Thursday, June 21, 2012

JLX-Avengers Amalgamated!!

Let's take a trip back in time shall we? Does anyone here remember a little something that popped up in the 90's called Amalgam Comics? I do.
Is there any event more shallow and gimmicky in the history of American comic books? Probably, but I don't remember it. For one month every writer at DC and Marvel  would stop whatever storyline they were working on and write a one-shot where two characters from each company would be combined. For example Spider-man and Superboy become... Spider-boy!

I distinctly remember sitting down to write out my birthday list, still a small child in the 1990s. I asked my parents for an Amalgam toy which would include two separate Spiderman and Superboy action figures that could be taken apart and reassembled to create a single, fully functioning Spider-Boy action figure(along with small, dejected pile of dismembered plastic limbs).
I gave the list to my father and he asked," ....Is this a real thing? Does this toy exist?"
At which point I realized, No, it didn't actually. But it should have.

The idea of Amalgam was so cheesy I just naturally assumed, even as a child, that there was a toy to go along with it.After all, every time Batman put on his Aqua-Bat armor in the animated series a new toy came out.

Okay, so when I was a kid the stuff was like crack to me and I squandered my allowance on books like Super Soldier, Bruce Wayne: Agent of Shield and JLX. But looking back, it's so obvious it was a gimmick. Many modern writers struggle to keep their series from getting strangled in a single character's tangled mess of back story and continuity. Amalgam forced writers to combine two incredibly complex histories into one over the course of a single issue, all while following a standard super hero plot through from start to finish(find the lost city of Atlantis, fight the super villian, save the day ect). It's too much to handle in a normal series much less one or two issues.

Still, when I was digging through one of the many piles of comics I own, I pulled out an issue of JLX and was surprised to see it was co-written by Mark Waid. The guy who wrote, among many many other things, Kingdom Come, The Flash, Daredevil and Irredeemable.

Someday, once I have bought all the trades and actually finished the series I will write a long post on just why exactly I love Irredeemable so very much but that day will have to wait.

Waid is probably one of my top favorite comic book writers, maybe even my number one. He creates comics that I just LOVE to read. Even the books he puts out that I don't think are the greatest are still just solid, well done comics.
Waid gets superheroes. He knows how to make them fun, exciting, relatable and inspiring all at the same time.

So I decided to dig in and give the issue a try. It actually wasn't too bad. JLX combines the X-Men with a couple Justice League extras like The Ray, The Creeper, Fire and Aquaman. The plot isn't anything groundbreaking but it is kind of interesting. A group of Mutants break away from their jobs as a big time super hero team as a sort of political statement and decide to go looking for Atlantis, the original birthplace of the mutant race.
Instead of getting lost in it's own non-existent back story the issue does a pretty good job of grabbing a concept and letting it lead the story. Waid gives us a team of characters that are heroes at their core but each one is still weighed down by the emotional burdens of a life on the run, constantly persecuted and hunted and dealing with it in their own way. The adventure ends in disappointment as JLX finds Atlantis abandoned after centuries at the bottom of the Atlantic. But there is a glimpse of silver lining, the shared experience bringing the group of misfits closer together as a team.

Behold the power of teamwork!

Howard Porter does the art for this issue. It's definitely in 90's style but I can see it fitting in to a modern comic with just a few tweaks. Maybe tone down the eyebrows on Aquamariner.I'm not sure what Porter is working on now but I hope he's still around.

What my point? I guess I just wanted to say yeah, Amalgam was a gimmick. But I it was a fun long as I don't go into my comic book shop next week and find Daredevil has been put on hold for a month so Marvel can bring back Blades and Bullets.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

DC Presents: Challengers of the Unknown-

Ah, now this is a fun one. An anthology for some of DC's lesser known heroes is a great idea and I hope DC Presents sticks around.
The Challengers are such a classy, old-school concept. They're more a group of adventurers than they are a super-hero team, exploring ancient ruins, fighting living statues and recovering lost artifacts.

That's pretty much the gist of this issue, actually. The team check out their new home base on Challenger Mountain for awhile before jetting off to recover an ancient artifact buried in lost ruins which, of course, just happen to be guarded by living statues! But an old enemy may just drop in while they're out...

Challengers of the Unknown is done in what feels like a very classic style. Instead of using heavy close ups and superhero style action scenes this issue reads more like a 1950's serial adventure or an old issue of Fantastic Four.  Instead of focusing on one or two individuals, most panels are devoted to group shots and the characters fill the upper half of the panel with back and forth dialogue. It makes things feel pretty cluttered at times but it's also kind of refreshing. A lot of modern superhero comics feel like they are divided into just two parts.

The part where characters talk to each(usually set in a base).
The part where characters punch each other(usually set in a street).

Using this style we get to see the Challengers travel, explore, and solve problems which should be the focus with a team of science adventurers.

The issue has weak spots of course. Like I said before many of the panels feel a little cramped and the characters could use some fleshing out. I found myself having serious trouble remembering which one was which and there are couple scenes where I'm almost sure the artist drew in some random extra person by mistake. Just a small box with each characters name thrown in somewhere on the first two pages would have been enough.
Overall, though, a good issue and a very fun read!