are in various positions, be they in tubes, on beds, in wheelchairs[??], or shackled to walls. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you need to check every square inch of the house you want to buy before purchase.

The final panel is a confusing shot of a blue entity, supposedly still alive, with a tube going into its nose while its eyes are wide open. GASP! How will the X-Men survive this terrifying encounter with dead bodies?! Will Cyclops continue to be a moronic asshole to his teammates?! Will Nightcrawler act like a rookie when we know he’s been on the team for years?! Will Polaris actually get to say a line?! Will Nurse Annie read a medical textbook and learn that ‘thingie’ is not something a licensed caregiver should be saying?! Wow, isn’t it all just uncanny?!

Well, tune in for whenever I get a copy of Uncanny X-Men #424! In the meantime, I think YouTube has got some of the old X-Men animated series up.

Kind of self-explanatory, isn’t it?

The title really says it all, doesn’t it?

Oh, but it gets sooo much better, folks. Solson Publications is a now-out of business comics company in the ‘80s that had such stellar titles as Codename: Assassin, Reagan’s Raiders (a comic, of all things, featuring our former president as part of a commando superhero team), Daffy Qadaffi, other various titles, and of course the subject of today’s burning. And while certainly members of the team just for this book are worthy of scorn, the former President of Solson comics, Gary Brodsky, deserves the most.

He is scum.

He is John Norman level of scum. He is the-oppressive-laws-against-women-in-Saudi Arabia-level scum. While it would be one thing to simply approve of this book (cheesecake for the sake of cheesecake exists even in Marvel), but what is the good Mr. Brodsky up to these days? Here is a selection of book titles from his site: How to dominate women, The Castration of the American Male, Dogs are like men, Cats are like women, How to use Black Magic to get women, Get any Woman to do Anything… Are we seeing a pattern here? The man is a misogynistic pile of crap and I don’t feel any shame in calling him that. I’m not going to link to his site, since I sure as hell don’t want people to give this bastard any more attention than my spittle and rage.

There are tenets of feminist philosophy (I’m disassociating with feminism itself here, since the definition of feminism is simply thinking that men and women should be treated equally) that I do not agree with, but man-oh-man it’s comics and individuals like this and him that make me want to.

Moving on away from the scumbag, I’m sad to say I don’t know much about the other individuals involved in this tripe. From what I’ve read, much like Greg Land of today, artist and creator of Sultry Teenage Super Foxes (hereafter to be referred to as STSF) Rich Buckler has a history of tracing behind him, but it’s lesser-known than more recent ones and from what I can tell from the limited research I’ve done, it wasn’t an extensive and common practice for him. Currently he’s doing surreal paintings and selling them from his site. The credits say that the script was by David George, but I can find no proof of this person’s existence so I’ll have to assume it’s a pen name for one of the other individuals involved in this fine work.

The other artist I can find very little about either is Chuck Wojkiewicz, albeit it seems that he has worked for DC before. Scott Nickel is still around, though, and apparently once joked about making a modern version of STSF or even Reagan’s Raiders using the current Republican President.

As for Solson comics itself, it was born out of the late ‘80s in the desire to mimic the success that black-and-white publishers had been having in the recently-budding direct-sales market. As such, this will also be the site’s first black and white comic.

And here we have the cover to Supreme Power #6- erm, I mean to our subject today (although that issue has a strikingly similar cover to this…). Unsurprisingly for the title, we have our heroines all wearing bathing suits of some sort. The woman in blue’s outfit, while looking nice stylistically, is still swim-wear if ever I saw it and does have the problem of really, REALLY huge boots. To make matters more confusing, one heroine isn’t even looking out at us like a group shot should, instead waving towards a jet that is, for some reason, on the cover. The woman in yellow has a boob window, of course, and the woman in green is… hell, I don’t know WHAT to call that outfit. It’s not helping that I can see her nipples poking through, but needless to say I’m just shaking my head here.

And before anyone cries out that these kind of outfits, “distract the enemy,” allow me to point out the fact that any villain worth his money isn’t going to give a rat’s ass if they’re in body armor, much less these outfits – they’re going to be running like hell and shooting back at whoever’s pursuing them because they don’t want to get CAUGHT. They’ll shoot at a superhero whether she’s starkers or fully-covered because they know what’ll happen if they don’t.

We open our story to an Air Force base where four women are waving goodbye to a group of pilots in their jets. The narration captions begin: “July. It means summer heat and clear blue skies here at Rutgers Air Force Base.” Really? I thought it meant giving, not stealing. “To Jasmine, Sheena, Amelia and Candy it means vacation – away from boarding school… and here on base, where their fathers work year round for Uncle Sam. Oh! It also means pilot watching.” Wait, their fathers work as pilots and these girls watch them? If it’s in a ‘oh-my-god-they’re-hot’ fashion, then eew. If any other fashion… well, sorry but that just sounds boring as hell. At least Hal Jordan’s group has interesting crap happen, like the occasional spaceship crashing into them. The narrator continues: “July is spent gazing dreamily at the cream of American manhood.” Okay, don’t EVER say ‘cream’ or ‘manhood’ again, okay? Ugh, I can just feel the oily touch of Gary Brodsky on this crap even if he didn’t write it.

“Today, alas, the girls are watching the pilots leave base on a five day mission. Five days is a long time in July – with no pilots around especially!” Yeah, I can remember back when I was a kid and I just kicked myself in July because there were no pilots around to watch. I mean, what’s not to like, eh? Mid-air refueling, sonic booms that shatter your eardrums… On that subject, five days on a single mission DOES seem like an awful long time to be away. Are they planning on staying up there the whole time or will they actually be stopping at other air force bases?

And already we see the real flaw behind black and white books – while stylistically they can work for something like Maus or something with a hint of color like AntiBunny, in a superhero book (intended mostly for action), it can get really difficult to keep track of which characters are which judging primarily on the hair style.

In any case, Amelia sighs and proclaims she misses one of the guy’s already. Jasmine rolls her eyes at her and says, “That is so high school! And you look like someone just shot your poodle! Play hard to get – for a change.” Nothing like being independent and not requiring a relationship, eh? “I thought we were in high school, Jasmine.” Ah, yes, nothing says high school quite like women who look like they’re in their mid-twenties. Two of the women wave at some mechanics nearby and Jasmine is unimpressed. “And just look at you two! Waving at mere mechanics! My God, they’re enlisted men!” GASP! Oh my God, what’ll the girls in baking class think?!

Jasmine proclaims that she’ll settle for no less than “An officer! A pilot!” Much like the narrator of Thunderstrike, Jasmine seems to have a problem with sentence fragments. One of the mechanics leers at the women and asks how a guy is supposed to work when the women are so distracting. Oh, I don’t know, perhaps by focusing on the task at hand instead of thinking with your other head? An MP stops the women, proclaiming them to be in a restricted area. As they turn to leave, the women wave to the mechanics, one of whom stupidly smacks his buddy across the back of the head as he turns.

The women manage to sneak away from the MP into a hangar and Candy is surprised by a jet that’s covered in tarps (USELESS FORESHADOWING!). The others drag her back along so they can escape and Sheena leads them along like a general. Speaking of which, when they get out of the hangar, somehow her father (a General at the base), is suddenly standing right behind her in a car that anyone could’ve seen coming a mile away. The others remark ‘humorously’: “Yowsa! Yowsa!”[??] “Ha-Ha! Sheena, you sound just like your father!” “Yeah, Sheena, and umm… Speaking of your father…” The narrator informs us quite casually, “Oh, well. Looks like they’re out of the frying pan…” Oh, those crazy wimmins – what sorta trouble will they get into next! Hahahaha- someone please kill me.

Sheena’s father reads her the riot act while the other women snicker. When he’s finished, Sheena makes a ‘sad puppy-eyes’ face at him and says, “I’m awful sorry, daddy. I was just showing the girls around. I didn’t want to be any trouble…” Yes, ladies, when men aren’t lusting after you, you should use your soft, submissive faces to try to calm those raging guys down! What’s particularly stupid about this panel is that the word balloon she’s using is dripping down like she was saying something scary, so any effect for ‘cute’ they were trying to go for is lost. The General isn’t buying her sad face, but instead of rightfully carting the women down to a less-restricted zone and punished for trespassing, he instructs her to guide his new aide, Barry, around the base. Barry is a dorky guy with glasses whose first panel appearance has him bonking his head against a car roof. The women all think about what a nerd or geek he looks like, except for one who has the image of a number two pencil for the guy’s head, which I presume is the artist’s way of drawing ‘pencil-neck,’ even though it would’ve just been simpler to write the words out.

The narrator informs us in a new establishing shot that the unimpressive building before them is, “The Air Force Advanced Aerial Combat Training Center – the most advanced facility of its kind on Earth! “C.T.C.” for short.” Um… shouldn’t that be AFAACTC if that was really its full name? Barry says he’d better get used to living in the area since he’s working on Project Valkyrie. When they ask him about it, Barry informs them on what Project Valkyrie is: “It’s a plan to give women advanced aerial training – in case the country should ever need female pilots.” Well, that makes sense, I suppose, given that-

Wait, WHAT THE FUCK?! I have made it my deliberate goal to ensure I don’t swear a lot in these reviews, but seriously, that statement deserves a complete Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot. There already are female pilots, you jackasses! And what the hell is it about women that prevents them from being perfectly acceptable as pilots in cases other than emergencies?! I’m sure Grace Trout, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Lilya Litvyak, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton can rest easy knowing how much their work is appreciated today.

Admittedly (after doing a little research), while there were female air force pilots at the time this comic was made, female aviators were not allowed to fly in actual combat. They did anyway (and participated in Panama, Grenada, and Desert Storm), but combat records excluded them. In 1993, this law was repealed and women were rightfully allowed to fly combat missions. However, the wording of the dialogue above makes it sound like there aren’t any female pilots at all and that they’d only need them in an emergency!

As Barry is shown around the building (and I must ask why civilians are showing him around), one of the women reveals for no explicable reason that Jasmine’s got a photographic memory (USEFUL FORESHADOWING!). The women play around with him, taking his I.D. badge and clip it to the back of his jacket. They get away by proclaiming, “Oh, gee! Look at the time! We gotta go and, uh… do our homework!” Barry protests that it’s July and Candy responds, “Well, we’re sorta(sic) slow. We need a real heard-start!” Tee-hee! It’s like they’re smart but they’re not! Tee-hee! …somebody PLEASE KILL ME. Barry takes off his glasses and, shockingly, he’s a dead ringer for the recently-deceased Maxwell Lord from DC comics.

Cut to “New Orleans, Louisiana. July 14.” My name’s Friday – I’m a cop. The narrator pipes in about the sweltering heat of the city and that some sections have less tourist attractions than others, showing a street that features signs like, “Topless & Bottomless,” (A rather fitting description of this comic…) “French Style Entertainment,” (Jerry Lewis? This IS a backwater place…) and “Discoteque(sic) Upstairs.” Wow, who knew Discotheques were such a hotbed of drugs and prostitution? We switch to a sign that reads “Madame Rotunda (oh, that’s subtle)” and inside there’s a woman with the standard trappings of a palm reader’s house – crystal balls, candles on skulls, and incense. Madame Rotunda herself is practicing magic while wearing a ridiculous skull helmet on her head.

And it seems my sentiments are the same as her’s, because as we flip the page she thinks, “This ridiculous headdress is about to kill me! And the heat! None of this is working… I should- No! I mustn’t! I must not give up! For the sake of my baby, my sweet Audrey, I must not give up!” The narrator exposits that Rotunda’s daughter died two years ago and now she’s seeking a way to summon the dead. She finally managed to “pierce the veil” and her spirit rises to… well, I’m really not sure. Another problem of black and white comics is that it’s hard to tell what it is we’re looking at in more detailed settings. What I can see is a weird building with a cross-symbol at its top and a bonfire going on in a lake. Rotunda realizes that something has gone wrong and something explodes out of the building. It appears in the visage of a flaming skull as the narrator explains, “The freed thing bridges the intervening gulfs of inner and outer space[??], following the silver thread of Madame’s Spirit… to New Orleans. To Madame (is her first name Madame or something?). Home.” And for some reason that just baffles the mind, the narrator then asks, “Mommy, it followed me home. Can I keep it? [?!?!]”

As Rotunda tries to fight the demon in her head, the demon proclaims that it can give her anything she wants, including vengeance. After she agrees to this, Rotunda transforms into a skinny, hawt version of herself with odd barbed boots, arm warmers, bra, and panties. Oh, and the panties have a cape running down the backside ala the Princess Leia gold bikini. Since she had to take off her robes in order to reveal this ensemble, I can only presume she was wearing this outfit before she was attacked by the demon, so eeewww on so many levels. To add to this wonderful imagery of turning a woman into a sex object is this wonderfully subtle dialogue from the narrator: “The invader wins dominance. Free at last, after so long. Let the universe tremble again.”

Cut back to the Air Force base. The narrator informs us that this is the lab of Dr. Francis Hobble and where the General and Barry are now wanting to see a demonstration of his work. The sample that they’re using is- ugh. It’s four ounces of dog feces. Folks, I don’t know what is more disgusting – the sexism or the attempts at humor. The doctor gives them goggles (“The goggles, they do nothing!” joke in 5…4…3…) and the narrator informs us, “Switches are thrown… and beams of dazzling brilliance lance down onto the sample…” I was unaware that dazzling brilliance had been harnessed into an energy form. “…Bathing it in Eldritch fire[??]… Altering it at the fundamental level!”

Barry is shocked to discover that the dog feces have become gold[!!!]! Barry speculates that it must require lots of power, to which Dr. Hobble affirms, “When we operate the device, every light is dimmed by the power drain[!!!]!” WHAT?! An alchemy device, something that alters dog turds into friggin’ gold, something that changes the atomic structure of one completely different item into another only drains enough power to dim some lights?!?! It gets better, folks.

We get a cost breakdown for the machine, that the apparatus itself cost “millions” and that converting the sample cost around $65,000. “It’s not a cost-effective source for gold, of course, but the theoretical ramifications are enormous!” Not cost-effective?! Once you HAVE the machine, getting the back pay for it is simple once you make gold of equal value! And where does the cost of actually converting the material come from?! Is it the power drain?! Now, I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that if you hooked it up something that produced an awful lot of energy, say a nuclear power planet or a geothermal plant, the power cost would be minimal at best! Now, there is an economics problem of making more gold and thereby flooding the market with it, but a device of this power has other uses.

Even if garbage itself is not a big issue in the United States thanks to the fact that landfills are plowed over and converted into methane power plants, wasteful material like feces, polluted water, or chemical byproducts of other industrial manufacturing could be converted into whatever materials you need at any moment and subsequently sold to anyone who needed them! And what does Barry have to say about such possibilities? “No way they’ll fund it this year[!!]. It’s just too theoretical[!!!].” Too theoretical?! They made friggin’ dog poop into GOLD!

Jasmine comes in, apparently the daughter of Dr. Hobble. He vents that his grant for the alchemy machine won’t get renewed. He talks about the possibilities of such a machine: “I mean, consider the transmutation of living tissue! Men into supermen! The power of creation could be in our grasp!” We could even turn a manwich into a meal! Oh, and by the way, that “power of creation” doesn’t make you sound megalomaniacal. Nope. Not one bit. Jasmine tries to reassure him that everything will work out while at the same time thinking, “This gives me an idea!” Why do I get the feeling this idea involves costumes that make no sense and sultry looks at readers?

Back in New Orleans, we have a full page of narration talking about homeless people that Rotunda (“Or whatever is now calling herself by that name” as the narrator says) is picking up the homeless and prostitutes to be possessed by other demons. Naturally, these new women are also wearing ‘80s bikerwear and supervillain outfits as Rotunda teaches them to read. One of them has a Bizarro moment as she proclaims, “It are simple! I are figure in wordglyphs already! Me is ready to go out!” Woman = dumb, apparently, otherwise why wouldn’t these demons already have knowledge of speech and reading like the spirit who possessed Madame Rotunda?

Rotunda sells all of her possessions in order to obtain all the materials she needs, including a computer (and making me sigh in nostalgia for the old days of Vic 20s and Commodore 64s. Ah, the good old days…) which she uses to gain access to Project Valkyrie. The password for project Valkyrie? Valhalla. You know, that ‘military intelligence’ oxymoron is looking more bleak every day…

Back at the Air Force base again, the women are sneaking around and go into a storage closet using Jasmine’s father’s I.D. card. Barry tries to follow them, but the door shuts and locks before he can reach it. Jasmine explains to the others about the transmutation device, and now I can only recognize three of the women because they’ve changed their hair styles. And the only one I can recognize is because she’s the only one with black hair. They identify themselves through their dialogue to one another and Amelia expresses concern about the prospect of using the device to transmute themselves into superbeings. Jasmine replies, “Oh, Amelia, don’t be such a wet blanket! This is my big chance to become a superior being, and you are not going to ruin it for me!” Jeez, I can’t tell if this is unintentional misogyny for implying that women need devices to make them into equals/superior to men or just Nazism for implying a superior being at all.

Sheena pipes up with this gem of wisdom: “It occurs to me, ladies, that a superior being would stand an awfully good chance of getting a date with a pilot!” Yes, because God forbid these unnamed pilots might want to date you for your personalities. Oh, wait, you don’t have any. You’re just dolls meant for the enjoyment of men who only care about scoring dates with me. I remember now. I’m serious, someone knock me out or something. Outside, Barry struggles to get the control panel for the door off so he can break in, rewiring it.

Jasmine explains that “Jack” (whoever the hell that might be) showed her how to use the device (FORESHADOWING JUSTIFIED!). Okay, that might explain how it’ll turn you into gold, but how in the heck do you know how to turn yourself into a superpowered being? The others pressure Amelia into getting onto the platform with them and one of them gives this bit of sage advice: “Come on, Amelia! Do you want to sleep alone for the rest of your life?” AGH, THE SEXISM! The goggles, they do nothing! See? Told you it was coming up.

Amelia thinks for a moment that it’s likely to toast them, but since they’re her friends, she’s got to stick by them (yeah, because it’s okay to give into peer pressure when it’s your friends). “Okay, I’m coming… but if this kills us, Jasmine, so help me, I’ll kill you!” Hahahaha, oh, my sides are splitting! Oh, wait, that’s actually my wrist. I’m trying to cut myself on the pages.

Barry manages to get in, but it’s too late. The device activates and all the electronic devices in the area start to short out and explode. The roof explodes and the four women ascend as Barry beholds a woman standing over them with yin-yang symbols all over her. Barry looks up in shock and thinks, “What was that thing I saw standing over it all? It looked like a woman, but… fifty feet tall!?” Quick, someone call Allison Hayes!

On the next page, we reveal the women in all of their new outfits (two of which sport huge boob windows, one a glorified bathing suit (as mentioned above), and the other with multiple holes going down the center). The narrator explains that, “The warm night breeze breathes its approval over them. They are gifted with a bond that reaches in and grasps their hearts. Tonight, they have been made into earth’s avatars.” Jeez, and now I want Aang to show up and slap the writers around for this trash…

The narrator continues: “The planet, from its core to the ozone – is alive, and it smiles on them, for it is theirs and they belong to it!” So, wait, the women belong to the Earth, or the Earth to the women? I’m confused. And hungry. The narrator explains the new powers of each of the women:

“Sheena is gifted with incredible strength, drawn from contact with the mother planet. While she touches the Earth, her blood and body sing with power!” As long as she’s not singing like Yani, I’ll be happy.

“Amelia is joined to the water. Joyfully, it comes to her call – eager to caress – or to strike!” Ah, sexy, sexy violence. Joy. “The waters of the world are hers to shape as she will. They cry out for her touch.” And I’m crying out for an end to this crap.

“Jasmine is now the bride of fire.” Because, you know, women can’t be independent, they have to be brides of something. “Her body is a channel for the power and heat locked inside the Earth. Sweltering, locked away from the light…it seeks release through her!” Jeez, how many double entendres can they fit into a single comic?

“Candy rides the winds tonight. They wrap around her soaring form, at once like silks, like a powerful steed, like a lover’s touch (THREE sexual images in one sentence. I don’t drink, but man do I need a beer). From the frigid winds that whip around mountain peaks, to the slow smoke-laden air that roils through dimly lit city hollows to the air scirocco that rides the desert dunes… She knows them all now. They call to her: “Come. Ride. Soar.” She nods and smiles and promises: “Later.” Then she hastens back to the scene and her friends.” You know, suddenly a walking stick that turns a guy into Thor isn’t such a bad idea, after all.

Barry makes himself scarce as the women practice their new abilities, setting down to talk for a minute. And what do the ladies want to do with their newfound abilities, powers, and responsibilities the likes of which no person on Earth has ever seen before? Why, get men, of course. “I say we meet those hotshots tomorrow right as they land – then wham! Show our stuff!” You could’ve done that just by NOT getting superpowers and lifting your tops.

The next day, the General is understandably peeved about all the damage to the lab. And what does Barry have to say on the matter? “I had no idea that what we are doing would be of interest to saboteurs.” Guys, it’s a machine that can turn anything into something else. Did you really think that this wouldn’t be the least bit enticing to thieves, spies, terrorists, etc.?! The eponymous Jack mentioned earlier says that most of the damage was superficial and that nothing was wrecked permanently. Dr. Hobble worries that they won’t be able to repair any of the damage without funding, but Barry states that now that the Russians are interested in it, that they’ll get more funding. He does say that it’s unlikely that the Russians themselves did it (but that doesn’t prevent you from lying about it…) because they would’ve taken information and destroyed the lab more efficiently. Because Soviet operations in the late ‘80s were going soooo well.

Barry requests to be in charge of investigating and informs the General that Project Valkyrie will be landing shortly. Wait, I thought we only gave them womenfolk jobs in an emergency! The STSF wait outside as the pilots land, ready to reveal their new abilities, but then Project Valkyrie lands and the female pilots all leave the plane and, of course, immediately hook up with the male pilots, much to the chagrin of the STSF. The ladies all grumble about this development as Major Burns, the female commander of Project Valkyrie, reports for duty to the General. And had this been a porn comic, I’m sure we’d see a bulge coming from the General’s pants right now as he grins stupidly and says to her, “Welcome to Rutgers. And please, call me “Hal”!”

Ha-ha! Oh, men ogling women is funny! And women only talk about men when they’re in groups! Yeah, part of me is laughing – the part of me that likes to blow stuff up in first-person shooters. Anyway, that’s the end of the comic, with a blurb for next issue that raises these thought-provoking questions: “What are the sinister plans of Madame Rotunda? Who are the Vampires of Venus[??]? How can I join[???]? What will Candy, Jasmine, Amelia, and Sheena do?” And who are the Overlords of the UFO?!

And just to cap off the stupidity, there’s an ad on the next page for this very comic, with a picture of the jackass Gary Brodsky proclaiming, “From the comics company that dares to have a personality!” Yeah, and that personality is one that thinks women are objects to be owned and dominated and that their only thoughts are for getting dates.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch some Buffy.

Thunderstrike #1

“Whosoever picks up this comic, if he be worthy, shall instantly regret it.”

While my review of Youngblood #1 may have picked up on some of the clichés of the Dark Age of Comics (big guns, anti-heroes, heroes who kill, over-muscled protagonists, and the rise of the Independent publisher), there were still plenty of clichés that we didn’t quite hit, and so here’s a few more of ‘em. In this case, we have:

1. The replacement of a classic hero by an upstart wannabe.
2. Updating said hero’s look for to be more “extreme,” usually including a leather jacket.
3. Gimmicky cover.

In all fairness, Thunderstrike himself isn’t that bad a character, despite the insults I throw at him in this review (I write the introductions after I write the review), he’s an okay guy and certainly tries to do heroic things unlike many other Dark Age protagonists. My primary problem with the book is the overall writing, which is just plain dull and lacking in revision (sentence fragments aplenty throughout as well as comma splices). Plus the narration tries to make things sound more dramatic than things really are, constantly igniting my rage. Plus the villains aren’t all that interesting as you’ll see.

I guess my problem is that they’re trying to play this up as something grand and exciting when really it’s just something to shrug at. By the way, this review’s going to be a wee bit longer than my usual fare since this “first explosive issue” is about 40 pages long.

I’ve got to say, that even though it was a cheap (well, not entirely cheap) gimmick to increase sales of a book, I really liked the foil covers used for a lot of Dark Age comics. Sure, it didn’t really contribute anything to the overall story, or to the fact that Thunderstrike here looks like he’s having a temper tantrum, but it’s nice and sparkly and really I think I’m going to need that after I’m done with this one.

Upon initially seeing the cover, I thought that this was the original Thor who decided to have a makeover (I’m not as familiar with Marvel characters as DC ones) but according to the blurb at the top of the first page, this is “architect Eric Masterson.” And that when he “stamps his wooden walking stick upon the ground, it is transformed into a mystical weapon called Thunderstrike! Armed with incredible powers (like what?), Masterson works to prove that one man must make a difference, because this world still needs heroes!” Not exactly ‘bitten by a radioactive spider and taught that with great power comes great responsibility,’ is it?

The (unintentional) hilarity begins right from the first narration box: “Carjacking!” I love how they need the triple emphasis on it (the original text has an underline on it, too, that I couldn’t duplicate here). “A national disgrace that has spread across this land like an unchecked cancer!” Well, first of all, no it hasn’t. Seriously, was there some sort of epidemic of carjacking in 1993? “Carjacking!” What, no italics or underline this time? I guess it’s not as bad as they make it out to be. “No one is safe! None are spared! To Carol Platt, the horror begins as her car door is brutally yanked open – and rough hands hurl her to the cold, cold street!” Actually it looks like it’s a fair spring day, so I’m not exactly sure why it’s a ‘cold, cold’ street. Furthermore, at no point do we actually see Carol here getting hurled to the street, it looks like from the artwork that the door has been opened and three guys (all wearing exactly the same hood masks, green jacket, and jeans) are trying to pull her out while she’s struggling for dear life.

“But that’s when the horror bursts from Carol’s lips –” Erm, I thought the horror was the carjacking itself? Does she have some sort of evil demonic tongue or something? “A cry full of desperation, fear — and something more!” LUST! Okay, sorry, that joke was in bad taste considering the situation, but seriously, this narration is just terrible. If this is such a horrifying thing for the narrator, I can only imagine how much he’s going to be throwing up when we reach murder or bank store robberies or something. Anyway, the criminals get angry at Carol:

“Bad move, lady! Real dumb!
Yeah! You should have kept your mouth shut until we were outta(sic) here!”

Okay, seriously, what did they expect was going to happen? They just pulled a woman from her own car, did they expect her to just let it happen without even muttering a peep? Jeez, we’re not even past the first page and we’ve already gone through a few paragraphs… Anyway, they hear a “twump” sound indicating someone has landed on top of the car and they all look to the unseen hero who has shown up. And now we flip the page…

…And we see it’s Zechs Marquise! Okay, not really, but it’s easy to make the mistake, what with the weird mask/helmet and long blonde hair. This is the eponymous Thunderstrike. After reading Wikipedia, apparently Thunderstrike was temporarily merged with Thor or some such ridiculous thing but by this point they had gotten better and the mace in his hand is also named Thunderstrike while Thor’s hammer is Mjolnir. Also, by some bizarre coloring disaster, Thunderstrike’s right hand is yellow. As for the page itself, it’s a two-page spread going horizontally, so you have to shift the book to the side to read it. Rarely in comics is this ever a good idea.

Thunderstrike speaks in text that’s noticeably smaller than the other text and this’ll be the first of several instances where we see his masterful command of words, comparable only to Shakespeare himself: “Let her go!” WOW! That’ll show ‘em, Eric! Our oh-so helpful narrator helps us about why the text is small: “The words are spoken softly — through gritted teeth — but they strike with the force of a blazing thunderbolt!” Um, no they don’t, it seems like he’s trying to whisper while looking cool. It’s not helpful that he’s wearing Thor’s outfit here, making me shake my head in disbelief that the Norse God of thunder ever trusted this guy with his hammer.

The narration continues, saying that the carjackers gaze in awe and fear (more like amusement) at the “one-man strike force.” In case you hadn’t noticed already, the narration also seems to be speaking in sentence fragments, as further expounded with this little diddy: “A hero born of legend and bound for greatness!” More like bound for the quarter bin, but hey, what do I know?

The narration continues onto the next page in EVERY PANEL: “And then, with a suddenness that would surely leave these terrorists gasping in wonder if they were only permitted to breathe — Eric Masterson springs forward!” My God, just shut up. Thunderstrike leaps forward and smothers two of them with his muscular arms (and making me wonder if Northstar wasn’t the only one trying to come out of the closet…) and he proudly thinks about how he managed to force them from the woman. And by the way, with the force necessary to drive them forward like that and still have them be in mid-air considering the distance of the car behind him, I have to assume he broke their necks in the process.

The third carjacker gets in the car and decides he needs to run the Thor-wannabe down (even though he wouldn’t be able to build up speed necessary to actually cause any real harm to him). However, Thunderstrike overreacts to this, shoving the woman behind him and smashing her car with his mace and sending glass shards everywhere and, I’m presuming, killing the third hijacker too with as much collateral damage as he’s causing swinging that damn thing around. And barely a moment later (as expounded by the narrator), two policemen come running up. They say they “got a report of a disturbance here.” Um… from who and when? Sure, the carjacking was occurring in the open and in broad daylight, but there was no indication that there was anyone nearby who made a phone call or even knew what was happening. On top of that, if there were people in the area who could put in a call, why didn’t they try to help the woman?

Thunderstrike reassures the cop while holding the woman with this wonderfully sympathetic comment: “Everything is under control, officer!” Wow, it’s like listening to Winston Churchill – there’s so much emotion, so much power in everything he says! See? Even I could be a narrator for Thunderstrike. The policeman notes that these criminals belong to an organized gang that’s plaguing the city. Thunderstrike briefly wonders about the poor woman’s car that he just smashed: “Who’s going to pay for it? Will her insurance company cover her? Wish I could have avoided damaging it, but things happened too quickly!” Yeah, that car going 2 miles an hour really took you by surprise there.

Thunderstrike flies off by swinging his mace around in a circle and looking like a monkey while doing it. His worries about the poor woman’s car that he just trashed are forgotten as he thinks to himself about how he’s late for his lunch date with a woman named Samantha Joyce. Meanwhile a mysterious shadowed figure watches him fly from a nearby rooftop. Thunderstrike thinks to himself about how the cops keep calling him Thor. “That’s a big mistake!” Well, maybe if you weren’t flying around in Thor’s clothes with long blonde hair and smashing things with a weapon that sort of resembles his hammer, they wouldn’t call you Thor, you idiot!

Thunderstrike gives a little back-story on his relationship with Thor, featuring a section of the page showing what I presume to be some of Thor’s enemies. Why they’re being shown eludes me since they’re not even mentioned on the page, but hey, I’m not the writer. Thunderstrike expounds: “We ran across each other a few months back, and became closeinseparable, in fact (Um, ew?) — and I managed to help him out on quite a few occasions!” Yeah, I’m sure you were quite helpful what with your overreactions to slow-moving cars and subsequent smashing of them.

He exposits that Thor eventually had to go back to Asgard and gave him a parting gift of a walking stick (talk about your cheap gifts. “Happy birthday, Captain America! For you, I have this rock I found outside your house!”). Upon stamping it on the ground, the walking stick transforms itself into the trusty mace Thunderstrike and he realized, “that he had taken it upon himself to appoint me his successor on the planet Earth!” And what, he appointed other people to be his successor on other planets?

And actually it’s nifty that he can hide his mace as a walking stick like that, but seriously there are some flaws with this little arrangement. First of all, the walking stick looks like an old gnarled tree branch that wise men use in movies, which isn’t exactly inconspicuous. Next, he’ll need an excuse to actually carry the walking stick around with him, since there’s no indication that he needs it for a limp or something. And even if he did, the method for it to change into the mace is by stomping it on the ground. I can just imagine him walking along a street and accidentally brings the stick down too hard and it changes him into Thunderstrike. Speaking of which, when he does go into Thor mode, why does he have the beard to begin with? Did Thor think that this guy would need to look like a Viking if he was going to be taking his place?

Thunderstrike flies down into an alleyway to change back into Eric Masterson (albeit I’ll still refer to him as Thunderstrike) and he talks of how it doesn’t feel right to use Thor’s name even though he’s taken his place (Erm, doesn’t it defeat the point of being his successor if you take on a different name?). He says he’ll have to establish his own identity:

“Guess I’ll just pull out the old thesaurus tonight! After all, how hard can it be to come up with a cool-sounding name (yeah, THAT’S what’s important when carrying on a legacy)? Not very… Considering the Einsteins who usually write those hokey comic books that my son is always buying.”

Wow, the metatextuality is simply astounding. Grant Morrison would be proud.

Thunderstrike meets up with a woman named Samantha for lunch while the mysterious shadow continues to watch from afar. We get a little bit of exposition about the two, mostly that Thunderstrike gave up his old apartment and has been staying at Avenger’s mansion. Also, we learn that Thunderstrike is divorced and his kid is with his ex-wife (wouldn’t want to have a superhero with a direct family to shackle him, no-siree!). His friend Samantha here is apparently a lawyer (what is it with superheroes who have secret identity connections to lawyers?) and we also discover that Thunderstrike’s ex-wife is opening another health club, which we cut to in the next page (our helpful narrator has apparently gone on his lunch break).

Ms. Steele, as she’s called (and wearing a red dress that seems rather inappropriate for the time of day and for a simple opening of a health club), is filming an infomercial about the new club. The cameraman actually talks to her while filming, saying, “This will be your best infomercial yet, Ms. Steele — especially with the front line of the New York Smashers signing autographs!” Well, it won’t be a particularly good infomercial if the cameraman is yacking about it while the film is rolling. Ms. Steele gets her husband (who looks suspiciously like a more muscular Burt Reynolds) to appear in a photo-op with her. By the way, this guy is also overdressed in a tuxedo, especially considering his teammates are seen in the background wearing rather comfortable attire.

The husband, Bobby, says that he hopes she doesn’t mind that he’s taking the guys out for a few beers after the festivities are over. Yeah, a bunch of drunken athletes with lots of reporters around, what could go wrong? Fortunately, we’re spared that as we seem to jump a few hours later to Bobby leaving and Ms. Steele giving us this cryptic thought balloon: “Bobby has been acting real moody the last few weeks (actually he seemed pretty reserved a second ago…) — and he’s spending an awful lot of time with the ‘guys.’ I never faced problems like these with Eric!” Um, I think you need to reassess that statement – Bobby hangs out with ‘the guys’ and Eric was ‘inseparable’ from Thor. I hate to break it to you, lady, but I think your gaydar is waaaaay off.

Bobby excuses himself from the ‘guys’ and gives some mysterious hinting about how he hates to lie to his wife and friends, but that he’s doing the right thing. Suddenly, he’s attacked by carjackers who look exactly like the ones who Thunderstrike had dealt with and take Bobby’s car. Wow, those police were right; they are highly organized – they all have a uniform when doing carjacking! I wonder if they have good benefits.

The narrator returns from his break to tell us: “Sometime later, in a darker, grittier part of the city…” As opposed to the darker, grittier part of the comics industry we’re already experiencing? Anyway, the carjackers arrive at their base (wearing entirely different colored versions of the same outfit, I might add) and announce how proud they are of their recent acquisition, and we reveal the mastermind behind the “national disgrace that has spread across this land like an unchecked cancer.”

And now I’m just laughing my head off here. Our hero’s first villain he has to contend with has dreadlocks, a metallic mask with iron bars over the mouth, a huge brown trench coat, purple pants, and huge, ungainly boots and gloves. Essentially he looks like an adult Jakeem Thunder with a Dr. Doom mask. Oh, and the best part? His name is Carjack. Norse Gods beware, Carjack’s reign of terror will spread throughout the land like a cancer and- well, you get the idea.

To be fair, Carjack isn’t the main villain of this piece, but he’s still a pretty dorky-looking bad guy with an even dorkier name. He scolds the man who was proud of his capture for getting blood on the front seat, lessening the resale value. “We cannot continue to hold this city in a grip of true terror… without proper discipline!” Yeah, I mean look at how much the people of the city are in a grip of terror. Boy-howdy are they all terrified, what with their casual, friendly dinners and health club openings and whatnot. “We have already lost three of our brothers today! The time has come to increase the pressure… and turn up the heat! Wait a second, overestimating how really damaging a crime is? Sentence fragments in what he’s saying? My God, Carjack is the narrator!

On the next page, the narrator wonders, “Is it hours,(sic) or only mere minutes that pass before muffled footsteps are heard within a deserted locker room–?!” You have thirty seconds to answer! Anyway, our shadowy figure reveals himself to be a loser named Bloodaxe, who looks like a metal-coated Red Skull with big muscles, a huge axe, and a spike and skull motif on his outfit. Well, actually, I shouldn’t say ‘he,’ since as it turned out later in Thunderstrike’s run that Bloodaxe was actually a woman we’ll be seeing later named Jackie Lukus. Sorry if I spoiled anyone out there. Do not reveal the incredible secret of Bloodaxe! Bloodaxe has a few bits of scintillating thoughts and dialogue, including this little diddy: “Few would have the courage, the daring to seek vengeance upon those who are already held by the police!” Well, that’s because no one’s that idiotic. Once they’re in police custody, the vengeance is worthless since they’ve already been captured. Moron.

The narrator once again pipes up as we cut to the prison and suddenly I wish he’d go on break again. The three carjackers who are surprisingly not dead thanks to Thunderstrike’s assault on them (actually they look pretty good, especially considering one of them probably got tons of glass shards jabbed into him). Bloodaxe shows up, kills one of them, and demands to know where Carjack is from the other two frightened criminals.

Cut to next page, where Thunderstrike is soaring along at a rather bizarre angle considering he exposits how he just tosses the mace into the air and then hangs on while it shoots him in that direction (which I must say is a really inconvenient method of flight. What if you needed to stop or turn suddenly? Is this how Thor traveled?). He wonders if he should get involved in the ‘carjack nonsense.’ “Besides, it’s hardly the kind of crime you’d typically associate with one of Earth’s mightiest heroes, or whatever the Avengers are calling themselves these days!” But… But… Doesn’t he know how carjacking is a national disgrace that’s spread across this land like an unchecked cancer!?

“I suppose I could check in with the police, but… why should they share their info with me?! As far they’re concerned, I’m just some jerk with a big stick and a gaudy cape!” Dude, you’ve got the power of the friggin’ God of thunder, who the hell cares what they think? Thunderstrike hears police sirens and wonders for a moment what exactly his responsibilities are as Thor’s surrogate. I admit this panel does work pretty well, what with a normal guy having the power of a God on his side and not being sure which things he needs to worry about and balancing his personal life with his heroics and what part of his heroics (ordinary street crime vs. saving the world) he should worry about. Of course, everything else around the book pretty much sucks, so we’ll just assume this was a fluke.

Thunderstrike gets the rundown of Bloodaxe’s attack on the police station from a police Lieutenant. Thunderstrike says that there’s a wild chance he can track Bloodaxe. When the Lieutenant asks him how it’s possible, Thunderstrike gives this brilliant response: “It’s too… er… complicated… to explain!” Jeez, the guy’s a regular Cicero, isn’t he? Thunderstrike asks the police to follow him as best as they can while he flies off.

Flip the page and the narrator’s boxes are the only dialogue for the entire page again. Ugh. “It has been said that a well-organized chop shop can strip an entire car — completely reducing it to its individual components (NO, is THAT what stripping a car means?! And here I thought it had something to do with Demi Moore!) — in less time than it takes the average mechanic to attach a muffler.” Wow, got to give the criminals credit for efficiency. That’s fast. The side of the warehouse where Carjack is at blows open, revealing Bloodaxe. “And now, even as the side of the building erupts with flame and fury — one is forced to wonder exactly how long it will take a certain axe-wielding vigilante to strip a chop shop!?” Actually I was wondering how long it’d take for me to strip the narrator of his throat so he couldn’t speak anymore.

Carjack and his cronies of course know that some serious ass-whooping is about to go down thanks to the visibly impressive Bloodaxe, but Thunderstrike suddenly tackles into him on another horizontal-flipped page. Thunderstrike thought-balloons: “My plan worked! I somehow managed to use my own enchanted weapon to trail Bloodaxe across the city!” Anyone want to bet this ability will either be lost by the issue’s end or just completely forgotten in the future when other criminals need to be tracked down?

Thunderstrike knocks Bloodaxe through a wall in order to have more room to maneuver. Bloodaxe easily recovers from all of this and starts laying the smackdown on Thunderstrike, knocking him around. Thunderstrike thinks to himself how he must not have the same power level as Thor and that he can’t summon a thunderstorm with his mace like he could with Mjolnir. Oh, gee, smooth move, Thor – you’ve got someone to take your place, but you didn’t even bother to let them be on the same power level as you?! How exactly was he supposed to be Thor’s successor? Did Thor think that Eric here would just show up at social events, kind of a mascot for the Avengers instead of an actual superhero? Bloodaxe lays down the standard, ‘vengeance against criminals, killing better than imprisoning, yadda yadda blah blah’ to Thunderstrke while he smacks him around.

Meanwhile, Carjack and his followers take off their masks to try to fool the cops and we learn that Carjack’s dreadlocks are actually attached to his mask and he’s actually a white guy with blonde hair, which is even dumber than just having a loser villain named Carjack who has dreadlocks. Bloodaxe closes in for the kill and I suddenly realize that the skies are quite red, either indicating that the sun’s setting or that the Crisis on Infinite Earths is about to begin. Suddenly a deus ex machina in the form of a red energy beam fires and Bloodaxe is knocked away from Thunderstrike. The police Lieutenant from earlier comes running up to Thunderstrike (now sporting Scott Summers-like red sunglasses) while Bloodaxe dashes off.

Thunderstrike speculates about who saved him, running through the two options, both of whom he disregards as not being possible. He then realizes that his main problem was that he was completely unprepared for the fight and that everyone keeps mistaking him for Thor when he is most clearly not. As such, he goes to a shop called ‘Spotlight Costumes’ and we can see Captain America and Spider-Man inside. This makes me wonder if it actually was them (which wouldn’t make sense, since Captain America’s suit was designed by the government and Spider-Man made his own and wouldn’t risk his secret identity by going to a costume shop) or if they’re just mannequins (which would make even LESS sense given the above considerations). The woman there says she’s been, “following his exploits in the newspaper.” What exploits? ‘Thunder-God wannabe breaks spines of three criminals before getting his butt handed to him by Red Skull wannabe?’

By the by, in a Liefeld-esque moment, Thunderstrike here has on a huge black trench coat and his shoulders are bulging out as if he had huge padding underneath them (even though we can tell he’s wearing normal clothes at the moment). Thunderstrike shows the woman some sketches of alternate costumes, which include a rather Thor-like design with some alternate color highlights and another one that looks like his normal outfit sans cape and with sunglasses. The woman has some opinions of her own:

Interesting! You’re obviously going for a look which combines the classic with the contemporary! But a cape is too 60’s — mind if I make a few suggestions?” Well, thanks for insulting the Vision, Scarlet Witch, Moon Knight, Dr. Strange, Sentry, and all the other heroes who wear capes. Thunderstrike asks what ideas she has and we have THIS stellar costume suggestion: “Well… I’ve always thought an earring can be sooo sexy on the right man!” Yeah, and that man’s name is George Michael, not Eric Masterson, lady.

Cut to outside a courthouse where Carjack is being released and *sigh* the narrator has decided to interject what he’s learned from his Creative Writing class. “Needles of cold prickle the air outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse some 24 hours later…” Carjack’s lawyer advises him to lay low, but our braintrust of a supervillain announces, “We’ll be hitting the streets harder than ever… After we party!” o/ I’m going to a paaaaarrtaaaay! Party at midnight… o/ And, as ever, our narrator keeps us on the edge of our seats: “Laughter, colder than the air, begins to echo.”

Everyone with me now? 1…2…3… SHUT UP!

Meanwhile, Thunderstrike returns home from a date with Jackie Lukus, AKA Bloodaxe. Jackie thinks to herself how she’s excited that dinner is only the start of the evening (so Bloodaxe isn’t getting any? THAT’S why she’s a homicidal maniac?) She says she’s going to turn off the TV, but it’s the news and Thunderstrike tells her to leave it on as the announcer reports: “The District Attorney’s office has confirmed the release of the man the newspapers have dubbed Carjack!” This has been plot convenience news; thank you and good night! Wait a second, it was the newspapers that gave him that dumb name? Now I REALLY have a low opinion of the mass media…

Thunderstrike tells Jackie that he wants to borrow her phone so he can call Marcy. Jackie rightfully thinks with shock, “He’s calling his ex-wife — in the middle of my date?!” You know, after going out with someone as moronic as that, I have to safely say that I’d become a psychotic loner with a demonic axe if I had to deal with that, too. Thunderstrike’s wife tells him that Bobby ran out on a rampage and their son says that his dad has to call Thor. How exactly the kid thinks that his father has a red phone for calling Thor escapes my knowledge, but even better is his next line: “Only Thor can help Bobby now!” Um… What about the fifty or sixty other heroes who operate out of New York? I’m sure they can deal with a loser wearing a dumb mask whose superpower is apparently throwing people out of cars and making threats against his own cohorts.

Thunderstrike goes running out on Jackie with his walking stick in hand (and it looks really stupid when he does it, since again a walking stick is supposed to help people walk and he’s clearly running out of there unaided). The narrator comes chiming in as we close in on Jackie’s face. “Questions blaze within Jackie’s mind!” Like how many licks does it take to get to the tootsie center?!

“Is it some misguided sense of responsibility, some macho jock ethic which drives Eric on this fool’s errand?” Or is he just an idiot? “Or, does Marcy Masterson-Steele hold even greater sway than Jackie ever feared?!” No, since it was his son who was demanding him to get Thor. “Tonight could have been… would have been… so special!” Jeez, the narrator’s awfully bummed that Jackie isn’t getting laid tonight. Maybe he’s some perverse voyeur?

Cut to the streets, where Carjack and his crew are drinking Wild Turkey and generally not doing anything that disruptive other than being loud. Bloodaxe arrives and makes Carjack’s cronies run away while she grabs Carjack. Thunderstrike’s mace slams into Bloodaxe’s back and we get our big reveal and hero moment as Thunderstrike comes and utters these immortal lines that will go down in the annuls of great comic moments:

“No one dies tonight! Not if I can help it!” Oscar Wilde, eat your heart out. By the way, Thunderstrike is now wearing the outfit from his cover, with a ponytail, the Thor “four circles on his torso” shirt, and a brown leather vest-jacket. I can see no signs of the earring, but it must be there, since it’s on the cover.

Thunderstrike slams into Bloodaxe, sending her careening back while Carjack orders his men to get their guns ready and a silhouetted form watches from the background (whom I’m presuming is Bobby). Bloodaxe echoes my sentiments as he says, “Your ridiculous attempt at a heroic entrance was as pathetic as your new uniform!” Thunderstrike quips back, “Yeah… well you should check a mirror before you start dispensing fashion advice!” Ah, such witty banter could only- ah, you get the idea.

Bloodaxe talks about how the law doesn’t work and that criminals have to be killed and Thunderstrike naturally responds about how it doesn’t give him the right to be judge, jury, and- my goodness, I’m getting bored just typing this stuff. Carjack agrees with me when he says that he can’t believe that the two are talking philosophy while trying to beat each other’s brains out. Subsequently, he and his men open fire. Now, I will admit, I’m guilty of interjecting philosophy during a fight into my own webcomic, but any kind of usefulness here is undercut by the fact that so far these guys have been pretty dull. We have no real reason of why Thunderstrike believes in heroics or why he chooses not to kill and Bloodaxe is just your standard-issue ‘kill-‘em-all’ Punisher-style vigilante and we have no back-story about why she’s the way she is… but maybe that’s explained in a later issue.

Bloodaxe uses some sort of magnetic force in her axe to repel the bullets back, killing three of Carjack’s forces. Thunderstrike has what I will now be referring to as ‘heroic spaz attack’ since “NO ONE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET HURT! NO ONE WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE!” and starts laying it on Bloodaxe, swinging like a madman. Bloodaxe boasts that she possesses the greater power and greater strength, but Thunderstrike gets his mace under her axe and disarms her, telling her back, “Raw power is never enough, my friend! Power without responsibility, compassion, and intelligence is merely a defeat waiting to happen!” And while I agree philosophically with that, I’m still bored out of my head. Oh, and somehow they’re now inside a warehouse even though we never saw them leave the streets.

Thunderstrike talks about how it was the height of stupidity for him to try to be like Thor (and what was the idea of being his successor, then?), but now he’s his own man. Bloodaxe gets knocked into a support beam and Thunderstrike exposits that Carjack and his crew left in the melee and he hasn’t seen any sign of Bobby. And then the narrator pipes in again: “But, even as Eric scours the rubble — Bloodaxe rises from the wreckage like some terrifying phoenix of legend!” Shut up. Shut UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP! SHUT! UP!

Bloodaxe lifts a car over his head and proclaims, “No battle with Bloodaxe is ever truly over, Thor!” Thunderstrike raises his mace up and somehow it shoots out a beam of energy that slams into Bloodaxe. Thunderstrike responds, “That’s what you think, pal — And please stop calling me Thor!

Thunderstrike announces to himself in shock that the mace has powers that he didn’t realize, but then the building collapses on top of him. Bloodaxe gets away, swearing vengeance and all that. The narrator, finally speaking without sounding stupid, announces that the police arrive a few minutes later and we see they have apprehended Carjack along with evidence of drugs and illegal weapons (so, wait, wasn’t his whole deal about carjacking? Where did the drugs and weapons come from?) He declares that there’s no sign of the thunder guy when someone yells that they see some movement in the rubble. Much to our sadness, Thunderstrike rises from the debris holding both his mace and Bloodaxe’s axe.

One of the policeman cries out, “It’s him! It’s the Mighty Thor!” Thunderstrike proclaims, “No. He’s the other guy.” Standing in a heroic pose in the rubble, Thunderstrike announces (in his standard glorious, poetic voice), “My name is…er…Thunderstrike!” And then I think to myself, ‘Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!’ Oh, wait, that’s actually Thunderstrike thinking that. “But it’s better than Sparky — The Lightning Kid [?!?!] — and I’ll never get around to that thesaurus the way I’m going. The name was an easy problem, but where’s the real Bloodaxe?” Maybe you should use that tracking thing you did earlier, idiot! “Whatever happened to Bobby Steele? And what am I supposed to do with this dumb axe?” And when will this series be canceled?!

Anyway, Thunderstrike says he must’ve been hit in the head too hard because it actually seems to be whispering to him and, of course, it is. Later on in the series, it’s revealed that Bloodaxe’s axe actually communicates with its wielder and makes them go nuts and- wait, no one cares. Sorry. The issue ends with a promo for Issue 2, featuring a bout with the unstoppable Juggernaut!

Well, that’s it for this review! And what about this brave, wonderful new hero and his heroic exploits? I think I’m going to let the words of Hercules to sum up Thunderstrike #1:

Well said.

Youngblood #1

The Next Generation of Zeroes!

For those not aware, back in the 1990s, a group of artists at Marvel (including Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and others) left the company out of dissatisfaction over payment policies and ownership rights. They banded together under a new company, calling itself Image Comics, and devoted themselves to having a place where creator-owned properties could flourish with more of a focus on artwork than on writing. A lot of them were met with varying successes or failures and some have managed to survive even today.

However, a lot of them really tanked, including the subject of today. Youngblood #1 was the first comic to be released off of Image’s line and while I haven’t read many of Image’s titles, I think it’s fair enough to say that it’s probably one of the worst. Even forgiving the artwork of Rob Liefeld, the story itself is poor and its characters are a bunch of unlikable, generically pissed-off individuals who embody pretty much the entirety of the Dark Age of Comics. They killed, they used guns, they didn’t have strict moral codes, and they all had the same perpetual scowl throughout their tenure as ‘heroes.’

Now, I will tell you that I have a love/hate relationship for Liefeld. From what I’ve read about him, the guy’s a really enthusiastic, upbeat person who can be a real pleasure to work with. But on the other hand, his artwork really sucks. Sure, he’s got a basic idea of proportions and shading and all, but when he tries to apply it to superheroes, it just leaves one with a bad taste for what they’ve just seen presented to them. As such, while I will be insulting the artwork throughout this review, please know that I don’t hold it against Rob that much.

Youngblood was heavily criticized in its time for its extensive use of profanity, gore, and general bad writing, bad artwork, and complete lack of connection between the reader and the character. I don’t know if Liefeld expected these guys to really be the next Superman or Captain America in terms of their legacy on the American public, but really their tagline should’ve been ‘The Next Generation of Zeroes!’

The cover’s one of your dime-a-dozen group shots, except the composition leaves much to be desired. Even ignoring Liefeld’s tendency to feature all of his men as over-muscled bodybuilders or his women as busty, spineless sex objects, the coloring on our ‘heroes’ has them blend into one another, making it sometimes difficult to see where one begins and the other ends. Also, it should be noted that you can’t see the eyes of a single one of the ‘heroes,’ as if they didn’t have any at all. And boy do I envy them for that.

Right before the first page, there’s a cardboard “profile box” featuring the only female hero of the Youngblood “Home Team” Vogue. Here it is revealed that underneath her patriotic [!!] and independent skin beats the heart of a Russian defector. Because, you know, when I think patriotic I think a purple and white bodysuit, clown face makeup, and huge shoulder pads, too. Also, we learn that not only was she a world class gymnast by the age of 13 [!!!], but in her civilian identity she runs a successful cosmetic company [!!!] AND she is adept in most major forms of martial arts! Take THAT, Keanu Reeves! I wonder what exactly is her “civilian identity” since the profile box says that her real name is “not revealed.”

The first page opens up, according to the comic, in Washington D.C. at 12:17 PM. A man and woman are out shopping and the woman, revealed here to be named Shelly, is in shock that she’s shopping on her lunch hour with her boyfriend. We get a smattering of tiny bits of exposition as we learn the man is named Jeff and that Shelly “Wouldn’t believe the reports we have to fill out!” Yeah, those TPS Reports are a bitch. We learn that Shelly works as an assistant D.A. Oh, and as you can see here, just like on the cover, Jeff has no eyes. Look out, Dr. Mid-Nite – there’s a new blind superhero on the block!

On the next page we see the first example of Rob Liefeld’s incredible artwork as a supposed thief runs past several mall walkers down the escalators and Jeff leaps down to apprehend him. We can see that a black hole has opened up right at his crotch, since all the lines appear to be sucking down right into it. His hips are pushed out at odd angles while he leaps from an implausible side angle, only for the next panel to see him tackling thief from a straight angle at the thief’s back. While Jeff berates the thief with this splendid dialogue: “‘Tis the season for giving, not stealing!” (Even though from the establishing shot and your clothes it looks like it’s mid-July!), a voiceover box reveals that, “A good hero can never let a crime go unpunished.”

We cut up to an assassin lining up a rather bizarre looking gun that looks more like it’s designed for caulking than long-distance shots. A voice warns Jeff of the danger and I’m sure it was meant to come from Shelly even though the dialogue balloon seems to indicate that it came from the assassin himself. While Jeff’s body now looks like it’s ballooned so he can be an extra in Weird Al’s “Fat” music video, he grabs a pen from his pocket and tosses it at the assassin [!!]. This somehow hits the assassin back with enough forces as to knock him off of a ledge (and making physicists’ heads explode around the world) and into a pool of water below. A bunch of onlookers reveal that our friend Jeff here is Shaft (SHUT YOUR MOUTH!) and Jeff begins to search the body. And by search, I mean he holds out his hand towards the body and says, “No I.D. No pulse. No answers.” From what I’ve read, Youngblood came about because Liefeld had been interested in doing a Team Titans book for DC and that Shaft here was supposed to be Roy Harper. As such, it’s quite a shock to learn that Roy Harper can search bodies by just looking at them.

A reporter suddenly appears, revealing he had been following Shaft with his cameraman. He asks Jeff (now to be referred to as his codename Shaft), “Are the rumors true that Youngblood has been sent overseas to deal with the Crisis?” And suddenly we cut to the Anti-Monitor laughing as he stomps on each member of the ‘next generation of heroes.’ Well, not really, but we can dream, can’t we? Before Shaft can answer, he gets a call from ‘HQ’ and apologizes to Shelly as he runs off. Shelly looks dreamily at her boyfriend and says, “Go nail ‘em!” And if that means nailing our skulls with the artwork, trust me, he’s already done.

We cut to “Baltimore, Maryland. 12:32 PM” as we meet Bedrock, the grey momma’s boy who’s eating a lunch as he gets the call to come in to the HQ, as well. He even asks to be excused as the mother says how proud she is of him. And by the perpetual smile on her face I’d think The Stepford Wives had been made into a comic book if not for the fact that even though it’s the ‘90s, she has a head of ‘80s hair.

We then cut to “Arlington, Virginia. Underground. 12:44 PM” and I start to wonder what the hell’s taking HQ so long as they appear to be calling their agents in ten-minute intervals. Anyway, in ‘Underground,’ we meet the next Youngblood member – DIEHARD – WITH A VENGEANCE. Okay, it’s just Diehard, but seriously, did Rob even think about these names as he was planning this? Oddly enough, Diehard here speaks his thought captions with <> bars, as if they were being translated. And what is this oh-so-useful dialogue we get from this mysterious, eyeless character laying on a multicolored slab? “I am needed. This time, I must make better use of my freedom.” …WITH A VENGEANCE! Okay, I promise to stop now.

Cut to almost half an hour later in the same location, only “Aboveground” now, where the buzz-cut Youngblood member Chapel is in bed with a naked woman as he gets his own call from HQ. He tells her to leave and that she should leave her number. The next page suddenly shows Chapel in his ‘iconic’ costume, a leather jacked, red pants, skull facepaint, and a gun right out of Men in Black. His inner monologue gives us this insightful wisdom – “You gotta give ‘em hope. As Shaft would say, ‘it’s good PR!’” Is it too late to hate these guys? No? Good.

Cut to five hours later [!!!] as we see Vogue hopping around rooftops of Washington DC, revealing she knows she got the call a few hours ago. “Shaft’s probably pacing the halls by now. They think I’m at their beck and call. Let ‘em wait!” Jeez, can you imagine if a member of the Avengers pulled something like this? “Yeah, Captain America, I know Galactus was attacking, but I’m not at your beck and call!”

We finally cut to what I can only presume is ‘HQ,’ since there isn’t an establishing caption box to reveal this. Shaft’s coming in and we see him walk up to a huge-ass computer console where a normal-looking woman and a person with a much better costume than the rest of the Youngblood team named Photon stands. Shaft suddenly acts like a complete asshole as he says for no particular reason, “Oh, so we get the pleasure of your company tonight, Photon?” On the next page, the rest of the Youngblood team shows up and Shaft berates Vogue for being late. Before they can get in a good little dialogue about what exactly our fearless team leader will do if she shows up late again, the woman at the control chair reveals that there’s a request for assistance coming in. And suddenly I’m tilting my head and wondering what the heck it was that required Youngblood’s presence five hours ago that they were all called in for.

Shaft asks what the situation is and the woman at the console (who also is apparently suffering from the same disease that affects the eyes of our heroes) reports that one of the Youngblood’s transport vehicles is under attack. She says it’s “Strongarm and Gage!!! The Four!” Erm, it’s actually only two, and why the need for three exclamation points? While Vogue tries to cover up that bit of idiotic dialogue by asking, “Didn’t we put two of them away?” Diehard and Chapel say that Strongarm and Gage are attempting to make an escape attempt. For what, themselves? Sure, we find out in the next page, but still, the way they say it in these pages makes it sound like they’re escaping, themselves, by attacking a- ah, screw it, why am I giving this more thought than the makers of this comic did? We do get an EXTREME!!! close-up of Shaft’s face where we can see that he does in fact have eyes.

Cut to some random street in what I can only presume is Washington, D.C. since again, the establishment captions have completely vanished on us. We do get captions of a few bits of dialogue, albeit they’re all colored white, so we have no idea who’s saying it unless they say the other person’s name:

“Let’s make this one quick, team! The Four have never really been that tough.”
“I want Strongarm this time.”
“He’s all yours, Die Hard (sic).”

Strongarm and Gage turn out to be more genuine Liefeld creations, with Strongarm being an overly-muscled guy who appears to have no joints for his arms while Gage resembles a combination of Deadpool from Marvel and Gizmo from D.C. (albeit with more guns). Both also, sadly, have been afflicted with what I’m going to be calling Youngblood’s disease, where eyes are either nonexistent or just poorly drawn. We see four completely identical cops running at the two, but nothing ever comes of them. Gage calls out to the truck: “Deadlock! Starbright! Stand back! Stand back!”

Strongarm rips off the door of the truck, revealing Deadlock and Starbright and I have to say, they actually have semi-decent outfits, albeit Deadlock seems to have an inexplicable ponytail coming out of the back of his mask that’s suffering from Dilbert’s tie syndrome by defying gravity. Of course, this brings up the question of why the heck these two are even still in costumes if they were in custody. Starbright asks if there’s any sign of Youngblood, to which Deadlock replies, “Dah! The mere mention of that name boils my blood!” Oh no, mein blood, ack! Help, comrades, I’m vaguely European and my blood is boiling!

Starbright tells him to “keep it in check” [??] and that their plan depends on it. Gage gasps and calls out, “Four o’clock! Four o’clock! They’re here! They’re here!” There is no way out of here. It’ll be dark soon. There is no way out of here. Three arrows hit the ground. Okay, Shaft can kill a guy standing a hundred feet away with a pen using his free hand, but he can’t hit a couple of guys with a bow and arrow?! Okay, admittedly, his bow doesn’t have any string (as indicated by the cover and a page that’s coming up), but still…

And in the panel below- oh my goodness. I can’t believe this. My mind hasn’t been this blown since Mr. T punched a shark in the nose on his cartoon. Diehard has flown down and from the angle of the shot, the way his arms and legs are inexplicably behind his body (thanks to the superb pencilings of our good Mr. Liefeld), by the way Strongarm has suddenly been knocked back with a trail of blood from his mouth, and by the way Diehard’s package has been drawn so that we can tell it’s bulging out, I can only come to the conclusion that DIEHARD JUST SMACKED STRONGARM IN THE FACE WITH HIS CROTCH. Diehardcock proclaims, “This makes us even!” and suddenly I understand fully what Diehardbody did with his freedom the last time. And now I really want to have Liefeld cut out my eyes like those of the Youngblood.

Diehardon punches Strongarm (this time with his fist) while shouting, “I’ve been waiting for this day! And this time you won’t be as lucky!” I don’t think any of us want to be THAT lucky. And finally, we cut to a two-page spread of the other members of Youngblood rushing out at the Four. Oh, and check out the cops in the lower-left corner who have oversized legs and arms that for some odd reason are extended out away from them like stiff boards. Perhaps they’re imitating what one of Liefeld’s men would look like if they had muscles like that in real life?

Whew! That issue just lasted forever, didn’t it? Well, at least it’s over and- oh, no. Turning the page, we see some upside-down pages. Yes, folks, in a rather bizarre bit of page construction, what we saw on the first front cover was actually just the Home Team of Youngblood and now we have to FLIP THE COMIC OVER and read it from the back to see the rest of this exciting tale.

Diehard, please kill me now with your mega-crotch.

Okay, in theory, this is a neat idea – two teams that alternate whenever there are missions on the home front or missions that take you away from the immediate area. The problem is that this can also be a radically stupid idea.
1. It’s hard enough to balance a team book, what with ensuring that each character gets some spotlight time and making sure that each has a unique characterization. Usually teams of 5-7 are best. But Youngblood gives us TWELVE characters and puts them all in the SAME book. That means there’s only so much time that can be devoted to any one character, since there’s limited space on each flip-side of the book to tell the story in a 22-25 page comic.
2. It’s a bad idea to put both stories in the SAME BOOK. It’s possible to have two different teams with similar names, like having a Justice League America and a Justice League Europe running at the same time, or a The Avengers and a West Coast Avengers running at the same time. But with Youngblood, the two teams mean that the missions are going to be really short and, again, little time for characterization. Back-up features work because they’re short supplements, a small story within a large story, but these are both of equal size and we didn’t get any resolution on the Home team of Youngblood. The story just stopped.
3. It’s especially bad to do this for a first issue. First issues are supposed to get the reader acclimatized to these characters and their situations, give us some idea of what their deal is and why we should like them. But this book just has the characters thrust into one action situation to the next without any real chance for substance. Are the Youngblood a government organization? Are they the world’s only superheroes?

Anyway, with all that in mind, let’s move into the Away Team section of Youngblood.

The cover on the back is a little bit better off than the Home Team’s, with a little more uniqueness to the characters and even some symbols for them. The colors don’t seem as subdued.

Inside, we have yet another cardboard profile box, this one for the Home Team’s leader Shaft (wahki-chicken, wahki-chicken). Apparently he’s an experienced FBI agent who was chosen to replace an unseen character named Battlestone as leader of Youngblood (Say, Rob? Why not have an ORIGIN STORY for your entirely new universe and characters, eh? No? Fine…). It says that his weapon of choice is a “specially-crafted bow and arrow,” which makes me think it must be special if it DOESN’T HAVE A STRING.

The first page of the other side of Youngblood starts off with six television screens displaying a news report. I’m reluctant to call it ‘talking heads,’ though, since every time a person is on the screen, they look like they’re sleeping! Yes, not only do they have their eyes tightly shut, but their mouths are clamped firmly down even though there are both speech bubbles AND caption boxes that indicate that people should be talking! The speech bubble for the news announcer doesn’t even have an arrow connecting it to him! For all we know, they’re just putting Bob Squarebody there on the screen while he took some NyQuil and someone else is trying to make it look like they’re actually talking.

Apparently the situation as they describe it is how a radical leader of a terrorist group named Saddam Hussein- erm, I’m sorry, that’s Hassan Kussein (who’s also sleeping, by the way) has taken control of several Israeli territories. The President is sending in a specialized task force to deal with it. We switch to live feed from a reporter on the field and despite the fact that his mouth is actually open, this poor reporter’s eyes are just as shut as the others, indicating he must be sleeping, too.

The next page is a double-page spreading featuring the arrival of the Away Team of Youngblood, which features a character not seen on either cover – Combat! Well, actually, in all fairness, he DOES appear on one of the covers – the one with the Home Team. But he’s not wearing the ridiculously goofy and huge helmet he’s sporting here that makes him look like a giant tuning-fork. Additionally, he’s holding a huge pink gun in his hands and while I’m sure it was meant to look cool or badass, really it just makes me wonder if it’s just a giant frosting dispenser. To make matters worse, while the other members of Youngblood are leaping down from helicopters in relatively the same direction, Pinky the gold salad fork here is dropping down facing the wrong way plus scrunching his body as if he were sitting on a toilet.

Cut to the next page and now Combat’s gun is like three times smaller than it was in the previous page (but still Pink). Combat announces shock that there were more than what the Briefings said there would be. Cougar, who is of course not Wolverine at all, has a brief conversation with Combat (who’s sporting childbearing hips in a couple of these panels) about how he treats war like a game:

“Got more toy soldiers to play with!”
“War’s just a game to you?”
“Yup. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be fun, Coug!”
“I gotta admit, this gets me pumped!”

And suddenly we’re in a Jane Fonda video. Thanks, Cougar. Well, actually that would explain why all of these losers are so muscle-bound. Must be really tough to keep up that figure. On the next page, the de-facto team leader Sentinel (who is obviously not Iron Man) explains that this is only the first wave and that and it’s revealed that Combat wasn’t paying attention during the Briefing. Oh, and his gun has turned into another size, this time about 2/3 of the original size. Let’s see – he doesn’t pay attention to briefings, he has a size-changing gun, he’s got to be uncomfortable to be with in an elevator due to his size, and he treats war like a game. The next generation of heroes, ladies and gentlemen!

On the next page we catch up with the other members of the Away team. Psi-Fire just kind of floats in the air with his hands by his side as he flies alongside Riptide, who is herself riding on a wave of water. He ‘cleverly’ quips, “I should’ve bought this land! I’ve always wanted beachfront property, babe!!(sic)” Riptide, echoing the sentiments of every human being on the planet, responds, “Shut up, Psi-Fire!

Following along is the other team strongman Brahma, and he- OH MY GOD, THERE’S A BLACK HOLE FORMING IN HIS MOUTH! Well, okay, not really, but it sure as hell looks that way. He complains, “These soldiers are worse than flies!”[??] and Riptide responds that she needs him to keep swatting them since it’s taking all of her concentration to form waves in the middle of the desert. And already I like Riptide, even in spite of the fact that her outfit (while somewhat appropriate given her powers) is a bathing suit and she has no eyes. Not only did she tell another guy on the team to shut up, but her powers are actually decent as she even uses the water stream to punch some enemy soldiers.

They close in on their target, a small building without much security (to help obscure Saddam- er, Hassan’s location). The group leaps in close to the building only to be stopped by an energy field that’s being fired upon by a group of large robots[!!!]! Psi-Fire is fine, however, and he creepily exclaims that he can take Hassan out from the states. The energy field doesn’t affect him and he looks up at the camera, reveling actually quite frighteningly with his lack of eyes and exclaims that he “wanted to do this personally!

Meanwhile, Combat and Cougar have suddenly engaged with other high-tech robots and Cougar asks, “Is your little brother beating up on you again?” Huh? Oh, I get it, Combat’s a robot… or a cyborg. In any case, Combat gets all pissy (probably because he lost is helmet) and starts laying the smackdown on the robot. Sadly, it’s a rather unimpressive battle, since instead of seeing the robot get dented or mangled, we instead just see him getting hit with a couple hard ‘punch’ starbursts that could’ve happened had this been an organic opponent. Cougar stops Combat from killing the robot (Or is it a mech? We can’t actually tell), and tells him it “isn’t Katella.” It would’ve been nice to know just what the hell Katella is, but I’m sure that was supposed to be part of the ‘mystery’ that draws readers back for more of these ‘exciting’ adventures.

We cut back to Psi-Fire and Kussein with the would-be dictator pleading for his life. To Liefeld’s credit, Psi-Fire actually looks pretty normal here, with the buff Psi-Fire having realistic muscle proportions. However, since I’m sure Liefeld was trying to get the effect of Psi-Fire focusing more on his psychic abilities and not his physical prowess, the effect is sadly lost. To make Psi-Fire even more unpleasant, he proclaims, “I actually admire what you’ve done here in this backwards country. It’s just that mine pays me more.” Kussein tries to say he’ll give him more money, but Psi-Fire isn’t interested. Instead, he gives a little psychic attack to Kussein’s brain and much to the surprise of every reader of the book, we get a close-up shot of Kussein’s eye – wow, it actually exists! But then we cut to the next page of Kussein holding his head in pain while Psi-Fire says that he does this kind of stuff for free (then why was he talking about how he’s better paid in the USA?) and with pleasure, allowing Kussein’s head to blow up off-panel and shoot blood everywhere.

Combat and Cougar enter, saying with rather mild annoyance, “he did it again!” Combat says it’s impressive as the other members of Youngblood wake up and also express their eye-rolling disappointment over the fact that he killed him. Brahma just stares at the body as if Gary Coleman had slapped him in the face while my favorite character Riptide sums it up with an irritated, “Oh, way to go!! Brilliant!” Iron Man- er, Sentinel says it’s time to leave and they should call the clean up crew.

And the final page? A shot of US (sic) Today saying that Kussein’s terror ended in his suicide. The newsprint says that he apparently unpinned a grenade in his mouth and that a suicide note was found nearby. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen – they’re murderers, liars, and support other killers. Isn’t it just the stuff of legends? Also on the page is a hinting that the former leader of Youngblood, Battlestone, is still at large with private “Brigade,” possibly hinting at future things to come, while a side-story on the newspaper features a little jab at Marvel, the company that produced such a fine, fine artist as Mr. Liefeld.

Well, there you have it, folks – heroes that will no doubt live on for decades to come! Take that, Teen Titans! Take that, Avengers! Hell, take that, Defenders!