Archive for April, 2012

Mister Jeffries saves everyone on Utopia in X-Men: Schism #4

April 26, 2012

X-Men: Schism #4
Nov 2011

The fourth chapter in the five-part X-Men: Schism mini-series picks up where we left off in the previous issue, with the X-Men under full attack in San Francisco at the fictional Mutant History Museum. The X-Men who showed up for the press gig had been taken out by the kiddie Hellfire Club in issue #3 as a mysterious bomb released a Sentinel-forming singularity. Though at the time, Cyclops ordered only Dr. Nemesis over to the museum, in this issue, we learn that he brought a friend! Mister Jeffries appears as a regular member of the X-Men Science team, having joined up in Uncanny X-Men #505.

The distance between the museum and Utopia, the island headquarters of the X-Men, is four miles, as revealed in the massive X-Men entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (OHOTMU) Hardcover #13 and confirmed with a little map as part of the Utopia entry in X-Men: Earth’s Mutant Heroes #1, so how Nemesis and Jeffries got to the museum so quickly is rather difficult to explain. Nevertheless, they arrive to find Wolverine chopping away furiously at the embryonic Sentinel, which seems to be forming faster than he can furiously chop.

Ok here's the plan: I stand here, behind you, just in case there's a lightning zap or something.

Previous encounters between Jeffries and Sentinels haven’t exactly gone so well for the Sentinels. Recall that Jeffries once used his mind to rip apart a Sentinel and used the debris to make a superharpoon to kill another Sentinel in Alpha Flight #43. Remember also that he made a lightning gun out of a model T to blast a Sentinel apart in Uncanny X-Men #512. Basically, there’s just no other super-powered guy you’d want around to take out a Sentinel, seeing as how his technomorph powers could easily destroy one with a single thought.

This situation is different though, because the nascent Sentinel is forming at a rate faster than he can destroy it. Even Wolverine, who appears to be in full berserker mode trashing the Sentinel’s brain directly can’t keep up with it. Later, when Cyclops eye-blasts the Sentinel with full force, it just repairs itself and keeps coming. Alan Davis draws Jeffries with his hands out as if he were using his powers to rip apart the machine, but he actually is trying to communicate technopathically with it, perhaps in an attempt to control it – a smart move since no one seems able to stop it. Jeffries has used this technopathy power before, notably in Alpha Flight #87 when he communicated with the Roxxon computers to discover that James MacDonald Hudson was trapped inside, as well as other instances more recently communicating with smaller devices such as a coffee machine and a digital camera, but honestly, Alpha Flight Collector would just as soon have Jeffries rip the Sentinel apart than try to open a hailing frequency with it.

Then, the Sentinel zaps Nemesis and Jeffries with a “ZZZZKKT” lightning blast, knocking them back but not out. Wow, Jeffries actually lasts an entire issue without losing consciousness!

Although writer Jason Aaron sort of muddled up Jeffries’ power in this issue by making him into more of a technopath (someone who communicates with machines) than a technomorph (someone who can change the form of a machine), he did it in a plausibly explainable way, and ended up putting Jeffries into a heroic role. Madison succeeds in making technopathic contact with the Sentinel and woozily calls out to Cyclops that it’s coming to Utopia, giving the X-Men time to prepare for the attack, and possibly saving everyone’s life on the island, again.

Note: Northstar and Aurora had recently been in the Red Sea, dealing with a malfunctioning Sentinel as seen in X-Men: Schism #2, but when the Cuckoos roll off the list of teams dealing with malfunctioning Sentinels, they aren’t mentioned.

Note: this issue has a variant cover by Frank Cho, which is part of a larger 5-part poster featuring nearly every X-Man and tons of cleavage, and an X-printing variant, which is a sketch variant of that variant, also featuring tons of cleavage.

X-Men: Schism #4 – Frank Cho variant
X-Men: Schism #4 – X Printing variant

Puck in Wolverine, Punisher & Ghost Rider: Official Index to the Marvel Universe #2

April 13, 2012

Wolverine, Punisher & Ghost Rider: Official Index to the Marvel Universe #2
Nov 2011

Note: Despite being clearly printed on the cover, “Official Index to the Marvel Universe: Wolverine, Punisher & Ghost Rider” is not the actual title of this series. The indicia reveals it reversed as above.

The Official Index to the Marvel Universe, or OITTMU, continues in its third incarnation after taking on Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men in the first series and the Avengers, Captain America, and Thor in the second. This third series coves the massive set of comics for Wolverine and Punisher, and the large but not as massive Ghost Rider series. The index contains detailed synopses of individual comics, including all of the relevant data pertaining to the comic as well as a thumbnail of the cover art, 2 issues per page (roughly). Puck appears in this issue in reprinted art from the cover of Wolverine #35 (Jan 1991).

Click to see full-size version of the solicited cover

Originally, the solicits for this issue indicated it would start right at Wolverine #35 and as the usual arrangement is for the cover art from the starting issue to be reproduced, the solicited cover included Puck! However, once the series started, the writers ended up off by a few issues and didn’t make it all the way up to #34 in issue #1. The issues covered for the Wolverine series in this issue start at issue #33, so the cover for Wolverine #33 was reproduced instead. It’s fairly typical for the OITTMU covers to differ from the solicits this way but for a while there, Alpha Flight Collector had a thrill going up his leg over it.

Note also that the solicit cover shown above oddly refers to the issue as “1982’s Wolverine #35“, a typographical error left over from the solicit to issue #1 which did index the first Wolverine series from 1982 by Frank Miller and Chris Claremont.

The actual image shown inside is a thumbnailed image, so here is an inset from the actual cover to that issue featuring Puck as he and Wolverine are sent back in time by Gateway to his first chronological appearance in 1937:

Puck is mentioned for his appearances in issues #35, #36 and #37 with notes in the issue details.

James and Heather Hudson are mentioned in the entry for Wolverine #50. They appeared in an uncaptioned snapshot inside the unusual die-cut cover of that issue. Though it was very obvious who they were, it had never been confirmed until this issue.

Here is the snapshot in question from that issue, which did not appear in the index, despite being part of the cover art.

Tastes like chicken Part II

April 11, 2012

Uncanny X-Force #13
Oct 2011

Rick Remender’s amazing Dark Angel Saga, which began in Uncanny X-Force #11 continues with Chapter 3 as the title returns to a regular production schedule. Not completely regular though, as Mark Brooks’ stunning pencils only made it into half of the book, with Scot Eaton taking up the slack. The Uncanny X-Force team and the Amazing X-Men from the Age of Apocalypse (AoA) team up in the AoA world to obtain a “Life Seed” in the hope Angel can be turned to good. In the portion of the book drawn by Mark Brooks, AoA Wild Child appears a regular member of the Amazing X-Men as the loyal companion of AoA Sabretooth.

In this chapter, the action starts out immediately where we left off in Uncanny X-Force #12 with 616 Wolverine holding the completely blasted corpse of his AoA daughter, Kirika, and good riddance. She’s no favorite of Alpha Flight fans, who saw her mutilate and then kill AoA Northstar and Aurora back in the 2005 X-Men: Age of Apocalypse series. As much as a treat as it is to see her charred remains, there still is a battle raging in the prison known as “The Sky” with the Black Legion, a mishmashed group of baddies.

The Black Legion’s leader, The Blob, tries to rip off AoA Wild Child’s right arm with his teeth in one of the most grotesque images you’ll ever see. A bunch of blood and arm guts spew out of Wild Child’s biceps. There’s something just so innately disturbing about defeating someone by eating one of their limbs. Not really biting… no, The Blob is trying to EAT his opponent. Sabretooth makes an attempt to rescue Wild Child, but in the next scene, Blob tosses him away as the severed arm drops down. Gross.

Tis but a scratch!

Bizarrely, Wild Child isn’t the only Alpha Flight AoA counterpart to lose a right arm. In X-Men: Age of Apocalypse #2 (2005), the now-crispy Kirika sliced off AoA Aurora’s arm and it’s just as gross now as it was then.

It's just a flesh wound!

After Weapon X, the AoA counterpart to Wolverine and the current Apocalypse, teleports away with AoA Jean Grey, the teams pause in the battle with the surrounding Black Legion and Wild Child can be seen on the ground sitting, holding his bloody stump. Unfortunately, he’s drawn with his left arm chopped off instead of his right arm; a minor error that I won’t let take away from the otherwise amazing job Mark Brooks did in his portion of the book.

Later, Gateway teleports the heroes to where Weapon X is holding Jean Grey, and Wild Child can be seen dropping down from the teleportation lightning storm. It’s a little hard to see him but he can be found just to the left of Psylocke’s boobs. I’d be happy to report that this time the bloody stump is drawn on the correct side (right side) except I’m so disquieted by the sight of any bloody stump on the guy that I’ll hold back on the merriment except to say that he apparently survived the brutal attack. The nature of his accelerated healing factor was confirmed explicitly in his Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (OHOTMU): X-Men – Age of Apocalypse 2005 entry so we can assume he would survive a severed limb, no worries about blood loss, etc. But still, it’s gross.

It also goes to show what desperately gritty badasses the Amazing X-Men are. The guy has half an arm and he still leaps into battle, undeterred by what is otherwise a massively traumatic injury. It should be mentioned that Fantomex had created a misdirection field around this area, so it’s possible that Wild Child (well, what was left of him, I mean) wasn’t actually present for this battle, but there’s no way of knowing if what we saw in the panel were an illusion or real.

Note: there is a variant cover for this issue by Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend featuring a a majorly obscured AoA Wild Child in the lower right corner getting attacked by Zombie Sentry (one of the Black Legion), a battle not depicted in the book which, if it did occur, must have taken place before he got his arm ripped off because you can see both of his arms. Here is an inset from that cover showing the very unfortunately placed bar code:

There is also a Second Printing variant featuring interior art by Scot Eaton and Mark Brooks.

Uncanny X-Force #13 – Bachalo variant
Uncanny X-Force #13 – Second Printing variant

orthstar and urora on X-Men: Schism #3 variants

April 7, 2012

X-Men: Schism #3 – Cho variant
Oct 2011

Northstar and Aurora appear on the variant cover by Frank Cho, the third part of a five-part interlocking image released for the five-issue X-Men: Schism series, and then re-released later as a set of “X-Print” variants, which were uncolored sketch variants of the same. They appear as regular members of the X-Men, having joined up in Uncanny X-Men #508 (Northstar) and X-Men: Secret Invasion #2 (Aurora).

It’s really a shame that they didn’t appear inside, as this was the best of the five books in X-Men: Schism, and one of the best comics released by Marvel in 2011 without “Alpha Flight” in the title. Daniel Acuña’s detailed painted style was just so perfect in this issue – so much so that I actually read the entire thing even though no one from Alpha Flight was in it.

The original pencils for this five-part poster was released as promotional image in early April 2011. Not everyone fell in love with the image, which does have its flaws. It does show the twins with pointy ears, so that’s a big plus, but I doubt Frank Cho got the memo that Northstar and Aurora are related as brother and sister because that pose is just wrong.

If you click on the image, you can see the full-sized pencils, which have tick marks along the top and bottom edges to show the breaks between the issues, and unfortunately, Northstar and Aurora are bisected by one of the breaks.

Here is what you’d expect to see if the tick marks were used strictly as a guide, with issue #2 shaded in dark red and issue #3 unshaded. At the time, fans didn’t know where the actual borders would be between the two issues, and just fraction of an inch (that’s 1-2 millimeters for you metric folk) would make a difference.

The official Marvel solicit for this issue offered in May 2011 (for August 2011) was accompanied by an image of the central panel offset to the right so as to include Northstar and Aurora completely.

It was a strange offering in the first place because we knew it would not be the regular cover. Daniel Acuña had been announced as the artist for this issue long back and we knew this was the variant cover and not the actual cover. It was also strange because it’s very clear that Frank Cho intended for Colossus to be in the dead center, so whoever put out this asymmetrical image purposefully shifted it to include the twins. It’s not uncommon for the images released with solicits to differ from the actual cover art so we just had to wait. An inset from the asymmetrical solicit shows almost both of them with the exception of Northstar’s right shoulder, but just about a complete image.

This is the image we were hoping would be found on the left edge of the variant cover.

Unfortunately, when the Cho variant for X-Men: Schism #2 was released in July 2011, we only got Northstar’s right arm, part of his head (including his ear) and Aurora’s right forearm on the extreme right edge as predicted by those tick marks on the original pencils, so we knew the variant for issue #3 would show the bisected remainder.

X-Men: Schism #3 – X Printing variant

When the X-Print variants were released in November of 2011, we got a bit of a break. The cover images were letterboxed, compressing the image vertically with black borders on top and bottom. This new aspect ratio was just enough to sneak more of Northstar’s face onto the very left edge. A side-by side comparison of insets taken from the Cho variant (left) and the X-Printing (right) shows this a bit better.

But look closer. You know where to look. If you still can’t see it, try comparing the original pencils of Aurora (left) to the X-Print version of Aurora (right) and you’ll see the difference.

Can you spot the difference?

The bizarre gigantic nipple on Jeanne-Marie’s right boob has been removed. Call it an improvement or not, whichever you prefer, but in any case, these things do not go unnoticed on Alpha Flight Collector!

Four star review of Alpha Flight v4 #1 in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1682

April 5, 2012

Comics Buyer’s Guide #1682
Oct 2011

The venerable Comics Buyer’s Guide is one of the first and one of the last printed magazines covering comics, fandom and conventions. Starting in 1971, it claims to be “the longest-running English-language periodical reporting on the American comic book industry.” It ran as a weekly (!) for many years before returning to its current monthly format. In an era where comic fans are easily connected to comic book industry info via the Internet, it’s hard to believe there’s still a printed magazine covering convention listings and fanzines and running tiny classified ads, yet it endures. Alpha Flight v4 #1 was reviewed in this issue, featuring appearances of the entire team on the cover and some interior panels.

Although this issue carries a cover date of Oct 2011, it was actually published on 8/17/11, fully two months after the Alpha Flight v4 #1 was released on 6/15/11. In fact, issue #3 had already been published the previous week. The production cycle of periodicals just can’t keep up the way online reviews can – in comparison, issue #1 had over a dozen reviews posted online within just a few days.

Click on the page above to zoom onto the review.

In the section, “Comics Reviews!”, subsection, “Mainstream Comics Reviews”, the very first comic reviewed is Alpha Flight v4 #1. A full reproduction of the cover is shown, along with a few panels featuring Marrina and Guardian battling Attuma in Vancouver. The review is written by the reviewer’s reviewer, Martin Gray, and is quite positive, even ending with the unknowingly woeful call “Can anyone say ‘ongoing’?”

Click to enlarge

In the section, “Auction News and Market Trends”, a full column by comic shop owner John Tinkess of Another Dimension in Calgary, AB also shows the cover of Alpha Flight v4 #1 as his main illustration. He mentions in his article a general summary of June sales and points out:

Alpha Flight #1 also enjoyed a spectacular debut, although it looks as if it might be selling better here in Canada than it is in the U.S. Some of our customers see it as a point of national pride to support Canada’s only super-team.

He also includes a section “Top comics for June” and Alpha Flight v4 #1 is listed! One can’t help but read this and fly back in time to when the Byrne/Mantlo-era Alpha Flight was a top ten book in the Direct Market and boy, is it amazing to see this kind of thing again. For one brief moment, we had all the glory again in the pages of Comics Buyer’s Guide – which I’m sure will still be around to publish a review of the first issue of Alpha Flight volume 5!

Tastes like chicken

April 4, 2012

Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine #3
Oct 2011

This four-issue mini is a prequel to the 2010 series, Marvel Universe vs. Punisher, an alternate reality series where the entire world is infected with a pathogen that turns everyone into primitive-yet-intelligent cannibals. It could just as easily have been a zombie story, and if you didn’t read the captions nor introductory text, one could think it were a zombie story from the art alone. My guess is that either Marvel felt they had enough zombie action with their fifth(!) Marvel Zombies series concurrently published with that series in 2010, or that someone, somewhere decided that they had just about enough zombie and it was changed it to cannibals. Zombie Northstar, uh, I mean Cannibal Predator Northstar appears in a few panels as a member of The Thing’s tribe.

After the anti-cannibal lab in the Baxter Building is destroyed by the Punisher’s grenades in a battle with The Thing, who has been infected with the pathogen, Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther and Wolverine decide to rebuild the anti-cannibal lab in Elizabeth, New Jersey. There, Reed Richards has a warehouse with equipment and T’Challa hopes to reunite with his sister at a staging ground for refugees. They gather up a couple of dozen scientists, some uninfected heroes and a wooden wagon filled with doohickeys and attempt to cross the Goethals Bridge.

For all the historic landmarks, famous buildings and architectural marvels in New York City recognized instantly worldwide and visited by billions of tourists, let’s just say the Goethals Bridge ranks somewhere near the very bottom. For New Yorkers, it’s one of two bridges between Staten Island and New Jersey and is the main route to get to Newark International Airport and of course, the IKEA in Elizabeth.

The only problem is that it’s really very far away from the Baxter Building. Click on the map above to see the shortest route possible (in purple) taken by the science caravan. The Baxter Building is in the upper right and Elizabeth, New Jersey is in the lower left. In the comic book, it seems as if it’s one of the bridges one can take to get off Manhattan Island… but in reality, you have to take at least one bridge or tunnel to leave Manhattan, enter either Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx or New Jersey and then take another bridge to get onto Staten Island in order to cross it. The shortest driving route from the Baxter Building to the Goethals Bridge is about 21 miles long (34 kilometers for you metric people), and by foot it’s at least a 7 hour walk.

Meanwhile, The Thing’s infected friends, a tribe consisting of Thundra, Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike and Northstar, among others, have joined up with the infected Hulk to engage in a final showdown with the superheroes and scientists. Northstar is (mis?)colored green, shown standing around with the rest of the infected. The green shade is either an effect of the infection or just a murky coloring job in a book filled with appropriately murky art.

It's not easy being green.

The two sides meet up at the Goethals bridge, and Northstar can be seen again standing behind the Hulk in a few panels. As the science caravan rolls into New Jersey, several heroes protecting the caravan stay behind to give them enough time to escape.

The Human torch firebombs the bridge, killing quite a few of the infected standing behind the Hulk, possibly killing Northstar. The survivors of that attack fight a massive battle in a raging inferno, then abruptly, the scene shifts to just the Hulk and Wolverine in a classic on-on-one. The Human Torch massively firebombs the Goethals bridge again, destroying it, and if Northstar weren’t killed in the first firebomb, or by the Punisher, or by anyone else, the second firebomb surely done him in. Note that Northstar isn’t seen in issue #4 and was not in the Marvel Universe vs. Punisher series for which this series serves as prequel, so it’s very likely he was killed, and even though the poor guy was a green-skinned infected cannibal predator anyway, Alpha Flight fans really don’t need another Northstar death to add to our collection.

Alphans in Fear Itself: Fellowship of Fear #1

April 2, 2012

Fear Itself: Fellowship of Fear #1
Oct 2011

Part of the Official Handbook series, this book contains both a “Saga” portion and regular handbook entries that blend together to tell the backstory of the massive Fear Itself storyline. The first portion of the book, roughly akin to a “Fear Itself Saga”, is narrated by the Fear Lord D’Spayre and tells the story of recent events in the Marvel Universe. No, you won’t find the harmless 1980s-era funtime battle-o-rama like the Contest of Champions, or Spidey getting his new costume in Secret Wars, nah – this is all about widespread damage, high body counts and all-around devastation. The second portion consists of handbook-style entries for various dreadful characters and terrifying events in the Marvel Universe. Murmur and Radius appear in the Saga portion of the book and several members of Alpha Flight (Vindicator, Shaman, Snowbird, Sasquatch and Marrina) appear in one of the entries. Additionally, the Dreamqueen has a one page entry.

Wait – the Dreamqueen wasn’t in Fear Itself! Well, some of the events mentioned in the Saga portion and many of the entries in the handbook portion are not directly related to the Fear Itself storyline, but they do fit with the theme “all things frightening!” quite nicely, so it’s all good. For those of you who keep track of these sorts of things, she had an entry in the OHOTMU ’89 update (issue #2) and one in the OHOTMU Master Edition in 1993 (issue #28), but this one is completely re-written in the modern style – it even refers to Laura Dean as Pathway!

In the Saga portion of the book, D’Spayre gleefully recounts events in the Marvel Universe from the perspective of how frightening it must have been for the characters. For instance, The House of M storyline, which wasn’t exactly in the horror category and likely didn’t frighten any readers (who were too busy trying to figure out who was left powered and depowered in its aftermath), is described chillingly:

Millions upon millions of beings were left powerless, their very identities torn to shreds, terrified to be left vulnerable and weak in a threatening world.

Creepy, and well-done. The accompanying image for this text is taken from the array of depowered mutants as depicted in a two-page splash from New Avengers #18. The actual image shown is the modified version from the House of M entry in the Blockbusters of the Marvel Universe #1 handbook, as can be seen by the slightly rotated image [to better fit the grid into the small horizontal space]. The four Alphans shown in that array are Murmur, Radius, Wild Child and Windshear, but in this cropped image, only Murmur and the very top of Radius’ hair can be seen.

The Alphans have been highlighted in red below. Look for Radius’ hair in the extreme lower right corner of the image. For a larger version of the original and for more info on that panel and its importance to Alpha Flight, please click on the link above to the post for Blockbusters of the Marvel Universe #1.

In a new two-page entry for the Chaos War event, one of the inset illustrations is a miniaturized version of a splash page taken from the Chaos War: Alpha Flight #1 one-shot showing five members of Alpha Flight watching the battle with the Great Beasts just as Walter revealed the corrupt bargain he had made with them. There is also a very well-written account of the events of that issue as well as some other mentions of the Alpha Flight resurrections in Chaos War #5 and the team’s current status.

Just in case you wanted to see Heather’s butt, here is an inset from the original page showing each of the characters in greater detail:

Oh and since this a is a blog about collecting comics, I’d like to take this opportunity to mention where I picked up my copy of this issue: Coliseum of Comics in Kissimmee, FL, while on vacation with my trusty sidekick.

It’s one of the best (and largest) comic shops I’ve been in with a great staff, a great selection and best of all, free parking! So if you’re ever in the Orlando/Disney area, make sure to stop by and check it out!

Northstar uncut in Fear Itself Poster Book #1

April 1, 2012

This magazine-sized book contains extra large versions of various covers to Fear Itself and related issues, with the titles and business elements removed. The posters are nestled inside of each other so you’d have to remove the central staples to get to them, and you get a folded-in-half poster as a result. Unfortunately, they are double-sided, so you have to buy two copies if you want to hang all of them on your wall. Northstar appears on the cover of Uncanny X-Men #541.

The strange part about this particular poster book is that many of the posters are taken from cover art that was largely obscured or otherwise truncated by the very large Fear Itself trade dress that occupied so much of the cover real estate. The result is that many of the covers are letterboxed – printed with black borders on the top and bottom. Also, many of those are even further cropped on their left and right sides to help with the aspect ratio as well. There is an unusual amount of landscape orientation pieces as well, as many of the covers had an additional Fear Itself border beneath (see the cover shown above for an example), and many others had a giant stripe going across which resulted in two landscape oriented pieces, and those are similarly letterboxed.

The huge Fear Itself trade dress has a particular importance for Alpha Flight fans because it was slathered all over the first four issues of volume 4. Of course, without the crossover, likely the fourth series wouldn’t even exist, so no complaints! Luckily, for the first four issues of the series, we also got full page variant covers that were free of the giant ugly block taking up nearly half the page.

In the poster where Northstar appears, both the black letterboxing and truncation had to be used to get the poster to fit onto the page. Fortunately, Northstar, who was near the bottom right corner on the original cover, wasn’t truncated. Just to show how much of the image was removed, here are the Poster Book (sans UPC bar-code) and original versions for comparison, with the truncated portions shown in dark red.

For the truly insane: the Poster Book version also reveals that there was a small area of art that extends further down than the original to the extent shown also shaded in dark red on the original.

The original pencil tracing by Greg Land shown below (in high contrast) gives the overall picture of how much the top portion of the page ended up covered by the Fear Itself logo. It’s practically half a page!

Here is an inset from the original pencils so you can see Northstar fully to the left, right, up and down without anything being snipped off the guy.