Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Artists! They're worse than spoiled children." Usagi Yojimbo Color Special#5 review

Stan Sakai has been crafting tales of the ever-lovin' rabbit ronin Miyamoto Usagi for 30 years now, the bulk of those years spent with publisher Dark Horse. Unfortunately, the Usagi Yojimbo series went on hiatus while Sakai provided art chores to 47 Ronin, then health troubles with his wife seemed to (understandably) further the delays.

Although Usagi Yojimbo will return soon, it will be in the science fiction mash-up mini-series Senso, which is not quite the same continuity as that which Sakai has maintained all these decades. It should be great fun, but all the same, there is at least one fine recent release for we Usagi fans - Usagi Yojimbo Color Special#5! This series of one-shots have occasionally burst on the scene like a magician's trick, then just as quickly fade away. It's always a pleasant novelty to read a Usagi tale in full colour, as opposed to his typical black & white haunts.

The special contains four complete stories which originally appeared online as part of Myspace Dark Horse Presents. That project have been shuttered up, it's great to have the material in a format which can sit on a shelf with the rest of we fans' collections!

Heading up the one-shot is "Saya," wherein Usagi accidentally insults a fellow samurai. Although he makes every effort to apologize, it soon becomes clear the offended samurai is spoiling for a fight - too bad he has no idea how deadly the long-eared lapin can be! This is the only tale in the one-shot which I read at Myspace. The plot is simple, but Sakai spices his concotion with interesting details, such as the rice planters who carry on working, oblivious to the rising tensions between Usagi and the samurai. A song one of the workers sings bookends the story and makes the point (one frequently heard in this series) to choose one's battles carefully. It's easy to see why this tale first appeared at Myspace - regardless of one's familiarity with the series, these eight pages tell a complete tale which is representative of the series itself.

"Cut the Plum" is a quick two-page tale set during the time when Usagi had the privilege to journey with his son Jotaro (continuity!). When Usagi relates the story of how his sensei once struck a plum from his nose (more continuity!), Jotaro resolves to test his own skills the same way. It's a quick and funny story which handily captures Jotaro's youthful determination.

"Buntori" sets Usagi against the supernatural - a not-unheard-of aspect of the series. In these eight pages, Usagi witnesses the ghosts of dead warriors still fighting the same battle over and over. As in so many ghost stories, it demands our hero's involvement so that the spirits can be laid to rest. In some ways I wonder if it would be creepier to see this story told in black & white, but the colours at least render the ghosts as being identifiably undead. This isn't the only story where Usagi has dealt with the restless dead; no wonder he's published by Dark Horse - he's practically Hellboy!

The end of the special brings up the longest tale, "The Artist," clocking in at 16 pages. Usagi provides bodyguard services to a travelling artist who has (surprisingly) been tutored by foreigners. While Usagi may live in a world of funny animal people, it's still supposed to be feudal Japan - thus, there are hardly any stories which even reference the world outside Japan. Somehow, this artist has made enemies for himself so Usagi's role isn't easy (does he ever catch a break?). In fact, the hired killers are old enemies of Usagi's seen before (yet more continuity!).

These shorter tales don't raise the kind of stakes found in Sakai's usual fare, but they're extremely easy to follow and of the same quality as the ongoing series. Perhaps Sakai's dependability and high standards have held this series back - perhaps he found his peak too quickly - there's often little to say to people about Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo then "yes, it's as good as the last several decades worth of Usagi Yojimbo!" Yet, it can't be said often enough: if you've never tried Usagi, you might be missing out on something quite extraordinary - intelligent, funny, action-packed and even educational - if the new Color Special were the first Usagi you sampled, it certainly wouldn't be a bad place to begin.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

From IDW in October

Usually when I post solicitations it's to promote something I had a hand in creating; in this instance, it's something where my involvement ended with the Kickstarter project, but I think you should consider this puppy:

Nelvana of the Northern Lights—CERTIFIED COOL

Adrian Dingle (w & a & c) Nelvana of the Northern Lights returns from the lost pages of Adrian Dingle’s Triumph Comics! Nelvana was one of the world’s very first super-heroines, predating Wonder Woman by several months, and is among the ranks of the first Canadian superheroes to emerge after Canada placed an embargo on US luxury goods during WWII. First appearing in 1941, Nelvana was tasked with protecting Canada’s northern lands. Using the powers of the northern lights, Nelvana could fly at incredibly fast speeds, become invisible, and even turn into dry ice! She used her great powers to ward off Nazi invaders, shady fur traders, subterranean mammoth men, and inter-dimensional ether people.

Featuring an introduction by editors Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey, and foreword/afterword by Dr. Benjamin Woo and Michael Hirsh. HC • FC • $39.99 • 352 pages • ISBN: 978-1-63140-128-2

Nelvana was one of the world’s first super-heroines, predating Wonder Woman! For the first time, her complete adventures are collected in one volume!

I've already given interviews to CBC Radio & Utoday about this book and, happily, now it will be available worldwide thanks to IDW! More books celebrating the "Canadian whites" heroes will be arriving from this tome's author. I hope Dingle's other great hero the Penguin will get his due eventually!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Creator credits for X-Men: Days of Future Past

I truly didn't think I would be seeing this film during its theatrical run, but a friend donated his free movie pass to me; consequently, here's where the characters/ideas from the comics seen in the film first originated:

Mutants, a collection of humans with powers who are feared by other humans; the X-Men, a team of mutant heroes based at Xavier's school in Westchester County; Jean Grey, an X-Man; Cyclops, an X-Man whose crimson glasses help control his power; the Beast, alias, Hank McCoy, a brilliant X-Man with superhuman strength and agility; Iceman, alias Robert Drake, an X-Man with control over ice; Professor Charles Xavier, a crippled mutant telepath and founder of the X-Men; Magneto, a helmet/cape wearing mutant with powers over magnetism and frequent foe of the X-Men: Derived from X-Men#1 (1963) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

"Days of Future Past," a story wherein Sentinels conquer a bleak dystopian future, killing most mutants and even enslaving humans; the X-Men of the future, directed by Kitty pryde, send the mind of one of their own into the past to prevent Mystique from performing a key assassination, but many of the future X-Men die in the effort; Magneto as one of the future X-Men; Mystique's codename: Derived from X-Men#141-142 (1981) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Storm, an X-Man with the ability to manipulate the weather; Colossus, an X-Man who can transform into organic steel; Wolverine as an X-Man: Derived from Giant-Size X-Men#1 (1974) by Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum.

Warpath, a mutant with superhuman strength and tracking powers: Derived from New Mutants#16 (1984) by Chris Claremont & Sal Buscema (he himself derived from Thunderbird from Giant-Size X-Men#1 (1974) by Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum).

Warpath's codename; Warpath wearing paint over his eyes: Derived from New Mutants#99 (1991) by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza.

Warpath's knives; Warpath as a member of the X-Men: Uncanny X-Men#475 (2006) by Ed Brubaker & Billy Tan.

Kitty Pryde, a mutant with the ability to phase through solid matter; Emma Frost, a mutant villain: Derived from X-Men#129 (1980) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Kitty Pryde as a member of the X-Men: Derived from X-Men Annual#4 (1980) by Chris Claremont & John Romita Jr.

Kitty Pryde's ability to phase people she touches through solid matter: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#174 (1983) by Chris Claremont & Paul Smith.

Bishop, a mutant from the future with an 'M' over his right eye: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#282 (1991) by Whilce Portacio & John Byrne.

Bishop's power to absorb energy and direct it through his firearm: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#283 (1991) by Whilce Portacio & John Byrne.

Sunspot, a mutant who gains strength through sunlight: Derived from Marvel Graphic Novel#4 (1982) by Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod.

Sunspot's ability to project energy: Derived from X-Force#15 (1992) by Fabian Nicieza & Greg Capullo.

Sunspot's ability to fly: Derived from X-Force#44 (1995) by Jeph Loeb & Adam Pollina.

Blink, a mutant: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#316 (1994) by Scott Lobdell & Joe Madureira.

Blink's codename and power to open portals in space: Derived from X-Men#37 (1994) by Fabian Nicieza & Andy Kubert.

Blink as one of the X-Men: Derived from X-Men: Alpha (1995) by Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Roger Cruz & Steve Epting.

Iceman using his powers to fashion slides for travel: Derived from X-Men#2 (1963) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Iceman as a romantic interest for Kitty Pryde: Derived from Ultimate X-Men#50 (2004) by Brian K. Vaughan & Andy Kubert.

The X-Men using jets for travel: Derived from X-Men#10 (1965) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

The Blackbird jet, the X-Men's primary mode of transportation; Wolverine uttering "bub": Derived from X-Men#94 (1975) by Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum.

Xavier using a hovering chair: Derived from X-Men#118 (1979) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Storm wearing her hair short: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#373 (1991) by Chris Claremont & Marc Silvestri.

Wolverine, a man with metal claws which extend from his hands: Derived from Incredible Hulk#180 (1974) by Len Wein & Herb Trimpe (and a design by John Romita).

Wolverine wearing the colour brown: Derived from X-Men#139 (1980) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Xavier and Magneto as former friends who fell out: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#161 (1982) by Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum.

Mystique, a blue-skinned shape-shifting mutant terrorist: Derived from Ms. Marvel#18 (1978) by Chris Claremont & Jim Mooney.

Mystique's name as Raven Darkholme: Derived from Ms. Marvel#16 (1978) by Chris Claremont & Jim Mooney.

The anti-mutant figure Bolivar Trask, designer of the purple, robotic mutant-detecting and hunting Sentinels; Sentinels running amock: Derived from X-Men#14 (1965) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Werner Roth.

Wolverine possessing an enhanced healing ability: Derived from X-Men#116 (1978) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Magneto's name as Erik Lehnsherr: Derived from X-Men Unlimited#2 (1993) by Fabian Nicieza & Jan Durrsema.

Wolverine's claws as a part of his body; Wolverine's pointed hair spikes; Wolverine's vice for smoking; Wolverine infatuated with Jean Grey: Derived from X-Men#98 (1976) by Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum.

Wolverine possessing claws made of bone: Derived from Wolverine#75 (1993) by Larry Hama & Adam Kubert.

Wolverine's real name as James Howlett: Derived from Wolverine: the Origin#1 (2001) by Paul Jenkins, Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada & Andy Kubert.

The US government involved in the production of Sentinels: Derived from X-Men#57 (1969) by Roy Thomas & Neal Adams.

US Senator Brickman: Derived from Machine Man#7 (1978) by Jack Kirby.

Xavier's school being shut down: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#243 (1989) by Chris Claremont & Marc Silvestri.

Beast as a teacher at Xavier's school: Derived from New X-Men#117 (2001) by Grant Morrison & Ethan van Sciver.

Beast as a biochemist; Beast developing a furry body because of experiments he performed on himself: Derived from Amazing Adventures#11 (1972) by Gerry Conway & Tom Sutton.

Beast having blue fur: Derived from Amazing Adventures#15 (1972) by Steve Englehart & Tom Sutton.

Beast as a jack-of-all-trades scientist: Derived from X-Men#8 (1964) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Wolverine's real name as Logan: Derived from X-Men#103 (1977) by Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum.

Xavier regaining the ability to walk: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#167 (1983) by Chris Claremont & Paul Smith.

Xavier possessing his powers at a young age: Derived from X-Men#12 (1965) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Alex Toth.

William Stryker, an anti-mutant zealot: Derived from Marvel Graphic Novel#5 (1982) by Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson.

Alexander Summers, a mutant with plasma burst powers: Derived from X-Men#54 (1969) by Arnold Drake & Don Heck.

Alex's codename Havok; Havok's power-containment suit: Derived from X-Men#58 (1969) by Roy Thomas & Neal Adams

Ink, a seeming mutant whose tattoos grant him varying abilities: Derived from Young X-Men#1 (2008) by Marc Guggenheim & Yanick Paquette.

Quicksilver, a superhumanly fast mutant with silver hair and a sister; Mastermind; Toad; Magneto's followers dubbed "the Brotherhood"; Xavier and Magneto arguing their differing philosophies about mutants: Derived from X-Men#4 (1964) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Quicksilver's surname Maximoff: Derived from Avengers#186 (1979) by Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, David Michelinie & John Byrne.

Angel Salvadore, a mutant: Derived from New X-Men#118 (2001) by Grant Morrison & Ethan van Sciver.

Riptide, a mutant villain: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#211 (1986) by Chris Claremont, John Romita Jr. & Bret Blevins.

Riptide's real name Janos Questad: Derived from Dragon Magazine#117 (1987) by Jeff Grubb.

Azazel, a mutant villain: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#428 (2003) by Chuck Austen & Sean Phillips.

Magneto as Quicksilver's father: Derived from X-Men#125 (1979) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Banshee, a mutant and one-time criminal: Derived from X-Men#28 (1967) by Roy Thomas & Werner Roth.

Wolverine traumatized by the memory of his transformation: Derived from Alpha Flight#33 (1986) by Bill Mantlo & Sal Buscema.

Mastermind's name Jason Wyngarde: Derived from X-Men#122 (1979) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Cerebro, Xavier's machine used to locate mutants: Derived from X-Men#7 (1964) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Cerebro designed with a helmet affixed with twin cables: Derived from X-Men#40 (1968) by Roy Thomas & Werner Roth.

Wolverine responsible for Jean Grey's death: Derived from New X-Men#148 (2003) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez.

Cyclops' real name Scott Summers: Derived from X-Men#3 (1964) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Magneto's helmet guarding his mind from telepathy: Derived from X-Men vs. the Avengers#4 (1987) by Tom DeFalco & Keith Pollard.

Magneto targeting the US President: Derived from Ultimate X-Men#6 (2001) by Mark Millar & Andy Kubert.

Xavier's school utilizing holographic technology: Derived from Special Edition X-Men#1 (1983) by Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum.

Rogue, a mutant clad in green with a white stripe in her hair: Derived from Avengers Annual#10 (1981) by Chris Claremont & Michael Golden.

Rogue affiliated with the X-Men: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#171 (1983) by Chris Claremont & Walter Simonson.

Rogue as a romantic interest to Iceman: Derived from Uncanny X-Men#323 (1995) by Scott Lobdell & Bryan Hitch.

Kitty Pryde as a teacher at Xavier's school: Derived from Astonishing X-Men#1 (2004) by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday.

Cyclops and Jean Grey as a couple: Derived from X-Men#32 (1967) by Roy Thomas & Werner Roth.

Xavier using a hovering gold-coloured chair: X-Men#1 (1991) by Chris Claremont & Jim Lee.

Apocalypse, a powerful mutant: Derived from X-Factor#5 (1986) by Bob Layton & Jackson Guice.

Apocalypse's true name, En Sabah Nur: Derived from X-Force#37 (1994) by Fabian Nicieza & Paul Pelletier.

Apocalypse having existed since the days of ancient Egypt: Derived from X-Factor#24 (1988) by Louise Simonson & Walter Simonson.

Apocalypse using servants dubbed Horsemen: Derived from X-Factor#11 (1986) by Louise Simonson & Walter Simonson.

Apocalypse using four Horsemen: Derived from X-Factor#21 (1987) by Louise Simonson & Walter Simonson.

Apocalypse involved in the construction of pyramids: Derived from Rise of Apocalypse#2 (1996) by Terry Kavanagh, James Felder & Adam Pollina.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Unearthed: The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior#9

We children of the 1980s grew up amongst a great wave of attempted multimedia franchises - products marketed to us not only as toys, television programs or activity books but also comic books. The comic book tie-in seemed ubiquitous for animated/toy products of the 1980s, be they as high-profile as Masters of the Universe or quickly-forgotten as Animax. Everyone wanted to seize the next Transformers or Star Wars and they left behind a vast sea of pop culture detritus which haunts my generation to this day, still reaching out with their clammy tendrils to suggest, "Are you really sure you outgrew the Thundercats?"

Marvel Comics certainly held a prime position amongst the adapted works in comics; they took a gamble on Conan the Barbarian back in the late 60s which not only proved an adapted title could be successful and profitable year-in, year-out, but that other licensees would come to their doorstep seeking the Conan treatment for their product; George Lucas sought out Marvel to tie-in with his Star Wars; Hasbro left much of the character naming and backgrounds to their G.I. Joe and Transformers franchises to Marvel's staff. Even if they did occasionally wind up with a fumble such as Man From Atlantis or Starriors, when Marvel made a hit, they hit big.

Perhaps that's why they decided to fashion their own multimedia franchise, developing a set of action figures who would also appear in colouring books (such as the one above), activity books, story books and - oh yes - comic books, their bread and butter. Like similar products of the time, this franchise would assume the trappings of fantasy-adventure, with a two-sided conflict between good and evil. I speak of the Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior.

Although I received the above colouring book as a child, I never owned the toys - I don't even recall seeing them in stores! The Crystar line proved to be a flash-in-the-pan, a very quickly forgotten franchise like so many of the 80s action figure lines. Why did it fail? I've certainly never asked; it's like Marvel's old shame. While working on the Official Handbooks back in the day, our staff had to convince Marvel's lawyers that, no, they really did own Crystar. This from the company who swiped the "Captain Marvel" name!

The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior was written by Jo Duffy (aka Mary Jo Duffy), best-remembered for her work on Power Man and Iron Fist and Marvel's Star Wars comics (in fact, she began writing Star Wars and Crystar at almost the same time). It lasted for a triumphant eleven issues before being shuttered up and completely forgotten (except by us Handbook folk), yet somehow during its brief existence, I wound up with issue #9 (September, 1984) - one of the first comic books I purchased with my own money. Let's go back and unearth this comic together, for if nostalgia is truly the pain of returning to the past, then I'm not going in there alone.

Above you can see the entire reason I bought this comic - the incredible painted cover by Michael Golden. Had I seen any of the previous or subsequent issues on the stands, I would have likely snapped them up as well - I mean, that's simply gorgeous! Golden painted almost all of the covers for this series and they're all terrific - although, strangely, he would always paint Crystar on-model, using the same character design found in the toys and other tie-in materials, yet the interior artists didn't seem to like putting Crystar in his familiar helmet or exposing the emblem on his chest. The other characters were drawn to match their toys, but not the titular figure! Strange, that.

The name of the story is "Another War" and Duffy is joined by artists Ricardo Villamonte & Dave Simons (Villamonte being a collaborator with Duffy on Power Man and Iron Fist). Helpfully, the story opens with the good wizard Ogeode confronting the Council of Order (a group he belonged to) with the entire team of heroes (dubbed "the Crystal Companions," which sounds quite cuddly) and Ogeode takes the time to introduce each of the Companions and explain the conflict which exists between he and the evil chaos wizard Zardeth and how Crystar's brother Moltar is leading an army of Magma Men on Zardeth's behalf (with names like Crystar & Moltar, I suppose it was only a matter of time before they were transformed into crystal and magma, respectively).

Also amidst this exposition is mention of a warrior called Malachon, of the Green Hill Men. Malachon is supposed to be green-skinned, yet the image Ogeode casts depicts him with pink skin; this confused me as a child - I thought this was a picture of Zardeth with a funny wig on. Anyway, Ogeode has returned to his people to enlist their help in this war with chaos, cautioning them that Malachon may have joined Zardeth's forces.

However, the Council of Order (a bunch of mooks in yellow robes) seem terribly passive and not too willing to join the war even though, as Crystar observes, as this is a struggle against chaos and order it's really their fight more than the Crystal Companions'. At this point, the Companions' ally Shen begins reading the council the riot act, ashamed of them for hesitating to become involved. And who is Shen? Well, she's been standing next to Ogeode this entire time, yet he neglected to introduce her along with the other characters. Outside of her being a champion to the Council of Order (yet she doesn't seem to like them), Shen isn't well-defined in this issue - she seems to be a recent addition to the heroes' ranks; because of some upcoming dialogue, I found her kind of baffling as a child.

The Council refuses to use their powers to wipe out chaos; Ogeode counters that he never wanted them to - he wants to maintain the balance between chaos & order, but Zardeth would rather eliminate order entirely. Even after this well-tempered arguement, Ogeode still finds the council reluctant to act and he testily storms off.

Amongst the Crystal Companions, the only female crystal warrior is Ika (she didn't have an action figure, but at least with Crystar's lover Ambara and the presence of Shen, she's not the token female), Ogeode's daughter. One of the councilmen, Bekk, confronts Ika and from their dialogue we can piece together that Bekk was in love with Ika but thinks her father and Crystar forced her to become a crystal warrior; Ika politely rejects Bekk upon hearing this, noting she's proud to be one of Crystar's allies and her father is "worth your whole rotten council put together. At least he knows how to get things done!'

Gilligan cut: Ogeode is asleep in his chair. wah-waaah Crystal warriors Koth and Kalibar, joined with Shen, drop in on Ogeode, but seeing he's asleep Kalibar vote they let "the old fellow" rest. Shen takes umbrage with Kalibar's words stating, "Kalibar, why do you say that he is old?" and "But he is not old. He is Ogeode." I found this line truly baffling as a child, as though it were an in-joke I wasn't privy to (in fact, it wouldn't be explained until a later issue). That line of dialogue from Shen really threw me off - like, she doesn't understand what the word "old" means? She thinks Kalibar meant to say "Ogeode?" Ah, well.

The other Crystal Companions Crystar, Stalax, warbow and non-crystal person Ambara go for a walk around the council's land; a pair of female council people take note of the crystal warriors and remark, "Handsome group, aren't they?" "It's the crystal. So pretty." They're a little like Duffy's Zeltrons in Star Wars, come to think of it. Meanwhile, a flock of dragons come to land on the council's property; amongst them is Feldspar, regent of Crystar's kingdom Galax. It seems that while Feldspar's nephews became men of crystal and magma, Feldspar chose the middle-road alternative, rendering his upper half crystal with his lower half molten. Feldspar lies somewhere in the middle, but because he won't take sides against either Crystar or Moltar, he recently wound up banishing the Crystal Companions from their own land (which is why they've come to the council for help). In effect, by attempting to render himself neutral, Feldspar has instead hindered the forces of order and aided the forces of chaos. In Feldspar's version of events, the entire conflict rests on Crystar's shoulders and the council hopes now that Crystar has come to them stating he wants peace, perhaps they can keep the war between he and Moltar from escalating; they invite Feldspar to a meeting with the entire council, but don't send an invite to Ogeode.

Stalax takes a moment to examine the dragons which bore Feldspar and his entourage to the council and suddenly realizes the creatures aren't nearly tired enough to have flown from Galax; he speeds off to inform Crystar. Elsewhere, Ika, Koth, Kalibar and Shen finally wake up Ogeode, who flies into a rage upon hearing Feldspar has come to see the council.

In fact, Stalax's suspicions about the dragons prove well-founded as, within the council's chambers, Feldspar changes his form into Zardeth! His entourage includes Malachon (now coloured green) and various Green Hill Men and Magma Men. The council are totally unprepared for a fight, although Bekk begins to try grappling against their foes, noting Zardeth intends to kill them all.

Fortunately, Stalax has roused Crystar and Warbow and retrieved their weapons (apparently the council wouldn't allow them to bear arms); they quickly meet up with Ogeode and the rest then enter the fray to save the council. In amongst the fighting, Ogeode and Zardeth engage in a duel of sorcery, with Ogeode quipping "If there's anything I can't stand, Zardeth, it's a name-caller and a sneak." I like that Ogeode isn't a cookie-cutter "wise old mentor" type (an Obi-Wannabe, that is) - that he's allowed to be short-tempered and quip at his foes.

During the fight, one of the Magma Men stabs Ika with a dagger, but it breaks against her skin. Geez! The Magma Men are hardly worthy adversaries for the Crystal Companions if their weapons can't harm them, are they?

As the battle turns against them, Zardeth orders a strategic retreat, meaning the war between and order and chaos will not be resolved this issue (lest the series end here). With the battle over, Ambara takes charge of tending to the wounded, proving that while she isn't a fighter, she's not useless.

Meanwhile, Bekk confronts Ogeode to make a request of him; we soon learn what that is - he has Ogeode transform him into a crystal warrior. The revelation of Bekk's transformation comes in the final panel as a seemingly shocking moment - as though this is a bad omen. And yet, we saw over the course of this issue how Bekk went from standing on the sidelines, to realizing the Crystal Companions were right about the danger of Zardeth, to willingly joining their ranks. This is a good thing... right?

Analyzing this story now, it's bothersome to note the antagonists are the same villains the Crystal Companions fight every issue - Zardeth and his minions. True, Moltar isn't present, but the Magma Men are. Although Malachon had been introduced to increase the villains' ranks, he's really only another flunky of Zardeth's. Like many 80s struggles between the good guys and the bad guys, it can be dull to see the same forces against each other all the time. It might have served the series' continued existence better to have Malachon as a separate threat - but with only two issues remaining after this, I doubt Duffy had much hope for the future (from comments on the letters page you can tell the creators already knew the axe would fall soon).

Duffy's script is lively enough even now, thanks to a few sharp comments from Ogeode and strong characterization for Ika (though most of the cast are an amorphous blob of crystal people). As a child, I thrilled to seeing the beautiful crystal people beat up on the ugly magma people and what more did I need? Although this series didn't last, Duffy continued on spearheading Star Wars through a few more years of my childhood with her deft touch of humour and fantastic adventure. Ah, nostalgia. That's the trap - when you get to thinking about how pleasant that one issue of Crystar was, so what would it take to collect a whole set? Almost nothing! Oh, and how about those activity books and story books, those wouldn't run for too much? And the toys would only cost a small fortune... oh, sweet Stalax! Away from me, nostalgia, flee!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Is a samurai helping the Aztecs to defeat Cortez?" Sergio Aragones Funnies#12

I may not visit the comic shop as often these days as I once did, but my infrequent visits at least tend to coincide with the infrequently-published (ie, bi-monthly) Sergio Aragones Funnies, which I've often blogged about on this site. It's a gentle ray of sunshine through the otherwise gray skies of Calgary.

And there, in issue #12, is the announcement of Funnies' cancellation.

Fortunately, in his introductory cartoon Sergio reveals Funnies is only ending its current run with Bongo Comics and will be moving to another publisher (unnamed but I assume rhymes with Mark Morse). Whew! Don't scare us like that, Sergio!

As usual for the series, this issue contains two multi-page tales, the first being "A Hero's Dream," the story of a man determined to become a costumed crimefighter, but repeatedly hobbled by the harsh realities of the real world. I wouldn't say this story is particularly funny - more melancholic. There is humour to be mined from people who expect the real world to work out as they see it in fiction, but this tale simply depicts a good-intentioned man being pummeled by his environment.

It actually made me think of a friend (no names) who once dreamed of being a crimefighter; one day as he was working out in the gym, the gym was robbed and the criminals got away; he remained completely oblivious of what had transpired. On another occasion, he saw a suspicious car in his neighbourhood and attempted a confrontation, only to learn it was a police vehicle - his neighbours were under surveillance for suspected crimes! I think an oblivious hero (such as my friend) would have made Sergio's story a little funnier.

Fortunately the other feature - Sergio's regular series of personal biographic material - never lets me down! This time, Sergio relates his fondness for the Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune and how he managed to meet his hero around 1960 when Mifune came to Mexico to film a feature. Sergio's first attempt at ingratiating himself to Mifune - hampered by Mifune's inability to understand Spanish and the duo's mutually poor English - is pretty funny. Surprisingly, Mifune's connection to Sergio's family lasted for more than two decades, as Sergio mentions how after his father's death, Mifune send a Christmas card to Sergio's mother every year until the end of her life. The collected anecdotes about Mifune & Sergio serve to humanize the actor, bringing him down from the pedestal Sergio set him upon (while simultaneously building a new pedestal). It's a very fine, warm, human tale.

As per usual, the issue contained activity pages and the single-page cartoons Sergio excels at; hopefully Sergio Aragones Funnies will return after only a brief absence!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Where did the sasquatches come from?" Captain Canuck Summer Special/Canada Day Edition#1 review

Although Canadian-born Joe Shuster co-created the first true super hero, Superman - granting Canada a 50% stake in the concept of super heroes - we don't have a rich history of Canadian super heroes. The 1940s saw a terrific spike of heroes like Nelvana & Johnny Canuck during the wartime period where imported US periodicals were diminished, necessitating homespun products; however, once the US heroes came back over our border, our heroes retreated into barely-remembered nostalgia.

Come the 1970s, Richard Comely was one of several self-publishing Canucks to get in the game, via his 1975 creation Captain Canuck; it lasted a few years and made some impression on Canadian comic book fans of the era, but soon the good Captain slipped into our poorly-maintained collective memories.

To celebrate Canada Day this year, Captain Canuck is back in the Captain Canuck Summer Special/Canada Day Edition#1, a free comic book being distributed to shops across Canada. Some people may pick up the comic for nostalgic reasons, but there's no effort made here to revamp the Captain into someone adults will feel less-ashamed to read about - he remains an all-ages (re: suitable for children) hero, unlike most of his brethren in the States.

Case in point: the book opens with Paul Gardner & Dean Henry's "Happy Canada Day," in which the hyperactive child Aziz relates an adventure of Captain Canuck to the real-life Captain Canuck, who reacts with some bemusement as the boy pits him against sasquatches, terrorists who have kidnapped Pierre Eliot Trudeau (who, much to the Captain's confusion, is Prime Minister in 2014!) and finally a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It's all quite humourous and follows the kind of inane child logic anyone who has spent time babysitting would expect; Canuck's ability to have a replacement vehicle waiting in the exact location his previous one crashed is a pretty good joke.

Next up is "True North" by Richard Comely & George Freeman (Freeman being one of the original Captain Canuck artists). This tale is a bit confusing - it's set back in 1981, where Captain Canuck has traveled from 1994; perhaps it's a follow-up to Comely's previous Captain Canuck stories? At any rate, Canuck is journeying around in a truck pulling a trailer wherein dwells the Stygian, a dangerous extraterrestrial he has to shield from humanity; unfortunately, some men steal his truck and the Stygian briefly gets loose, forcing the Captain to battle the tentacled monstrosity.

The issue is filled out by various ads for other Captain Canuck products, but also all manner of advertising for Canadian comic shops and other coast-to-coast businesses, plus a 7-page directory of Canadian comic shops and a letter from Governor-General David Johnston wherein he professes his love of the Captain. That's a pretty good "get" for a comic book! When's the last time a high-ranking US politician sponsored an issue of Captain America, or a British MP vouched for Captain Britain? Quite, I thought not!

Priced at the enormous sum of $0.00, it's a fine excuse to visit your local shop this Canada Day!